Tuesday, May 26, 2009

taste of tuolumne

Memorial Day weekend rolled around and Jascha and I were both deeply entrenched in meeting project deadlines. A 3 day climbing trip was out of the question and I was craving multi-pitch trad, so Tahquitz was an obvious choice. With its high quality granite Tahquitz is like a mini-Tuolumne Meadows a mere 2 hours from our house. I had picked out the classic 7-pitch 5.9, Whodunit, knowing full well that we might be waiting in line. The route was first climbed as an aid route (5.8, A1) in 1957 by Joe Fitschen and Royal Robbins, then in 1966 freed by Tom Higgins and Bob Kamps.

We got a relatively late start for our endeavor, leaving the house at 7:30 am. In retrospect, barring a 4:30 am departure, we made the right choice. The group of 3 in front of us had apparently arrived much earlier only to sit and wait in line for an extended time behind several other p
arties. Nevertheless, it was frustrating to watch them refuse to start a pitch until the follower had left the belay above. It wasn't like they were flying up the rock and for some reason there was always a 15+ minute delay from the time their leader(s) yelled "off belay" to when they were ready for the others to start following. To top it off one of the guys was a fairly new leader so that took even longer. I guess it could have been worse; it was a pleasant 75F and we spent our time lounging on pristine granite cliffs.

The first crux was on pitch 1 and entailed pulling an overlap on a very thin finger crack with friction holds for feet. For once I was thankful to have small fingers/hands and with that I was lucky to get in an occasional finger lock. The set of TCUs that Jas
cha bought me for my birthday came in handy. I didn't attempt any heroics like using only passive gear. Unfortunately, we weren't able to link pitches 1 and 2 because the parties above us refused to do so.

The next pitch transitioned from slab to dihedral and brought us to a cushy ledge below the chimney, where we sat waiting for at least 45 minutes. To pass the time we watched another party of 3 on The Consolation (also 5.9), and from whom we learned the classy phrase "Shut your whore mouth." Despite looking sketchy, the soloist we had seen earlier on The Long Route (I think) pulled through and was now far out of our view.

Finally, it was our turn for the chimney, which I knew held an awkward 5.9 "mental crux" to exit the combo chimney/roof. Fortunately, there was a comfy stem leading up to it. I managed to get a good nut placement to protect the exit move (so much more satisfying tha
n a cam). At first glance the move looked improbable. It involved reaching way behind for an offwidth, thankfully made easier by a wide stem. The next set of moves weren't exactly confidence inspiring but I made it up to the next belay without a fall. I was entertained by Jascha's grimaces as he approached the anchor.

The next pitch started off with parallel cracks which offered the choice of a hand or a finger crack. I alternated between them. At the top I wasn't sure which way to go and opted for a somewhat sketchy traverse to a small pillar. Jascha yelled up to me that he saw something red fly by; I had a strong suspicion that it was either my Omega Link cam or my C4 Camalot. When Jascha arrived I realized that I had lost my ~1 year old C4, which must have come unclipped from my gear slip when I was leaning against the left side of the dihedral. I was most annoyed when I realized that I had just missed the last round of gear sales and was looking at ~$65 full price to replace it.

I was starting to realize that all of the pitches so far were fairly sustained at 5.7+. Pitch 5 was no exception and provided me with a tenuous reach for a sort of jug. After having my foot slip off once I reset my nut to reduce the potential of decking on the ledge below. Once again we caught up with the party of 3. I figured we had another 2+ pitches ahead of us, but was pleased to learn that the piton marking the last 5.8 section was just above us. I ran the rope out just below the summit, so when Jascha arrived I had him lead the final friction slab section. We made it on top ~7 pm, >7 hours after we started (we usually average 30 min per pitch for almost full rope length pitches). Oh well.

We picked up my pack and made it back to the car in time to watch all of the Idyllwild restaurants close. All in all it was a stellar route, and we're anxiously looking forward to a repeat trip on a less crowded day.