Rock Climbing --- 5/13/2003 - 5/19/2003 --- San Diego, Joshua Tree

Climbing in San Diego

I'm back in the IBM fold after a year long leave of absence. So far this seems like an easy job, and it is not directly related to HPSS (the mass storage system I worked on for one million years and never want to see again). Basically I'll be deploying a Storage Area Network. My job is to make sure the technical aspects of the system work as designed. All of the components are commercial software and hardware products, so there is nothing new to develop. Just make sure a bunch of computer stuff works together correctly. Tuesday morning I flew out to San Diego to meet with the customer and learn more about the project.

Arriving in San Diego Tuesday evening, I drove straight to Santee. There is a boulder field there and I had printed a guide off the Internet that showed a bunch of problems. With the full day of travel and three hour time change, I didn't have a ton of energy. Still I spent an enjoyable hour unwinding on the rock, doing some low, hard problems. It was an opportunity to become familiar with the high friction granite that I would be climbing on for my entire time in California.

Wednesday we worked late and then the IBM team ate dinner together, so there was no time for climbing. Thursday we finished early which was perfect. I drove out to Mt. Woodson to meet Tom. Tom is a very good friend of Marci's and she introduced us when she learned I wanted to climb in San Diego. So Tom and I were able to form the Marci's ex- boyfriend climbing club of southern California (MEBCCSC).

The climbs at Woodson are short, but most are long enough (or with a nasty enough landing) to require a toprope. I led a short 5.7 and we hung a toprope there. About that time we were joined by Thomas and Werner, friends of Tom's who joined us for the evening. Tom used their rope to lead a 5.7 or 5.8 right next to my climb, and then we had two topropes to play with. After everyone had their fill of those climbs, we hiked to the top of Woodson. There we climbed Rockwork Orange (the only climb of the day whose name I remember) and about four other short climbs. Also found a few fun boulder problems. Most everything was in the 5.7 to 5.10 range, which suited me just fine. We climbed for about five hours with the full moon providing plenty of light, and our headlamps providing backup light during the peak of the lunar eclipse which occurred from around 7pm to 9pm that night.

Spent the morning Friday working from my hotel room (broadband Internet access!) then Tom and I set out for Joshua Tree National Park. J-Tree is a climbing Mecca with something like 6000 named climbs and probably twice as many left to explore. We claimed a campsite and walked to the Headstone climbing area. Tom led a 5.7 sport route, then we set topropes on 5.8 and 5.9 sport climbs. Fun for me because I rarely do sport climbs. Even on toprope, they have a different character than trad climbs -- lots of delicate moves and tiny, crimpy holds. Finished the day with some short topropes on other climbs below the main Headstone area.

That night Tom set a slackline on two trees in camp. A slackline is like a tightrope. Typically made from 1" webbing it is tight enough to walk on, but still has enough play to stretch, sag and sway quite a bit. Tom can stay on it for a long time and does a decent job walking on the line. My initial tries had me standing on the line for less than a second. But by the end of the evening I was getting the hang of it and could stand on the line for a short period of time. I don't really think that slackline skills help with climbing, but it does make a nice party trick. I plan to set a slackline in my back yard and become an expert.

Saturday we woke early and went to Hall of Horrors. I was feeling energetic and ready to climb. I led a 5.7 that was plenty of fun. Tom followed, then we set a toprope on a 5.9 which was also a fun climb that I would have felt very comfortable leading. We used that toprope to play on a 5.11b/c which Tom was able to finish, but not linking all the moves. I couldn't get past the crux, but enjoyed trying. Then Tom led a fun 5.7 with a tough boulder move for the start. After that it was my turn to lead a climb. I selected My Senior Project a 5.7 to the left of the one Tom led. It also had a tough start, but not as bad as the previous climb. The first 20 feet was a nice crack that took trad gear. After that the climb traversed on to a face and followed two bolts to the top. After clipping the first bolt I checked out the next move. It was a very pumpy sidepull that led to a committing reach for a ledge. The sidepull was a huge bucket, but the move still felt very hard. I started the move twice and backed off each time. After resting at a good stance by the first bolt, I went again and made the move. Finishing the long reach, I ended up on a two knuckle ledge below the second bolt. At that point I was too tired to clip the bolt. I tried as hard as I could to let go with one hand or the other, but knew I would fall. I spent precious seconds looking for even the tinyest of footholds, but there were absolutely no feet at all, just a completely blank, smooth face. Trying the sidepull three times had sapped my strength and hanging on that ledge was draining my reserves. There was no way I could let go with one hand to clip the bolt and I had no chance of reversing the sidepull to get back to the rest stance. As a last ditch effort to avoid falling, I managed to get half my left forearm on the ledge. In conjunction with my right hand, it was enough to keep me in place. The change of arm positions gave a rest to my left hand. After a few deep breaths I felt that the rest had allowed my left hand to recover sufficiently. I put my left hand on the best part of the ledge and hung on it while clipping the bolt with my right hand. Let me be the first to admit that I held on to that draw as soon as it was clipped. In fact, the draw was so much better a hold than the ledge, that I used it to rest for a good 30 seconds before I felt I had the energy to even clip the rope in the draw. Then another 30 seconds holding the draw before I felt comfortable getting back on the rock. After that I was able to climb up a bit and get a foot on the ledge, but the hand holds were tiny and useless in my state of exhaustion. Completely spent, I had to climb back down to the bolt and hang on the rope. One more try yielded even less progress, and I finally had to lower off the climb. Defeated by a 5.7. Unthinkable! After my hands stopped shaking I was able to drink some water and gather my wits. Though still physically exhausted, I had enough energy to whine about the climb for 10 minutes. Then I put Tom on belay and let him give it a go. Tom fluidly moved up to the first bolt and did the pumpy lieback without hesitation but with some serious grunting. Tom climbed up from the ledge below the second bolt until his feet were on it. Then he spent some time exploring the crimpy face above the second bolt. After a few stops and starts, Tom exited the route to the left and finished on another climb. In fact, he finished on the 5.9 we had climbed earlier in the day. At that point I again had to ascend the climb -- now my nemesis -- in order to clean the gear. I moved quickly if not gracefully through the climb, not wanting to waste energy hanging out as is my typical style. Reaching the ledge below the second bolt I had no energy left and needed a rope assist to traverse to the 5.9 where I was able to finish the climb. Reaching the belay, Tom uttered what became my favorite quote of the week, "I don't remember the last time I had to use a 5.9 to bail on a 5.7 climb."

After that experience we found some shade where we ate lunch and took a well deserved siesta. The desert heat is intense, even in May. Sleeping through the hottest part of the day is simply good climbing strategy. After a nice nap, we felt refreshed enough to seek some climbs in the shade. Heading to the Northern side of Hall of Horrors, we found another party just finishing with some climbs. As a comment on both the vastness of the park and the foolishness of climbing in the desert as summer approached, this was to be the only time the entire weekend we saw other climbers except for a few groups on routes in the distance. This group was kind enough to put our rope up on a pair of bolts as they took down their rope. But their true kindness was the act of letting us look at their guide book. While our guidebook rated the epic My Senior Project at 5.7, their guidebook gave it a more accurate 5.9. This was a huge, huge boon to my fragile ego. Since returning home, my ego has recovered further. If you search Google for "my senior project" and "joshua tree" your first hit is the web site of someone who rates the climb as 5.10a (ok, now your first hit might be my web site, but I did find someone who rated it 5.10a, honest). With my cloud of shame removed, I was psyched for more climbing. We finished the day trying the many climbs accessible from the single set of bolts where our rope was set. Starting with a fun 5.7 we proceeded to climb a 5.9 face that had a 40' section which was pure friction. Climbing that distance without ever engaging my fingers was a new experience for me. After a bit of trepidation I learned to trust the foot smears and palm slaps used to climb the high friction granite. I could see why climbers from around the world were enticed by Joshua Tree. Tom and I then attempted a 5.12 face which was interesting from the standpoint of actually being on a 5.12 climb. Tom managed to move through a good portion of the climb including a section which was quite literally just fingernails on granite crystals. My turn on the 5.12 was much more successful than I had anticipated. While I was unwilling to even attempt the grim fingernail holds, I was shocked to merely reach that section of the climb. We then swung the rope around the cliff to two climbs in the 5.8 to 5.10 range. Tom climbed both with ease, but I had no energy left and was unable to start either one. Feeling like I needed to get one last climb, I ascended the 5.7 again in order to break down the anchor and retrieve the rope. With something like 10 pitches completed or at least attempted, it was a very full day of climbing. We knew it was time to eat some food and relax even though there was enough daylight remaining for another climb or two.

Back at camp we ate dinner, watched a GORGEOUS sunset, and again set a slackline. This time the slackline was much longer, anchored to a tree at one end and two equalized cams on the other end. We played for a few minutes. Then Tom stepped on the line and it collapsed to the ground as we heard the cams pulling. Two seconds later the cams landed at our feet, still attached to the webbing. Looking at the cams and the placement, we surmised that the boulder on the right side of the cams had moved enough to allow the cams to slide out. The boulder was a very large one, weighing several thousand pounds. Of course, it is easy to generate that much force by standing in the middle of a tight line and then having the cams multiply that force via the mechanical advantage they have by design. On the one hand, any experienced climber would look at those cam placements and be aware that the boulder on the right side was potentially not sufficient. On the other hand, all of us have placed gear behind bad or insufficient rock because it was all that was available. Having a pair of cams arc 40' through the air and land at your feet is a visceral reminder that climbing is all about physics, and physics is non-negotiable.

Sunday morning we again woke early, but in the mood for some mellower climbing. We set out to climb Right On at Sheep Pass, a four pitch 5.5 which is the longest climb in the entire park and mostly in the shade all morning. The 30 minute hike to the base of the cliff was a nice warm-up. Tom led the first pitch which was a fairly runout face climb. I took the second pitch, a short, angled hand crack. Tom had the dubious pleasure of leading the third pitch. It was an extremely awkward flaring chimney. The final pitch was mine. Mostly easy climbing with one fun hand crack in the middle. The view from the top was stunning. A single rappel on the back side took us to the talus field and a long, PAINFUL hike down to our packs. After that, my feet were no longer willing to tolerate climbing shoes, and my incessant whining was causing Tom's knee to ache. We decided the climb was a nice finale to our three days in Joshua Tree.

Since we had a bit of time to kill before my flight out of San Diego, we exited the far side of the park and drove a scenic route through Southeastern California. The desert is teaming with life if you look closely, and we passed through at least three distinct desert ecosystems on the drive back to San Diego. Once back to the city Tom showed me his boat and I grabbed a shower (my airplane seatmates don't know how lucky they were). Then I drove to the airport and caught the 10:30pm red-eye back home. Arrived home Monday morning a good 30 minutes before my first teleconference of the day.

Not bad for my first week of work.

Work didn't last long. The job became much less fun as I realized that the system I was installing was different from the one which had successfully been demonstrated to the customer. The hardware and software didn't work together, and I could do none of the work from Ithaca (this Dilbert cartoon seemed appropriate). By the end of September, I had quit the job and taken up teaching for COE as my primary source of income. Teaching climbing, skiing, teambuilding, first aid and backpacking is more like play than work. Hence my life became like another Dilbert cartoon.

Bouldering at Santee. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Bouldering at Santee.    San Diego, CA -- 5/13/2003

Bouldering and toproping at Woodson with Tom, Werner and Thomas. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Bouldering and toproping at Woodson with Tom, Werner and Thomas.    San Diego, CA -- 5/15/2003

Climbing at Joshua Tree with Tom. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Climbing at Joshua Tree with Tom.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/16/2003 - 5/18/2003

My Senior Project, which was listed in our guidebook as a 5.7 climb. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

My Senior Project, which was listed in our guidebook as a 5.7 climb. This is a picture of the climb after I bailed. Tom reached my high point then moved to a 5.9 to reach the anchors. This is probably the biggest sandbag I have ever encountered.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/16/2003 - 5/18/2003

Tom climbing. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Tom climbing.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/16/2003 - 5/18/2003

Climbing.  I believe I was at the belay at the top of Right On when this was taken. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Climbing. I believe I was at the belay at the top of Right On when this was taken.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/16/2003 - 5/18/2003

The night of the 17th we had one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

The night of the 17th we had one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. Tom and I took turns snapping pictures of the scenery and each other. These shots were captured with a cheap, fixed focus, point-and-shoot camera. This is a shot of me and some Joshua Trees silhouetted against the sunset.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/17/2003

Tom silhouetted against the sunset. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Tom silhouetted against the sunset.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/17/2003

Joshua Trees silhouetted against the sunset. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Joshua Trees silhouetted against the sunset.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/17/2003

Tom silhouetted against the sunset. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Tom silhouetted against the sunset.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/17/2003

Me (or Tom?) silhouetted against the sunset. (Category:  Rock Climbing)

Me (or Tom?) silhouetted against the sunset.    Joshua Tree National Park, CA -- 5/17/2003