California Part II – Lover’s Leap
“I was feeling strong in July when I got to hit City of Rocks for a few weeks but that was six weeks ago and I haven’t climbed a foot since then. Maybe I should start on something easier?”
Many thoughts went through my brain as I was racking up for my first ever pitch in California. Megan had just picked me up at the airport and after a day of driving and a night of stealth camping just south of Lake Tahoe, we were standing under “The Line,” a classic 400 foot crack that splits the East Wall and tops out via several smallish roofs. I had to remind myself that even though I had been sitting on a beach all summer, eating heavy Italian food and drinking wine, I had also been running twice a day and doing workouts on rock rings. “I know climbing better than I know anything else in the world” I thought, “I should be fine.”
I was fine, and in fact, Megan was in the same boat. She hadn’t climbed much over the summer either, and even worse, she had spent the previous winter/spring recovering from being hit by a car while riding her bike. It would take us both a few pitches to get our shit together, but we had three weeks of California granite ahead and no reason not to be psyched!
“The Line” lived up to expectation, as did most of the routes that we did at Lover’s Leap. It is an excellent cragging area, stacked full of easy and moderate trad routes with technical sport routes mixed in throughout. That afternoon we walked down to the Lower Buttress looking for shade and an easy afternoon since we both wanted to ease into the trip. We spotted a splitter hand crack up high on the wall and our old guidebook seemed to have it graded at 5.8. I thought it looked a bit hard and steep (read: overhanging) for 5.8 and graciously offered Megan the lead since she was a self professed Indian Creek weekend warrior. She racked up and got on the route, thinking it was a 5.7 (our guidebook really sucked). After slinging a granite knob and loading up on gear, she pulled into a small roof that was a lot harder than either of us had anticipated. It took Megan several hangs and a lot of grunt work but she finally pulled through the roof and the steep crack and clipped the anchors. While at the top, a fellow climber explained to her that she had just lead “Surealistic Pillar Direct” which, if I recall correctly, was a 5.10 R… or maybe we did another variation… whatever, it was a very cool climb and a bit spicy as well; definitely not 5.8. We then put some draws on the anchor bolts and toproped an offwidth to the left, also fun.
We decided that night that we would go ahead and do the “Traveler Buttress” which I think was my first route in Steck and Roper’s Fifty Classic Climbs of North America (I don’t really know what’s on that list, maybe I’ve done one in Utah before?). I’m not sure how they picked the fifty routes, but this one was pretty damn good. The first pitch is long and funky, ascending big layback flakes with some awkward jamming at the top. The second pitch was my lead, and I had a choice between a 5.10 finger crack and a 5.9 offwidth. I had planned to do the offwidth but once I got up there and saw the finger crack I decided I wanted to try it. It was very good but one of the harder 5 .10′s I’ve done. I’m not sure if it was because I hadn’t climbed in a while or if it was because the crack was blue Alien size, but I decided to hang on a piece, place one higher and pull through the crux. I maybe could have sent it but since we had a lot of climbing ahead of us I decided to get to the stellar hand crack above as quick as I could. The rest of the route went pretty quickly and we finished off the day by doing the Groove, a 5.8 that ascends, you guessed it, a groove!
With no shortage of classics to tick, day three was another great one. We started by hiking back up to the “Traveler Buttress” to do “Tombstone Terror.” Each pitch we climbed this day could have been the best pitch we did at the Leap, but I think Tombstone was the most memorable for me. It is a sustained 5.10+ finger crack/corner with an insecure start and small, technical foot placements. The gear is good, but it is sort of hard to place through the lay back crux. This would be only my second hardish traditional lead since the “Crack of Doom” epic and it too started with insecure and unprotected climbing. I decided to take a completely different and more composed approach to “Tombstone” by climbing up and down the first 10 feet probably three or four times before committing to the route and placing some gear. I also climbed up and down throughout the next twenty feet, getting comfortable with the finger locks and making sure my gear was good. Once I had built up my confidence I climbed through the lay-back section and made a reach to a bomber finger lock. My hand twisted into that ever more familiar position and I immediately got that feeling that a good finger lock gives you; “Wow, I could hang here forever!”
With the crux below me I moved steadily up the 10- finger crack and then splitter 5.9 hands to an in your face traverse just before the chains. It was only one 5.10 pitch but it helped me confirm in my mind that I could still on-sight 10+ and that the next few weeks were going to be excellent.
We then went to find “Powerlust,” a 5.11a/d sport climb that is supposedly very height dependent. I wasn’t quite tall enough to do the crux move via the big reach, so I had to resort to pulling on what was probably the smallest feature I’ve ever used to do a climbing move. Basically I pulled (with my fingernail!) on a chip that was about the size of the point on a dull pencil and was able to stay on the wall long enough to reach up to the jug with my other hand. I guess I did it the 11d way? If it was 11d for me (I’m 6 feet tall) then it was even harder for Megan!
We finished our Lover’s Leap trip with what ended up being Megan’s favorite route, “Hospital Corner.” I led the fun but trivial first pitch so that she could have the money pitch. Just as she started up the 140 foot 5.10 dihedral, I began to wish that I had taken the lead. It looked stellar, and Megan climbed it well. I’m not sure that it would have been as memorable for me as “Tombstone,” even if I had lead it, but it could have been the best pitch we climbed. Definitely in the top 3.
The Leap is an excellent cragging area and the thing that we noticed the most was that everyone there was so nice and laid back. The camping is very limited and when we showed up late Friday night no less than 3 parties offered to let us crash at their sites. We were also able to scope out everyone’s flashy new Supertopo Guidebooks since ours was a little (a lot) out dated and inaccurate.
Overall it was an excellent place for Megan and I to get used to climbing with each other since we haven’t done so before, and it was also good for us to get our confidence up before moving onto more serious areas.