Jungle Beat (5.9+, 2 Pitches)
Rated traditionally at 5.9+, one is left to wonder, "Plus what?" I say, plus one.
"Newer leaders should bring doubles from .3 to 3" said the beta on Mountain Project. I took the advice and racked up along with a set of nuts and tricams. I doubled checked my gear to be safe. It's been a long time since I had this much stuff on my harness, and with about 10 pitches of trad leads (and very little crack climbing experience) under my belt, I still consider myself somewhat of a gumby.
I looked up at the roof and worked my way down to figure out how to start out the climb, leading me into this large crack that went deep into the wall. I gave Mihail the fist bump and ventured off, slowly working my way up the awkward chimney. I was about 20 feet up and started to get nervous, it was a pretty uncomfortable position to not have any pieces in yet. I shimmied a couple more feet and found the first lip which marked the base of the main dihedral. I stared at the crack in the lip, trying to remember how to gauge sizes from a glance. Out came the 0.75, fitting pretty nicely in a section of the crack, though on hindsight, a #1 would have fit better further back in the lip. I yanked hard on the cam to test it; if the 0.75 popped while I was on the main face, I would be looking at a 35 foot deck. That's something I could afford to do without. I clipped in and headed out into the open air.
Luckily, going over the first lip and up the lower dihedral was my style of climbing; good old stemming action. I've never been one to shy away from using my flexibility, and this route had a good amount of that. With stable positions for the next 20 feet I added a few more pieces of pro in the crack and layers of confidence in my placements.
However the dihedral began to narrow in, resulting in some sections of chimneys and off-widths in order to place pro. Thankfully Nick gave me a taste of that during our trip in Yosemite; nothing a bit of grunting and excessively loud breathing exercises couldn't handle. Before I realized I had reached the main roof where the first belay ledge was, and it definitely took me a minute to decide if I was ready for it. I placed my last piece in the dihedral and traversed out under the roof.
From a squeeze chimney the crack flared out to about 4 feet wide, and despite the section being technically easy, having 80 feet of nothing dangling below you made it pretty frightening. But I managed to stem 10 feet out from the roof and beached-whaled myself onto the belay ledge. It was a bit of a squeeze as the roof over the ledge was only 3 feet tall, but having a secure platform to sit on after that first pitch, I wasn't going to complain. I struggled a bit making the anchor due to the awkward position, but eventually I figured it out and set Mihail on top rope.
The initial plan was for me to lead pitch 1 and then swap leads with Mihail. But considering that trad opportunities are few and far between, I doubled down and decided to face the crux head on and lead both pitches. Mihail scooched over on the belay ledge and he helped change up the sub-par anchor I built. I leaned out as far on the ledge as I could and placed a #3 up in the horizontal crack beneath the roof before clipping in.
"On belay Shao".
I took a deep breath and went out into the open. Hand jams were never my thing, but I knew that was no running away from it this time. True to my style, I stemmed as far out as I could below the roof to stabilize myself in a triangular stance, cranked hard on the crimp below the roof and shoved my left hand into the crack. I recall how Nick Tripp described the hand jam being so bomber you could hang off the roof with just that one hand jam in true "Cliffhanger" fashion, but I wasn't having any of that. I popped up a high foot and stepped hard, scrambling to find something else to grab. I don't remember what it was, but it was good enough for me to pull over the roof. Still conscious that I could ill-afford a fall past my belayer, I carefully re-positioned myself and got a good second piece in.
From there, I don't remember too much, but I was on autopilot. Back on the sandstone dihedral, I cruised the rest of the climb, finding excellent stemming almost the entire way to the top. I ran out a couple of sections without realizing, but I was solid throughout and topped out on the ledge shortly after. Anchor building was again a bit tricky but eventually I figured it out and not much longer Mihail joined me at the top. We spent a good couple of minutes soaking in the great climb we just did, reminiscent of the last time we did a multi-pitch together, back in El Potrero Chico. I laid back against the rock and looked out at some of best views of the gorge I've ever seen.
It pays to be on the sharp end.
Trip Report by Shao
Photos by Conor
Man it literally hurts just typing this cause I have a blood blister on my index finger but who cares cause my stoke tank from HCR is still full and I am excited to write about this amazing place that I have fallen in love with so buckle up kids it’s time for another trip report. Also I'm still as long winded as ever so there's a TL:DR section below.
HORSESHOE CANYON RANCH (HCR)
Some basics and admin stuff about HCR first
Now that that’s out of the way it’s time for me to unnecessarily recount everything that happened in those four days chronologically in great detail.
Sketchy van left campus around 4pm on Friday and since we’d reach HCR pretty late we figured we’d save the $25 on camping and just sleep at a Walmart in Branson. The weather was oddly warm but pretty welcomed at this time of the year. None of us really slept all that well for those few hours but this is what we get of being cheap.
At the crack of dawn we left Walmart and took the windy road into HCR. Take note that the road in isn’t all that bad but there are some sections which are quite steep and if it was muddy the drive may not be all that pleasant (I think sketchy van may have had troubles getting out if it was raining). As with Jackson there are potholes in certain areas and you may want to keep your eyes on the road if you don’t have a decent amount of clearance.
A little after sunrise we met up with the rest of the gang at the West Campground just up the hill from the Trading Post and bought our climbing passes to get ready for some climbing. We had quite a group (~20 of us) which I don’t know how it came to be but I just added a lot of people who said “I’m interested” and here we are. We were generally split in 3 groups; the big kids (Eric, Dylan, Mina and Logan) who were getting on some hard stuff, the crack boys (Peter and Mihail) who were getting crusty the whole trip and the rest who were a mix of regular and newbie climbers. I was trying to push myself and so I tried to stick with the big kids and I’m glad I did cause I pushed my limits trying to keep up with them.
Our first crag was The North Forty, which is the largest area in HCR and boasts over 100 sport climbs in the area, mostly in the easy to moderate range. I paired up with Eric and tried to knock out as many climbs as we could. Started out with Groovy (5.10b) which is just 5.8 climb with a 10a/b boulder start. We then made a bad move of immediately hopping onto Crimp Scampi (5.10d) which is supposedly one of the best climbs in the crag but personally I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Both of us pumped ourselves out more than we liked to and didn’t get the send so that was a bummer. A good thing however was that the route was popular enough to get permadraws throughout which was a pleasant surprise.
Then came the highlight of the day which was Circus Wall, a section of North Forty with a good concentration of quality climbs, and completely hung with permadraws which was fantastic. Eric convinced me to hop on Fat Hand (5.12a) which was a decently pumpy climb with ~V3 boulder problem start. The start is a little height dependant and it was quite frustrating, but checking off my second 12a was a great feeling. We then moved on to Big Top (5.11c) right to the left which I thought was much more fun and managed to clear with only one take. Also Dylan managed to rodeo the first clip of Fat Hand in one big swing and it was pretty cool.
After that we still managed to pack in a few more climbs. Some easier but quality ones were Green Goblin (5.8), First Normal Form (5.9), Season of the Storm (5.10a). We also did Sonny Jim (5.11a), a really good climb with a cool roof problem at the end of a nice slab. And perhaps the coolest route in that area was Lavender Eye (5.12a) which was very aptly named because one section had a lavender colored oval which looked like an eye and it was one heck of a roof problem. Eric managed to get it but I got shut down after a good half hour of fighting and swearing and ripping my fingers. It was so painful to get through the crux but run out of strength to make the clip right in front of my face. But nonetheless I’m glad I did try it and I’m waiting to get my revenge on it. Also Dylan finished the route but he may have left out some key details ;)
The climbing in the day was great and the night did not disappoint either. Perks of being in the middle of buttfuck nowhere is that there is minimal light pollution and the night sky is incredible. The temperature took quite a dip but we had a good fire going to keep us warm, good food to fill our tummies, and a whole bunch of shenanigans to keep us entertained. One thing about climbing in November was that sunset was ~5pm and it felt much later than it seemed, so we were out cold around 9pm and most of us slept all the way through the morning.
Boy I could feel my fingers throbbing but there was climbing to be done so I sucked it up and powered through. After some tasty pancakes in the morning the main group headed towards The Far East which had a good number of routes too. Eric and I started off on Gracie’s Eight (5.8) which had a huge bivvy ledge. We then got on a classic and my favorite climb of the day – Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (5.11a), which had a nice crux section down low and pretty cool moves. Eric then proceeded to fight it out on what was allegedly the best 5.12 in the canyon, Super Soul Sure Shot (5.12c), which featured a crimpy start and a crazy gaston crux in the middle. Eric crushed it and I made a mistake of thinking I could possibly do it too but simply ended up ripping the skin on my fingers and not even being able to do it (I TR assisted the starting crimp section and couldn’t even do the crux by French Freeing).
After a terrible defeat I proceeded to repair my ego by climbing Orange Crush (5.9) which was the tallest climb on the furthest part of the canyon, and it is famous for having the best view of the canyon which I agree. It is quite a view to take in and you should definitely bring a camera when going up. This route is also over protected so you can bring 14 draws or just skip a few close ones to get up.
To end off the day we headed to Roman Wall, which featured vertical faced routes up to ~40 feet up, followed by a pretty crazy roof past the ledge for a few climbs. We were all eyeing Maximus (5.12a), a 30 foot roof overhang up to a roof for the finish. You can get to Maximus via a classic arete problem Commodus (5.10a) to the belay ledge. Dylan, Logan and Mina went first so Eric and I got on Boronocus (5.11c) which was a less intense overhang but still loads of fun on a rather long route.
Eventually I went up Maximus but my skin was absolutely bare and chalk literally would not stick on my fingertips (plus I was still feeling terrible from Super Soul Sure Shot) so I couldn't stick the crux and it was quite a bad way to end the day, but well I think I was just happy to have tried. Eric subsequently went ahead to cruise through the crux and finish up the climb.
Jared's car had to leave early so after dinner they left for Champaign, while the rest of us cuddled by the campfire cause it was getting real cold. The major highlight of the night was Logan showing us that he could totally do Danger Can in one hit and said "It's cause you guys don't commit enough" and then proceeded to smash the can on his head and not break open the can. It was probably the best thing we saw all trip. Mihail and Logan proceeded to go late night bouldering while we all got an early night.
After a day of defeat I decided to slow it down with pushing myself on the hard stuff. We warmed up at Roman Wall again where I did Sybarite (5.9) and then lead Commodus since I top roped it the day before. Mina was feeling strong and so she led and almost onsighted Boronocus which was awesome. We headed over to Middle East area where I go on Nipple Stimulation (5.10a) simply because of the name.
We then headed to Titanic Boulder on the other side of the canyon and got herded by the dog and also saw a whole bunch of goats (including one with obscenely big testicles).
While passing by campsite we saw a bunch of trash and realized that the last group to leave did not clear up and left some food stuff and a load of garbage out. Not cool. Especially since the goats were so near our campsites they could have easily raided it and attracted other animals too. Plus it's a huge no-go for simply have bad camping etiquette so we cleaned it up and gave the group a lil trash talk that night.
Now for the highlight of the trip. Eric, Dylan and Logan got on Cradle of the Deep (5.13a) which was this crazy problem up this fin on the side of the free-standing Titanic Boulder. If you're wondering why it's called that, the next picture should do a good job explaining.
Watching the big boys get on Cradle of the Deep was pretty intense. It looked like it was way out of my reach but I'd be up to try it sometime in the future once I get stronger. If you're intending to do it, bring a stick clip because the belay ledge has a 15 foot drop off and it's not gonna be fun to fall off on lead. Logan and I managed to rodeo backclip the first bolt so we gave up. Also listening to Logan climb and get angry/excited on a climb is hilarious and I highly recommend everyone to climb with him just to listen to it.
In the mean time, Mina and I also got on two easier climbs, Ship of Fools (5.10a) and Portside (5.10d). Ship of Fools was a straightforward climb with a bouldery start, while Portside was probably the coolest climb I did the entire trip.
To end off the day, we went to Prophecy Wall which is where the only 5.14a of the canyon is found (The Prophet, FA by Chris Sharma in 2005). I jumped on Taliban Soup (5.11b) and managed to bump my hardest onsight grade which really made my day. Eric did Egyptian Airbus (5.12c). Both climbs were slabby up to the roof and had some pretty big moves, but nothing too difficult. Apparently Egyptian Airbus had a huge dyno move which Eric clearly didn't do so it was rather disappointing. Mina and Dylan also got on Learning to Fly (5.10c) which was a sustained slight overhung route and we finished that climb which was a great way to end the day.
We got back to campsite for dinner, and after some convincing from Logan about the best boulder problem he ever did in his life, a bunch of us decided to join him for late night bouldering at Idaho Boulders. Logan brought us to this problem called Make You Cuss (V2) that features super cool layback smearing which is great on a high friction day like ours. He then began to describe this incredible process of sending the problem after many attempts and how it will forever be his favorite route, making a bold statement that if someone flashes it he will start walking home.
Eric then flashed the problem.
Okay so Logan stayed but still it was one of the funniest things we ever saw (the title of this trip report also came from a conversation that night). I never got up Make You Cuss cause I suck at smearing but I think I'd like to try it if my fingers are in better shape. We also tried a couple of V0s around before moving on to another area, stopping by some classics along the way such as Grand Dragon (V7) and other boulder problems that are pretty much impossible.
Towards the end we were all pretty pooped from just climbing so much, but we all tried The Crescent (V3) which was a cool slabby problem with a huge crescent sidepull thing on the right. Eric made quick work of it and the rest of us struggled quite a bit. Logan eventually sent it but that involved saying "One Last Time" like 15 times and every attempt at a different beta was actually the same beta we were telling him. But it was still great that he finally got the send. Also throughout this Mihail was just sleeping on a root and didn't even care that he became a crash pad.
The last day was a slow one cause of the bouldering plus we had to pack up the site and that we had an 8 hour drive back. We packed up and left for Mullet Buttress near the north side of the crag where Eric and I got on Business in the Front (5.10b) for warming up and I hopped on Mixed Max (5.11c) which is pretty cool and I'd recommend Mixed Max if you're hitting up the area.
But the real highlight for the last day was Goat Cave, an area of overhung routes that due to low popularity, has been overrun by goats and since there are no plants on the ground in the cave, the sea of goat shit has been there forever. FYI this extends to free standing boulders being covered in poop it was horrible. But to make up for this, Goat Cave had some pretty amazing climbs. Huge plus points that they're all permadraws for convenience.
Mina got the ball rolling with Anal Sac Expression (5.10c) which is the easiest climb in the cave. This one starts on top of the boulder and you'd want to stick clip it to prevent some serious falls if you miss the first clip. Eric did some crazy stuff on Austrian Ass Attack (5.12a) which starts off with some serious hand jamming and leads up to a big roof, which Dylan also finished afterwards. I did Mexican Sac Pull (5.11b) that was rather straightforward overhang stuff too.
Eric's car had to run off afterwards so I belayed Dylan on what I believe was Man Junk (5.12b) and it involved a lot of climber-belayer love entanglement. The crux was definitely down low and it seemed like an intense start. Dylan then convinced me to do Ride the Short Bus (5.11d). This climb starts on the tip of a sharp boulder so stick clipping the first bolt is a yes. It was kind of frustrating because at the edge on my tip toes I barely reached the crimps before I have to campus to a jug and I was not able to do it, so I instead had to dyno for the jug, whereas Dylan kinda just reached for it. But once I got the first jug, it was pretty smooth sailing from there getting through the low crux and eventually the sweetest roof I've done so far into a nice juggy finish. Dylan hopped on after to send the route and it was dope.
With the climbing done we got some final pictures of HCR and set sail back to Champaign. Sketchy van stopped by El Sombrero in Lebanon, Missouri which I'd dare say had as good salsa and food as El Tequila in Vienna, and at almost a dollar or two cheaper. If Mexican food sounds good after 4 days of climbing, this is the place.
And that concluded my virgin trip to HCR! It was definitely an eye opening experience and I am grateful to have had great weather on some quality climbs with fantastic company. Kind of crazy looking back at my first trip report last year in the Red and realizing how much I've improved. I'm nowhere near being the strongest climber in my community (however I define that) but it's amazing to know that I have improved both physically and mentally. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and I can't wait to see what the next trip has in store for us.
Callout weekend got rescheduled due to rain, so I (Marshal Herrmann), Shao, Ansel, and Melanie checked out Illinois’ newest crag on Sunday, April 23. Summarized into quick facts, the good, the bad, the (driving) beta, the verdict, and an outline of our day.
Quick facts about the park
The (driving) beta
Google Maps gave me 3 pretty different routes with virtually the same driving time. Taking I 72 past Springfield would definitely be the fastest way – you could go 90 mph if you wanted (pretty empty country roads). I57 and I70 is much more scenic however (follows Mississippi River, see something other than cows and cornfields); pictures below. This route also passes through Alton, IL which is a bigger tourist town on the river just past the park. Alton has a variety of restaurants and other accommodations. We took the quicker way in and the scenic way out, which is my recommendation.
The climbing lot actually shows up on Google Maps - click here for link. It is unmarked in person. If you look at satellite mode, you’ll notice there’s a much larger parking lot just down the road (it has a sign saying “Day Use Parking” – probably an extra minute hike).
We stopped at O Jans Fish Stand, a sketchy fish stand along the river with big portions for cheap! If you like greasy food and no frills, come here. Otherwise, drive into Alton for more restaurant options (fast food, ethnic, diners, burger stands, nicer places, etc).
You could do 75% of the park in a day with a 10c leader, a 35m rope, and 6 quickdraws. Maybe 95% if you bring a trad rack. It’s probably best for bringing newbs or single day trips. I would not recommend spending more than a day here, but it’s worth checking out if you can only climb for 1 day. The routes are fun and have some variety – it’s certainly a change of pace from Jackson.
I picked everyone up at 5am, and off we went! We arrived at the crag around 8am with just 1 other group already there. I had a GoPro I rented from the library to play with, and will probably add the video as an addendum to this later. We first walked into the Meadow Slab wall and warmed up on a 5.6 and 5.7+. I was feeling adventurous and along with Ansel, free soloed a 5.2. We found a solo climber with 2 dogs; coincidentally, also a UIUC student. We climbed with him for the majority of the day.
After this area, we kept following the trail and kept finding bolts. So we kept climbing! I didn’t keep good track of what we climbed, or what we liked, because well we climbed almost everything the place had. Shao estimates he climbed 14 routes (and we left with 2 hours of daylight left!). I can’t provide any recommendations on routes, just do all of them.
We were getting a bit confused about which route was what since there is no guidebook (but not a huge deal since everything sans a few routes are 10s or lower). The routes are well depicted and logged on Mountain Project though; any confusion was definitely user error. Case in point: Shao led a 5.11d, The Father's Gift, without knowing the grade until afterwards. Other people did tell us it was the best route in the park. I followed it on top rope like a true champ, so there’s my recommendation afterall: climb this route.
Shao clipping a bolt on The Father’s Gift, 5.11d, “best route in the park.” It traverses left near the top. Ansel on the right climbing Vista, 5.10c. Both at Ryan’s Balcony wall.
The last wall we visited was pretty crowded, but because of the short routes, it cleared out pretty quick (routes have high turnover). This area also has a nice picnic area.
A little busy at this wall, but cleared out soon after
We left fairly early since we experienced most of what the park offers (5pm or so, my guess). While the crag was very clean, the highway is full of litter: we packed out half a trash bag of cans and bottles on the way to the parking lot.
We voted on fish for dinner, and headed to the aforementioned O Jans Fish Stand (5 minutes from the crag). This place epitomizes no frills. I asked the lady at the counter what she recommended. She laughed at me, quipping that she eats everything. It didn’t help narrow down the menu options, but gave me a laugh. The lady was very obese and I can see why: the fish stand serves up huge portions of greasy fish for cheap! It would be dangerous living near here, and especially working here. To keep a balanced climber’s diet, you can round out the fat and protein from the fried fish with some carbs from their huge variety of pies. Somehow I managed to avoid that sugary goodness temptation. You better climb hard to earn dinner at this place.
Yes, they serve you in cardboard boxes that they reuse. And yes, those 2 big fish filets are a part of one $4.50 sandwich.
Afterwards we were on the road again. We took a 3 minute detour (calculated by Google at the time) and followed the Mississippi River for a bit eastward instead of heading straight north. Pretty nice views, breaks up the traditional Illinois interstate monotony. We were home by 10pm.
Beats the Interstate
Be sure to check out Melanie’s quality photo album (featuring high res pics and not stills from a GoPro, like my report). My GoPro video montage to be released at a later date (gotta make it gnarly!)
Marshal Hermann - April 2017
This weekend was the Badass Bitches Climber Crew climbing trip. We went out to Jackson Falls for the weekend with a crew of nearly a dozen women. We stayed up at the campsite near the dog walk which was a first for me. We arrived Friday night and just passed out.
Saturday we went down the dog walk to Snakes Roof where several of the ladies stayed to climb. My friends Lena, Natalie, and I went over to Spleef Peak to get on some different climbs. We started out on the 5.8 Blue Spark which was an okay climb. Followed up an okay crack in the wall but didn’t have much in regards to feet.
Next we did Through the Smoke (5.9). This was a tough one to the left of Blue Spark. I got two bolts up and was going for the third when I fell. I unfortunately swung and caught my leg on the side of the rope and got a bad rope burn on my leg.
Beautiful right? But I got back up and finished the route with no other issues. The top part was more pleasant than the bottom part. There is a frequent occurence in Jackson that the bottom part of the routes are tougher than the rest of the climb. (Not always though.)
Next we tackled the 10a to the right of Blue Spark. This route was probably my favorite of the three we did on Spleef Peak. It had a lot of interesting foot holds and the hand holds were clear to see. The moves were challenging enough for it to be enjoyable though. It was also my first on-sight 10 outside. So I was pretty excited. You can also see that there is a pleasant little sitting area at the top to enjoy the views of Jackson.
Paige Mundy on top of The Garden Route. Photo by Katie Konocel
Paige Mundy on top of The Garden Route. Photo by Katie Konocel
(Only photos of me during the trip. Enjoyed the view at the top though.)
After that Lena and I went to meet up with my friend Peggy who was crushing it on Feed the Rat. Our friend James Fran made the FA of this huge off-width that required Cams the size of your head and a lot of courage.
Peggy Flavin climbing Feeding the Rat.
At this point my leg was not in the mood to do anything else for the day. I had intentions of trying Wild at Heart (5.11a) which was opposite wall of Feeding the Rat. I had TR it the fall before but I just wasn’t feeling 100% for it. So I chilled for the rest of the day in hopes that I’d feel better.
We went back to camp and went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant about 30 min from our campsite. After stuffing ourselves full of delicious food we went back to meet up with some other friends who happened to be at Jackson that weekend. When we got there we saw glowing Easter eggs around the campsite and people wearing bunny ears around the campfire. I got to meet some UIUC alumni that are currently living in Chattanooga. There were great stories and company. Probably one of my happiest nights around a campfire I’ve ever had.
That night I tried my new blow up mattress and slept in my car. It was so much better than the dinky sleeping pad I had been using.
The next day we got up and went to go watch Peggy climb Off-Width Exam. Our buddy Alex crashed our girls weekend and joined us. Peggy has the energy of a goddess. It took her about an hour but after several dozen tough moves, two pigeons flying out of the crack at her, and some serious bad ass persistence she topped out of the climb.
Alex Bragg climbing Off-Width Exam.
Peggy Flavin on Off-Width Exam
After that three of the girls wanted to head home but I decided to stay. So I followed them to the falls where they climbed out on a 5.8 called Lovin’ Lizards after one last foot dip to the falls. Then I headed back to Exam Wall area to meet back up with Alex, Peggy and some of the people from the campfire the night before. Alex was trying to finish a route called Eminent Domain (5.12D) that had a bail beaner left behind. After several valiant attempts he switched out with Peggy who also gave it a go.
After that we could tell it was going to start raining soon so I wanted to get in one more climb really quick before we had to head back. So I did The Dagger (5.8) a few routes over and my leg was throbbing from the rope burn so I wasn’t on the top of my mental game. I managed to finish and get to the top where I found a tiny painting about 2″ x 3.5″ on a tiny easle. It was a nice scene of a forest, lake, and a little sun. I have seen several of these around Jackson now. They are apparently left behind by the cancer society. It’s super inspiring. I’d love to figure out the stories of those who put them there. Anyway…I finished the route and then Alex decided he wanted to give it a go too. I gave him a belay where he practically ran up the face of the wal, then we decided to head out due to the growing thunder.
We headed out of the canyon and went to clean the anchor for Off-Width Exam. It was then that the rain started to pour. The others told me to go on ahead to get out of the rain. So I literally RAN all the way back to the parking lot and threw my stuff in the car. First off…I haven’t ran in the rain in years. It made me feel so refreshed and like a kid. (Plus it kind of washed off the grims and sweat of the last two days of climbing.) It felt so amazing. Alex and Peggy came shortly after and after briefly saying we were going for food. We headed out of Jackson and stopped at Tequillas in Marion where we had well deserved Margaritas and food.
One of the best trips I’ve ever been on.
- Trip report by Paige Mundy, April 2017
It’s time for a well overdue trip report that all of us were too lazy to write about!
During the last week of winter break, a good number of us went out west in search of good climbing, less than freezing rocks, lots of good food, and maybe a chance to get lucky.
Yes we’re talking Vegas baby.
Our group comprised mainly of two groups, trad (local climbing legend Alex James and co), and sport (everyone else who wasn’t worthy enough for our local climbing legend). And Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, or Red Rocks for short, boasts quality trad, sport and multi pitch routes in a dry and arid desert (average of 4 days of rain a month), which was perfect for our group. With over two thousand routes just a few miles off Las Vegas Boulevard aka The Strip, this was the go to crag for our winter break.
Most of us flew into Las Vegas airport, except my MVP Ansel Higgs and gang (Eric, Dylan and Amanda) who decided that it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge unless you drove across continental US in the middle of winter (it was rad). Some groups of us arrived a few days earlier and got some climbing in at Red Rocks, while Kyle, Kirsten, Noah and I arrived on Saturday. Kyle rented a sweet SUV, and even with that amount of space, we barely fit all 4 of us with luggage, camping and climbing gear in, so in case you’re considering fitting 5 into a vehicle, I do not recommend that.
Team "Drive Across Continental US Cause I Can"
So now it’s time for some fun facts:
The catch? It’s in the middle of a dried up lake.
There are quite literally no roads there, so driving in at near 2am and shining our headlights in hopes of finding our group was a huge pain in the ass. After half an hour of aimless wandering at other groups of parked cars, watching the GPS jump around, and leaving tire tracks over half the damn lake, we found our group and finally caught some sleep.
The challenge was to identify our group, and the tents didn't help. So we used Ansel's car which had an Illinois licence plate to find everyone (P.C. Ansel Higgs)
The lake sucked, but the sunrise was gorgeous (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
Next morning, after hugging each other in acknowledgement that our friends are in fact alive, our group debated on what to do for coming days. Joshua Tree had a lot more trad and bouldering, and about half of us were there mainly for sport. So by the power of Mountain Project (go download it), we found this place called New Jack City about an hour from JTree, and our group split from there.
Now for the good stuff. New Jack City (officially known as Sawtooth Canyon) is the beautiful gem hidden in the middle of nowhere in Southern California with some 300 sport routes. The metamorphic rock looks gorgeous and while there are a few sketchy routes with choss (loose rock), most of the holds are solid and generally safe. Routes are well bolted and easy to find, even without a guidebook we got around pretty well with Mountain Project. Unfortunately because we didn’t have a guidebook, I did not keep track of which climbs I did, and we kinda just went ahead with whatever grade we were told the climbs were as long as they were within our abilities. On that note, gradings there are close to Jackson Falls, not too tough, but definitely not soft.
The crag comprised mainly a 5.10 and 5.11 climbs, so lucky for me, I managed to bag a few mid 10s which I was comfortable leading. That said, there are some good 5.7-9 climbs too, with the only climb I remember being Crooked Dick Spire (5.9), or as I like to call it, Poop Rock. There are also a few two pitch climbs, one of which I did with Ansel as our first sport multipitch. Unfortunately, it is chossy as hell, hard to find, and very exposed (lots of wind), coupled with some technical difficulties, ended up not being a great climb. But still if you’re looking to do your first multi pitch, there are options in New Jack City.
The pretty metamorphic rocks that forms New Jack City
Poop Rock in all her glory (Crooked Dick Spire, 5.9)
Other great things about New Jack City, camping is free, with vault toilets, a pavilion and fire pit for each, and while there is no running water, the town of Barstow is only a 30 minute drive North on a straight road from New Jack, where you can find a Walmart, gas stations and restaurants.
Did I forget to mention that the crag is 100 feet from the car park?
That was literally my favorite part about New Jack City. It was so compact and accessible, with a bunch of climbs just a five minute walk from the campsite. I felt like I was in this playground that I never got to explore as a child, just that this was a playground for climber which was even better.
The sport group spent two days at New Jack City. The first night, it was forecast to rain so only my car camped at New Jack City while the others went back to the BLM lake. But well it rained at both places (in fact it hit them harder in the middle of a freaking dried up lake with no shelter), and they ended up coming back to New Jack City, so I guess we won that night. Also, we had breakfast at this lovely diner chain called Black Bear Diner, which was a little pricey, but had massive portions and was absolutely delicious so I highly recommend it.
Eric and Dylan atop one of the two pitch climbs in New Jack City (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
I can probably unlock my car from the top of the route
After two days in New Jack City, we heard that there are some sport climbs in JTree so we headed there to regroup. Camping at JTree was apparently full, paid campsites nearby were expensive, and we were sick of staying in a dried lake. So we got two motel rooms instead (9 Palms Inn), which allowed for a good night of drinking and ice cream. Also, showers. It’s nice to be clean once in a while.
Joshua Tree National Park has over a thousand boulder problems and much more trad routes, known to be notoriously sandbagged (under graded). But with no crash mats we had to make do with whatever sport routes we had. Our group split into two, one group followed the trad group by top roping their routes (I only joined for one day, which I didn’t remember much of), and the other group sport climbed in this place called Siberia.
The approach to Siberia was flat but about 2 miles long along a well-marked path called the Boy Scout’s Trail. Getting near the crag was not an issue, getting to the actual climbs to find the damn routes was near impossible without a guidebook, because the main path kind of disappears and it becomes easy to follow a ‘stray path’ that guides you away.
When we first arrived at the rocks, we saw a few routes with the first bolt unreasonably high up (I swear some first bolts were at least 25 feet up, not a difficult route, but not some simple scramble up). Finally after Kyle went exploring a little we found the right place with a couple of good climbs. They were mostly 5.9-10a, with some questionable flakes, high first bolts, and very sketchy scrambles to the base of each route. But they were good climbs, with my second (or first proper) multi pitch Dos Chi Chis (5.10a, 2 pitches) that I did with Kirsten, a slab climb that that was very exposed (Noah apparently got blown off the route, literally), but very enjoyable.
The approach into Siberia involved a lot of scrambling
Eric and Noah atop Dos Chi Chis
Siberia boasts some stunning views, especially near sunset
Getting out of Siberia however, was much less enjoyable. On the first evening, Kyle, Eric, Noah and I had our little desert adventure getting lost, following a bunch of paths and misidentifying landmarks which guided us off track (though I have to say it was quite a scenic hike out in the moonlight). Thankfully Kyle had GPS on his offline maps which allowed us to find the trail after an hour of wandering. So go download offline maps, your life could depend on it.
Another highlight of our trip to Jtree was The Chasm of Doom, a mini ‘cave system’ of sorts that involves lots of scrambling which occasionally gets sketchy, as well as squeezing through cracks and up chimneys. It starts near the Real Hidden Valley loop trail, but honestly I’m not too sure where it really is, you can search online for more details. In fact we may not have done the ‘actual’ trail cause it’s supposedly a secret route but we did what we could. The best part of The Chasm of Doom was that we did it during a full moon, so we barely even used our headlights, relying on the bit of moonlight seeping through the cracks. Highly recommend doing this.
Other things to note about this part of the trip, JTree is a National Park, so you need a weekly pass ($25) or an annual pass (~$80) for each car. Camping in the park is not easy as campsites fill up fast, but we found a site at Jumbo Rocks campground, which was far from the crags we were headed for, but still a nice campground. Also, JTree has vault toilets around, but no running water so remember to stock up. Food wise, there’s a great pizza place called Pie for the People in the town just North (Twentynine Palms). Oh and the rocks in Jtree are quartz monzonite, an igneous rock which from far looks smooth, but up close it is essentially sandpaper embedded with crystals. In other words, don’t fall on the rock. It’s incredibly grippy, but it will grate off any skin you have if you grind yourself against it on a fall.
Our cozy campfire at Jumbo Rocks campgrounds
After three days at Jtree, our group decided to head to find out one more sports crag for our last day of climbing, this time in Phoenix, Arizona. The place we went to was called Camelback Mountain, and it is smack in the middle of the city. Because of that, we couldn’t find a campsite, and settled for a Motel 6 instead.
Camelback Mountain is more of a park, being very established in terms of its walking path, with a nice carpark at the base and a toilet with running water there. Getting to the crag was a little tricky. It’s very close to the carpark and you don’t have to run too far off. Mountain Project has more details on it. But basically there are two walls. Headwall is the base with 10 routes, and Gargoyle Wall is ABOVE Headwall. Yes, you have to climb up some route first before you arrive at Gargoyle Wall, which was why we got quite lost in the process.
All of us paired up and got on some sort of a multi pitch climb. I was with Kyle heading up this unnamed route, Unknown (5.10a, 3 pitches). First pitch was tricky, because the belay ledge was very far right, and I missed it which required some down climbing and quickdraw retrieval. Second pitch was where the trouble began. Kyle got pretty far up, and I was nearing the end of my payable rope. We tried shouting for him but the wind was strong and we couldn’t hear each other. Eventually Eric and Amanda who were climbing beside up got high up enough and he told us he was at the anchors, so I unclipped and started climbing too. Eventually I got up, met Kyle at the anchor and learnt that
That feeling when you sit on stable ground after a long run-out section
Panoramic views atop Camelback Mountain
With the sun setting in Arizona, we headed back to Vegas and caught our flights out of Sin City, marking the end of our climbing trip. Our grand plans for the week in Vegas never happened (I never got to eat my ramen), but I’m kind of glad we ended up straying so far from our original plans. The highlight for me was definitely New Jack City, which I would never have found had we not detoured all the way down to Southern California.
Special shoutout to Kyle for coordinating and taking charge of things with our car, always looking out for us, to Noah and Kirsten for being awesome car buddies, and Eric and Amanda for helping me get sketchy van back home from Oklahoma City. It was a fantastic trip, and I can’t wait to get back outdoors for more climbing.
Climbing Trip Report: China Version ‘16 (Nov-Dec)
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