Text and pictures © 2003-2019 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"What, there's more to California than Yosemite ? Where did you ever hear that ?"
Left: Jenny on Traveler's Buttress (5.9), Lovers Leap.
Right: Arete on the 2nd pitch of the Traveler's Buttress.
Mike from the resole store in Fort Collins (yup, our road trip is sponsored with free resoles) told us just before we left that he was thinking of moving to Lake Tahoe, a name I've seen more often associated with loads of skiing Yuppies than with climbing. Driving south from Smith Rocks, we'd like to check out at least two spots over Tahoe: Lover's Leap and SugarLoaf. Lover's Leap proves an easy to love place. Free camping in a great setting and a great granite full of strange horizontal dykes, great for resting the feet. There are plenty of excellent routes and the first day we manage a few of them: The Groove as a warm up with zero approach, Hospital Corner for a good dihedral and Traveler's Buttress for another classic to the summit.
Left: Many horizontal dikes typical of Lovers Leap are visible behind Jenny.
Right: Hard 5.11 slab at Sugarloaf.
The second day we hesitate to do more at Lover's Leap but go to the nearby SugarLoaf, a huge block of granite with a steep approach. It's so windy that we cannot climb more than the first pitch of the several routes we attempt. As soon as we get above the top of the trees we get tossed around, the rope gets carried away between the pro and we can't hear each others. A bit dejected we hike out to where a boulder with plenty of sweet routes should be but we can't find it...
Left: Jenny doing a foot stand on a pillar at Eagle Lake.
Right: Jenny climbing a pillar in an alcove.
After that, let's go sport climbing. Or something. In a climbing store in Lake Tahoe they let me xerox the out of print guidebook and we end up on the excellent 5.10 routes of Eagle Lake, either steep trad cracks or smooth sport slabs. Yes, Tahoe should definitely be on our list of worthy place to find a job. Anyone hear that ?
Okay, there's more to California than Yosemite, but still, there's no way we can go to California without hitting Yosemite and its sidekick Tuolumne. We'll see later what the rest of California holds.
Left: Fire observatory in the California Needles.
Right: Sunset on the impressive Needles.
After our many Yosemite climbs, we take a few days to rest, sort out our slides, put back some fat on, and read guidebooks for the next destination. Vincent and the others are gone and we want to go out of Yosemite, having had enough of it. We decide to head towards Las Vegas with a side trip to the Needles. They prove as beautiful in real rock than on pictures, their yellow lichen glowing in the sun. We start the hike in late in the morning, and spend some time talking with the fire ranger living with her cat on the top of the observation deck (absolutely stunning view) and it's already 2pm before we start the 1st pitch of thin ice, a beautiful 5.10b crack on the Sorcerer, very Yosemite-like. The 2nd pitch is a grunting deeply flared crack and I lack 2 meters of rope to make it to the summit ledge.
Left: Sorcerer Needle, California, 2003.
Right: Climber on Airy interlude on Witch Needle, California, 2003
We are back at the base at 4pm; we had thought about doing another route but it's getting late. We talk with another party who's just done it and they convince us. We start the 1st pitch of Airy Interlude on the Witch Needle running. I run out of rope and Jenny follows me till I reach the belay. Then the beautiful traverse of the 2nd pitch with the sun low on the horizon. Great view. We run up the last pitch while the sun sets and we take pictures. Too bad we were here only one day, there's great potential, but the long hike out in the dark is a bore. I start running ahead, thinking of preparing dinner (some kind of quiche with whatever we have left), but Jenny yells at me: "I think there might be bears or mountain lions around here, wait for me !!!" I try to ignore her, but she catches up and kicks my butt when I say: "see, even with you bad knees you can run if you want to"...
On our way out of California we cross Death Valley before reaching Red Rocks where we have the longest route of all in sight.
Left: Jenny on the Robbins dihedral at Tahquiz.
Right: Jenny rappelling a roof at Tahquiz.
After Arizona, it's time for some socializing as we head to San Diego to meet a turkey, Sophie and Chris for Thanksgiving. After even the leftovers are gone, we go check out Suicide and Suicide, two areas of the 1st and 2nd age of climbing in California. Confirming in the mind of our non-climbing friends that we are crazy ("Why did they call that place Suicide?"). The Open Book dihedral is harder than its 5.9 rating, but since it was first climbed by Royal Robins in the 40s, we are not surprised. The rock is excellent, well featured on Suicide and a lot smoother on Suicide, the facing cliff where I end up on a scary 5.10 runout.
Left: Panorama of Joshua Tree: big boulders strewn all around the desert.
Right: Strenuous heel hook on Bearded Cabbage (5.10+).
And now that december is upon us and the temperatures have dropped enough, it's time to check out Joshua Tree. I must say that I was a little disappointed by JT. There are plenty of excellent routes, but they are almost all single pitches and far from each others, so it's hard to climb more than 4 or 5 a day. And the days are short too, so it's also hard to enjoy the campground with the cold night wind blowing dust on your BBQ. Some routes stand out particularly, but many of the bolted routes are just smooth slabs while the trad routes are sometimes uneven in the protection. Real Hidden Valley, Echo Rock, Lost Horse, Outback, Comic Book, Wonderland of rocks, Echo Cove, Horror, Split Rock... Among the most impressive: Bearded Cabbage and its committing boulder move high above ground (how old is that bolt ?); Echo Cove with its very hard 5.11a and very easy 5.11c; the Comic Book where you have to decide between placing a cam or jamming your fingers on the first move off the 2nd pitch... We socialize a bit and I end up drunk. Several days are spent waiting for the wind to die off. Finally bored by those short pitches, we head back for Cochise Stronghold in southern Arizona.
Left: Dusk over Joshua Tree.
Right: Campfire at Joshua Tree.
Q: But what sort of trad climbing is near LA and how easy is it to get to? (DanielB)
A: I hope you like large magnitude earthquakes. Nearly all the trad climbing areas in S. Cal are threatened by large magnitude earthquakes.
If you do not mind dealing with drunk mexicans driving home, and rice rockets on the morning drive in.
- Taqhuitz: Our most popular trad area is less then 10km from the San Jacinto Fault. A mag 7 earthquake is expected in the next few years on this fault. Anyone caught on the rock will be killed for sure. Also, since the rock only takes small cams, and is rotten, many climbers have problems finding good belay anchors. Also, the local SAR team does not have ropes longer than 200 ft, so it takes them 12-24 hours to get you off the rock, assuming they drop the stokes only twice. A local climbing club also lets woman do routes as teams of two, very scary. The hike in takes 3 hours on loose sandy rock. By Mar the temp has climbed into the 100's and lasts until late summer monsoon.
- Joshua Tree is not much better, with the nearby rift valley that is Yucca Valley. Large Tornado's also sweep through the park. The rangers carry M16 guns and are not afraid to use them on climbers that try to bandit camp. The whole place is a paved parking lot. It takes 30 minutes to get into the park, with the new homeland security. Marines back from Afghanistan are a big problem at the local bars, etc.
- Your best bet is to stick to sport at Mt. Williamson (aka Williamson Rock). All the nearby faults are considered dead, and the bolts are only 3 ft apart. The rock is sound, and everyone climbs in a quite and respectful manner. No drinking or drug use is evident, and the sheriff is never called. No dogs, hunns, or brits are every seen. The women all dress in a conservative manner, and do not climb in swimsuits.
The traffic in Los Angeles is also very bad. I have to leave for for my 8am aerospace job at 4 am, and get back home by 10pm.
We also have a large problem with illegal aliens and leaf blowers.
Our new governor is a movie star. — Rockstar (alias Jeff Batten), trolling to keep the area to himself...