Monday, July 31, 2017

Angel's Fright on Tahquitz Rock

Oops, it's the end of July. Here is another installment in A june that dreams were made of.

I'd known of the Tahquitz since early in my climbing career when I still lived in Los Angeles, but as a beginning climber with only sport climbing gear and experience, I was intimidated by this classic granite multipitch crag. After having led on gear in Red Rocks, Joshua Tree, Indian Creek, Donner Pass, and even at Owens River Gorge, it felt silly that I had not yet climbed at this "local" crag.

I met Leslie of Dynamite Starfish in Bishop during the Women's Climbing Festival in 2016. In a recent interview, Leslie reminded me that we met for the first time when I walked up alone and crashed her and her friends' bouldering session in the Buttermilks.

We met again at the WCF in Bishop this year (though I didn't have a ticket because my clicking fingers weren't fast enough), and further bonded over Los Angeles, making stuff, and the desire to trad climb. I knew that I would be in Los Angeles for writing workshops, so I contacted Leslie about climbing together in Tahquitz.

We met for a session at Hollywood Boulders, our only indoor-climbing experience together, and she told me she was interested in Angel's Fright, a 400-foot route on the West Face. Not too hard, not too long, good belay ledges. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

While I'm wary of making long drives for day trips, and especially ones with what seem like small objectives in the age of 3,000-foot long free solos, it's all a matter of scale.

In the days before the climb, the carbon-footprint conscious (also: anxious) part of me wondered whether it was silly to drive from Garden Grove to Riverside and then on to the San Jacinto Mountains for just a day trip. Leslie assured me that "daytrips to Tahquitz happen!" And in fact, that is how most climbers do it. So, on a Thursday morning, I woke at 5:30am, made coffee, and got myself on the road.

Getting to the base of Tahquitz climbs requires a 45-minute uphill hike, known in climbing terms as an "approach." I felt prepared to haul our rack and food and water up the hill after my recent years working as a backpacking instructor, but I tend toward the slow-and-steady. Thankfully, Leslie did not rush us.

A party of three got there before we did and so there was a bit of waiting as they got on their way. Leslie linked the first two pitches, which my 70-meter rope did not quite give comfortably. I had to simul-climb about 15 feet off the ground in order to get her to the belay ledge. Others had said that a 70-meter rope could make it; perhaps I just wasn't heavy enough to create the necessary rope stretch?
Racking up at the top of the second pitch. Taken by Leslie.
I had a difficult time sorting out the next pitch; I found myself crawling through spiky, gnarled trees unnecessarily and having to backtrack to get back on-route. Route-reading is one of the main parts of multi-pitch climbing that intimidate me, much more than the exposure or height. I found a shadier belay just 50 feet or so from where I began, so Leslie encouraged me to lead the final section, which included a slabby finger crack that I had a great time on.

It was a long day, with a lot more hiking than climbing, but so things go when starting out with a new skillset (and maybe also when you're in your 30s while doing so).
Summit haikus. Always check out the summit register!
It was amazing to go climbing with someone with whom I had so many shared values and relatable life experiences. I felt particularly grateful for our day together because I had just had a night of feeling, once again, great sadness and frustration from the divide between me and my immigrant parents, between what they wish for me and what I wish for myself.

I was close to canceling on Leslie, but then-- what would the day have held? Just more wallowing in negativity, guilt, frustration. Might as well make the drive, hike in the heat, climb with the sun's glare reflecting off the bright granite, stand on a summit, spend time among the pine trees. Most importantly, if I had stayed home, I would have missed some incredible conversations about all the things.

I drove back to my parents' house incredibly grateful for the experience. Kind of euphoric, actually. Connection is the best drug.


Since that day, I've made good on my promise to myself to get out and climb, with recent bouldering trips to Mt. Tamalpais, Castle Peak, and Tuolumne. Looking forward to the weather cooling down and to getting on ropes again.