We are excited to announce our partnership with Entre-Prises Climbing Walls for our second location! Read the full Press Release at www.epusa.com. Check out a sneak peak of the design below.
We are excited to announce our partnership with Entre-Prises Climbing Walls for our second location! Read the full Press Release at www.epusa.com. Check out a sneak peak of the design below.
Thank you to Rosie Bates and Jonathan Finch for choosing to re-publish this post to Mesa Rim’s blog.
Through vignettes and photographs Rosie, with the help of photographer, Jonathan Finch, recollects adventures that her and Connell had in Squamish, BC this past August.
I’m going to try something new here. Since i’ve been bad at keeping a journal and extra bad at keeping up with my blog, pictures have served as a filler for the details that naturally fade. I don’t know if this is a good replacement because pictures only capture one moment and leave a lot for debate–but that is a topic for a different time.
For the last half of our trip in Squamish, Connell and I were greeted by our good friend Jonathan Finch. We met Jonathan while studying at the University of San Diego. Since then he has he returned to Montana to pursue a career in photography–no surprise since he has a great eye for capturing beauty. Long story short, we all met up again in Canada to climb, photograph and explore. Jonathan expressed that he wanted to start writing little vignettes along with the photos he took. I immediately latched on to this idea and asked him if I could take some of the photos he took of us and write–clearly he said “yes”.
A good picture should tell a story and a good story should paint a picture–and the combination of two should… create a symphony? On that note (pun intended) I will try my best to create short symphonies with the words that Jonathan has already written with his photos.
“The time we spend waiting”
The mist burns my lungs. My imagination fills in the blanks–faces behind the fog. I remember weekends spent like this–“dad, why do you think this is fun?” Trudging aimlessly, impatiently–lost through the evergreens. But he knew. You don’t have to close your eyes out here–dreaming with your eyes wide open, the canvas is half painted. It’s hard to appreciate the process if you don’t wait, patiently. Patiently I hike, forward moving towards the big reveal. Sometimes not long enough. The wet moss soaks through my beaten boots and I wonder the worth of the time we spend waiting.
That smile. Un-provoked, no punch-line. The moment when memory blurs the line between past and present. Frozen, like a picture he smiles. Long after the picture is taken he smiles. Looking at everything and nothing he smiles. The time we spend waiting for memories that paint lines on our faces.
Eternally frozen we focus on the familiarities that distract us from the goal–I have seen that tree before, used this gear before, tasted that cool, cool water before. I find peace in knowing that my shoes are tied the same way, the left and then the right. There is peace in knowing that close up, granite crystals shine in the same way–black valleys sprinkled with white snow. The final peace is knowing that the fear will come, but not yet. Created by rituals we find solace in habit–comforted by the details we find silence in chaos.
The wall hangs heavy overhead. The route seldom changes–years of movement trace the hidden cracks–suffocating the pores, draining down the face. Standing at the base I am trapped by the notion that every person is the same–every move mapped out. A puppet directed by anger and fear the wall spits me off and chalk coughs in my face. I search for gratitude and no words come–half hearted smiles fill the gap between us. It is when all expectations fade that I am left, stripped-free–the rope directed decisively by MY hands. The clarity comes in waves, washing clean, calloused limbs. “How earnestly should we strive”–Petrarch lamented to himself, “not to stand on mountain-tops, but to trample beneath us those appetites which spring from earthly impulses”.
“I can tell the way you hang your head”
Assuming the position you march the well-traveled path. Like the end of a vacation, you reflect–the gait and order so dependent on success. You create your own realities. The mind spinning with “what ifs” and “why nots”. How can one succeed while the other does not? As a unit you find gratitude– their strength is your strength, their weakness yours. Together you wander–often lost.
We are dangerously perched on the edge of materialism. We laugh at ignorance and proudly walk through the masses–they don’t even know the life they are missing. Pride masks the noise that keeps us up at night–haunts us during the starless nights. We laugh at them, but they laugh at us. How foolish they are, to never live this life.
Overshadowed by what you will regret is what you will not. Sometimes warming up is the best part of the day and that is okay. I spent so many years just enjoying the view–when did that become not enough? The lines that create our life are filled with moments that fade because they felt so easy. To err is to assume they are insignificant.
-Rosie Bates • Head Coach at Mesa Rim
Find the original blog post and follow Rosie blog at www.rosaliebates.com
This blog post is about Jillian’s experience competing at a national adaptive climbing competition which is open to select individuals with disabilities, and how this competition provides hope, motivation, inspiration, and the feeling of accomplishment for not only Jillian, but others personally affected by disabilities that strive to live beyond setbacks.
As a young child growing up in a very small town in the mountains of New Jersey I was very active. I danced, climbed, hiked, skied, ran you name it and I probably did it. Moving to California where you could be outside all year long was perfect for me. I was excited to have the opportunity to learn to surf, go snorkeling, and all the other fun things San Diego had to offer, but shortly after moving here my plans changed a bit.
In August 2013 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative autoimmune disorder that leads to a host of issues with no known cure and very unreliable treatment options. To make things worse, in January 2014 I learned that I had begun the process of losing my vision due to a condition called Optic Neuritis, a common ailment that often accompanies MS, but one I did not expect to experience for at least ten to fifteen years. Thousands of miles from home, and overwhelmed with everything going on I threw myself into climbing as a way to stay sane.
A few months later, I was helping run an adaptive climbing clinic in Santa Ana when I began talking with adaptive athlete Ronnie Dickson about a national adaptive climbing competition taking place during the summer in Atlanta, Georgia. The competition would be open to any climber with a disability ranging from amputations, to blindness, to neurological diseases like MS. The competition immediately piqued my interest and I quickly consulted Mesa Rim’s head coach Rosie Bates for some mental and physical training tips.
The competition was about more than just climbing to all the athletes involved. It meant overcoming obstacles, showing the world that having a disability doesn’t make you disabled, and proving to our families, doctors, friends, and most importantly ourselves that we are strong, passionate climbers.
After months of finding any time I could to train I boarded my flight to Atlanta to meet up with my mom who had driven all the way down from northern New Jersey to watch me compete. The anxiety was really beginning to set in, but my amazing husband, Taylor, did his best to ease that when he surprised me by showing up the day of the competition. I was also super stoked that Mesa Rim adaptive athlete Trent Smith was competing with me in the amputee category. Dozens of athletes showed up at Stone Summit Climbing Gym to show off their skills. The groups were broken up into arm amputee, leg amputee, blind, neurological, and seated. We had three hours to log our best climbs.
When the timer started, I hopped on one of the lower point climbs I thought might be easy only to get half way up and take my first fall. This definitely did not start my mental game off on a good note. After coming down I started wondering what I was even doing here if I couldn’t even make it up a warm up route. Taylor grabbed me by the shoulders, gave me a shake, and said “You are a climber. This is what you do, now shut up and go kill it.”
The next three hours was the most inspirational time in my life. I was surrounded by climbers from all over the United States with all these insane problems going on, but were here to give their disability a slap in the face. Nobody felt bad for themselves, nobody was limiting themselves, and nobody was giving up. We fought hard to be there and we were going to fight hard to finish the best we could. Throughout the competition we climbed, and we fell, and we screamed, and we got up and did it all again. Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” On that day we were all insane, but we weren’t stopping until we finished that route.
By the end of the competition everyone was completely exhausted. We all gathered together to talk while the results were being tallied up. Most people seemed very relaxed and happy it was over, but as a naturally competitive person I just couldn’t wait to hear how I did. An hour later the scores were posted and I had received third place. Getting third means I qualified to be a part of the United States Paraclimbing Team and that I would be eligible to compete at the World Cup in Gijon, Spain. I turned around to see my mom in tears and Taylor with the biggest smile I’ve seen. I was so excited that I actually felt strangely numb for the next few days.
All of my doctors had told me my condition would get in the way of my climbing, but I was able to prove to myself that nothing could be more wrong. It’s hard to be twenty one and be faced with a diagnosis like this, but knowing I will always have the support of the climbing community makes it a thousand times easier. This journey taught me that life isn’t about what you can and can’t do, but more about setting goals for yourself and fighting like hell through everything to reach them. I hope this story will inspire someone dealing with their own problems that when life hands you a bag of lemons all you have to do is drink that lemonade and go climb.
I find it really important to thank all of the people who helped me get to that competition:
• The undying support of my amazing mother throughout my life.
• My husband Taylor for never allowing me to use my disability as an excuse for anything other than the occasional nap.
• The Mesa Rim adaptive athletes for encouraging me to compete and being the most inspirational group of people I have ever met.
• Ian Mcintosh for supporting the adaptive climbing program at Mesa Rim allowing Trent and I to become a part of this community.
• Scott Parlett and the crew at Crossfit 760 for starting my training program off right and giving me the knowledge and skills to continue training on my own.
• My Mesa Rim family for always being supportive and motivating.
• All the United States Marines at the 15th MEU for keeping my psyche super high throughout training.
• Alison Botsford for the super sweet hotel room I had all my panic attacks in pre-competition.
• Everyone who ever told me I couldn’t do it.
Are you or someone you know interested in Mesa Rim’s Adaptive Climbing Program?
Email Jillian at AdaptiveClimbing@mesarim.com
- Jillian Bukoski • Team Member and Adaptive Climbing Coordinator at Mesa Rim
We are very excited to announce that Mesa Rim is opening our second location near the heart of San Diego in late 2015! While the planning process and key decisions are still underway, there are some key points that we are able to share with the community now:
• We have secured what we consider to be the perfect site located near the
heart of San Diego Metro area
• We are actively working with the city to ensure smooth permitting and construction process
• The facility size and scope of services will be complementary to our first location
• We are very excited to share more information once we break ground later this fall
• Your Mesa Rim Membership will be valid at both locations!
Thank you for your continued support. You, our loyal customer, have helped us come a long way. We are extremely excited to grow the Mesa Rim community at this new location!
This blog post is about Mesa Rim Team Member Debbie Fischer’s determination and journey to run the Boston Marathon this year and the goodness and strength of human spirit that is #bostonstrong.
Two days after the Boston marathon bombings last year I said to my running buddies, “we have to try and qualify for the 2014 marathon and show our support to the people of Boston and for our love of running”. This would be no easy feat because I had to find a race that was a certified Boston qualifier, still had room, close to San Diego and was before September 15th, which was the last date you could run and qualify for Boston.
Luckily I found one in Ventura on September 8th, 2013. My last marathon was eight years ago. Usually I need about six months of training to run one successfully. The marathon has it’s way of letting you be a victor or a victim. I had a little over four months to train.
Fast forward to September 8th, 2013. Ventura, perfect weather, flat course, I was ready.
Not having ran a marathon in eight years, you forget how difficult it is. The pain you put your body through is rough, especially when you make all the rookie mistakes I made. I went out too fast, had poor nutrition along the course, and didn’t drink enough water and electrolytes. By mile 18, I was tripping over myself and was tempted by the sag wagon for a lonely eight mile ride back to the finish line. But I reminded myself of why I was doing this, and pushed to finish within my qualifying time so I could be in Boston on April 21st, 2014. I did finish. The moment I crossed the line my legs could not take another step and I had to be carried to the medical tent and packed in ice. I qualified, I won my age group, I am Boston bound!
Fast forward April 2014 Boston marathon weekend.
Magic! Marathon magic! The city was ready, the race staff was ready, I was ready, and so were 36,000 runners. This was my first time in Boston for the marathon. The pre-race activities were very emotional and I will always remember my time there. Walking down Boylston Street, the finish line and the site of the first bomb, brought me to tears. Seeing the flowers and little momentos at the site was quite moving. There were people at the Old South Church, also at the finish line, where they were giving out hand made scarves in the blue and yellow colors of the marathon.
They were expecting people to knit 2000 scarves, they received over 8,000! Each scarf had a hand written note with a blessing and the name of the person who knitted the scarf. Again, I cried as they placed the scarf around my neck. Then there was the one mile run for the first responders and survivors of the bombing. Some ran, some walked, some used crutches or wheelchairs for their memorial mile down Boylston Street. I cheered and cried again as they crossed the finish line. I couldn’t wait until Monday, race day!
It was clearly the biggest and boisterous Boston Marathon, and the crowds were everything I heard about and more. The cheering and the signage were wonderful. Every step of the way they were yelling “Boston Strong”, “You’re amazing”, and “Thank you for running”! I made sure to take it all in. I high-fived the kids. I smiled! I danced/ran when I ran past the music. I smiled. I kissed a Wellsey college girl along the way (its tradition)! I smiled! And I finished! And I qualified for 2015! Next year’s room is already booked, I’m Boston
This post is about Mesa Rim manager Alexis’s rock climbing weekend in Joshua Tree and gaining confidence in not only trad leading and placing gear, but also setting up anchors and top belaying.
This is how it goes: The left hand side-pull is okay. A voice insists that my left foot is bomber. My right foot? Oh, hell. My right hand? Can it seriously reach that stupid cam on the left side of my harness? Oh, hell. Before I proceed to take action, I note that I dislike falling enough to make this placement work. I take a couple of deep, slow breaths and proceed to get high on The Bong…
Trad climbing scares me. Why? So many factors to consider: Is this the best placement of my protection? Will my protection hold if I fall on it? Is there a chance that the rock will expand or break and bye-bye protection? How far will I fall if I can’t get this pro in? What will I hit when I fall? On and on and on…watching clips of weekend whippers doesn’t help. In conjunction with climbing ability, trad climbing know-how, and environment, is overcoming mental barriers — Something I work at constantly only to feel like there’s something holding me back. Oh yeah, my own mind.
I usually have an idea of what to expect at Joshua Tree: Slab, crack, sticky, beautiful, and humbling rock. My climbing friend, Mateo, and I typically pick a new spot or spot we haven’t climbed on in a while. This time around, we stayed overnight in Hidden Valley. The weather was excellent and our friend, Tony, had graciously reserved a campsite for us (right next to Stem Gem).
We arrived early evening on Friday, with enough time catch a beautiful sunset, bake a German chocolate cake via dutch oven, and jump on Toe Jam (5.7) by moonlight.
I expected to lead a sport route or two this trip. What I realized was that it was time to expand my wings a little more.
We spent morning to late afternoon at The Cathouse. The routes are short, generally good protection, though a little chossy. It was windy in the mid section, but totally fine about 15 feet lower. Bolted anchors at the top convinced me to practice some trad lead. A successful attempt was more than a nudge towards bigger plans the next day.
Late afternoon and evening included hiking around Barker Dam, practicing anchor building around the campsite, and befriending some lads attempting Stem Gem (v3/4 or in my opinion v-not gonna happen).
Matt’s friend Tony stopped by in the morning to grab his tent that he set up to help reserve the campsite. His morning was free and happily suggested a great beginner trad route for me and offered to supervise my anchor set up and be photographer. Since he lives in the area and is an outdoor climbing instructor, we welcomed his advice and company. The route was called The Bong and located just around the corner of our campsite.
I agree that it is a great beginner route for trad leading – 5.4 crack with great places for protection, nice holds, and a huge boulder for a nice anchor set up at the top. The crux is a small roof, which I admit is where I questioned my ability and confidence. Having supervision during the climb and at the top reinforced what my fear keeps making me forget: I can do it.
After climbing The Bong, Tony took off and we proceeded to The Eye, where I was left to my own devices. The conversations I had with myself up The Eye were question and answer format, no time for small chit chat, but only to check off safety points and silly assuredness. Besides the rope drag, everything went as planned, if not better. A hiker dudette even asked if she could take a picture of me and my set up. I felt good. I felt safe.
I definitely have more to learn, but this weekend in Joshua tree I made great progress. Internal reward: Accomplishment and confidence. External reward: The view, a fist bump and Jamba Juice.
“The joy of life consists in the exercise of one’s energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal.”
-Alexis Diller • Marketing Manager at Mesa Rim
This blog post is about Mesa Rim Team Member Alex’s bouldering and sport climbing trip in Red Rocks, how the two forms of climbing are different yet complementary, and the pleasure of doing both at one of the most inspiring places to be on the wall.
In early January, I had the opportunity to go on a climbing trip to Red Rocks, Nevada. Having never been there before, and itching to go on another outdoor trip, I immediately began to research what routes and boulder problems I wanted to get on, in the few days we had to spend there. My friend Graham and I shared a campsite with other Mesa Rim members, Andrew and Mike.
On the first day, we climbed in the Kraft Boulders area. It was a nice surprise to run into Sam and Mesa Rim setter Leo while we were out there. They were crushing harder problems than I could handle! We started on some warm-up routes, then moved on to a couple harder v2s, Potato Chips and Monkey Paw. The sun was setting, so we decided to set up camp and get on early start for sport climbing the next day.
The next morning, after some campfire roasted sweet potatoes and coffee, we headed over to the the Calico Basin area and led some easy sport routes to warm up. We took our time exploring, scrambling, and traversing through the vast rock formations in the canyon. The sun was hot enough to melt pockets of ice into pools, while in the shade there was still rock hard patches of ice. Red Rocks offers gorgeous views of various type of rock and geological formations. It was truly inspiring to be in a natural part of the earth that we’re lucky enough to be part of.
The initial approach wove through a dry and rocky river bed, and curved into some interesting scrambling through sandstone cliffs and corridors. We finally found some open routes and decided to start at the Magic Bus wall. We started off by climbing Neon Sunset and Technicolor Sunrise. They were super easy, fun leads right in the sun, with no wind. We moved on to Electric Kool-aid and Queasy Sunrise, which I enjoyed greatly. By this point, the area started getting a little crowded. Because this area is known for considerably easier or introductory routes, it is a popular spot for people that are new to leading or want to set up top ropes for beginners. We decided to do some yoga in the sun and take a little nap. Again, as the sun set over the mountains we decided to head back to camp for awesome card tricks by Andrew and campfire stories.
On the last day, we decided to go back to Kraft and try a harder v2, Darwin Award, a fun v1 called Monkey Crack, and then move on to the Pearl, a super crimpy v4. I wasn’t able to send the Pearl, but Graham was successful after a few tries. He says what truly helped him was having the right beta for the first half, to move efficiently from a left finger pocket to throwing to a thin crimpy rail with his right hand. The trick was to have a correctly positioned right foot for enough leverage and balance to make the move. It’s unbelievable what a difference the angle and position of your feet can do for a climb. After that, we decided to call it a day and head back to camp. With sore fingers and weary bodies, we felt nothing less than accomplished with our abilities on the rock.
This trip has inspired me to boulder more to improve my lead climbing. Because I am so new to bouldering, I noticed that sequencing crux moves is something that I can improve on. Patience and dedication to one problem is not easy, but it is quite gratifying once you have worked hard to earn a reward that at first seemed unreachable. I returned to san diego refueled and inspired to train harder, and be grateful for what I have accomplished in my climbing so far. I’m sure I will return soon!
Red Rocks routes and problems at a glance that we did:
Kraft Boulders Area: Potato Chips, Monkey Paw, Darwin Award (v2s), Monkey Crack (v1), Pearl (v4)
Calico Basin Area: Magic Bus Wall – Neon Sunset (5.8), Technicolor Sunrise (5.8), Electric Koo-aid (5.9+), Queasy Sunrise (5.9+)
Mesa Rim Head Coach Rosie Bates talks about about the challenge of not only making goals, but sticking to goals. Particularly, goals that are related to climbing and physical fitness.
I have come to believe a choice is a choice only if you stick with it. I started this story at least 5 different times, each time pressing backspace as a new idea popped into my head. Those words disappeared never to reappear again—at least in that order. In those erased words I made a choice—to write, and then to erase. This may seem like two choices but the decision to write was null after the decision to erase was made and what stood was the choice to erase. So many times in my life I have made what seems to be a life changing decision and two days later I ate the chocolate, I re-activated my Facebook, and I talked to the person I swore I would never speak to again. Those choices, that in the moment, seemed to be the most significant choice of my life were in fact just attempts to justify, explain, and control my insecurities. The choices that matter, that at their core follow the actual definition of change are what stick with you for an eternity and never leave you wondering if you took the right path.
Goals are dependent on a series of choices you make, and not just once a year or once a month but every second of every day. I struggled for a long time—am still struggling—with effective ways of setting goals because I look to where most people point me: “the big picture”. While the big picture is enticing it is easy to get caught up in the allure of dreaming big and aiming high—and often a year later I am left feeling further away than ever because I failed to be where I imagined.
The thing about climbing is that supposed “mastery” in the sport consists of peaks and valleys depending on a multitude of factors related to training, health, motivation, type of climbing, weather, and the list goes on. So when you look back at your ability one year, or even two years from today there is a strong possibility despite being an objectively stronger, more well-rounded, experienced climber today, quantitatively you were a “better” climber then. So in a sense you have to look at the big picture—and this is where I contradict myself.
My goals have always been grandiose yet vague, I have always known “sort of” what I want but been too afraid to pinpoint it exactly for the fear I would never attain “it”. Goal setting seems to be a series of contradictions, distracting me from the true nature of change. I don’t want to stop having goals or looking to the future, but when I try to narrow my focus I become obsessed with the failures of my past. So this is where I return to my first statement “a choice is a choice only if you stick with it”. Each and everyday I make choices and decisions that cancel out and contradict each other so what I end up with is habit—a daily routine that can either lead me towards my goals, or keep me looping repeatedly on a broken reel.
The true nature of change is fueled by deliberate action or a choice made that is honest and true—not out of fear for the unknown. I didn’t know at the time that choosing to quit drinking would open up doors leading directly to my goals, I didn’t know because at the time it was just a choice and I wasn’t positive it was the right one. I wasn’t sure because the prospect of jumping into the unknown and having to justify why, scared me. But now I am positive. I am not suggesting that quitting something will open up doors, but with that deliberate choice I fixed the broken reel and the story continued. Perhaps then the most important part of setting goals is to look at your life and assess whether your habits are serving you and your dreams. If not, you must then make a choice to rid of the habit or re-write the goal.
I still have habits, routines I am holding on to. But the goals I have will not fall into place until I can accept those as obstacles and strive to let them go. Rather than only looking at the big picture or focusing solely on the small details I must do both, knowing when and where to assign my attention and focus. It is easy to look to numbers for progress or have vague ideas for the future but usually goal setting requires the vagueness coupled with the tangible. As Arno Ilgner asserts, “If we’re end-result motivated all the time, then our attention is constantly toward the end. When we get down from a climb, we revel in the success of that ascent and miss out on a lot of the climbing process”. Appreciate and revel in the process—the time spent working towards your goal rather than aiming only to succeed. Give yourself clear deadlines and define your goals with detail but allow yourself the freedom to explore the path as you travel.
Learn strategies for effective goal setting and meet others that might share similar climbing, yoga, or fitness goals:
Goal-Setting Clinic at Mesa Rim
When: Thursday, January 23rd
Where: Meet in the mezzanine
Limited Space: Sign up at the front desk
This post is about Parker’s trail biking descent from Skyline to Tramway that included an elevation gain and drop of over 8,500 feet!
I chose to carry the bike in pieces on my pack, hike to the tramway at 8,500 feet and ride down a beautiful and relatively unridden trail. It was going to be my own personal first descent, but I was seriously questioning whether I would still go when my riding partner withdrew the day before we were supposed to leave. I knew I could hike it, and I knew I could ride most of it. I activated a SPOT tracker as my guardian angel and boost of confidence; I took off for Palm Springs Thursday night.
Friday morning at 3:30 I started hiking at an elevation of 250 feet. By 10am I was at 6,700 feet with Palm Springs far below me and the Tram Station in sight. The terrain was about to change from desert to alpine. Darker soil, more foliage, and larger steeper boulder fields. I decided to take the bike off my pack and assemble it. My shoulders and hips were really sore from the weight and I was hoping I could roll it further up the trail. While riding a short section still working my up to the top my right hand clipped what I believe was a Mojave bush of sorts and it stuck a section rather deep in between my ring and middle finger. Shortly after I tested out a cactus to the foot at speed. I realized at this point how real the threat was out here. I was not even in riding mode I was still moving up hill and got two injuries.. what if when I am actually riding down with speed and intent I hit a cactus or crashed into a rock section chest first? I will admit I got a little spooked out there, I was intimidated and alone. I decided to check in with spot tracker, move down hill a few hundred feet and check in again so it was obvious that was the point I turned around. I switched shoes, put on my helmet and tossed some excess water. I sat on this 37 pound machine designed to roll fast downhill that I was previously carrying in pieces on a backpack for six and a half hours.
When I first started riding I left my GoPro in my backpack, I did not want to negatively influence my generally conservative nature by having a camera rolling. Shortly after realizing how fantastic the trail was I loaded up the camera and filmed the rest of the way down. I rode the trail in under and hour and half and loved every minute of it. The riding was aggressive, committing, and unrelenting. To those unfamiliar with cycling, most of these sections had to be ridden with speed, too slow and the bikes momentum would not carry you through the trail. Route finding was fun and challenging but never too difficult. I pushed my own comfort level mentally taking this trip alone, and I can’t tell if that or the riding was the best part. I experienced something most people will never see and and even fewer people will get to ride.
I am always looking for riding partners…
This blog post is about multi-pitch climbing, particularly Royal Arches and Snake Dike in Yosemite and the East Face of Mt Emerson, Sierra Nevada, and lessons from preparation and consequences for enduring routes.
Over a one week period in late September/early October I was fortunate enough to get on three of the longest rock routes I’ve ever done, taking in two Yosemite moderate classics and one more alpine style California High Sierra peak. The combined length of the three routes is 4300 feet or over 1300 meters, making for over 40 pitches of average length which was a lot of pitches for me! As the three climbs led, one way or another, to a lot of climbing and rappelling in the dark, and in one case a cold night out on top of a mountain, I’ve distilled some lessons from these experiences that reflect different factors that cost time and, also the things that prevented these experiences from being more serious. Since multi-pitch climbing is a whole different game to single pitch climbing, I hope sharing these experiences might be of some interest for new outdoor climbers hoping to get on some of the many amazing longer routes on offer out there.
Route 1: The Royal Arches, Yosemite National Park, 16 pitches/1500 feet, 5.7
Ascending just right of the aptly titled Royal Arches which stand proudly above the regal Alwahnee Hotel, the Royal Arches route takes a line which runs a sweeping arc heading first from left to right for several pitches, then up, before swinging back to the left and topping out at the valley rim. The route has only a handful of 5.7 moves while most of the rest is easier, including sections of 4th class scramble and wide ledges to traverse. But it is long.
Given the location and grandeur of a wall that could be climbed relatively easy, this line received its first ascent way back in 1936. Almost 80 years later, our ascent in a party of three: Alexis, Matt and myself, got a late start after making the long drive from San Diego the night before. After a quick breakfast and gear sort saw us on the road for the hour long drive into the valley around 9am. The car park for this route happens to be adjacent to the five-star Alwahnee Hotel, so the approach (read: bathroom stop) also gets five stars! The first pitch – an awkward and polished chimney is just ten minutes walk from the hotel and we arrived here around 11am. With our party of three this pitch probably took us close to an hour to finish, but we warmed up our system of leading on double ropes and then belaying two seconds at once which is really the only option on long routes. Atop pitch one there is a huge ledge which we traversed across before meeting an easy fifth class section but, noting the massive exposure already, opted to rope up again for this and another fairly steep section. Almost completely across the bottom arc by now, the ledge narrowed and the more straight up pitches begin with the first crux moves of finger locks in pin scars and friction feet. With two leaders, we decided to lead in blocks of 2 or 3 pitches each which sped things up a little with fewer rack swaps, but it did require untying and retying for every pitch to keep the rope untangled and flowing smoothly. I took this and the next pitch and this is where the high quality granite and climbing really began. The next five or so pitches include shallow overlapping flakes/corners with multiple options for gear and direction, straight up cracks as fun variations, and some Manzanita greenery that both makes for fast and efficient belay stations when in the right place, but can also have a voracious appetite for sections of your rope when growing in the middle of a pitch.
At the point where the arc of this route swings back left, and tops out on a pillar right next to a really fun fixed rope pendulum. By now it was my lead block again and I was lucky to snag these awesome pitches, possibly the best of the whole route. First up was this traverse beginning with a little down climb then an A0 move to cross the blank slab and gain a ledge which runs near perfectly horizontal for the whole pitch. At this point storm clouds which had been building all day finally emptied but, to my amazement, it rained all around but not on us: Half Dome to our right was wet, and so was El Cap Meadow to our left, but we were dry. Nevertheless, all day I was regretting not packing my hardshell jacket in the small day pack. After the traverse the next pitch went straight up a few layback flakes before topping out after an awkward stemming corner with a large tree growing over it. Following this, undoubtedly the best pitch of the route, was a traverse around a corner followed by a beautiful hand crack and then shallow corners and cracks forever or until the rope runs out. I found a little ledge for a belay and brought up the seconds right as the sun set. Swinging lead again, the beautiful cracks continued but only a short way up to another tree belay. This and the following traverse pitch Matt led in the dark suffering some route finding difficulties as the tell-tale signs of worn rock and chalk are much less discernable in the dark. Finally, the fifteenth pitch was upon us and by now it was well and truly pitch dark. I took the final lead on this easy fifth class pitch and searched for the rappel bolts plugging in a few cams along the way. Fortunately I took another look at the topo before starting the pitch and was able to locate them next to a large block as indicated. Finally we finished the route sometime between 8 and 9pm, clocking 15 pitches of climbing in about 10 hours (the 16th pitch gains the rim, but the fastest descent is via the rappel route which begins at the 15th belay). But the relief of completion was short lived as the descent remained: 11 single rope rappels. In the dark. With two ropes we could link several of these, but finding the bolts on some proved tough. Parched, hungry, totally exhausted, and with patience wearing thin, we pulled the final ropes safely on the ground just a few minutes before midnight, 13 hours later, then made the hour long drive back to camp in Wawona for a late and well earned dinner.
After the long day on the previous route day 1 of Snake Dike was spent recovering, arranging logistics such as back country camping permits and hiking up the exceedingly popular Half Dome Trail to make camp at the Little Yosemite Valley. The strategy of camping here or somewhere even closer to the base of the route is supposed to cut the approach time for Snake Dike in half or more…Unless you get lost for a couple of hours between camp and the route, that is. We knew something was up when hikers became visible on the horizon line, high up on a section the big rock we’d been sidling around. I had mistakenly assumed it was Liberty Cap, since we’d passed it in the dark the night before, however, the hikers confirmed it was in fact Half Dome meaning we were heading to the opposite side of the peak than the route was on. Going with someone who had done the route before can instill a false sense of confidence but after confirming the presence of the horizon hikers with the zoom functions on a digital camera we changed bearings and after some scrambling picked up the approach trail proper. En route Matt decided out since the approach mistake had taken valuable time. More problematic, however, was that our party realized that between the three of us we had only one headlamp, making the time issue all the more critical.
Properly back on route now we traversed the final and very exposed fourth class approach slabs to discover a little party happening at the base of this most popular route. Arriving at 11am there was a party on every belay station visible from the base plus five parties waiting to get on. Some parties opted to hike back down and get on something else but, optimistic that the groups would move quickly we stuck it out and eventually tied in sometime between 2 and 3pm. The 5.7 cruxes come in the first three pitches, with the first one probably presenting the greatest challenge to me. It involved an easy slab approach with some corner cracks on the right for protection before a headwall that requires a traverse back left under it across a slightly steeper and fairly featureless slab section. Having watched several parties tackle this right before us I took what seemed like the easiest option by placing some cams high up, down climbing, then tackling the friction traverse down lower where different crystal structure in the granite appeared to offer more friction. The moves were intimidating but, as on all slabs, once you trust your feet to the granite everything sticks and you’re back onto easier terrain. The next two pitches feature similar friction cruxes before the dike proper is gained and followed for the next few pitches. This was my first experience with the “R” grade (unprotected stretches of climbing) and it’s not to be taken lightly. Although the grade eases considerably in subsequent pitches, such as from 5.7 to 5.4, protection also decreases from nice gear on the first pitch, to some gear and a bolt on the second, to just two bolts on the third pitch which measures 160 feet (or 50m), to just one bolt on the 140 feet (~40m) fourth pitch! Far and away the greatest exposure I’ve experienced. As the climbing continues up the dome the angle eases and so too the grade, and after a more prominent angle change at the 8th pitch the remainder of the route is third class slabs to the summit.
Given the crowds and late start we reached this section right on dark with some apprehension for route finding to the summit in the dark, but it proved pretty straight forward and we stood on the top of half dome about half an hour after the last twilight had passed. Surprisingly, the final unroped slab section is probably as long as the whole roped part of the route, which combined with the long approach and even longer descent makes for a very full day, particularly if you are doing this car to car. After quick snack, summit pic and splitting our remaining water it was time to make the long descent. Neither Alexis nor I had been there before so we weren’t quite sure where the descent cables lay. To make finding them more difficult the summit is dotted with hundreds of cairns marking nothing other than somebody’s earlier presence and some loose stones, but after sidling down and around for a bit we located the cables and descended, via ferrata-style with our harnesses and PASs.
Halfway down the cables we noticed a party of hikers approaching on the otherwise deserted trail. Meeting them on the shoulder just below the cables it turned out one of them was a professional landscape photographer who had lugged his gear all the way there just in time to capture our descent, illuminated by head lamps and with the Milky Way stunningly silhouetted by Half Dome.
Fortunately we swapped emails and Peter Park (www.peterparkgallery.com) was happy to provide us with a copy of the picture. From here the trail back to little Yosemite Valley was obvious and we were back at the tents by 10:30 pm some 14 hours after leaving that morning.
Route 3: East Face of Mt Emerson, Sierra Nevada, many pitches/2000 feet, 5.4
Mt Emerson is located in the section of the Sierras immediately adjacent to Bishop. My partner, Shannah, and I were first inspired to climb something up there after camping out near Bishop’s Happy Boulders the previous year and gazing up to peaks that didn’t seem either too far away or too high. The approach leaves Bishop, drives out past the Buttermilks and takes the steady incline of Highway 168 up to the very picturesque town of Aspendell. Arriving late one evening after the long drive from San Diego, it was the first or second day of October’s government shutdown and all the camping areas had already been closed. This was unfortunate since there is a beautiful campground right at the trailhead but we were forced to find something further down the hill. While scouting around for somewhere to pitch our tent we were also lucky enough to glimpse a mountain lion disappearing into the bushes near the trailhead.
The area around Aspendell was particularly beautiful. Bishop is surrounded with high desert scenery everywhere but with just a little elevation gain the desert yields to forests and lakes in alpine meadows. Already by early October the mornings were chilly and the forests had already started to turn putting on a spectacular show for fall. This would make for a nice scenic detour on a bouldering rest day and is also a popular area for fishing given the numerous lakes and connecting streams. Making our start around 7 am that morning we pulled down the tent and headed back up the hill to breakfast and rack up in some sunshine at the trailhead. The Paiute Pass trail which accesses Mt Emerson is mainly a hiker’s entry point to the John Muir Wilderness area beginning at an elevation of just over 9,000 feet.
Finally packed, racked and caffeinated, we were on the trail at 11 am. The approach ended up taking close to two hours, gaining around 2,000 feet to the base of the route which begins in a darker patch of rock at the base of a chimney. As this feature is visible from the trail from quite a distance the route is straight forward to locate. At the base at 1 pm now we were already hesitant as to whether or not there was enough daylight left but decided to tie in for the first—and crux—pitch anyway. This 5.4 pitch went easily but, bypassing a good quick sling belay I stretched a full rope length then had trouble finding gear for a good anchor. The route follows a chimney looking system, much of which is 5th class, for close to 2000 feet of vertical climbing. It seems the chimney has been formed through rain erosion which while removing much of the loose outer rock has also made many of cracks too shallow and flaring to take gear. The lack of gear is no problem for most parties, who apparently solo the whole route. But not wanting to take that risk I was left scratching around for placements in these features.
At this point though we had been moving all day, it was already mid afternoon and we discussed whether we should continue or bail. The total absence of any fixed gear on this route—bolts, rap stations, etc.—would make retreating much higher difficult and possibly costly if we needed to leave gear behind. Accepting the high likelihood by now of getting benighted, we decided to continue anyway as we’d packed lightweight bivvy gear so we switched to simul-climbing. Simul (for simultaneous) climbing is a technique where the rope is shortened, usually via shoulder coils, and both climbers tie in to the shortened length. To begin the leader is belayed as usual and places gear while climbing but instead of building an anchor and belaying after a pitch or so they pause for the second to dismantle the bottom belay anchor and both then climb simultaneously. Attention must be paid to the amount of slack rope between both climbers and also the number of gear placements between them, and the second must not fall. But the advantage is that it is a much faster way to move over easy terrain. Under pressure of remaining daylight we hammered along as fast as we could for the next five hours or so, stopping only to belay when I’d placed almost every piece of the single rack of cams and wires. Once on the wall route finding was relatively straight forward but it was difficult to see how close we were to the summit. The rock in the chimney system was for the most part was pretty good but some patches with reddish tones tended to be more friable and the walls either side seemed really chossy.
After a good effort and a couple of frustrating false summits, with daylight failing we finally reached what I thought was close to the top only to be greeted by a long, airy ridge traverse against a stunning orange sky. By this point we may have tended too far left on the upper wall but it was hard to tell. With the setting sun the temperature dropped so we took a short break to layer up, attach headlamps to helmets, and returned to normal pitch climbing. By now it was quite dark and the next section, which had prompted us to return to normal pitch climbing, seemed as difficult as the first but did put us on the summit ridge proper. After the sun sets the temperature differential between the mountains and the plains increases and it became quite windy. Basically, the hot air rises off the plains and with not much in between us and there we encountered a persistent wind, which along with wearing beanies under our climbing helmets, made communication difficult. Traversing this ridge was also quite zig-zaggy causing rope drag and slowing our progress. Finally, getting exhausted at around 11pm we found a small ledge protected from the wind and, sitting down to rest we both went straight into a nap. This was undoubtedly the effect of high altitude as now we were at about 13,000 feet, just shy of the summit. Given the difficulty of communication and effects of altitude we finally made the call to sit out the night on this ledge and descend in the morning with the safety of warmth and daylight.
Though I consider getting benighted to be somewhat a disaster, our discomfort was lessened by some items I keep in my pack. One is a lightweight plastic bivvy bag which we could both climb into. I also always carry an emergency blanket and my Osprey Mutant climbing pack has a closed cell foam pad in the backrest. The rope we flaked out on the ledge to insulate from the ground and the pad and our packs insulated from the small rock walls. We both then put on all of our layers—I was thankful for my big down jacket—rearranged the anchor and tethers for safety while dozing, then climbed into the bivvy sack, wrapped ourselves the emergency blanket and huddled. On the approach I’d noticed patches of ice on the ground indicating the previous evening had been freezing. Likewise during the last pitches the water in the mouthpiece of my camelback had started to freeze so, concerned about our remaining drinking water freezing I was also careful to put this in the bivvy sack. To keep an eye on the temperature I attached my watch to the belay anchor and checked it frequently as the biggest fear now was how cold the night would get, but luckily the temperature didn’t drop much below freezing and with all of our gear we were able to keep the shivers away for the most part.
Although the altitude was not sufficient to cause any serious health issues, the other effects for me are loss of appetite which is really a problem for keeping up energy levels, and also difficulty sleeping. But this meant I could take in the spectacular night sky frequent falling stars and different hues of darkness and light changing all through the night, something I’d never noticed before. With first light our amazing position was revealed with views of multiple high Sierra peaks, glacial valleys and lakes and remnant glaciers on one side and the plains back to Bishop on the other. It was clear that we had traversed the ridge far enough to gain the descent, which is via a large scree slope taking up most of the south side of the peak. And so, with little enthusiasm for the summit, we made two rappels leaving some tat and a wire and we were finally on the descent slopes.
Once benighted our biggest mistake was not switching into our regular shoes. My own are pretty roomy and even with thick socks underneath my feet were fine. But Shannah’s Muiras are more aggressive and keeping them on all night reduced circulation in her feet enough that, combined with the cold temps, caused mild frostbite that made the descent, and indeed walking for the next month, painful. Although I suspected that we could have descended from the ledge we slept on, under the circumstances it was probably safer to sit out the darkness since we’d packed enough bivvy gear to keep warm enough.
Some lessons from three routes and a lot of darkness
*Note that this is not advice, but simply lessons I learned from my trips.
Lesson 1: embrace the “alpine start”.
An important lesson common to all three epics was simply to have started earlier. Never one for early mornings, this is something I’ll have to work on. One way to start earlier is to camp as close as is practical to the base of the route. Government shutdown notwithstanding, this might have been the difference between spending the night on top of Mt Emerson or not. But that said camping in Little Yosemite Valley and thus closer to the base of Snake Dike made little difference after the little geographical embarrassment, which brings me to lesson number 2.
Lesson 2: read the topo.
Sounds obvious, but by read I actually mean re-read before every pitch. Guidebooks can be bulky to carry on long climbs so an easier option is simply snap some pictures of the topos with a smart phone. However, with this option you run the risk of dropping something both expensive to replace and also a useful communication devise in case of emergency, or simply even of just wearing the battery down. A better option but one requiring a little more planning is to photocopy the relevant pages from the guide and even carry a copy on each climber.
Lesson 3: never defer responsibility.
One member in our party of three had been on both Yosemite routes before, however, his memory of the approach route to Snake Dike was patchy at best. After walking around lost for an hour or two he then decided to let the two of us who hadn’t been on it before continue since we’d be faster as two, considering the time by then we’d likely actually start the route. This left me in charge with only a foggy recollection of the approach notes and no approach topo. Fortunately I did have pictures of the pitch topos on my phone as well as a few trail maps I could photograph along the way.
Lesson 4: gear check.
By gear check I mean check each other’s gear before leaving camp, or the car, or wherever. This is sort of like applying the buddy check system commonly used in climbing well ahead of actually putting on harnesses and tying in. Asking whether everyone has their head lamp, lunch, water, climbing shoes etc. can even be the difference between getting on the climb or not.
Lesson 5: prepare for the worst.
I’ve been carrying emergency blankets around for years but Mt Emerson was the first occasion to have ever actually needed one. The following items made the night out considerably more comfortable and the added weight was little additional encumbrance while actually climbing: safety blanket, thermals, beanie, downie with a hood, bivvy bag, foam bivvy mat from inside my pack. I would have added to this list: downie with a hood for each climber, safety bags rather than blankets as these turned out to be a bit useless in the wind, and one of these for each person. Looking back it was interesting to note the range of different factors which resulted in getting benighted. An earlier start certainly would have helped, but we still started reasonably early. The government shutdown, in its own way, also affected the situation by changing our plans (we were originally headed to Toulumne) and then causing some headaches with camping which cost at least an hour that morning.
Lesson 6: anchor and gear efficiency
On Snake Dike the party immediately behind us were stalled at each belay station. It didn’t appear that they were climbing that much faster than us so the time differences were all in the style of anchoring systems used at each belay. My practice has usually been to bring a few different bits and pieces which are adaptable to multiple scenarios that can be encountered at belay stations. But the belays on this route are all bolted so the faster option here was simply to have two pre-made and equalized anchors that could be clipped and belayed on in under a minute or so.
Lesson 7: invest in some sort of emergency communication device.
On Mt Emerson although we could clearly see Bishop neither of us, with different carriers, had any cell reception. Luckily in backcountry areas where conventional telecommunications technologies have limited coverage there are a few other options. The DeLorme inReach series are two-way satellite communication device which can send and receive text messages and emergency SOS signals from basically anywhere on earth. Models include an adapter which enables satellite communications from an ordinary smart phone and standalone units. Spot also make units which adapt smartphones in the same way. While these units require subscription plans much the same as cell phones they seem to me preferable to personal locator beacons since they can communicate a range of different disaster scenarios and also let you receive updates as to any evacuation plans while they are happening. Some of the more advanced models which integrate regular GPS units with two-way radio or satellite emergency communication are really cool, though the smart phone integrations have considerably more functionality than standalone units. A key part of all of this—regardless of gadgetry—is of course telling someone your trip intentions before you go. But after watching 127 Hours we all do this routinely now anyway, right?