The Wong to the Long Climb at Tahquitz
At the first of what I’m planning to be weekly Alpine Club get-togethers, Zhewei, Bradley, and I were chatting about our climbing plans for the weekend and summer last Thursday over some beers. I hadn’t been out on multipitch trad in an absurdly long time, between traveling to a workshop and working on different objectives in the winter and spring. I knew Elle was getting a group together to go bouldering with Jono at Black Mountain Saturday evening, so I proposed that we go camp with them that evening and do the Long Climb on Sunday morning, which I had admired while climbing Consolation with Bradley last fall. Bradley had other plans in Malibu mountains, but Zhewei was in. After the planning on email and inviting some more folks shook out, Zhewei ended up going paragliding with Marja and Tony on Saturday, so Jen and I drove up to camp with them near the airfield Saturday night.
After messing around with the sails for a bit, we drove up the road to where we heard we could camp, directed along the way by a friendly hunter who presented Marja and Tony with a rabbit he’d shot not 20 minutes before, along with some brief instructions on proper cleaning. After the lovely vegetarian dinner Jen prepared for us at home, Marja and Tony got to work cleaning the rabbit with the help of some tutorials from youtube. The rest of us had weaker stomachs and didn’t participate in the cleaning, but I was quite transfixed by the process. We remarked that everyone who eats meat should go through the process of killing and cleaning it at least once (fortunately this excused Jen and me), and I did resolve to plan a backcountry trip without a mountaineering goal but with the intent of living for a time totally unsupported (i.e. without packing in food, perhaps making my own equipment).
On Sunday we got up around 5:30 to meet Jono at the Tahquitz trailhead at 7:30. Tony was flying again, so the climbing parties were Jono, Jen, and Marja + Zhewei and me. Jono suggested climbing Fingertraps, a 4-pitch 5.7, since we were pretty keen on staying out of the oppressive heat in the afternoon as much as possible. I’m told it went well, with a bit of runout on a slab in one of the upper pitches that Jono didn’t have trouble with. Jen came back with some new tips on foot placement on slab that must have worked since she didn’t fall on the climb.
Zhewei and I went to the Northwest Recess to climb the Long Climb, a 6-pitch 5.8. Zhewei was feeling pretty beat from Saturday’s hike to their launch point, and the approach to Tahquitz is grueling, with a sustained, steep stair master for about 30-45 minutes to Lunch Rock, followed by a walk around the base of the granite peak and some 4th class scrambling to the base of the climb. The base was littered with massive boulders, which is not new but took on some added significance after reports in April of a car-sized chunk of rock falling from high up Consolation (a climb adjacent to Long Climb) and causing some injuries (no deaths fortunately) and proving that the snowy winter had loosened the chossy peak.
The climb starts near the right side of the Northwest recess, on one of two obvious hand cracks. I was leading and decided to take the Wong Crack variation (5.8) on the first pitch, since it was supposed to be nicer than the official 5.5 crack in the corner. I definitely could tell that it had been a long time since I’d climbed trad, and it took a couple of moves to figure out how to crack climb again. By the time we started climbing it was 9:45, and I figured we were unlikely to avoid the heat at that point so I wasn’t feeling hurried and was able to place plenty of pro. Wong crack was pretty straightforward and fun, took us about an hour before we started the next pitch.
We rejoined the Long Climb on p2, the Mummy Crack (5.7), which is a squeeze chimney with excellent parallel hand cracks just inside the chimney walls. The hand cracks made for great lie-backing, but I had that familiar feeling of not being quite securely ‘in’ the chimney, since it was just too small to wedge my upper thigh or something to give myself a permanent no-hands rest. It probably made it more interesting, as I switched which crack I was climbing a couple times and spent some time totally out of the chimney with feet on the adjacent faces. I had a bit of lunch while I was belaying Zhewei up—I don’t think Zhewei ate until we got to the top, but I was pretty hungry.
Pitch three was another nice hand crack, but about halfway up I thought the climb was meant to go a bit more up and right, and followed a crack that was more inside a corner than the crack I should have followed. It petered out just before the ledge I’d been aiming for, and I did a balancing traverse to get left to the crack I had left after placing a piece in the corner crack. Zhewei and I were both feeling a bit more energetic and confident starting at this pitch, and getting into the rhythm of the climb.
Pitch four was pretty uneventful, pull a small roof and move up a dihedral to the belay ledge if you want to avoid a runout. I had a nice chat with the folks ahead of us at the belay. We had done the pitch completely differently, but figured the route finding was truer to the spirit of the first ascent.
Pitch five is the crux pitch. I moved up easy climbing to just below a v-shaped rock jutting out with a thin fingertips crack a few steps out of reach. After protecting with two small pieces in some gaps just below the v rock and noticing an undercling reaching with the left hand, I went for it and happily found more feet than I was expecting and a couple of friction hands that helped me move into the crack. The next move did not seem more secure so at a semi-stable position (one foot on a decent spot, a couple fingers in a crack, one foot on a slight groove) I quickly got a small cam in, losing half of a quickdraw in my haste that was caught open on my harness. After that I moved up over the feature and found a steep but blocky 5.6 crack to the belay ledge. The blocks on the second half of this pitch were pretty loose, and the climbing got more delicate from here up.
I made the belay for the final pitch at an awkward spot just above the better ledge, because I wasn’t quite sure I had just climbed the intended crack and wanted to get a slightly higher view. From there a traverse across huge boulders with horizontal slotted cracks dropping vertically down into the rock brought us slightly around the peak and just below the summit around 3:00. I scrambled to the top and then we started the friction descent, which I never would believe could go if I hadn’t done it before. The rest of the descent was uneventful, but we both could tell we were pretty tired since we slipped a bit on the loose dirt on the trail.
It was really good to get on some rockaineering-style trad again after so long. I liked the climb, the cruxes were more interesting than strengthy and the pitches were sustained at the grade. We were lucky to be in the shade for all but the easy last pitch and the belay spot at the top of the climb, so it wasn’t unpleasantly hot at all. In all it was a very refreshing weekend.