Riverside Quarry


Hard to believe, but nearly a year has passed since I first met Johnny, Ryan, and Joey while climbing at Mission Gorge.  These three were all fairly new to climbing, and I was just getting back into it after a long layoff.  A lot has happened since then, and there’s no question that we’ve all become better climbers.  Ryan and I have gotten ourselves into some adventures on Tahquitz and Mt. Agassiz, I’ve made it out to Joshua Tree with Joey, and Johnny seems to be racking up tough sport climbs every single weekend.

Johnny on an unidentified route at Red Rocks. Photo by Jonathan Buehler

Photo by Jonathan Buehler

I’ve been getting out as often as as I can, but it’s been a challenge with a young baby at home.  Thankfully, Jasmine understands that I need to blow some steam off from time to time, and she’s been agreeable to my occasional weekends away.  My parents have also been visiting on a regular basis, and that has been a major plus.  I don’t know what I would do without all the help.

Zane @ 7 months

Johnny suggested that we hit Riverside Quarry, an interesting sport crag about 90 minutes north of San Diego.  I had read some unfavorable reports about this place, but it was actually much nicer than I expected.  An abandoned granite quarry tucked away in the heart of Riverside, one doesn’t quite know what to expect.  It turned out to be a sport climber’s paradise; almost like a giant outdoor gym.  The main wall must be at least 1/4 mile long and 200 feet high in places.  Yeah, we saw some trash (piles of old tires, a broken car seat I considered bringing home as a joke).  But it was a quick approach and a huge number of climbs.

Hiking out to The Fun Factory. Photo by Ryan Slaybaugh

We arrived in the morning and Johnny suggested we do some warm-up climbs on the Fun Factory Wall, just around the corner from the main climbing area.  Most of the routes at the Quarry are 5.10+ or harder, but the Fun Factory is home to some of the easier climbs.  It turns out that our “warm-ups” consisted of some pumpy 5.10’s, leaving us feeling more than a little gassed.  I didn’t get a single climb clean, though I believe that Joey and Johnny may have.  I was leading up one of the 10b’s (chipped and manufactured holds on an otherwise blank face) when I looked over just as Joey took a nice little whipper.  I saw a cloud of chalk dust around his head and he let out a little woot as he fell.  I haven’t been able to push myself to the limit like Joey has been doing, and he’s much more comfortable falling (and climbs pretty hard, as a result).

The surroundings. Notice the two specks on the wall (climbers)

It became apparent that Ryan and I need to work on our fear of falling; it’s definitely holding us back.  Some might say that a fear of falling is healthy and natural, and I wouldn’t disagree.  But if one intends to progress at sport climbing, there is such a thing as being too afraid.  I know that I’m not pushing myself anywhere near my limit on these climbs, even in situations where a short fall would be relatively safe.  Oh, these mind games.

Johnny starts up Wonderstuff (5.10c)

If I’m not mistaken, I belayed Johnny on his very first lead climb up Mission Control at Mission Gorge, about a year ago.  Now he’s leading into the solid 10’s and he’s looking pretty comfortable doing it.  I was impressed.

Stemming it out on Wonderstuff

All of these photos are courtesy of Ryan, by the way.  I always debate whether I should bring my camera on these climbing trips, and I’m glad that he packed his along.

After Johnny was finished with Wonderstuff, Joey started up the same climb and nearly got the onsight, but he got stuck at the crux and had to rest a bit.  Ryan and I top roped it and we also had some trouble at the crux, but I felt it would go once I knew the moves.  I guess that is often the case, though.

Feeling inspired by the bold leaders, I decided to give Tangerine Dream (5.10d) a shot.  I’ve seen this climb listed as an 11a, but I’m not sure that’s fair, even though I would love to notch another 11 in my belt.  It didn’t feel quite that difficult.

Jason starts up Tangerine Dream

It was still plenty hard, though.  Getting to the 3rd bolt, about 20 feet off the ground, was easy enough.  I was  starting to feel like an ace climber when the holds suddenly shrank and the footing became insecure.  Oh, now I’m in for it.

Approaching the first crux

I’m not very comfortable with the thought of falling, so I tend to climb very conservatively.  I should say, when the going gets tough, I hang.  Except on Stichter Quits in Joshua Tree, where hanging was, to my dismay, not an option.  Anyway, I made it to a decent stance just below the first crux, and it must have taken me 15 minutes to suss out the moves.  I found an awkward right hand, a very reachy left, and I could see what appeared to be a decent crimper just out of reach and to the right.  Finally, after much muttering under my breath and calls to “TAKE!”, I decided to commit to the move and shoot for the right hand.  The hold turned out to be better than I expected, and I felt surprised when I stuck it.  I really thought I was going to take one.

Up and over the crux

Good holds with careful feet

My upward progress came in fits and starts, and I came to a screeching halt at nearly every bolt thereafter.  My arms were pumped and I took every opportunity I could to rest.  I was getting close to the anchor – or so I thought – when I realized that I had been looking at the wrong bolts.  That was quite a let down, to say the least.  The final crux came in the last 6 feet of the climb.  After making a very exposed clip from a strenuous undercling, I saw that the final few feet of the climb followed a thick flake that would need to be liebacked to the top.  I had serious doubts whether my arms would agree to such an endeavor, so I rested for a while as my friends below were baking in the sun.

Assessing the final 20 feet

Getting close to the anchor bolts, 80 feet off the deck

Suffice to say I made it to the anchor, but with no shortage of hangs, screams for tension, and curse words.  Looking back, it was actually a really fun climb and one that I feel confident I’d be able to red point, the next time I return.  None of the moves felt overly strenuous, and with strategic rest stances, I think it will go.  Perhaps the most unnerving part of the climb was the rap back down.  Due to the slightly overhanging position of the anchor bolts and the right-leaning nature of the route, I kept swinging out into space as I rapped down and cleaned the draws.  It was a little freaky as I would unclip a bolt and immediately swing out into space with nothing to grab onto.  It’s the kind of thing that should probably be fun – like zip lining – but I was just tired, thirsty, and ready to get back to the ground.

I made it down safe and we called it a day.





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