Tahquitz: Left Ski Track

 

Another fun day of climbing at Tahquitz, with Ryan.  We left San Diego at 5:30 am and were standing at the base of Left Ski Track (5.6) by 8:30.  It was cool in the shade, and I prayed that it would stay reasonable for at least a couple more hours.

Taquitz Rock

Taquitz Rock, viewed from the Humber Park

The last time I climbed here with Ryan, we did The Trough and I led all the pitches.  Now, with more experience under his belt, Ryan wanted to lead pitches 1 and 3, and I would have a go at the 2nd, with the crux “step around” move.  We racked up and he set off.

Racking up

You can never bring too many slings at Tahquitz

Left Ski Track

Ryan (little red dot) at the P1 anchors on Left Ski Track (5.6)

I’ve read that the 5.6 rating is particularly tricky at Tahquitz.  Some have referred to it as the most psychologically difficult grade on this rock.  I don’t know if that’s true, but after climbing this route, I can understand the point.  This is an alpine environment where objective hazards like rockfall and adverse weather are a reality, the ratings are stiff, and the exposure is high.  A 5.6 at the gym is a beginner’s climb (and at most crags, for that matter).  It’s like climbing up a ladder.  Here, we faced delicate no-holds friction with nothing but 300 feet of air beneath our feet.  The 5.6 rating feels like a cruel joke.

Ryan Slaybaugh

Ryan Slaybaugh

It took Ryan about two hours to finish the first pitch.  Watching him, I could tell that he was near his limit of comfort in terms of exposure and options for protection.  I’ve seen him climb much harder routes than this, but all bets are off when you’re out on the sharp end.  I have no doubt this was a good learning experience, and I can only guess how many other new leaders have been humbled on this popular climb.   In fact, on our way back from the friction descent, we watched as a young woman flailed about halfway up the first pitch, no doubt because she underestimated the seriousness of the route.

2nd anchor on Left Ski Track

2nd belay on Left Ski Track

After I reached the anchor, Ryan suggested that I lead the next two pitches, in the interest of time.  I think he had gotten his fill for the day, and it’s a feeling I, too, am familiar with.  The next pitch held the crux of the route, a very spicy “step around” a bulge with no real holds.  You won’t find many 5.6 climbs with as exposed and committing move as this!  I clipped a decades-old piton, placed a cam as a backup, and then made the delicate moves around the bulge.  I built a belay on the next good ledge, and brought Ryan across.

Rope anchor

4-piece anchor using a rock horn for fun

The third pitch was just as exciting as the second, since I opted to try the 5.8 variation over a rounded bulge of rock (which I assumed would end at the top-out, but wasn’t really sure).  I placed a couple of pieces and got about halfway up this bulge, but then the options for pro disappeared and I couldn’t commit to the final moves.  It was just smooth slab and total trust that those pieces below would hold.  I paused for a bit and tried to talk myself into it, but the allure of a safe 4th class ramp was too much to resist.  I down climbed, removed the gear, and then headed up the ramp and to the top.

West face

Climber rapping off the south face (small dot, lower left)

We finished up Left Ski Track and made our way back to our packs, and then eventually back to the start of Fingertrip, which I had climbed with Joey a couple of weeks ago.  I had followed the first pitch on that day, and I wanted to experience the great lieback finger crack for myself.  Ryan and I were feeling tired and dehydrated, so we decided to climb the first pitch and then rappel, instead of trying to do another 400 foot route before dark.  It was the right choice, because we were both pretty wiped out by the end of the day.

Ryan near the finish of the first pitch

Ryan approaching the top of P1, Fingertrip

top of the first pitch

Ready to rap and go home!

We found no shortage of rap slings around the big pine at the first pitch belay.  Redundancy certainly wasn’t the issue.  The tattered webbing and cord were in various states of decay, and it was difficult to assess whether any one of them would actually hold our weight.  Ryan and I played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be the second to rap off.  This would absolve the first person down of any guilt, should the entire conglomerate of ratty slings fail when we least expect it.  I won.  I rapped first, using my cordellete and a biner as a backup to the nest of weathered slings.  I bounced on the way down, to further test the system.  Everything went fine, and Ryan carefully removed our backup and rapped using the slings, which we had thus determined to be safe.  We reached a second tree, which possessed even more slings (I counted at least 9) and decided this would probably be trustworthy.  One more rap and we were on the ground, with less than a foot of rope to spare.

Rapping anchor

Rap anchor

 

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