It’s the Fall Equinox and by all rights the summer should be over, but temps reaching higher than 100 degrees are telling me otherwise. The heat has me uninspired to climb although my body is craving the physical exertion; so, to make myself feel more at ease I will revel in my summer’s sends. After our July efforts on Leaning Tower we headed to higher ground. We headed to Tuolumne – where the water was ice cold and the rock climbs kept our tips numb. The season up there is limited and so I try to have some specific goals so I don’t find myself too idle. A few years back when I was climbing on “Peace” I was intrigued by a route to the right named “Golden Rose.” I had tried it once that summer and found it to be quite hard, quite thin and quite reachy. But, when this summer season started up there I found myself wanting to give it a good going over. I was lucky in that a few friends were interested in doing Peace and so I would have partners to hike up to Medlicott with and give a belay. My first time up the route this season confirmed my thoughts about it from the past – it was extremely thin, it had long move after long move and felt incredibly sustained but it also felt very doable. I wanted more of it. After a few days effort on the route I was psyched to make the first female ascent of this classic Ron Kauk line.
My fire was stoked and went after another project of mine that has lasted me three summers – The Steel Fingers Traverse. It’s rated V8 but I want to give it a personal grade of V10 – but I don’t guess that would be right so I’ll humbly stick to what the Tuolumne Rock Gods have given it. It’s a 40 foot traverse that goes through a series of slopers, crimps, heel hooks, horizontals, underpalms and cracks. The typical beta at the start of the crux is to get a left heel, toe and lock off to a sloper crimp above the roof. This works great for those that are 5’8″ and taller but for us shorties it a whole different game. The reason this traverse has taken me so long is because of this move – I needed to find a different way and I did. It involves an undercling pinch, super high feet and a pop out the roof. Ok, hard move but I could do this move almost every time, the issue then became being able to do the move while holding the pump from the 15 or so feet into it and then holding on for all that came after it. I worked it, worked it, worked it. I had it down in a few sections, then I had it down to two sections – all the moves into the pop then all the moves from the pop to the end. But, damn it! I kept putting my foot down when I would go for the move – I realized that I was having a mental game with myself. I was thinking that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard for me to do it all and I was holding myself back, I wasn’t letting myself succeed. I needed to break through, to change the thought pattern. So, I started doing it from just a few moves before sometimes I would succeed, mostly I wouldn’t. Then I would just start doing that move to the end over and over again, with a fierce pump. This showed me I could hold on, I had the power to do so. On the day that I red-pointed Golden Rose I tried to send Steel Fingers. I thought that the psyche from the mornings accomplishment would have me stoked. I didn’t do it, but I came really close. A couple days later after a good rest and some pep talks from both Ben and Ron I knew it was time. I warmed up and then arranged the pads as needed. I fired it first go that day! I had surprised myself when I stuck “the move.” I had to real my thoughts back in and keep it together for the rest of the traverse, for there are a few more cruxes before the end. As I reached the last hold and then stepped down off the problem I had not only just made another first female ascent but I had personally come through a transformation.
This had all happened just in time for the next week Ben Ditto, Jon Gleason, Eric Ruderman and I headed to the Needles for a ten day stint of secluded, low commitment multipitching. In our time there we got in a little over 36 miles of hiking and about 36 pitches of climbing. It’s a magical place there at the southern end of the Sierra. The granite is splitter and grippy and the pro can be plentiful and solid to sparse and sketchy. From the late 60’s to the early 90’s is when most of the climbing was put up at the Needles. In 1969 Fred Becky made the first ascent there and in the years to follow it would be only a handful of hard men and women putting up FA’s. When I first caught wind of the Needles it was the 90’s. The electric green lichen of the place suited the style of the era and the glossy pages of the climbing mags were adorned with lycra, runouts on thin flakes and mystical sounding names of formations like The Warlock and The Sorcerer. Master’s of Stone had Ron Kauk and DanO moving through the landscape as if a playground. In our ten days there we saw that playground shut down more parties of climbers than not on the humbling experiences of cracks that tapper out to descents up talus filled gullies to the 3 mile hike out. We saw more people leave early, almost fleeing with fear than on the summits of those five fingers of rock.
Many of the climbs seem to have been left in the past. The upfront classics dominate the scene and only the Peregrines can be found on such climbs as the Nautilus. Aside from the bugs, birds and chipmunks our wildlife encounters – much like the gear – was sparse despite being at 7000 feet and in the thick forest of the Sierra. There were no deer, no bear and no cougar and I could only deduce that since the Central Valley with it’s millions of people and agricultural pollution rest only 50 miles away that the animals have moved to less polluted more safe environs.
We ticked off some classics like the Don Juan Wall, Atlantis, and Fancy Free to name a few. Gave a go at things like Pyromania and Titanic and on our last day there Ben and I made an ascent of Romantic Warrior. Through the years I had heard stories of this climb – how bad the pro was, how hard and awkward the cruxes were, how beautiful the line was, how good the climbing was, how shut down people had been on it and on and on. But, somehow this climb was not so bad for us. Perhaps it’s that we came from Yosemite where the runouts can be long, the pro can be funky, and the rock just as chossy as it is solid. And perhaps it’s that in our quiver we have enough experience to go up something like this and come out on top. Whatever the reason for the send on this amazing and elegant line I am thankful, for it was a highlight of the trip and a highlight in my climbing career.
As I wrap up this tale of a sublime, sending summer thunder clouds gather above Yosemite Valley. The threat of rain brings with it some cooler temps and hopefully the promise of Fall – for there is still much to climb and explore!
all photos credit to ben ditto <www.bendittophoto.com>
September 23rd, 2011 at 11:21 pm
I think you’ve just proven that people don’t excel accidentally…strong work, Katie…
September 24th, 2011 at 1:37 am
Hi Katie, i’m the guy who showed up and visited a bit the morning you left The Needles. Nice TR, what a summer you had. It was great to meet you and your friends.
The main reason you don’t see deer, bears, cougars etc out at crags is because it is high and very dry. Yesterday I hiked down the drainage to the south (right) from the saddle before the switchbacks up to the tower. I went all the way down to Needlerock Creek – the very bottom. Lots of bear sign, a deer turned it’s backside to me and farted, and on the way back up I saw a large cat but was too slow on the draw with my camera. Also the locals there know of a mother cougar and her two cubs living deep in the woods below Dome Rock.
The record in the old green book is wrong. The first documented technical climb done in the Needles was Sidewalk Magic, up the spine of what was then called The Whale’s Back – now Magician. Dan McHale and Joe Brown in 1969. McHale then came back with Beckey in Nov that year and they did S Face of Hermit Spire. The next year McHale, Beckey and Mike Heath did S Face of the Warlock and later that year McHale and Beckey did Pea soup down on Voodoo. Then the word was out and it was Game On!
Cheers! Kris Solem
October 12th, 2011 at 2:01 pm
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