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Strawberry Peak's North Cliff (New Info)

Strawberry Peak\'s North Cliff (New Info)

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: California, United States, North America

Object Title: Strawberry Peak's North Cliff (New Info)

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 13, 2009

Activities: Hiking

Season: Winter


Page By: jesu, joy of man's desiring

Created/Edited: Jan 16, 2009 / Jun 2, 2009

Object ID: 480448

Hits: 2985 

Page Score: 74.01%  - 4 Votes 

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gotta laugh...to keep from crying

all systems are  go

"I am glad to hear that you are doing something on that cliff on the north side of Strawberry...I read with much interest Ruth's account of the first ascent..."

--Royal Robbins, May 17, 2009, via e-mail correspondence

Some info here has been revised after a solo climbing effort on this cliff, May 10, 2009 (Some route information is at the bottom)

Strawberry Peak's magnificent North Cliff is our own mythical never-never land. It's truly a "lost" cliff, enduring endless periods of solitude; it's a vague mystery to many climbers. Taller and steeper than it looks, many miles from the nearest trailhead, and mounted above 400ft of shifting blocks, it's the dictionary definition of an "adventure crag." My guess is that it averages all of two technical ascents per decade, and I'll try to explain the reasons for that. About every six years I wander up to this foresaken rock and stagger around at its base; the passing years, however, never seem to make it more climber friendly. On Jan 13, 2009, I made yet another pilgrimage to the hermit kingdom...now armed with a digital camera. I apologize for the image quality; very low light that day. Turning your room lights off helps a bit.

I always hike in from Redbox, where it's an easy 4.5 miles to the base of the cliff--hoofing it up the talus is the hardest part, next to dodging the speeding Ducatis while crossing the Angeles Crest Highway. A couple miles into the hike, past Lawlor Saddle, you get these unforgettable, sweeping views of that stupendous watershed country; then you gradually descend into Strawberry Meadows, where there's always a spooky "murkwoods" feeling--it's a shadowy place full of mysterious old oaks and ghostly pinetrees. It's also famous as one of Southern California's genuine beauty spots. The old-timers called it "Little Yosemite." For more intense solitude, I always choose to come here on a quiet weekday.

On Jan 13 the area was still under its Christmas snow and icicles, though the Santa Anas were blowing hard. My perpetual companion, a thermos of hot tea, added moral support. I took the left edge of the talus field to get up to the towering North Cliff, and found that the cliff is still geologically active. Recently, massive blocks had shed off and come crashing down through the talus, shattering tree trunks into fresh toothpicks and cleaving apart huge boulders, like the path of a meteorite. Every year or so, I'd guess the staff down at the Methodist Camp (3.5 miles away) hear these monster rockfalls. As usual, I encountered shifting and trapdoor talus blocks--use caution if you visit here. Everywhere on this cliff the rockfall can be intense; if you get anywhere near this crag then helmets are advised.

Like I do every time, Tuesday I spent 3.5 hours examining the cliff, stumbling from its left end to its right end, looking for route possibilities, getting a stiff neck. But, as usual, nothing came from my inspections, though it's fascinating just to study such a massive-but-virginal crag, even if it's a bit like a lecherous old man glaring at a fresh young girl. Truly an awesome cliff system, about 1200ft along its base, and maybe 240ft in height. (CORRECTION:the cliff's maximum height is at least 400ft) Just left of center is a huge whitish slab, featureless except for its rubble and its high menacing fangs of loose-looking rock. Right of that white slab is the North Cliff's "most obvious route," a grungy wide crack that goes right-ward up a dark gray buttress, steep at the bottom and the middle. It's maybe somewhere between 5.6 to 5.9, and the crack may be packed tight with dirt--bushels of Miner's Lettuce sprout from it. You might also encounter unstable, detached blocks and poor protection. (Route Info at bottom.) 30ft to the left of this wide crack is a bolted sport/face route. You will see its first four bolts near the base of the rock. The start looks at least 5.10+. Gear may be needed on this route, beside quick-draws.

Going a little further right, you then encounter the stunning "Main Face." Looking upward from a ways back, any serious climber will be awestruck by this 300ft-wide section of aesthetic granite; it's from 65 to 85 degrees steep in most places; you see a few rusted bolts and slings around trees. But it suffers from two little problems: it lacks obvious cracks, and it lacks obvious holds. Though I saw plenty of "discontinuous" cracks which could be linked together with steep sections of gritty face climbing. (Old-school climbing: protecting a steep, thin crack with wireds, then sustained, thin face moves to yet another tiny crack, which might actually require knifeblade pitons--ughh!) Nevertheless, the Main Face does boast some great climbing potentials: it has steep, shallow dihedrals, some finger/hand cracks, nice ledges, corner systems, and some good-looking, steep slabs. There's also lichen...and more lichen. And some of the rock I climbed felt grainy/flaky and ball-bearing, some cracks had soft, crumbly edges...well, you get the picture.(Correction: the rock is generally of good quality, and lichen isn't much of a factor.)

The Main Face was actually first climbed in 1938 by John and Ruth Mendenhall, who set aside a hot summer to do "pioneering ascents" on Strawberry's North Cliff. Their recorded route was "so devious" they named it "Strawberry Roam," and it took numerous Sundays to complete it, likely with direct aid. Ruth Mendenhall was then a world-famous "woman climber." An SP Member here has mentioned climbing "Strawberry Roam" back in 1996, from a topo sourced to Ruth Mendenhall. If he has the time, perhaps he can post this historic route and offer some details. Teen-aged Royal Robbins climbed everywhere in the San Gabriels, climbing down deep canyons to solo nameless 600ft towers of rubble. Robbins as well climbed with the Mendenhalls; I suspect then he has climbed Strawberry's North Cliff. Also, an article in Rock&Ice once mentioned ice setting up on this crag, presumably like the clear water ice I've climbed beside Williamson Rock--but I have my doubts about that. (The legendary Royal Robbins responded to my e-mail, and was glad to hear of this crag getting some online press. He confirmed a long-ago visit to the cliff, and recalled that it was not quite as "firm" as Tahquitz. Later, I linked him to this Trip Report, and he replied again, saying he enjoyed the memories. Far as I'm concerned, Robbins is THE MAN.)

So what did I think of the North Cliff? First thing, there's no frogs lurking about to spoil the fun, to close access. It's also wild, beautiful and amazing, but it's slightly uninviting to the climber. It simply lacks obvious lines of ascent. You don't really know what to climb there, where to rope up. Everything is of interest, but nothing specifically commands your attention. It would take an obsessed, super-committed person to "develop" the climbing on this lonesome cliff, to separate the good from the junk, while going through a ship load of wire brushes. (He'd have to be a honed specialist of thin, difficult cracks, with superb edging skills.) A year's worth of Saturdays might then result in merely a dozen quality rock climbs, culled from all of that granite. But maybe just one or two ultra-classics would finally attract some new visitors to this old and strange paradise.

January 15, 2009

Disclaimer: If you aspire to be Strawberry Peak's next Junior Alpinist, then realize that you might also be its next victim of rockfall. Climbing on Strawberry Peak's North Cliff or its talus could be extremely dangerous. Do so at your own risk. Any of the information here could be inaccurate or wrong. (SM)

Buttress of The Winter Wind: On May 10, 2009, I attempted to rope-solo this feature, climbing up to about 275ft, perhaps 175ft short of the top. I used the simplest method of soloing, tying everything off with figure eights, and just pulling up 10 to 20ft of slack at a time. With a Rawl-style drill and hammer, I also installed four new bolts on this climb, adding two new bolts beside an ancient and rusted two-bolt belay/rappel station, and two bolts much higher up, just above sections of grungy and crackless climbing. The added bolts are 5/16" by 1.75"; a 7/16" wrench tightens them.

(from Steve1215: for better or worse, this was a misguided effort...and the only time I've carried a Rawl drill in the Angeles Forest. As they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions--see Comments. "Buttress of The Winter Wind" was my own nickname for this feature...since 1987)

Begin climbing this route in a steep, 14" wide crack--the North Cliff's most obvious feature. About 30ft up is a poorly-protected step-across left onto the face, at least 5.8 in difficulty. From this position you can reach over and insert a cam into a 4" wide crack. Then climb the squeeze chimney behind a chockstone until you can move left again onto the ledge with bolts. Above, 70ft of fun stemming on superb rock leads you to a belay on a pedestal, with a vertical 2" wide crack for anchors.

Above that, climb up to a short, vertical crux section; this move is on excellent rock, and rated 5.7. A 3" slot offers protection here. Then climb a low-angle dihedral. Above that is about 80ft of climbing that will separate the mountaineers from the rock climbers: the granite is somewhat decomposed but still solid, cracks are sparse, and gravel and bushes are abundant. The climbing is strenuous and awkward 5.6. In this area I saw a half-dozen slings and biners where people had retreated, doing CRAZY rappels from small tree roots even. You'll find two new bolts I added to this section.

After thrashing past this grunge, I stopped. I'd run out of daylight and my hand was mangled from hammering the drill, so I made four careful rappels to get back down. Above my high point, though, the rock appeared to be of good quality; and the climbing looked excellent, possibly steep. I'd guess that a couple more bolts would be welcome in this last 175ft, maybe to replace old, rusted ones. Below, I hadn't run across any good cracks for pitons or wireds, but cams 1.5" to 4" were useful. The climbing I did was reasonably protected, except for the first 30ft. Bring plenty of slings, and a few old biners for possible rappels.

May 12, 2009

"Let me not mar that perfect dream..."
--Emily Dickinson



[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 1-13 of 13    

Augie MedinaMe to

Augie Medina

Voted 10/10


Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this intriguing place. Every time I've hiked, run or biked around the north face of Strawberry, I've stopped to gawk up the cliff sometimes daring to move up on the big talus at the bottom for a ways. But that always makes me nervous because you sense the instability of that big rubble at the bottom.

Posted Jan 17, 2009 12:23 pm

jesu, joy of man's desiring...sorry for the delay

jesu, joy of man\'s desiring

Hasn't voted

Facing the cliff, if you approach its extreme right edge, my guess is that you can completely avoid that talus slog. I figure this cliff will also be wet until mid April(2009)--not that it really matters, no one will be lining up to climb it! A belated thanks for your comments, Augie. It's always nice when someone bothers to post more than five or six words online.
Posted Feb 9, 2009 1:37 pm

fatdadThanks for the recon


Hasn't voted

I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to hike to the base of that and check it out. Many thanks for the trip report. One of these days I may get out there with a rope, rack and some huevos to deal with the choss factor. But until then, thanks for scratching that itch.

Posted Feb 17, 2009 7:14 pm

jesu, joy of man's desiring...just do it

jesu, joy of man\'s desiring

Hasn't voted

Going up there on "recon" is a treat...though it's weird to be alone in that meadow at daybreak while staring at fresh bear tracks in the snow. I'll stick to my guns and predict that someday this crag will produce a difficult and highly-photogenic route. Get to the base of that center face, Steve, and I'm sure you'll say, "Whoa, that looks GOOD." It's not too chossy, after all. (SM)
Posted Feb 19, 2009 11:23 pm

rockitjeffpure rubble

Hasn't voted

You are right- the thing gets climbed every 5 years. If that.

One of the posters on Todd Gordon's old JT forum (the nasty one/ pre-PG rated days...) went up w/ a partner and gear (this would be around '05) and choss'd their way up.

I rode my mt bike yesterday PM around and under that big pile. I love looking at it, but have no desire to explore it's mysteries..

Posted Mar 2, 2009 2:30 pm

jesu, joy of man's desiringpure rubble?...naaah

jesu, joy of man\'s desiring

Hasn't voted

Thanks for commenting, Jeff, but this crag is not quite in that category. Pure rubble is where half the holds pop off in your hands, or the rock crumbles like compacted kitty-litter. I've read 3 accounts of people climbing this cliff, and all were positive; none mentioned real poor quality.

On the Main Face, I think the quality could be akin to Tahquitz--Tahquitz as it was 70 years ago! The issue would be mostly superficial grit and sand, not 500lb. flakes coming off. But I could be wrong, of course.

To finally settle the issue, should a massive SummitPost Exploratory Expedition travel there, on a warm Summer day? Because of his youthful energy, I nominate TacoDelRio to coordinate this expedition...and I nominate fatdad as expedition Technical Adviser--the guy's done the P.O. Wall, for God's sake.

As for myself? Last time I used a chalkbag was 7 years ago, on Etude and Obscured By Clouds, at Suicide. But I might go along as a porter, or high-altitude Sherpa...

(I think the MAIN reason this crag doesn't draw people is obvious--it's 4.5 miles from the parking lot!)
Posted Mar 4, 2009 2:18 pm

jmcanbyDouble standard

Hasn't voted

Now, let me get this right - you give me & my partner shit in your "Bolting 101" picture, mouthing off about a route you've never climbed - just speculating about from the ground. Then, you go and tack 2 bolts onto a route that was put up 60+ years ago? WTF? If you couldn't handle the route, bail off of gear or figure something out, don't go slamming in bolts onto an existing route. We climbed the route ~ 4 years ago, and stripped a cam, half a dozen biners, and a slew of tat from previous groups that had bailed/rapped the route. No drill necessary... The rock is loose: it's a f__king dangerous chosspile of a wall, which you already knew. If you're going to drill, do it on your own route.
-John Canby
Posted May 24, 2009 6:50 am

jesu, joy of man's desiringokay...

jesu, joy of man\'s desiring

Hasn't voted

Yes, John, you're right...I judged your route without climbing it first. But my "mouthing off" amounted to this: I said that if anyone could stick pro into any available cracks there, then clipping the bolts is "probably" optional. That was "mouthing off"? In any case, I'll let people judge this for themselves--the "editorial" comments have been removed from the photo.

As far as adding bolts to a 60-year-old route, which you call a f--king dangerous chosspile, better to add two bolts 70ft apart than to have people getting killed retreating off of tree roots.
A couple of added protection points in a grungy, crackless area might encourage an occasional ascent here, or safe descent. You get points for your dangerous ascent you mentioned, but who is going to repeat a dangerous f--king chosspile?
Posted May 25, 2009 2:35 pm

JohnLTip-toe Traverse


Hasn't voted


From the photos it looks like your route is the begining of Tip-toes traverse, one of the original Mendenahll routes. This is per John Mendenhall's 'An Impromtpu Climbing Guide' (1943).

Also, about 20ft left of the 'tree root death rap' is a rap station. Put in place to protect climbers from said 'Chosspile'..as are the four bolts lower on our project.

We climbed the TT Traverse a couple of times while exploring for a route to put up and decided the crux section required as much protection as could reasonably be afforded.

I appreciate the route you put on Mt. Markham, and I believe the issue is that John and I were taken back by your criticism having not climbed the route (although it is in progress), and ask that you remember we are all after the same thing ultimately. I am fairly certain we all see the same potential on the north face of Strawberry.

John Luck
Posted May 25, 2009 5:14 pm

jmcanbyDont kill the thrill.

Hasn't voted

- "A couple of added protection points in a grungy, crackless area might encourage an occasional ascent here, or safe descent. You get points for your dangerous ascent you mentioned, but who is going to repeat a dangerous f--king chosspile?" (-Steve1215)

This route is probably the most often-climbed route on Strawberry (albeit only every couple of years). The choss and danger aspect are a HUGE part of the Strawberry climbing experience. One of the reasons I like Strawberry so much is that it is loose, it is scary, and you need to have your head screwed on while climbing it. If you want to make a safer route, make one of your own - you are robbing all climbers of a great day by drilling out of cowardice. Once again, if you want to make a safe (well, safer) route up Strawberry, PUT UP YOUR OWN. Don't hack on the Mendenhalls' line. Too late for that though...

Some background on my experience with the N. Face of Strawberry:
Years of running and riding through Strawberry Potrero had me yenning for a climb of the Eiger of Pasadena. The topic came to a head over on Supertopo in a thread titled "Southern California Choss" (or something like that.) Kevin Mocracek (sp?) mentioned that he had a copy of John Mendenhall's route description from an old Sierra Cub journal. He was kind enough to fax me a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy. It turns out that as of the mid 40s, there were at least 8 routes on that sucker! The main line of weakness feeds at least three of these, with the center line titled The Grey Buttress/The Grey Giant, or something like that (I am ~8000 miles away from my bookcase, and am digging from memory). The next week, John L. and I went climbing.
John & I climbed the main line (Tiptoe Traverse, I think it is called, as John mentions above) in June ~ 3 years ago. The climb was gnarly - bushwhacking at the bottom, loose blocks, a couple of dead ends while picking out a line, a kitty-litter traverse near the top. We ran out of water at the top, scrambled down a gully, then skirted the base back to our packs, and hoofed it out to the car, way dehydrated. I think John L said he lost ~ 10 lbs that day... At the car, we both said there was no way we were going to return to Strawberry. Two days later, I called John, and he and I had both recanted - "Dude, we need to go back!" Two more trips gave us some more climbing on different parts of the N. Face, and we picked out a line for a new route. Still an ongoing project, as I moved away from So. Cal, and can put in intermittent work on it.

The other John.
Posted May 25, 2009 9:53 pm

jesu, joy of man's desiringmea culpa

jesu, joy of man\'s desiring

Hasn't voted

Thanks John and John for getting back with your comments. This page will probably come to be known as The Official Website of The Chosspile, making me look rather ridiculous. But here are some more thoughts--

After doing a little belated homework on the crag, it seems that the North Cliff every decade or so puts a spell on someone like me, who then starts to imagine that it's actually Tahquitz, just under a layer of gravel. Over 22 years, I've visited this area 8 times, and I've never seen a soul on the cliff; I came to imagine that it was "almost" a virgin, or that's what I wanted to imagine. I still think it has potential; maybe those finger cracks way up high...they look good through binoculars. Also a 5.8 crack system on the far right...

As for my own effort: I didn't think it through too thoroughly, I just went up there to...re-establish an old route? Make it popular? Pretty convinced that 99.9999% of SoCal climbers never intended to visit, they considered it junk, etc. I had this vision of increased climber traffic, on a natural line that modern climbers never tread; if I added a few bolts in the worst garbage areas, suddenly it becomes a wilderness classic that's FUN, not a fool's errand on choss. That was a self-delusion. I added those 2 bolts for my own safety as well--yes, so that might qualify as cowardice! Somehow, selective thinking no doubt, I didn't see it as retro-bolting.

So now here is this page which is popularizing an area that is fundamentally unsafe. There seems to be a long band of rotten rock on top that often sheds falling junk. Everytime I've visited there's been a near-miss. Last time, something the size of a softball exploded 2 feet behind me. I've put this cliff into a mountaineering category, not fun-in-the-sun rock climbing stuff, and maybe that was part of my bolting rationalization. Very casual climbers might think twice about visiting here.

I should also mention that JM Canby sent me a very friendly e-mail months ago, this after I questioned his new route. He described the initial hard moves to me. But I didn't have the good grace or sense just to wish him luck, then mind my own business. Encroaching senility?

Posted May 27, 2009 4:52 pm

jmcanbyEmbrace the choss

Hasn't voted

John & I have joked about rapping in from the top of Strawberry and scraping it clean of the tons of death blocks, small and large, thereby unearthing the perfect gem underneath. Delusional, no doubt... I wouldn't say that Strawberry is "fundamentally unsafe" - it just requires a different mindset than a day of fun cragging. You do not want to be hanging out at the base waiting to get brained, that's for sure.
Posted May 27, 2009 10:51 pm

JohnLRe: Embrace the choss


Hasn't voted


Agreed on the Brain Bashing potential. John and I have both had numerous near misses, and we incorporated doning a helmet once we get within 100 feet or so. Once there it pays to keep an ear and eye tuned to the sky, and stay close into the wall when belaying from the ground. Definitely not a relaxing environment, but I am transfixed by it none the less.

There are several potentially good lines. Too many to ignore. So I guess this puts us all in the mind set of working to create something there.

Good luck & be careful.
Posted May 28, 2009 2:15 pm

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