I let my buddy Ross heal for a few days after climbing with another friend in Oregon and riding the Iron Rooster for 24 hours straight getting to my place for yet another summer climbing trip. On his last weekend in California I decided to take Ross to the birthplace of the Yosemite Decimal System, Tahquitz, California.
Bright and early on a Sunday morning, Ross and I met buddies Monica and Matt Brauning at Brauning’s house around 7:00. It came as no surprise that we had to roll Brauning out of the bed. He had been out until 3:00 that morning at a concert and had consumed more than a little bit alcohol. He looked so bright and happy to be getting up to go out and play with us! Anyway, we loaded up into Monica’s Pathfinder and made the 2 hour drive in Idyllwild, CA. I had forgotten to fill up my Camelbak and Nalgene bottles before leaving Brauning’s house. Monica knew of a natural spring along the way. We pulled off the road about a half an hour outside of Idyllwild. There were two guys there filling up something like twenty five-gallon water jugs that let me jump in front of them. I was told that the spring runs year round and people from the surrounding communities come and get a week’s worth of drinking water at a time. The water was sweet and clear and cold.
We stopped at a little gas station for a bathroom and snack break just as we hit town. Damn! They were selling regular gas for $2.65 a gallon! I couldn’t believe it. Gas prices in California are insane, but this was price gouging at its finest. While we were parked there, Ross had some fun with the free water and air dispenser (picture a grown man "peeing" a arch of water fifteen feet high...). Why is it that when we men get together, we degenerate into three-year olds? I’m not immune; I am the absolute worst one about it. Brauning had, for some time, been wearing a brown bandanna as a skullcap while climbing. Well, the backdoor was open to Monica’s Pathfinder because we were adjusting gear and loading snacks. Brauning’s pack was on top and his brown bandana was sticking out. I couldn’t help myself, I just couldn’t! It was like a little red devil was sitting on my shoulder telling me what to do and egging me on. I took Brauning’s bandana out, grabbed Ross’s attention and dipped it really quick into the front of my pants. Ross, who apparently had the same devil on his shoulder cracked up and told me to do it again while he shot a video of the whole process. That time, however, I didn’t just make a quick dip; I may have gone a bit deeper in my pants, maybe… We laughed the hysterically and had Brauning’s bandana back in place by the time he came out of the gas station. The two of us giggled like school girls for the rest of the ride and when we parked for the walk to the crag and Brauning put it on his head, we roared with laughter. Children; we were nothing but overgrown children with better toys. It was so much fun!
As we were gearing up for the hike in, Monica “mentioned” that it would be a huge pain to leave anything at the base of the route because we would be descending the back side of the crag and it would be best if we carried all of our gear up with us. Ross and I could have used that bit of information somewhat sooner. He had only brought his large pack, which was way too big to haul up the route and I was wearing my clunky hiking boots. If I would have known about not leaving anything, I would have worn my Teva sandals and Ross would have brought a smaller pack. Ross had to stash all his gear in my little crag pack and my boots got in the way the entire time. Note: The key to a good time is SHARING information about the planned trip with your companions.
The hike to the base of the Long Route on Tahquitz is about a 40 minute climb on a dusty trail. The Brown/Talley Climbing Machine was geared up again and Brauning and Monica paired up. Somehow Monica had unloaded all the gear on Brauning and practically ran up the hill with only water and a rope bag while poor Brauning suffered with the weight and heat. At some point during the walk up Ross and I named Brauning’s bandana his “Taint Hat” and for some juvenile reason the fact that he was sweating in it made it that much funnier. When we topped out at the base of the route we all sat down for a breather and Monica said to Brauning, “You should have told me you wanted me to carry something...” He was not amused by her belated offer to help at the top of the hike in. I just couldn’t hold back the “Taint Hat” story anymore. I started it by telling him a similar story as a proverb and then I gave him a very detailed account of where his bandana had been. His initial look was one of disbelief, but after showing him Ross’s video, his gaze turned more homicidal. He then alluded to the fact that I was a lucky man, not climbing with him. He mentioned that he would hate for there to be a tragic rope cutting “accident” while I was on lead, punctuation his tale with a pantomime of his pocket knife cutting a rope. Overall he took the story, video and us teasing him about his “Taint Hat” all day really well. In hind sight, maybe I shouldn’t have taken the liberty... Nah, it was just too damn funny to have passed up!
Monica led the first pitch of the Long Route strong and Brauning followed her up. Ross led the first pitch of the Wong Route (right next to Long Route and an alternate start) and I followed him to the first belay ledge. There we sat for the next two hours waiting on Monica and “Taint Hat” Brauning to move up. We were directly in the sun the whole time and we started getting antsy after forty-five minutes or so. I dug in my pack for my cell phone to make a couple of calls, but we didn’t have reception. Then, we thought about getting a pencil out and playing tic-tac-toe or hangman on my helmet, but I had left my pencil in the Pathfinder. Damn. Ross and I both had to go to the bathroom a little and he suggested repelling down, taking care of the business at hand and then climbing back up via the Long Route start. I said no and that it would take too much time. I should have listened. About an hour later, when I REALLY had to go, I wished that I would have listened to Ross (By the time everyone was at the summit, I could wait no longer. There is a tree just down from the highest point of the rock that has grown in an area that is sheltered on three and a half sides by car sized boulders, which is probably the reason for its continued existence. Well, with all the nitrates that I left buried in a shallow hole at the base, I have assured that tree’s survival for the next ten years).
When Monica and Brauning were above us enough for us to start climbing, I took the lead and climbed to a sloping ledge through the Mummy Chimney. That chimney really sucked: the rock was greasy, the holds were widely spaced and the placements for gear were few and far between. It wasn’t really hard, just heady. Ross followed me to the anchor and after a classic (for us) speedy gear swap, Ross linked the next two pitches. We were a little off route and the first part of his two pitches was rated 5.9+ - 5.10. I was duly impressed with his lead when I followed and cleaned his placements. He was sharing an anchor with Monica when I climbed to him. Brauning had led their pitch and she was cleaning. After she left, we made a gear swap and I started climbing. About thirty feet above the anchor was a funky, smooth brow with a pointed wedge on one side of it. After getting my head on straight and pretending that I had giant balls, I smeared over the edge of the brow and wedged myself into a TINY crack before finding a solid hold. The series of moves was tricky and Brauning, who is fairly new to trad climbing, nailed it on lead before me and yelled down some key beta. I was impressed and told him so at the next anchor. I wasn’t quite halfway on the rope when I reached Brauning and Monica had topped out on the route, so I decided to link the two final pitches. The rope drag sucked, but I had about 5 feet of rope left when I summited. Brauning came up and then I put Ross on belay and brought him up to the summit, snapping some pictures just as he topped out.
The trail down from the top is ambiguous and a little tricky to find. We had to make the decent in climbing shoes, so our toes were screaming by the time we hit semi-flat ground.
We had sandwiches and beer for supper at a little place in Idyllwild. During the meal Monica asked me about climbing in Europe and I gave her a brief picture of the areas that I had been to. She had decided that the time was right in her life to cash in and go to Europe indefinitely. She has a flexible job, just ended a relationship, no major bills, no kids, etc..., but we have all talk about doing the very same thing and then decided against it later citing this or that lame excuse. Well not Monica: when she says something, she means it! I got this e-mail from her the week after our trip:
hello all. i'm emailing to inform you that i am in the process of streamlining...selling stuff! i will be having a garage/yard/estate/moving sale at hank’s place next sat. aug. 7th.
i've got stuff ranging from kitchen...clothing...shoes...books...art...camping...sports...decorative...and more. please spread the word and stop by! my car is even up for sale!!! asking 10K.
in case you're wondering...i'm heading to europe.
While the hike in and out sucked, that climbing was outstanding and everyone there climbed really strong. It was killer to get a chance to get on some classic rock and to climb with Ross on one more long route before he headed back to Arkansas. I plan on going back and doing a couple more routes at Tahquitz and at Suicide Rocks (in the same valley), but it won’t quite be the same without Ross and Brauning’s “Taint Hat.”