At a few minutes after 12:00 noon this last Saturday, my partner Larry
and I shook hands at the top of the Main Wall at Lover's Leap after
toping out on Traveler Buttress.
A fantastic route with exhilarating moves and incredibly awesome
vistas. A route deserving of it's inclusion in Roper and Steck's Fifty
Classic Climbs of North America.
We started off by avoiding the regular trail to the base because of deep
water puddles and ended up instead wandering through a large talus
field, traversing numerous snow patches, thrashing through manzanita
bushes, and scrambling over fifth class rock. Sometimes a bargain isn't
Once at the base, we took care to secure our food and packs against the
voracious local squirrels (the last time I forgot to do that it cost me
two holes in my pack and the loss of most of my lunch!) I then told
Larry that I was ready to swing leads today as my shoulder, which has
recently been giving me trouble, seemed to be feeling a little better.
Larry said that he'd like to take the crux offwidth lead on the second
pitch which suited me just fine. I racked up and began the climb.
As I started up the first pitch, I was immediately taken aback as I
suddenly began to comprehend the verticality of the route. The first
and second pitches are pretty much dead drop vertical. Even though this
part of the climb is replete with numerous handholds, I still found
myself taking deep breaths and moving much more slowly than I though I
would be on this 5.8 pitch. The vertical nature of the rock was
definitely setting me a little on edge. This first lead of the season
was proving to be "in my face!"
After what I thought was far too much time, I topped out onto a large
ledge and started to belay Larry up. Soon, I began to feel raindrops
hitting me at a fairly steady rate. The weatherman's prediction for
"slight" chances of rain were looking much more tangible.
All of a sudden, our idea of climbing with only a rope, rack and the
shirt on our back seemed really stupid. Thankfully, after about ten
minutes the rain dissipated, never to reappear for the remainder of the
climb. Larry, however brought up a warm thick jacket, which he gave to
me as he began racking up for the second pitch. At first I was grateful
for the extra warmth, but then I realized that I would be responsible
for bringing it up through the offwidth; a prospect I was not looking
As Larry began climbing, I could sense that he was filled with a
confidence that comes from many years of climbing. Surely this lowly
section of rock was no match for his superior offwidth technique.
Trying to decide which way to turn into the crack is nothing unusual.
Happens to the best of climbers I'm sure. A grunt here, a grunt there
is to be expected when climbing offwidth cracks. Certainly this is
nothing out of the ordinary. Taking extraordinary care to place one's
gear is a sign of safety consciousness, not of tentativeness. Shouting
"take" is a sign of........shouting TAKE??? Quickly I pull in the rope
and hold Larry as he comes out of the crack.
Larry and I had heard rumors that once a climber reaches a big flake on
the right wall of the crack that his troubles are over. Unfortunately,
Larry tells me that there isn't any flake, but only the remains of one.
Whether there was ever any flake or not seems a moot point for us now as
we contemplate our chances of getting up this thing. Larry, not to be
outdone by any 5.9 crack, fires up it again with renewed enthusiasm and
vigor. TAKE!!! Now I'm getting worried. On the third try Larry
manages to make it to the horizontal crack above the offwidth. I can
clearly hear deep gasps as he catches his breath. As he launches into
the thinner crack above I'm surprised to see that he still seems to be
struggling. From my perspective it looks like the section he is on is
no harder than 5.6 or 5.7 (I am soon to discover just how complete was
Finally, after seeming to burn over a thousand calories he shouts "off
belay." Now I'm really worried. Not only am I faced with the prospect
of following Larry on this seemingly heinous offwidth pitch, but I'll be
doing it while wearing a thick jacket! I tried to think of a better way
to bring this jacket up, but at the moment the only logical solution
seemed to lay in putting it on and hoping for the best. I'll skip most
of the unsavory details of the next fifteen minutes, but let's just say
that for an offwidth, this crack required a surprising amount of
delicate technique. More, apparently, than I possessed.
After giving Larry back his now sweat soaked jacket, I began racking up
for the beautiful third pitch. This pitch takes you up a ever steeping
ramp with the holds getting progressively less secure until one turns
the magnificent corner onto the upper dike infested buttress. While I
was at the arete and about to turn the corner, I found myself actually
laughing out loud with excitement. Looking down at this point is an
absolute must! Moments like this are what make pitches like the last
one totally worthwhile. A short traverse left brings you to a long stem
into a corner and an interesting mantel move which I thought to be the
crux of the pitch. The belay is on narrow ledges with a great view
several hundred feet straight down.
From third belay, two more easy (too easy!) pitches lead to the top. As
I led the last pitch, I took a variation over what looked to be the most
difficult exit. I didn't want the climb to be over, but as long as it
had to, I was going to do my part to see that it ended with a bang
befitting it's greatness, and not with a whimper. I mantled up the
final few feet and found myself totally stoked as I stood at the top and
As Larry joined me on top, he told me that some people thought that
Roper and Steck put this in their book for the sole reason that they
were both on the first accent team. We agreed however, that this climb
definitely deserves it's status as one of North America's classics.
Even at a location like Lover's Leap, with so many notable routes, this
one stands out as special. A testament to it's exceptional qualities,
and a climb that puts a little extra meaning into the traditional summit