First Ascents: Crystal Lake Wall

"In rock climbing and mountaineering a first ascent (abbreviated to FA in guidebooks) is the first successful, documented attainment of the top of a mountain, or the first to follow a particular climbing route. First ascents are notable because they entail genuine exploration, with greater risks, challenges, and recognition than climbing a route pioneered by others. The person who performs the first ascent is called the first ascensionist." - Wikipedia

Saturday was a particularly exciting adventure for me, it marked my introduction (two times!) to a first ascent.  This is sort of a big deal.  It seems nowadays, so many people subscribe to the idea that "everything has been done"  and there are no new ideas.  Every piece of art looks like some other notable creation, every gadget and invention is just a spin on something else, nothing is new.  What a terribly defeatist and depressing outlook.  I know two people that will not subscribe to this theory, my friend Taco, and myself.  I am inspired by everything around me, but I have also been creating original works of artwork, the capabilities are not that difficult.  Taco has also been indulging in creative endeavors, but particularly in nature.  His mind to explore the possibilities of the mountains really isn't different to that of an author to a blank page, or an artist to a blank canvas.  Just be imaginative, make something up, try it, see what the outcome is!  Sounds easy!  it is when it comes to watercolors and poetry, you really can't make mistakes.  However with mountaineering, demands are inherently physical and danger can often be imminent when you explore the unknown, but like Helen Keller said "Life is either a great adventure, or nothing at all."

You may remember Taco from my blog on about our summit of Half Dome, but all the while he has been establishing a brainchild of climbing routes in Crystal Lake, an area in Azusa, California that is in the San Gabriel Mountains.  He has devised several new routes already and invited me along for two additional.  Above is a photo of the uncharted granite at the Crystal Lake Wall.  The arrow is pointing to an approximation of where we headed to climb.  That photo was taken from around where we parked the car, so a nice approach was ahead of us.

My roots are really of hiking and backpacking, so I'm never one to highly frown on a climbing approach, and I wasn't on this day either.  It only took 30 minutes, up some scree and talus, the aftermath of a flash flood.  So much climbing in Southern California is in the arid desert, so I always love the atmosphere of climbing in the forest.

I believe Taco had something specific in mind to climb, but spontaneity called and the large crack above him to the left was going to be our "warm-up"  Like all rock climbing, it looks easier from the ground.  Looks to be about a 5.6 YDS grade (novice), well.....  it wasn't.

I wish we had larger selection and more dynamic photos than the ubiquitous "butt shot" of the climber taken from the ground.  It's essentially the worst angle one can take, but it was only the two of us in the field, and any photos at all were a tad risky, you know hands being full of rope and rock and all. Regardless of the excuses, Taco pushed passed the crack and traversed left, building an anchor off the tree.  I found the contrails above his head to make some interesting design for the photo.

Now it was my turn, and I wanted it bad.  Time to pop my first ascent cherry.  However, this was no 5.6 warm up.  Taco took a bolder lead than expected and the large crack you see my leg sinking into felt a bit off-width (unconventional).  There wasn't much feet at all, and hardly even hands, you had to really squeeze and jam your body in and up that crack, not very comfortable.  This wasn't physically anymore, it becomes a mixture of finesse and spirit.  I wanted it, and although I had thoughts of giving up, I pushed through, SUCCESS!  I made it to the anchor, way pumped out physically but spiritually excited and proud.

I came back down and Taco went up once again to marinate on the grade we would give it and clean the anchor.  I brainstormed route names all the while. 

You can see Taco in a great stance at the bottom of the crack, he's looking for alternate ways around or more successful solutions to ascend the route.  He's taken the pressure of leading it off now that the anchor is built and spending this climb judging the grade of difficulty.  I admittedly have so much less experience it was hard for me to guess.  Most climbs are hard for me! This was very tough for me, and well beyond Taco's idea of the warm up.  Below you can see the rather delicate traverse, a secondary crux with a tiny roof to pull to get to the anchor.

When we finished the route, the consensus was 5.10a and I proposed the route name "Ant Jemima."  Taco liked the name and laughed out loud.  We both are fans of word play, and the significance was the tremendous amount of ants along the top and bottom of the route.  You would put your hand on vital holds and they would crawl and bite you, nothing but accept it.  ANT JEMIMA 5.10a MY FIRST FIRST ASCENT

Here is the official input page on  LET THE RECORD BE WRITTEN!

Now time for lunch, some fake seafood salad that tasted just like rubber and a giant chocolate chip cookie, the view was great.  Shared it with the million ants and half million bees.

And now for a quick word from our sponsor before returning to our regularly scheduled adventure log.  Check out the "Cheapskate" hat in the Forever Outside online store.  At only $12 retail, it's perfect for the budget conscious dirtbags!  Only 24 made, 6 left, and will not be reproduced!

After lunch we established a second new route adjacent to "Ant Jemima."  This route looked harder than the first one, but once again, looks mean nothing until you're up there.  Here's an artistic yet unhelpful photo of Taco on lead. The route was hard just to even got on, required some funky lieback right out the gate.

The rock protection wasn't easy.  Seen here are some micro nuts and the smallest cam on the market, a .1 !!  Don't fall!  It was great to see Taco in his element, it was like watching an artist paint, you can tell they love it.  Cool, calm, collected, fascinated, just in the zone. 

After belaying I headed up this still unnamed and ungraded route.  I will now present some typical challenges when working first ascents that you will not find climbing well established and mapped routes. 
2. I don't know what rock will hold or will fall.
3.) There is loose dirt all over the handholds, it's falling in my eyes most of the time. 
4.) There are plants and cactus just sticking out of the worst areas ON the wall.

Here is a photo of me, note the plant on my right, part of it was just with a sling for protection and also as a directional to prevent a pendulum effect if falling.  I climbed towards the plant, turned my head to the left to look for the next moves, and a tiny twig perfectly punctured me in the ear.  It immediately felt warm and I lost hearing.  My hands were filthy so I pushed my ear down on my shoulder.  My shirt was light colored and I looked for blood, it felt like a liquid released.  No blood.  The hearing loss was startling, but wasn't particularly painful.
Onwards and upwards!

You have to improvise, this particular route on the first ascent went harder than the previous and I'll tell you why.  There was a large VERY LOOSE flake about the size of a teenager's torso more than half way up the route.  It was inevitable to climb above it, and also mandatory to not touch it during the first ascent, we "cleaned" it by removing it from the route so it wouldn't fall on the next person.  The desire to pull on it for support was instinctive but we had to ever so carefully move around it using a very thin finger system of finger cracks. 

Below you can see my standing on a small ledge, with Taco below belaying me. You can see just above me towards the left bottom corner of the photo is a big boulder with a deep crack.  You can tell this piece of rock is not connected.  It's practically shaped like an arrow head!

I'm over the whole ear thing immediately, now I'm trying to work around this huge boulder and not let it fall and chop my climbing rope, hit me in the head, or fall and smash my partner.  I make a gratifying couple moves over the rock without touching, thrilling and also relieved.  Then Taco steps to the side and I purposefully kick the rock off to help establish the route for the next set of climbers. Here is a short video. You will see when you pull DOWN on rock it's not that dangerous, but when you pull OUT on it, bam, bye bye! 

The yell at the end of the video was channeling Howard Dean's 2004 infamous scream.

Finished cleaning this flake, took a second to breath in the mountain air and enjoy the splendid view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  There is so often a discussion about the Sierra Nevada's or the National Park system, you could take for granted your backyard.  What a blessing to live so close to somewhere so beautiful, with so much terrain still left to chart and explore.

The route went harder around 5.10b to start, after pulling off that huge flake it revealed a giant hand jug and a huge foot platform, pretty much knock the route down 2-3 grades.  The thin fingers was really fun problem solving, but I suppose that's why people chase first ascents to begin with!  We didn't come up with a witty name for the route and now I put a little more concern on my ear injury. Taco entered the data in the records, perhaps the name will change, but THUG NASTY 5.9 it is!!

I was burnt, between the ear thing, some heavy lacerations from some bushwhacking on the approach and my muscles pumping from climbing higher than my comfortable grade I really couldn't climb more.  I belayed Taco on one more climb and we scoped out some other possible first ascents.  He toured me around the routes he already named and discovered and I just enjoyed seeing and being a part of it all.

Take it all in and head back to the car!

I have only a couple years climbing under my belt but my enthusiasm is so high.  I'm always down to try something, first it was climbing, then multi-pitch climbing, then lead climbing, then trad climbing, now doing a first ascent.  Alpine climb is next!  Stay tuned!!

So normally this entry would end here but it's more of a TO BE CONTINUED. I was tired, went home and rested,  The next morning I did a short canyoneering trip at 7am with my buddy Ray (trip report coming soon). After that I stopped by the after hours Urgent Care (was only open 10-4 anyway) and had the doctor look into my ear.  Was definitely a ruptured eardrum.  I got a 10 day prescription for antibiotics to reduce the chance of getting a middle ear infection and was given an additional tetanus shot.  Good times!  A real "freak of nature" accident.  With all the inherent risk involved with rock climbing, a tiny twig rupturing your eardrum wasn't expected.  All things said and done I still had a sweet weekend!  Thanks Taco and thanks Blue Cross Health Insurance.  Also got this rad new bracelet!!