Fingertip Traverse

Summer is officially here and the heat is on in Southern California.  To keep on climbing means you must hit some high ground. On July 26th, 2015 I headed back to Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild for some granite multi-pitch rock climbing.  Tahquitz rock is almost 9,000' (2,743m) above sea level so the temperatures are significantly cooler.

It's a bit of a mission from Los Angeles, it's a 2-2.5 hours drive, a very steep approach, sandbagged climbing, a heavy descent, and the tough drive home after a long day.  However, it's worth all the effort.  The scenery is spectacular, the rock quality is impeccable, and the routes are classic.  I love multi-pitch and this place is second to none for a day trip.

The objective today was a route called "Fingertip Traverse" (5.3 YDS) which is a 4 pitch trad climb, 500' (152m) tall.  Fairly average length for Tahquitz, maybe a little shorter than some.  In typical fashion, don't second guess the 5.3 grade, this easily 2, 3, 4 grades harder than that.  I got off route (albeit on follow) and sound myself in a quick 5.10 terrain.  Much of the climbing is easy and straight forward, but there are 3-4 different cruxes, all different challenges, all equally interesting.

We got to "lunch rock", a huge boulder that's prominence helps route finding, and geared up.  Party of 3; me, fellow Sierra Club leader Katherine, and our fearless lead climber for the day Shobhan. 

We headed to the West Face of Tahquitz Rock and found the start of the climb.  There was one party on it, one party in front of us, and we took 10min to let them get on their merry way.  I understand people hate crowded routes, but classics are classic for a reason.  If you've ever played golf before you know there is more than party on the course, doesn't mean you should be deterred to tee off!

The first pitch can be split into the traditional two pitches, each one heading to a large tree for an anchor.  You can see above, up the low key crack to the tree, then up more to the tree above and to the left of that. Oddly enough the tree is part of the route, you climb 8' of the tree to keep ascending. 

All three of us had our own way of using the tree to push on.  The worst part is the tree is filled with biting ants and you want to move quickly, we all suffered a minimum of 2-3 bites, mostly around the hand and rest.  It was unavoidable.

There was actually quite a significant amount of tree and brush on the direct line for this route.  Fortunately I didn't suffer any accidents like the ruptured eardrum at Crystal Lake a couple ago (read the First Ascents blog for more on that).

Getting up, over and through the trees was more annoying than difficult, around the 3rd pitch (we split it to 5 pitches) we got to the first significant crux.  A very fun and committing lieback.
 Below is Shobhan scouting gear placements before conquering it.

It was the first time I got excited on the route, the ant tree and awkward 4th class crack gully we're a pain.  I loved the lieback, here's a fun video of Shobhan tackling it.  I joked with him later, calling him "Mr. BoJangles" because the hexes he had on his rack were so loud.  Nice little heart-beat-skipping-moment in the video, but safe and sound lead, nice!

After this first section, the climb really started getting intriguing, the signature crux is obviously a finger tip traverse, hence the on-the-nose name of the route.  I wish I had  photos of the actual traverse, but the geography of it all makes it difficult/impossible to capture.  Had bomber fingers, great jams, an unusual and impressive part of the climb.  After completion it takes you to yet another belay station in a darn tree (or if you head out here, perhaps make it all the way to "lunch ledge").  We were getting pretty hungry and thirsty, took a very quick break here.  This allowed Shobhan and Katherine time to monkey around.

I was cleaning the route, so when I got to the anchor, my position to post was sitting ledge side with a few hundred feet exposure.  It was oddly pretty comfortable, all things considered.  I also joked that we were now "above the ant line" (instead of tree line) because the biting stopped.

Enough flopping around, a real meal was calling our names. We continued climbing to an awkward area of massive rope drag.  I recalled this route junction when I climbed Angel's Fright with Taco (which you can read about in the previous Tahiquitz Peak blog).  Ehhh things got weird, but I pushed thru, never letting Tahquitz be easy for the grade.

Katherine has years more experience and training in climbing than I do, she moved like a boss, never getting frazzled.  She climbed in the middle of our trio, giving lead belays and belays to me when cleaning.  Thanks Katherine!!! 

The last pitch has it's own unique crux of friction climbing.  This technique involves becoming Spiderman and sticking to the rock without the use of normal hand and foot holds.  You must find tiny divots or dishes to catch your fingernails in and be light on your feet.  My female friends seem to be miraculous at this delicate technique, where most males prefer to just muscles their way on be. 

Above you can see Suicide Rock in the background as I ascend the last pitch of Fingertip Traverse. Although this is trad climbing, there was a single bolt placed on this pitch for rock protection.  Below is a hyperlapse video of me wrapping up the last portion of the climb.  I think Shobhan made took this video of me thinking that I might slip on the friction, it's tricky business.  Little does he know I rise under pressure, I won't be embarrassed on camera! ha!

I wasn't really that tired climbing this route, but I really gassed out at a ledge where the route junction hits.  I lost communication with my belayer since the distance was so run out, and essentially starting working some way above the grade moves.  Then the fingertip traverse and the heady friction portion, I was pooped.  This is typical, it had been 500' of climbing, makes sense.  I topped out in great relief, I was incredibly thirsty and ready for lunch.  We took our victory self-portrait first.

Here we coiled the ropes, ate some lunch, and had a few more laughs. 
We congratulated Shobhan for an awesome lead, nice work!

Good times, but it ain't over yet!  You still have to get back down!  There is a "4th class friction descent" off the back of Tahquitz Rock.  I don't remember using the same exit the last time I was here, but I was not familiar enough to lead my partners back to the car.  We took their known route which requires some exposed down climbing and a tiring 2nd/3rd class hike back to our base at Lunch Rock, then another mile back to the parking lot.

Overall it was an excellent day!  Perfect weather, safe climbing, great carpooling, lots of coffee and tons of laughs.  I left my house in Los Angeles at 6am and got back at 9pm that night, a full day for sure.  I can't wait to go back and climb another classic at Tahquitz Rock!