New Jack City

KARL ESCARCHA @amerikarl /

New Jack City, what a long time coming.  When I started climbing Sam always talked about this place.  About the Halloween party there where everyone dressed in costume and climbed at night, it sounded epic.  After he moved to Bend, my friend Karl extended a couple invitations that I kept flaking in a very poor but typical L.A. way.  What's the deal with this place?  Free camping, 350+ sport climbing routes, no approach, no reservations needed, why had I never been???

Just a couple hours outside of Los Angeles on the way to Las Vegas sits Barstow, a hot high desert no-mans land.  Within Barstow sits Sawtooth Canyon, comprised of unusual metamorphic volcanic rock.  I need to find out the history of the nick name, but Sawtooth Canyon IS New Jack City,

On March 26th, the day before Easter, I finally (and just barely) made it out to see for myself.  Karl had given me another and possibly final invite to camp and climb out there with him, we'd leave early on Good Friday, hit the R.E.I. on the way out, camp and climb early Saturday.  I was excited all week!  When the time was getting close, life like usual started to interfere with my dirt bag dreams.  I had to flake on sleeping under the stars but promised I'd be there early on Saturday.


We woke up at quarter after five a.m. and had everything already loaded in the car.  Hit the highway with the swiftness and arrived at Karl's campground around 7:30am.  Karl, Sam and James were already awake and plotting breakfast.  The normal campsites were all occupied, but the BLM land across the street had space for infinite people.  Small fire rings made of rocks and empty shotgun shells peppered the palatial landscape.


The weather was cool in the 60's and the sun felt good.  Starting a small wood fire, Sam and Karl cooked up eggs and bacon on a cast iron skillet.  James was brewing excessive amounts of high end coffee that he roasted himself.  So much bacon, so much coffee!

Below is my wife Nancy helping fry more bacon.  We brought our new (crag?) dog Curley with us, he's not quite a year old yet so his performance in public is still T.B.D.  You can see Karl in the background taking Curley for a little spin.

We packed up quick and heading across the street to enter the Sawtooth Canyon campground.  It was around 9am, and the sky was totally cloudless.  We parked in a pull out and unloaded our lunch and gear to walk all of 100 yards to the walls.

My climbing goal in 2016 is to just lead as many routes as possibly.  With almost exactly 2 years of climbing under my self I have been progressing from stage 1.) trust the gear to Stage 2.) learn the gear and systems to Stage 3.) Try every style of climbing (sport, trad, multipitch, alpine),  to Stage 4.) Start lead climbing and pave my own path.

We headed to Boyscout wall, a crag filled with climbs of moderate difficult, a perfect place to keep cutting my teeth.  Without going any further I have to sincerely thank my wife Nancy and my friend Karl for providing me with a more than generous amount of lead belays this day.  It's nerve-racking, requires serious attention, and trust, and it's selfless.  THANK YOU BOTH!

We headed the far right side of the wall with the easiest climbs, dropped our bags and started staging for climbs.  My idea was just progress across the wall from right to left and lead escalating grades throughout the day.

Above is Sam soaking in the sun like the local lounge lizards.  True camp vibes!

I have to apologize to Nancy for being hidden from so many photos.  I'm in the yellow jacket on the top right leading some 5.6 and she's belaying me from behind that huge boulder.  To the left in black is James climbing "Unleash the Dragon, 5.8" while Karl gives him a belay.  Karl has climbed here often, and was very noble to show us around, give us his beta, set some ropes and kindly belay.

Here's Sam climbing "Ivy Alice", I loved the contrast of rock color to the saturated blue sky.

The jury is still out on Curley.  He's obviously the cutest dog on the planet, but he spent an unfair amount of time in the morning barking, and at what we will not know.  It's suspected that he just wanted attention, so I joked that whomever wasn't tied-in needed to be petting my dog at all times.  Ha!  It's hard to tell from the photo were James' beard end and Curley's fur starts.


Below is me leading with Girl Scout Cookies, 5.7 or Cool Enough 5.8, I can't tell.  I was going for it.  I only top roped one route that day to clean an anchor, I was just putting it all out there, having a real blast. Thanks Nancy for the awesome pics too.  You're a doll!

About 7 routes in we started hitting some harder grades, tiring out, but also getting stoked.  Karl sent a 5.9, then James climbed it while I was leading an adjacent 5.8.  We both came down and I was going to top rope it and clean it, but with impeccable and gentle provoking, I ended up pulling the rope to lead it. I've climbed one 5.9 before, a one-move-wonder route with Josh at Holcomb Valley, but this route "Reaching Rayane, 5.9" is described as "sustained difficulty" and "truest to it's rating" by the guide book and Mountain Project comments.

To add a twist I would have Nancy give me my lead belay (seen at the bottom of the wall in the right corner of the photo below).  She's an excellent belayer, but we have a fair weight differential and I'm still getting all my bearings in line.  The other twist is Karl was going up the adjacent route to clean it, but he's bringing his camera to channel Jimmy Chin for some action photography here, so yeah no pressure, none at all.

The route is fair to call sustained, but the cruxest crux is probably the start, it's hard to just to get on and I popped off the wall before I could even clip the first bolt.  There's no good stance to calmly clip the bolt and on my way down to the ground I ripped the corner of my thumbnail off.  Going back, got it.  "TAAAAKE"  Ha!  I'm on belay now.

The first two bolts were legit tricky, I thought if I can get passed them it would be easier (it didn't get much easier) but I was making ground and had the support of my squad, stoke was high and goals in sight.  Having Karl above me to spray some beta was clutch and having my wife below giving me positive encouragement was reassuring.

I can be a crazy person, I know it's not true crazy because I acknowledge it.  Real crazies don't know how crazy they are. Bless Nancy's heart for dealing with me yelling "Climbing!  Clipping!  Clipped!  Take!  Climbing"  over and over like a mad man.  Then when the guy next to us yelled "Take!" and she thought it was me and nearly pulled me off I yell "SLACK!"  I might be a little crazy.

And then it was over.  It didn't even lighten up at the top, there was like a strange pinnacle to climb up and over that sketch.  I got to the anchor and you can see a mixture of brow sweat and sincere fulfillment.  It was a rewarding, what a post-treat to see this photos later, thanks Karl, awesome souvenir of a nice grade break through for me!

Before we cleaned the anchors of these adjacent routes, Karl, James and I posed for one ubiquitous selfie at the top of Boyscout Wall, synchronize helmets!

Awesome day, great success, nothing like bro-ing out with a manly hand-holding conjoined rappel to end the day.  I can't lie, I forced Karl into this one, I think he was bummed how clammy my hand was but he was a good sport.  I laughed so hard when I saw this photo.

We coiled the ropes and dusted off our now filthy dog and headed over to the Bartstow truck-stop-swap-meet to get some Dunkin Donuts before hitting the 15 freeway home.

Later that night Karl sent me this badass video he time-lapsed with his GoPro.  Heck of an intro to New Jack City, now I understand the hubbub.