Friday, September 9, 2011

Whodunit - 5.9

Lately I have been feeling like I don’t get to do what I really love very often. Some people just love pulling down super hard on micro crimps underneath a 10 foot high boulder, others love working difficult moves from bolt to bolt on a sport route until they can link it all together for the redpoint. While I can certainly understand this, personally what really gets me going is long multi-pitch climbing in a beautiful setting with lots of exposure. Having two young children makes long multi-pitch climbing a bit more difficult. We end up doing a lot of single pitch cragging since the kids can just hang out at the base while we climb, but that’s not really an option if you want to do a long day climb.

For Labor Day weekend I had four days off. We were thinking of going to Yosemite and climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, but as the day drew nearer, I began to question the logic of going there. I knew that we probably wouldn’t get a whole lot of climbing in because of the kids, I wasn’t really looking forward to spending most of Friday and Monday driving, leaving only Saturday and Sunday for doing anything, and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to do any long routes. I decided that we could have a much better time if we just stuck around SoCal and got a baby sitter to watch the kids for a day so that we could do a longer route. I ran the idea by my wife who was thrilled about not having to drive the 6+ hours each way to Yosemite after all of the traveling that we have been doing this summer.

We got one of our friends to watch the kids on Friday and decided to do our first route on Tahquitz. We had climbed at Suicide Rock previously, but because of the kids, we hadn’t tried anything on Tahquitz since moving here a little over a year ago. I decided to try and tackle Whodunit which is considered to be one of the most classic routes on the formation, it also heads up one of the tallest and steepest sections of the rock, it ends right on the summit block, and it accomplishes all this while staying at a moderate 5.9 rating.

Hiking to the climb

Friday Morning rolled around and as can be expected we left the house a little later than planned, but we were on the road by about 7:45. We arrived in the parking lot a little after 8:30, used the restroom, packed the gear, were informed of a rattlesnake that had been chilling on the third pitch belay ledge for the past couple of days, and hit the trail a little before 9:00. We decided to take the North Face trail, and after hiking down the Lunch Rock trail, we can certainly say that we were happy with our trail choice. The hike up was pretty mellow and casual even for my wife who absolutely hates hiking uphill with gear, and also hates hiking through boulder fields. We hiked pretty slowly, but were at the base of the route by 9:45 and climbing by 10:00 after taping and racking up.

North Face Approach

Now Whodunit is an 800 ft. tall 7 pitch climb with 5.9 sections on the first three pitches and 5.7 or 5.8 sections on the last 4 pitches, but we planned on climbing it in 5 pitches by linking the 1st and 2nd, and the 5th and 6th. I was a little bit worried about the 5.9 section on the first pitch because what I had read made it sound like a runout 5.9 section with bad pro below it, but it turned out to be just fine. I got a great #3 BD nut in the seam just before the supposed 5.9 move, and then the move ended up feeling more like 5.7. Since the rating system was developed at Tahquitz and the routes there are supposed to be the standard against which all others are judged, I have come to the conclusion that in the past I’ve climbed a lot of sandbagged slabs. I cruised up the rest of the pitch, clipped one of the bolts at the anchor for pro, and started up the second pitch. The second pitch starts with a single 5.9 slab move, but once again the move felt very easy and secure for being a 5.9 slab. I continued up the beautiful dihedral until I ran out of rope 200 feet up, but I was still about 20 feet short of the ledge I wanted to belay on, so Amy simul-climbed up the first easy 20 feet so I could build an anchor on the ledge.

Amy on our first pitch

A blury Amy just about to reach our first belay ledge

Pitch 3 (or pitch 2 for us) is the crux of the climb. You start out climbing through some overlaps to gain a good 5.7 hand crack that leads to the base of a 5.8 chimney with a 5.9 exit move followed by another 20 feet of 5.7 hand crack. This pitch was super fun up to the chimney; it had good solid hand jams with great rock and protection. The chimney was just a chimney, I’m not a big fan of chimneys, but luckily as the chimney got narrower towards the top, the crack in the back of it worked well for jamming. The 5.9 crux move out of the chimney was a bit strenuous and did feel like a 5.9 move, but overall it wasn’t that bad, and the 5.7 section up to the belay ledge was just amazing with tons of exposure and air below you.

Amy at the crux

Amy took a little while to figure out the chimney, but we weren’t in any hurry, so there was no problem, and we didn’t encounter the rattlesnake that we were told had been hanging out on the ledge, so that was good. Pitch four was another 5.7 hand crack in a dihedral leading to a fun, airy 5.8 mantle on some wedged chock-stones to gain the belay ledge, but here is where we started having some problems. First off, Amy has never been very good at cleaning. When a piece of pro is stuck she can never figure out how to get it out. For the third pitch belay anchor one of my pieces was a bomber hex that she just couldn’t seem to get free. I tried directing her every way I could but it was to no avail, she ended up just leaving it, so if anyone is looking for some booty, there you go.

Top of our third pitch, right before getting off route.

She finished the pitch, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. The obvious path was the off-width straight in front of us, but I didn’t remember reading anything about any off-width and it certainly looked harder than 5.8. There was also a finger crack to the left that I tried, but it was kind of dirty and hard to protect, so after consulting the horrible low resolution photo in the guidebook I decided that it looked like we were supposed to head right at this point. Now remember, we were supposed to be linking the next two pitches, so I set off to the right and climbed about 100 feet up before realizing that I was definitely off route and was supposed to be further left. Because of rope drag I ended up building an anchor and bringing Amy up then doing a short 30 foot left traversing pitch to gain the correct crack again turning what we were planning on doing in a single pitch into three. From what I have read online after getting back I think we were supposed to take the off-width straight up, but without trying it, it certainly looked harder than 5.8.

Amy arriving at our third belay ledge

Now that we were back on route, I ran up what was supposed to be the rest of our 4th pitch which followed a 5.6 dihedral to some interesting traversing slab moves to a fun 5.8 roof and finished on a sloping ledge with a tree.

As I was taking up the slack to bring Amy up to me I had kind of a funny experience. I guess my body just isn’t used to climbing all day anymore because I didn’t have any problem pulling the slack up, but as I would extend my arms to grab the rope again it was like they’d only extend in slow motion. I had to work to straighten my arms, which was a really funny feeling, but it went away after a couple of minutes. I brought Amy up and set off on the last pitch. The last pitch started with a little 5.7 move over a roof, and then had a fun airy step over a gap to gain the crack leading to the summit. After the step over move it was probably only 5.0 for the last 100 feet to the summit.

Summit Shot

Amy joined me on the summit at 6:00 PM, roughly 8 hours after we started. This was a bit later than I had expected, but as I said, we weren’t in a hurry so there was no problem. We took our summit shots and hiked off the peak. I decided that I wanted to see the other sections of the formation, so instead of doing the North Gully decent we hiked around the back side of Tahquitz and around to Lunch rock to descend that trail. The sun set as we were hiking down the Lunch rock trail giving us some beautiful views and we got back to the car right after dark.
Even though I love my kids, it is certainly nice to be able to get away every once in a while to do what I really enjoy, great moderate multi-pitch climbing in a beautiful setting.



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