Earlier this spring, a group of Berkeley climbers headed to one of the best rock climbing destinations in Oregon. Ben Steel wrote a bit about the group's trip for the Touchstone blog.
I suppose the first thing I should do is apologize to you for the misleading title. I haven’t been hiding this trip report away for 5 years just so I can spring it on you now; it’s just that “Spring Break Oh-Nine” has a much better ring to it than “Spring Break Twenty-Fourteen” when you scream it along the base of the crag. Or at least that’s what “Red Ben” Corbett said the first day we were there. We had heard some other spring breakers screaming the chronologically correct, age-old mantra of college students everywhere and he thought it could use some sprucing up.
Regardless of how we titled it, we were on spring break from UC Berkeley, and were up at Smith Rock to sample some of the United State’s finest “sport” climbing. I put sport in quotations since the bolt spacing at Smith is a far cry from the gym. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy small runouts; they induce a moderate level of terror and make the climbing take on an adventurous feel, which is ironic seeing that I was often clipping pre-hung draws after a 5-10 minute walk from the car. The great Cal Climbing herd and all around madhouse.
Photo Ben Steel
Anyway, for this trip we managed to bring along quite a large number of folks from the Cal Climbing Team. I believe the final tally was with 27 people, 15 tents and 7 cars, all crammed into one sweet (not) group campsite. Since only two people in our group had ever been to Smith before it was everyone else’s first time there. And, as with most of our group trips, this one involved a lot of other “firsts” as well. There were a handful of “first times climbing outside”, “first leads”, “first harness purchases”, “first trad leads”, and even my personal favorite “first time freezing your ass off in that insufficient sleeping bag you brought.” This is one of my favorite parts about being on the climbing team, being able to introduce new people to climbing outdoors and new types of climbing that they may not have been able to experience had they not come along on one of our trips. For example, a couple of people on the team had never climbed more than single pitch routes, and they got to climb this sweet multipich 5.7 along with some of the more experienced leaders.
Riding the arête on The Last Waltz 5.12c. Photo Casey Zak
Climbing at Smith was quite different from the trips I’m used to taking to places like Yosemite or the Needles. In the valley we usually (always) end up hiking (way) farther than we anticipated for some climb that’s not necessarily on the beaten path. Smith on the other hand is a 6 minute drive from the campground and a 7 minute walk from the parking lot, has nicely built and maintained trails, and has toilets at the crag! That’s right, if you had to cut down to sending weight before your next burn you didn’t even have to make the 7 minute walk back to the bathroom at the parking lot, you could just saunter over and take care of business in comfort and privacy. Also, the main area is literally littered with classic climbs of all grades. There are 5.14’s two climbs away from 5.10’s, which are four climbs away from 5.12’s, which are right next to 5.6’s. My climbing partner Casey always says that one of the things that makes climbing so great is how elite climbers are so accessible and easy to interact with for the everyday climber. Now it’s not as if I swapped belays with Ondra or anything, but basically climbers of all levels were climbing within spitting distance of each other all day. I always find watching climbers who are better than me is a great way to generate psych, and I must say that it helped me to try hard on my routes when I knew that right around the corner someone was climbing 5.14.
Ana Stirniman on Chain Reaction 5.12c Photo by Casey Zak
But I’m getting ahead of myself. With an alpine start time of 8:30 PM, we drove through Friday night, crammed into Casey’s Pathfinder (affectionately named Lonestar) like a bunch of sardines. We were so wrecked by the drive we couldn’t really sleep much, but were up and getting ready to climb by 8am. In terms of being comfortable and well rested for the trip I’d say we nailed it.
Apparently a lot of schools had spring break that first weekend so the main area was packed that first day! The full range of climbers, from crusher to first timer, was out in full force and basically every route with over 2 stars had a line to climb it. On top of that, the beautiful scenery attracts non-climbers from far and wide. With 2 hours of sleep and a swarming mass of climbers, dogs, children, backpacks, hikers, runners, walkers, joggers, and families to contend with I felt okay with only climbing 5 routes over the span of 8 or so hours. However, we did manage to get on some pretty cool stuff that day. The highlight was when Casey flashed a notoriously stiff 12a that was essentially a long series of slopey crimps that sucked away all hope as soon as you touched them. Somehow he held on through the crux and battled his way up the top headwall to the anchors for a proud send. Back at camp that night we were so exhausted we went to bed at 8.
Casey: stoked to climb on our first day or delirious from lack of sleep? Photo Ben Steel
The second day we decided to ditch the crowds and climb on the Monkey’s Face instead. Unlike many climbing destinations, at Smith, avoiding crowds is as simple as walking to the other side of the formation. The Monkey’s Face is one of the most iconic sights in all of Oregon and is definitely worth the extra 15-minutes of hiking (did I mention how much I liked the approaches at Smith?). It’s a super rad formation that, depending on the angle you view it from, looks either like a perfect monkey’s face (duh) or disturbingly phallic.
Guess which view this is! Northwest Corner (green) and The Backbone (red) on the Monkey’s Face. Photo Ben Steel
Casey and Steven climbed the Backbone (13a) while David and myself tackled the Northwest Corner (12a). The Northwest Corner was frickin’ amazing! The first two pitches can be led in one massive 50-meter pitch up through the band of red rock to end on the biggest cave/ledge you can imagine. The route involves long reaches between perfect fingerlocks and sweet laybacks on gear with 3 bolts sprinkled into the mix. After a fun and semi-cruiser bottom section I ended up making it through what I thought was the crux and was able to catch my breath on some okay jugs with bad feet. Once somewhat recovered, I launched into the “easy” section above only to find the actual crux of the route, get pumped out of my mind, and take a nice big whipper to put me in my place. Trying it again, I soon found myself shaking with fatigue above a couple of well-spaced and suspect cam placements while staring at a bolt guarded by a mantle-highstep move with a smeary foot…It was a full exhilarating (read: terrifying) minute before I committed, scrunched my knee into my face, and got to better holds. The rest of the day was a blast, except when some other party dropped the rope that I had left fixed so Steven and Casey could do a double rope rappel from the top of the formation. Luckily I saw it happen and nobody ended up stuck on top of the Monkey. I will say, whenever you come across a fixed line, provided it’s not dangerous, you should always leave it where it is and simply be thankful that you can speed up your rappelling.
Over the next few days we checked out the Lower Gorge, which has some simply amazing basalt column climbing, took a rest day in Bend where we sampled the local brews, and tried to get on as many of the classic climbs in the main area as we could.
For me, one of the most memorable and impressive parts of the rest of the trip was watching fellow Touchstone employee Steven Roth put in some hard work on Scarface, the first 5.14 (now 13d) done by an American (Scott Franklin in 1988). It climbs a shallow corner in this really cool, sweeping wall, before pulling onto a scary looking slab above. The movement is really cool looking, involving massive moves between two finger pockets. The only thing is, Steven’s fingers are so thick that for him it’s massive moves between monos. In an overhang. With bad feet. I guess that’s why it’s 5.13+/14-. Watching him climb was one of the craziest displays of strength I’ve ever witnessed, especially when he made some of the aforementioned moves look relatively casual.
We ended the trip on Thursday, since I had work Friday and the weather was supposed to take a massive dump on Smith the next day. Once again, we drove from 8PM to 5AM, and once again it was one of the most uncomfortable 9 hours I’ve ever spent. However, I’d gladly endure that heinous car ride again since Smith is definitively one of the best climbing destinations out there.
If you ever do find yourself at Smith (and you should), here’s a list of the climbs I’d put on the must do list:
9 gallon buckets (5.10, morning glory wall )
Churning in the Wake (5.13a, morning glory wall) Supposedly the extension, Churning in the Sky is even better and still only 13a
The Last Waltz (5.12c, the dihedrals) Super rad!
Northwest Corner(5.12a, monkey face) also Mega rad!
Pure Palm (5.11a, lower gorge)
The Pearl (5.11b, lower gorge)
Chain Reaction (5.12c, dihedrals)
Crossfire (5.12b, dihedrals)
Spiderman(5.7, three pitches)
Recently, Dogpatch Desk Staffer, Eric Nakano stepped away from running the kids after school camps for an amazing hiking trip along the Lost Coast trail from Usal Camp to Nadelos Camp. He wrote about his adventure for the Touchstone Blog.
Distance: 29.19 miles
Elevation gain: 10,475 ft.
Elevation loss: 8,699 ft.
Climbing: didn’t find too much.
It was 11:45 PM when we pulled into Garberville. I slowed to a nice 35 MPH pace to avoid any chance of a speeding ticket, and to ensure we wouldn’t accidentally drive past our rendezvous point and end up back on the 101. The last text I received from my friend Matt read, “…Should be in Garberville in about an hour and a half. Gonna check out the local scene…I’m at the Blue Room. It’s towards the north of town.” – Thur, Mar 20, 7:11 PM. As I had imagined, the Blue Room turned out to be the quintessential small town bar, and the only establishment open at that hour. Matt wasn’t hard to spot, even from outside of the bar looking through the front window. He was seated at the center of the bar, staring off into space, with a lowball glass of whiskey on the rocks, and the only other person I could see inside was the bartender shuffling around behind the bar. It was late, so we chose to forgo grabbing a drink, and instead spent the next two hours lost on backcountry roads with no cell reception before finally reaching Nadelos Camp (the northern trailhead) where we spent our first night.
Trip Tip: If a friend is renting a car for the trip, make sure you are the leader of the caravan. Something about that $9 damage insurance will turn an average driver into the Jeff Gordon of the Hyundai Veloster.
Because we chose not to shell out $400 on a shuttle service, the next morning required us to all pile in my car and drive down to Usal Camp (the southern trailhead) to begin our trek.
The stretch of trail from Usal Camp to Wheeler camp features a good amount of hiking along the cliffs of the coast and winds through a number of forest areas with beautifully lush fern growth. We arrived at the first of a handful of beach access trails around midday and were immediately greeted by a nude man who brought us to the rest of his group on the beach. This group will henceforth be referred to as Pasty White and the Seven Nudes (and yes, there was only one female in the group). We spent some time resting, snacking, exploring the beach for any good bouldering, and decided to get back on the trail just as the Greek wrestling was winding down. It was pretty clear we were not in the same state of consciousness as Pasty White’s group. There was a substantial presence of poison oak along the thin sections of exposed trail and upon arrival at Wheeler Camp we all felt it appropriate to take a dive in the ocean. This is where things started to get a little weird. Brett (an avid surfer) came walking up the beach after taking his turn in the water and called up to us asking Jeff whether he was going in. There was no one named Jeff in our group…So either it was a combination of exhaustion and freezing water scrambling up his brain, or he took whatever our nude friends on the beach were indulging in that day.
The next day we hiked from Wheeler Camp along a portion of the trail featuring almost entirely dense forest and fern undergrowth until the trail opened up into wide bluffs upon reaching our camping destination at Jones Beach. The terrain was much more mellow than the first day, and we had the opportunity to hang out with a herd of elk as the trail cut through a meadow leading down to Bear Harbor and we were to witness part of the herd playing chicken with the waves coming in on the beach. This was the day that sparked the quote, “You went from Elmer’s Glue to bedroom wall.” – Brett regarding Wolf’s tan, and when we learned that Matt had been keeping track of how many people we had seen since we parked the car at Usal Camp. The total for the trip was 48.
The third and final day of the trip included dark, foggy, sinister forest to sunny coastal desert with Manzanita. Additional highlights of the day include: Ice cold Eye of the Hawk at the end of the trail, and somehow fulfilling everyone’s insatiable craving for Taco Bell on the drive home. Honestly, aside from the natural beauty of the trail, that’s all I can really remember of this day.
Trip Tip: Always keep beer and salami in a cooler at the end of the trail for motivation.
This happened to be a first time backpacking trip for my friend Wolf, and I believe this would be a great trip for anyone who is fairly new to backpacking and looking for a nice challenging three day trip just about four hours north of San Francisco.
On March 22nd, a crew of GWPC Climbers ran through the streets of Oakland as part of the Oakland Running Festival. GWPC member, Ari Oppenheimer talked a bit about the group's race for the Touchstone Blog.
Anyone who has dedicated any real time to climbing knows just how incredibly fun it is. The pleasure to be had in moving upwards weightlessly transcends all disciplines and distinctions in the climbing community; it is what unites us. Many people walk into climbing gyms looking for access to an activity that can compliment weight lifting or other (regular) fitness activities, but stay for climbing–realizing that they haven’t touched a weight in months.
But climbing’s “funness” is a double-edged sword. It is so fun that it’s easy to overdo it and get injured or burnt out. To keep the psyche high and your body healthy, it’s important to take small “excursions” from climbing. For a small crew of climbers at Great Western Power Co, the Oakland Running Festival was one such excursion.
Despite the casual, “excursion from climbing” approach that the crew took to training for the race, (almost) everyone walked away feeling great with either a PR or a solid debut half-marathon. Bianca Taylor and Mike Maloney both crushed it, running 2:18 and 1:37 respectively for their first half marathon. Distance running veterans Valerie Ann, Sarah Winter, Melanie Barnes, and Maxine Speier had solid performances, running 1:49, 1:58, 1:52, and 2:15. And I managed to limp away with a time of 3:17 and an overall position of 38th for the full marathon.
After the race, Maxine and Mike met me back at Great Western to recover with a sunny rooftop foam-roller session and a few sausages at Rosamunde. Even though our psyche from the race was running high, and despite our engagement in activities that stemmed from running, our conversations rarely departed from climbing. While we were running the race, and while we walked around Oakland with our bib numbers, it would’ve been easy to assume that we were just a group of runners. But the reality is that we are, and always will be, climbers.
Recently, LA.B member Joyce Tam wrote about one of the most under appreciated transportation service to the climbing gym.
Sometimes I'm positive I'm the only person that rides the train because most of the time folks are shocked to hear there is a train in LA. But yes, I speak the truth when I say there is a train in LA, sometimes it even goes below ground (subway, if you’re fancy). And no, I have not been the victim of unspeakable crimes aboard the train.
I take the train and a bus to the LA.B and you can too. Sometimes I look outside the window and chuckle to myself at all the suckers I witness in a parking lot on the road. Don't be a sucker. Fare is a measly $1.50, which compared to most of the other major metropolitan areas in America is a drop in the bucket. It's fairly easy to access any of the train lines from most parts of LA and all the train lines feed into downtown.
I understand coming from the West side can be a big deterrent, nobody wants to waste their life fighting traffic. There isn’t really a winner on that front. But most train stops have a parking lot you can leave your car, while you hop onto the train for a blissful period of leisure. What you do with your time here is up to you. I won’t ask questions if you don’t. Once you emerge from the little known underbelly of downtown Los Angeles, you have the option of doing lots of things that I won’t get into because that is a story for another day.
There are any number of buses departing from downtown that go up, down, around the Lab. The 18, 53, 62, or 720 will take you where you want to go, in addition to a few others. Pay the fare with your tap card ($1.50) and hop aboard. I’ll warn you now, don’t make eye contact. It can get a little seedy as you pass below Skid Row, but there are plenty of working class individuals dozing on here as well. The trip I take is usually a little less than an hour, which is just enough time to make good headway on a book.
The bus deposits you probably closer to the LA.B than if you were to hunt for parking in the vicinity. If you’re familiar with the establishment next door and their tow policy, you’ll be glad you don’t have your car today. I have this impression of rock climbers as a more adventurous lot than the typical citizen. I have the utmost confidence in your public transit abilities and look forward to seeing you on the train.
Touchstone Climbing will be hosting SCS Youth Climbing competitions at three different locations this spring, bringing USA climbing to the Bay Area! We are excited to be trying something new and we’re thrilled to be able to make it a very exciting comp season for both youth competitors and our members.
Here is the schedule for the Spring SCS Comp series at Touchstone:
Locals: April 12th at The Studio Climbing
Regionals: May 10th at Berkeley Ironworks
Divisionals: June 14/15th at Mission Cliffs
“We’re really excited to be able to host these events and support our young climbers,” said Head Routesetter Jeremy Ho. Touchstone route setters will be setting the comp routes for the event with two guest setters. “Comp setting is different from our usual style of setting. You can expect more volumes, more mantles, and more intellectual movement. The setting doesn’t necessarily focus solely on the strength of the climbing, but on the mental growth in climbing.”
What Youth Competitors need to know:
Get psyched everyone! For the first time in [possibly] your whole lives, Touchstone Climbing will be hosting climbing comps right here on your home turf! This means that you’ll have the home field advantage while competing in local, regional, and divisional competitions.
These are USA Climbing events, which means to compete you need to register and pay an entry fee ahead of time.
Locals: The Studio Climbing The Studio Climbing is located in downtown San Jose and is built inside of an old movie theater. The route walls are over 45 ft high and the unique layout of the building makes it an awesome gym to climb and spectate.
Regionals: Berkeley Ironworks BIW is one of Touchstone’s oldest gyms and the lead cave is the stuff of legend! With plenty of free parking and Berkeley Bowl only a few blocks away, it’s a very commuter friendly gym to compete at. If you didn’t compete at two local comps, you can still compete at regionals, however you will not be able to move on to divisionals.
Divisionals: Mission Cliffs MC’s recent expansion added 5,000 square feet of brand new terrain to the gym, and boy oh boy do those new colors POP! Located in the Mission District of San Francisco, we are walking distance from a BART station and on several bus lines.
What members need to know:
Don’t worry loyal members, we haven’t forgotten about you! While the gyms will be a big of a zoo on the days of the comps, we will still be open for business as usual. Feel free to come by and climb, workout, or cheer in the little whipper snappers who are campusing your project.
But the real fun will be the day AFTER the comps. You know, when the kids have gone home but there are still a plethora of comp style routes…?! Yeah. We’ll be hosting events at each location the day after the SCS comps, so us big kids can have a shot at the routes! We’ll have scorecards, prizes, and vendors to make it a big event. Be sure to mark your calendar and come test your comp climbing skills!
We will have events at The Studio Climbing, Berkeley Ironworks, and Mission Cliffs.
“Comp style climbing at a Touchstone Climbing Comp? Yes Please!” said long time Touchstone Climbing member Alex Witte. I’m so excited to see the exciting movement that our setters comp up with!”
On March 13th, the world lost an amazing man in Zion National Park in a base jumping accident. Sean “Stanley” Leary was well known in the climbing world. In Yosemite, he had climbed El Capitan more than 50 times and established new rock routes across North America. He explored new lines in the Arctic, Patagonia, Baffin Island, and Venezuela.
Dean Fidelman photo
Beyond his climbing achievements, Stanley was an accomplished BASE (buildings, antennae, spans and earth) jumper. He often flew in a squirrel suit, a specially designed wing suit which increased glide ratios. He established new exits around the world and helped revolutionize BASE jumping.
Born in San Joaquin County on Aug. 23, 1975, Sean Leary grew up in the small Northern California town of Pine Grove. More recently, he lived between his family home in El Portal and with his ophthalmoligist wife, Annamieka in Sacramento.
Climbers from across the world, gathered in Zion National Park to help with the recovery. Because Sean didn't just rock climb and BASE jump, he touched people's lives.
While climbing The Zodiac on El Capitan with Bryan “Coiler” Kay, Sean neglected to bring a real wall climbing hammer. Instead, he dug through his draws in El Portal and produced a humble carpenter’s tool, a Stanley hammer. The nickname stuck.
I met Stanley in 2001, when I first arrived in Yosemite. He invited me to boulder with him in Curry. Over the years, we climbed together, we laughed together, we became friends.
Years ago, I pulled brush and tossed it in a pile. Stanley ran around the yard, sawing trees at random. A Yosemite local hired Stanley to clear the brush for fire hazards. I was there because Stanley had been complaining. He loved to complain. His hot wife wanted to have sex with him so he had to drive all the way from Yosemite to Sacramento. The upcoming Arctic expedition meant he’d never get strong enough for his Jailhouse sport project. Stanley could transform gold to iron.
“The owners are paying me a ton of money to not climb,” Stanley said. I knew Stanley could use the money and I needed a climbing partner. If we finished the job, then we could both go climbing. We spent half a day working before Stanley lost motivation. Stanley hated work, preferring to live.
“I’ll give you money when I stop by the ATM,” Stanley said. I shrugged. Stanley agreed to climb the West Face of the Leaning Tower with me. That’s what I wanted. Snow fell while we worked the route. Stanley freed a steep section of granite, a thousand feet off the ground. He climbed behind a white curtain. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Stanley sent the route the next week. I worked on the route for a while and eventually, I freed it. Stanley sent me an excited congratulation note, my hero telling me I was rad.
A year later, we stood by the Yosemite lodge. I’d recalled his climbing through the storm, having long forgotten about the job. He’d inspired me.
“Oh yeah, I finally made it to the ATM,” Stanley said. He opened his wallet and stuffed money into my hand. I laughed.
“1…2…3…go!” Stanley said, laughing. In the summer of 2013, Stanley hit the stop watch and I started running up steep granite. Sickle. Stove Legs. King Swing. I looked down. Stanley was fifteen feet below me staring at the birds swooping by. Great Roof. Changing Corners. Bolt Ladder. I looked up. Stanley was at the top, shouting for me to run run run. I touched the tree. Panting hard. Stanley laughed. I wasn’t sure what happened in between. I’d been attached to a bullet. We’d just climbed the Nose of El Capitan in 6 hours.
Stanley climbed fast. On El Cap, at Jailhouse, at the climbing gym, his gazelle-esque climbing style helped him establish numerous difficult free ascents and set speed records. When we climbed the Nose, all I wanted to do was go home and eat elk burgers. Stanley wanted climb more at the Cathedral boulders. He had a circuit there on lock down and could dispatch the classics easily. We would joke about going to "onsight" the Cathedrals. He would quickly tick away the problems. Stanley had an unbridled, manic energy.
Stanley owned two dogs. Nexpa looked like Stanley- thin and fast. He loved her dearly and would coo, “Oh Nexie.” Then he would end her shivering by wrapping her in his down jacket. Stanley found her as a puppy on the side of the road near El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Her throat had been slit. He nursed the dog back to health. Her scar remained. More recently, Stanley showed up at Mortar Rock with an energetic puppy. Bravo darted around with Stanley’s unbridled energy. Stanley and Annamieka rescued a second dog so Nexpa could have someone to lord over. They also wanted to add a little to their family.
In 2010, Stanley married Annamieka in El Cap meadow. The wedding was small and intimate. I had met Mieka in the parking lot of Toulumne years before. Quiet and beautiful in the rain, she’d smiled and been very nice to me. After dropping off his truck at the mechanics in Mariposa, getting medicine for Nexpa, and doing a bit of climbing, I dropped Stanley off at his place that he shared with Mieka in Berkeley. She smiled when I saw her and was very nice to me. Seeing Stanley with her, I saw their love for each other.
Beyond his many climbing brothers, Stanley was expanding his family. Mieka recently became pregnant. Stanley was nervous about having a child but he was nervous about all the important things in life. He would have made a great father. Mieka is due at the end of May.
Last week in Zion, climbers from across North America rallied to help search for Stanley. It was an intense time. I cursed Stanley for making me bush whack through the cactus in the desert furnace. It was an adventure that he wasn’t on. I loved him for allowing me to meet his family- his mother, his sister, his brothers, to spend time with Annamieka. Mostly, I missed him. He was a great person to have had in my life.
A memorial account has been set up for Annamieka and the baby.
Mountain America Credit Union
Sean "Stanley" Leary Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 9001
West Jordan, UT 84084