Jailhouse Projecting

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Picture one of the United State’s best climbing crags just a few hours from San Francisco with perfect winter temps and a long season. Jailhouse is the ideal place for projecting. The regular climbers hit the crag every weekend, on breaks from work and on the occasional sick day. They obsess over the steep basalt.


Terrence hikes his side project, Burrito Supreme (5.12c)

Jailhouse, a 200-foot enduro cave, boasts nearly a hundred showstopper routes, from 5.11+ warm-ups to Brad Johnson’s recent 5.14+, Yoga High. The best and largest concentration of grades is in the 5.13 range. The setting is pleasantly rural, and though the rock is admittedly fractured and scruffy looking, the athletic style of climbing is great. Hummingbirds buzz between California fuchsias, pollinating the brightly colored flowers. The skies are filled with swallows, osprey, turkey vultures, hawks and crows. Horses graze the surrounding land and blue herons fish in the waters of nearby Tulloch Lake.


Cathy works out the moves on Line-up 5.12b

The atmosphere adds tranquility to the mind numbing process of trying a climb at your limit. There are a few stages of projecting. In the initial stage, you shop for a project. You try this route. You hop on that route. You decide that route is too tweaky. This one has too many kneebars. The second stage of projecting begins when you find a route you want to send. Then you begin working beta. You decipher the moves, find the rests, brush the crux holds, and refine your beta. Then you begin the arduous process of redpointing, which can take days, weeks or in some cases years. Luckily there are a ton of routes to choose from and great conditions.

“Jailhouse has one of the best concentrations of hard routes in the country, as well as one of the best climates. You can climb there any day between September and June without even having to check the weather. It’s an amazing crag,” said pro athlete and Sacramento climber Alex Honnold. The end of September to the middle of December is the best time of year. The temperatures are ideal for sending. Though dry during storms, the winter rain of January and February makes the crag seep a few days after storms. March through the beginning of May are the best time for spring temps, though the crag may still seep if it has been an especially wet year. The summer months are climbable if you like triple digit temps and a desire to work on your tan.


Christophe puts in a redpoint burn on Violated, almost getting the short and difficult route.

One of the most important parts about projecting Jailhouse is the necessity for kneepads. Jailhouse’s three-dimensional basalt encourages climbers to press their thighs into the wall, both to rest their arms and to ratchet their bodies higher to better holds. Every route at Jailhouse has a kneebar, knee scum, or some kind of leg press. Show up at the crag without basic kneebarring skills and it’s showing up in Yosemite without knowing how to handjam.

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Donn takes down Violated (5.13b)

“We’re like adult babies,” said Brad Johnson, who has established a half dozen 5.14’s here, referring to the style of climbing. “It’s a lot of crawling.” Projecting at the house starts in jeans, moves to shorts with pads and then into glued pads. Having stiff shoes can help with pressing into kneebars.

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Hiking out of the crag after a long day

The Jailhouse community is relatively small with a core crew of twenty climbers. Many commute two hours from the Bay area to frequent the crag every weekend from fall to spring. These locals are extremely passionate. During an extremely wet season, one desperate climber waded through the four foot flash flooded river to clip a towel to a bolt on The Juice (5.14a) to dab the wet spot on a hold. The obsession with a project can take over your life. One day you’re an upstanding citizen and the next, you’re running up and down hardware store aisles looking for duct tape and glue. Jailhouse offers a great place for projecting, for pushing yourself into the limits of your climbing. It’s worth a visit for any passing climber.