Unlocking Jailhouse

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Picture one of California’s best climbing areas. A place with nearly a hundred routes, that is climbable through rainy winter days, and features some of the most difficult climbing in the state. Now, imagine the access to that amazing crag was in trouble of being closed. For nearly 20 years, Jailhouse Rock has struggled with access issues. But recently, thanks to a few individuals and a large amount of support from the climbing community, access to Jailhouse has been unlocked.

The Access Fund made a great video about unlocking the crag.

On November 16th of 2010, permanent protection and access to Jailhouse was secured thanks to the efforts of the Access Fund, and a 48 year old environmental lobbyist from El Cerrito, Tom Addison. Though climbers have been visiting Jailhouse since 1990, the crag and approach have always sat on access-sensitive private property. A short-term $100,000 Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign loan to the current landowners secured a conservation and access easement agreement.

When property owners first discovered that a handful of people were climbing on their land in the early ‘90s, they shut the crag down. Climbers, with legal assistance, worked to reach a tentative land use agreement, and a ‘no guidebook, no publicity’ policy was instated. Climbers remained wary and secrative about the crag, since they could be kicked out at any time.

Denise Miller, a 36 year old teacher from Auburn and devoted Jailhouse climber, talked about the agreement between the owners and the Access Fund saying, “It is a very positive act toward ensuring our access to such a great crag.”

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 superb. 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.

Craig McClenahan, in blue, climbing behind the waterfall on Soap on a Rope (5.12d).  

Word of a sport-climbing mother lode a mere two hours from Yosemite first traveled to Camp 4 in the early 1990s. Dave Schultz, a long-time Yosemite Valley climber, thrashed through poison oak above Tulloch Lake to stand in the enormous basalt cave. Schultz bolted a steep section of the wall ground-up, and began his long-time project Life Sentence (5.13b). Schultz continued the jail motif with the cliff’s first routes: Cell Block (5.13a), Iron Junkie (5.12c), and the classic Soap on a Rope (5.12d). The only route to top out the 200-foot crag is the Mountaineers’ Route, also known as Three Strikes (5.13b), which climbs the extension of the extension of Electric Chair (5.12d). It’s a seasonal rarity to see someone successfully escape Jailhouse and top out the wall.

“For over 2 decades, I’ve had a great time falling off routes at this cliff and I am delighted that tomorrows’ climbers will be able to enjoy this crag,” Addison said. Thanks to the Access Fund, Tom Addison, contributions by Touchstone Climbing, and the local community, climbers will have the opportunity to escape the steep walls of Jailhouse for many years to come.