Friday, December 21, 2012

Video Trip Report: RedRocks

Late October 2012, I enjoyed a good day of climbing in Red Rock. Fist time climbing there and first video. Cheers

RedRocks from G_Howland on Vimeo.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Climb More Delay Less

Last Thursday I got a text from an old co worker.

"Hey Greg it's Jess. Just wanted to connect with you incase you wanted to climb sometime."
"Hows Sunday?"

As we drove up to our local summer sport crag of Holcomb Valley we caught up about work and life. I found out Jess was pretty new to climbing outdoors as she had been less than 5 times before. I saw a challenge to see how well I could move with someone who would need to be shown most of the tricks. I told her, as I do all of my partners, I like to be on the move the whole day. When I climb for speed I am much more concerned with the overall movement and efficiency of the team rather than a climber sprinting up a route. I told her I would teach her some tricks and, for fun, we will see how many routes we can get done with out redlining all day.

We started with a few warm up climbs and had to deal with the ever growing crowds at this particular crag. Seems that each season increases in the number of climbers out there and since most routes are easier than 5.11 most tend to be beginners. Who knows, maybe I just know what I'm doing now. Holcomb is laid out with Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Pinnacles surrounding the overly crowded Central Pinnacles. We hit a popular wall that is open and have to share the last route before we leave after about an hour of being there. We manage to knock down 5 routes quickly since they were all off the same anchor. This allows me to just clip and lower back to the ground, have my second climb and clean the route, lower and pull the rope leaving gear at the anchor rather than reseting it each time.

We head over to a lesser known shady wall in the area and knock off 3 more routes, 10a, 10d, and a 5.6 free solo which happened to be my first trad lead ever. It is somewhere around 12:35 at this point that the crowds are really taking over all the popular areas. I decide to take things to a lesser traveled wall in the Northern Pinnacles. On our way over we stop at Wilbur's Tombstone which is home to some moderate friction climbing. Crank out a few of those routes and on the third one I was climbing up an easy crack system and stick my hand into a mandatory pod. I had no cams with me and was just soloing the crack until I was back into bolted climbing. As I pause 25 ft off the deck I pull my hand back for a second to move my feet around and was startled by some crazy looking reptile in the crack. It really looked like a snake as I poked my head around to try to see what it was. I find a sequence with out the hold and tell Jess to check it out. She agrees it looks like a snake. After a little while on the ground I come to the conclusion it was a bat in crack. Still slightly spooky. A miss is as far as a mile though. On to the next area. At this point our pitch count is up to 13 and it's 2:30. We slow pace a little and climb some steep edges. One route only rated 10c gave me a bit of a headache as I got drawn up the easy path and had to do a cruxy traverse back on route. Definitely harder than 10c but only because of operator error. Another 5 routes puts us up to 18 and time for one more stop before taking off. We hit a wall that was crowded earlier that day and I was able to revisit some old routes. Jess tied in first thing for her first lead ever. Definitely psyched I was able to share that with her. I top rope and clean the first route of the day.

At this point Jess is done. I just want to move as quickly as I can and go for quantity before the buzzer goes off. I just move down one route to the next to the next. Tagged a 10c and a 10a. I cruised up to a crack and did what some purists might call my first onsight free solo ever. I had no idea of the rating system or beta on the crack. Just saw it and climbed it. Ended feeling easy and rightfully so it was rated 5.8. At this point Jess is ready to head out but I talk her into letting me do just one more route to hit route 21. I choose an 11c route with sustained 10+ face climbing to a rest right before an 11c slab crux up top. Hardest pitch of the day for last. Let's see if I really am feeling as fresh as I still feel. I make it to the crux and have a few looks at the blank section of wall in front of me. With an edge no larger than the edge of a dime for my left hand and and a side-pull only slightly thicker for my right I knew I would have to trust the microscopic feet I had chosen to get through the next 2 or 3 moves to a horizontal dike with some larger holds on it. I tenuously put weight on my right foot opposing so hard with my right hand I thought the razor sharp edge was definitely going to draw blood. My left leg is extended behind, and far beyond my right for balance as I pull my hips over the high right foot. Move my left had to a small crystal and trust that the nonexistent hold my right foot is on will be enough as I push with all remaining strength I have to get through to the dike. Some how it all comes together and I'm able to make the pitch with out falling.

I get back on the ground and try to bargain for route 22 as there is an 11b I had never done right next door but rightfully calls it. All in all a great result considering we never once had tense moments about moving fast.

We started casually around 945 in the morning and finished sometime around 645. Took 2 or 3 breaks but they were no longer than 20 minutes in length. Climbed up to 11c and didn't over exert at all. There was no yelling or hurrying the whole day just minimal downtime. We just focused on continuously climbing. After all the only thing better than climbing is more climbing. A few things I did in order to move faster and get more routes in:

1) Pack like you have a 3 hour up hill approach. All too often I see people going sport climbing with a bag filled with more gear than it takes to push El Capitan. Rope, Draws, Food, Water. That's it. Sure maybe a guide book if. As long as it really isn't a 3 hour approach, both people should hike with their harness on. The next person to lead should have draws and shoes clipped to their harness. In a small pack (about 15 L) carry the water, headlamps, food, guidebook. The water and guide book up top and the rest near the bottom. The second person should have the rope coiled and tied to their back. Just flake the rope on a rock or the small pack in order to keep it clean. This eliminated wasted time of going into and out of your pack except at lunch.

2) Don't chase classics. It's worth the extra time to do the climbs surrounding the classic at the crag. You'll often be able to use the same anchors which means if you leave draws on the anchor you can do multiple route with only have to set a rappel once. Hiking also wastes a lot of time. You may miss out on one classic because you make it to 3 crags instead of 4 but it's usually worth the extra 9 routes because you did 4 routes instead of 1 at each area.

3) Speed cleaning. I have ethical issues with posting the beta of what this is. If you know then you know. If you really want to know leave a comment and I'll explain. Every area has their own standards and certain areas like Boulder Canyon this is perfectly acceptable and normal. Other areas are really against the practice because it wears through rap rings faster. In the long run it doesn't save as much time as the first two tips anyhow.

4) Just keep moving. This doesn't mean running but it does mean doing things like eating on the hike to the next area. Sitting around and having a huge lunch can be really demotivating. I try to split my lunch into two or three and space them out while I'm moving. Also try to encourage partners to not sit around. I can't tell you how many times I see partners sitting drinking water with the rack a mess all over their harness and the rope needing to be coiled. Make sure everyone is doing something rather than one person doubling the duration of work.

Holcomb Valley Top Out

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ten and Change (Nose In A Day)


Confidence was high as I drove to Yosemite Valley for the first time this spring. I had been talking with my partner Cheyne who had been in Yosemite since the beginning of May. I asked him to climb the day I got in so I wouldn’t have to be troubled with finding a partner for the first day I got in. I shot him a text simply saying “Gold wall/ Silent line” a Grade V 5.10 C2 that I knew we could get through in a matter of hours together. Cheyne called back asking if I wanted to climb The Nose. Most teams take 4-5 days to climb the route but we were going to climb the route in a single day: Nose in a Day (NIAD). Being my main goal for Yosemite all season I can’t wait to say yes. I rolled into the valley around 9:30 p.m. After a pizza in the SAR site I began to talk strategy with Cheyne.

He has a project in mind and wanted to get a feel for a few pitches he had never led on the route. Our plan was to have him lead the whole way and I would simul-climb and short-fix our way up the route. I would jumar the other pitches. We decided to go with a valley alpine start at 7:30 a.m. We made it to the base at started the clock at 8:47 a.m. as Cheyne blasted up the first pitch. We passed 3 teams on the way up to Sickle ledge which is the top of the 4th pitch. One of the teams was Pass the Pitons Pete and his infamous freight train of bags at the top of the first pitch. After a re-rack on Sickle Ledge we simul-climb next pitch and Cheyne fixes the rope high above. As Cheyne self belays through a pendelum I top rope solo the tight-hand crack to the anchor. Since Cheyne had lowered down and swung into the next crack system, I have to lower myself out with my end of the rope. Cheyne leaves me some slack to do this but not enough. I find myself 15 ft from the corner containing the crack system and no more slack to lower out on. I hold the end of my rope in my hand, STRETCH as far as I can, and let go. I swung into the corner adrenaline pumping. I look up to see a climber we are passing wide-eyed as I throw my feet in my aiders and run up the fixed rope.

King Swing
Gray Bands
Pitch after pitch goes by and before I know it we are standing on Dolt Tower the ¼ time mark for NIAD. Dolt stands with 1100 ft of the best climbing in the world pouring below it. If it were to stand as it’s own wall it would still be big but on the massive scale of El Capitan Dolt tower is simply a checkpoint. As I flake the rope Cheyne fuels and asks how I feel. “Great. It feels like it’s only been a few pitches. I’m not holding things up am I?” I was a little worried about my efficiency cleaning a few of the lower outs. “No. We are moving well together. We have been climbing for 2 hours and 15 minutes and Pete hasn’t even moved.” We share a good laugh and quickly get back to climbing. After a few pitches Cheyne and I get to by far the most fun pitch of climbing I have done: The legendary King Swing. As the route nears the 1700 ft mark the crack system followed to that point ends. The leader leads The Boot Flake lowers down and starts swinging back and forth to the next crack system. As Cheyne is leading I simul the bolt ladder to the base of the boot. Cheyne lowers and swings over to Eagle Ledge and puts me on belay. I tension the rope, run left, run right and left again to the large arĂȘte that requires a devious move over to eagle. Stuck it first go which felt really good. Cheyne and I blast through the Grey Bands with lots of lower-outs on the 5.10 A0 variation and some top rope soloing. Cheyne cruises The Great Roof and back cleans the traverse of fixed gear. This allows me to just lower out rather than clean the traverse. As I start to clean this pitch my ascenders start to crux out. Suddenly my jugs wouldn’t stick as I slid them up. I would slide up my top jug, go to stand in the aider and the jug would drop two feet before it would snag. I was essentially fall after fall onto devices designed to grip the soft rope with sharp teeth. Something I ALWAYS try to avoid. Jugging became strenuous for a few pitches as the terrain steepens and I would have to lock off my arms and visually make sure my upper ascender was engaged. This definitely slowed us down as Cheyne had to wait for me a few times as I figured out how to solve the problem.

The Great Roof. Team leading up Pancake Flake out right.
Re Rack on Camp VI
Cheyne and I met up on Camp VI. We have a quarter of the way left. I’m starting to feel gassed as I sit down on the nice ledge. I hear “ROPE FIXED!” and psyche myself up to jug again. Unfortunatlely it was a free hanging jug and my legs were starting to feel worked. I try to keep positive as Cheyne does everything he can to turbo through the last few pitches. As I come up to the base of the 3rd to the last pitch I start to feel really really fresh again. As I making my way up that pitch Cheyne had clipped a bunch of gear on a traverse and then back cleaned for a ways (by force, not free will I hope). I have no means to lower out so I pull in as tight as I can to the crack, unclip the piece and “slide into home” across the upper reaches of El Capitan with massive amounts of exposure below. This ended up giving me the perfect shot of adrenaline to charge to the summit. Cheyne and I simul the bolt ladder and I clip the last bolt and start the final free climbing on the route. So close and excited to the official pine tree finish I start to run with everything hanging all over my disorganized body. The clock still ticks until the final climber touches the pine tree finish. I touch the tree at 7:45. We finished in 10 hours and 58 minutes, or 10 and change, and I had climbed El Capitan within 24 hours of arriving in Yosemite Valley. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012


One of my long standing todos in Joshua Tree is a gently overhanging 11c off-finger/ringlock crack called Wangerbanger. The line is completely different than anything you would see in Josh. The striking line splits the smooth 80 ft. Northern face of The Rusty Wall. For such a short line it is able to demand all types of climbing. Fingerlocks, off-fingers, handcracks and offwidth. It's truly a Josh classic not to be missed by anyone climbing at the grade. The wall is gently overhanging with a ring lock crux just past halfway up the route. 

I got ont the route a few weeks ago and made it through the crux first go and blew the move to a rest. I figured everything out and finished up the route. I thought I would be golden this last weekend when I went for a redpoint. Perhaps my confidence got in the way but I had a worse showing than last time. Mentally things felt really out of line. Mental difficulties occurred after I fell and I hung a couple times working out the sequence. I  will be back in the fall to send this. 

Wangerbanger is the obvious splitter. Photo from

TR: JTree Weekend

Disclaimer: Although this is a Climbing Trip Report only a small amount of climbing is covered. 
Although I highly value climbing, there are times when it is the person on the other end of the rope that makes the experience memorable. 

I had been Jonesing for it. Just the thought of sticking my hand into a sharp crack brought about an eruption of emotion so strong it caused me to let out the loudest monkey call the suburban jungle of sunny Southern California had ever heard. "OOUGGHHHH!" I couldn't help myself. Weird looks meant nothing, as I'm used to being an outsider as a climber in a superficial metropolis. I could feel nothing but the purest form of elation.

Two, going on three years ago I had a peculiar experience. I had just started working at REI and was still as green as the vest I wore everyday. During my first week a co-worker who went by Cass said to me "I'm going on an ice climbing trip to Ouray with other co-worker (I'm still unacquainted with everyone in the store at this point). I'm can't handle him for a week so you really need to come along to make this trip fun." I hesitantly agree. I was psyched on an ice climbing trip but was also pretty sure she had me completely mistaken. After all, I hadn't even met her yet. This experience describes the rest of our friendship. There was no get-to-know-each-other phase or small talk/ease into hanging out period. We immediately considered each other great friends. All too soon after we met Cass and her boyfriend Mark, who I can't say enough good about, moved to Montana. As it happens communication decayed.

It had been two years since I had seen Cass when I received a call she was coming out to California. A wedding she was attending was only an hour and change from me and even less than that from Joshua Tree. Guess where we were headed? On Thursday afternoon I we met in Palm Springs, CA only a short distance from Joshua Tree National Park. I only got lost a few times. Not like me but things were backwards this trip. We darted to the park in separate cars as she could only stay until Friday afternoon and I had the whole weekend free. We booked it with my '98 Ford Ranger redlined at 50 mph thrutching up the last hill into park.

"Let's leave you're car at a motel and I'll drive you back tomorrow afternoon."
"Just pick the least sketchy looking place around."

I had a place in mind that was just passed the park entrance. It wasn't. 15 miles later we get there. Oops. There's mistake #2 in my navigation for the trip. W/e we are close. We blast into the park from the completely opposite direction and I tell Cass about the history and characteristics of the park.

"What does a joshua tree look like anyways?"
"Oh. I'll show you the tree when we drive out. It's on the other side of the park. There is only one you know. That's why it isn't called Joshua Trees National Park."
"Really?! What happens if it burns down?" (bless her heart)
"Then the only thing left will be rocks and rattlesnakes"
"Snakes? Are there a lot"
"Yeah. You can feel them crawl under your tent at night to absorb body heat"
"What the Fuck"
(I would do anything to have free reign running a Yosemite Tour Tractor aka Green Dragon)
. . .
"Well we're here"

Started the day around 5:30 pm in Echo Cove. Decided to try out Touch and Go 5.9. A cool stemming corner to hand crack. I darted off before she could put me on and ended up unknowingly pulling the crux onsight free solo. Top section was a little funky. Another fun josh route that proved to be over hyped. Next we drove out the the Rusty Wall. I had been on Wangerbanger (5.11c) a few weeks before and really thought I would be able to get it this time out. Turns out I did worse than last time. The crux involves tight hands to ring locks and off fingers on an over hung wall. A fall and 2 or 3 hangs and I was through it and to the top. I had trouble getting my mind back into lead mode after the fall. TR'ed the climb after Cass wouldn't lower me and was able to hike through it. It was all mental. All that draws me to climbing and frustrates me to no avail at the same time. Everything just felt wrong and my confidence was suffering. I'll be back strong and get the send next season.

Spirits and energy were still high as we made the hike back to the car without headlamps. The moon was so bright there was no need the whole trip. Cass and I head over to Hidden Valley Camp Ground to look for the unpublicized park secrets like the Space Station, Iron Door, and Chasm of Doom. As we sat in the space station I realized one of many things this trip. Cass and I have very little knowledge of each  other's past. Our conversations just don't drift from future plans to personal past, rather they focus on enjoying the present and not having a desire to deviate from it. This is something I experience with my closest friends. It's a relief to see we haven't drifted apart over the years.

After a night of cuddling with snakes and a morning of coffee, we darted off to Double Cross (5.7+). No line. If you climb in Josh much you'll be able to appreciate that. We also ran into the legendary Jim Bridwell. Enough said. The day gets even better when we walk up to Sail Away (5.8) and spot a draw in the crack. "BOOTY!" I climb up to it. clean a perfectly placed cam without the use of a nut tool. Wow, I must have done good. I look up to start climbing again and see ANOTHER draw that couldn't be seen from the ground. "BOOTY!" Perfect alien. Can you say Christmas? We climb another 4 or 5 pitches and call it a day as Cass has to make it back to the rehearsal dinner and her car is 30 miles in the wrong direction. Unfortunately this means goodbye between the two of us.

Back in the park it's time to get into NIAD shape. I make my way to Hercule's Crack (5.11d) to stash gear and try to get in as many laps as possible the next day. After a long hike I couldn't find a way to the top w/o aiders. Remaining day went like this:

>Hike Back
>Drive to Intersection Rock
>Shoot the Sunset
>Bouler and Pigpen
>Send Pigpen (V4)
>Dead Car Battery

Solo life on the road wouldn't be exciting without this kind of stuff. Thankfully I was in the campground at a reasonable hour. Hiked to the bivy spot and went to bed, sort of. The moon was so full I had trouble sleeping.

I was almost back to my car the next morning, I could taste the coffee as I was within the 5 minute marker. I trail runner begins to walk in the distance. It's Cass. GAME ON!! Another day of climbing together. Apparently she just couldn't keep herself away. I personally thought she had enough of my antics like not letting her tape for the unforgiving cracks of Josh. Clearly this partnership is meant to be and I'm not about to complain. We shared 7 pitches up to 10d in under 4 hours and called it a day.

Eventually we said until next time. Plans have been made for me to get out to Maine this Fall to climb with her and potentially El Potrero Chico this winter (Probably going to happen w/ or w/o Cass). I'm happy to leave with the feeling that our history of climbing together has only begun. There is no doubt Cass will be featured in many more Trip Reports written here.