Roberto and I recently wandered off to the desert for a weekend of punishment. I'd been sport climbing, diagnosis or climbing easier stuff for a while and I needed to get WRECKED! I asked Roberto if he was up for some punishment and he gave me a big fat YES. We flipped through the guide, pilule and found our instruments of self annihilation.
The two major objectives were Gunslinger and Acid Crack. Gunslinger is the longest most sustained 5.12 in the park, with 3 5.12 pitches and one of hard 5.11b slab. It ascends the North Astro Dome around right of Figures on a Landscape. I'd seen it in the guide, but I had never heard of anyone actually climbing the thing. There were a few tidbits on mountainproject about it, but not much.
After a quick drive, warmup on the Gripper Traverse, and a hike in we were at the base. Looking at the first pitch, it really didn't look that intimidating. However, after I geared up and tied in I quickly discovered the real difficulty of the pitch: crumbly potato chip flakes that are scary as hell! The features on this pitch have been described as "moguls" and I thought that was an extremely good description. You climb a series of bulges wandering between them, standing on top of them and clipping bolts, going through short steep section after short steep section. Almost every move on the pitch had me on edge as holds continuously broke as I ascended the face. My feet would cause them to crumble, they would tear off luckily right after reaching the next hold, but somehow I managed to not fall once due to holds breaking.
Instead, what shut me down was a tough and devious short blank vertical section. I tried and tried, and fell and fell. I even pulled on the bolt, managed to clip the next and worked it on TR for a bit, but nothing seemed to work! I can't tell if it was just me, or if that section had holds break, but it seemed significantly harder that 5.12a. I finally pulled through, finished the pitch, and brought Roberto up.
As Roberto followed me up what we have now nicknamed the "North Astro Choss" he was unfortunate enough to have a hold break while he was cranking on it. The result was a rather hilarious (to me) "face dab" on the rock. I'm not sure his wife found it as funny... The low rock quality and number of breaking holds made it quite apparent that this route sees essentially zero traffic.
Roberto took the sharp end on the next pitch, a short but very stout 11b slab climb. He unlocked the sequence beautifully, which I almost botched following. Looming ahead was the beautiful overhung crimpy 12b pitch!
I took the lead back, and after utilizing my height to reach a high crimp I battled my way up the pitch. It was amazing movement on perfect quality rock, up there with any other 5.12 pitch I've done in the park. This is where the route gets it's five star rating! Roberto, being a little shorter, had trouble with the initial reach, but dispatched the rest of the pitch with ease.
He was climbing strong enough that he wanted to try to lead the last 12a mixed pitch. It was a bizarre shallow corner with amazing friction but few holds. As he scuzzed his way up, he got into a tough position and took a nice 10-15' ride on the rope. He headed back up and tried again with the same results. It looked to be a tricky one! Eventually, after an awesome effort, he passed the sharp end back to me and it was my turn to see if I could get up the devious pitch above. With some crazy scuzzing, opposition, twisting and footwork the pitch went down first try. Soon we were kicking it on top of the North Astro Choss enjoying the spectacular route we just finished.
We decided that if you want quality, rap in from the top and skip the first pitch. The upper three pitches were awesome and definitely warrant the five stars. If you want adventure, and a wickedly thin and hard crux that I had no clue how to climb, add that first pitch in and hope the potato chips don't result in a "face dab" for you too.
On the hike back, we were wondering what other forms of destruction we could find. As we circumnavigated the lake at Barker Dam, I realized not only that Father Figure was right there, but that Roberto had never tried it! I threw the draws on it, falling on the last moves, and Roberto gave it a go. Again, being shorter, the last moves were insanely hard for him. Where I could keep my feet on awesome holds, he had to dyno feet cutting to slopers. He got all the moves except the last, and it was fun to see all of his hard work and training paying off! (For an old trip report with footage of Father Figure go here: http://pullharder.org/2009/04/15/joshua-tree-sendtastic-wanger-banger-hidden-arch-father-figure/)
As we packed up and finished the hike to the car, I spontaneously veered right. It was getting dark, but there was another ultra-classic that Roberto needed to try: More Funky than Monkey! It's a roughly 15' handcrack out a roof with a crux at the end. We wandered over, and it was like showing a kid a candy store. Roberto instantly wanted to try leading it. I warned him that the hardest thing was wrapping your brain around being upside down while leading. He made a valiant effort, and I planted the seed of desire in him for the future. He'll be back when he's less tired wasted from 5 5.12 pitches already that day.
After a night around the campfire with limited imbibing of alcohol, we hit the rocks again early next morning. First on the list, Acid Crack! It's a beautiful 60' finger crack splitting an overhung wall that requires finger locks, highsteps, multiple kneebars, liebacking, flagging, and crimping skills clocking in around 5.12d. We had toproped it previously, and I did one last burn on it on TR to figure out the gear. The crack is thin, and the positions are difficult often liebacking away from the crack. As I found what fit where, I quickly realized that leading this thing pinkpoint vs redpoint would be massively different experiences. I made a judgement call, and for the first time in my life I left the gear in the crack. The other guys TR'd it, working out the tricks that worked best for them, and then we pulled the rope and I gave it a go.
All the tricks I had worked out came together, and I pinkpointed the route. The climbing was so demanding, and the body positions so strenuous that I still couldn't even clip all the gear I had placed. Roberto and Nate kept progressing on the route on TR and worked on getting the tricky moves more wired.
Next up, Shay's objective. We all wandered over to Hercules. It's a beautiful 11c/d off-finger crack behind the ranger station in Lost Horse. It requires awkward jamming, more straightforward but strenuous liebacking, and a significant amount of endurance. By this time, some of us were pretty tired, but Shay had skipped working Acid Crack to save himself for the redpoint. I managed to sneak out an onsight, and then Nate and I grabbed cameras and took pictures of Shay on Hercules hoping he would send. Near the top, Shay flamed out after almost making it to the only "rest" on the route. After he finished, there was some TRing for extra punishment, then off to the boulders!
As unlikely as it might seem, we ran into Bob Gaines in the Intersection Rock parking lot before pebble wrestling. I talked to him a little bit about Gunslinger, and he said that we may have had the 3rd ascent as far as he knows. While one side of me thinks that more people must have gotten on it under the radar, another part of me thinks it's quite possible given the high quantity of holds that broke or crumbled while we were climbing.
Next up, Pigpen (aka Bachar Cracker of the Desert). Essentially every route that Roberto and I did all weekend ranged from at least partly overhung to a full on roof. Roberto was sick, also, so by the time we got to Pigpen we were devastated. We threw some pads down and proceeded to get our butts kicked for a while. Luckily, some guy was there working it who knew a few key pieces of beta like a cool one leg hang under the roof and a crucial toehook. After he sent, the shananigans began. Somehow we talked Shay into making a boxer-beanie attempt, and he fell off on the last move of the problem. (If there are enough requests, maybe we can get Roberto to link to some of the "better" pictures.) Roberto and Nate also progressed, and in my final effort for the weekend I sent on my upteenth try.
All in all, we were pretty devastated. We got what we asked for. We threw ourselves on route after route that was at or above our limits and we all had massive grins to accompany our exhuastion. A weekend with the guys is awesome, but a weekend of P = G in desert with the guys is priceless.