Back in the summer of 2009 Nath climbed The Vampire at Tahquitz (5.11a) with her friend, pilule Linda. She's from Montreal and spoke French growing up and so this needed a little editing. For various reasons (none good) I slacked and didn't get to it until now. Sorry Nath. In any case, below is her awesome tale of leading The Vampire. She'd been leading trad for about 2 years, and what made it exceptionally challenging was that she's about 5'1". Two years ago when I started climbing outdoors, I visited Tahquitz four times. I followed a few routes, including The Vampire, and I even led Dave’s Deviation. Last year I went traveling around SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand with Josh. We climbed for the first five months, but got sadly out of shape during the six following months. We did manage to boulder in Hampi for the last month, though. This last year has been really beneficial for my climbing abilities. I gained a lot of experience, learned how to lead on gear, and faced my fears while bouldering. Each place we visited had a different type of rock, a different type of climbing, and each time I would improve and learn new techniques and skills. Since I have been back in San Diego, although I am resting a lot because of shoulder tendonitis, I keep climbing better every weekend. I think this is due to the fact that I am assimilating and putting together everything I learned during the year off.
My summer plan was to lead every 3 star route at Tahquitz and Suicide, starting with the easier ones (5.7-5.8), and working my way towards leading The Vampire at the end of the summer. However, life is sometime unpredictable, and I now have to move back to Montreal. Instead of a summer in Tahquitz, I ended-up having only one day…
Just like in the old song “it’s now or never…” I had only one day, and I really wanted to lead The Vampire before I left San Diego. So, ready or not, I had to just go for it!!! The decision made, I needed to find a partner. I could have gone with Josh, or someone else who already led it, which would reduce the stress and increase my chance of success, but it was my last day of climbing in California, and there was only one person I really wanted to go with: my best friend Linda. Linda is super strong (I enjoy calling her superwoman!), but she does not lead trad or crack climb yet, and has little experience with multi-pitch routes. It would definitely increase the challenge, since we both would have to pull very hard to make it to the top. However, I believe in Linda (I took her on the Last Frontier, a four-pitch 5.11c route at Corte Madera, and she did very well) and I was ready to be patient and encourage her. We would climb it ‘together’, my definition of team work. Also, I knew that not only it would be fun no matter what happened, but that if we made it ‘ensemble’, all the way to the top, it would be extremely amazing and rewarding.
We left Pacific Beach at 6 o’clock and arrived at the parking lot around 8am. We met up with and hiked in with Josh and he ended up climbing next to us. They had to climb the Bat Crack also (but branching right), so I let them go first, since I knew they would be faster. And later they did an awesome job taking pictures for us, thank you guys!
There we were, Linda and I at the start of the Bat Crack, laughing and having a good time. Looking at this 150’ long pitch, I remember hating it when I seconded it two years ago! However, I knew I would do better with my more developed crack climbing experience. I hoped I could lead it clean, but knew it would be very pumpy. I was OK with hanging, as long as I made it all the way to the top. I also knew it would be a very hard pitch for Linda, who is climbing about as hard as I was when I first tried it two years ago… I obviously had not told her I used to hate that pitch. Instead, I told her it would be long, hard and pumpy, but that she would enjoy the following pitches. I also told her she can layback, stem, muscle it, rest on the rope when needed, and simply work her way up! After a few hours, (yep it took a little longer than planed!) we both had fought our way to the top of the Bat Crack! Linda got very pumped, but stayed calm, and figured out her way up! As for me, I got very pumped and scared about 2 feet before reaching the old piton. Knowing that I was more scared that pumped (this climb was all in my head), I decided to put an orange TCU, right after, my foot slipped, but I held on and used the last energy I had to made it clean to the pod/rest. I rested for a long while there… I was so pumped that my arms where sleepy!! The second part was easier than I remember, until the last mental move which took me a few tries to get (The secret hold is way out of reach for me! I had to find a short person little crimper!) and I redpointed the Bat Crack, ja!!!! By the way, you should have seen Linda perfectly mantle the last move. She made me feel weak.
I had successfully worked out the crux 11a traverse moves when I seconded pitch 2, and I had to work them out again! Try a move, come back to the ledge, try two moves, come back to the ledge, try three moves, and go for the redpoint!!
I was climbing towards a bolt, and I did not remember a bolt on that pitch. So I stop and look at the topo that Josh drew for me. Oh yes, I just passed the anchor that is right there down and left. While belaying Linda, who was doing great, I my eyes were fixed on this famous bolt. There I was, getting anxious, looking at the crux of the climb that was waiting for me, the slab of the third pitch patiently baking in the sun, with the wind slowly picking-up… “It’s all in my head” I kept repeating to myself. I did not know if would make it. I knew if I had to bail it would be there, at this bolt protecting the crux of the route that everybody fears… At this point really wanted to make it to the top. My confidence was built up by redpointing the first two pitches. Linda and I climbed slower, but better than expected. It was just a matter of a few intimidating moves… I was glad I had my personal trainer with me, and Linda strongly encouraged me (and gave me some chocolate truffles!). There I was, shaking from the stress, stomach cramps, hands sweating, and asking myself “why do I like being so scared so much?” Good thing my mom does not know I am here!!!! I knew I could climb harder than that, it’s only 5.10d/5.11a after all, but the route, its name, and its reputation make it so intimidating…
So there I am, clipped the bolt at the crux, still holding onto the flake with my left hand. The next move is obvious, stepping on the big foot hold to the right, but I can’t reach it! The story of my life!!! I had to let go my left hand, balanced with no hand on my left toe and try to step right. I say ‘try’ because I fell. Well, it was not really a fall, since I was right at the bolt. While hanging, I found a small crimper out right for my hand that would have helped. At that point, I knew it was only a question of time, but that I would make it to the top for sure! I was scrutinizing the slab, observing the lack of holds, analyzing the rock, and knowing that I would find my own way. It took me a few tries to figure out the short person move across. Once I started, I was traversing right and slowly stepping a foot at a time on this intimidating slab. Linda was ready to catch me. “Two hands on the rope!” I reminded her. I heard so many bad things about this fall. Josh was there, rapping on a rope to take pictures. I have to say that it did mentally help me to know he was there supporting me. Instead of traversing right, I quickly came back to the left, so I would be right above the bolt if I fell. After several little moves, I reached the diagonal rail, finally some holds for my hands, but to small to take any gear! A couple moves further, I put in some gear in, and that was it, I was done with the cruxes! I didn’t even take the bad fall I was anxious about, and getting to the top would be easy from there!!! Wooo hoooo hoooo I made it, I was already so happy! Linda, also short, also had trouble at the bolt. After she passed the bolted crux, we both cruised all the way to the top!!!
What an awesome day! Linda and I made it. Two ladies on the top of The Vampire!!! It was so funny when I started leading the third pitch and I heard a guy on another climb down below surprisingly asking his partner “is that a girl on The Vampire???” Nope, it was not a girl… it was two!!!
Seriously, I recommend to all my friends who told me not to lead it to go lead it! I did it, and you can too!! The fall at the crux would not have been that bad the way I climbed it. The crux was right at the bolt. The foot holds are pretty good to the right, and then you quickly come back left above the bolt. I would not mind going back leading it again, and bringing another friend on this superb route…
In the past year, Nath has spent quite a bit of time climbing, finally visiting areas like Indian Creek, Squamish, and tearing it up back home in Montreal. She's managed to onsight the Sentry Box in Squamish (5.12a trad) and the Grand Wall in Squamish in the past month. We miss you and your positive attitude Nath. Keep up the good work and PULL HARDER!
(Photo credits: The lower half of The Vampire: Josh Monson. The upper crux of the Vampire: Josh Higgins.)