Once upon a time, otolaryngologist a friend of a friend nicknamed “the Nizzler,” for reasons lost to time, took a trip to Indian Creek. After getting brutally worked on one of her projects, she laid down amongst the gear at the base, like a wolf puppy who tried her first hunt on a porcupine. Semi-fetal, with knees tucked up but limp arms and lifeless eyes, my friend snapped a picture, and it provides the blueprint for when we tell each other we’ve been “nizzled.”
Hi, my name is Christina, and I was totally nizzled by Woodson. I’m a climber from Ohio, who ‘grew up’ on the bullet-hard featured sandstone of the Southeast. I’m now in grad school, and was attending a scientific meeting in San Diego last week. I wanted to taste the local climbing while I was in town, because A) it wasn’t winter there (it snowed the day I left Ohio) and B) San Diego is on my list of cities I think I’d like to live in. Josh, who was a friend of friends, agreed to take me up to Mt. Woodson on my last day in town. It was totally excellent.
After picking me up from the conference center about noon-thirty, and stopping at some non-descript taqueria for one of the better carnitas burritos I’ve ever eaten, we drove out to Woodson. My friend Jay, who recently moved to San Diego from New England, met us at the base. Hiking up the road toward Robins Crack, we came on a pure mantle problem very near the road (by the "television screen" not sure the mantle's name), and Josh asked if I’d like to try it. Yes! Rock climbing after 5 days cooped up in the convention center! I was feeling pretty hyper and the guys were feeling pretty hung over; we were off to an excellent start. This first problem was literally one move: pull over the nice flat, sharp lip and stand up. But those of us who are short as fuck sort of get to jump start this problem. On my first attempt, I got ahead of myself and hopped up with my approach shoes on. (Hint: approach shoes don’t heel hook very well.) But once I put my climbing shoes on, it was fine. The weather was excellent, clear and mid 60’s. I was outside, walking up a hill, and had felt sunny stone under my chalky fingertips. I win.
We then walked up to Robbins Crack, which was my only defined goal for the trip. It’s a hands/thin hands crack, about 25 feet high, that perfectly and beautifully splits a boulder. I pulled my climbing shoes back on, and scampered about halfway up it before I asked, “Um, how do you get down?” “You downclimb the crack, or you let me put a rope up,” Josh answered, so I came down and put my harness on. “Or, I suppose,” he continued, looking at me speculatively, “I could just give you a couple of cams.” I opted for option #2, as I really wanted to onsight it. So I tied in and grabbed a red and a green, and I went up. I did remember to place the red at one point. :) And then, after coming back down, I bouldered it. I’d been told that to do otherwise was only cheating yourself.
After all three of us were done with Robbins Crack, Josh flipped the rope over to hang down the face/blunt arête to the left of the crack. Sooo, what’s this one? “A face.” I laughed, and asked for a name (Eric’s Face). Jay bluntly asks what it’s rated, and Josh gives me a look. “He wasn’t going to say,” I interpret, correctly. Oh. So I tie in, and desperately thrash my way up the face, mangling every possible sequence. I hear Jay from the ground ask if that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, and Josh laughingly says… Uh, no.
I come down, and Jay gives it a go, and I’m like Oh THAT? That is how you’re supposed to do the bottom? Shit. I’d avoided a very good undercling flake around the arête in favor of a big toss off negligible feet for a blunt sidepull, in service of staying on the face. Beta Fail. Josh ran up it, and then I decided I wanted to try it again. It took me a bunch of tries to get the bottom, and I left blood all over it from the inside of my left knee when I finally one-hung it. The one-hang would be the second go if you're not counting the 18 times I tried the first crux and then lowered to the ground, and if you are counting those, it would be try 20. I fell once up high, so I suppose I should have pulled harder on the crimps? As we were walking away, I asked what it is rated. “.11a.” Oh snap.
We then did Baby Robbins, which I actually thought was maybe harder than Robbins, and Jaws, which Jay flashed ::cough:: sausage fingers ::cough:: and so did I. But I <s>sport climber</s> laid it back for part of the middle. I’m often fine with “thin hands” cracks, because they’re actually good hands for me, but I’m not at all good on actual thin hands. A weakness to be improved on.
Josh then tried some ridiculously hard looking, tall blunt arête. Neither Jay nor I felt any desire to attempt this.
At last we went over to "Big Grunt." Josh had been talking up this problem all day. Now, I’m a sport climber in my black little heart, and chimneys scare the shit out of me. And I really haven’t done much offwidth. And this is an offwidth boulder problem into 20ish feet of chimney, and then 20ish more feet of slab chimney and then you step unprotected across a 3' gap to 5.2 slab solo to the top of the boulder.
It's not particularly rational, but, yeah, I’m pretty scared of chimneys. I spent a week in the Valley one time, and did not even try to attempt any really big stuff, because I didn’t want to have to lead any chimneys. So we walk up to this thing, and I have skeptical cat face on. So Josh goes into coach mode, and is all like, don't worry about it, the start is the hard part but it's totally worth stacking pads past the hard opening to get into the chimney even if you can’t do the start. "I've gotten women who were your height who were worse climbers into it. Do you want the beta???" I say no to the beta, because the height comment makes me think that the beta is probably going to be worthless for me and I'll just frustrate myself trying it. (I tried “the beta” later, and I think I was correct.) So I look at the crack, and decide I’ll want to be facing left once I’m in the chimney, so I face that way to start. I try and get my chicken wing in. I can’t reach to get it in securely. I move lower. I try and get my chicken wing in. I can’t reach; I move lower. I try and get my chicken wing in, and it sticks. At this point, the crack is only about 4 feet off the ground, but I figure I’d rather be secure and work from there than to attempt to begin from a position of weakness. “The beta” apparently says start as high as you can and face right, so it’s Josh’s turn to have skeptical cat face.
I look at him, and then down at the crack. Hang on my chicken wing, pop my right leg up to heel-toe in the crack, and do the offwidth squirmy dance up the crack about 4 feet till I can get my hips in. Motherfuckingonsight! Whoo! So I go a few feet up into the chimney and wait for Josh to get in, because we're doing this tour guide style. We get up the chimney and get standing on the lip of where the slab starts, and I let Josh know that I’m “about 6 out of 10 on ‘scared’ at the moment.” Oh yeah? he says? “Let’s take it to 10 out of ten on FUN!” (I think he’s starting to get over his hangover by this point, but that will be remedied later.)
Josh is like, ok, now, cross your hands over your chest and roll like a schoolchild down a daisy-covered hill to the edge to look at the view. I made one complete revolution for the sake of trying anything once, and then gave up and scooted. But the view was spectacular. I now have a place-crush on San Diego that seems likely to last for a while. When I get done gazing, we go up the slab-chimney (get scared? just press your back against the chimney), and to the last break where you step up and across a gap. But while the rest of the climb was actually pretty secure, chimney phobia or not, HERE, if you falls, you dies, because you roll off the edge. "Now, at this point, we're soloing, I'll grant you that," says Josh (and he would know). And my granite skills are so good! (aka not.) My panic response is attempting to kick in while I contemplate the high step I’m going to have to make to get onto the slab, but I breathe and examine it rationally for a second. There are holds on the slab, it’s not that hard, and you sure as hell aren’t going to climb back down the chimney. I take my balls in my hand and step over. And it's fine. Really. It's 5.2, like he said, and we walked/downmantled-onto-a-giant-pile-of-cheater-stones off. Totally unique problem/climb. Really fun.
Jay’s blort* prevented him from getting his hips in the crack, and his pride prevented him from getting the power spot to do the tour, but I did get a picture of him cheating himself with the crash pad to try get and get higher on the crack. I told him to just double it, and get a better chance of getting higher. The Flying Spagetti Monster only knows how many times I've stood on a doubled crash pad to reach the start of something. But Jay declined, trying to use the minimal amount of cheating himself. I snapped a picture with my cell phone anyway.
I didn't realize Josh was making faces till after I clicked the picture, but this is a good one.
Next, I had to choose one more climb that we could do while it was light out. We could do Uncertainty Principle, which we’d passed earlier and looked awesome, or we could go do Aids Victim (Victim of Aids?) and get worked. “But,” Josh pointed out, “we could do Aids Victim by headlamp.” And the hike out is a paved road. I opted for Uncertainty by dwindling sunlight and Aids Victim by headlamp.
Uncertainty Principle is on an imposing, suspended, scabrous face that you approach from another boulder that is slightly lower and off to the side. To begin the route, you step across the gap onto painfully small crimps and then race the now-chilling wind to get off the razor blades and onto the good holds up high before you lose feeling in your fingers. (I lost.) I ended up using the crash pad to get just a little closer to the starting crimps, much to Jay’s amusement, and he snapped a retaliatory picture.
My first go, I make it through a tricky sequence at the very start, only to lose my way about 12 feet up and sort of fizzle out. Josh pointed out a pair of pockets that I was going for, and I decided to come down and start over. I swung back above the starting boulder and barked “dirt! dirt!” frantically, so that I could land before I swung away, although the thought occurs to me, that maybe that’s not a common command in a place where you don’t land on any dirt?? At any rate, Josh dropped me on a dime, and I started the climb over. This time, I walked the crux at the bottom, and was negotiating the overabundance of underwhelming holds in the middle of the route, when I completely and utterly lost feeling in my fingers. Hooking and scraping my lifeless digits, I gunned for the safety of the arête, but I was too slow. I fell, cursing and stuffing my fingers in my armpits. Once they warmed back up, I discovered that I’d been literally one move from the safety of big holds on the right fin of the face. I quickly finished and lowered, and then waited in a little hollow in the boulder out of the wind for Josh to take the toprope setup down. I’ll get you some (other, warmer?) day, Uncertainty Principle.
The final climb of the day, which we approached in the dwindling twilight and turned on headlamps to gear up for, was Aids Victim. I wanted a fingercrack, and Josh said this was the easiest of the not-warmupgrade small cracks. But still hard as balls and super fun. He warned me that it was at least as much of a face as a crack, but I was like come on! Look at that crack! The not-crack holds are key for at least three quarters of the moves on the route. I think I did ~90% of the moves (didn't ever do the move to match my hands in the crack before tossing for the slimper, but I think did the other 11 moves, if I'm counting/remembering correctly), but luckily it was another toprope problem, conducive to working it. I was most proud of myself for weighting and moving off of one particularly awful tips lock, repeatedly, while I worked the bottom. Josh went up it after me, and then he cleaned the gear and we headed down.
On the hike out, Jay and Josh introduced me to the awesome song, Jizz in my Pants. Then Josh shared his scary trad version "shit in my pants," which was also/more awesome. We giggled furiously all the way down the mountain.
Jay didn't join us for dinner, but Josh and I went and killed quite a number of margaritas (more San Diego Mexican food!) after having been told that the happy hour pitcher was “about two margaritas a piece ::wink::”. I don’t know about Josh, (he was pouring?) but I’m pretty sure I had three and some change. Upon arriving at the PullHarder headquarters, it was late enough that we found the roommates also intoxicated and had some more beers. We discussed the finer points of how Shay’s name sounds like the proper name for the giant sand worms in Dune. And how awesome goats climbing are. At some point, I party fouled my last beer badly. Then we had to leave the house at 7 am so Josh could drop me off at the airport before he arrived at work.
The next morning at the airport my advisor (we were on the same flight home) greeted me with, "What happened to you? You look like hell."
In conclusion, thanks, Josh! I can’t wait to return the favor when you come climb on the World’s Best Sandstone Sport™ sometime!
*Blort: verb. Excess weight that prevents one from climbing as hard as one’s buddies, as hard as one used to, as hard as one would like to, or one’s proj.