Ben saw a woman who resembled the Wicked Witch of the West, or maybe Mary Poppins, riding a small tricycle in the night. Our bumper was barreling down at her at 60 miles per hour through the fog. May Day, May Day!
He panicked, thinking I was about to run her over, but she dissipated into the mist as the bumper neared. Next, I saw us run over a snow-white rabbit, but there was no bump. I think that was only possibly a hallucination? After 1.5 miles of climbing, on May first, perhaps trying to drive home was not the best option. We pulled over for some sleep.
We had just climbed all day at Tahquitz, the most classic of classic crags, in a seamless string of sends. For most of the day we soloed up to 5.6, and simul-climbed up to 5.9. We became more conservative on the last few routes as deep fatige set in. Our easiest route was frightful variation of the Trough, 5.2; our hardest was The Edge, 5.11a R. We set up rappels, and didn't walk off once.
Total: 15 routes, 61 pitches, ~7500-8000' (1.5 miles), in 16h45 min.
Those numbers summarize something, but to focus on numbers is to miss the point. We wanted to climb all of the classic climbs, and climb all day long. Ben’s expertise is big endurance days, and I have a lot of high-end technical climbing experience, so we made a great team. My friends had been climbing with Ben regularly, and I knew he had a great attitude. I’m not much of a high-altitude/ice guy, so I proposed this little adventure to spend the day with a great new partner.
We climbed from pre-dawn to post-dusk on America’s most historic crag, including almost all of the classic moderate gems. To make a perfect day even better, a layer of clouds above Los Angeles and the Inland Empire created a white sea below us all day long. The sunset on our second to last route of the day was just plain spectacular.
Ben Horton, our amazing photographer friend, shot some photos of the event. You can obviously tell which pictures are his, and a link to more of his work is here: www.benhorton.biz Erin and Lea also came out to cheer us on… or maybe they just came to see us in tights? We were happy either way. Ben Horne invested in a pair of flashy red bandana-design tights just to impress the ladies—he thinks it worked! But, they left before he could get their phone numbers… It was really nice to have three high energy friends come out to support us on such a huge endeavor. Horton getting into place for some pictures:
Horton focused his photography on The Edge. I psyched myself up for the climb with positive thoughts. The Edge, while not the hardest route ever, is definitely demanding in it’s own way! With three massive runouts on very sustained climbing up to 5.11a, it had my attention. I had a foot slip twice on lead, while in very bad spots, but my strategies to prevent lead falls, “Compensate with core!” worked perfectly and staved off imminent disaster. The wind was whipping, and I wore a thin bright yellow long-sleeve and funky tights because we can’t take ourselves too seriously, and the yellow shirt would be great in the photos. It turned out to be much colder than expected, and I pretty much shivered my way up the route. By the way, mad props to Tobin Sorrenson who put this route up on lead. What a BEAST!
When it was Ben’s turn to follow, The Edge spit him off almost immediately. It took him a while to figure out this delicate and insecure style of climbing, but after learning on the first pitch, he got the hang of it and followed the direct 5.11 finish clean.
Originally, we planned to climb the Edge and the Vampire, but after 20+ pitches, including the Edge, we realized climbing the Vampire would exhaust us too much and severely shorten the day. It was still early to midmorning, and we wanted to climb all day so we opted to keep the routes 5.9 or easier for the rest of the day.
I really enjoyed feeling what it's like to get a second wind, then a third, then a fourth. It’s been too long since I’d experienced the dynamic of a team effort on something that big, how if you have a good partner anytime one is ‘down’ on the objective the other is positive to counter it. It was fun to experience again, having heard Shay talk about it with regards to their recent Evolution Traverse in winter. Also, it was a true pleasure to climb with someone who made me feel like the negative one. Ben “Zoom” Horne is a true master of endless psyche!
I only saw Ben get a little flustered once, and I think I giggled for 30 minutes at the cause. I pulled over a bulge on The Long Climb and found Ben’s upper third protruding from the “Mummy Crack” offwidth section of the climb. In his exhausted state, he’d built a belay in the back of the squeeze chimney and was miserably wadded in there. Unable to progress, he’d decided it would be faster to break the section into pitches and bring me up and let me lead the remaining offwidth. I climbed up to him laughing my ass off, grabbed the gear, and managed to thrash the outer part of the squeeze over him as he wadded his whole body into the back of the crack to give me room(insert more laughter here).
Late in the endeavor we soloed White Maiden’s Walkaway. For Ben, White Maiden’s Walkway was a highlight of the trip. He would add it to his previous list of Open Book, Fingertrip, El Camino Real and The Vampire as “essential Tahquitz” It’s a very long route that maintains it’s high quality from start to finish with no 4th class pitches. At the same time, it was easy enough to solo in approach shoes (which gave our poor toes a break!). But by the last pitch, Ben’s soloing head was all used up, and pulling the last 5.3 slab move without sticky rubber was one of his greater mental efforts of the day. After that we chose to rope up for the remaining nine pitches we climbed; soloing is great when fresh, not such a good idea when mentally, and physically devastated.
We didn’t have any cut and dry plan for number of pitches, but 60 pitches was a low-end goal, 100 pitches the optimistic high-end goal. Two miles was also a number we threw around before we understood what we were talking about. We were not sure if we would climb all day long, a full 24 hours, or somewhere in between. But the essential goal was climbing till exhaustion on amazing rock. Our main inspiration and the source of some lesson learned that they passed on to us was Doug and Greg’s all-night Tahquitz challenge last fall.
It was fascinating to see critical thinking and memory fail as the pitches fell. For example, we brought multiple tiblocs, but never used them once because we kept forgetting them in the packs every time we returned (which was often!). For Ben a highlight was timing the first climb (Fingertrip in 28 minutes) then never timing another climb all day, free from the shackles on the wristwatch! Another definite highlight for us both was knowing when to pull the plug on the endeavor. The sun set, the wind picked way up, and we had to pitch out sections we were soloing 40 pitches before. Safety started to be a concern, so we knew we should call it.
Back safely at the car, Ben’s hallucination was about to start. After the hallucination, Ben started drifting off and started speaking complete gibberish. When I asked him questions, more gibberish followed. The amusement from that kept me awake for at least 30 minutes and got us half way home before we pulled over so we could both sleep. Ben missed the text, but Doug had texted us that if we executed the day properly, there is no way we should drive home after.
Tahquitz pitches are long, almost always over 100’, and physical , even at the lower grades. Our 61 pitches essentially doubled my previous biggest day on the rock; Ben had climbed ~50+ pitches in his life in all of his previous trips to Tahquitz. So 100 pitches at Tahquitz, even if they're "easy," aren't easy at all. 100 in 24 hours would be tough, I think maybe only doable for us if most everything were 5.9 and below and we’d need to spend more time on the longer routes of the NW Recess with a proper rappel from that side to prevent us from beating up our feet. But, we got what we wanted: an amazing joyful day that worked us to completion.
Beta for those attempting it in the future: put your packs right at the base of your rap lines. Use single rope raps—very fast! We used two ropes to set up rappels on The Open Book and then moved them to The Trough. Simulclimb on something less than a 50m rope. Avoid slow/physical climbs late in the endeavour, like the Mummy Crack of the Long Climb. Have the second carry a cinch or grigri or other autolocking belay device so they can take up slack and belay when the leader moves slow when simuling. You can use Tiblocs at the cruxes to protect the leader from a follower fall at cruxes (though we were always forgetting ours at the packs). Know the crag very well, and ideally have done many of the climbs before—this will make climbing faster and routefinding easier. Also, if you want to make it a full 24 hours, I think it’d be best to sleep during the day and start in the dark in the evening so you don’t have to finish in the dark. It’s tough to keep the psyche when climbing well into the night after you’ve climbed the whole day and then some. In addition, it’s probably more dangerous. That’s why we called it at 9:45pm. It’s hard to keep coherence and psyche high when exhausted in the dark. Do this on a weekday so that the crag is clear of people. I can't imagine trying to run up that many moderates up there with lines on them. It just wouldn't be possible, or you'd be extremely rude passing so many parties.
Ben Horton, not only being a professional photographer, is starting to dabble in videography and threw together this video of our adventure:
Josh Higgins and Ben Horne, May 1, 2012., Tahquitz.
15 routes, 61 pitches (29 solo, 23 simul, 9 pitched out). Time: 16h45 min.
Distance: ~7500'-8000’? (~ 4000' solo)
Routes climbed in order:
The Chauvenist (simul)
Left Ski Track (solo)
Right Ski Track (simul)
The Edge (mix, solo and pitching it out)
Mechanic's Route (simul)
Open Book (simul)
Jensen's Jaunt (solo)
Fingertip Traverse (solo)
Angel's Fright (solo)
The Trough (down-solo)
Wong to Long Climb to Whodunnit (solo, pitches, and simuling)
White Maiden's Walkaway (solo in approach shoes since feet HURT)
Frightful Variation to The Trough (simul) into Piton Pooper (pitched out)
Dave's Deviation into Jam Crack (pitched it out)
We’ll be back to attempt 100 pitches in 24 hours, again. Due to my busy schedule from school, and Ben’s busy schedule running ultra-marathons, we didn’t have many options on days we could attempt this. Here’s a list of factors working against us that we’ll mitigate next time to ensure success:
- I worked til 9pm the night before, so we only had ~ 4 hours of sleep before attempting this shenanigans.
- I had a massive amount of studying I needed to do, and Ben had an appointment the next morning with his advisor, so we had a mental disincentive to pull the plug early. Although I don't think this had much of an impact because safety was the primary reason we stopped. I think we'll need a full rest day planned afterward to have something to look forward to.
- We had both run the La Jolla Half two days previously, and while Ben is an endurance monster that was the first time I'd ever run that far and I did it in under 8 minute miles.
- We didn't have a good rappel for the N. side of Tahquitz. We need to figure out better logistics for climbing those routes. As a result we didn't get on the Larks or other easier routes that would have easily added many pitches.
Thank you so much Lea, Erin, and especially Horton! Most importantly, as usual you just can't do this stuff without a partner worth their weight in gold: Ben Horne thanks for showing me what a good attitude is all about!