Tahquitz Rock, Hoodenett Route

By: Gary Clark | Climbers: Gary & Lynn Clark |Trip Dates: April 25-27, 1999

Photo: Gary Clark

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California Dreaming

I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA
(- The Mamas and the Papas)

It started with an e-mail:


I don't know if you get to SoCal very often, but Whodunit (II+ 5.9) at Tahquitz is certainly a national classic. It's not as long as many of the others on your page at only 6 (50m) pitches bottom to top, but it has something for everyone. The 5.9 crux is on P1, a couple of balancey face moves. The rest of the route goes at no harder than .8+: fingers and hand cracks, a chimney on P3, and a really cool (and easy) finish at the top of the crag overlooking all of Tahquitz and Suicide rocks. It also meets your aesthetic criteria: anyone who looks up at this dihedral is compelled to climb it. History? How about a Royal Robbins stealth FA, as discovered by the second "first" ascent party?

A few final details:

Guide: Gaines "Tahquitz/Suicide" guide
Gear: standard rack nuts to #4 cam, small cams useful and double your #1s
Fixed gear: not much aside from 3-4 rusty original pins and one bomber fixed LA at start of last pitch, which is appreciated after a somewhat run out slabby section.
Approach: vintage Tahquitz, 30 minutes of uphill trudging on climbers trails
Descent: Tahquitz north or south slabs
Crowd factor: moderate to high, minimal on weekdays
Season: Fall is best, spring pretty good, summer... get an early start.


Fritz Lowrey sent this e-mail back in October, and I was instantly interested. Although I had lived in California for over 15 years during which time I sampled most of the major climbing areas in the state, I had never been to Tahquitz. I ordered the guidebook, and was interested to learn that many of the legends of the sport during the "Golden Years" of American rock climbing had cut their teeth on the excellent granite at Tahquitz. A legitimate claim could be made that this era and location represented the birth of modern rock climbing in the U.S. Fritz didn't have photos of the route, so there was little choice but to go do it myself to see if it measured up to the rigorous standards for inclusion in the collection. I checked my calendar and found a business trip to Los Angeles in April - a little early perhaps, but the best I could do. I added a three-day weekend to the trip itinerary in hopes that we could get from LA to the rock, get the climb done, and return in time for my business.

April 23: We landed at LAX and inquired at the Budget desk about the cheapest rentmobile that sleeps two. It turned out to be a Ford station wagon and soon we were on the legendary LA freeways, refreshing my rusty aggressive driving skills and wrestling with the map. If you miss an exit, you could wind up the La Brea tar pits with the mastodons. Lynn's skillful navigation brought us eventually to the mountain village of Idyllwild, where we had no trouble finding the county campground. The good news was that it is essentially empty. The bad news was that there was a good reason - the weather sucked! It was cold and raining steadily, with snow probable on the route a couple thousand feet above town. We settled into the back of the station wagon for the night to the steady patter of rain and sleet with the sure knowledge we wouldn't be climbing tomorrow, and maybe not at all on this trip.

April 24: The rain was still with us, but Lynn came up with a great idea. Three hours later we drove in the south entrance of Joshua Tree. We had the brought the guide book just in case, but we were so intrigued just to be back in the high desert environment that rather than climbing, we just pulled the car over at the mouth of a big arroyo, grabbed binoculars and a bird identification book, and headed up to see where it would take us. Within a few minutes we were reveling in the flora, the fauna, and the warmth of the sun. Four hours later were back at the car very happy with our decision. The arroyo had been fascinating, with great geology, cacti, flowers, and birds. We had to scramble some walls to get around steep drops where erosion had sculpted the rock into fantastic forms. The sticky rubber approach shoes were perfect for this. We ended the day with four species of birds new to us.

April 25: We chose an arbitrary high point out in the distance, which turned out to be called Pinto Peak, and climbed it. It was an all-day proposition, with a 10-mile round trip and about 2200' of gain. A great day. We had time left over to drive back to Idyllwild before dark. Since the previous two days had been warm and reasonably clear, we were hoping the rock would be clear of snow. It was anything but guaranteed, particularly since the route we were after is on the North side. Upon arrival we got a good view of the rock from town and were encouraged. There was very little visible snow, so we grabbed a shower at the campground to get the desert dirt off and started sorting gear in an optimistic mood.

April 26: Up for an alpine start by habit, we drove up to the parking lot at the end of the road and noted that we are the only car here. Since this is a three-star classic at the most accessible major climbing area to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, we had guessed that perhaps there might just be some pressure on the route. Wrong. Not only would we have the route to ourselves, but the entire rock! We remain completely amazed by the fact that, to our best knowledge, nobody else climbed at Tahquitz by any of the documented 69 routes on this day. Of course, the weather had been bad and there was still some snow on the ledges, but this wouldn't have made much difference in Red Rocks or Yosemite.

9:00am, Base of the route: In spite of the claim of being an obvious line, a little inspection led to the conclusion that the routes at Tahquitz are so densely packed after 50 years of development that locating your chosen route may not be trivial. We finally settled on a starting point and I confidently started up the perfect granite, the first I had been on in some time. Since moving to New Mexico, we had found more climbing opportunities on basalt, sandstone, and quartzite than on granite, and this required some recalibration. The first calibration came when I slotted a #2 Stopper™ into the tiny crack leading over the crux overhang on the first pitch, attempted to move up, and found myself hanging from it! On later reflection, I realized that this was only the second leader fall I've ever taken on traditional protection, and this on a wire more like a fishing lure than a climbing anchor. The rock was slicker than anything I'd been on recently (particularly compared to sandstone), so this move took some rethinking. The second try went fine, but the experience did not engender confidence, and the rest of the day I climbed poorly with over-cautiousness because of it.

Pitch 1 can end hanging from slings on a small tree in the dihedral at 50m., or one can stop at about 35m at a comfortable 3-bolt belay just a few feet to the left at the official belay point for the "Edgehogs" route. I thought this was a no-brainer and a pattern was set that lasted the rest of the day - I didn't worry much about the "official" belay spots, since there were plenty of options and few fixed anchors, and we ended up doing about 9 pitches rather than the 6 shown on the topo. Even though this is rated grade II+, it is a much bigger route than, for example, the Mace at Sedona, which has the same number of official pitches.

Arriving at the base of pitch 3, we confirmed what we could see from the ground - the cracks and face were running with water. This was not a reasonable option after my fall off the dry rock below! The topo revealed a bypass to this section at about the same level of difficulty, so we exited right, first up a superb diagonalling flake, then a nice hand jam to gain a belay back on Whodunit above the wet. This diversion was one of the best pitches of the day. Lynn was not totally enjoying it, though, because her hands had lost all feeling. I was chilly as well, but warmed up on lead enough to make it through the belay. A wind jacket and belay gloves would have been smart. Lynn didn't warm up until several pitches higher, when we finally caught the afternoon rays of the sun high in the long dihedral that defines most of the route. Now we were supposed to begin diagonalling right toward the summit. I'm not sure we got it exactly right. It's likely that we traversed a bit early, and finished on a route called 'The Long Route' (naming in the early days didn't demonstrate quite the creativity we see now). Nevertheless, even with our variations, each pitch of the day was superb and the climbing quite varied - hand jams, lay-backs, and finally a friction pitch to gain the easy ground of the summit slabs. This last pitch was the only one for which plug-and-go protection wasn't so obvious; whether it was the correct last pitch or not I may never know, but the topo indicates the last pitch of the official route is similar - a friction slab with less than perfect pro. My guess is that Whodunit doesn't corner the market on quality at Tahquitz; however, the location and length of this particular route makes it a good choice to exemplify the entire area.

The summit was memorable; a clear day, warm sun on heavily sculpted granite, with a good view of the entire area. Again we marveled that we were completely alone! Now for the descent; let's see . . . it was obvious we wanted to get off the rock via the gully to the NE (rather than the friction route), since it was only a few yards away. After that surprisingly easy exercise, we chose to go around the rock clock-wise to get back to our packs. Route finding was easy - any direction we looked there was a trail, so we couldn't get lost! Thousands of climbers exploring variations have honeycombed the brushy slopes with classic climbers' trails. At a fairly arbitrary spot we began a traverse to get around the long West buttress to regain the North side. The entire exercise was lengthy (probably 45 minutes), but technically trivial. We approached our packs to note that only the new one had been chewed through by the squirrels. We had buried our food items in a separate bag off at a distance under a pile of rocks, but I had forgotten a candy bar in the lid of my pack. Our efforts at concealment of the food bag were also in vain - the lucky rodents had packed off every grain of food, which comprised at least a full package of cookies and enough cheese and crackers and candy bars for a sizeable lunch for two humans. If you see some really fat squirrels around there, you might remind them of the wisdom of a healthy diet.

We went back to town for another shower, then a celebratory dinner, before beginning the drive back to LA. We both agreed that this was one of the finest pure granite climbs of its length and type we had ever done. Comparisons were inevitable; it reminded me of the North Face of Fairview, but longer and more continuous in difficulty. There was no easy or poor quality climbing anywhere on the route - each pitch would be memorable if it were on any climb. Since the climb goes essentially straight up to the summit in a long elegant dihedral on the highest piece of a very attractive rock, the aesthetics were there, as noted by Fritz in his e-mail. In short, a route that I feel belongs not only in the collection, but perhaps even in the "Top 50." I'll have to think a while on that. .

Notes: I felt that the pitch ratings were on the "Golden Years" scale, when something at the edge of possibility for the best climbers of the day was rated 5.9. Many such routes at Tahquitz were upgraded later. I would certainly not suggest upgrading the difficulty rating, but you shouldn't go expecting the 5.7 to be a hands-in-the-pockets exercise; in the 1950s, 5.7 was considered serious climbing and you might find, as we did, that it still is. The fact that routes like Whodunit were done by the pioneers in Vibram- (or worse) soled boots gives me new respect for their boldness and skill.