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Tahquitz Trad Climbing, Idyllwild, California

August 10, 2007

Author and Climber: Larry Earley

I had a quick work trip to Los Angeles and Friday was my day off so why not try a new climbing area. No partner. Call a guide service. Vertical Adventures is run by Bob Gaines. The new Falcon guide to Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks was written by Randy Vogel and Bob Gaines. I got a guide named Tony Grice who was great. He says he has climbed every climb at Tahquitz 10b and under more than 30 times each. Tahquitz was the birth place of modern US climbing well before Yosemite so it is a must visit. Tahquitz has nice granite and like Yosemite granite but no glacier polish. It is much better quality than Cochise Stronghold granite. Tahquitz is big. The climbs range from 3 to 8 pitches. There are more than 200 of the main routes. The early history of Tahquitz is a must read for any climber. Idyllwild is a cool mountain town at 7000 feet with lots of hotels, camping and food. I came into town on a quiet Thursday night. Idyllwild is close to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. It looks close to LA on the map but LA now goes all the way to Palm Springs. I left my work meeting in Torrance at 3:30pm. I thought I might miss rush hour by just a little. Wrong. It is like 100 miles all on freeways so when it took 4 hours; I started to hate Tahquitz before I got there. Yes that is an average of 25 mph on freeways. I did miss most of the rush hour. There was at one time 7 lanes going east and all stopped. Really. There wasnít an accident or anything. I had the radio tuned in to traffic reports. That was a good night for commuting. Riverside still had five lanes going 30 mph. WOW. I got a great room at the Idyllwild Inn. Very nice. They have cabins and rooms.

Looking down Coffin Nail from the belay.

Friday morning was perfect weather. I met Tony and we drove up to Humber Park and parked the car. There is a hike up to the rock. It was a good trail and took 30 minutes all uphill. We went for the West Face to climb in the shade. The weather said a high of 85 degrees in Idyllwild. There are so many classics that it is hard to decide. Tony suggested a four pitch link up of Coffin Nail (5.8) and Traitor Horn (5.8). This turned out to be the best 5.8 climb I have ever done on a multipitch trad route. Pitch one can be done several ways and is just a nice warmup. The Coffin Nail pitch is awesome hand jamming with some slight complications like a short chimney, an off balance crack with no feet, followed by a small roof with finger locks and finishing with some jams and flakes. All this on perfect granite. Every move is 5.8. I was paying attention all the way. The roof looks tough until you get a perfect finger lock. It would be a very tough lead for the 5.8 leader. Coffin Nail does have great gear placements all the way. Not really any good nut placements but take double 0.75, 1 and 2 inch cams. When you get to the belay you see the Traitor Horn. This is so cool. There are lots of photos at Mountain Project and rockclimbing.com. There are two horns. The first is the traitor horn and the second is the real horn.

Crux of Traitor Horn.

Traitor Horn will test you even if you feel good at 5.10 trad. There is the traverse, the old pitons, the traverse, the roof mantle with the BEST EXPOSURE anywhere guaranteed. There is no pro for the roof mantle and yes a third unprotected short traverse above the worlds greatest EXPOSURE. YES THAT IS THE BEST EXPOSURE I HAVE SEEN. When you stand on the horn you are 300 feet directly above nothing. The tip of the horn where you stand is three feet long and one foot wide narrowing down to four inches. The horn is part of a formation that sticks out 30 feet from the wall with a huge overhang falling away. The EXPOSURE is actually far better than Indecent Exposre at Hueco Tanks. Really. The horn sticks out above the two super classic climbs Open Book (5.9) and The Edge (11a). Tobin Sorenson lead The Edge in 1975. After two 40 runouts on 11a he stood and drilled a bolt. The story goes that after standing there for ever his drill broke before he finished. He somehow got the bolt in and lived. The view down from the horn lets you see The Edge and the thought of leading that 11a with no pro is unbelievable. The fourth pitch is rated 5.0 for 200 feet in the guidebook. Actually the climb isnít over yet. The first 100 feet is super runout 5.6 friction slab climbing. There are two bad gear placements in the first 100 feet. The second 100 feet is 5.0 with lots of gear. If you fell 50 feet above the belay on the few 5.6 friction moves you might actually fall over the overhang 50 feet below. Maybe. I thought about it. It is a Tres Piedras 5.6. Yes the climb is still not over. To get back down you must do the Friction Route descent. It is fourth class and it is tricky to find the best way the first time. Tony said there have been a few deaths when people got off route.

Mounting the horn.

Tony gave me several options to do more climbs. I was tired so I chose the single pitch called Human Fright (10a). It looked great. There are not too many short climbs and I didnít want to do another four pitches and descent. Human Fright is great. It is 80% hard 5.9 with a few 10a moves. That is Tahquitz 10a which is like a Yosemite 10a. The climb follows a right facing corner with great hand jams and laybacks. The face to the right is mostly blank with a few slopey foot holds. The left foot is jammed into the crack for your life. The 10a sections have right foot smears. It is very sustained. Great pro all the way. No nuts. The cracks donít seem to pinch off ever. Bring cams with doubles in 0.75, 1 and 2 inch sizes.

Heading back to  Idyllwild my side going west is fine. Well the rule must be only go to Idyllwild on a weekday. It was a sight to be seen. I did live in southern CA for a few years a long time ago. The traffic was way beyond my comprehension. We have it good climbing in NM. Go to Tahquitz on a weekday and have a blast. Call Tony Grice for guide service at Vertical Adventures 800-514-8785. Tony has guided up to 11a at Tahquitz. He also guides in Joshua Tree. Tony is AMGA Certified and warns there are a lot of poor guides at Joshua Tree so checkout who you hire.

Now its time to go. It is Friday night. As I leave hundreds of cars are pouring into Idyllwild for the weekend. It was scarier than Traitor Horn. When I reach I-10 I see an even scarier sight. As I make my way to Ontario Airport I pass 40 miles of bumper to bumper traffic in all four lanes going toward Palm Springs.

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