Lover's Leap

May 16-17, 2009

Saturday, May 16

This was my first trip to Lover's Leap, the great moderate rock climbing area near Tahoe.  I went with Marie Cardenas, Kristian Eide and Larry Wright, all of whom have experience there.  We were thinking of going back to the Pinnacles to try out Machete Ridge, but there was a heat wave this weekend and it seemed the weather near Tahoe, while still on the hot side, would be a lot more bearable.  We decided to drive there Saturday morning and hope to get a camp site.  We left a little after 6:30am, I think, and were making good time when we saw info lights flashing on highway 50 and on the radio heard there was a big accident east of Sacramento and the road would be closed at least until noon.  The accident apparently happened around 4:30 in the morning and involved a big rig, fuel spilled onto the road, and a fire.  Using Kristian's iPhone, GPS, and also a paper map we figured a good detour would be to take 16 and 49 around the accident, and this worked well although we lost a lot of time, and didn't get into the campground until maybe 11am.  Still there were some sites left (of course everyone else would have the same problem getting there from the Bay Area), and we found a particularly nice one, number 12, one of the furthest from the parking lot.  Site 11 adjacent was also open so we called a couple, Jeff and Lila, who were going to meet us and told them to take it.  They managed to get in just before another couple took that site.  Larry had contacted Jeff and Lila via an email list; they were looking for someone to climb with and he suggested they join us, so we hadn't actually met them before.

I still have a backpacking mentality and haven't really figured out car camping, so I brought very little: all my camping equipment plus rock climbing gear fit into one backpack, one dayback, and a rope bag (plus the sleeping pad).  Marie and Kristian brought a lot more and Larry more still.  Here's our camp site before we set up; the picture was taken at about 11:30am.

I was really impressed with the campground, one of the nicest I've stayed at.  Very well laid out and just beautiful.  We had a great view of the main wall of Lover's Leap from our site.

We set up camp and then headed up to climb.  We didn't climb on Lover's Leap itself but rather spent both days on the Hogsback, a smaller formation across from the main wall.  It is the formation north of the campground and Lover's Leap in the map below.

The approach wasn't bad, mostly hiking up a mostly dry stream and then following a climber's trail that goes up through a notch in the formation and then around to the northwest face.  Along the stream we got nice views of Lover's Leap including the East Wall which Kristian and Marie had climbed last year.  (Picture taken about 1:30pm.)

The others wanted to start by doing Knapsack Crack, a 3-star 5.5 three-pitch climb Kristian and Marie had done last year which seemed like it would be a good start to our weekend.  This is a popular climb and not surprisingly when we arrived at the base (maybe around 1:45pm?) there was already a party of four on it.  Here's a picture of the route from the base (taken at about 2:20pm).

The first pitch looked especially easy; I think SuperTopo rates it 5.2 and another web site rates it 4th class.  There's not much difference in those ratings, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from just trying to run up it.  Marie and Kristian would climb together and Larry and I would partner; Larry had gotten only about 2 hours of sleep the night before and was quite tired, so I agreed to lead all three pitches.  The second pitch is rated 5.4 and the third 5.5, so this would perfectly continue my progression of leads from 5.1 in Yosemite to 5.2 in Joshua Tree to 5.3 at the Pinnacles.  Furthermore unlike those previous three climbs this one had plenty of cracks to place gear so I wouldn't have to run things out so much.  I hadn't placed gear since the first two climbs in 2006, so I'd get to practice that on a fairly easy and safe climb.  Since we had a lot of time to wait for the party of 4, who were going extremely slowly, we practiced placing gear at the base.  We also were able to enjoy some nice scenery.

It was fairly hot, though, with little shade, and after a while a party of three who had just climbed Deception (which we would do the next day) came and took the one shady spot.  They seemed to be German from their accents.  When we told them it was going to be a long wait (we were climbing as three parties of two) they didn't seem to mind, and indeed they climbed after us and made it to the top soon after us; apparently the women led and trailed ropes for the two guys.

The party on the route was incredibly slow, and seemed to consist of one person leading and three beginners following.  We ran into the leader later in the campground and he apologized to us, but we would end up having our slow day the next day.  We finally got started around 2:45pm after an hour or so wait, and Marie started up first.  We would still have to wait for the party of four at several other points during the day.  Here is Marie heading up at the first pitch at 2:50pm.

And here she is apparently placing gear, something she didn't do often.  I thought I tend to run things out too much, but she really left big gaps between gear.

Marie didn't want only butt shots, so she posed on a ledge.

Marie made it up to the tree belay easily.  They then made a surprising mistake.  Marie pulled up the rope at some point, but it turned out Kristian had never tied into his end!  So she found herself on the ledge with all the rope and disconnected from everybody!  She tried to throw down the loose end but could only get it so far, so Kristian free climbed to that point and tied in.  Nice to make the mistake on an easy climb, and certainly none of us should do that again!  Kristian had no trouble following the pitch of course.

I then led as Larry belayed me.  One thing we soon determined was that I didn't have a whole lot of gear.  Only one set of nuts (Black Diamond stoppers, 1 to 13), one set of cams (Camalot C4, 0.75 to 3), 10 shoulder-length slings and 2 double-length slings.  Kristian lent me a couple more cams but it seemed my rack was on the light side and I'd need to run things out myself.  Fortunately the terrain was easy enough that I didn't mind that, and I typically went 15 feet or more between gear placements.  There wasn't always as many great places to place gear as I would like, but it was enough.  The climb was great in that it was very easy and there were plenty of excellent stances to place gear at; I could comfortably even use both hands at most of them.  I found I was pretty good at figuring out where to place the gear, what to use, and what size to use.  Sometimes it would take a little while to find the right place and piece, but often I'd get it right on the first or second try.  I especially liked using nuts which worked very well on the first pitch; I seem to recall alternating nuts and cams but I can't remember which pitch that was (probably the first).  I had no trouble making it to the belay.

Marie took some pictures of me leading the first pitch.  First I'm climbing.

Then posing.

Then looking for a spot to place gear.

Then looking for the right gear to place.

And finally placing it.

Larry followed and checked out my gear placements--he was satisfied with them.  He didn't clean anything, though, because Lila decided to lead but wanted to use my gear.  Since I ran things out a bit she placed some of her own.  Jeff had actually climbed a lot, including routes longer and harder (Royal Arches, the first 8 pitches of the NW face of Half Dome, etc) than anything we had done, but he wasn't feeling in good shape and Lila didn't have much or any experience placing gear.  Here is Lila leading at 4:05pm.

She was fine and Jeff followed and cleaned my gear.  They decided to rap down using our anchors, and then apparently went back to climb the route again (or maybe just the first pitch again) the next day.

There was a nice ledge at the tree that could fit several people, and we had up to four there at one time.  Before Lila and Jeff came up Marie and Kristian were gone.  I was on the ledge when Kristian belayed Marie, and they made their second mistake of the day.  They thought they could link the second two pitches with their 60m rope, but it turns out to do that you need to go past the tree belay for the first pitch.  So before Marie could make it to the top she ran out of rope, and by then she was out of sight and hearing range so we couldn't really tell her what was happening.  She did eventually figure it out, downclimbed so she could see us (I can't remember if she could hear us) and built an anchor there.  Kristian then followed.

I led the second pitch and it was certainly harder but still not bad.  I joined Kristian at the second belay which I recall was quite uncomfortable, and he helped me set up my first anchor using gear.  I then had to wait for a while as Larry helped Lila and Jeff rappel and then took down our anchor.  This time he cleaned my gear and reported that it was all very well placed, especially the nuts.  Either on this or the third pitch he had quite a bit of trouble cleaning one of the nuts in fact, but managed to get it out just before he was about to give up.

The third pitch was harder still but again fine, and I think I again used a tree anchor at the top.  The entire climb was a great deal of fun.  My first 5.4 and 5.5 leads, and my first time to lead multi-pitch and set anchors at belays.  It was great to have Marie and Kristian climbing ahead of me to help out.  I took pictures of the scenery at the top (this at 6:30pm).

And here I am in front of the scenery.

Also Kristian and Marie in front of the main wall.

And the main wall closer up.

Marie also took a nice picture of the East Wall.

The descent is easy, fortunately, and we must have made it back to camp sometime between 7 and 7:30pm.  We then walked to nearby Strawberry Lodge for dinner with Lila and Jeff, and then walked back to camp in the dark and went to bed right away.  It was a lot warmer that night than we expected, and I was quite hot in my 15 degree sleeping bag.  Indeed my weather meter showed a low of only around 51 degrees at dawn.  I didn't sleep particularly well but must have gotten in 6 or 7 hours.

Sunday, May 17

I woke up at around 5am but just rested and slept a little more in my tent until 8am when it started getting too hot.  I got up and packed up my stuff before the others got up, and by 9am it was already around 70 degrees I seem to recall.  It seemed it would be a hot day so we wanted to get started early, but we still had to pack up camp and didn't start off until rather late, maybe 10:30 or so.  We decided to do Deception, a 3-star 5.6 climb that Marie and Kristian had also climbed last year and liked a lot; it seemed the next natural climb in the progression.  This is supposedly the most popular climb at Lover's Leap, and not surprisingly a party was on the route so we again had to wait, but we were next in line at least.  Unfortunately thee base of the climb was a rather uncomfortable exposed ledge and there were a lot of bees swarming around.  There was some shade provided by a nearby tree we could sit under while we waited.

Finally we were able to get going.  I didn't bring my camera this day but rather my video camera; however since this was more serious climbing and we had more problems I didn't take much video.  Here's Marie climbing the first pitch at 11:45am.

Larry had slept pretty well the night before so he decided to try leading the first pitch, which was 5.2 I think.  He went up to a ledge below the ledge Marie was on and stopped there.  Marie was waiting for the group ahead of us, and I assumed Larry was waiting for Marie although it turned out she told him her ledge was uncomfortable and he should use the ledge he was on as the belay station; he eventually built an anchor there.  Meanwhile I waited what seemed like forever standing in an uncomfortable position in the hot sun with bees swarming all around me.  They didn't sting, fortunately, but they apparently were very interested in my backpack, whether for the color or the food in it I'm not sure.  There was a party of two who came soon after us and waited for a while but then gave up, which was smart because we ended up taking an enormous amount of time to do the climb.

Finally I got my chance to climb up and clean.  Kristian led the second pitch for their team, and found he ran out of gear before the second belay station, so he had to stop and build an anchor before that point.  The good thing is that he wasn't far so we could communicate easily.  Larry didn't feel he could lead either of the other pitches, and I didn't feel comfortable leading both of them as they looked a lot harder than what we'd done the previous day.  I told Marie and Kristian that perhaps Larry and I should bail after the first pitch, but they said we should at least give it a try and they could set up some kind of toprope if we needed it.  They did suggest that I climb the second pitch without my pack as it was quite balancy.  I'd forgotten about this--in fact when I'd climbed before the leader would climb without a pack and I'd climb trailing their pack on my haul loop, and indeed Kristian and Marie did the same thing.  I asked Larry if he could bring my back up and he wasn't sure if he could, so he asked if we could perhaps send the other rope down to haul it up.

Since I had even less gear than Kristian (and was also starting from lower down!), I asked Marie to leave a few pieces for me--she couldn't leave too many as they'd need most for the third pitch.  I think she left behind two, and there was a nice fixed cam they used that I also took advantage of.  Leading the second pitch was indeed a lot scarier than anything I'd done to that point, but I did it and never felt I was in danger.  It was very helpful that I could follow Kristian and Marie since as the name suggests the route is rather devious and it's not obvious which is the easiest way to go.

Kristian and Marie had moved up to the real second belay station while I climbed, and I made it all the way to them and used their anchor.  Then Marie started up the third pitch.  Soon after Larry, who was in sight but barely audible, indicated he could not carry my pack up along with his.  We realized we'd made yet another mistake--I'd forgotten to tell Kristian and Marie about this so they could use their rope to retrieve the bag.  We couldn't really communicate with Larry, so Kristian and I discussed many scenarios while Marie finished her climb, set up an anchor, and then waited.  We couldn't see or hear her so we couldn't let her know what was going on.  After a lot of discussion, Kristian and I couldn't come up with any other option than to get Larry to bring both packs up somehow.  It seemed the easiest would be to dump all of my water and put Larry's pack, which was smaller than mine into mine, into my own pack, which didn't have much in it, and then wear my pack.   Perhaps he'd need to clip my hiking shoes onto his harness.  But we couldn't convey this to him.  We did finally managed to tell him to empty the water out of my pack, at least, and he rigged up a sort of long haul line to drag the pack up behind him, trying to let it rest on ledges so it wouldn't interfere with his climbing.  Impressively this ended up working and I managed to get my pack back, although it got scraped up and one small hole was made in the outermost pocket.  Larry said he enjoyed the engineering challenge of getting the pack up, and he did a great job.  In retrospect I should have just climbed with the pack which is very comfortable and wouldn't have affected my balance much.  But I didn't know just how hard the climb was going to be and felt I needed every advantage.  After all you really, really don't want to fall on a lead climb, and I was not comfortable at this level of difficulty.

Larry couldn't get one of my nuts out as well so I lost a #12 stopper.  A small price to pay for a safe climb, though, and I'm happy my nut placements were so secure.  At least all my cams came out--there was a second "fixed" cam protecting the final traverse of the second pitch.

The second pitch must have taken well over an hour.  Fortunately although it was hot there was a decent breeze and it was not too bad.  I'd lost my water (I brought 3 liters) but Kristian and Marie still had plenty.  Once Larry made it up to the ledge Kristian went up the third pitch.  I asked him to leave all of Marie's gear, only to find when I climbed that she'd only put in 3 pieces, so I had to add a couple of my own.  The third pitch had some tough sections, not many good gear placements, and some of those seemed like they'd be from insecure stances, so I was happy to use Marie's gear.  On the other hand I'm not sure I can really count these as 5.6 leads, then, since I was using some "pre-placed" gear.  On the other hand there was also fixed gear that everyone was using and they'd still say they led it properly, so it's a gray area.

It was great to finally make it to the top, and Larry followed soon after.  Here he is at the very end as the slope lessens considerably.  I hadn't recharged the camcorder  battery in a long time and it ran out cutting off this video.

This video was taken at 4:05pm so it had taken us over 5 hours to do this relatively easy climb.  We definitely need to work on speed!  But it's great we're able to learn a lot on easy climbs before we get ourselves into trouble.

We hurried back down and drove back to the Bay Area, first stopping at a very good Indonesian restaurant in Berkeley and then getting home a little after 10pm.

All in all a great weekend, and both climbs were terrific.  It's quite mentally draining for me to lead multiple pitches in a row, so if I try anything harder I'd like to make it single-pitch or be able to swap leads, but this was a great experience and I've learned an enormous amount and also managed not to hurt myself or anyone else.  It's important to find a good group of friends to climb with who think similarly and get along well, and I'm really happy to be climbing with Larry and Marie and Kristian.  We're heading to the Valley for Memorial Day Weekend for more climbing and I'm really looking forward to that.