Idyllwild Monster Bloc
I was so ready to throw in the towel. One more catastrophe and I would have lost it.
My wife, Michelle and I have been fighting a battle against fate and it felt like we were losing until the very end. We sold our house. That is, after about $40k worth of repairs. Luckily we have good insurance. So this last weekend was supposed to be our chance to escape the chaos after closing and uncork a bottle of bubbles in in the pines. Idyllwild, CA has been a special place to me ever since I first discovered its existence about eight years ago on a climbing trip on Tahquitz Rock. Michelle and I go at least once a year and always bring our pups… less than two-hour sprint from San Diego. Instead of our typical accommodations in the… affordable… (wink, wink) Bluebird Inn, we opted for an upgrade to a cozy little cabin Michelle found on VRBO. I don’t know why we haven’t done this sooner. This place was incredible. It featured a giant back yard with towering pine trees, all completely fenced in so the dogs could run freely… ideal for squirrel chasing. We got in early afternoon on Saturday, dropped our bags and hit the local market for the necessary aforementioned bubbles and snacks. Earlier that day, a friend reached out to me, knowing that I was in Idyllwild. Chris proposed roping up on a quick route on Tahquitz… that night. “You only live once”, he said. Indeed. Michelle was happy to hang at the cabin with our dogs so I was given the go-ahead. Chris had a two and a half hour drive from his home which put us at the trailhead in Humber Park around 4:30. The approach is nothing to scoff at as it zigzags up switchbacks to a talus field. I believe the hike in usually take folks around an hour or so… we made it in just over half that. Our speedy ascent paid off as route finding took longer than it should have. But alas! We found where we should be and wasted no time racking up for Fright Night, 12a. I lead the first pitch which starts out on easy layback flakes and great pro then suddenly transitions to a super thin layback in a dihedral with small stoppers. The 11+ crux was protected by an old, rusted bolt as you smear and scum your way up. I was about 10-15 feet past the bolt when I tried hopping to the jug at the end of the crux. That’s when time slowed down. My foot slipped and I was traveling away from the jug instead of toward the jug. All I can remember is that I was not wearing a helmet (buried in my new house). Go ahead and make your judgements, I can handle it. When the rope took my weight, I took a pendulum whipper into the dihedral below, smashing my left thigh… worst dead-leg of my life. We were guessing it was about a 25-30 footer. It took me a minute or ten to shake off the shivers but I was able to complete the pitch. The next pitch was a 12a slab that felt super grainy and extremely hard. We bailed. All and all, it was a great time catching up with a friend, it was a fantastic climb and the sunset was more beautiful than any photo could display. With the pounding pain in my leg, I was able to keep up with Chris on the way down. A short five minutes in the car and we were back at the cabin with Michelle, my dogs and IPA in hand.
The following morning, I woke up at around 6am, knowing that Michelle would be sleeping for another couple hours. I decided to set off with my crashpad, shoes and chalk to an unknown area, walking distance from the cabin. My leg was extremely tight and sore but the excitement of what could potentially exist with every bend of the Ernie Maxwell Trail, I didn’t have trouble putting it out of my head. Some exploratory missions are a total flop… this was not one of those. The amount of rock out there was astounding. Most of the boulders are covered in lichen and moss so cleaning was a time killer. That morning, I probably established six or so new lines. A couple of them were quite proud. Made me wish I had someone there to spot me so I didn’t deaden my other leg or worse.
I was just packing my gear into the pad to hike back when Michelle called. Apparently that wasn’t the best night’s sleep for her but nothing coffee can’t fix. We chowed down on toast with cream cheese and fruit spread with strawberries. We each had about three cups of coffee. At the crack on noon, we set out on the trail with the pups, later to find out that dogs were not allowed on the trail. Why? So that they don’t ruin the outdoor experience of others, the sign said. We didn’t like that reasoning. After several miles hiking and gorgeous views of the route I busted my ass on the day before, we took it back to town to check out the new IDY brewery. For future reference, it was time and money well spent. That evening was about as peaceful as anyone could imagine, hanging out on the deck with a glass of wine while our dogs stealthily stalked the fat squirrels in the back yard. As pleasant as it was, and not to say that I wasn’t in the moment or not enjoying the company of my beautiful wife and the tranquility of the pines, but I did have something else on my mind. I was pre-planning my next morning, making sure I didn’t over-indulge on the grape. Early to bed, early to rise. I got a slightly later start that following morning but that didn’t matter in the end, as my skin was more a limiting factor than time. (Thanks to Orbital Climbing Boulder Balm, I’m now back in action!) I immediately threw my pad down below a very tall and very intimidating line I ended up calling Spinnaker because of this giant sail-like feature where you had to mantle then reach the top for a dirty and insecure top-out. That got the ball rolling. I established a good handful of excellent problems on overhanging faces and a couple good slab problems. After feeling completely worked and exhausted, I decided to continue south of the trail just a little longer, just to see what I see. Something tall caught my eye through the pines. I wandered off trail for just a short distance before I was surrounded by fifteen to twenty foot boulders. I must have tripped and stumbled a dozen times since my eyes were up, not down. I followed the ravine another fifty yards and there it was. I stopped in my tracks and stared. I must have had the look of someone who spotted Big Foot. Was my mind playing tricks on me or was this real? I proceeded toward this enormously tall, overhanging face with horizontal gashes, scattered across the entire face. If this boulder is climbable, it certainly won’t be done by me. I’m thinking Nalle might have a new proj. Its 25 feet of overhang with impossible holds and no signs of past climbing. (I’m confident that has not been attempted… small ships broke off starting holds) I tried what I thought would be an easier line up the right side of the boulder, which is significantly shorter. I got shut down to China Town. It was exhilarating just attempting this face. I don’t know how many times I stopped and looked back on my way out.
I was in disbelief of what I had just found. I made it back to the cabin around 11 so we could pack up and be out by noon. Not wanting to tear ourselves away from the charm of Idyllwild, we got in another quick stroll then a small bite at Tommy’s Kitchen. We were desperate to take in as much of the local vibe as possible before rolling down the hill, as the locals say. When I come back, which will be far sooner than later, I have a special little piece of rock in mind that could feature one of the greatest boulder problems ever discovered. And I may redeem myself on the route that put a little swag step. Until then…