I set out yesterday to have a climbing session with a little trail run. But along the way...
I've been eager to try out a top-rope soloing system, and I thought that the Bear Wall on Mt St Helena would be a perfect place. I had run past the cliff last fall and spied what I thought would be a straightforward 4th class approach to the ledge system that runs across the middle of the face and above the first tier of routes. Ideal, I thought, for setting up a top rope session. So I packed up my gear and a static line and headed out.
I ran into a group of 13 & 14 year-olds, their teachers, and a climbing instructor getting ready to lead them up to the Quarry. The instructor and I recognized each other from last fall, nodded a friendly hello, and then I decided I wanted to be gone. So I took the more direct, shadier, and steeper old trail up the stream, past the Quarry and to the cell-tower road. Cumulus clouds and a light air glided across the sun and my skin to keep me cool, and after a steep scramble I reached the left side of the Wall.
I stopped for a moment to re-organize my gear and get some water. Then I put on my harness, racked my equipment, and put on my climbing shoes. I carefully stacked the rope in my pack so that I could easily pull it out when I reached the anchor for the first climb. Then I shouldered my pack and took off.
The route I had envisioned proved to be steeper then it looked from the ground. Doesn't it always? It was dirtier too, the rock was covered with this dry scabby lichen that crumbled under my hands. Soon I was making 4th class moves high above the ground, finally standing atop a pillar, only to be stumped by a simple 5th class move. I just couldn't commit. I didn't have the confidence in the stone that I know I'll have in July after a month of climbing rock. And between my stance on the pedestal and that step-and-pull across the gulf onto the sloping edge was a 40-foot drop to the ground. So I retreated, I bailed, I chickened out, I down-climbed, I saved myself, I lived-to-fight-another-day, I drank some water and wondered, "What the f...?"
Looking at the hand-drawn lines in the only guidebook in print, a staple back, and it appeared that another possible approach existed on the right side of the cliff. So I moved over and tried this new corner, 4th class again but across cleaner, more confidence-inspiring rock. But then I was stumped by a final 10 feet of vertical/mildly overhanging, and no visual promise that it would work. So down again, carefully feeling for the holds and stepping on the edges that I had moved upwards on not so long ago.
After all this time, I'm still on the ground with the rope at my feet and nothing to show for it. And now I've run out of time and drive to do anything else but to take off the shoes, the equipment, the harness and stow it all in my pack. A few more minutes and I'm trotting down the trail leading away from the right side of wall.
This trail is a much better option to the left. It descends gradually instead of steeply, graded instead of gravely, through desert oak and pine trees instead of down a wash, improved instead of eroding, and regained the road by a mellow opening in the trees instead of a steep and sudden embankment. Note to self.
20 mintes later I'm sweating and breathing hard. I ran the other trail back to the parking lot, the trail I had avoided before for being the least steep, longer, and sunnier route to the cliff.
So instead I had a trail run with a little bit of 4th class climbing and pack training thrown in!