Back to California- Berkeley, San Francisco, Davis, Sport climbing in Lake Tahoe and eating Fajitas

“Shit! How the hell am I still on these holds? My feet are literally on nothing! I can’t believe they expect me to use this sloper .. though it is sticking…”

My inner dialogue while climbing on granite for the first time in basically a year went a littttle bit like that… with even more expletives. Outwardly, I was climbing awkwardly. I was gripping down way too tight on some holds that looked terrible but had a bunch of friction.  I was nervous, placing and trusting my feet on small crystals or just smearing them on nothing; in other words, I suck at climbing on granite.

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Star Wall at Donner Summit… instagramed!

When I got home from Barcelona I spent a week in San José with my parents.. hanging out with my dog, going to the farmer’s markets, enjoying top-notch climbing gyms like Planet Granite, going on runs in perfect weather without having to dodge a million and a half tourists… but after a week I was bored again and was itching to go to some of my favorite places in California.

So, I did. I packed my car up with the intent to head north and return in about 2 weeks.
My first stop was not so far away- Berkeley and San Francisco. I visited one of my best-friends in Berkeley and I enjoyed getting coffee with her in a quirky North Berkeley café and going up to do a short  walk through Tilden Park. I then crossed the Bay Bridge to stay at my other best friend’s apartment in the Sunset. I love San Francisco. I worked there for a summer as a photojournalist intern at the San Francisco Chronicle  and went to the city all the time while growing up. There’s no other city quite like SF- everything is unique, from the architecture and hills to the neighborhoods like the mission or the diversity of people you see just while walking through Golden Gate Park. It’s also a microclimate- summer in San Francisco is coooold- an aspect that surprises a lot of people who don’t know the city too well.  60 degrees in August is very normal. It is my favorite city in the world… tied with Barcelona but just a little bit closer to my heart (just a *little bit*) My friend Tessa even took me through some side streets in the mission that were absolutely covered with amazing graffiti and street art- somewhere I had never been in the city.

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After getting my Bay Area mini-fix I went up to Davis (where I go to school at UC Davis) with the idea of sleeping there for a night, seeing a few friends and going to Lovers Leap in South Lake Tahoe to do some multi-pitch climbing. However, I was going to meet a friend at Lover’s Leap who had to bail due to an injured finger. I had no plans for a few days so decided to stay in Davis where I joyously walked around campus and got a very clear and strong reminder that I really, really love Davis. I hadn’t been in the area for an entire year so everything felt so remarkably and wonderfully recognizable, comfortable yet in a sense new. I saw friends, got some drinks, ate a bunch of organic locally produced food, walked through the Arboretum, ran through the Greenbelt and played trivia at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen- some Davis classics. Basically, I am excited to spend one more year at UC Davis where I will finish up undergraduate studies as a super senior- whoo!

Though, I was having a good time I was really waiting to go up to North Lake Tahoe to climb at Donner Summit with Chris.  I had never been to Donner Summit so I was excited to do some new sport climbing in my own state and country for once.

Donner Lake

Donner Lake

We started out at The Space Wall on August 14th where I on-sighted a 10d and two 11a’s.. but fell on another really slabby 11a. The idea was to re-acclimate to granite but I realized quickly I had never really “acclimated” to granite in the first place. I did not climb at my limit before coming to  Spain so climbing 11a granite was not easy even though I climb 11a sometimes as warmups on limestone in Spain! Limestone climbs way differently than granite; I had to learn how to be comfortable smearing on basically nothing and learn to stop over-exerting myself gripping way too hard on holds that on limestone would be basically not usable but on granite have enough friction to actually be good. The demands on balance and body position also were way different. Most of the climbing was vertical or slabby  so holding onto a seemingly crappy hold was made a lot easier if I just pushed my body into the wall, which Chris reminded me to do often by screaming up at me “It’s a slab!!!” Some people had told me that European grades are a little softer than the YDS (Yosemite decimal system.. the 5.whatever system we use to grade routes here in the states) but others had told me the exact opposite and I was itching to find out for myself- not going to lie, I was half afraid I would return to the states and be, well, not climbing the grades I thought I could climb. It was really hard to tell because I just wasn’t used to technical slab climbing but it seemed pretty consistent to me. I felt like I could do the routes pretty well if I just had been climbing on granite for a year instead of limestone. Though numbers in the end are not that important (though I would not say they are “meaningless”), it is interesting to make the comparison.

The next day we went to School Rock that is right off the road. I onsighted an 11a called “Escargot” that actually felt like an 11a to me.. aka it was granite but didn’t exactly climb like granite- it was littered with edges and pockets.. it sort of reminded me of a technical version of Margalef. We went there because I had been eyeing a 12c Chris told me I should try called “Penguin Lust”. From the ground it looks like an amazing vertical piece of rock that climbs up thin crimps and pockets- my specialty. The bottom looked thin but doable but I was quite surprised at how hard it was from the ground up.. as was Chris. I fell a few times just trying to go for the 2nd bolt and was getting kind of sketched out because I fell close to the ground and Chris had to take in a bunch of the rope to prevent me from decking which caused me to slam into the wall pretty hard. So, Chris offered to lead it for me so I could try it either on TR first or at least with the first two clipped..but he himself got stuck on the route (sorry Chris.. don’t worry no one reads this blog) and ended up bailing. Evidently it is a little bit harder than he remembered and the heat definitely did not help us. I abandoned the idea of sending it during this trip but definitely intend to return in the fall when the conditions help me rather than hurt me.

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View of the area near Donner Summit

We also visited the Star Wall (see first photo) which is home to the hardest concentration of routes in Donner. Chris had a 13a in mind that he tried a few times and we both tried a 12a called Cookie Mix that was insanely weird. It starts off by slapping up this bulgey rock which leads you to a small overhang and a thin crack. Yeah, neither of us did it.

Unfortunately during this trip I got a really nasty cold. I felt weak, tired and my throat hurt like hell but still managed to get some good climbing in.. with 2 days of rest thrown in there. I also ate some soup and bought pretty much everything I could think of to help lessen the symptoms- I didn’t want to cancel Yosemite because I was feeling under the weather even though I was pretty sure that me downing a bunch of Vitamin C and Zinc wouldn’t do too much..

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Soup ( from a can) .. still good.

On the 19th we went to Mayhem Cove which is in South Lake Tahoe. This was another crag I had heard about but had never been to. Here there was actually a 5.9. What is that you say?! A real warmup?!? In spain I barely ever got to do a true warmup, aka something that is super, super easy and just gets the forearms going a bit.. so doing a 5.9 was a real treat actually. Some other notable climbs..

  • Huntin’ Gator 12b- Wow, this climb is sick. It is a very steep route on blocks that leads to a face with a crux that is all about holding on to some really shitty slopers. I didn’t redpoint it but it seems doable with a litle more fitness and some better conditions to make those slopers feel.. way less slopey! Definitely going to return to do this guy
  • The Riddler 11a – This was a veyr nice 11a that had a little bit of everything- Bulge climbing- which I usually hate but which was actually quite fun- some layback moves, handjams etc. It was also featured, decently long and pretty stout. A proud on-sight.
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

On the 20th I was planning to drive to Yosemite in the afternoon to meet my friend Colleen and do some even more granite climbing.. but with cams and all that fun trad gear. So, in the morning, Chris and I headed to Big Chief, a sector near Truckee in North Lake Tahoe, because it got morning shade. I had been to Big Chief a number of times beforehand one or two years ago so I was really excited to go back and see what I could climb now with more fitness and a way better head. Some routes we tried

  • Too Light to Wait 10b – I on-sighted this a long time ago and it made me feel nervous and I thought it was sort of hard. I warmed up on it this time and it felt very, very easy. Ah- that was satisfying.
  • With Doctor 10d-  I had never tried this before but it looked short and powerful, which it was. Despite screwing up the beta I on-sighted it and didn’t find it too hard. Boom!
  • Scalper 12b – This route is called “Scalper” for a reason; the crux move features a very good but very painful “scalper” pocket. Seriously, I felt like this thing was going to take off all of my skin. The crux, however painful, didn’t seem TOO bad. All of the holds are positive it just involves proper footwork and going for a left hand pocket that is also painful to a sloping rail that leads into a good hold. After that it’s 5.11a climbing on edges. Another project for the fall.

The Sierra Forest (where Lake Tahoe is and a lot of other really cool places) is one of my favorite places in the world. Just driving there from Davis and watching the landscape slowly change  got me giddy and excited to return. The smell of pine trees and mountain air was warmly welcomed. Unfortunately, there was a nearby fire (not the big Rim fire, I was not in Tahoe for that) that made the air sometimes get pretty smokey. Coincidentally there was a big environmental summit being held at Tahoe featuring Al Gore as the keynote speaker .. and then a week later the devastating Rim Fire (which is currently as I write this on August 27th only 20% contained) is raging through the Sierras. The entire situation got me thinking a lot about climate change and our impact upon the global ecosystem (and more selfishly about how this will affect climbing and other outdoor pursuits) but I won’t delve into that topic- this blog is only for superficial things, damn it!

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Yes! Pine Trees!

Still, we were not without our mountain crisp air during most of the time.. and we also weren’t without our Mexican food- FINALLY real Mexican (at least California Mexican) food! Ah, Spain may know a bunch about olive oil and have that whole Mediterranean diet thing down (which apparently is a “World heritage” diet.. which makes absolutely no sense to me but I digress) but they’ve got nothing on some good old burritos and fajitas served to you in a beautiful setting right by Lake Tahoe- not a bad way a to end a trip and start a new one. The next afternoon after our session at Big Chief I was off to Yosemite to spend three days with my friend Colleen who works in Tuolumne Meadows.

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STEAK FAJITAS!! nom

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