After three weeks of dog-sitting I was aching to get back to some good old fashioned sport-climbing. (that’s not at Castle Rock.) I had already done my granite return tour of Tahoe and Yosemite- where I plan to climb a lot in during the fall (especially Tahoe)- and after coming back from Spain and France I was already feeling some limestone climbing withdrawals. I had heard of a place in Humboldt county called Trinity Aretes that apparently houses CA’s best hard limestone climbing. Conveniently, one of my very good friends lives in Arcata, about 1 and a half hours away from the Aretes. Equally as convenient, she also climbs and was willing to take me up there! So, the very next day that my parents came home I was off on the 101 North, driving to go see one of my good friends and climb at a new place- I was stoked! ( all the photographs were taken by Tyler Kappen).
First of all, to those that haven’t been, Humboldt county and the surrounding areas are very, very pretty. They house a nice chunk of California’s precious and beautiful redwoods and, therefore, some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet- so cool! There are a bunch of people walking down 101 with guitars, packs and a thumb in the air and the highway is just surrounded by forest. I got into Arcata around 7 PM after a 6 hour drive from San José. We made pizza and went to an Arcata bar (Where the dress-code is very, very casual. AKA wear absolutely anything) and I knew I was with a bunch of like-minded fellow northern California liberals when we all had a lively debate over who our favorite NPR personalities were. The next morning we slept in a little bit and set off to the Aretes! I was honestly a little bit worried that it would be too hot to climb since the forecast said it would be 95 degrees but Corrina reassured me that the whole crag is north-facing and constantly in the shade. She was right; in fact, on the second day I was complaining like a wimp that I hadn’t brought enough layers.
We got there and did a short but steep approach to the base of the Upper Shooting Gallery wall, one of the most popular walls there. I was with Corrina, her current roommate and her friend from home/former roommate. Suddenly I was supposedly the most experienced climber there (which really never happens too often because I’m not a very experienced climber) which was a fun role to play actually because everything I had to do as apparent “team leader” was pretty simple- lead up some easy to moderate climbs and set up top-ropes for them to try; basically, I got to reap all the mini-self esteem boosts of sort of feeling sort of cool without actually doing anything too special. People did it for me when I was starting out so I’m certainly glad to help when I actually can! It was a good group and we had some fun warming up on the 5.8s on the leftmost side of the crag. I then led a 10b, which was pretty much a one move wonder but a pretty fun route. I also got on “stumble in my footsteps”, a 10c that was steep but had grippy rock, though no real obvious hand holds.. you just had to feel around , though everything was good. In the middle of the route, however, you are given a very awesome flake you get to sort of lie-back on until you reach the crux moves- where the big feet disappear- and you get onto some poorer quality rock that you’re sort of scared will break.
Corrina was right about the weather- in shorts and a tanktop I was comfortable the entire day and wasn’t too hot at all. The only time I could really feel the sun was at about 5 or 6, when the setting sun hit some of the routes we were on. Besides that, conditions were very good considering that in the sun it was probably in the 90s.
Speaking of breaking rocks, a local climber let me in on the fact that the wall’s name “The Shooting Gallery” is not a mere coincidence. It was named because at the Trinity Aretes holds often break and will shoot and bounce off of a rock that forms a natural gully with the main face. So, bring a hemet. ( I was stupid and forgot mine, but we at least had one that we rotated around. Usually we had the belayer wear it). That day I also got on an 11a, Gold Rush, that looked absolutely incredible. One of the things I have missed most about Spain are the length of the routes. I’d say a 20m route there is considered moderate- long and 30-35m routes are pretty damn common. (a lot of longer harder routes, too). Here in CA I’ve mostly come across short sport routes, maybe max six to eight bolts or so. Gold Rush was about 30m long and featured 14 glorious bolts. I’d say 11a is my favorite grade because while it’s not super, super difficult it is challenging enough to keep me engaged and focused on the movement but not so challenging (usually) to get me into high-stress send mode. The crux on gold-rush is down low and I unfortunately went the wrong way the first time I got on it and fell. I tried it again and got it and then on-sighted the rest of the route fairly easily. Though, when I got to the 13th bolt, I had a really hard time clipping it. The hanger was sort of awkwardly placed because it was a bolt that connected Gold Rush with a 5.10d to its left. I went up following the natural line and saw that it was very far out to my left so I down-climbed to some good jugs and made several attempts to get at it. I even got the draw in at one point but because I kept on climbing up and down for a good 5 minutes (and had climbed 12 bolts underneath it) I was so, so pumped and couldn’t clip the draw. I didn’t want the send to be ruined because of this stupid bolt and I figured that the terrain above looked easy and I was so high off the ground that even a long fall wouldn’t be dangerous at all.. so I just skipped it. I made it to the anchor without a problem and was able to tick off a very, very nice 11a. I had never skipped a bolt on a climb that wasn’t less than 10a before so it also came with a fun experience. Gold Rush has got to be the best 11a I’ve climbed here in CA (and one of the best I’ve ever climbed) so if you want to try an 11a and are at the Aretes make sure you don’t miss it. A few photos that Tyler took of me on Gold Rush..
After a nice first day we went to go find a campsite. Luckily, we didn’t have to go very far. There’s some campsite sprinkled along the fire-road that you have to drive on to get to the Aretes and we found a pretty sweet one close by. We made some delicious burritos using a stove form the 90’s (thanks Corrina’s parents) and ate some Spanish turrones I brought as dessert. We may have also eaten some Croatian chocolate I brought as dessert. Evidently, I’m a fan of international sweets.
The next morning we ate our delicious breakfast of bagels (toasted expertly by Corrina via 1990s campstove) and were at the Aretes much earlier than the prior day. I lead up a 10a and set up a TR (almost missed a bolt.. hard to spot!) and also set up a TR for the 10c we did the other day. After rotating through on these 2 climbs we hiked down to go check out the Lower Shooting Gallery. I was pretty anxious to see it because from the upper deck it looked quite nice. You can either hike down or rappel down from the upper deck- we opted for the hike. We met some Humboldt climbers who were cranking really hard on some really overhung 13’s and 14’s.. and I opted to do what looked like a vertical 11c called 420 shadow that was on the visions wall, right below the Upper Shooting Gallery.
The climb was 6 bolts to an anchor, with an option to use a cam to protect the moves below the anchor, but they looked (and others told me) very easy, no harder than 5.9. So, I got at it and what I thought was a straight vertical climb turned quickly into a slab-fest. Usually, things that look vertical are slightly overhung and things that look slabby are vertical.. so I Got this general rule flipped around on me this time! So, like any other slabby climb, I had small feet and really shitty holds. I clipped the 5th bolt off of what was basically a one finger hold with a shitty thumb catch. This was evidently the crux and I onsighted it, only to slip off trying to get to the 2nd to last bolt (aka right before 5.9 territory and the anchors). My foot just slipped off but honestly I wasn’t quite sure what to do at this section. Being slabby you can usually sort of stand on your feet for awhile and figure it out.. this time I just got unlucky and screwed up my foot placement a bit. I gave it a lot more goes.. trying to go left and right and getting encouraging calls from other climbers saying “it goes” but that no one had seen it done before. One of the holds looked suspiciously like the remnant of a broken hold, so this might explain my troubles. (or my inability to climb hard slab) After quite a few tries I just bailed on the route, with aching toes I figured it wasn’t worth it since I was definitely not about to go for the red-point. It was a pretty interesting climb but not nearly as good as the 5.11a I did the previous day.
Right next door to the Shooting Gallery is the Paiasno Buttress which houses a lot of really hard, overhung climbs. I’m talking high 5.13’s and even some 5.14a’s hard. It was cool to watch some people try these climbs, made me almost feel like I Was in Spain again where everything was limestone and almost every cragged housed at least a few 8a’s (5.13b) There are a lot of other sectors that look pretty sweet but that we didn’t get a chance to explore. The Tower of Babble looks like it houses a super proud 12a that is 24 bolts long; I’d love to try that thing.
My little taste-tester of the Aretes left me wanting more but unfortunately I doubt it will happen anytime soon since I’m no-longer a wandering climbing degenerate as I just started my 5th and final undergraduate year at UC Davis. Nonetheless I’m always happy to see new places and it was an enjoyable weekend of camping and climbing with good friends.
We ended off the day just right- with some burgers and trivia. Now that school is officially starting my opportunities to climb will surely dwindle, though I’m going to try my hardest to get outside at least one day of the weekend most weeks. I will continue my training though because as soon as December 14 rolls around I’ll be on a flight back to Barcelona where I will spend 3.5 weeks of doing nothing BUT climbing! Right now, time to hit the books. Today I was told that in 10 weeks I would have to be able to identify 330 birds and learn 90 birdcalls. Half of me is intimidated, the other half is actually pretty excited. In fact, biking through campus, laying on the quad and grabbing at the CoHo soothed my soul like no other. It’s good to be back.