The choice was simple- attend my only class on Monday for 50 minutes while the weather outside was absolutely perfect (even too hot at some points), or skip class and drive an hour and a half to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park to go rock-climbing at Mt. St. Helena. Hmm.. my absolute least favorite class (statistics) or climbing on a Monday (no crowds) in near-perfect conditions… I’ve made harder decisions.
I have climbed several times at Mt. St Helena, mostly at the Bear and the Bubble, the most popular sport climbing crags of the area. The rock is either quartzite or igneous and isn’t of the best quality in the world, but the scenery is absolutely spectacular. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is located right above Calistoga and offers some stunning views of the verdant green Napa Valley landscape below. This time, we decided to try something different and go to Table Rock, a decently big cliff (350 ft) of igneous rock. We heard that the hike is rather difficult and the rock is very chossy, but we decided to go for it anyways. We had the 4 pitch climb “Aloha Patrol” in mind.
The hike is a bit confusing, but after getting lost (unfortunately by descending way too far down.. aka we had to hike all the way back up a decently steep hill ) we finally found a faint path cutting across a gorgeous meadow dotted with some blooming California poppies (it’s been a bit seasonably warm this winter so they seem to be blooming early) that sits below Table Rock. The cliff juts out of the landscape and makes a prominent first impression. What was even better was that we hadn’t seen a single soul since arriving at the parking lot. It was just us, Table Rock, and the soaring Turkey Vultures and swifts above. Due to a late start and our hike lasting a little bit longer than anticipated, we got a little bit of a late start. Since he’s a faster climber, we decided Emmanuel would link both pitch 1 and 2 as well as pitch 3 and 4 and I would follow him up. I wanted to lead the route but was fine with this plan because it would give us more time to try other things at Table Rock that I could lead. We definitely wanted to make sure we had time to do Aloha Patrol, though, so thought this would be the best way of doing things.
As I said, the rock is definitely not of great quality. It is very crumbly and chossy- we both broke a lot of foot holds. The route definitely doesn’t get very much traffic and there was no visible chalk on the wall so quite a lot of hold-searching was in store. A lot of times I found myself pulling on small knobs or pebbles when I’m sure a much better hold was near – I just couldn’t find them. Some of the features were quite interesting- you had lots of crimpers, shallow pockets and some hidden jugs. There was a bunch of really fun movement involved, which is all I really want in a rock-climb anyways. We topped out on the route after about an hour and rappelled twice down to a rocky ledge just before the ground (easy to down climb, just make sure you tie a knot in your rope!) with my 70m rope (well, really closer to 65m now).
The climb doesn’t rank high in my book for rock quality, but it is well featured and does include some pretty fun moves. (and what can beat topping out on a cliff?!) Afterwards, we decided I would lead a route and belay Emmanuel up it, just so I can get more practice doing this. I led a 10c that really felt like an 11a, probably due to its chossiness and hold-searching. We started hiking down right before sunset.. and we both stupidly forgot our headlamps. Fail. The hike is an hour long, so for the last 15 minutes we used the flashlight on my iphone to guide us through the pitch-black darkness- thank you technology! We ended the long day in a perfect way- -with some Mexican food in Calistoga. Mmm…fajitas.
This was my first time climbing outside in about two months, since my return from Spain. I took a month off after my trip and then climbed only in the gym for a month, basically because my motivation was sending me other places and the weather wasn’t too great. I was also nursing a minor injury that has since healed up 100%. But- as I knew it would- the outdoor climbing bug has bit again! I’m planning a trip to Red Rocks for 5 days during spring break and have just recently started training again with the hopes of being pretty strong near the end of May/June so I can try to project something in Donner pass or maybe Humboldt county!
Ah, it feels great to be back!