notes on San Diego rock climbing


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Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 13, 2009 - 09:25am PT
bvb's Premium Miniature concept was ahead of its time.

True, you probably won't garner any "mass media sponsorship"
and the "conquistadors of the useless" probably won't be around,
since the stellar rock climbing recreation in this region is anything
but useless.

True, there are no "crevasse" to fall into, and you probably
won't need a "helo rescue" but the serious brush guarding
and hiding the excellent stone of San Diego county is one
of this regions finest attributes.

Why the obvious route finding challenges, and the inherent
skills demanded by this type of terrain have not been widely
accepted - I have no idea.

Route finding skills, and dealing with the environment on its
own terms (you will have no choice) are universally upheld
in our sport, and San Diego rock climbing falls right in line
with these interests.

So, if you think that the brush is just too "icky" for you,
or feel it is better to let others develop and maintain the
access paths, then please, go to Joshua Tree.
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 09:31am PT
And if you climb here, and if you get lost in or mauled
by the landscape, you are far from alone.

How many times have I heard "real climbers" bitching
and whining about this really neat aspect of challenge
provided by the terrain? Because of a few scrapes?

More times than I can count.

"eww, its hard to find things at Woodson"

And the problem being?
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 09:36am PT
I had supposed than the new school had universally
come to terms with this key attribute, but I guess it is
still the Provence of those who accept climbing as a
means of connecting to the natural world, and not only
"accept" the terrain, but celebrate it as an integral
part of the experience.
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 09:52am PT
Remember, these are tiny climbs, hardly routes at all,
so the challenges for today's super climbers appear to
be few.

Look again.

Has Laverne had an onsight lead?
Has Starving in Stereo? (believe it has been led)
(Good on ya if you have)

And there are countless others.

Aliens and offset nuts have given climbers the tools
they need to perhaps put a new face on the game,
if they choose, and the game is the onsight lead.

What's the matter? Afraid of hitting the deck? True,
the ground is only maybe 30 to 50 feet under you,
and therein lies the spice.

Remember, the runout lead high above pro is only
one means of adding "voltage" to free climbing.

And, you are advised to lace it up, since eating dinner
with a fork is its own reward, and getting hurt far from
the car, deep within the densely foliated terrain could
be a bad scene.

Trad climber
Nov 13, 2009 - 09:58am PT
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 10:05am PT
It's all about attitude, and how you view the outdoor
resources of this fine region; boasting near perfect
granite and near perfect winter weather too.

Cardiff by the sea
Nov 13, 2009 - 10:10am PT
Oh come on Ray the weather is not that perfact, have you looked outside today? It's cloudy out, HAHA!

I see your back in the hood, hope your well.

Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 10:46am PT
In the 70's and 80's we "knew the game".

The psychological barriers of techncial difficulty.
The limitations of what now seems like the clunky
gear of the day. And just the sheer volume of thousands
of acres of rock climbing potential, waiting to be explored,
were some of the "walls" we ran into.

The top rope was often used because it suited the terrain, our
abilities at the time, and we adapted to it. There seemed little
point drilling bolts in some steep face on a 40' boulder, when
hundreds of huge boulders with (hopefully) cracks to climb
awaited discovery.

There was little peer motive, and it seemed like little peer
support or impetus to push beyond what was deemed the
unspoken "mode of operation".

And so we did our best, we had our "fun in the sun".

Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 11:15am PT
High Ball sessions at Mt. Woodson were without doubt
some of the most fun we had. The unspoked "prize" going
to the ones who could send the most, the hardest and
the highest. Or, to the one who could send what no one else
thought was sane, over and over again.

Tom Scott, bvb, Jeff and Adrian Almodovar, Greg Epperson,
Mike Paul, Behay, Rick Piggot and others locals providing the
"fuel" for days and days of "playoffs" - a rich game, motivating
each of us and inviting us all to taste a little "humbe pie". Yes,
it was competition, and yes, we competed like mad.

Trad climber
Nov 13, 2009 - 12:14pm PT
Thanks for posting Ray, interesting stuff for sure!

Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 12:22pm PT
Mt. Woodson is the most well known and historic climbing
area in San Diego county. It has great access, sees lots of traffic
and enjoys the greatest concensus on difficulty.

In the 70's and into the 80's almost no one seemed to believe
we had anything harder than than 5.11. So many climbs at
Woodson remained undervalued for some time. But that began
to change and in my mind it changed fast when Jonny Woodward
came down and repeated one of the areas benchmark classics,
John Bachar's Driving South, giving it a grade of solid 5.12a.
Now, keep in mind, we had no internet, but word of the "new
grade" spread fast - it was news. Here was someone who knew
what they were talking about telling us that yeah, we had climbs
harder than 5.11!

That climb, as many of you know, was established as a ropeless
highball. Bachar's account of the "hideous bailouts" and "you
don't want to fall from up there" told to us right here on
Supertopo. So, yeah, its a good TR, lots of fun and maybe the
accomplishment of a personal goal - very cool. But, from one
standpoint, as a TR, you have not repeated it the way it done
on the FA. Maybe you get "points" for fewest TR rehearsals?
Mine was two, spread out over two years before a ropeless
send in 1984.

BTW, on a low hill west of Mother Grundy, I found another
even steeper and more buldging "Driving South". No highball
madness here, and since the jams are more positive, no harder
either, only .12a, plus the rock is a touch grainy, too. Just another
day out in the beautiful hills of my beloved San Diego backcounrty.
Kinda doubt its seen a second, but you never know. :-)
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 01:35pm PT
Beta for Laverne lead/on-sight lead:

Perhaps bring a pad for the start, there is a slab behind
forming a shallow cleft.

You pull out of there on a size transition from 1 1/4"
into a 1 1/8" section, pretty overhung. Its great!
The crux is up high, straight-in thumb up pinkies
up a smooth face.

Bring Aliens and know how to use.

In case, just in case, the crack (which was mud filled and
had to be cleaned) may have sprouted grass or shrubbies -
you may wanna look before you go.

In plain view for years with the word "Laverne" spray
painted on the side :-) Maybe 5 minutes above the road,
on "Woodson South".

Estimated grade as lead? Sure, I'll go out on a limb, maybe .12b
Total height: maybe 30+' tops. :-)

Betting it has never seen a real (non-TR) ascent.
And is, for sure by today's standard, very leadable.

ok - that's good for a while...
Have a swell day.

EDIT: in S.D. I see it like this:
if its low enough to highball, TR to rehearse if needed.
if its too high to highball, TR to rehearse lead, if needed,
and number your rehearsal up front.

Top Rope ascent is rehearsal/practice/ fun in the sun
"training" or bouldering...
Not valid FA in the big picture sense.
The rules don't change in San Diego.
(they just take a siesta)

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Nov 13, 2009 - 03:33pm PT
dig it, can't send it, but I dig it.

Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 04:32pm PT
Establishing access paths (trail making) evolved a lot between 1975
and 1985/6.

We started as dumbass beach kids hacking away, but the nose for
establishing a singular line of access was born. For a couple good reasons.
Clearly it made sense for the terrain and, you want a logical route right
to the good places. Trail making became our art. The other reason was
obvious - only an idiot would "brute force" a bushwack line in these
hills - you'd get ripped up, stinging nettle raining down on your sweaty
back or, stopped cold by a wall of thick brush. No chainsaws allowed,
stealth mode, sensitive access.

The first tool was a machete, they worked "ok". The real deal though
is the three person team. Lead goes forward on pre-marked line
(you have to scout in advance) stomping brush down with boots
(long sleeves/jeans/hat/protective eye wear mandatory) The second
does the cutting, lopping shears preferred. The third clears the line,
tossing the brush off.

By making solo missions to scout a line, and working it in stages, major
trail sections were built up, accross, and over some pretty big hills.
Then we had cool places to go, bring our girlfriends, backpack in,
climb, camp and have a blast all by our selfish Sandi-Ego selves.

How many machetes got worn out?
How many lopping shears destroyed?
A few, for sure. :-)

Trad climber
Spokane, WA
Nov 13, 2009 - 05:01pm PT
Don't forget to mention that all of this trail building and exploration was taking place in rattlesnake territory. I had more than one heart-stopper while tromping through the scrub and surprising one of those little guys. Made the bouldering seem downright safe...


Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Nov 13, 2009 - 05:03pm PT
oh god. i remember some epic bushwhacks. but one stands out as THE most epic. the scumbags had spotted a new crag way out in the east county. we made plans to go back and look it over up close -- from the road the thing looked like arch rock: huge, perfect stone, stacked with laser-cut splitters.

long story short, the approach took us three hours. to go maybe 1/3 of a mile. we spent much of that time crawling on our hands and knees through a hellish tangle of coastal chapparal with full packs on. progress was made only through great effort of will, brute thrashing, and a total disregard for our bodies. this was maybe '77, and we hadn't yet discovered the joy of pruning shears.

we arrived at the crag spent, out of water, and looking like we'd all been under the lash. our cloths were torn to ribbons and we were covered with lacerations. i'm not making this up; we got totally fuking yodelled. we never even roped up -- we were too concerned about how much time it would take to reverse the approach. best part? as san diego crags can sometimes do, the cliff had shrunk from a 300' arch rock monolith to maybe 80 feet.

but the splitters were there, and they were perfect. we never went back.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Nov 13, 2009 - 05:07pm PT
Ray, you need to upgrade you understanding of how to do "Battle of the Brush" in SD. When we were opening the T-domes and Rainbow back in 87, Warbler made it possible for us to do it by supplying the proper tools. We opened a few locales and made it seem civilized without the double overhead brush, though it required a team effort with a brush hook, loppers and the occasional chain saw. Rainbow was a great example of how to beat back the brush.

Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 05:27pm PT
re-read my post Pat.
no chainsaws allowed in SE county - stealth.
besides, the saw can't get the roots out.
our mode suited our money and how
it worked for us given the terrain.

please feel free to provide
your own methods in any
detail you like: T-domes
ain't the Mother Grundy.

edit: its YOUR thread too, eg:
"at suck and such place, we found napalm
worked like a charm".

also, bvb, that FA part is drivel too,
we all know how it works for various
areas - your views here very valid.
go for it, eg:
"what olson said is horseshit and we
all know it, etc. etc.

LOL :-)


plenty of room for input
and pics here, folks.



Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Nov 13, 2009 - 05:53pm PT
hey warbler are you gonna post pics or what. i'd love to see some of the new crags, especially the highly speculated upon but rarely seen granite sportcrag somewhere in the vicinity of rainbow/temecula/steve mcqueen/dark side of the moon...
Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2009 - 05:54pm PT
thanks Kevin,
exactly, and if Woodson ain't the hub no more,
tell us what is - being dated is my bag now.

ok, I'm getting on a plane right now.
B great to hear/see some other SD

B back tomorrow.

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