Who Did The First Ascents At Big Rock- A Historical Survey


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Mountain climber
Clackamas, Oregon
May 10, 2014 - 07:22pm PT
Great stuff on this thread. I had no idea of the extent of the climbing history at Big Rock, that two different eras of noteworthy pioneers had climbed there. Eventually I moved to about 15 miles away, so I probably went there a hundred times over the years. Randy is right that the place was denigrated. Just too close to Tahquitz/Suicide and JT, I suppose.

Too many memories to recount. Lots of rattlers. Red Diamonds crawl all over that area. Large, pretty, and quite passive as far as rattlers go. Once the gate and fee system went into place, we usually parked just past the gate to the east. Was a favorite auto break-in location. Perpetual auto glass on both sides of the road. In the 90's the park rangers staked the place out. Burglars showed up on cue and, in the confrontation, a ranger shot and killed one of the suspects. First shooting fatality by a uniformed Cali park ranger in state history. Jensen soloed Let It Bleed back in the 70's. Pretty burly for the day. He also did a ground-up route down and left of The Virgin in perhaps the late 80's. Don't remember the name. About 11a. The guides shown above don't include several short climbs on a tier up and left of the main wall. I seen to recall the harder of those climbs is named Never Surrender and might be 11-. Maybe someone has more info on that. Didn't take long to play the place out. Just not enough routes. Would try to do them all in a day. Once access was stopped at the parking lot, would try to round trip the rock as fast as possible. I think we were at something under 10 min car-to-car. English Hanging Gardens was rated 5.9? Speculation floated that something had broken off. In my time there you simply never saw anyone actually do it. About the climb Mad Dogs (not sure the name was plural), when put up the climb consisted of four split-shaft rawl drive bolts with the now infamous SMC hangers which suffered from hydrogen embrittlement. Two bolts for a hanging belay anchor, one bolt about 15' up and the fourth bolt about 10' above it. We had lots of fun climbing this, leading it roped solo many times and at least once in K-Mart Trax. One day I lead it and was bringing up a second who slipped while at shoulder height to the top bolt. He hadn't unclipped yet, so he grabbed the biner with a small amount of force. The hanger snapped. So I got to thinking. What if the leader fell from the 5.10 above that bolt? Clearly it wouldn't have done anything more than getting the rope tight. That would lead to another 20' drop onto the only other protection bolt, hitting with a fall factor of at least 1.0. You would pray that that SMC hanger (which no doubt came from the same batch) made it as, if not, the next impact would be 2.0 fall factor on the two remaining SMC hangers. And you would hope it wasn't a rope-solo ascent so that there could be a belayer to absorb some force as he was jerked from his stance.

G Cobb is indeed Gary Cobb. He also explored bouldering accessible from the road along the east shore. He made notes of bouldering routes and named many himself. In perhaps the mid-80's he wrote an article about Big Rock that was turned down by Climbing. Their rejection letter said something to the effect that Big Rock just wasn't important enough to deserve an article. If anyone can find him, maybe he could post an electronic copy.

For any who climb there, if you get bored of all the standard routes, try leading Right Flake without using the flake other than for pro. A final note: Mark Smith and Richard Jensen first met at Big Rock. The rest is history.

Trad climber
May 10, 2014 - 07:50pm PT
Thanks smoke. This is pretty fascinating. We only climbed on the main face. Had no idea there were long climbs to the west. Looked over there but it looked like 3rd class choss.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
May 10, 2014 - 07:54pm PT
Went there once in about 1970, i think with Phil Gleason. Like they say...location, location, location.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
May 11, 2014 - 10:47pm PT
English Hanging Gardens was rated 5.9?

Remember, there was a time when 5.9 was as hard as it got. The numbers didn't go higher. Climbers with a math education were rightfully dubious of creating 5.10 and screwing with the decimal systemů

EHG was always tricky, but there was a trick. It was certainly a sandbag rating, though. I, too, remember hearing of some missing hold but I couldn't be a witness.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2014 - 03:44pm PT
I will be talking with Lee this evening if anyone has questions for him.

I will be taking notes and reporting back with the content of the conversation.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
May 15, 2014 - 04:04pm PT
Steve, I'll be standing by for your update and report. Tell Lee that Keith and I would love to meet up with him.

Your right, Jim. I believe it was 1970. I think it was that Spring I was hanging out with you at Tahquitz. We went down for some supplies and to do some warm rock climbing.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - May 15, 2014 - 08:08pm PT
This should be fun!

It won't be very long until we have an Oakdale Festival devoted to Tahquitz and Suicide Rock history. Since Lee along with Pat Callis and others were among the first to take a drill and head on up into the blankness at Suicide, I would make sure that he comes out to speak so that you guys can run into him at that point if not sooner.
Bill from Wisconsin

Apr 8, 2018 - 09:03am PT
My first visit to Big Rock was in the fall of 1964 when Peter Crane and I (Bill Katra) were just beginning our studies at Pomona College, in Claremont, CA. Over the next two years--making perhaps a dozen climbing trips there--we met very few other climbers. There was no Lake Perris--yet (although there was talk of a new reservoir in the planning stage). There were few established routes and few bolts. We were just eager novices, so we were not bold enough to attempt establishing new routes. It's interesting to see the posted copy of the guide. But I assure all that it had to have been published after 1966. I have memories of face climbing in my kletter shoes, with my white nylon REI rope, and experiencing for the first time the sewing machine shake of my leg when I got 12 feet beyond my last trad protection. I also remember a memorable route passing an overhang that was possible only by inserting one finger into a hole to accomplish a one-finger lay-back. Super great memories, that I'm going to write up in the climbing book I'm busily preparing--look for it in about a year. Big Rock: that's where it all began. Bk

Trad climber
Lake Arrowhead, CA
Feb 1, 2019 - 02:07pm PT
I am working on cleaning up typos on a current Topo of Big Rock, apparently done by the guy that did all the rebolting work. Thanks!! What I have so far is below. Clearly the Shoud was done long before 2018. This topo used two digit years and that might be a typo for 1968 or 1978??

Pat Merrill earlier in this thread says Cheap Thrills is the only route he was responsible for, but this topo shows his name on Beanstalk, Boogaloo (both), Wedunett, African Flake and Mind Bender.

A Sunny Delight 5.10a* 3b Ben Chapman & Rich Habib 1983
B R.J. Sunshine 5.10c* 3b Richard Jensen 1984
C Mickey Mantle 5.9* 1b+Pro Sierra Club
D Sun King 5.11a/b** 3b
E Sunshine Daydream 5.10b* 3b Richard Jensen & Mark Smith 1985

F Upper Crack 5.4 Pro Sierra Club 1960s
G Left Flake 5.7* Pro Sierra Club
H Let It Bleed 5.10c*** 6b FA: Doug Tilleskjor & Don Chambers
FFA: Paul Gleason 1969
I Right Flake 5.7* Pro Sierra Club 1960s
J Mad Dogs 5.10c R 2b Phil Haney 1970
K Cheap Thrills 5.10a*** 5b
FA: Don O'Kelly & Pat Merrill 1967 FFA: Phil Haney 1968
L Out of Sight Out of Mind 5.11a* 13b+Pro
(Traverse Edger Sanction to Trough Bucket)
Matt Cox, Kevin & Tim Powell 1974

1 Extra Sanction 5.10c** 3b FFA: Ben Chapman 1988
2 Slabtacular 5.10d TR
3 Edger Sanction 5.10a** 3b Tom Polk 1975
4 Rat Crack 5.9** Pro Keith Leaman 1965
5 Rat Crack (Var) 5.10a 3b+Pro Richard Jensen 1986
6 Corn Flake A2 5.12b/c TR 6b 1965
7 Beanstalk A1 5.9 3b Pat Merrill 1963
8 English Hanging Gardens 5.12* 4b John Gosling 1970
9 Raw Deal 5.11b** 5b Richard Jensen 1979
10 Jolly Green Giant 5.10c** 5b B Herzog 1980
11 Giant Step 5.10b** 5b Lee Harrell 1968
12 Northwest Passage 5.9** 5b Richard Jensen 1986
13 The Roof 5.8** 4b Lee Harrell 1960s
14 Dark Angel (Ghost) 5.9* 3b Lee Harrell 1965
15 The Shroud 5.9*** 7b Ben Chapman 2018
16 Boogaloo Direct 5.9+** 4b Pat Merrill 1968
17 Boogaloo Regular 5.9* 5b Pat Merrill 1966
18 Wedunett 5.6+** 5b Pat Merrill 1965
19 Crater Maker (Dark side of the Moon) 5.7** 3b
Darrell Hensel & Bob Kessinger 1974
20 The Virgin 5.10c* 7b FFA: Paul Gleason 1967
21 The Trough 5.5*** 9b Air Force 1940s
22 African Flake 5.5*** 8b Pat Merrill 1972
23 Frontal Lobotomy 5.10a* 2b 1970s
24 Mind Bender 5.9+* 3b Pat Merrill 1966
25 Pudnurtle (Early Morning Frustration) 5.7 2b Kevin Powell 1976
26 Puppy Chow 5.8** 4b 1990s
27 Puppy Dog 5.6** 5b 2 Pitch Kevin Powell & John Barbee 1975
28 Sierra Club Route 4th Class* 4b 1950s
29 Raging Slab 5.6* 4b Team Scumbags 1970s
30 New Route 5.6** 5b 1980s
31 The Hard Trough (Amoeba) 5.7+** 4b
Kevin Powell & Tim Powell 1976
32 Kwanku Dai (To Look To The Sky) 5.7+* 3b
Ben Chapman & Randy McClure 1997
33 Headwall (Reflections) 5.9* 3b Kevin Powell & Dan Ahlborn 1975
34 Drain Pipe 5.8** 4b Mike Hearn 1995
35 Slab Happy 5.10b* 3b Charles Cole 1983
36 The Gift of Slab 5.8* 4b Charles Cole 1983

37 Anthem of The Sun 5.7* 4b Chris Miller & Craig Britton 2012
38 Helios 5.llc* 3b Tom Polk 1980
39 Sun Ra 5.9 TR
40 Kissed By The Sun 5.8** 4b
41 Praise The Rays 5.8** 4b Chris Miller 2004
42 Solar Cell 5.9 TR

Feb 1, 2019 - 10:53pm PT
Great research and list!

Minor correction - Doug and I did the FA of Let it Bleed, and it was free. So there was no subsequent FFA. I recall this error in an old guide book too.

I remember something called the Northwest Passage from the late 60's. Not sure if that's the same as what you have listed in mid 80's.

I remember The Roof at 5.9, Boogaloo at 5.8 and believe that's consistent with the older topo's/guides, but these could certainly have changed over the years.

Great job pulling all of this together. Lots of history for this small location.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Feb 2, 2019 - 09:00am PT
Great job. Given the passage of time and the fading memories of the participates, I doubt that you will be able to fill in all the blanks.
Again great research.

Trad climber
Lake Arrowhead, CA
Feb 3, 2019 - 08:04pm PT
The G Cobb guide on the first post in this thead shows Northwest Passage, in essentially the same place as the current topo. Is that the Cobb guide that was published in 1981?

Thanks for the updates!
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