Blackout: A Museum Climb TR


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A tent in the redwoods
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 18, 2007 - 02:53pm PT
The four-runner bumped, shaking its black frame side to side, as Public Enemy belted heavy, old-school beats. The SUV parked on the side of 120 between Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, and with the bass still booming three monkeys fell out of John’s rig.

“You’re lagging boys.” Linh’s gear leaned against his silver VW van and he swooped down, shouldering the pack.

“Lucho was busy stealing cutlery.” I pointed to my dirt bag friend’s left pinkie. A few days prior a renegade crash pad had smashed his tiny digit in a pebble wrestling fall; he’d MacGyvred a splint from a bit of athletic tape and a broken knife. “Lucho’s got class now. Look at that martini finger.”

Lucho’s pinkie protruded with aristocratic authority as he grabbed his backpack.

"No wait. Dude, you're like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. Tilt your finger to your mouth and say 'I will hold the world hostage unless you pay me one million dollars.'"

“Funny James.” I chuckled, Lucho didn’t. He blazed into the woods.

John, Linh, and I marched behind, following Lucho to the South Whizz Dome. The thirty minute approach felt like the long part of half an hour; Tuolumne’s altitude had me wheezing for breath. After hitting a small slope of granite, we turned the corner of a dome and saw the wall. South Whizz defines Tuolumne rock climbing- a hundred fifty feet of technical steep edges and knobs. The majority of the routes are hard, run-out, ground-up test pieces from the day when climbing was dangerous and sex was safe. John made the first ascent, on top rope, of a beautiful black streak in the middle of the wall. From a ledge sixty feet off the ground, Blackout follows a series of steep, walnut knobs for sixty feet. Kurt Smith onsighted the route, drilling two bolts on the lead, snagging the first lead ascent, and solidifying the 5.11 route as a serious undertaking. The route with its old bolts, and scary old-school vertical climbing is a “museum climb.” John stood below the streak, poured out the rope, and rack-two quick draws and a couple of cams.

John tied into his Beal Joker, a 9.1 mm piece of dental floss that he claimed was a rope, grabbed the light rack, and free-soloed a sixty foot crack on the far right side of the cliff. John Bachar climbing career began over thirty years ago in Southern California. Since then, he’d become world renown for his bold climbing. He moved smoothly, placing his feet with impeccable precision, and torquing his fingers into the crack with just the right amount of pressure. He set a belay and Lucho scampered up the direct 5.10 unprotected face to the ledge. The peanut gallery (Linh and I) sat on the side of the cliff, taking photos and slandering as the two men steeled themselves for the next pitch.

Off the ledge, John placed a shitty piece of gear to protect against ripping out the belay in case of a fall. After fifteen feet of delicate climbing, John clipped a quarter inch rusty bolt. Another twenty feet passed before John had more protection-another rusty quarter incher. He moved slowly, placing his feet, shifting his hips and transferring his weight onto the overhanging knobs with the elegancy of a danseur. Though French in technique, his footsteps had a funky groove to them like Flavor Flav was still rapping in his head. He danced his way, unprotected for thirty feet, to the top. For a guy twice my age, John’s got three times the technique and four times the balls.

“Want me to belay ya up here?” John yelled down to Lucho.
The day before I’d sent Cowabunga- a steep finger traverse underneath DAFF Dome; Lucho felt pressured to send too. The constant competition between us, a little Kodak courage, and a sprinkle of machismo fueled Lucho when he shouted back. “Lower back down. I’ll lead it.”

My eyebrows rose. “Lucho, if you die I’m getting your Tacoma.”
Lucho flaked the rope, readying the gear and himself for a little excitement.

“And I’m going to steal your girl in the city.”

Lucho shot laser beams at me with his eyes and shouted, “F*#k you clown.”

I chortled as Lucho tied in and cast off. His left pinkie, stuck in its splint, pointed skyward as he crimped his fingers around the sloping knobs. A pair of oversized, old school, clunky boots stabbed at the delicate footholds. Where John had climbed slow and precise, Lucho climbed quickly, frantically. Lucho’s always been scrappy; his legs pedal faster than Lance Armstrong and he screams at every hard move, thrutching between holds. I’ve broken my back climbing, it’s not fun. I didn’t want my friend to have the same scars. I watched, tilting forward, as Lucho moved.

The first fifteen feet went by quickly. Lucho scampered on the rock and clipped the first quarter inch bolt.

As the climbing steepened, Lucho’s technique faded. His hand stabbed for a tiny knob, realized its poorness, and shot again. The splint scrapped against the black rock when he moved his left hand. He twitched from the pain as his feet skated, looking for purchase. Not good. I’ve seen autumn leaves shake less.

“You got it Lucho,” John shouted. Lucho’s labored breathing echoed across the granite wall. With his feet splayed out in a tentative stem, Lucho switched hands on a tiny nubbin, desperately shaking out the lactic acid from his forearms. I wondered if I’d be driving away in Lucho’s Tacoma.

“Forgot to use my feet,” Lucho responded.

There are some things that shouldn’t be forgotten. Lucho stared at his blocky boots, focusing on producing a steadier rhythm in his feet. It’d be bad if he blew it. Technique slowly worked its way back into his boots as he continued upwards. Half way into the thirty foot run-out, he stuffed two crappy lobes of a cam into a water pocket, purely psychological protection. He continued increasingly steadier as he neared the top.

Soon, Lucho mantled the edge victorious, after a slow ten minutes of climbing. There was no cry for joy, no shout of elation, only an invisible swelling inside his chest- he’d sent. I smiled, happy that Lucho would still have his Tacoma that day.
Wild Bill

Sep 18, 2007 - 03:05pm PT
I got sweaty palms for Lucho.

Thanks James

Trad climber
Sep 18, 2007 - 03:30pm PT
nice read. thanks for posting up!
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Sep 18, 2007 - 03:51pm PT
great story here.. good to see people still climb the old stuff..
that is one route i will NEVER forget!

JB mentioned that i should snag the first lead and he would shoot pics... so i said yes...
i was nervous the whole hike out, but the crew was sporting the good stuff that day and once i got to the base i was fired up. Lechniski lead the pitch to the ledge and brought me up. Bachar went to the top to drop a rope and shoot pics..
Now looking at these photos posted it doesn't look that bad.. seemed steep and thin to me at the time.. At the base Jb handed me the rack: 2 3/8 taper bolts, 1 hook, 5 draws and a small tri cam..
I asked him about more bolts and he said 2 was i all i would need..

Ok now the hooking part. I had never hooked on a free route and had no clue. JB said he would feed me beta...
so i tie in and i'm off to the races...

after about 15' i wanted to place a bolt but JB said to go higher, better knobs.. so i did and was stating to get pumped and JB talks me into easing onto a hook and letting go! Ok it works now what..? Drill! so i drill the first 3/8 (my first 3/8" bolt)...
After that i clip it and JB says, back to the ledge. So i lower, pull the rope and rest...
Then go back up. I am feeling the route now and confident...
after 20' above the last bolt i want to hook again and JB says go higher..
I do and drill another 3/8 taper and lower...
then pull the rope rest and go back up... I am pumped now and no more bolts and a lot of rock to go... the higher i go the more pumped and run out i feel.. then i find the "pocket" and squeak in the tri cam and am happy! i punch it to the top, very pumped and dosed on adrenaline!!!! what a day, what a memory, what a line...
JB can pick them out and was honored to have the chance to climb it with JB and the Lechinski's...
The moral here:
When JB hands you a route with 2 bolts, you place two bolts and never look down!!!!!!

Social climber
A prison of my own creation
Sep 18, 2007 - 04:30pm PT
Wow! You had me sweating there. Nice to have the history of the route as well.

Gym climber
Otto, NC
Sep 18, 2007 - 04:37pm PT
Wipe palms on shorts. Read on. Repeat.

Nice story, James!

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
Sep 18, 2007 - 04:56pm PT
Nice write-up James. Did Bachar tell you that he and Linh had been out there TRing that thing so that he could look all swole when he led it?

Did you guys get on any of the "good" routes on South Wizz? Those are the Museum climbs!!! Blackout at least gets climbed once in a while, those other "test pieces" haven't probably had an ascent in many years. I know we had 5 good climbers all fail on the route with the tree at the base a couple years ago. We even put a new tree in place so we could get on the route!

A tent in the redwoods
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2007 - 05:58pm PT
This summer, Lucho and I kicked back at the South Whizz a fair amount, mostly being toprope tough guys. Sent Shadow Warriors, and I've toprope a few of the lines-Body Count, Countdown, the route to the left of Blackout, Blackout...beautiful climbing but for real on the sharp end.

Social climber
St. Looney
Sep 18, 2007 - 06:05pm PT
Wow! Excellent as usual.

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
Sep 18, 2007 - 06:30pm PT
Yep, Whizz has some phenomenal climbing on it, some of the best in the Meadows. We also spent some time on Canopy World and Hammer Dome being toprope sissies this year. We got put down hard by a few routes at Canopy World! I sure hope it warms up again soon, I need another knob fix before winter sets in.

PS. Isn't John beautiful to watch climb? When I started climbing at Stoney Point in 1973 John had already started to develop his unique and very deliberate style. Many of us from that area and time have emulated him our entire lives. I am not sure he understands how much of an influence he has had on generations of climbers. All I can say is that I am glad to have climbed with him from the outset.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Sep 18, 2007 - 07:13pm PT
another solid pic TR!!

thx James

nice send Lucho!

right here, right now
Sep 18, 2007 - 07:28pm PT
Good read James!
Nice recall Kurt!

Trad climber
Sep 18, 2007 - 09:02pm PT
Great thread.

Social climber
No Ut
Sep 18, 2007 - 09:16pm PT
Really outstanding, James! Well done!

Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Sep 19, 2007 - 02:07am PT

Kurt on the first Ascent of Black Out. I was scared for ya too, Kurt;......very impressive climbing, mixed with some kind herb and a little bit of Lady Luck....a very unique day.

Gym climber
San Franpsycho
Sep 19, 2007 - 07:25pm PT
Its really cool to have the first ascentionists recall that day. I was so psyched to have climbed that thing and honored to have done it with JB down there holding the rope. Great story KS.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Sep 19, 2007 - 07:52pm PT
Gripping just to read about it.

B loop site 15
Sep 19, 2007 - 08:01pm PT
James, Lucho-
Good job fellers. It was good hanging for a few days. BE F-ING CAREFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!


Gym climber
Sep 20, 2007 - 02:41pm PT
Wicked story, pix an all. Thanks!

I like the recount of how Bachar let the Kid know there was good hooks above. Nice intro to hooking, Kurt!

We TR'ed Blackout the other day and I thought "Sheeit that's a long way to the first bolt!" The guide doesn't show a belay off the ledge, it shows it starting off the ground. Not that I'd a lead it that way either, but it does seem more sane.

We also TR'ed the route next door--Body Count. Holy freakout, that is stout!

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Sep 20, 2007 - 03:00pm PT
Thanks for the stories James and Kurt! And thanks for the compliments G gnome. I don't feel as smooth as I used to - very flattering nonetheless.

I had fun that day - the run out wasn't as bad as I thought and the 3/8" taper eye bolts seemed to be in good shape (not 1/4" like James said). I still can't believe some of those knobs don't just break off - they're still there!

I tried to put up a new route with Lucho the other day and we got shut down after 50 feet of 5.10 climbing and three bolts. The face got real hard looking (probably 5.11+ "ish") and I chickened out. Drilling on the lead is tough stuff. It all used to seem so easy. Kurt was the best lead bolter I have ever climbed with (except for Tobin Sorenson). I tried to imagine how Kurt would have just climbed up and placed the next bolt but I just couldn't muster up enough cojones to go for it....maybe next time!

See ya'll at the next museum route!

Edit: Yes indeed, Linh and I had top roped it in the rain two week before that - which may have added to my swoleness.
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