It was huge. And black!
The night before is a swirl of Adios MotherEffer's and Champagne & Chambords, cowboy hats, guys groping my butt and other fleshy offerings, police shining their flashlights into the backseat, all of it culminating in a late night water-chugging fest. I prove, yet again, that my solid Irish stock allows me to keep on keeping on even after a hard night of partying.
The plan goes as follows: my girl friends drive me up to the bachelorette party. I spend the night at the maid of honor's, and get picked up by CaughtInside and whomever else he brings, and meet my friend Anthony (who, btw, is reading this but has no username, so you, fool, must go by your actual name!!!) who will drive me back to the Bay Area. I am a coordinating master.
But then you add alcohol to the mix and suddenly I find myself waking up at the BRIDE'S house and minus my purse, which contains my precious, precious cell phone which contains my PRICELESS phone numbers. Can't call my partners to advise them of the situation, and we are suddenly back in the darkages. Isn't it funny how changes of plans come so easily when firewater courses through your veins?
So I secure myself a ride to the Maid of Honor's, totally forgoing breakfast and I am still late. Poor CI is there with Roughster wondering what the heck to do now that I am not there . . . but, fanfare please! Here I am, a bit dehydrated but none the worse for wear. Stomach rumbling, no cell phone in sight.
We load CI's 'rents posh ride and cruise up to Auburn. My stomach is rumbling and I already know I'm going into this a little less girl-scout than I am used to (I'm the one that packs extra snacks and tons of water. Right now I'm in the proud possession of my climbing gear, one full Nalgene bottle, a credit card, $15 in cash, and my ID. And about forty pairs of shoes from the day before). I apologize for being a bit high maintenance and request a bagel stop.
We get to Auburn a full hour behind the time I'd requested Anthony meet us. He's nowhere to be seen. Oh well, he was supposed to come with a kid from the climbing gym, so they probably went off to try to find it themselves. Roughster hands me a few copies of the topo and we're off.
I'm very excited to be here for two reasons: I feel extremely privileged to be checking out a newly developed area with its developers and I get to see what it takes to put up a sport route. Like aid, I'd always figured I could figure out how it worked on my own, but I went to a college with a "learn by doing" attitude, which I fully adhere to.
The business of drilling, at least here, involves Roughster loading up a very, very 80's kid jogger with a drill kit and gear pack. This matches Roughster's very, very 80's get up. He looks like a poor sport climber: we've got the most excellent Five.Ten tank top circa the EB era with neon green letters, basketball shorts and hi-top basketball shoes. I was sad there was no lycra, but one can't hope for everything.
Did I mention the front tire of his baby jogger is flat? He proceeds to tirelessly push the cart up the hills, a good two miles of ascent in all (according to CI).
We must have looked like quite the group as we passed by the entrance gate. There hangs a conspicuous sign, which Roughster interprets - and we all agree - to mean no rapelling with helmets. Well, my companions are a fan of lowering, and whatever I clean, I didn't bring my helmet. We're in good, I think.
So there we are, tanned climbing god of the 80's, eager and good natured All-American law student, and slightly hungover cowgirl trekking along the road. (I also was without sunglasses which had been left in the purse so they suggested I bring my 'clubbing' hat, good advice.)
We are about halfway down the first part of the approach when I see a guy with a big floppy hat and glasses coming towards us. Is that Anthony? I see Anthony in two phases: gym climbing Thursdays and beach parties. Both lack glasses and big floppy hats. I have a long history of eagerly running up to people or waving frantically at people I think I know and then being terribly embarrassed. So I approach him with no indication of familliarity.
Once we get about five feet apart, I stop and address him like I already knew who he was. My two companions go, "You know this guy?" "Yeah, this is who I was looking for." On the drive home I admit to Anthony that I didn't know for sure if it was him or not. "Yeah, well, you had that cowboy hat and your hair up and . . . " Heh. Classic.
Well, he goes up to get his stuff and I hand him a topo which Roughster claims has never gotten anyone lost yet. If I were a really good friend I probably would have accompanied him to the car . . . but . . . I didn't. End of story.
[page] We trek up the hill, making good time. My little dehydrated knee joints are actually doing pretty good and I'm pleased with my ability to keep up after a hard night of dancing in heels. (And when I dance, I really dance. None of that swaying stuff. Some of it involved being on stage. If you've never danced in heels, try it.) I am amazed at Roughster's ability to keep up the conversation. Sometimes he gets so excited, he sounds like a girl.
We take small breaks to get me familliar with the area. Walking up these hills, I am suddenly taken aback by the limestone formations we finally come across. If you've been to Lover's Leap, you'll understand what I'm talking about. "Hills, hills, trees, hills, trees, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, LOOK AT THE SIDE OF THAT TOWERING CLIFF!!!" Something like that.
It is very exciting to be in the company of the FA'ists. They are so energetic about the routes, like proud parents showing off baby girls dressed in frilly dresses and pig tails, they could not stop expounding the virtues of the rock. When I first met CI, he could not stop talking about the Auburn State Reserve and now I saw, this was for good reason. Like Yosemite and Red Rocks, this area is something you can't overstate, especially with these guys.
Well, we take the tour and head up to the upper reaches of the developed reserve to Kilimajaro wall. Last time the guys were out they left it half finished and they got to finishing it up. Although we had stopped a few times, Anthony had not shown up yet. I began to wonder if he was lost, or perhaps angry that I had made him wait so long. (Why? No cell phone to contact him. Damn the cell phone! Damn my dependence on it!)
"Well," I asked, "Should I do anything?" Nope, just sit back and relax. Thank God CI brought sunblock. I am pale and freckly. The last time I went out in the sun for any amount of time, I burned so bad it blistered, and that was WITH sun block. I love being a whitey.
The process of drilling bolts and creating a route is an interesting one involving aiders and RB's and plenty of blood and sweat (I didn't see any tears, but he could be hiding them pretty well - he kept whining about the heat eminating from his footsies). Roughster kept up a running conversation, "I don't know about this move, whoo!" while he stood in his aiders drilling, even if CI and I were talking about something else on the ground.
I began to really get kind of worried about where Anthony was when CI said, "I hear someone shouting!" and went trotting off to find him. I looked over the ridge and there he was, hiking stick and floppy hat. He was happy to chill in the shade and go exploring after watching a bit of the bolting action.
Things got less interesting once I saw the process and my non-involvement and I went off to find some shade. Zzzzzzzz. I hear my name. "Wha? I'm here." Apparently Roughster's been chatting with me while I have been sleeping. I can't really hear him, as the only shade is around the corner from the route. I do make out, "Drill bit sucks" . . . "I dunno" . . . "The last one was okay" . . . "Crap! I bent the bolt!" . . . "Sucking botch of a drill!" Now here's where I wish I had a photogenic memory. I hope Roughster will come back and share some of his gems with you, but he's fairly creative when he is using expletives. Things like, "Sucking botch of a drill" come to mind. I can't accurately repeat anything, but from now on, I'll make up equally fine phrases and hope Roughster finds them worthy.
Once Roughster got the anchors in and lowered off, it was time for the FA of Black Rhino. CI roped up, me on belay, and trudged through the loose rock, gently cleaning as he went up the bolt line. Clean send.
It was my turn to go up. "Lead?" Uh, no thanks. I'm a bit out of shape, definitely out of leader practice, and this is a loose, brand new route with no rating, "Top rope, please!" They were happy to oblige my non-adventurous reply.
I start up the choss pile on the bottom and unclip the first bolt. "Uh, beta?" I say, looking at the lose rock and not seeing good feet. "Use the pinch," is the answer I get.
Okay, okay, use the pinch. I grab it, yard up on it and throw my left hand over the arete, looking for some purchase. Crunch!!! The pinch pulls out of my grip, even though I've already watched two people pull it without it budging. Dude, I am not THAT fat. I find the non-sloper hold on the left and stand up on a knob. That blows, too.
Then I'm up on a ledge, starting up again. I get to cleaning all the loose rock off, chipping away at edges, tossing small stones . . . fun! I wish trundling were okay in all situations, but there's nothing more releasing than digging out loose stones and hurling them to the ground only to watch them smash into itsy bitsy pieces.
Once I've had my fun, and Anthony takes his turn, Roughster hops up on the newly topropable "Swahili." As previously mentioned, he had a hard time with the drill creating the anchors for this route. They now look a bit cockeyed from down below. Oh well, the beauty of being the area's sole developer is that when you mess up, only you know and you can fix it . . . before . . . people . . . find . . . out . . . hmmm. Is this a public post? Crapola. Too late now! I typed it! That delete key is so far away!
So he starts up on this slabby wall covered in moss. "Oh, this is a good move, keep me tight." I'm chatting away with CI, who is belaying him. "Man, this hold, this is a good move, I've got . . . Hey!!! Pay attention over here!"
He's looking a bit dicey, his voice is getting higher pitched as he removes the heels from his Tandoori oven shoes. Did I mention how hot it is on that wall? It's bloody hot. He's looking like he's having a hard time of it . . . and then suddenly, he moves up and we all hear, "Oh Effing Holy Glory!" Apparently we have hit the "Thank God" hold of the route. He keeps going up. "These moves are great! This is going to be a classic. Five stars, no doubt." He gets to cleaning a section a bit. "Whoops, there goest that move, damn." He's 'cleaning' all his fun moves off!! How's that for hilarity. This route setting, it's fun stuff.
So finally the drill is out of juice and its time to pack it up and head somewhere shady for a little cragging.
You're probably wondering what this area looks like. I already drew a parallel to Lover's Leap in terms of the staggering formation itself, but at the bottom of this rock, it kind of had the feel of the basalt columns I sneaked up in Paradise Forks, AZ.
We paired off, CI and Roughster going off to set up some routes they hadn't done in a while, while Anthony lead a 5.8 climb. I opted to stay off the sharp end today because I haven't led in a while, and after an afternoon of hurling loose rock off of the routes, my confidence was a bit shot. In fact, on TOP ROPE, I'm leaning against this flake that I now can't trust whining that I don't want to make the move. Sweating BULLETS on 5.8. Don't want things falling off now, do we? The maddening thing was the beautiful handcrack that your dear little trad climbing maculated would ordinarily have sailed up was left behind for some slabby face climbing.
But perhaps you've heard me say this before, I love slab climbing. I am the queeeeeeeen of slab climbing. But this particular route looked like the little edges were going to come off. They certainly did on Black Rhino, right?
Well, the next climb is a bit harder, but this one is a lot more reminiscent of stuff you'll find in Owens River Gorge. Solid rock, little crimpy and balancy ledges to stand on and hang off . . . very nice.
The last climb on that particular crag I was unable to complete because I am currently experiencing what I like to call, "Don't you dare whack that knee" pain after slamming my right knee against a rock on a hike a week ago. No swelling, no bruising, no badge of courage . . . just intense, intense pain upon contact with any surface, including clothing. At some point before venturing up the next wonderful stemmy off-widthy route, I managed to dare to whack the knee and was sharply reminded of the two mile hike back down to the car. I gave it the ol' Kristin try (read this as tie in and then spend a good ten minutes trying to figure out a graceful way to get over a lip that I am now sure will incite "don't you dare whack that knee" pain again and make it that much worse on the descent) and then gave up. Sadly I was going to clean the route so CI had to go back up and clean it for me. Of course, watching him do it afforded a way to avoid my dilemma, but the deed was done. One missed climb for me. Sad, ain't it?
We moved onto another wall. Roughster shouts over from the wall to me, where I am coiling the rope from my failed climb, "You'll love this route! You've got to! It's all jugs!" Honestly, I don't actually like jugs. I like little crimpy crimpies, like all girls do, right? ANyway, I walk over there and because I don't like sitting out if I can help it, I hop on it. Very cool route. I wasn't impressed by the climbing (this particular route was a lot like Clark Canyon in Mammoth, in that it had thin, but solid holds that were basically handles and holes), but by the rock itself, weird drippy features like icing on the limestone cake. In between the anchors was a crystal "mustache" . . . very cool.
The others did another route while I got my stuff together and we made our way home, Roughster chatting up Anthony, me playing with Anthony's hiking staff that he'd found, trying to time my footing just right.
We're about 200 yards from the parking area when Roughster goes, "Man, be careful, I just something huge and black cross the path up there. Whatever it was, it was huge. And black." Just trying to scare us, right, "Naw man, huge and black. Huge. And black." Not a hungry black bear, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Just kidding. Whatever it was, I know two things: it was huge and it was black. Kinda like a lot of ASR as a whole.
We are all totally famished so we end the day right with burgers and fries (and pie for me!) at Ikedas in Auburn.
This place is just as great as they say and hopefully one day it will be managed in order to open it up to more climbers. Might just be one of California's "Best Kept Secrets" for now . . .