There is a classic video where Dan Osman free solos Bear’s Reach at incredible speed. It was the video that etched climbing into my mind. The movement, the environment, even the guy himself–everything about that video touched on some deep dark desire that I had to be on the cutting edge of something. Years would go by before I’d ever put on rock shoes and a harness though, and by that time I’d be on quite a budget and start out doing the typical bouldering start because it seemed cheap and low maintenance.
When I did get into serious roped climbing Bear’s Reach was on the list of main objectives I have in my climbing career. It’s not a hard climb, and I originally planned to onsight free solo it, but I was lucky enough to have my rad partner, Dave, on this trip, and I thought what better introduction to Sierra style granite and Lover’s Leap than taking him up a mega classic?
The day before we had taken it easy, starting late and climbing only six or eight pitches (rope lengths between belays), and leaving the cliff early around mid afternoon for real food and a trip to the Starbucks in South Lake.
I set the alarm for Thursday morning to 5:57am–yes, I am one of those people–and I was awake three minutes before it went off. I got up, and got Dave up, and made an oily black batch of coffee in the french press and drank a bottle of Soylent. As a rule, I make sure that my climbing partner and I are up an hour before we intend to break camp–at a minimum. There is a lot of stuff that you can easily forget when leaving early and in a rush, and that problem is easily solved by just waking up earlier to allot more time.
We were up at the wall and climbing by 8am, which is not all that early. In some cases real alpine starts begin in the dark, and a party will make their way up an entire mountain or technical route before noon so they can be off and safe from afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains. This was not the reason for me and Dave’s tactics, but instead we were up and early (not before the sun) so that we could insure being alone on this mega classic route.
I ripped the tip off of one of the toes on my right foot the day prior, so I started up the rock slow to get a feel for it, but before I knew it–as always–the experience of moving over moderate stone overtook me, and I was aware of everything but my toe. The route is freaking amazing, and while I belayed Dave up on the first pitch it sounded like he was definitely psyched and fully experiencing the sweetness of life. We topped out the climb within an hour of having started it, and sat atop Lovers Leap discussing our relationship with Dan Osman’s inspiring video from the 90s over some Cliff Bars. Every bit of the climb was even better than I’d imagined.
We were making our way through the grades, and I was more psyched to have a good time than to climb hard, especially because this was only Dave’s fourth day of multipitch trad climbing, so we made our way back down and around to the cliff, about 100 yards left of where we started, and got in line for a climb called Haystack (5.8). I talk a bit about what happened on that route here. I’ll just sum up this climb with saying the first pitch is bland, but with good 5.6 movement in places, but the real climbing begins on pitch 2, the technical crux where you have some thoughtful stemming (climbing in a style where your legs are split between holds that are largely separated from one another–visualize how you use your legs when you scale two opposite walls in a hallway) leading into a short roof. The third pitch was absolutely great though, and the best in my opinion with beautiful finger cracks leading up the corner to the top.
When we finished up on Haystack, after waiting in a slower moving line up the three pitch climb, we opted to go back to camp. Dave was still super psyched, but physically beat, and the dessert of the Leap was still yet to come!
Later that day, in the early evening, while Dave was washing in the creek down the way, I sneaked off to the Hogsback. and onsight solo’d Just Acquaintances, Manic Depressive, Harveys Wall Bangers Right, Deception, and finished on Knapsack Crack and was back before dark. I came back and Dave just looked at me with questioning surprise– “Did you do it?!” The it he was referring to is Bears Reach. The answer is no–not on this trip.
There is a time and a place for these things. Ability often has nothing to do with it, but when it comes to something that personal, that profound, such as Bears Reach, it really requires a moment that transcends just being psyched, and those moments become these existential phenomenons where we truly get to experience the world, and ourselves–without ourselves. And experiences like that–for me–are best left to when we’re alone.
Anyways, my weird dreamy philosophy aside, this place has really grown on me, and I think that Lovers Leap is becoming one of my favorite crag style multipitch areas.
I’m trying to talk Dave into writing a guest article for me to publish, leave some comments encouraging him to do so! I think it would be super cool to hear another perspective on this trip!
Also, here’s a better video–a remake–of Bears Reach being solo’d by Alex . The quality really helps viewers grasp the aesthetic qualities of this amazing place, and really puts into perspective the unforced line that this route takes up the East Wall of Lovers Leap.