Hidden in Plain Sight

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When Janet and I pulled up to the El Cajon Mountain trailhead late morning on a Saturday we were greeted by pull outs filled with cars. She wanted to head out to the main wall, and I had already voiced my concerns with the crowding we might face with a late start. We parked and nodded to each other in total agreement. We would push main wall back to another day when we could make it out during the week, and we would head to a much less known and traveled part of the mountain. We’d been out their earlier that week and bagged all the harder single pitch climbs, but there were still two multi pitch moderates we’d left unfinished. So we headed out on a much shorter trail with low expectations.

On the approach we watched climbing parties form a vertical line up the main walls most popular route, Leonids. Leonids is a striking 5.9 multi pitch sport route, and would be a classic at any crag in the world. It is truly world class and never gets old. There are two or three main cruxes on the route, but the insecurity of those cruxes is short, and as long as you climb heads up it’s rather fun with the majority of the climbing in the 5.8-5.9 range.

To the right of Leonids is another classic named Meteor. On Mountain Project, Meteor is rated 5.8, but in the local guide it’s rated 5.10a. The reason being a variation that traverses right onto a block ledge with a 2 bolt anchor gaining the amazing 5.7 pitch along the Triton Tower arete. It’s probably the funnest and most exposed 5.7 climbing I’ve done, and I’d compare the exposure of it with Corrugation Corner at Lovers Leap. It’s rare to find such a position on such moderate terrain. The true route continues up into slightly harder terrain linking to the final anchor for Leonids, and the steep 5.10a face climbing is the highlight of the route. I’ve never seen anybody do it this way. Instead I watch the lines form for both Meteor and Leonids.

As we continued up our separate isolated trail to empty walls, I told Janet that the true gem of the left wall is Mañana. Mañana starts just left of Leonids from the same block. In fact, all three climbs share the same starting ledge, but with Mañana you disregard the bolts on Leonids and Meteor and instead run out 5.6 climbing to a high first bolt at about 15 feet off the deck. The starting ledge sits about 20 feet off the ground, so you don’t want to blow it there, but Mañana is solid 5.10, so 5.6 should be solo territory for parties hopping on it. The true crux is somewhere around the 3rd and 4th bolt, and its a delicate .10c sequence, but getting up to that point is pretty solid 5.9-.10a climbing. The climbing is sustained 5.9-5.10, and you gain the top of the left wall in two long pitches, with a memorable 5.10 bouldering sequence over a roof to the chains.

We got to the multi pitch lines and roped up quick. We started up a (5.9-), which had a really fun first few bolts before easing up substantially. The second pitch had a move or two of 5.8, and was also fun and exposed. We rapped down, and started up another climb (5.8) which was pretty uneventful despite my intentional veering off route to a 5.9 finger seem with no pro off the belay. I love that shit.

We brought all our gear with us, because we planned to explore what was above, and when I looked up from my belay slab I felt my stomach flutter with excitement. I sat there looking at bullet hard clean slabs and face climbs, and breaking up the sections of wall are brilliant corner systems with finger cracks in overhanging dihedrals. At the top of that section was an intimidating offwidth crack. I yelled down to Janet that she was on belay, and to hurry up and check this out.

I had an area map, but there were no distinctions as to the specific grades of the area. I looked up at bolted lines that looked probable, but hard, and the only thing my area map informed me was that pink lines mean 5.7-5.8, orange lines 5.9-5.10, and red lines 5.11-5.12. Those are big jumps, because a 5.10a and a 5.10d are significantly different grades. 5.9 and 10d are not comparable at all. But the clean slab was inviting and seemed worth charging blindly, so we flaked the rope and I racked up for a steep blank slab that I had no beta for.

I stepped up onto a climb I later identified, a 5.10 clean slab on bullet hard rock. At the second bolt it started to become improbably thin, and then between the 3rd and 4th bolt was a section of blank polished rock with a slight seam imperfection. I stood there on two delicate smears, alternating feet as I shook out. In slab climbing it’s not your forearms that get pumped, it’s your legs. I reached up and searched the section of rock with my bare hands looking for minuscule dishes and imperfections that I could step onto using friction to stand on. I raised my right leg high and set my shoe in the micro dish, stretched my right palm out and pasted it onto the rock and crimped down on the seam with my left and stood up on what appeared to be a completely blank piece of polished granite. My face erupted with a smile, and I clipped the 4th bolt continuing up the delicate slab to the anchors.

There is another pitch above, and from the anchors Janet lead up a fun 5.9 arete to the top rappel. Excited to see what was on the other side of the arete we rapped the corner system on the side of the feature and discovered an unbelievable corner system that pulls a roof 2/3rd’s the way up. We gained the ledge where it started and agree’d we were coming back for it. The next rap took us down a beautiful smooth face with diamond cut edges. With our feet back on the ground, we packed our bags, and like children talking about their grandiose ambitions, we skipped along the trail elated, scoping out world class granite face, slab, and trad climbs along this hidden granite gem.

There are all these climbs right here. They’ve been cleaned and bolted, yet they remain empty. Meanwhile, conga lines form every weekend for the same two climbs on the main wall. It makes absolutely no sense, but I like it this way. I’ve spent 4 days out in this area now, full days, and I’ve been able to push my limits, taking clean safe falls, and enjoying world class climbing in solitude. The only other person I ever see out there is my climbing partner, and I hope it stays that way.

 

Author: saftythird

Defying convention

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