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The 5.7 jam crack on EL WAMPO is of high quality and should be on the "to do" list of climbers wanting to test their jamming technique on a moderate climb. The hand sized crack of EL WAMPO can be seen on the face to the right of the large right facing dihedral whose bottom marks the beginning of the NE FARCE and just to the left of the wider and easier (5.1) crack found on the NE FARCE.
Above the crack the climbing becomes somewhat nebulous, with several options. According to the Guidebook, EL WAMPO diagonals up and right to cross the large overhangs with the NE FARCE.
On one ascent of this route we continued climbing above the classic hand crack following a flared, water-worn crack. At the point where this crack started to traverse up and left, we continued straight up past an old bolt to a right facing flake/crack. The overhangs above were surmounted at a point a few feet to the right by liebacking up onto a "step" and then stemming and jamming over the remainder of the overhang. From a small tree above the overhang a lieback crack was followed for a short distance until a traverse to a small mountain mahogany could be done. From here we diagonaled up and slightly right, past a large block on easy climbing to the summit. This may have been part of the finish of EL GRANDOTE.
The 1971 edition of the Climber's Guide to Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks characterized this climb as "undoubtedly one of the finest and hardest routes on the north side of Tahquitz Rock."
At the time this route was done (first ascent 1961, first free ascent 1963) it was a very adventurous line, with a compelling and impressive overhang right off the ground. Above the overhang the challenge was to find a route with adequate protection that could be climbed free, yet avoid established routes.
Climbed with today's shoes and pro, it is a relatively straightforward climb, but probably not the best choice for a first 5.9 lead.
Both EL DORADO and EL MONTE have somewhat dicey starts, which is probably just as well, because there is climbing above that is also dicey. I think I backed off of both of these the first time I went to do them. I know this was the case with EL MONTE. The first bolt is a move or two away, and a slip would result in a nasty fall. Eventually Ron Van Horssen and I did both climbs. Don't remember much about EL DORADO, but EL MONTE was a continuously interesting and pretty line with challenging climbing on each pitch. To get off, we rapped and then downclimbed EAST VARIATION OF THE NORTHEAST FACE as described in the Guidebook.
This route was put up by three of my Stoney Point compadres, Jim Wilson, Pete Wilkening and Chris Wegener. (Jim was in on the first ascent of numerous Suicide Rock face routes, and among other climbs, Chris did the first ascent of JT'sWalk on the Wild Side with Roy Naaz.) Considering how well all of them climb is not surprising that GRACE SLICK is an outstanding face climb.
If you like the clean unbroken granite of a Tuolumne Meadows face climb you should find this route very enjoyable. Don't be fooled by its appearance from the ground. The second pitch is very clean, and an exciting lead. Particularly at the second bolt. The physical crux may be just above the first bolt, but for me, going from the second to the third bolt was more of a heart-thumper.
The March day was gray and cloudy, and a brisk wind whipped and blew across the rock. Rain was not in the forecast, but I was wet and uncomfortable. Shivers would come and go as I tried to deal with the cold.
Melting snow from high on the rock trickled down the dihedral. The way I was anchored, ice cold water unmercifully followed the rope to my hand, and from my hand down my arm, underneath my jacket, down my back and eventually to the rock again.
From time to time I would query, "Tom, how's it going up there?" The answer might provide valuable insight. Every movement of the rope was analyzed. Continuous, confident motion giving me hope, minutes of stone-still rope driving me insane.
It was my second trip to Tahquitz. On the first we had done routes on the relatively short (and warm) South Face. The longer routes of the North Face have an entirely different character, and we had been anxious to sample all that Tahquitz had to offer. Oddly, there was a raw beauty in what the rock now offered. The discomfort was part of a total experience that was basic and compelling. Eventually we reached the summit, wet, cold and excited about having completed one of the long North Face climbs!
The NORTHEAST FACE follows a right facing dihedral much of its length, but there is still some route-finding to be done, particularly near the top. The natural line of the dihedral continues up and over an overhang to easier climbing and is my preference.
The EAST VARIATION OF THE NORTHEAST FACE is another right facing dihedral with similar climbing. It joins the NORTHEAST FACE after about three pitches.
In July of 1972 Phil Warrender and I did theEAST VARIATION OF THE NORTHEAST FACE "clean, all on nuts." That was the first time we did a route without a hammer and pins. Sometime later we climbed the NORTHEAST FACE route using only natural protection, knots, and cammed rocks for pro.
I've climbed this a couple of times, but my recollections are vague. The climb now has an "R" rating and I've heard of climbers having problems with the route.
I do recall that "the traverse" right on the second pitch is exciting and delicate, and that I was relieved to get to the "hidden" crack. The thin crack on the third pitch was excellent, and from my viewpoint was the highlight of the climb.
When someone asks, "Which way does the route go?" the obvious answer is "Up!" But climbing routes are not always obvious. Sometimes you will climb down in order to climb up, move left to access a sequence that enables a traverse to the right, do a 5.10 (well-protected) move to avoid a (run-out) 5.8 move. It really helps to consider as many alternatives as possible. Don't fall into the trap of blindly following another climber, chalk, a bolt that makes no sense, a line on a topo or photograph, or a guidebook. You and the way that you interact with the rock are unique. Don't miss your unique and rewarding solutions by following someone else's.
My notes reflect my frustration with trying to stay "on route" according to an arbitrary line described in a guidebook:
Mar 25, 1972. Did Hard Lark with Bill V. Well, I think we did Hard Lark. We did something between the West and East Larks. It was a lot of fun.
Some of my most enjoyable climbs have been those in which I "freelanced," dispensing with the (sometimes) nonsensical starts, endings and prescribed lines that were somebody's notion of what the route should be.
It's difficult to do this route without climbing rock harder than 5.3.
This is a fun climb to do on a weekday, when you have a better chance of doing it without climbers knocking down rocks on your head. Overall the route is fairly clean, but there are many small ledges and at the top of the fifth pitch (more or less) is a large sloping ledge with much debris. This pile may have moved down the ledge somewhat as a result of the Landers earthquake.
Because it offers relatively easy but fun climbing in a pretty setting, I have taken several novice climbers on this route. They have enjoyed the climb, but found the combination of the long approach, long climb, and long descent to be somewhat arduous.
Tom Oetzell and I did this route as an ice climb in March of 1980. See the story and photos accompanying "The Tree" in the Split Rock Gallery.