Monday, April 23, 2012

Roadside Rock Climbing: Hwy 33

Rappelling From the top of "Black Wall", aka "Sespe Gorge" or simply, "the gorge".

I had a good couple of days over the weekend, both originating off Highway 33, the road to good things. Davi Rivas and I spent Saturday clipping bolts and climbing lines at a couple different areas off the highway: The Fortress and Sespe Gorge. Neither of us had previously climbed at this recently bolted area which the developer (the guy with the drill) named the Fortress. As for the Sespe Gorge ("Black Wall" for those who have a guide book), I've been climbing that wall, with and without ropes, since 1991. The place is classic, clean crack climbing on low-angle grippy sandstone. The wall gets you a couple hundred feet off the deck on easy breezy stuff.
David Rivas, starting the second pitch of "Ending Crack", 5.7, the gorge.

A couple of guys on "Tree Line", 5.5, the gorge. "Ending Crack" is the splitter at center left.

Davi Rivas starting up "Ending Crack".

Let's start with the Sespe Gorge. If you've ever heard me say that rock climbing in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties sucks, then this wall is an exception. Now, understand that when I diss our local climbing, it's because I lived in Joshua Tree for years, and climbed and bouldered all over the western US. And yes, I have climbed just about every route in the neighborhood (San Ysidro, Fire Crags, Painted Cave, Green Dome, Mugu, Echo, Malibu Creek, etc...) So yeah, I think I've earned the right to opine on our deficiency of quality rock. In my opinion, the only local places worth climbing are Pine Mountain and this place, the Sespe Gorge. The rest is either contrived or junk, mostly both. I understand that some of you might get a little sensitive and territorial, so I will allow that the are a couple good routes sprinkled here and there; The Great Race, or T-Crack come to mind, but the best climbing for your gas money lies off the 33.

The Gorge is a large, low-angle face split by two crack lines which run from the creek to the top, making for perfect trad climbing ("trad"itional climbing simply means that the leader places his own gear in the crack, while "sport" climbing involves securing the leader's rope by clipping it to a bolt or some other fixed anchor). This wall is the obvious slab on the left at mile 31, and right now is the best time to climb the gorge, no bugs yet and the gorge is getting shade by 1PM. The two main routes, the ones that we typically climb, go easy: the aptly named "Tree Line" is 5.5 and Ending crack goes at 5.7. Both routes require 2 pitches (rope lengths) to reach the top, the belays are bolted and have rappel chains. This is about as low stress as multi-pitch climbing ever gets. We fired off both routes in the usual fashion.
David Stillman, Davi Rivas, re-racking for more.

Natural pro.

The Fortress, a big name for a handful of "whatever" routes. These climbs were established within the past few years by a local climbing guide, the fella that does "Earthworks Climbing". Now, I don't know the guy or understand his motives for bolting this unspectacular formation, but he did and therefore it is now on the map. Most of the handful of climbs at the Fortress are too easy for the average climber to have any fun on, but  the ones that have a quality move or two are sort of worth roping up for, once. I wasn't impressed. To get there, continue past the Black Wall to mile 32, on the left you'll see a triangular formation on the creek (this is Potrero John Wall, four short but fun moderate bolted routes) and 1/10th of a mile later you see a stack of triangular formations well above the creek, this is the Fortress. Potrero John Wall is shadier, steeper, more intelligently bolted (like, on lead), and much more fun.
The Fortress, kind of a silly place.

Davi tying in at the fortress.

The Fortress doesn't have much that I'd call fun.

The Fortress, seen from Hwy 33.

A big pile of expensive stuff.

So, in brief, Highway 33 has a number of places to climb. It starts at the tunnels near wheeler gorge, then the Black Wall at mile 31, then Potrero John Wall and the Fortress at mile 32, a few boulder problems up the road at the Snakepit and also at Munsen Canyon, and of course, saving the best for last, Pine Mountain, the road to which is still closed at this time.
Self portrait from hanging belay.

Hwy 33 from high on the Black Wall.

Winter must be over because Ventura's fog bank is back, probably until next October. Taken from Casitas Springs.

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