20.6.11

Idyllwild Raw Running and Black Mtn Bouldering


Nearing Tahquitz Peak - trail runnin'
Summary: Climbed boulders @ Black Mtn - the clouds were amazing. Trail run led to sprained ankle. Read this and check out the photos!

On Friday at 11 am I left San Diego with running shoes, climbing shoes and flip flops. Arriving in Idyllwild, I was happy to find the “health food” store open and stocked with organic fruit (and a deli stocked with seaweed salads and pretty mountain girls). I bought some organic melons, dates and pears.

The medjool dates in Idyllwild kicked the ass of those purchased at Henry's in San Diego. I snagged a logo from the box: Bard Valley http://www.bardmedjool.com/ - highly reccomended! The cantaloupe was 99 cents a pound. On the weekend there is a fresh produce sale out front. 

Bouldering vs. Bowling



Black Mountian – in the San Jacinto Mtns- is considered So Cal's premier summertime granite bouldering spot . The boulders are big. The classics weigh in at an average of V6, which is about 5.13 for the non-boulderers, and roughly the height of a freeway overpass. As in all climbing grades, the rating of the climb has everything to do with the physical difficulty and nothing to do with the risk. There are some easier problems at Black Mountain, but I have yet to find them.

Bouldering with friends kinda like bowling. They both follow a pattern. Bowling is a series that follows the pattern “eat a hot dog, drink a beer, throw a ball”.... Bouldering is like “eat a Cliff Bar, take a pull from your Nalgene water bottle (or clean canteen for the neo-hippies) and wrestle a pebble”.

In a group, the dialogue between you, aka the climber, and your friends, aka the spotters, is caveman-basic. You climb up high and the spotters say “Get it! You got it!”.

You say, “Watch me! The feet suck. You got me? ”

They say, “I got you! You got this. There is a better foot-hold by your knee. Move your right foot. Don't let go, dude. Do it!”

In Bikram's Yoga they say “My brain, your body”...in otherwords, stop thinking and do what I say. 

I set off from my car alone.


Bouldering solo is both glorious and hideous. Glorious when you make it to the top and were correct about the possibility of a descent. Hideous in most other cases. For example, you may find yourself, as I did, just high enough off the deck – elated after finessing your way up a Yosemite-style 5.11 slab - only to find a gritty, decomposed, lichen covered, rounded top that offers nothing to hold on to. If you are like 9 out of 10 people, your mind will race. The little mountain birds zoom by your head but they don't give you advice (in fact their chirping starts to sound like the click of a caribiner) The chipmunk on the ground invites his friends over to laugh at you and eat more of your food. You look down to realize that you have traversed 10 feet to the right of your crash pad and are over a spiky rock, affectionately referred to as a “back breaker”. You imagine yourself sand-papering down the Yosemite-style 5.11 slab and buckling both ankles at the bottom – screaming for help -- while wearing nothing but running shorts because you thought your calf muscles would look cool in the self-timer shot.

You think back to other instances where climbers you know were injured. Personally, I remember when our good buddy Rick West took a bad fall while soloing Devil's Kitchen in Chico. He broke both ankles and wound up on the cover of the newspaper in a mountain rescue stretcher-thingy. He had pulled his shirt over his head for anonymity but the journalist went and used Rick West's full name in the photo caption, as I just did.
Nice, friendly, low boulder @ Black Mountain

So now what?? Do you down-climb a slab with no pad below you? Do you traverse to an area that appears to be over the pad and jump for it? “Stop being a wuss”, you tell yourself and slap your palm onto the gritty lichen. The rock is rounded so that you can no longer see your feet, which doesn't matter anyway because there are no footholds.

“Eff this! My hands sweating – Should I chalk up or just go? What a stupid rock. Is that a yellow-jacket? Shit, is this rock over a yellow-jacket nest? Or is that a bee? I might be allergic.”

Best best is to decide all of this before you leave the ground – but that would keep you from going in the first place. I traversed over the pad and jumped for it. Just like jumping off a high-dive backwards with a hard cover on the pool. Crash! Boom! Run away.  (Bailing from this boulder was not how I sprained my ankle.)


Trail Run to Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout
 2 hours, 9 miles, 2500 ft 

I drove off of Black Mountain through the town of Idyllwild and slept in the parking lot at Humber Park, the trailhead for Tahquitz and Suicide Rock. It was a full moon and warm enough that I did not need a sleeping bag.

The next morning I woke up at six a.m., ate a honeydew melon and loaded my camelback with Bard Valley organic medjool dates and a liter of water. My goal was to run from car to the fire lookout on Tahquitz Peak and back. Keep in mind that I am a flatlander who lives 1/4 mile from the sea at 200 feet elevation. This run started at over 6000 feet and would end somewhere between 8500 and 10000 feet. The ascent burned my lungs. I became dizzy – not the good kind of dizzy. I ran 50 yards and walked 50 yards. I breathed through my nose so that the Riverside smog wouldn't roast my throat. Of course it would have been faster to powerwalk the steep parts and then jog the easy parts, but I was on a mission.

I passed about 10 groups on the way up to the saddle junction and then took a right for the final climb up to the fire lookout. Along the ridge, where the air was thinner but the terrain was easier, I had about two miles of grade A trail running. Chipmunks who chirped at me yesterday now ran for their lives.

Injuries never happen on the way up, so on the way down I hauled-ass. The ground was soft enough and rocky enough to make running painless and interesting. Most groups did not have time to see me coming, I just lept past them. A boy scout who was dragging himself along the trail asked me a question that my mind did not hear until 100 yards later. “How far is saddle junction?”

I wanted to run back and tell him it was around the next corner and then hide around the next corner so that I could see his disappointment. I wanted to ask him why he was out with a boy scout shirt on and no map. Then, I came around a left hand corner while chuckling slightly, planted my right foot and rolled my ankle until I heard it pop. My mind flashed back to every other time I had broken or sprained my ankles.

I wanted none of it. I sat down, took off my shoe, and my foot froze in position. The muscles and ligaments and possibly bones refused to move. I grabbed my foot with my hands and slowly coaxed my foot in all directions, gradually extending the range and the increasing the pain until it didn't hurt anymore. Five minutes later I had my shoe on and was back to running.

My ankle was sprained and I was full of endorphins so it didn't matter. It crunched and popped a few times and then fell into line. I kept running and thought about how happy I'd be the next time I come up and jog this trail even faster. (After reading a book by Dean Karnazes I can see that this sick mind-set is exactly what is required to run hundreds of miles)

My final round-trip time from Humber Park to Tahquitz Fire Lookout was 2 hours and four minutes - including several stops for food, water, photos and ankle repair. The 9 mile trail ascends and then drops about 2,500 feet, the majority of which is switchbacks. Two day's later, I am walking with a cane.

“You are halfway there.” I should have told the boy scout.