The Vampire, Tahquitz Rock, CA

June 11, 2008 / 5.11a, 4p, trad.

The Vampire is our final climb at Tahquitz. We have been preparing mentally for this one for the last few days. It follows an amazing, steep line up the center of the upper bulge (west face). The second pitch looks particularly striking, as it follows a thin pancake flake straight up the vertical wall. We get up a bit earlier this time, hoping we can do most of the climb in the shade. We think the face will come into the sun around 1PM or so.

We leave the bus around 7:45AM and make the now familiar drive to Humber Park. The approach seems steeper than ever. Lucie is carrying a lot of weight up the approach. She's trying to help me save my strength for the climb. We get to the ledges at the base of the west face around 9AM. Nobody else around. A couple of parties get to Lunch rock not much later. We're hoping they're not going for our route… having seen a couple of parties having epics on the climb over the last two weeks, we're stressed out enough as it is. We simul-climb the approach pitches: about 2 ˝ pitches up to 5.7 to a good size ledge at the top of a huge flake/buttress with a bolted anchor. This is the regular start to the Vampire. There is also a direct start, up the right side of the buttress perhaps 60ft below. That start adds one third of a pitch of strenuous 5.10c... Not this time. The regular route is likely going to be hard enough as is.

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The Vampire follows an amazing steep line up the upper West face bulge.
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Simul-climbing toward the start of the route.
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The route starts from a good ledge with a bolted anchor
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After a section of good, positive hand jams, the real business begins.
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The first pitch (5.10c) is unrelenting...

Starting the route from this ledge is a bit awkward: you have to first downclimb maybe 12ft down a wide crack along the right edge of the buttress, until it is possible to stem across to the main wall and face the "bat crack", the first pitch of Vampire. Rope drag could be a severe issue if you don't plan things carefully. The belayer should hang low and to the right, not too far from the crack so the ropes run easily. Also, the leader must run it out as high as possible before placing the first piece. Thankfully, this is not a problem, as the initial 30ft or so of the crack provide solid hand jams. Straightforward steep jamming, until you place a good piece, and the crack starts thinning... Eventually, some hard moves lead up past an awkward, overhanging flared section (5.10d). Very strenuous. Both Lucie and I have to hang here to rest for a while before pulling the moves. Above this, the crack eases a bit and small slopy edges offer some rest. A few more feet and you are level with the bolted anchors. Only they are a good 8ft to the left, above a tiny ledge, and getting to them is the crux of the route.

Question is: how to get from here to there. This is extremely steep terrain; the crack veers slightly right and the anchors are on the other side of a dead-vertical slabby bulge.

There are very obvious (chalked) positive edges on the ledge below the anchors. Reaching those edges is not too hard, and one might consider manteling up to the ledge from there. I try this three times without success, each time reversing the moves and retreating back to the crack for some rest. There are no foot holds at all and no hand holds above the ledge. The rock below the ledge overhangs slightly. Wicked. Fortunately, one can get good pro (medium cams and nuts) high in the crack to the right to reduce the trauma. Still a pretty commiting move.

After failing at the mantle, I consider trying to step across to the ledge, staying high, around the bulge with tiny hand holds (a rounded sidepull, and a fingernail sidepull flake further left). Really tough, balancy move. I almost peel off as I remove my right hand from the rounded sidepull, while balancing myself with my left hand pulling hard on the fingernail flake. I then push off a shallow blob just above the sidepull with my right hand and am able to stand on the ledge. Ouch! This first pitch is very steep and strenuous. We should have warmed up on a 5.9 or something. Halfway up the pitch, I had serious doubts about my ability to finish the route. I also came close to giving up on getting to the anchors, before finally managing the step across.

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...and so steeep!
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Looking down at Lucie starting the pitch.
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Higher on p1.
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Trying to figure out the tricky step-across moves.
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The 2nd pitch starts with a thin traverse (5.11a) into a flake.

Once there though, the start of the 2nd pitch looks doable. The edge of the flake is not that far away (maybe about 8ft). There's hope. Lucie follows with the heavy pack… and has similar trouble with the pitch. Once she reaches the belay, we GU-up, drink, and get ready to go for pitch 2. It's a super thin, horizontal traverse left from the anchors (not scary), until one can make a desperate reach left for the flake, get thin finger tip holds behind the flake, then try to get the feet there too without popping off… balancy, but I make it. A wide wing span helps. From here, the flake is quite positive but remains sustained and a bit strenuous as the feet as tricky. Balancy and/or powerful sequences between decent rests. Amazing climbing, good pro (the flake feels thick enough to be safe). The pitch ends sooner than expected when you find yourself looking at a section of super-thin flake that veers horizontally left, and wondering about protecting this, then suddenly realize that the bolted anchor is just below you and 6 ft to the left. I place a good high piece, then make tricky downclimbing moves to the anchor and a small stance. An amazing pitch!

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Climbing up the amazing thin flake.
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Looking at a climber on the runout slab of Fingertrip from the belay.
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Lucie climbing the thin flake.
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One of the rests on the pitch.
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Reaching the top of the flake before the tricky downclimbing back to the bolted anchor.

Lucie has more trouble on the starting traverse. Her shorter reach is clearly a handicap. She is close to reaching the flake when she slips off and swings into the flake system. You only get one try at this move as a follower; any fall takes you to staright to the flake, with no easy way to get back to the start for another go. Oh well. She follows the rest of the pitch without trouble, finding the final downclimb to the anchor a bit exciting.

After a break and some lunch, we get ready for the next pitch.

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Enjoying the views from the belay.
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Having lunch (yes, Lucie was nice enough to carry sandwiches on the climb!).
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Starting p3 (5.10d/11a).
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Following the pitch.
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Pic taken from the ledge just after the tricky traverse on p3.

Back to the flake, up this for a couple of moves, then reach right and clip a good bolt (recently replaced). Above this is an obvious seam that diagonals right toward a good undercling flake with a finger-sized crack. The trouble comes in trying to get established into the crack with only a tiny, flared fingertip opening in the seam, and no footholds at all. 5.11a slab... An alternative to going straight up to the crack consists of making one long move to the right, getting a foot established on a slopy hold on a small arete, then transferring onto that foot. This traverse is extremely thin and balancy. The first time I try, I end up slipping off the foot hold and swing back under the bolt (not scary: you're pretty close to the bolt at this point). Finally, after some hanging and testing the move, I make it through, climb a couple of moves of thin slab (5.10d) to get back up to the seam. A pin scar here (a foot higher in the crack from the desperate hold below), offers a good hold. A good hybrid Alien (blue/green) could be placed here. I don't have one, so I place a blue Alien, which only holds on with 2 cams out of 4... Still helps with the mental. Another move and a second pin scar, a bit thinner, which takes an almost decent black Alien. I also notice potential placements for micro-nuts/RPs between the two scars, but do not use them... hanging on here is pretty strenuous. From here, two or three more moves (the last one is relatively desperate) until you can reach the flake and undercling it. Good pro here. Up the flake some, to a tricky half-mantle, then traverse right a few feet to another overlap. Up this, traverse right again, then up a finger crack into an arch, and on to a small ledge below the arch to belay (0.75" to 2" cams for anchor).

Lucie has similar difficulties with the moves past the bolt (she cannot reach the desperate hold at the bottom of the seam). She ends up sort of swinging into the foothold on the arete after skimming off. She climbs the rest of the pitch just fine.

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Going up the finger crack.
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Reaching the arch (almost at the belay).
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The last pitch (p4, 5.9) follows a gorgeous crack.
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Higher on the last pitch.
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Turning the final overhang.

We're both pretty tired by this point. My left forearm is cramping badly as I pull the ropes up from the belay. I take some aspirin and water which seems to help. The final pitch is fun too and not that trivial (5.9). Starts with a bit of underclinging, then up a gorgeous thin flake, to big overlaps an a couple of committing overhang moves. The final overhang only offers adequate pro (not great). Once you pull over this one, the climbing gets much easier (thankfully) but there is no pro. About 20ft higher, you reach easy wide cracks and the summit ridge.

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The climbing gets easier from there.
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Lucie gaining the summit ridge.
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On the summit ridge.
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A bit of exposed scrambling (standard friction descent)...
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very familiar to us by now...

From there, we follow the usual friction slab descent back to the trail and our packs.

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...bring you back to the trail.
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Retrieving the gear we left on the large ledge above Lunch Rock.
     

We made it!! But just barely. Not quite a clean onsight, but close enough. Amazing route. Good pro all the way. None of the cruxes are dangerous, or even particularly scary. The thin seam above the bolt on the 3rd pitch offers some pro, with the right gear (see above). I'd had nightmares about that section the night before after seeing a climber taking a couple of long whippers onto that bolt. It is nowhere near as scary as I expected. I think we're done with Tahquitz for now. We might leave the area tomorrow.