Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Adventures in Tokopah Valley

Tokopah Valley is a magical place. Unlike many of the other destinations around the state, I fell in love with it from the first sight. My first outing to this Valley did not involve rock climbing, it was the rarely done ice climb named Moonage Daydream that landed my friends and I on top of the Watchtower in the Winter of 2013. Even though the hike to the base did not take much longer than an hour, we felt as if we climbed an ice route on a remote granite spire.  Maybe we were in Karakoram, or possibly Tien-Shan? As we scratched our way up an 800 mixed route we did not see any other people all day. It was us and the view of granite formations that teased us from across the Valley. Back than I had no idea what they were named, if they had any routes on them, who stood on top of their summits, but I really wanted to climb them all. Suspended in a semi-hanging belay off of a few ice screws I gazed toward the domes and imagined perfect lines that could go up their flawless walls. I wondered if the giant roof in the middle of the lower dome is passable and how incredible it must be to camp in a spot with views of Alta Peak, Tokopah Falls and the Watchtower.
Lower Tokopah Dome with routes that we climbed indicated. Photo from
Views from Lower Tokopah Dome

Surrounding rock

Me on the FFA of the "Reach Around Flake". Fun foot work but most of it is in the upper body.
This chimney system is "The Boardwalk Chimney 5.8 550 ft." Tom's beautiful route "Welcome to Wallmart 5.10d 550ft" pulls the roof to the right.
Daniel leading the third pitch on Beauty and the Beast (5.11- A0 650 ft)
 Some time passed and my dream transformed into action. Research revealed that one of the formations was named Santa Cruz Dome and had a route to the top. More research with the locals revealed that there is another route that has been climbed part way up the Lower Dome but aside from that no one seemed to know.  My friend Daniel went out to the upper dome and climbed a possibly new route. He claimed there is a potential for other adventures. Even though I did not expect much out of it, we set ourselves for several great outings. In the Winter and Spring of 2014 I got out to the Santa Cruz and Lower Tokopah Dome for a total of nine days. My friends and I ended up climbing an awesome 800ft line on the Santa Cruz Dome and four more lines that range from 550 to 700 feet on the Lower Tokopah Dome.  A few pitches that we have done could have possibly been climbed in the past.  But majority of the lines involved bolt-protected face climbing and showed no signs of previous passage.  All the lines were climbed ground up and bolting was done from stances or hooks, which as I found out could be a bit scary. I hope this report will get other people excited to try some routes off the beaten path.  It is possible to climb some awesome established pitches, and put up some of your own.
Giant flake that is the crux of Tokopah Reality

Chicken heads high on the Boardwalk Chimney (550 ft 5.8)
Brian leading the first pitch of Tokopah Reality (5.11 700 ft). 
Tom following pitch two on Tokopah Reality
The crux! Reach Around flake
If there is one TO DO route out there, it must be Tokopah Reality (700 ft 5.11). We gazed at it with intimidation for a few outings in a row, but it went free! It didn't just go free at a reasonable grade, but turned out to be so good that I think people should climb it and see for themselves. Honestly speaking it is an instant classic! The feelings I experienced when I stood at the base of the crux pitch before leading it are hard to articulate, and harder to explain why I experienced the same fear before I followed it on the following day. The unusual nature and variety this climb offers would be exciting for anyone looking for an adventure off the beaten path. There are a few pitches in CA that majority of climbers from the whole United States know. The Narrows, Harding Slot, The Great Roof, Thank God Ledge, Separate Reality along with a few more. Difficulty of these pitches have little to do with their popularity. 'The Reach Around Flake' pitch deserves to be included in the list. It is clean, has enjoyable climbing, spectacular setting. In addition to the wild crux, there are four more quality pitches, one of which is a full 60 meters of chicken head hero-climbing.
Upper Dome. Daniel and I climbed the FA/FFA of Usually Its Sunny 5.10c 800ft up the middle of this giant face
YahoooooO Brian!
Looking at the flake and the giant roof that it pulls

Daniel leading pitch 2 on the Boardwalk Chimney. Check out the sea of clean rock.
Leading the first pitch (crux) of Usually Its Sunny
Upper Tokopah Dome AKA Santa Cruz Dome
Looking down a classic chimney on Santa Cruz Dome
Daniel leading pitch 5 of Beauty and the Beast
Daniel following a beautiful face pitch on Beauty and the Beast
We decided to name the route Tokopah Reality because it features wildly overhanging climbing found on Separate Reality, with a twist of local flavor specific to Tokopah Domes. The setting of it is hard to beat. Views of the Watchtower and the High Sierra, giant roof above you, serene location with no crowds and three hundred feet of air beneath you as you perform a monkey swing to reach around the overhang.
Looking down from the knobby headwall on Tokopah Reality

The other routes are fun too. Each has something special to offer. The Boardwalk chimney takes the natural line up the SW face of the Dome. It could have been climbed back a while back, but our research did not find anyone that would claim an ascent. The route is fairly fun and sustained. It requires wide gear and being able to run it out through easier sections when the crack is too wide to accept any gear. Very good route for beginner climbers to test out their squeeze chimney and heel-toe skills. There are some horizontal placements, awesome knobs to sling and granite of highest quality, which could be said about all the routes that we have climbed. I wrote about it here - The Boardwalk Chimney.
Tom trying to lasso a knob for pro on fourth pitch of Tokopah Reality (700 ft 5.11)
Views of the Watchtower as the storm approaches. We bailed to the giant ledge and went down.
Brian leading the 2nd pitch (OW) on the First Ascent  and FFA of the Tokopah Reality.
A climb with a funny story to it is Usually Its Sunny (800ft 5.10c). On the first trip, in January 2014 it was Daniel, Hunter, Tom and I attempting to climb a new line on Santa Cruz Dome’s massive South Face. Tom bolted a section of difficult face (crux of the route) prior to getting into a beautiful finger and hand crack that we took to the top of the pitch. I started up the second pitch, but since I was a total noob at drilling bolts it took me a bunch of time to drill two. Being a large party on the third day of climbing did not help our psyche. It was the day we were supposed to hike out, so thoughts of real food and other comforts led to a bail. Daniel and I came back in a few months and completed the line to the top. I was nervous about leading the pitch Tom bolted but was able to pull off a send. Daniel took the second pitch (5.8) and ended up doing a bunch of stemming, face climbing and weird chimney moves under a giant flake. I led the next pitch and it turned out to be more enjoyable – a 5.9ish entrance was followed by 60 feet of classic chimney moves under a giant flake. It is hard to find an unclimbed chimney with better rock quality and no choss. The only one that comes to my mind is on the Lower Tokopah Dome. : ) As I neared the top of the chimney I was getting soaked in the stream of snow melt that was coming from the top of the dome. It snowed heavily a week prior and I was getting drenched. Dark clouds and NOAA’s 20% of precipitation forecast meant we were going to get dumped on. As the hope to finish the pitch, make an anchor and bail crossed my mind, I saw our pack bouncing down the wall and onto a snow field at the base. “It unclipped itself from the anchor when I was moving a few things around,” yelled Daniel. “Well, that just eliminated the bailing option,” I thought. As I climbed into a long and runout lay-back I realized it also eliminated the option to wear our approach shoes on the descent, the option to eat, option to drill a bolt on the sea of slab above and option to wear a jacket when the sky will break loose. I took this pitch for full 60 meters to the top of a flake and was psyched to find semi-solid placements to make an anchor. Since the bolt kit was gone and I did not have a solid 3 piece anchor, I was able to put together a semi-solid 5 piece anchor. By the time Daniel got to the top of the pitch the wind got to me and I was shivering. I begged to lead the next pitch so I could warm up. By the time I got 30M off the belay I slung exactly one knob and placed no cams. I was in the middle of a long slab pitch with a double rack to #2 and a single set of cams to BD #6 hanging from my harness. One kit would be more appropriate and greatly appreciated, but it was 600 feet below, slightly out of reach. In 55 meters the slung knob off the belay ended up being my only piece of protection. I felt silly climbing the long slab pitch while giant cams smacked my thighs, but as I pulled to the top of a belay ledge I was happy to find out I did not carry these large pieces for no reason – they made perfect placements for the anchor . Daniel took us through the final headwall and we un-roped for the final walk to the summit. Descending through large patches of snow while getting rained on sucked. We were without our approach shoes or rain shells, but giant smiles covered our faces – we just climbed an awesome new route up a 800 foot face, in winter. After enduring the shit weather and sucky descent we called it “Usually Its Sunny.”  
First pitch of Usually Its Sunny (800 ft 5.10c) with majority of the slab out of view
Daniel styling the layback on pitch 3 of Usually Its Sunny

First pitch of Usually Its Sunny 800ft 5.10c
Raging at camp
Daniel and I celebrating another fun climb.
Cool dike high up on Boardwalk Chimney
Welcome to Wallmart (550 ft 5.10+) was established by Tom Ruddy and Hunter Bonilla on our first trip. First pitch is one of the best thin face routes you could find anywhere. It tests your skills on friction and composure well above your gear. Even though the pitch is fully bolted and requires only a blue or green alien for protection, it features sporty climbing from bolt to bolt in the upper section of the route. It is never dangerous but gripping. Tom bolted it on hooks and from stances creating a true masterpiece. I tried to lead the first pitch late in the day and had to bail, the thing is hard and incredibly good! Even though I climbed to the top of pitch one on the following trip while following Tom's sent, we did not go all the way to the top. The climbing above looked fun and worthy of a trip. I will make sure to climb the full route when an opportunity presents.
Belay ledge leads to another thin flake
Views of Tokopah Valley and Alta peak
Tom sent the incredible 5.10+ pitch on Welcome to Wallmart (550 ft 5.10+)! Heady lead bolted by Tom in impressive style. I TRd this twice and received a lot of pleasure from thin climbing on perfect granite. Leading it would still take a lot of sweating.
More cool face features
 Beauty and the Beast (600 ft 5.11- A0) is my second favorite climb on these formations. Named after a beautiful second pitch that climbs a 150 foot section of awesome face climbing and pitch number four, which is a rope length of offwidth/chimney climbing. Daniel and I dreamed and obsessed over getting to the large ledge in the middle of the face for quite some time and on the day after we climbed a route on the upper dome we finally succeeded in making it up there.

On a prior trip we noticed a short chimney system which led to a ledge part way up the face. After climbing it we noticed an older bolt and got a little sad because it meant someone have gone this way. Above it however we found a beautiful face pitch with difficulties to 5.10 and no sign of previous passage (no bolts). We realized that the older bolt was used to bail off the ledge and proceeded up with more excitement. Bolting the face pitch and getting to a giant ledge, we labeled The Balcony, took remainder of the day. I started up the giant offwidth and was annoyed by a thin section leading into it. Thin crack below had a lot of dirt that I had to clean in order to make it usable. I tried to lead it, but could not free the moves even after trying to top rope it from my high piece. After we bailed down and got back to camp I was a little bummed. Not only did we have to pull up on the old bolt to get to the face section above, I had to aid several moves before I got into the offwidth. The crux of the face pitch didn't feel too easy and still had to be led clean. We only had one more day to finish the route and hike out in order to return to work by Monday. We ate, went to sleep and all I could do was to pray for good luck. It worked fairly well. I was able to sent the face pitch AND the thin moves getting into the offwidth. Even the longish runouts in the offwidth went without an accident. I back cleaned my large cams through the climb and was happy to have them to built a belay station. Daniel took a short but awesome handcrack to a final section of slab where we placed our last bolt. Both of us were super excited about climbing this route because it offered great climbing and pushed us while we led into the unknown.
Brian pulling the bulge off the belay ledge
Pitch 4 on Tokopah Reality finishes with incredible knobs at the base of another headwall with more giant knobs. Incredible climbing
Typical chicken heads on Tokopah Domes.

Me leading P5
Starting another line
Me stance drilling.
There will be more variations! There will be more independent lines! There will be more people getting out and having fun! This place is incredible, please keep it this way by packing out your trash and respecting the environment!!! :)

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