“Won’t it be hot?”
That was the number one question I got from people when I told them I was going to The Gorge as part of an extended weekend trip in August.
The answer is, it was, but not necessarily where we went.
Climbing Day 1
The first full day of climbing started early for me, too early since Thursday night we’d pulled into our camping spot around 12:30 in the morning. The guys had graciously let me sleep in my friend’s Honda Element while they slept on the ground. I might have been on track to be the last one up the next morning except that at 6:00 AM I heard a loud, “Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz” going off simultaneously while an overly happy tuned also played. It was my friend’s phones. Yep, he owns two of them. I groggily tried to pinpoint them and got as far as a backpack with seemingly endless pockets before I really had to pay attention to find them. I managed to quiet both of them and lie back down. Ten minutes later, “Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz”. The darn thing had only snoozed.
Anyway, I got up and took pictures and waited till the sun woke the guys up.
And that was how I started my first day of climbing at the Gorge.
The Gorge turned out to be a lot prettier than I thought and had remembered (I’d seen the top of the Gorge once before but it was before they had let the water run in). I paused on the steep, but not that long, hike in to take a few pictures, we could tell it was going to be a hot day but right then it wasn’t so bad and at the bottom we were greeted by the small but fairly swift stream we had seen during the descent.
What we ended up doing was climbing on one side of the Gorge while it was shaded, having lunch in some shade near the creek during midday, and then moving to the other side of the Gorge after that. By our count there were three other parties there that day, a situation my friends told me was very rare. One group of guys included a fellow who told us he’d just put up a new route up the canyon (unfortunately it was in the sun so we didn’t do it). Another group consisted of two girls who said their goal was to do 22 routes in a day (I didn’t meet them but I’m guessing it was for a birthday challenge). The last person we met was a lady who turned out to be have come down just hoping to find some one to climb with, she had come up from Joshua Tree and had also spent time recently in Yosemite. Since we were a party of three this worked out great and we ended up getting more routes in then we otherwise would have and we hiked out in the dark.
All total we climbed routes on “Great Wall of China”, “Warm Up Wall” and “Negress”. We found the ratings to be hard, though my impression was influenced by the length of the climbs (very tall) and my incredibly painful shoes. I am hereby giving up on the idea that my Moccasyms are going to stretch any more than they have. I’m going to only wear them for gym climbing I think. I really regretted leaving my Mythos in the car as soon as the very first climb of the day!
Climbing Day 2
After a nice Mexican dinner, we spent the night at the same campground again, Horton Creek. Day 2 started for me waking up to the buzzing again but this time it’d been re-set to 8 AM. I could handle that.
The guys woke up and we all agreed to drive onward and make and have breakfast at the next stop where it would be a higher elevation and thus cooler.
We ended up at the parking lot for George Lake in Mammoth. We made breakfast, ate, and then took off for Dike Wall. We went a little bit too far on the trail around the lake so we had a bit of extra hiking and scrambling for us all. We saw a deer and her fawn though so that helped make up for it.
At Dike Wall we came upon a memorial which we later realized was John Bachar’s. It was sobering and touching, with an unopened can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, incense, flowers which had obviously dried since they’d been left, and two pictures of John.
There were two other parties climbing when we got to the wall. A local couple and a visiting one. The local couple admitted they had gone off trail arriving as well so we didn’t feel too bad though I’m sure they hadn’t done it as badly as we had done. The wall is mostly sport though it contains a few trad routes and one mixed route, unfortunately we hadn’t brought any trad gear so we were left with the sport climbs. The lowest of these was a 10a so we picked that for warm up. Again I found the rating hard, but the climb we did was a lot of fun, I used stemming, a drop knee or two, a hand jam, edging, and smearing on it. The view was great, we saw Lake George and the surrounding mountains, some of which sparked outdoor adventure stories from both of my friends. Each of them had lived in Mammoth before but they didn’t know each other then and one was more of a snowboarder than a climber at the time. We lapped the 10a and then only did one more route at Dike Wall, it was a tricky arete / slab / friction 10b climb. We had fun chatting with the other climbers though.
I got slightly chilled in the shade that day, I noticed the visiting couple, two Germans who lived in Britain, pulled on their jackets so it wasn’t just me.
After dinner at a place in Mammoth my friend had been raving about for their onion rings (they were indeed good), night was spent in Big Horn Campground, which had free camping. As a bonus someone had even left firewood near our fire pit so we had a campfire going for short while. We didn’t have any s’mores this time but we did have “fun with photography”.
Climbing Day 3
“Bzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzz,” I couldn’t believe it was 8AM already. I decided I’d just let the phone keep going. I let it go 3 times and then my friend opened the driver’s side door. I told him, “It went off again”.
“Yeah, it’s 6AM.”
“What!?” I said.
Turns out AT&T does something strange in that area and his phone thinks it’s in a different time zone. So the phone went off at what it thought was 8AM but it was really 6AM.
I went back to sleep but woke up again at 8AM when the now correctly zoned phone did its wake up duty. I was tempted to throw it out the window. Turns out my other friend didn’t sleep at all, noisy neighbors had kept him up all night. We were a sorry bunch.
After eating we drove off to an area called Al’s Garage, which was close to Clark’s Canyon. Our original plan in fact was to go to Clark’s but our waitress at the onion rings place had told us that Clark’s would be too hot to climb so we’d chosen Al’s instead. She’d seen our guidebook so had volunteered information. I thought it was cool that one could get onion rings and climbing advice in a local bar.
I think it was a good call because fairly quickly after the hike up to the volcanic tuft cliffs, it got pretty hot if you were in the sun at all, though it was nice in the shade. The ratings at this spot were more like I was expecting, though the length was again on the tall side. We met only one group of climbers that day. They were really nice and gave us beta on the routes available but they left not that long after we arrived since they’d been on the rock since 8AM. After a few climbs we headed out too since my friend (who was driving us) wanted to get home at a reasonable time. I thought it was a worthwhile crag, though I did regret that the view was a little marred by smoke from the Yosemite fire.
I had a lot of fun on our kick back exploratory trip around the Bishop / Mammoth area. Though I usually just pass on by the area on my way to Tuolumne, I learned that it was definitely worth stopping and that free camping with facilities could be found. It was fun to meet mostly local climbers rather than other visitors like one usually does in places like Tuolumne or Joshua Tree. I also learned that you can climb in August at the Gorge, even when the rim must have been quite hot since some unprotected apples left in the car seemed to have been baked to brown mushiness by the time we hiked out in the dark.
I also learned that lack of sleep can really mess you up for wanting to onsight climbs in a new place and that I’m going to insist that my friend sleep with his phone next time.
Link to my full set of photos.