Climbing Log – 4/6/08 – Lotta Balls (5.8)

The attempt of Mount Wilson I did with Jason on April 5 almost drained my energy, and therefore I had no interest to do any long routes the next day. I obtained mutual understanding with my new partner Constance and we decided to go to Lotta Balls Wall at First Creek Canyon on April 6. Even though the approach to Lotta Balls Wall was not exactly short (about one hour of hiking), the terrain was super easy and sweet. Furthermore, there were many doable short routes (3-4 pitches) on that wall, which made our climbing plan flexible.

On the morning of April 6, I woke up when it was too hot to stay in the tent. It was 8 am; I had a nice, long rest. The morning tempo was relaxing—neither Constance nor I wanted to rush. Oh, this reminds me of another good thing about First Creek Canyon—the parking lot is outside of the 13-mile scenic loop, so we did not have to worry about the closing time of the loop. We were sweating on our way in because we were under the sun most of the time.

At the base, Constance asked me what I wanted to do while flaking the rope. She wanted to do some 5.9s such as Lost Marble; however, I felt more comfortable climbing something easier first since we had never climbed with each other before. Being ambitious is admirable but jumping right into the unknown is stupid—I learned the lesson a hard way and I did not plan to make the same mistake. We settled our decision on Lotta Balls. According to the guidebook, it was a 4-pitch climb: 5.7, 5.8+, 5.7 and easy 5th class. She expressed that she was in training so she wanted to lead the harder pitches. Her proposal was that she would lead the first two pitches and I could lead the remaining and if I wanted to do some harder stuff, I could go ahead and do some 5.9s afterward. I did not like her proposal so I countered it with a compromise, I said, “I want to swap leads; how about I let you lead the crux pitch, and I lead the odd pitches.”

This occurred to me as brand new experience. Why so? This was the first time I talked this much with a new partner before I even left the ground. I consider this healthy. Before Constance, I climbed with Jon and Jason, and I did not communicate much with either of them. When the terrain is easy, lack of communication or mutual understanding does not pose a threat; however, when the climb gets more demanding, it becomes a hazard and creates unnecessary risk.

I took the sharp end and started leading the first pitch. I was moving slowly giving my muscles a chance to recover. At some point I got lured to the left because there was a good ledge. After I realized the bolt anchor was on the right, I down climbed from the ledge and traversed to the right and clipped in. I belayed Constance to me and she was also taking her time climbing, slow and steady.

She clipped in and looked up to assess the second pitch. She felt that the start of the second pitch looked kind of intimidating and she quoted the guidebook that the crux pitch is “a delicate lead.” I agreed with her comment and observation. From the bolt anchor to the first bolt was not that bad; one has to make some committing moves but she can have a good stance to clip the bolt and rest. The second bolt is not too far from the first bolt, but the terrain in between is exposed and only offers little chips and knobs for hands and feet. Some of my climbing friends would have described the terrain as “the holds are a bit thin.”

She took off, and clipped in the first bolt without a problem. She looked and looked and we started another conversation. She felt that she should be able to clip into the next bolt but she was pretty worried about what was after the second bolt because the holds looked thinner. I tried to encourage her and told her to take as long as she wanted since she was in a good stance. She moved up a bit and came back down, and told me that she was scared. I tried to cheer her up and in the meantime really paid full attention to her. Ryan who she met at the base and was climbing a route left of ours encouraged her as well, “Constance, you can do this!” She tried again but she came back down again saying that she really wanted to do this but was scared and decided not to lead this. I lowered her to me and started to prepare for leading—you know, taking the lead rack, flipping the rope and so on.

I took a deep breath because I was nervous. I was not sure why I was so nervous. Was that because Constance was scared or the route was intimidating or both? I told myself that I could do this and if I wanted I could always bail. I climbed up, clipped into the first bolt and rested a bit on the tiny ledge. I continued up very carefully, still nervous and a bit scared. I slowly put my weight onto the little knobs, not really trusting them because I knocked off something similar last time I was in Red Rocks; however the knobs turned out to be very trust-worthy, and I managed to clip into the second bolt also in a slow motion. I took another deep breath.

From the second bolt to the next ledge, in my opinion, was the crux of this crux pitch. The holds were worse and the terrain was still exposed and I was too nervous for no reason. I felt that my muscles were too tense because of my mental state; I made a reluctant decision to “take” so that I could shake off my arms and legs. I took another and another deep breath. I moved up little by little, reminding myself to breathe…and the seemingly nice hand hold was being approached within my reach. I had to hop to grab it, ah-ha, it was a super positive jug. Damn, I like jugs but I never knew that I might in fact love them. I climbed up to the ledge and took a good break. The climb started to ease off. Only the last ten feet to the belay station was a bit awkward. I guess the feature, a crack in a corner, explains it all.

Constance did a great job leading the third pitch. By the time I was belaying Constance at the top of the second pitch, the sun had already abandoned us. Worse thing was the wind picked up and I had to shake my body intentionally and unintentionally to keep myself warm. I saw a couple climbers to our right, who were climbing Black Magic; they were also cold and surprisingly they were in short cotton T-shirts! We talked about how climbers usually do not have enough body fat to deal with cold, and how weird the desert weather is. Eventually I heard the most beautiful voice, “Ting Ting, you are on belay,” which meant I could move and that meant I could get warm. I had some issue cleaning a nut and had to use a biner as a hammer trying to knock the nut off from many different angles. Shortly after that, I climbed to Constance and finished the last easy section.

I met three girls on the top and another girl was leading behind us. Earlier I also saw a female leader leading a pitch or two of Black Magic, plus Constance and I, I saw 7 female climbers and at least 5 of them led something. This is awesome; I love to see woman in the outdoors, not to mention how exciting that is to see women leading on real rocks. The descent was a combination of rappelling and hike. When we got back to the base, it was about 4 pm and the wind was howling. Since Constance needed to drive to LA, we called it a day and hiked out. I really enjoyed the outing. First Creek Canyon is a wonderful area for short multi-pitches. In fact, I came back on the last day of my stay in Red Rocks and climbed Black Magic.

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