Planet Granite

Oct 212014
Squeezing in Another Classic
A Route Description of the Steck Salathe
by Walker Emerson


(A WORD OF CAUTION: Before you embark on this adventure, please do your research! Review both online sources and printed guidebooks. This route is notoriously challenging and should not be taken lightly. Be both confident and comfortable climbing 5.10 cracks in the Yosemite Valley, using the appropriate technique for wide crack climbing and also familiar (& fit enough) for long days of 10-15 + pitches. While both Walker and Planet Granite are psyched to share the beta, consult your local mountain guide for more information.) 

Walker 1

(The Sentinel amongst the trees, in the early morning light. Photo by Walker Emerson.)

Everything you’ve heard about the Steck Salathe is true.

It’s wide, it’s hard, it’s good.

The route is a testament to the early ages of Yosemite Climbing. In 1950 on a hot summer day Allen Steck and John Salathe, eyed a line of weakness up the fifteen hundred foot Sentinel Rock. Due to its northern aspect, the climb would provide an escape from the sweltering valley floor. They set off with their gear, pitons, nuts, hexes and stiff rubber boots.


Park at the Four Mile Trail head, on Southside Dr, follow the trail past the boulders and up the gentle switchbacks, to the base of the Sentinel (See Overview Map). Locate a large sloping ramp to your right, continue up around to the base of the climb.

Steck 1

(LEFT: Locate this large ramp. Photo from  |   RIGHT: It’s wide from the start! Looking up the 1st pitch. Photo by Walker.)

Be prepared for exposed fourth class terrain; skirt the Northeast corner of the wall, between a larger tree and the wall, and up a sandy hill to the base of the Steck Salathe. Begin the route on mound of sand, hidden by trees.


Pitch 1-3

Begin in a large left facing corner, through a difficult 5.8 offwidth. Continue up easy terrain past hand cracks, a 5.7 finger crack, past a few trees and an easy loose section. Belay from a ledge above the loose section. The Wilson Overhang, pitch 4, will be visible. Route finding is slightly difficult. Some simul climbing will be necessary to link.

Pitch 4

The Wilson Overhang.

Climb an easy offwidth to the base of the overhang. The crux is easier than it looks. Gain the flake jug and pull over the bulge past a pin. Continue up sustained climbing to the belay.

Pitch 5-6

The hardest pitch for me, was not one of the dubiously named cruxes, but this short 5.9 squeeze. In order to make this pitch less awkward, leave everything at the belay except, the #4 and #2. In your best Yosemite style, suck in your gut and battle the sandbagged pitch, right side in. Once safely past the crux lower a loop of rope and tag up both you and your partners gear. Traverse to the right on good holds to a long sustained 5.8 crack system. Belay at a large ledge.

Pitch 7-9

Climb the steep juggy crack system to the left to a ledge with a few small trees and a large boulder. Sling the boulder with your rope for a belay. continue up up the easy terrain towards the top of the Flying Buttress, passing through a corridor just shy of the summit to a bolted belay on the other side. Rappel or down climb to a large sheltered ledge. This is a nice place to stop and eat lunch. 

Climb down to a bolted belay at the base of the obvious crack system, belay from here.


(A spectacular view of El Cap and the Cathedrals from the Steck Salathe. Photo by Walker.)

Pitch 10

Climb a long 5.9 pitch to a belay below a small roof.

Steck 2

(LEFT: Looking up at the 10b crux of the route and the Narrows. Photo from | RIGHT: A climber enters the Narrows. Photo from

Pitch 11

Climb up and right, mantle onto a sloping ledge, climb to the right locating an old bolt. Trending up and left on fun terrain, placing small nuts and clipping new bolts, belay at the base of a wide flare. Easiest 5.9 on the route.

Pitch 12

With everything you’ve got, burl your way through the crux of the route. Plunging your arms into the gaping crack, swimming with your legs, wiggle your way past two new bolts to the bolted belay. Victory favors the bold.

Pitch 13

The Narrows

Placing the #4 high above your head, chimney through one of the most unique features ever, gaining the squeeze and a hidden jug. Bracing with your knees and feet tunnel inside the mountain, escape through a gap to the outside, following a foot ledge away from the depths, gain the easy cracks and climb to the sandy belay.

Pitch 14-15

Climb easy terrain to the base of one final chimney with large lodge boulders inside. Navigate through and behind the obstacles existing up and left on easy terrain to the belay at the base of a steep crack system. #3 and #4 fit in at belay nicely.

Pitch 16-17

Climb the final steep 5.9 hand cracks to a difficult exist move. Romp up low angle cracks, past a large tree, to the summit. Belay in the sand from a crack to the right with a #.4 and #.5.

Steck 3

(LEFT: The descent viewed from the summit. | RIGHT: Looking up the descent gully. Both photos by Walker.)

Locate the large dead tree directly North of your position. This is NOT the way down!


(The large dead tree – NOT the way down! Photo by Walker.)

Instead head towards the North East corner of the summit. Meander down through manzanita tunnels. Exit the manzanita on the West side of the saddle, traverse the hillside to the notch. Pass over the notch to the East gulley.

Keep close to your partner, in case you dislodge a boulder and send it tumbling. At the end of the gulley you will encounter a cold spring. Drink up you deserve it!

the sentinel

(Approach and descent overview for the Sentinel. Photo Google Earth.)

From here the route finding is a little tricky. Cross the stream and make your way down a series ledges and small cliffs. Be sure to not get suckered too low and escape back towards the base of the sentinel down a bushy gully. Continue down steep slabs paralleling the creek still on the East side.

At the bottom of the steep section you can escape across the creek to easier terrain and finally arriving at the junction, where you have left your packs. Stash your beers in the creek on the approach for a cool and refreshing reward!

  • Single set of BD C4’s #.3 – 4 with extra pieces in the .4 – .75 range
  • Single set of BD Stoppers #4 – 12
  • 9 Slings
  • 3 double length Slings
  • 70 meter Rope
  • Start early.
  • Leave extra gear at base of route.
  • Avoid using a daypack.
  • Distribute weight on your harness, use two plastic water bottles, modified with cordelette and duct tape.
  • Hang a mesh bag from your harness to carry bars, a sandwich and your headlamp.
  • Both you and your partner take pictures of the topo with your phones.
  • Link pitches to save time.
  • Tweet at the belay to avoid boredom.
stecksalathe topo

(Overview of the Steck Salathe. Photo

walker bio photo
Walker Emerson is a contributing writer for the PG Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias ‘Smash’. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite.

To keep up with Walker’s adventures, follow him on the PG Blog, join him on InstagramVimeo and Facebook.

Oct 152014

On September 26th Planet Granite Belmont opened its doors to over 300 climbers, all ready to test themselves against the setters’ best for BLOC PARTY 2014.  Climbers of all ability levels worked for hours on the problems, and were not disappointed. High finishes, creative sequences, and smooth flowing climbing at all difficulty levels made this set of problems great!

26 and 25

LEFT: Problem #26. | RIGHT: Problem #25.

Several problems stood out for their popularity: #26 demanded balance and controlled movement on the smallest of crimps. #25 had a near-constant crowd of climbers working on the beta, with the most popular choice being a high left heel to a tricky left-hand cross.


The infamous problem #35.

However, by far the most popular climb of the night was #35, set in the lead cave.

Matt Irwin, one of the night’s winners and a Climbing Team veteran, thinks the reason for this popularity is clear: “The climb is a triple dyno with a big heel hook. Its really cool.”  From 4:00pm to 9:00pm, packs of climbers gathered around #35 encouraging each other to commit to the big horizontal and vertical moves!

Edder Diaz kept things moving as this year’s MC, motivating climbers with interesting interviews and his usual impeccable style.  Climbers also regained energy by visiting our fantastic sponsor booths: Flux Coffee, Three Twins Ice Cream, and Katapult Energy.

And of course, the event would never have gone so smoothly without the hard-working staff at the front desk and on the floor!

BL Bloc Party

PG staff love giving out prizes!

At the end of the night climbers gathered together around the prize table, and eagerly raised their hands towards the balcony where Chelsea was poised and ready to rain prizes down onto them. After a five-minute-long shower of stickers, bars, brushes and other small gear items, everyone had their hands full of goodies.

Finally, it was time for the results!


22,660   HANNAH DONNELLY       Female Open

19,370   ZOE WONG         Female Advanced

14,500   NIKA BOGOSLOVSKY      Female Recreational

14,500   HEATHER I HOUGHTON Female Recreational


27,980   RYAN K OLSON  Male      Open

23,960   MATTHEW IRWIN            Male      Advanced

19,080   TED PETERSON  Male      Recreational


With good music, good food, good people and good problems Belmont’s 2014 Bloc Party was truly a fantastic night!

Last stop in the tour AND the ONSIGHT SERIES FINAL!

Jesse Bio Pic
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jesse has a passion for education, climbing, and being outdoors with friends. Now back in the Bay Area after several years of traveling, he can often be found talking with friends and drinking tea in the gym between climbs. He loves the PG community, and is psyched to take both his training plans and the PG Belmont youth programs and community events to the next level. 

Oct 012014
An Interview with Sam Elias by Walker Emerson

JUNE 25th 2014: Sam and Mike shiver on a small rock ledge two thousand feet above the ground. They huddle around a small single burner stove for warmth. Burning their precious fuel, they pray the storm breaks before they run out of supplies or freeze to death.

Mike and Sam rack

Sam racking up for their push to the summit. Photo by Jonathan Byers.

Mike checks the battery life on his phone – only 20%.  “We’re gonna have to call for a rescue if this storm keeps up.” he says. They are unprepared with only one rain jacket between them.

Only ten pitches stand between them and a free ascent of the route. Sam funnels the rain water with his jacket into a plastic bottle. “Well, at least we won’t go thirsty…” he groans.


Sam and Mike alone on the wall after surviving a cold day in the rain. Photo by Jonathan Byers.

A blue rope smacks the ledge beside them and pierces the air with a loud CRACK. They look up expecting to see a Yosemite Search and Rescue team descending towards them, ready to pick them off the wall and end their crusade.

But to Sam and Mike’s surprise their friend Eliot Faber rappels towards them. “I’ve brought food and fuel!” he exclaims “How you guys doing?” “Much better now that you are here!” Sam says smiling.

They weathered the storm and after six days on El Capitan, Sam Elias and Mike Kerzhner made the 3rd free ascent of the long and difficult route called The PreMuir. 

ABOUT SAM ELIAS: Thirty two years ago Sam was born near Detroit, Michigan. He began sport climbing in the Red River Gorge and soon found himself living and working at Miguel’s Pizza to fuel his new passion for climbing rocks.

Today, Sam is an extremely well rounded rock climber. From ice and mixed climbing, to traditional climbing and bouldering, (including a summit of Mount Everest in 2012!), Sam is a true rock and ice connoisseur. He presently works as an ambassador for The North Face, Scarpa and Black Diamond.

As a friend of Sam’s, I am truly inspired by his accomplishments and wanted to learn more about his experiences. 


Sam takes in the exposure after sending the crux pitch. Photo by Mike Kerzhner.

Q – What made you want to climb El Cap?

Curiosity, the desire to try something new, and the affinity to connect with climbing history.

Q – The PreMuir is one of the hardest free routes on El Cap. With only two prior ascents!

Why did you choose this route for your first big wall experience?

My friends (you and Mike Kerzhner) were working on it, and said it was awesome. I honestly didn’t really know what I was getting into and didn’t really think so much about a full ascent. I was happy just climbing some pitches on the Captain.

It slowly progressed into thinking about a real push and ultimately came down to a hail mary because the summer was getting along and Yosemite was getting hot.

Q – What did you eat on the wall?

Oatmeal, dried fruit, nuts, ProBars, Larabars, prepackaged dehydrated meals – a lot of soups and also quinoa, rice, or pasta dishes, canned tuna and chicken, some dried meat and cheese, bread bagels and crackers, apples, oranges, avocados, radishes, olive oil and salt.

Q – What was your approach for sending the PreMuir?

We planned for 3 days of climbing followed by a rest day, and then 2-4 more days of climbing. We also came up with a plan to avoid using a portaledge. We woke everyday between 3-4 am, and were climbing by first light to avoid climbing in the sun as much as possible.

Sam and Mike 2

Photos by Jonathan Byers.

In the end we had climbed for 3 days, rested a day, and climbed out in 2 days. After spending a night on top of El Cap we then rappelled the whole route.

Q – What’s the next El Cap project for you?

Maybe the Salathe? I don’t know. There’s so much for me to do.

Q – What did you do to train for the PreMuir?

I mostly just climbed on it for the better part of 2 months. Though I did take a few rest periods from the valley in San Francisco and also went home to Salt Lake City. I gym climbed at those times to keep my climbing endurance up and maintain my finger and upper body strength.

Q – Had you and Mike Kerzhner climbed together before you teamed up to send the Premuir?

I’ve known Mike since 2005 in the Red River Gorge. I moved there to chill out after college and climb. His family was living in Ohio and he was visiting the Red like every weekend. He and his brother Greg were in high school then, and we were around each other a lot.


Mike high on the wall pushing for the top. Photo by Jonathan Byers.

It’s pretty cool that I’ve known them for this long and literally watched them both grow up. They are really talented guys – physically and intellectually.

The PreMuir was the first time Mike and I had connected and climbed together since the Red, though we’ve been aware of each others whereabouts over the years through mutual friends.

Q – What’s your proudest climbing moment?

Sam and Mike after send

Sam and Mike on top of the PreMuir after their ascent. Photo by Mike Kerzhner.

It’s such a simple but difficult question. The PreMuir took everything I had. It required everything I knew of myself and of climbing, but it also forced me to learn other skills and adapt to new situations. I’m pretty damn proud of it!

Q – Favorite things to do when not climbing?

I like to enjoy the simple things of home and rest – coffee, cooking and food, good drinks, and friends. I like to run. I read and write sometimes. I like to think about art and tattoos. I like to do things with my hands.

Q – What makes you happy?

Balance, simplicity, imagination, creativity, physical exertion. Being outside, the wind and the smells, wide open landscapes.

walker bio photo
Walker Emerson is a contributing writer for the PG Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias ‘Smash’. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite.

To keep up with Walker’s adventures, follow him on the PG Blog, join him on InstagramVimeo and Facebook.

Sep 252014

(Apparently when Sports Illustrated asked the infamous author Hunter S. Thomson to cover motorcycle races in Las Vegas for a 500-word article, he returned with a 25 page meandering manuscript that would eventually become his iconic novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I shall try my best not to do that here.)


I was completely new to climbing when I first started working at PG this summer, and I was entirely unsure what to expect so it was an understandably odd sensation when I found myself jammed in a car with four other climbers, shooting up to Tahoe for a weekend of climbing, not two weeks after I had been hired.

It was about 1 a.m. when I started wondering if I was sure about what I had gotten myself into. I was sitting in the front seat of my coworker Jesse’s car, watching his headlights reach out onto the ever-so-dark mountain roads a bit north of Auburn, California. I had met Jesse a week prior, and though I had to come to know him a lot better in the following two days (and coming weeks), at the moment all I knew about him was that he loved rock climbing, owned a five-seater car, and had a certain proclivity for dying his hair vibrant colors (currently pink).

Piled in the back, amidst crash pads, a few packs, sleeping bags, and countless carabineers sat Cristina, Julia, and Ali. All together, we made five of the new Event Staff team members.


Almost all of us had met for the first time on the first day of Event Staff training—the instructional period in which all of us new Event Staff learned the skills we need to make Planet Granite summer camp awesome for all the kids to attend. After learning the ropes (pun intended), Jesse had invited anyone who was interested to go up to Southern Lake Tahoe to climb. I jumped at the opportunity, as did the other three newcomers.

While Julia—and obviously Jesse—had climbed before, Ali, Cristina and I were new to the ways of the rock. You would have thought that our lack of experience—coupled with the fact that none of us really new each other—might have made the car ride a bit uncomfortable.

But I have to give credit to PG hiring process; the five of us hit it off right away. We had left late—Cristina was the last pick-up, at around 10:30 p.m.—and the next four hours were filled stories, laughing, and some nefariously strong black coffee that Jesse brought along to keep our energy up.

We got into South Lake Tahoe after 2 a.m., and pitched a few tents in the dark, with Jesse and I setting up to sleep under the stars. I remember lying out under the impossibly wide Tahoe sky. Counting stars is a good way to fall asleep up in the mountains, and after a week of work and a long drive, I was passed out pretty quickly.

We were up a few hours later, but there wasn’t any time for grogginess. There were rocks to climb.


In the morning light, we were introduced to two of Jesse’s friends, who had been (understandably) fast sleep when we arrived. Nick and Jennifer solidified my belief that “climber” and “friendly” are synonymous terms; meeting them was one of the highlights of the weekend.

But the major highlight was arriving at our real destination: 90-Foot Wall.

90-Foot Wall is actually a misnomer—the wall is more like 70 feet tall. It’s a roughly 200 foot long crag, with great face and crack climbing along the length of it.

While 90-Foot offers lead climbing, we opted to climb to the top to set in a few anchors for top-rope climbing. Being new to climbing meant I didn’t know much about anchors but, seeing I’d be depending on said anchors to protect my life and limb(s), I decided that I wanted to at least watch them get set.

I want to say that watching Jesse, Nick, and Jennifer set anchors was like watching artists at work, but setting cradles for climbing rope seems more like an exercise in engineering than art. I was fascinated by how important it was to establish symmetry. For every anchor we used two bolts (metal rods set into the rock for climbing purposes); from the bolts, we set out two lines of equal length, and connected them with carabiners. At each step of the process, we established redundancies—two lines of cord from every bolt, and two carabiners at every junction. At the end, the anchor made a “Y” shape—two lines of cord coming from each bolt, joined at the middle by two carabiners. The rope we would use while climbing was to pass through these two carabineers.

While setting the anchors, a few local climbers gave us some tips to help us make them extra secure. They were very helpful, and even more friendly. I’m telling you—climbers are a different (perhaps superior) breed of people.

We arrived at our last step in the process. Jesse shouted, “Rope!” and threw down what was to become our lifeline. We then hiked and scrambled our way back down to the foot of the rock, donned our harnesses, attached a Gri-Gri, and prepared to climb.


It’s hard to describe the feeling I felt when I walked up to the base of the wall to tie myself in. It was a mixture of nervousness, only-two-hours-of-sleep-ness, and curiosity. Obviously I was incredibly excited but, to be honest, I was pretty spooked too. I had climbed walls in the gym plenty of times, but something about being out in the mountains, climbing on actual granite, had shaken me up a bit. There were so many new variables to think about, and my mind was racing trying to think of all of them.

“On belay?” I asked.

“Belay on,” responded Jesse.

“Climbing…?” I said.

“Climb on,” replied Jesse.

All the nervousness, all the overthinking, all the lack of sleep—it disappeared the second I put my hand on the first hold I could see. Everything floated away as my focus latched itself onto the wall and the task at hand. I got my feet up. I arranged my hips with the wall. I began to climb.

Something I noticed right off the bat was that there were no pink handholds—or green, or orange, or red for that matter. It wasn’t like the gym; the entire wall all looked the same. But I quickly began to recognize what the handholds were on an actual wall. I used everything I could to climb, the most useful of which was a relatively large crack down the face.

There came a moment about halfway up the face. I leaned back to take a break and felt the rock, rough beneath my skin. I felt the sun on my back and smelled pine trees. As I rested I saw blue in my peripheral vision. I looked to the right just as the wind picked up. As it blew through my hair I saw Lake Tahoe’s beautiful Emerald Bay.

I’m not sure if all climbers have “their moment,” but for me, that was it. That was my moment. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I now know climbing is a way to get close to nature, and close to myself. It is a beautiful sport.

I am so grateful to all the people that made the trip such a success—Jesse, Julia, Cristina, and Ali have been great to work with in the weeks since our trip, and I have even seen Nick around the gym a few times. Planet Granite is a community—a village—and I am so glad to have been welcomed into the heart of it. I hope it will serve as a basecamp as I begin the ascent into a life of climbing.

Sep 232014

Full Northeast Ridge of Lyell (from Donahue Pass) – a trip report by PG Lead Supervisor and Coach, Evan Pearce.


Dan approaching the real climbing on the traverse to Lyell. Photo by Evan Pearce.

4:50am:  “Good thing we set two alarms…”  The first alarm failed to go off, but the second got us up and moving.  Unfortunately the sky did not look as friendly as it had in the earlier morning hours during our biological excursions.  A few stars were visible here and there but large stretches of the sky were an ominous, blank, black.  Despite this portentous sky we packed our things, choked down a quick breakfast (I managed half a bar) and hit the trail by headlamp.

Dan was in the lead, setting a brisk pace up to Donahue Pass from our camp, where the JMT first crosses the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne on the way down to Lyell canyon.  We headed back up the trail we had descended the day before, and our headlamps were quickly unnecessary.  We reached the pass in time to be treated to a beautiful sunrise, that set aglow the clean granite slabs which made up the start of our ridge traverse.


Sunrise at the start of our traverse of the East Ridge of Lyell. Photo by Evan Pearce.



After a bit of easy slab walking, we got our first close up views our goal for the day:  The Full Northeast Ridge of Lyell.  We knew little of the terrain ahead of us; guidebooks were unhelpful and internet searches fruitless.  In our heads, the traverse was broken into sections by the descriptions we used to point out the various features to each other while staring up at the ridgeline from camp the evening before.  The Sharks Fin, The Mystery Meat (a truely prophetic name), THE Gendarme.


Morning light on the traverse from near the start. Photo by Evan Pearce.


On the approach to the East Ridge of Lyell. Photo by Evan Pearce.

Despite the excitement of pulling ourselves up to the start of the traverse and getting ready to set off into some unknown climbing, the sky remained threatening.  We began the climb up the initial steepening ridge, with barely a pause to collect our thoughts.  Dan climbed like a madman and I could barely maintain contact with him, and at the same time keep my heart rate low enough to avoid passing out.  Turns out that Dan was more than a little worried about the weather and he was gunning to complete as much of the traverse as he could before the rain moved in on us.  And his concerns seemed fully justified as we topped out the immensely fun climbing on the initial section of the ridge.  The joys of cruising up super solid low fifth class Sierra granite were quickly replaced in my heart by dismay, as it was clearly already raining hard to the south and west of our position.  My dismay was due less to a potential forced retreat from the ridge, but more about the knowledge that it was only a matter of time before the rains reached us, and that meant Dan was going to kick it into an even higher gear.

We took off along the ridge, heading across relatively easy terrain towards the Shark’s Fin.  At one point, there was a steep, relatively blank drop off on the ridge, which forced us to down climb a loose chimney off the left side of the ridgeline and then traverse 40 or 50m back to the ridge and the start of the Shark’s Fin.  This feature provided more excellent rock and climbing that passed in blur of breathless joy, as I fought to stay focused on my climbing and keep moving quickly and efficiently.  I have no photos of this portion of the climb because we dared not stop.  It was clear that the rain would begin at any moment and we both had a strong desire to reach a portion of the ridge with a known descent route.


Dan on the traverse with the “Mystery Meat” in the background.

From the top of the Shark’s Fin we traversed passed a few gendarmes and reached the start of the “Mystery Meat”.  From our camp this had looked to be the worst rock of the traverse, and we were fully justified in our assessment.  What we did not anticipate was that this section of the ridge would also be the sharpest, with a knife-edged ridgeline constructed of thin plates of metamorphic rock set together vertically and at a diagonal.  It was much like climbing across the top of display of flatware at Bed Bath and Beyond.  In discussion the previous evening, Dan thought the Mystery Meat would take us “either 10 minutes or an hour.”  It might have taken us an hour if we had had the luxury of clear skies, but we passed it as quickly as we could.  I managed to mostly swallow my fear of the loose plates I was climbing over and around, although more than a few curses escaped me as rocks shifted in hand and under foot.


Dan on some of the low 5th class climbing on the start of the traverse to Lyell from Donahue. Photo by Evan Pearce.

Once passed the Mystery Meat, it was not far to THE Gendarme.  We traversed along some ledges just underneath this feature aiming for a way up to the notch in the ridge just after THE Gendarme.  However, from our vantage point the rock up out of the notch looked steep and blank and we were just about out of time, as a couple scattered raindrops were detected.  We considered descending to the talus below and traversing to the solid and obvious ridge coming up from the south (described in the East Arete from Marie Lakes), but we were far enough above the talus to make this unattractive.  We headed instead for a series of ledges that seemed to link up to produce a route up the central gully of the SE face of this peaklet.  As we moved up into this ledge system the sky finally committed to some steady rain.


Dan negotiates a particularly interesting looking section of the ridge with ominous skies behind. Photo by Evan Pearce.

We took slightly different routes up the gully but both pulled moves we admitted that we did not want to downclimb on wet rock.  We looked over at each other along the diagonal ledge that we had both reached from our disparate routes.  At Dan’s behest, I moved out to left/downhill end of the ledge to see what happened after the ledge went around the corner and out of the central gully.  The ledge continued but only around to a notch in the next arête over.  The terrain beyond that point was still unknown, and I turned back to Dan without feeling too excited about our prospects for continuing in that direction.  As I looked back at Dan from my new point of view, I discovered the real meaning of a “thank god” ledge.  I saw that if we ducked under a little overhang and continued along our ledge it would take us all the way out to the ridge crest and hopefully into easier terrain.  I told Dan that the ledge looked like an escape route, and he gratefully took off to explore.  I followed along behind and after a few tense moments heard the sounds of mingled elation and relief from above, as Dan pulled a few class 4 moves up on to the top of the ridge.  From that point, we were once again in territory with escape options, and most importantly, escape options that were feasible in the steadily increasing rain.

After a brief discussion, we decided to continue on the through the rain as far towards the summit as we could.  We had come most of the way along the ridge and the climbing looked easy enough to be safe.  As we moved along the ridge, the wonderful white Sierra granite reasserted itself as my favorite flavor of rock.  Somehow those beautiful hunks of white rock stayed grippy and secure as things got wetter and wetter.  Unfortunately, Mt Lyell is not composed solely of the lovely white stuff, and there were more than a few sections of treacherously slippery metamorphic blocks that had to be climbed over very carefully. 

We didn’t stop to look at our watches during this time, so I have little concept of how long  we climbed through the storm to the summit.  I do know that at some point during the climb the rain turned to snow, which, was kind of awesome.  Both for the fact that we got a little less wet, and because it is just damn cool to be up in the mountains in that kind of weather.  We maneuvered past the few remaining obstacles and soon found ourselves on the summit, damp and elated.  After a few happy moments looking around at the view and the clouds we checked the watch and to our surprise it was just after 9AM!  If we had been moving that fast, I guess I had good reason for feeling like I my heart had been pounding for hours.


Dan topping our Maclure on our traverse, with the summit of Lyell still draped in clouds. Photo by Evan Pearce.

We lingered for only a little while before heading down to the Lyell-Maclure col, where I talked Dan into tacking on a quick run up to Maclure since I had never been up there.  The rain and snow had trailed off during our descent from Lyell, so he agreed and we had a fun stroll up to the summit, leaving our packs behind at the col.  A pretty strong breeze was blowing up from the basin below us, and by the time we made our way down from the summit and began the descent, most of the talus and slabs were fairly dry.  We made good time and were back at our tent at noon, in time for a big lunch.

For a cool video of their summit shot by Dan, check out this link here!

Photo by Evan Pearce

Sep 162014
A Crash Course in Crash Pads


Crash pads have a durable bottom shell and usually a less durable, more aesthetically pleasing top-shell. The innards of the pad are comprised of open and closed cell foam. The quality of a pad is dictated by a combination of the foam’s longevity to keep a falling climber from bottoming out, and the durability of the shell to not rip over rocks. After these two major components, there are more subtle attributes that one will find important– how it carries on a climber’s back, how it carries with other pads, and how it stores gear.

Ode to Organic - climbing

Photo by Sam Davis of Ana Burgos getting at it above a couple full pads in Hueco, TX.


First of all, for the environmentally conscious consumers, Organic is dedicated and I mean DEDICATED to sourcing everything (from the fabric, to the foam, to the American Apparel tanks n’ tees) they use in their products from the US with sustainability in mind. Other companies will flaunt “Made In America” on their product but source cheap shirts and other materials from abroad, not Organic.

The Quality

The bottom portion of Organic shells are made from 1050 denier (d), military ballistic grade Cordura nylon fabric and the top shell is made from 1000d (both US sourced). Ask any crash pad user how long one lasts and you will find them laughing, stating they still use the one they bought nearly a decade ago. The foam is a soy-based foam sourced out of the US (do I need to keep saying this?) is comprised of a 2-3″ bottom open cell foam layer, with a 1″ middle layer proprietary foam-rubber, then another inch of continuous open cell foam spread over the entire pad without a seam on the top of each pad. Think, squish, resist, squish. The top open cell allows for a cushy landing, while the middle closed cell foam allows the user’s impact to be transferred and absorbed into the bottom open cell foam effectively. The sandwiching combination allows for a climber to keep from bottoming out, something your unbruised ankles will thank you for later in life.

The Subtleties

Organic Pads carry exceptionally well. The shoulder straps are adjustable to accommodate climbers of varying heights. All of the belts are durable and sit well on your hips. The pads also stack together so you can carry two, three, four or creatively five pads all at once with a Load Flap. (*Check out this video to see this in action.) 

Organic crash pads

The Art

Every pad and product coming from Organic is handmade. The artwork on the pads can be one simple color, a random mixing of geometric shapes, or custom tailored to suit any desire, no matter how geeky or abstract. I’ve seen some pretty amazing, inventive pads, and Josh is always psyched on new ideas. Did I mention you can carry your color theme and design over multiple types of pads and products?

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A coordinated color scheme between a Big Pad and Full Pad | Kati Peters coordinates a Big Pad and Chalk Bucket

Ode to Organic - adela2

The Infamous Adela modeling the Mini Crag Pack (look out for the child size Chalk Bag)

The Family

Organic has a cult following for a good reason. The small company allows you to be a part of the custom pad creation process. Josh, the owner and creator of Organic, takes every order himself and is in constant communication with customers. Despite having a new child unit (Adela) who you can watch grow up, quite literally, in Organic products, Josh remains completely enthralled in the quality and composition of all Organic products. He is constantly designing new swag, most recently the Roll Down Pack; inventing innovative gear like the Load Strap; putting out gear to supplement climbing like Enamalware metal camp mugs depicting Cake battling Pie; and supplying consumers with well thought out apparel.

His personal Facebook page is filled with equal parts custom pad photographs and baby shots, which both surpass the number of photos of Josh himself. This psyche carries over to how he treats all his employees and ambassadors. From the time I began buying pads from Organic Josh has treated me with nothing but respect, kindness and kick-ass products. My first custom Big Pad (that I still use) needed to be made on a time crunch to prepare for a trip to South Africa. I expressed my concern for timeliness and Josh delivered, with multiple days to spare. Easy as cake… or pie.

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A morning at the crag’s best friend | The new Roll Down Pack for Fall 2014 | An example of a limited edition Wool Long Sleeve

The Secret

From the massive Blubber Pad to the tiny Briefcase pad, Organic foam comes in all shapes and sizes. If you go onto Organic’s website you’ll find about five items. However, Organic has many times that amount of products available to the public. You just have to know where to look. Ask any member of the Organic team, head over to their Facebook and peruse their photos. If something looks rad, email Josh and ask for it. He’ll reply back and you’ll see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Hopefully this article will suit you well if you are in the market for buying a crash pad. Think big, support small businessmen. And if you have any questions regarding pads, never hesitate to ask the littlest of the route setters, me.  :)


DISCLAIMER FROM SHANNON- Let me preface this entire article by saying that I am 100% an Organic Bouldering Mat’s sponsored athlete. Although I do not get paid to say what I am about to wave in your face, I do get gear, support and most importantly encouragement to better myself and those around me by the Organic family. I did not get persuaded into climbing for Organic, rather, I fell in love with their product and positioned myself to be a useful asset to their team.

Shannon bioBorn under a smoldering Mars, it is rumored that Shannon began setting routes as a young girl in the gaudy playpens at the Sultan’s palace in Delhi on walls of pure velvet and pinches of wrought gold. As word of her startling talent spread she was adopted by a traveling English sugar baron and quickly inducted into the glittering halls and silk petticoats of London’s new rich, where she lived for a time before stowing away on the four-master Santa Guadalupe, bound for the Americas. What transpired aboard the vessel can only be guessed at by a tremor in her root-like thumbs—though many have of course cited the numerous horrific diaries discovered among the wreckages of two Japanese whalers. How she at last came to Planet Granite remains unknown…

*What is known* about Shannon is that she is an ambassador of La Sportiva, Organic Bouldering Mats, Joshua Tree Skin Care, Flux Coffee, and Solo Eyewear. She chooses to wake up in the morning with a Flux and a snuggle with her dog/black bear, Philia. She is a wealth of information about climbing products, training for climbing, climbing holds and outdoor climbing and eagerly invites you to seek out or rival her Valerian steel sharpened advice. She’ll likely have a smile and snacks for you too!


*Follow Shannon’s adventures on her personal BLOG and Facebook athlete PAGE.*