I have unexpectedly found myself doing a fair amount of sport and trad climbing in southern California of late. Here are brief descriptions of the areas I have visited, and of a few recommended routes at each.
New Jack City
Located at a BLM campground in the desert south of Barstow, New Jack is a great winter alternative to Joshua Tree. It has a similar selection of single-pitch climbs on rock batholiths, though New Jack is mostly a sport-bolted face-climbing area. It is often possible to set a toprope on a harder route after climbing an easier neighbor. One climb not to be missed is Crooked Dick Spire (5.9). While the climb itself is not that great, the summit is an amazing photo op. The nearby Twin Towers also has an easy 5.8 line that can be used to set a toprope on the 5.10a next door.
The campground is clean and well-cared-for, though dry. BLM eventually plans to start charging a few dollars to stay, but at the moment it is free. Unfortunately, the nearby BLM land is popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
Towering above the rich Angelino getaway of Idyllwild, Tahquitz offers multi-pitch trad climbs on mostly-good granite. With a high elevation, and both sunny and shady sides, it is climbable for much of the year.
- Traitor Horn / Coffin Nail (5.8)
The first pitch of Coffin Nail is garbage, while the second is interesting and sustained mixture of crack and liebacks. The signature move onto the horn on Traitor Horn is crazy-steep and exposed, but has good hands and can be well protected with a #.75 camalot. The move from the horn onto the upper slabs can be protected with a #4 camalot in the crack left of the horn, but may be tricky for shorter climbers; my partner (5’4″) found it easier, or at least less intimidating, to just climb the crack.
Across the valley from Tahquitz, Suicide has many one- and two-pitch trad climbs, including some bolted face routes.
- Nawab (5.8)
- Flower of High Rank (5.9)
- The Guillotine (5.8)
Mountain Project calls this two pitches, but it is really a single pitch to a huge ledge, then an easy scramble to the walk-off. A good jam crack and a short face section lead to the base of a squeeze chimney, which can be painful, but perversely fun.
While I cleanly followed the first half, leading this climb is still probably a bit beyond me. It definitely deserves its classic status, with sustained and interesting hand-jamming. Scramble to the base of the steep stuff, build and anchor, and belay there, since the first few moves on the steep cracks are tricky, and the leader can easily deck with rope stretch if you belay from the base.
Miles of epic liebacks. Most of this climb involves running along the edge of a flake for 15-20′, then standing on top to put in a piece. This makes it run-out, but not in a dangerous way. The squeeze chimney, on the underside of a big flake, is fun to figure out; how you climb it depends very much on your body shape. It is probably better to do a double-rope rappel from the bolted anchor after the first pitch, than to climb/scramble the easy slabs to the walk-off.