White Maidens Walkaway (5.4-5.7) Trip Report
Tahquitz is a world class multipitch trad climbing area a scant 2 hours from North County San Diego (in traffic!). I have been at least half a dozen times, and it’s always an incredible beautiful memory. Spending that much time above ground gives you the superhuman sensation of flight, and its addictive immortal feeling.
White Maidens Walkaway (5.4) has alluded us before. We attempted it summer last year but were turned away by a late start and an extremely slow party ahead of us. I am talking, like, really slow. The group ahead of us took at least two hours per pitch, and we would sit at the belay station below them furiously thinking of a way to pass them. We bailed on small bushes and slings after only the 3rd pitch. Its embarrassing to bail off such an easy route, but we didn’t want to waste our day on hanging belays that way.
I also had a few practical timely reasons to go. I have been wanting to climb the alpine route Venusian Blinds (5.7) in Temple Crag since my backpacking trip to Big Pine last year. The perfect opportunity presented itself when my friend Brian alerted me that he had a grip full of permits for the North Fork of Big Pine over the long Fourth of July weekend. I, of course, haven’t climbed a multipitch in six months, since our trip to Spain. I am not in bad shape, more in shape for a class 3 ascent of Rainier, but not in the climbing shape needed to do 15 easy alpine pitches.
Robin and I’s original intent was to climb two routes: White Maidens Walkaway and El Whampo to get that early start full day of climbing sensation. We couldn’t get a campsite for Saturday at Idyllwild County Park because of the high hiking season, but we were able to get the last site for Friday night.
I mentioned the trip to my good friend Maciek and he expressed interest since he’s never been to Tahquitz before. I wasn’t feeling like the 3 person multipitch action (because it wouldn’t be great practice for Venusian blinds, and it would slow us down considerably), so I sent some texts to recruit other friends who might want to partner up with him. We offered to cook camp dinner to sweeten the deal. My awesome friend Nick, who coincidentally introduced me to multipitch several years ago, agreed to the last minute adventure. We had a plan.
We packed our gear and embarked after work on Friday around 5:30pm in Robins yellow and blue painted Sprinter Van (named Sparky). It started out good. We bought burgers and corn for dinner in Temecula on the way up. Then, on the way up the hill towards Idyllwild, the Van made a strange wheezing sound and black smoke pummeled out of the tailpipe. We pulled over. We couldn’t ascertain what the problem could be and kept going. The vehicle had sticky gears and didn’t want to move out of second gear. Robin was worried that we wouldn’t be able to make up the hill. Despite the drama, we puttered at 30 miles per hour to the campsite around 8pm.
Robin was consumed by worry, and we had to make some changes to our plan. I am glad we invited Nick and Maciek to our party because having our friends meet us gave us a built in bail out plan. They joined us around 8:30pm and we decided to leave the van in Camp and drive to the trailhead together. Since it was a last minute trip for them, they decided to follow us up to White Maidens Walkaway so they wouldn’t be stymied by route finding. We decided that two routes in a day was too ambitious with such a large party, so we decided to take it easy and stick with just the one. We were also hoping to deal with the van in the day time in case we had a hard time getting home. Considering we had a vehicle issue that stressed Robin out to no end, I am glad we were able to fit one in.
It turned out to be a wonderful day anyway.
We had an easy late start around 9am, getting to the base of the climb around 10am. There were a few parties ahead of us, namely, a three person party with someone I already followed on instagram (Shout out to @bjcook). Shoot, it should have rang a bell once he said his name, but I didn’t realize that we were insta-buddies until photos of our climb showed up on my feed. Small, small, insanely small world.
We did our best to politely pass them on the first two pitches since I didn’t want a repeat of last time, but I felt bad about it anyway. We had to use some cute tricks to avoid crossing the ropes during our pass, but I never felt unsafe. I had a feeling that they were uncomfortable with us jumping the gun, but I think it made everyone more comfortable in the end. They can’t have fun if four people are climbing up their butts all day, and the spacing ended up working perfectly.
Robin and I roped up together and went first, and decided to start when the other team had one of their party at the top of the first belay. We took an alternate 5.6 start and set up an anchor a 20 foot traverse from them. I created a truncated half pitch so our ropes wouldn’t cross and took the alternate 5.7 second pitch so we could get ahead of them without climbing on the same route. I knew that the top of the second pitch had a massive belay ledge so all three teams, (7 people) could hang out there if they had to. That turned out not to be a problem because Me, Robin, Maciek, and Nick were able to get to the third pitch before the other party completed the entirety of the second. I felt like we were being so rude, but I had history on this route that I did not want to repeat.
That 5.7 pitch was money. It was a perfect hand sized crack and offwidth that just ate up gear. I think a 5.4 climber could haul up it easy with the pro this good. I think the entire White Maidens Walk Away should be routed through it. But alas, this route is a classic for a reason, and who am I to tamper with that? I am happy I had a second chance to lead it
Pitch 3 was familiar, and had its own little doubtful corner. I would say that the pitch three doubtful corner was just as hairy as the real doubtful corner is, but that’s just me. And I was on toprope. Who knows how much I would have messed myself if I was on lead. Yes, even on a 5.4 on top rope, did I get the “whoa whoa whoa” feeling on that little corner. I have never tried to impress people with grades.
I led pitch four saying the topo to myself outloud. There was a traverse on this pitch, and in my experience and infinite wisdom, I knew that’s always how I get lost on trad. Traverses are always the sneaky buggers that will not raise an eyebrow for the leader and make the follower afraid of a brain rattling swing, and of course, cause you to get so far off route that you will pick a benighting before you’d climb a 5.11 slab to get back to the mountain mahogany that you KNOW will get you back on route.
I had to climb a corner, traverse 50 feet, hit a doubtful corner, then set up a belay, or set up a belay 40 feet above that to a better stance. I did the 5.3 traverse easy, screaming the whole time to Robin, “Do you think I’m still on route?!”. It wasn’t until I saw sort of a silly little corner that I decided that this was probably it. It was a corner of a dihedral that you had to step off into air to get to a little Mahogany. I didn’t want to do it, and probably burned 5 minutes contemplating my move. There wasn’t a way to protect right before the step so I had at least 20 foot fall if I wasn’t successful. I decided to sit on my butt and grab a small flake below me to ascend it with good hands and bad feet. I cheated. I didn’t do the whole “doubtful corner” trust fall that everyone else must have had, but I was on lead and I didn’t play that game. Knowing that Nick and Maciek were probably not too far behind, I decided to take the upper belay to give them room.
Robin led the 5 pitch, which honestly wasn’t too memorable. I probably led the funnest part of the pitch setting up the higher belay after an off width. It was a blocky corner that led to a tree. I felt bad because at that point I realized that I must have had all the good pitch leads.
Pitch 6 also wasn’t a stunner. It was a class four flake that led to a little roof. I wanted some spice in my life so I led past the class four section up until the very bottom of the roof. It wasn’t a good decision because I had to set an awkward uncomfortable hanging belay anchor. My harness was comfortable but my feet were starting to bother me. I also messed Robin up because there was a 5.7 alternate to pitch 7 and I my belay was too close to the roof to attempt it.
Pitch 7 had a very exposed high step on very small feet. It was slopey enough for it to still be called a 5.4, but it felt pretty shakey on top rope. I don’t know how he did it. There was a slab to the top, and we sat there waiting for Nick and Maciek to catch up. At this point I was feeling kind of tired. I was glad we did not pick up a second route because I just would have slogged through it. Once they ascended and we gushed our excitement, we took our best attempt at a group photo and descended via the North side trail. We completed the route in 4.5 hours from base to summit.
On this trip, we decided not to leave anything at the base of the route, which I think is a good style. I am hoping that we can replicate this on future trips. Not having to traverse back to the base of the climb to get our backpacks took out an unnecessary 45 minute detour when we were already tired. It only cost us having to haul our shoes up the climb, which I think is totally worth it. It was worth it in the least because we got to wear real shoes on the descent. After the foot pain I was feeling, I was grateful that I could slip on some Aasics for the scree field that awaited us.
Robin and I ran out of water on the descent. I was surprised. We took 3 liters for the two of us. It was probably because White Maidens Walkaway is in the sun the whole time, but I can’t imagine how much water we will have to bring on Venusian blinds, which I anticipate is a 10 hour day.
We got celebratory burritos at Aztek Taco in Temecula on the way back. After the amount of climbing I did, my stomach was a bottomless pit. I ordered a surf and turf burrito with a tamale on the side. I probably could have eaten a whole second burrito.
Overall a wonderful day. It was a nice long route that I got to do with three very cool people. The exposure was wonderful, and I got to practice some of my favorite multipitch techniques, like belaying with a gri-gri from the masterpoint of an anchor. I also managed to carry enough gear to give to other parties in need without severely handicapping myself.