Black Bluff Climbing Report: Jonathan Ball, Matt Ingle, Jon Ledesma
(A Marine should never listen to a civilian when navigating a broken trail)
The approach: We returned to park next to the smelliest pit toilet in the San Bernardino Mountains and I knew that we were only about a short, 1.5 mile hike from the crag. Then we stepped off. Knowing that we had veered too far off course to the south only a couple of weeks prior, I still did the same thing. Our approach went from a quick and easy 1.5 miles to a long and arduous 3 miles. Oops. However, we got to the Black Bluff section of routes.
I told Jon Ledesma about “After the Fire” (5.9D **** at least!), the unprotected top (after me running out of gear early), and we decided it was his turn to lead it. Jon Ledesma’s foot got stuck in the crack. He tried to wrestle it out, but took a pretty bad fall out of the start while placing his first piece. He cut up his leg a bit, but ultimately landed in a good spot with his feet down. Matt and I had him spotted and all was well. Jon Ledesma said that the adrenaline rush gave him the push he needed for the start. He punched through, over-protected the hell out of the route, and made it in a record time of 3 days total (estimated, but not verified). All in all, it was a solid climb, a great lead, and he set us up for success to follow and clean.
Matt Ingle attempted the follow-on. Mind you, this is Matt’s 4th climb ever. Talk about a naturally ape-armed lump of lumberjack bad ass to be attempting full lie backs, forearm deep fish jams, and learning how to torque his feet to jam properly. Matt pushed through the start and finished the hardest section of the climb before he gassed out and needed dirt. He didn’t finish the route, but it sure was impressive to see a brand new climber crank through the sadistically unforgiving granite against fresh skin.
I followed and cleaned. The route calls for a veer left at the top towards the anchors, but I found that it’s pretty fun to turn the wide crack at the top into an off-balance off width. It makes for a little extra work to finish- and it’s easy to brave anything with the safety net of a top rope.
Jon Ball’s turn to lead. I decided to do my first chimney lead. I can’t find any info on the route, but it’s the chimney to the left of “After the Fire” and to the left of the 5.7 hand crack. I can’t pretend it was the bravest of climbs. I set a cam every 3 feet into the hand crack just hoping it would keep me from pin-balling down if I slipped out. I made it up, set my last piece of pro, gave out a good “Whoo”, and I suddenly re-tasted the apple I had just eaten. That was it. Full body flex without rest turned out to be too much for an out-of-shape smoker and I let loose. Luckily it was on the shelf and no one had to enjoy all that I had to share as I screamed at the ground.
I lowered off and Matt Ingle sprinted up the route with a blend of hand crack, chimney, and dihedral climbing. Not even sure he even broke a sweat on the route that had just killed me. Then Jon Ledesma did the same thing. Up to the top in zero time at all.
It was still daylight, but I knew we had to compensate for the broken trail back. It’s too easy to wander the bluff before finding the next cairn, so we punched out.About halfway back, we found a series of cairns that were ultimately set in every single direction. We had a general idea of which way to go, but we stepped off in the wrong direction before coming across some hikers.
Jon Ledesma asked, “Hey, will this trail take us back to the Bluff Mesa Group Site?”
The guy in the super outdoorsy neck-cover hat and cute hiking boots said “Sure. Follow this trail and hang a left at the wood chips.” What he should have said is, “You,know…I have no F***ing clue. Go back to the last cairn you saw and go the way you know.”
We followed his advice and about 2 miles into the trail; w see we are pointed in the wrong direction. Lucky for us (right around mile 3) we came up to a camp site. The campers showed us their site map. We had somehow ended up on the wrong side of Bluff Lake.
Exhausted, out of water, and out of foot we swallowed our pride and accepted a ride back to the Bluff Mesa Group Site. It was a 20 minute drive right as the sun was going down. The campers at the Bluff Mesa Group Site had a good laugh at our expense, but we assured them there was no need to call S&R as previously determined (in the event we didn’t return by dark).
I’d like to go back in time just to throw rocks at that pretend alpha male hiker who couldn’t just admit that he had no clue where we were. I hope his girlfriend was really impressed with his navigational directions. If there is a just and loving God, that guy will at least end up with a tic on something really uncomfortable.
Cairns are more than just a pile of rocks! Place them on one side of the trail only and make sure that you can see the next cairn from the last.
It might not be the worst idea for us to get out there and really do some trail work just so no one gets lost among all the randomly placed cairns from the multitude of lost wanderers throughout the bluff.