A Surfers Ascent at Suicide Rock
Story by Nicholas Mohnacky
In the 1930s climbers came from all over the state to scale the granite walls surrounding the charming little mountain town of Idyllwild, California. Early California climbers founded routes and accomplished first ascents throughout the famous Tahquitz and Suicide Rock. A group led by prestige climber, Royal Robbins, established what is now the standard measurement of climbing difficulty used throughout the United States during the 1950s.
Tahquitz Rock all but symbolizes the earliest history in technical rock climbing in the United States. Sister, Suicide Rock is a bit more approachable due to ease of access and its shorter ascents. The rock wall is solid, fine-grained granite that through the effects of wind, water and time has been sculpted and polished into an amazing surface to climb on. Although never subjected to glaciation the rock can be distressingly smooth in places (Sunkist Face, Weeping Wall), yet in others the surface is rougher and more featured and provides some incredible holds.
A Rock Climbing Micro Adventure
It was ambitious but our goal was to meet up with Ben Horton to go rock climbing in Idyllwild the morning after landing in CA from FL. Upon arriving we grabbed a quick bite to eat then made our way to the trail head that lead us to Suicide Rock. The semi-rigorous hike in and up the mountain takes about 30 minutes depending on how much gear you’re taking (just ask Ben).
As we clambered over beautiful granite boulders the view of a bleached white rock face came into sight. A climber named Jason greeted us as we approached the base of the climbing area. “Hey guys, I was wondering when you were going to make it up here!” Jason was about 40 something, super fit, comical, wise and full of energy.
He and Ben lead us up and around the corner a little further into the shadow of the mountain. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was standing about 60 yards away from a line that was once considered one of the most difficult climbing routes in North America, Flower of High Rank, at a 5.9 YDS. We sat down to rest and deliberated over which routes we wanted to conquer that day.
Minutes later we made our way to Johnny Quest a 5.10b route but not before the first injury of the day ensued as I leapt over a rock and into a bees’ nest. As you can imagine, the bees were pissed! Luckily I came out of the situation with a sting to the ankle and nothing more…
Ben was decided by way of peer pressure and name calling to lead the climb after probably being out of the game for quite some time. Fortunately, as he would, Ben stepped up to the challenge and absolutely crushed the lateral and vertical ascent across Flakes of Wrath to Johnny Quest.
This micro adventure (adventures you can accomplish in 24 hours) to Suicide Rock was my second time climbing on a rock face. Having been fired up on Ben’s climb I tested my whits and strength in what was an unsuccessful first attempt. Taking in beta and building on familiarity with the rock was pivotal to the success of my second attempt.
I vividly remember this one section climbing the crack (in featured image above) where Jason, on belay, yelled, “Jam your hand in the crack pinky first then pull up and rotate your hips so you become square with the line. Nice! Now shift your weight back over the crack and use that foothold up and to the right (mind you a quarter sized bump on the wall). Perfect! You’re almost there…”
And just like that after a rough fall into a tree, a bee sting and a failed first attempt, I successfully climbed my first 5.10b (which I later learned was pretty damn difficult while researching for this article). FIST BUMP!
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Climbing Johnny Quest Gallery
Nicholas Mohnacky & Ben Horton