Happy Boulders Highball Recipe
Recipe for a great day of highballing:
All climbing Area “Ovens” are unique. For the Happy Boulders “Oven”: Not to cold and not to hot!
1 Crew of motivated friends. 1 crew=6 climbers
1 Day of good weather. Good weather=crystal clear blue skies and warm temperatures
1 Fun climbing area. For this recipe, go to The Happy Boulders in Bishop, Ca
1 Happy Boulders Alpine start: 11:30am
3 “Happy Boulders Highballs” Preferably boulder problems you have never tried before. I used René, Highbrow, and Water Saps.
1 terrifying fall. For this recipe use someone else’s fall!
Make sure your oven cools down over night thereby ensuring cooler rock temperatures for the following days climbing recipe. Oven should start heating up as the climbers begin their warm up circuits. Peak temperatures should subside as climbers complete their hardest projects.
First drop the hint to your friends that you’re interested in climbing some of the “highball” problems in The Happy Boulders, then sit back and wait for a few climbers to take the bait and rise to the occasion. It really does work… I jumped into the mix when Ian and Reed dropped the bait. Wills having already climbed the problems went along for the ride. Two fiends of Ian’s showed up for the day, but they were bonus ingredients, as I’m pretty sure they did not realize beforehand what they were getting into, or they may have brought pads that were thicker than napkins!
The proper baking temperature for the recipe is warm in the sun, cool in the shade. It can be a bit tricky to maintain the proper temperature range when climbing on opposite sides of the Happy Boulders Canyon, so a bit of advanced planning is required to keep all ingredients in the recipe developing evenly. The climbers need warm air so their hands don’t go numb on the longer climbs, the spectators need the warmth for comfortable lounging. The climbs need to be shaded so the climbers do not get too sweaty and over grip on the scarier climbs. The videographer needs bright shade so the picture looks pretty for the blog post send footage…!
Carefully warm up all climbers before attempting anything dangerous. This usually means a few laps or falls on the ultra-sandbagged classic Solarium in the mid day sun. As the sun starts to heat up the “Happy Boulder” in the middle of the canyon, making it feel slick and greasy, make sure to get at least a lap or two in on The Vulcan Traverse and The Hulk. At this point in time if you have not lost all of your skin you should stop warming up. If you’re trying Disco Tramp or Disco Diva, in the sun, STOP, you’re over-baking your skin!
The next logical ingredient in the recipe is to get on Water Saps before it has baked in the sun too long. However, someone like Ian is sure to get things muddled at this point, measure the ingredients incorrectly, and throw René into the mix. Having watched the O.G. footage on West Coast Pimp of Vic Copland gunning for the top of this tall, scary, West Rim line, most of us had never tried the problem. Sure, the principle to the recipe is to attempt climbs you have never tried before, so it did appear we could throw this one in, as René is just a few blocks along from Highbrow, one of our main objectives. What cook pays attention to the ordering of the ingredients anyway? Don’t you just throw them all into the mixer, use substitutions when you’re missing something and, like magic it all works out anyway? Well, mostly, right!
Well, all I can say is… René looked a lot taller 10 years ago when I watched the video footage!
Now that we all had our crimping fingers warmed up without any serious skin damage and no one had managed to land on one of the ever present and overly eager canine crash pads, we moved on to Highbrow. This is when things turned a bit serious. I secretly wanted to flash it… It’s a great-looking line: tallish, very steep, with a blocky landing and a big rock behind it.
There was a lot of stalling going on at the base of Highbrow. Ian’s go-for-it attitude transferred into a wait-and-see approach as he set up a camera and lit up several cigs just when climbing shoes might have been pulled on! Of course I don’t smoke, so I put on my shoes. I sat down at the base of the problem, put my hands on the designated starting holds and set off… The rest of the climb is a bit of a blur from that point on. I do remember figuring out a really cool toe-hook to avoid the big swing, then a constant stream of beta being offered from the ground, most of which I either did not hear or could not comprehend. Maybe my left is your right? Is that possible? I think I let out some kind of a grunt or gurgle! My hands went numb as I pulled around the bulge at the climax. Then, as I topped out, I came back to reality. Thankfully Ian documented this with video so I could see how I climbed it… Reeds voice floated up to me as I was executing my victory pose: “I guess she didn’t need the big holds at the top.”
For once I was the leading engine in the send train, rather than the derailed caboose. And after my ascent the train just kept on thundering up Highbrow with Ian on board, and Wills, plus three random super-strong Japanese guys that had snuck into the recipe. I think even the Chihuahuas Reed was chaperoning for the day might have sent… Okay so maybe I built the problem up in my mind to be a bit bigger than it really was… but, I will say that it’s a really cool line!
We directed the train over to Water Saps on the East Rim, across the canyon. Although I spotted Wills on this problem 10 years ago I did not really know anything about it. Why would I remember, I didn’t even remember what I had just done an hour before on Highbrow! Again I shoed-up first and charged full steam ahead. Being too lazy to crane my neck and actually scope the problem I jumped blindly in, was overcome with beta, and got vapor locked…. An ego crushing reality check is a healthy thing right?
Feeling a bit demoralized I tried again and got ultra-gripped milking the greasy pocket one move from “the jug”. I was aware that my crashpads were sitting on two boulders just right of me and that there was another large rock face behind me that I potentially could hit if I committed to the final big move. I balked, looked down for the best landing zone and jumped to safety. Well, the knee surgery may have shrunk my “highball head” a tiny bit…! Next up was Ian. He jumped onto the climb with superstar beta at the beginning. He styled to the same pocket, then ran out of steam as well. He declared the rock warm and the pockets greasy… Had the recipe gone wrong? Was the rock too warm in the afternoon sun?
Using a combo of Ian/Lisa beta gave me a sudden rush of confidence. I’m pretty sure at this point I even went so far as to declare I would get it next go. As I sat down to reflect over my own genius ingenuity, I watched one of Ian’s friends grab a small pad and ducked under Water Saps out of sight in an alcove behind. I remembered that he had mentioned earlier trying a crack that he had spied in the corridor when we had arrived. Sitting in the sun to keep warm I could hear some grunting and the sound of grating fabric against the rock coming to me through the corridor. Then I heard Ian and Reed offering up off-width technique tips. After a while, I realized the guy was still on the climb! Looking into the corridor all I could see were the spotters, hands raised with very concerned looks on their faces.
My curiosity peaked, I ducked through the corridor. Standing in a little alcove facing the spotters I turned around to see Ian’s buddy about 20 feet off the deck lie-backing a slabby off-width crack and not looking at all solid. He glanced back over his shoulder at the slab behind him. It was too far away for him to stretch to and this now looked like a very bad place to fall. He had been on the boulder problem longer than most people take to climb a full length route! Twenty plus feet off the deck his hands finally wrapped the top of the climb. Thank god! I thought. But then I heard the distinct ripping of fabric and saw him rag-dolling down. He hit the slab behind him and managed to push himself off that and stay upright. A second bounce tipped him forward awkwardly pitching him toward the ground in a belly-flop. It seemed like slow motion as I saw his forehead whack into a cleaver-like rock jutting five inches out of the ground.
There was stunned silence all around. I remember telling him not to move, as he could have a head or a neck injury, but he ignored my pleas, pulled himself to his full 6 foot-plus height, brushed himself down, straightened out the chew under his lip, and apologized for the “scare”. His impact had been slowed by his arms just enough that the cleaver of rock, which might have split his skull, had merely grazed the skin of his forehead.
Wow. The sun was threatening to set so Ian, Wills and I knew it was now our turn to shine on Water Saps. Did I mention the two blocks under the problem…? Now, the last “big pull” from one greasy pocket to the other looked even bigger that it had an hour ago, and the problem appeared to have grown taller as well! As the temps began to drop, Ian completed the line, and Wills added a sit-start from down around the corner to the right.
The recipe was coming together. I just had to get this thing done! I watched Reed do a lap on the problem that joins the end of Water Saps. Both problems involve pulling the same last three moves to top out. Reed convinced me to do this v5 once, so I would be familiar with Water Saps’ finish. It was getting dark and I had to do something. I took Reeds advice and got on the v5. As I was moving into the “problem” section on Water Saps I discovered two more good holds that were not as chalked as others. There was no need for the final “big move,” and I realized my recipe was salvageable, even in the fading light.
Using surprisingly good technique, I topped out the problem. Once again I had managed to complete a boulder problem when completely exhausted. I learned again the value of that secret ingredient: motivation! What a great day! Now I could look forward to celebration desert wine to go with it!