Lost at The Playground with The Shop Girl

The Shank and C Hamm doing their thing!

Yesterday was the first day in nearly a year that I was able to climb outside. Thankfully, the Santa Barbara Rock Gym has allowed me to maintain some semblance of sanity while I weather the storm of a sweet little baby boy asking for his ‘daddoo’ and the fragrant reminders when his ‘poo poo’ needs changing. Oh, the wonderful joys of parenthood!

So last week, when the Shank and C. Hamm said they were climbing on Sunday, I turned on my sweet talk at home and earned a place in the lineup.

I picked up the boys at the base of the 154 as we prepared for our drive up to The Playground, unaware of what would come of this sorry group of dirt-bags, sans guide-book, at a place we had only been to a handful of times. After a grueling 4 hour approach – ok, maybe it was only 30 minutes – we reached The Guardian, entrance to The Playground!

THE SHOP GIRL – 5.12c WARMUP – REALLY???

The Playground is one of my favorite sport climbing areas in all of Santa Barbara. Although I have only been there a handful  of times, it is like a garden of stone and offers a lot of variety for difficult sport routes and bouldering, much of which has not even been touched. This was C. Hamm’s first visit to the area so we decided to take him on a tour. We started at the Little Lebowski Urban Acheivers Crag and then continued on to the Amphitheater where some of the areas test pieces are found. We choose to set up camp here for a bit and do a few warm-up laps, or so we thought.

Naturally, C. Hamm, being the most selfish strongest climber of the group, jumped on the first route. He did an amazing job at crushing the first crux by skipping it all together, then proceeded to hang on every bolt until reaching the last bolt before the chains, where bailing on a 70-year-old Italian carabiner seemed like the best option.

C Hamm's harness being put to good work

Now, if you have never seen one of Santa Barbara’s finest Rock Climbing Instructors bail on a warm-up, it is a sight let me tell you. A reminder that no matter how hard you say you climb, there will always be someone there to watch you hangdog on a warm-up. Questions about the grade never really crossed our minds, we just knew is was hard, and it looked much softer than the overhanging 5.13a Tempest bolted nearby. It was not until the following day when a quick peak in the guide book gave us the answer. Our little warm-up was a 5.12c called The Shop Girl and the description says: “There is a power crux low, but the ultra thin face climbing after the last bolts is what throws most people. Trust me-it goes.” So I guess cannot really blame him.

After watching C. Hamm fail on his warm-up for 30 minutes, we decided that moving on to climbs we had actually tried before was the best way to proceed. The path – if you even want to call it that – leading to the Land of the Lost from the Amphitheater is a maze of boulders and roughly patched trail covered in grass and burned manzanita. The setting of the crag is idyllic, situated in a little valley where you can partake in views of the Santa Barbara Channel below. 

Land of the Lost - The Playground

LOST IN THE WILDERNESS

During my first visit to The Playground a few years back, I stumbled across the base of the Land of the Lost’s 60′ walls after exploring through dense fog with only 20 feet of visibility. This was a happy sight indeed after roughly two hours of scrambling and searching behind every nook and cranny for a line of bolts. We had originally set out to find the Little Lebowski Crag,  a 5 minute approach once you reach The Guardian, but our little voyage took us to the Land of the Lost which is another 15 minute hike beyond that. 

Map of The Playground

By the time C. Hamm, the Shank and I reached the Land of the Lost this weekend, I was beginning to get a little impatient. Not having climbed on sandstone in nearly a year, all I wanted to do was get on the wall and climb. By the time we arrived, it had been 2.5 hours since we left the base of the 154. The Shank lead the first route, a solid 5.10 warm-up, with ease. I jumped on the route next, struggling on moves that were easy and then hanging when I got to the crux, thinking to myself, “where is all the blue tape?!”

At this point, I was feeling totally dejected. I had been shut down by perhaps the easiest line on the wall and the time was flying by without us getting into any sort of rhythm. It did not help that they guys were saying “this is awesome,  we are exploring man!” because I did not wait a year just to explore, I wanted to climb.

My little pity party continued as I took in the view of C. Hamm’s harness as he set up a directional off the anchors at the top into a nearby route. The new route was definitely much more difficult than our 5.10 warm-up, and  starts with delicate climbing on gastons and side pulls that move through a dihedral; then finishes on jugs at the top. The Shank had attempted this route before so he went first to figure out some of the beta and then lowered to give me a try.

C Hamm Cranking on a thin Gaston Crux

The route provided just what I needed, something to climb with a challenge! Moving through the moves on thin crimps was tenuous and exciting. After completing the back-to-back crux’es and moving into the jugs, I started to regain my stoke. If we could have just spent the rest of the day doing just that, it would have been perfect. We each made another pass at it and then packed our bags and headed out on the 30 minute hike back to the car.

I was not fully satisfied with the day, but I was happy, and hanging with the boys and climbing something new was the highlight of the day.

Climbing is an adventure where exploring and trying new things is part of the package. But at the end of the day, climbing is still really all about climbing.

Enjoy the adventure, one climb at a time!

Enare

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