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Reflector Oven and Area

Several hundred yards north of the end of the PATC Wall the Ridge Trail will descend slightly into a saddle. Heading north if you look to your right you will be able to see the God Crag and Reflector Oven from a small overlook. The climber trail descends to the right from the lowest point in the saddle. Sometimes there is a small cairn just off the trail. Try to follow the trail that forks about 50 yards down the hill. Take the right fork. If you lose the trail, expect some wild bushwhacking. Take heart, as there is a nice clearing at the foot of the crag.

Report to Sickbay is the major inside corner to the left side. Strawberry Fields is the obvious hand crack in the center.

38)**The Crackin 5.11c/d. Finger crack and under cling layback too right of “V” 20’ above the ground, starting 15 feet to the right of the up hill entrance to the Reflector Oven cave. Several variation are possible on the upper faces, or walk off to the right. 80’ gear route, no bolts.

39)**Sheds of Wonderland 5.12a. Starts a few feet to the left of The Crackin. Climb small edges and flakes to the left of The Crackin “V”. Travers left, then pull through 5’ overhang at finger crack. Continue up finger crack to top. 80’ gear route.

40)**Yellow Jacket 5.11b. Follow small edges and side clings up and right following corner to easier ground. 70’ gear route.

41)**Mystery Move 5.11d). Same start as Yellow Jacket. After about 15’, angle to the left. 2 bolts and gear. 70’.

42)****Strawberry Fields 5.9+ to first belay, 5.11a to top. Probably the best-known Old Rag climb, it is irresistible. Climb obvious hand crack at center of wall, with small dead tree in crack at 3/4 height. Traditional route takes plenty of pro from fist to small. Many parties climb only the first pitch (75 feet) and rap from a cabled bolt anchor. Tape up, and expect continuous effort, as this “traditional” rating is hard for its grade. Second pitch follows thin layback crack to top and is 30 feet, 105 feet total. Cold shut anchor at the top. Long, complex walk off is also possible to the right. Tape will make it more fun.  (He means, less tortuous.)

Just to the right of Strawberry Fields, and just to the left there are a pair of 2 bolt projects. They are hard 5.11 to this point, and perhaps they are finished by this printing!

“Crack climbing is a peculiar and unnatural activity. Unnatural, because our arboreal forebears, forced from the shrinking forest and a simplistic branch-grasping form of climbing down onto the relatively open savanna, and into developing a new and more versatile hand form that just happened to end up as the finest all-purpose tool in the world, probably had no selective pressure to climb cracks in rocks per se. Therefore the hand has no special design features useful in climbing cracks. Crack climbing is often awkward, usually involves pain, and not infrequently draws blood. The bones of the hand and wrist unavoidably conflict with the random and entirely unsympathetic configurations of solid rock cracked or eroded into fissures, studded with brutal crystals, and so forth. Why would anyone begin climbing cracks? Once tried, why would they continue? Yet, sometimes they do - and that's peculiar. I, though, as a crack addict of many years’ standing, am qualified to expound bombastically on these questions.

But first let us consider a Darwinian speculation on the origins of crack climbing. You are a member of a small tribe of Homo Erectus. You stand four feet tall, and your neighborhood is crammed with competitors, most of whom are faster and stronger than you, with keener senses and better weapons - red in tooth and claw, verily. You're handy with a stick, and probably can whip a stone better than anyone else, but if you're out on the open savanna and night falls, sticks and stones ain't gonna break the bones of the lions and hyenas when they show up in five minutes. You can climb a handy tree, but the leopard, who uses trees as a handy food-storage locker, might want a midnight snack, and you can't fly. So you head off to the nearest cliff escarpment, looking for rock too steep for the leopard to climb, only to find the slopes occupied with hordes of smelly, savage baboons who had the same idea. Not only will they not share, but they also want to feast on your skinny ass. What do you do? In desperation you lead your group up onto a huge boulder lying against the cliff's base in the fading light as the predators close in. You notice that the cliff has a major alcove thirty feet up, where the boulder fell out, and that the vertical, smooth rock has a crack leading to the alcove. Suddenly Also Sprach Zarathustra rings out from somewhere, and you quickly invent jamming. You swarm up the crack, all the smarter members of the tribe follow, the babies clinging to their back fur, and the rest are eaten; they've been selected out. Voila! A crack-climbing species is born!

Evolution aside, climbing cracks is seen by a majority of beginners as either a necessary evil, if they wish to climb a variety of climbs, or as an avoidable evil, if they are satisfied with gyms and pure face climbing for their sport. Only a few quickly grasp the concept, become addicted to the beauty of it, and then refine the technique: the awkward becomes graceful, the pain becomes secondary, and the blood is greatly reduced. A typical scenario: a strong, handsome young gym climber, let's call him Steel Fingers, has been invited to climb at an out-of-town crag that might have a crack or two, and he wants to suck up the technique in a day or two, so as to avoid looking the fool. None of his friends know cracks from a hole in the cliff, so he asks a local decrepit old bum, Crusty Piton, rumored to have once been a crackmaster, to help him wire the concept. Crusty amiably leads him through the forest primeval to a classic, standard granite hand jam that is nominally rated well below Steel's ability level. Crusty laces up his rotting EBs and leads the crack slowly and casually, placing three or four old frayed nuts, and stopping frequently to explain the technique, both general and specific to this crack. He gains the ledge, sets an anchor, and pulls a beer out of his jacket pocket. Steel has watched very closely, and has an excellent head for sequence; as Crusty did not use or mention tape, Steel decides not to bring up the subject at all. Steel, in following, does his damnedest to place his hands in the same spots and use the same techniques and sequences, but he is soon flailing like a trout on a hook. As he is strong enough to bench-press Crusty twenty times, he eventually makes it up to the belay, hot and bewildered. Immediately he notices a mysterious anomaly: the backs of Crusty's hands bear a few indented marks from the vicious crystals inside the crack, while his own hands look like chopped liver, oozing gore. Is Crusty just so damned old and desiccated that his leathery flesh cannot be pierced by granite? Steel would like to believe this, but his intellect, such as it is, eventually tells him that perhaps there is more to crack climbing than meets the eye, and that Crusty must be using some kinda mysterious Eastern Crack-Zen mind control thingy, that takes decades of meditation and self-denial to learn. Or maybe he's just climbed an unimaginable number of evil cracks. In any case, Steel resolves forthwith to avoid all cracks like anthrax.

I myself learned crack climbing at the Practice Rock behind the stadium at the University of Washington in Seattle. This marvelous old facility has many fine cracks that simulate in concrete of various textures many of the real situations one might encounter on real rock, and I naively attempted to do every problem there, of whatever type. Defeat would result in a drop of three or four feet onto a deep bed of round pebbles, and a furious counterattack would follow. Soon I learned the efficiency gain that a good crack affords the climber who possesses proper technique, and I acquired calluses on the back of my hand. I began taping my hand in imitation of other boulderers, not to prevent injury (I was still in my 20s, and the words 'injury' and 'prevention' meant nothing to me), but to reduce pain and increase the index of friction on the back of my hand, in order to climb harder cracks with no increase in effort. I soon found two things: if the tape is applied too tightly, your hands will turn black and fall off (or at the very least you'll be weakened in climbing), and that the tape only lasts so long, succumbing to sweat and/or abrasion sooner or later on any given day. However, applied properly, it makes a big difference in most hand-jamming. Over the years I've used it less and less though; I reserve it for more difficult or rougher-textured cracks, as I'm not willing to spend the time to put it on unless I really need it, and increasing skill in crack technique also reduces the need. Perhaps I could have adopted the practice of using tape gloves many years ago, but to me, being inculcated in the Zen requirements of traditional crack climbing it seemed, well, like cheating. However, as I got older I finally realized that pain is not strictly necessary to the true experience of climbing. Now I use the "Hand Jammies" gloves for most cracks of intermediate difficulty, (especially at the Rag) as they are quick to put on, extremely durable, hence cheaper in the long run than taping, and do almost as good a job as a careful standard tape application. It is not as easy to customize to the particular climb, though; if the main crack width is "thin hands" for me, I'll tape my hands directly using the minimum number of layers, or skip the tape altogether if the rock texture is not too rough. Of course, most cracks on Old Rag are wonderfully sharp, and rotating or moving the hand while jamming is harshly punished.  Local tip: On my most recent lead of Strawberry Jam I started with a thin layer of tape and the Jammies on top of it, and when I got to the last fifteen feet, where it narrows a bit, I removed the gloves and dropped them, and finished somewhat painfully with the tape alone.  It helped.

Interesting products are becoming available to further enhance and customize the abilities of the hand, but many climbers, macho, devil-may-care bitches and sons of bitches, as they often consider themselves, will look askance at all these ideas as a tedious waste of time, when the crag is beckoning, or even as a cowardly use of excessive technological aid, suited only to the over-the-hill and pathetic geezer. Sometimes they change their minds after leading a brutal pitch, belaying with badly trashed hands which fifteen minutes of preparation would have prevented. Then again this masochism may constitute a reward in itself, the red badge of courage. Typical of youth is the fiery feeling that it is worthless if it isn't fully and furiously actualized; that when the climber can't improve any more, and begins to decline, he'll just give up climbing, sit on the porch and drink beer, and criticize the youth of today. Often, though, the youth finds that when that time comes, and he's no longer young, his addictions and pleasures remain intact: he still goes climbing, he still falls in love, he still drives fast and cranks the music up loud; he just doesn't do things with quite the same stupid gusto that used to get him in all those jams."

Continue to the left, around and up onto a big block:

43) Blue Begunias 5.10a. Starts from right corner of block. Follow thin mossy corner crack until it joins The Vegetated Crack. I hear it is nice when it is dry….which is not often. Gear, 1 bolt, shuts, 90’.

44) The Vegetated Crack 5.7. Follow large vegetated crack up and right to low angle slab. Gear rout, shuts, 90’

45)**Report to Sickbay 5.10cPG. Climb chimney and off-width crack in prominent corner to the left of Strawberry Fields. The crux is getting out of the chimney and into the crack, reaching far to get to the good jams. Strenuous, continuous, traditional. 140 feet.

46)**Two Bolts to Nowhere 5.10ish (as far as it goes). Nice climbing….until. Two obvious bolts to the left of the Sickbay corner. About 25’, lower of a single good bolt.

47)** Unknown 5.13a/b. Just around the corner to the left from Two Bolts. 5 bolts, shuts, 80’. (Cosby’s Climb, but we have been avoiding names)

At this point it is necessary to angle down and around a large buttress to access the remainder of the Oven.

48)* Jaws Chimney. Big ugly chimney 45’ to the left of the Sickbay corner.

First led in 1944 by PATC members, the Jaws Chimney was one of the first climbs led in this area. Most early efforts focused on the upper terraces of the reflector oven and were approached from above. There are a number of possible traverses and short problems on these upper faces, some quite difficult, other easy.

49)** Unknown 5.10. Hard finger crack.

50)** Parker Route 5.11b. Beautiful finger crack with 2 bolts near the top as the crack tapers of to nothing. This climb is not situated on the main cliff, but rather on the buttress you just traversed around. Keep an eye open to your right.

51)** Obstacle Illusion 5.12a. Line of 6 bolts follows small edges and cracks up dome. Starts 30 feet to the left of the buttress, 20 feet to the right of a small tree near the base. Some gear.

52)** Liesure Suit Larry 5.12b. A very casual climb…pinching little nothings. Line of 4 bolts angles up and left across face devoid of anything bigger than typical Old Rag crystals.

53)** Howard’s Slab 5.8. (Needs Description and topo)

For the more adventurous and for those looking for first accent potential, there are more crags down the Reflector Oven ridge. From the area of Leisure Suit Larry, hike up hill about 50 yards to the ridge top. Hike down the ridge for 200 yards until a large crag is reached. Circle around to the South. There you will pass a number of large and small crags begging for climbers. Until the fire of 2000 this area was all but impossible to reach, but it is now quite feasible.

54) Water streak crag. The white streak on the left 1/3 of the slab looks awesome, with just enough ripples to make the impossible reasonable. Sure top rope bet.

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