Romancing the Stones
Three destinations sure to spark amorous and climbing passions alike
As any old mountain goat will tell you, in the piton days of yore, men climbed together, slept together, and ate from the same can with the same spoon — brotherhood-of-the- rope stuff. Although not quite Brokeback Mountaineers, these men chased away their loneliness with wine and women . . . when they could afford or entice either.
Then a paradigm shift occurred, improving the sport more than sticky rubber or cams. Women began to flow over the stone, scrubbing away the testosterone stains and proving that climbing is a wholly human endeavor. Broad generalizations aside, there have always been women climbers: from the 19th century’s petticoated Meta Brevoort in the Alps, to knicker-clad Sierra legend Ruth Mendenhall in the 1930s and ‘40s, to Stonemaster Lynn Hill. Nowadays, though, you’ll likely find as many women as men at the crags, the two sexes often paired in couplehoods of the rope.
I can attest. In 2003, during a long, cheap-wine-soaked Camp 4 night made longer by the snores and emissions wafting out of my buddy’s sleeping bag, I found myself staring at the tent ceiling and daydreaming about Steph Davis. Wouldn’t it be nice, pleasant — utopian, really — I thought, to find a bona fide female climbing partner who, even if she snored, would complement my life in ways no man could? One who loved climbing just a tad more than she loved me? Well, it took a while, but I found her. We met in Joshua Tree in 2006 after a bodice ripper of an Internet exchange. The California sun hung low as my later-to-be wife led Heart and Sole (5.10a). Up top, I pulled out The Ring. She said yes, and we made feral love before rapping off naked. Well, not exactly, but we did find a marriage-worthy meadow in the Sierra months later.
We’re all in need of true rock and romance, not pithy Hallmarks. The following three couple-climber destinations confirm that you can, after all, romance the stone.
Lovers Leap, California
As the story goes, star-crossed lovers from two warring Native American tribes leapt to their deaths here rather than be forced apart. Something to ponder as you and your sweetiepie top out one of the many granodiorite classics at the 500-foot Leap. Ultra-clean stone and the odd, extruded dikes make this a dreamy trad paradise.
Camping: Eldorado National Forest campsites sit only a 10-minute walk from the crag. Added bonus: spot your mate on the stellar boulders a stone’s throw from camp. $10 a night; fs.fed.us/r5/eldorado.
Must Do Tie-Ins:
•Bear’s Reach (5.7): Super fun, with solid gear; and for the guys, you can prove your tall manhood on the reachy second pitch.
•The Line (5.9): Three pitches up one of California’s most famous lines. If this climb doesn’t make you randy, you need couples therapy.
•Traveler Buttress (5.9): Four-pitch airy lovefest with one of the Leap’s best hand cracks; low traffic due to P2’s squirming OW orgy.
Deluxe Pamperfest: Strawberry Lodge, 17510 Highway 50 in Kyburz, five minutes from camp, offers a hearty, all-you-can-eat breakfast, rooms (from $69; strawberrylodge.com), bar, and a cozy fireplace.
Red Rock, Nevada
Nowhere else can you and your honey come off a multi-pitch climb and an hour later get legally hitched by an Elvis impersonator. Mixing climbing endorphins with pheromones can be either beautiful or dangerous. But Vegas has a long history of climber couples, namely Jorge and Joanne Urioste. Now divorced, the couple authored untold beautiful — even poetic — lines on the Aztec sandstone, including Crimson Chrysalis, Frogland, and Epinephrine (with Joe Herbst).
Camping: The bleak, dusty, unromantic Red Rock Canyon Campground ($10 a night; firstname.lastname@example.org) does offer proximity, two miles from the entrance gate, leaving plenty of time for “tent aerobics.”
Must Do Tie-Ins:
•Tunnel Vision (5.7), Angel Food Wall, White Rock Mountain: After exiting pitch five’s cool spelunking, you’ll be calling it the “tunnel of love.” Great, overlooked sevenpitch route.
•Black Orpheus (5.9+), Black Orpheus Amphitheater, Oak Creek Canyon: During the 1979 first ascent, the Uriostes were forced to bivy, contemplating their unwinding relationship. Hence the route name, inspired partly by the Greek myth of tragic love. Eight pitches of relationship reality — start early to avoid a spat on the tricky descent.
•Levitation 29 (5.11), Eagle Wall, Oak Creek Canyon: First climbed by the Uriostes (1981) and then freed a month later by John Long, Lynn Hill, and Joanne, this route has gender yin and yang. Nine pitches and 1,000 feet, this mega-classic sears into your memory like a first kiss.
Deluxe Pamperfest: Whole Foods on 8855 West Charleston Blvd. (five miles from camp), where you can buy chocolate-dipped strawberries and other sweet niblets.
Looking Glass, North Carolina
Rising 500 feet from the Blue Ridge Mountain forest like a bald-headed grandfather, Looking Glass Rock, with its notorious runouts, might keep you more focused on climbing than coquetry. Famous for its “eyebrows,” which wink at every amorous indiscretion, the Glass offers some of the best multi-pitch granite east of the Mississippi.
Camping: Find free camping anywhere in the Pisgah National Forest, as long as you lay your head 1,000 feet from any road. The best sites are down a gully at the base of the trail leading to the South Side wall.
Must Do Tie-Ins:
•Gemini Crack (5.8): Mellow intro, with a stellar crack couplet.
•Tits and Beer (5.9): Perhaps not the most copacetic route name, but if a couple can do this fivepitch sandbag, once billed as the “world’s hardest 5.8,” they’ll be set for the long haul. Following face to crack to tricky “Michelin Man” bulges, this route throws down the tough love.
•The Odyssey (5.11a): Five pitches of crack, eyebrows, water grooves, and slabby face, all uniting for some seriously sexy climbing on the Sun Wall.
Deluxe Pamperfest: Muy romantico Mexican dining at El Chapala, 69 New Hendersonville Highway, in Brevard. Drink prices will make you feel like a cheap date, and the food is hearty and substantial.
Below, five exemplary, mated-for-life couplehoods of the rope.
•Herb and Jan Conn: South Dakota’s Needles, Virginia’s Seneca Rocks, caves . . . the list goes on with these original dirtbag climbers.
•Ruth and John Mendenhall: mated and climbed for life, with prolific FA activity all over the Sierra and Tahquitz from the 1930s through the 1950s.
•Royal and Liz Robbins: “The couple that climbs together stays together” is the mantra for the longtime Robbins partnership, which went on to create a successful outdoor business.
•Marija and Andrej Stremfelj: Slovenian alpinists and the first couple to summit Everest, in 1990; today they live in Kranj, Slovenia, w/ three children.
•Bradford and Barbara Washburn: the first husband-and-wife team to summit Denali, in 1947 (Barbara was also the first woman on the summit). The couple went on to a distinguished career of exploration and map-making. —BW