A delectable mystery leads to a satisfying cliffhanger
As you rack up in the parking lot below Tahquitz Rock, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the history seeping out of every dignified crack and feature on the granite above. This is, after all, the embryonic loins, the Fertile Crescent, and the cradle of civilized (if you can call it that) American climbing all rolled into one. A place where climbers in the 1930s — by way of manila rope and tennis shoes — honed the craft we would all come to use. Where one of the first 5.9’s came to be climbed and rated, and on that note, where the decimal system ratings came from in the first place.
But it is also impossible not to notice one very stately crack shooting seven pitches up to the summit in a line that, even by Tahquitz standards, puts a whole lot of class in classic. That eye-catching line is of course the Whodunit or Hoodanette as it was called in the days of yore. Whatever the name, the mystery remains the same. In 1957, Royal Robbins and Joe Fitschen were halfway up the route when they came across a lone piton. Below and above there was no sign of human passage. Hence, they gave the apparent question “who done it?” some cultural cadence, turning mystery into modesty while managing to corrupt the French language.
The route wasn’t freed until the prolific partnership of Bob Kamps and Tom Higgins put their Kronhoffer and Cortina clunker shoes to the route nine years later. “The God of the period was Royal Robbins,” says Higgins, who is 63, still climbing a bit, and, by the way, coined the term “trad” in the 1984 Ascent article, Tricksters and Traditionalists. “We knew he was on the first ascent party, the line looked beautiful and we wanted to meet the challenge of his route. We had no idea it would go free, but it did, well within the standards of the day.”
It still does. Whodunit is, for the most part, fingers to hands to offwidth — often in a single, beautiful pitch. Bring gear to 3” and some runners. The climb begins auspiciously enough on low angle slab to a dihedral that steepens into a chimney. Getting in the chimney is easy. Getting out is the crux. Soon after awaits a nice belay ledge to let the mind cool. Then, straight up to a flake to find a belay ledge above a dead-bleached tree. Ten feet to the right, catch another crack that leads to an exposed roof. From there it’s any easy pitch to the summit where you should have time to jump on some more classics as you wind your way down and around the base to the aptly named Lunch Rock. Mystery solved — almost.
Five Nearby Classics
By Bruce Willey / BruceWilley.com
Open Book (5.9) Billed as America’s first 5.9, Open Book is also the 5.9 to compare all the rest of the 5.9’s you’ll encounter in your life—most of which will fall far short of this gem. The climb starts off on a stiff overhang before reaching the dihedral. After that, it’s the delicate balance between liebacking (hard-to-place pro) and jamming (easier-to-place pro). The best pitch (and crux) is the second pitch, which leads to a belay under a large roof. Third pitch takes you out over some well-traveled granite (read, polished) and easier ground.
Mechanics Route (5.8 R) Time travel back to 1937 with this classic by Sierra legends Dick Jones and Glen Dawson. And if you really want to the old-school experience, tie a manila rope off with a bowline on a coil connected to your partner who’ll gladly employ a hip belay with a grin. Now put on some tennis or basketball shoes (approach shoes don’t count) and try this masterpiece that still gets people thinking even with all the mechanical advantage of sticky rubber and newfangled cams.
Left Ski Track (5.6) Perfect route to top off the day after Whodunit. Sure, it’s only 5.6, but this is quality climbing with healthy jugs and step-around moves that will leave your heart bleating. Speaking of which, there’s an ultra-classic picture of Ellen Wilts, wife of Tahquitz legend Chuck Wilts, climbing the route at the step-around in black cowboy hat and, you guessed it, tennis shoes. Such style, such grace, such a get-up.
Traitor Horn (5.8) Another piece of climbing historymemorialized by the famous picture of Chuck Wilts looking like he was about to copulate with the horn—or might it been the other way around? Whatever the case,Wilts played a large role in Tahquitz history including many first accents and virtually creating the “Wilts-Sierra” decimal system which later changed into the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) that we all love and abuse. Traitor Horn starts with either Coffin Nail (5.8) or Jensen’s Jaunt (5.6). Both are good. Then head for the horny-looking thing. Climb, crawl, or fornicate to the true horn above and follow a long pitch of slab to the top.
The Long Climb (5.8) Another masterpiece by Royal Robbins who is, without putting too fine a point on it, sort of like van Gogh around here. Two cracks converge about two-hundred feet up to a ledge. Both are equally good, but if you take the left one you’ll be on the Wong Climb (5.8). Get to a good belay and start up the Mummy Crack. Four more pitches of glorious granite that includes a few roof moves, slab, and plenty of jam cracks leading to the top of the Northwest Recess.
Guidebooks: Rock Climbing Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks 4th edition(2008)by Randy Vogel and Bob Gaines
Guide Services: Vertical Adventures, (949) 854.6250 www.vertical-adventures.com
Equipment Shop: Nomad Ventures, (951) 659-4853, 54415, North Circle Drive, Idyllwild, www.nomadventures.com
Seasons: Spring, summer, and fall