I hiked to the top of Corte Madera many times before I even knew what trad climbing was. It is classic backcountry San Diego…fields of rugged manzanita, decease yuca that seem to actively spear your body, medstore endless small mountains and deep valleys all blanketed by harsh green brush which from a distance belies the true ruggedness needed to travel cross country. Water is scarce, case but the punishment is plentiful. There are many excellent climbing areas and many more patiently await discovery.
Corte Madera is a massive crag with several individual walls, both large and small. We chose to take the longest trad route, described in the San Diego County Climbing Guide, which follows the longest line on the south buttress on the main wall. The hike to the base of the South Buttress is comparable to El Cajon Mountain in difficulty, but is a bit longer.
Jack and I left San diego on Saturday night and arrived at the pullout along the road where we would pick up the Espinosa trail the next morning. We were hiking by 830am and at the base of the rock by 10am. It was about 55 degress with very light winds, and the whole climb is in the sun. We flipped a rock to see who would have the privilege of leading the first pitch. The rock liked me better. We started Climbing at 1030.
We had my 50 something meter rope which used to be a 60m but was circumcised due to a core shot about 7 meters from one end. This meant we were not rapping the route, so the follower would carry the hiking sneakers and water. We had 2 full racks of BD Camalots and one #4 and #5. I opted to leave my SLR camera since bulky electronics are not recommended in chimneys and off-widths, but Jack had his phone camera and we snapped a couple shots for our adoring fans.
The guidebook lists this climb as 5 pitches, 5.10a *****. Pitch 1 starts in a dirty ramp, with a badass yuca growing in it 20 feet up, which you must skillfully negotiate in order to avoid its wrath. Then things get steep.
There is a good amount of runout and unprotectable sections unless you bring a #6 or a big bro. There is runout face as well. If you are not comfortable running out chimneys and monster off-widths…stay home. If uneven and often dirty cracks offering tricky cam placements is not your cup of tea…stay home. If you don’t have a good 4wd vehicle or fail to become arroused by long hikes and bushwhacking…you guessed it…stay home! I sunk my hands and feet into small dirty nooks several times in the absence of a decent hold towards the top of the route, fire ants futilely attacked every pro placement within seconds, but the first 2 pitches are clean granite with subtle face features offering the occasional small feature. The third pitch is similar, but involves 5.8 unprotected face climbing where if you fall, you deck. This part of the route feels like something out of Taquitz. After 3 solid pitches, the climbing began to degenerate to scrambling. Jack lead the fourth pitch, but only placed 3 pieces of pro before the occasional 5th class section, and we soloed the last 40 feet or so to the top and put our sneakers on. Then we hiked off the East ridge and down to meet back up with the trail back to the car. I lead pitches 1 and 3, while Jack lead pitches 2 and 4. Jack has been climbing for less than a year and has lead no more than 5 or 6 trad routes, yet he did great on pitch 2, which is rated 5.8 – 5.9 in the book and involves serious runout and vertical liebacking and chimneying. After the third pitch is completed, there are many other possible ways to make your way to the top of Corte Madera which range from scrambling to face climbing, to some ridiculous looking roofs and flakes.
With a 4wd car, you can cut out 2/3 of the approach, but if you like punishment then this is completely unnecessary. The book claims that the forrest service has closed this area from January 1st – July 1st, and the ACSD website is very vague about what is actually closed and what is proposed to be closed. If you guys have any more info on this matter, post up, because this place is incredible and will get you in shape both for climbing and hiking.