Jan 01 2012

Mortar Rock Christmas

I couldn’t wait for Christmas as a kid. I wonder if any kid can actually wait for Christmas? No school, presents, the permission to rip, destroy and mangle wrapping papper, endless playtime, and desserts that go on forever, it seems like heaven to any six year old. Without fail, I would be the kid that slept in front of the fire with cookies and milk inches from my nose hoping to see Santa, only to wake up flummoxed that he had come and gone without notice. I think if I were a bit more observant as a child, I would have found out the truth about Santa much earlier had I noticed that the consumption of cookies fluctuated perfectly with how full my parents were after dinner. But none the less at some point I realized that sleeping in my bed was far more comfortable than sleeping in front of the fire, and the presents still showed up in the morning.




When I was fifteen, I started the tradition of climbing on Christmas. A few friends and I would head into the climbing gym and have it to ourselves – a present in it’s own right. This year, with no key to the local climbing gym, we headed up to Mortar Rock. It’s a far cry from cragging in Yosemite or in Estes Park on Christmas, but it holds it’s own special appeal. A small outcropping of rock situated in a ritsy part of the Berkeley hills, creates hours upon hours of entertainment for the local climbing community. Unfortunately, the subject of Mortar Rock and Indian Rock can be a polarizing one, people either love it or hate it. It’s either perfect skin training or destructive miserable crimps. A lucky piece of rock in the city or worse than the gym. I for one am not a Mortar Rock local, however I’m not a naysayer either. I’m in the “eh” club. But, with no where else to turn, why not?


It seems that a lot of climbers in they bay area don’t have keys to the local climbing gym either, making Mortar Rock a popular destination on Christmas day. I guess you could lump us all into a category of “die hard outdoor enthusiasts,” or “impressive athletes.” Or, as all of our families were probably thinking “no good family misfits.” Regardless of the label, it’s a tradition that I’ve had for almost two decades and going without it would be like Christmas without my Granny’s nut bread, blasphemy.


Along with a handful of families going for an afternoon walk through the hills, there were more climbers at Mortar Rock than I have ever seen (granted, my visits total no more than you could fit on your fingers), making me slightly less enthused to jump in the mix. But, I felt the onset of a nut bread sugar crash approaching and I knew that if I didn’t start grabbing those not so pleasant handholds, I would soon be no more useful than an accent pillow on my couch.


I slunk off to a couple of boulders behind the main Mortar Rock venue. Even though I was no more than twenty feet away from the mob, climbers can get deer in the headlights tunnel vision, making my not so impressive slab climbing uninteresting to watch. Mortar Rock and it’s neighbor Indian Rock are notorious for eliminate problems. The first time I went to Indian Rock with someone who actually knew the problems, I found it a bit ridiculous. I mean, isn’t that why we go rock climbing people, not gym climbing? But, I’ve realized that with such limited real rock climbing in the city, a challenge is a challenge, and if it floats your boat…


It doesn’t float my boat, or at least I have yet to want my boat floated. I’m still more than happy to grab the white holds and find my way to the top of the rock using any one I choose. Perhaps in a decade when I am strong enough to actually need to start eliminating holds from the rock, I’ll ask someone for some direction, but until then I’m all set.


As the evening drew on, family guilt started to set in for the majority of participants. Our friend Austin kept mentioning that if he didn’t leave soon his mom was going to kill him, all while chalking up and starting to climb. She was alone at their family restaurant, Marica, cooking for more than twenty family members. I think around mention number twenty three he actually put on his tennis shoes and drove off. Having had our family bonding time that morning, we were able to eek out to the last minute of daylight. I’m not sure if Mortar Rock rose to the top of my “must climb on Christmas” destinations, but it definitely allowed for a very fun few hours. I can understand why the locals spend countless hours sitting on the crooked wooden bench, staring at the unglamorous rock, cheering each other on.



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