Wednesday, April 08, 2009

4-9-09: Skelton Problem

Randy wondering, "what are we doing?"

Kind of a misnomer really, it should be 'Skelton Solo'. This problem was rediscovered, so to speak, on a pleasant morning last fall.

While a group of us were descending from soloing the classic 'Oak Tree Flake' [5.6] I mentioned to the group that there was a problem nearby listed in the old Don Reid guidebook as a [v8 X]. I was curious about the problem but I couldn't remember much of the details. I mistakenly thought it was called the 'Skeleton Problem' or 'Skull Problem,' but I new it was on the western end of the Swan Slabs. Unfortunately, the Swan Slabs area was omitted from the newest bouldering guide to Yosemite. Fortunately, there are a lot of fun warm-ups and technical faces to play on there so its worth a visit.

When the group returned to the base Tim and Randy returned to a tall slab that they'd been eyeing prior to my arrival. When I saw it I was certain that it was the enigmatic problem we'd discussed only minutes before. Clearly this wasn't a problem that saw regular traffic, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if it hadn't had a second ascent. Moss and lichen had grown over many of the holds (and non-holds) but there was clearly a line to be climbed.

The 'Skelton Problem' is basically three boulder problems in one. The first obstacle to overcome is establishing on the climb. The first "hold" is approximately 9 feet up the slab and once reached must be mantled without the assistance of any other holds. This is solved with a run-up-the-wall and jump method followed by a bit of grunting. The second mini-problem is a difficult slab section to another knob, this is probably the crux. The final bit isn't as difficult, but it is quite insecure and one finds their self quite height at this point, this is the mental crux.

Randy was the first to stick the jump and commit to the territory above. I think he chalked and re-chalked for a good five minutes contemplating the final slab while Tim frantically cleaned holds from above with a long bubba brush. Tim, Kevin, and I followed suit each managing to scare ourselves a bit despite the security of Randy's coattails.

Yours truly, preparing for the mental crux.

Randy executing, Tim cleaning.

The problem is named after a long time local climber by the name of Ron Skelton, 67. Ron and his wife Liz operate the Blue Butterfly Inn in El Portal, just outside the park. He was recently featured in Climbing Magazine No. 272 for being a cancer survivor with aspirations to climb 'Astroman' on the Rostrum this spring or summer. I recently asked Ron about the history of this climb and here's what he had to say:

"...a number of people had worked on that problem before I tried it, Dale Bard, Ron Kauk, and several others come to mind. No one was willing to go for it! They would do the mantle and look at the face and jump off. I had to clean it as I climbed, also I remember several loose edges that broke off as well. The hardest part for me was the mantle as I am 6'4" the face was in the 5.11 range I thought, but I don't know what others might think. I don't know much about the new rating system for bouldering."

His height would explain how he managed to reach the start of this problem with just a cheater stone. Of course Ron's height wouldn't have helped him much in the event of a fall from the top. I wouldn't want to take that fall with a stack of bouldering pads, he didn't have a single one!

As to the grade of this one...its a little irrelevant if you ask me. Its not [v8]. I think a Yosemite grade of [5.11 R/X] is probably more appropriate, but I wouldn't try this if you can't do 'Blue Sued Shoes' [v5]. The bottom line is; if you are looking for something a little more obscure and a lot spicy, check this one out. Just don't blame Betabase if you hurt yourself.

Photos courtesy of John Vallejo



3074 said...

Awesome problem!!!
We use to warm up at Swan Slabs, on cold winter mornings. Funny how it's not in the new guide. A few of us made it up the problem a few years back.

Raza said...

Great post Justin!

Robyn said...


Noah as usual said...

That problem looks amazing! Nice one guys!

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

that was fun and scary! when i was about to commit to the mental crux i think i said "you guys are crazy" and was reminded that i was on the climb myself :)

TK said...

That's wild!