I made a short trip to La Cueva after work today, something I'd like to start doing more regularly. I got to la Cueva around 4pm, but had to park all the way up at the visitor's center due to some road construction being done at the La Cueva picnic loop. Checking in with the "ranger", I learned that with the construction going on, the park/gate is closed at 5pm. Fortunately for me, he offered to leave the outward gate open as long as I closed it on my way out, so I headed out to climb.
The trail from the visitor center takes you right to the Hermit's Cave, which is pretty close to where I wanted to go anyways. I had invited some other climbers to join me, but no one was around so I took all my rope-soloing gear with me. I found some nice shade on the easy slabs under the route I had dubbed "Purple Poot Slab". This is a low-angled, broad lichen covered slab, with several route possibilities leading to the summit ridge. I had climbed it once before on January 13th, 2006 with Liz, and found a single old 1/4" bolt to rappel off of. It had a small purple poot sling on it at the time. Right now, the whole slab was well shaded, and it felt perfect for climbing. Despite the valley getting into the low 100's, and not much breeze being present, the well shaded wall was pleasant climbing temps, a little warm but not hot or oppressive (unlike last weekends sunny melter on Rabbit Ear Slabs). When climbing Las Cruces in the summer, shade is key.
On my own, I decided to explore the left-hand side of the slab, a dirty corner. I rigged up the soloist and started up to the corner. Before even reaching the corner I had some misgivings, I couldn't place any pro until stepping up on some loose foot-holds, and it looked even chossier the higher up I could get. After fiddling around a little bit, I opted for traversing a little to the right and up the heavily featured and easy looking face. this time my judgement was spot-on. the face was very easy (5.4ish) and had slightly better rock. I was able to place a few tri-cams in pockets along the way although I would hardly call it well protectable. There was a logical anchor point before the summit on a broad ledge roughly level with the top of the left-hand corner system. I decided to anchor here, clean the route I had climbed and attempt to top-rope the dirty corner back up. I had nearly rappelled down when Bob Cort showed up around the corner.
I had invited Bob along and was hoping he would show up. It's not that I don't like rope-soloing, but it certainly leaves something to be desired. Bob was interested in leading directly up the middle of the slab, so I left my rope on the left-side and flaked out Bob's rope over to the right, at a thin seam/crack in the middle of the slab. Looking back on my journals now, I think that the start the Bob did was not the one that I had climbed before. I had started at the far-right corner. The start where Bob led up had a "crux" 5.6 move at the start about 10ft up but without any prop. Actually Bob was able to place a wire at this spot, but it was a very marginal placement. After the start though, the climbing was pretty straightforward. Bob led pretty much up the middle of the slab. After the big ledge 2/3 of the way up, he opted for climbing the face instead of staying in the right corner as I had done. He ended up a little bit beyond the purple poot and belayed from the hidden alcove above.
I seconded up and also cleaned my solo-anchor on the way. I brought up my rope as well so that we could descend in s double-rope rappel. When I got to the belay, we both explored the summit a little bit. The summit is a great ridge to explore, you can scramble pretty far off to the west, and there are ways to get up to the other summit blocks as well. despite scrambling around and searching, I didn't find any fixed gear for rappels.
From the alcove belay, a short crack/face climbed up to a summit point and we decided we'd check it out to see if there was a better rappel station from up there. I started out leading up a steep finger crack, but after realizing that it involved a tricky move, (probably wouldn't have been that hard, but I'm still a nervous kleader on steeps) I opted for the more straight-forward route up to the top. It looked like it would be possible to down-climb east and perhaps reach the anchors at the top of Banana Splits, but this seemed a little out-of-the-way and it was starting to get late. We rappelled off a horn of rock back down to the alcove, and then did a double-rope rappel to the ground off of the single 1/4" bolt with the purple poot. The route can no longer be called the "Purple Poot" though because I cut the poot off, and tied on a new piece of bright orange webbing for our rappel.