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Randy Leavitt’s Favorite 5.10: The Commander [5.10b] // El Cajon Mountain

Randy Leavitt shares his favorite 5.10 route of all time.

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In 1996 I was a beginning surfer with high aspirations. At 36, I didn’t feel too old to start something new and humbling. That was when I met Chris Hubbard, a big-wave surfer.

Chris knew about my climbing and, as he later told me, wanted to see what I could do in the waves. I think he also hoped I could help him with climbing. What I didn’t know was that I’d just found an unconditional friend who would always have my back.

The surfing world is unforgiving. The big waves are unbiased and thrash every aspiring bigwave surfer. And if the waves don’t do it, the angry locals will as they protect their last slice of a crowded line-up.

Chris (I call him CH) was a black belt in Taekwondo, and not shy to reply to locals intimidating his bros. More than once I heard him say, “Well, we could fight now … or surf, then fight later. It’s your call.” There were never any takers, maybe because CH added the caveat, “I know I’m outnumbered, and you guys will probably win, but I guarantee some of you will get fucked up.” He gave me the confidence to paddle into some good waves.

I also started bringing CH with me on some climbs, opening his eyes to the world of airy heights and first ascents. His eyes got so wide on the classic Romantic Warrior (IV 5.12b) in the Needles that two pitches were enough. But as Chris helped me transition to surfing big waves, he gained confidence on bigger climbs.

In 2003, CH would forever improve my opinion of San Diego climbing. He told me tales of El Cajon Mountain, adding, “You gotta take a look.” El Cajon hid in the clouds the rainy day I first visited, but I saw enough of the 500-foot wall to return, and fast. It turned out that Brian Spiewak had already established a multipitch classic 5.9 sport climb, Leonids, on the left wall. Nothing went up the tall, steep central headwall, so Brian, CH and I began work on a route that split the business. The Commander became a five-pitch masterpiece, with pitches of 5.11c, 5.11b, 5.11b, 5.10b and 5.12a.