Sunday, June 24, 2007

Good Leads This Weekend

I sport led my first 5.10 this weekend, and tacked on two 5.9+s as well. While I've trad led 5.9 in the Gunks before, and possibly elsewhere (Pawtuckaway?, Crow Hill?, Acadia? North Conway?, Switzerland? - I can't remember exactly), today was the first day that I've led 5.10 outside. I've led 5.11 inside before (though how clean is still up for debate) and am not afraid of hard 5.10s in the gym either, but outside is different altogether.

It started yesterday when I went to Red Rocks in Gloucester with "Chuck" and "Softspeak" to have an easy day outside in the sun. The forecast called for sunny skies all day with temps in the 70s, and it did not disappoint. There were four routes at RR that I knew I wanted to do: one was a stiff 5.8, another was a stiff 5.9+ that I think is actually a 5.10a, a fly-up-the-wall 5.6 called Zipper and an incredibly slopey 5.11 to the right of zipper that "Ashmont" and I worked last year but couldn't get past the S-curves about a quarter of the way up the climb.

As can be expected, Zipper went easily and quickly, then Zits (the stiff 5.8 that pulls back against some slopey laybacks and off-balanced slab steps off slick, granite crystals), and then we took on Morning Glory (5.9+) on top rope. Morning Glory, which requires a dyno onto a foot-long crimp before burning out the calves on a nothing-to-hold face, is definitely somebody's ego playing games with everyone else. I can see it being 5.9+ twenty years ago when the climb wasn't as polished as it is now, but it is definitely harder than 5.9+ at this stage of the game. Still, it was a fun toprope, and before I had reached the ground after topping out, I was contemplating leading it to get my nerves up for climbing at Rumney the next day.

I then jumped on what I thought was a damn near impossible 5.11 and worked the hell out of it until I finally figured out the moves. I fell like crazy all over the place, but I made each move and felt as if I really had improved my climbing over the past year or so. I didn't stick it pretty, but I'm finding that my grades are getting higher and higher now, and I'm feeling a lot more solid on routes that I would have flailed on in year's past. This was part of the reason why I wanted to lead Morning Glory, to see if I really had improved enough to be confident in my abilities to make certain, dynamic or committing moves. It was my last climb of the day, and I was tired, but I got up through it clean and felt good about leading at Rumney on Sunday.

Rumney, on the other hand, has not always been friendly to me. I'm not sure why. The routes don't seem to be sandbagged at all. In fact, they may even be soft, but for some reason I've always had a hard time leading there. Part of the reason I wanted to lead Morning Glory was because I figured that I would be doing a lot of leading on Sunday. I wanted to get my head into the idea of climbing 5.10 on the sharp end for once. I mean, it's about time that I finally got up the nerve to climb something hard, even if "hard" means 5.10, which, in the gym, is well within my range.

I knew we were heading to Jimmy Cliff first thing in the morning. I knew that there was a fantastic 5.8 called Junco on the right side of the cliff that I had climbed well last time (and I climbed it well this time too, so no worries about taking steps back). But I also knew that the last time I was there I saw a group climbing this 5.10a on the far right of Jimmy Cliff called Lonesome Dove. I heard so many great things about it and had keeping it in my mind all year long. It was my goal to do this route this year, and I finally got my chance to do so.

"Wrongway" was my partner yet again, and this is something I'm becoming comfortable with. He's a good climber, smart, knows his limits and can pull off a tough move if he needs to. It's nice to know there is a person I can climb with who is at or above my own ability who does not get heady on tough stretches. Again, he was a good partner, as he was in the 'Dacks. We started on Drilling For Dollars (5.8 with a really sketchy move at the top, just below the anchors) and moved on to a 5.7 chimney that is not in the book (to the right of the 5.9 that is to the right of Drilling For Dollars and to the left of a 5.10d that's called Hammond something or other). We took a bit of a rest and then it was my turn to run up this 5.10a that I've been thinking so much about for the past year.

You'd think that I was nervous considering the fact that this was going to be my hardest lead climb outside ever, but I wasn't nervous at all. I was a little worried about not finding the route easily, but not worried about the climb itself. I guess in some respects climbing Morning Glory the day before really helped me get my head into shape. I felt fine and, despite not reading the route clearly in a couple of spots the first go around on each move, I flashed my first ever 5.10 outside. People had told me beforehand that the moves were really balancy and that they required hugging the rock a lot (it was a bit of an arrete), but I didn't find that to be the case at all. I felt the holds were all really solid and were easily gained with just a little technique and boldness. I think "Wrongway" said it best however, for some people, 510 slab climbs are easier than 5.10 pumpy climbs. This would ring true later in the day.

After climbing at Jimmy Cliff, "Wrongway" and I headed down to Bonsai to do a couple of recommended climbs: Masterpiece (5.10a) and War And Peace (5.9+). Both of these climbs were overhanging jug-fests, but Masterpiece was much harder for me because I was tired and because I need feet on overhangs, and my feet were never settled enough to make me feel confidant. I took three times on the same move and did the rest relatively well (I may have taken one more time before finishing up). I was really tired after that and was worried about leading War And Peace, especially since the difference in the grades was less than a full grade. But War And Peace was a much easier climb for me. It was still overhanging and very pumpy, but the jugs were the same as on Masterpiece and the feet were much better. I sent it, my last route of the day, with ease. It was funny because "Wrongway" felt the 5.10a was much better and cleaner than the 5.9+, while I thought the 5.9+ may have been a little soft. It's all preference, I guess, but it is still something to be happy about.

I keep thinking, however, about how I took a nasty fall on an overhanging finish on a 5.10 in the Meadows only a month or so earlier. It is a route that I've been thinking about and working for a couple of years now (it has a tough roof section that I just can't get at this point). In April or May, when I was last at the cliff with "Gammie", "Chuck" and crew, I took a big fall and swung pretty hard. It was scary, so much so that I made "Chuck" pull me off so that I would actually fall. I didn't feel that fear today. I had no problem falling. I almost fell on Morning Glory the day before, and that was almost an intentional fall, something that I never do. But this weekend, for some reason, I felt fine. I'm not sure why, but I think maybe it is because I'm getting stronger and better. This is a long time coming. I hope it continues.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Adirondacks - Sunday: Rain and The Rest of the Trip

We awoke to dry skies on Sunday, and that perculated our hopes enough that we felt we stood a good chance of beating the weather and getting a good, day-two of climbing in. The desired destination was Washbowl Cliff in Keene Valley, which was essentially across the street from where we parked the day before at Beer Walls.

Screw it, there's just too damn much to write. It rained. We climbed a bit in the rain at Beer Walls and then went to Lake Placid. "Jello" and I sat in the rain later on at his place with a good-sized fire roaring and chicken breasts cooking on a stone that we threw into the fire. It was good chicken, and I'm damn surprised at how fires can survive even with steady downpours. That fire didn't go out until the next day.

Anyway, we bouldered again at Mackenzie Boulders on Monday before heading back. Our trip back was easier and, despite the slow driving, we made good time on Route 2 from Troy, NY. I'll be going back in September to do a 12-pitch 5.7 with "Jello" if we can get the same time off. I really looking forward to it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Adirondacks - Saturday: Part Four: Midnight Bouldering

There's always one in every group. It's not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing, but it is always both predictable and unpredictable at the same time: extra energy in youth will always have to find a way out of the body and into some adventure that makes one scratch his head. "Jello" is "that guy" in our group.

He got his nickname by wearing a Dead Kennedy's shirt to the gym (Jello Biafra being the energetic lead singer) the second time we climbed with him, and almost had his name changed to "Macchio" after refusing to stop doing the classic Karate Kid kick over and over again (which, by the way, he's so young that he really didn't even remember that there was a movie called "The Karate Kid", let alone know who Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio were - the bastard). Throwing kicks and punches into the air is his modus operandi. Leading whatever is in front of him comes a close second, then throwing large stones into fire pits (I'll get to that in another post) and the like come in third. The kid just does things, and I presume that's because he has so much damn energy that he simply doesn't know what to do with it.

Well, that last sentence isn't exactly true. At one point, at 10:34pm (not to be specific or anything), he decides he wants to go that moment, with headlamps, mattresses stolen from the bunk beds in the house we're staying in, and a suspected mountain lion on the loose near Lake Placid. I, being a humble thirty-two years old, question the kid's sensibility, mainly, also, because I'm thirty-two, and ideas such as this don't make as much sense to me as they might have when I was his age (go on, I can hear the "Old Man Burns" taunts percolating. Just do it and get it over with!). But naturally, what I think is irrelevant. The next thing I know "Jello" is throwing mattresses into the back seat and trunk of my car (need a better lock system, I guess) and "Unity" is searching for an extra headlamp for me to use.

"There's one particular climb," he tells me, "where we'll need the mattresses. I hope they work." I think he also hoped that his boss didn't come home that night to see the empty bunk beds. But whatever. I believe him when he says this and I drag my old bones to the driver's seat before heading off to Mackenzie Boulders in nearby Saranac Lake.

I park on the side of the road and we head into the woods. The path in is obvious and easy; no bushwhacking today. It's a good thing, too, because even with the headlamps, it is difficult to see anything other than what is lit up by the lamps. When we approach the first boulder, a pristine, lemon-shaped chunk of granite that rises about fifteen feet above the clean, pine-needle floor, I am shocked at how enticing the rock looks. This isn't just some random rock sticking out of the trees with moss all over the unclimbable sections. This is what I expect to see in a climbing video somewhere in Fountain Bleu, France: with all the brush meticulously pushed aside (as if it was landscaped), leaving several feet all around the boulder for ease of movement; clear, white marks on the usable holds only; and a perfect canopy of leafy and needled tree branches thirty feet up, which provide the kind of roof you dreamed of as kids whilst looking for a natural tree-house. It's just so perfect here. I'm actually glad that I came.

We walk deeper into the woods with the path never becoming overgrown or difficult the deeper we go. We pass through what seem to be little, intimate rooms of more boulders. Each room seems to have its own decor: the interior decorator choosing to blend the entire house with pines and maples but making each room different enough to fit the personality of the kid living in that room at that given time. There is one, tall boulder right in the middle of one room, and the path circumvents the rock in such a way as to casually deflect the passersby past anyone trying to climb and into the next room a few yards down the path. In tghe next room, the path splits several boulders on each side of the room; allowing the kids to feel hidden from view on the edges as thier parents walk from room to room looking for them. Finally, we stop at one room where nature has built us a jungle-gym of bouldering options. I am both nervous and oddly excited. My arms are shaking and I can feel my breath getting heavier. I say "oddly" because I don't boulder. In fact, until this moment I haven't bouldered more than once in at least three or four years.

I gave bouldering a shot a few weeks before at the gym and did OK, but not great. It was fun, but not as fun as roping up. The truth is, I've always had the this notion that I'll get hurt, and that notion is partially true. Bouldering is just a jerky sport. I obviously don't mean that boulderers are jerks. What I mean is that the moves are jerky; they require either a solid amount of core strength or dynamic moves that snap the joints and tendons upon landing. Naturally, the static moves are the way to go, but dumb people like me, until I bouldered at the at the gym a few weeks ago, tend to jerk our bodies around just so we can show how manly we really aren't. I also weighed an unhealthy twenty pounds more that I do now when I was bouldering, thus making those hard landings even more severe (by the way, by "landing" I mean finishing a move, not falling to the ground. Picture a dynamic, two-point move where the climber is moving through the air toward the next hold, and the he or she "lands" on that hold). It was always that landing that pulled a muscle, strained a joint or seriously pissed off a nerve. Because of this, I've been leery of bouldering since I began climbing.

But these boulders are different. I don't know what it is, but I've never seen such obvious lines and opportunities. Everywhere else I've been outside, and seen bouldering, it's as if the bouldering is some made up route on a mossy, short cliff hidden in the woods. Either that that, or it's a traverse that cuts across the bottom of a series of roped climbs (probably first climbed when some poor chap forgot his harness). This place, Mackenzie Boulders, isn't like that at all. These are boulders. Real boulders. Not the bottom-of-the-cliff kind of stuff you find elsewhere. They look like Hershey's Kisses that have fallen from the sky. On top of that, I think I can climb these!

But then I get on the first climb, a V0 (maybe - even that looks soft). It's a simple crack with a face move out to the right. The first five feet? Easy laybacking. The next three feet? Moderate face climbing. The next five feet (already eight feet in the air, at night, and with mattresses for pads)? A footless dyno off a tiny crimp to an unseen jug at the top. Uh-huh. "What am I doing?" I get through the dyno, however, and feel the adrenaline drain into my swelling chest. Sigh. And that was, as I said, only a V0.

We look around for more opportunities to climb and see a lot of problems, but we're tired and don't feel like doing anything where we actually have to read the route. Remember, it is dark outside, and the only light available to us is the direct beam emanating from our heads.

Finally, we settle on a deep, traversing crack that finishes, or so we think, on a roof with a sketchy move that leaves our backs parallel with the ground...a good ten feet in the air. The book says it is a V3. I'm not sure I feel like doing something this hard, but I have no choice in the matter. "Jello" and "Unity" are already on the route.

We start by working the roof, and jumping on the traverse a little below the roof to do so. It's a juggy start, with a crack so deep I can wrap my knuckles in it. But the crack ends about four feet below the start of the roof, and the roof itself extends outward from the face about three-and-a-half feet. Getting there requires leveraging our bodies with a series of dead-arms against a flat, upward facing panel with only a couple of nubbin slopers to hold onto.

After several tries, we manage to wrap our fingers around the flat edge that is the roof. It requires starting from the juggy crack, and then moving to a controlled barn-door off two or three slopers (depending on how one does it) before the the feet go up into a heel hook that allows for just enough leverage to swing out wide to the edge. If the edge isn't gained, well, a ten foot drop onto bed mattresses covering medium-sized, round rocks below awaits. These round rocks, to be clear, are right under the landing spot and can certainly be felt through the mattresses. I'm worried about sprained ankles. It turns out there's other ways to get hurt, too. But more on that in a moment.

After gaining the roof from the middle of the climb, it's time to link the whole traverse together. We disappear around the corner and discover a sit-start, and immediately avoid it. My old bones don't like moves that jerk the ligaments, and "Jello"'s and "Unity"'s lazy bones don't feel like doing it either. The rest of the route is smooth, however. Each hold is a jug where the hand can get buried deep enough to not be seen. The feet aren't great, but who cares. It's just a jug-fest where the hands and legs jump over each other with every move. I'm beginning to think the name of the route should have been "Crossover Heaven". It's called the "Great Wall of Taiwan" instead. Interesting.

In any case, "Jello" managed to get to the roof first again, and once "Unity" and I each reached the roof, all three of us headed back to figure out the sit-start. With "Jello" and "Unity" being years younger than me, they make the pumpy, dynamic move with little grunting and greater fluidity than I do, but they tire out quickly and come off somewhere in the middle of the route. Me? I can't even do the sit-start they way they are doing it. My feet are too spread out, the hand-hold is too low for me to utilize it well and my center of gravity as I pull and push upward is square on my elbows and chest. The move hurts, and I can already feel the strain on my elbow. As I mentioned before, I bouldered for the first time in years a few weeks before this. I was hesitant then, but my friend, the one who convinced me to go bouldering that night, kept telling me to stop making "big boy" moves and work on making static moves instead. "Static?" I wondered. "Not everything can be done static." But she was correct in the end. I bouldered the entire evening statically (if that's a word), and never felt an instant of potential bodily injury creeping up on me. So as I flew through this sit-start, I kept thinking of her advice. "There has to be a way," I thought. Three tries in and I found a way up.

The starting hand hold is only about three feet off the ground. If one spread-eagles the feet, then one can get four solid points on for nearly the entire start. But that's hard, and it doesn't feel solid while the move is being made. To me, I feel like I want to shift the pressure from my arms to my legs, but with my legs so far out from each other, it is difficult to do this. I look around and spy a long, sloping face to my right, about five feet above the ground and two feet above the starting hand hold. Perfect! It's as good a heel hook as I've ever seen. For an old man like me, getting into it is as ungraceful as carrying a refrigerator up a spiral staircase, but I get my heel up and my arms breathe an immediate sigh of relief. All the weight has now been shifted to my legs, which are holding my drooping buttocks as I chalk up my happy fingers.

Pulling all my upper body parts from my upper hamstrings to my Achilles tendon, I rise from the start hold and snare the second hold with ease. I smile as I realize that I'm not even tired. It's a cruise from that point on: right hand over left, swing the feet, cross left hand over right, right foot over left foot, and so on. By now, even the roof is easy. I gain it will only a minimal amount of god-I'm-old-and-its-fucking-late grunting, swing my feet out to the boulder behind me and drop down. Success...until I hear "Jello" say, "Now we have to link the top." The TOP?!?!?

Sure enough, the roof isn't the finish. As it appears to me, there is a dangling-feet campus move where one has to squeeze the roof hold with the left hand and throw the right hand out about two feet back toward the traverse. From there, it is a near impossible (OK, really fucking scary as I was imagining it) crossover with the left hand to a crimp, all this with no feet. I never got that far, and "Jello" never got that far. Only "Unity" was able to grab the next hold after the roof, and then she fell...into my spotting hands...and never got her feet under her. PHOOOSH! She hits the mattresses on her back, her neck slams the round rocks underneath and she sits still for a few moments while "Jello" and I nervously wait to hear if she's OK. When she stands up, "Jello" and I are relieved that she can actually walk. We were done. She's hurt, we're nervous about her being hurt, and it's way past midnight. A 10am rendezvous back at the campground awaits us. We pack up and leave, and "Unity" seems to be OK.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Adirondacks - Saturday: Part Three: Ski Jumping and How It Relates To Climbing

Not every trip of mine is feted through an obsession of some sort, but this trip did have one element that caught my fascination more than climbing itself: ski jumping.

As I noted on Friday's post, I was driving to "Jello"'s when I came around a corner and saw these tall, dark structures rising above the trees and towering into the dark, late-night sky. My first reaction to these "things" was, "What the fuck is that?" In my mind, there shouldn't have been anything that tall out in the middle of nowhere. I was surrounded by rows of trees that filled in the valley I was driving through. On either side, at any moment on the drive from North Hudson to Ray Brook, there were mountains (soon to be seen in daylight with cliffs dripping from the summits) and / or lakes filling out the wilderness that made the drive so dark and enthralling. I knew Lake Placid was nearby, but I also knew it wasn't a city. There shouldn't have been anything more than a few stories high, and certainly nothing a few minutes drive from the downtown area itself. If anything, I figured I would have seen the lights of Lake Placid itself rising up from the town before I saw any towering structures in the dark.

To be clear, these towers could not have been confused with the normal things you'd see rising above the treetops. These were much taller and leaner than a water tower, but denser than cellphone towers at the same time. They weren't radio antennas either, though they did have blinking, red lights at the top. And the vertical section of the towers, if they were alone in their secrecy, would have come across as something that was probably easily explained during the day as "the thing the weird guy on that farm built twenty years before". But what made the whole thing so intriguing was the sharp slope that ran downward from the peak of each tower to the disappearing point of the tree line. It got my blood simmering and I couldn't wait to find out what I was looking at. It was then that I saw the sign: "Olympic Ski Jump Facility Ahead". At once, my simmering blood stimulated my brain cells and asexual endorphins began spewing thoughts of amazement that sent a shiver through the rest of my body. What a thrill! I couldn't believe that I was not only driving past an Olympic landmark, which is exciting in itself because I have always been enamored by the spirit and competition of the Olympics, but past one of the most exciting venues in the Olympics as well.

I don't know what it is, but there is something about watching these competitors, all with a story or a geographic or emotional place whence they came from, as they try to reach the top of the medal strand with flowers in hand, medals dangling around their necks, and anthems making their hearts bleed and eyes swell. Think about the fact that they only get this shot once every four years. If they are hurt, there's no "next year", it's all about that moment in time and no other time else wise. If they fail; if they twist wrong, run too slow, trip or jump to early; if the conditions are poorer for them than they were for their rivals; if somehow the wind blows at the wrong moment, then they'll have to watch the awards ceremony from afar; their dreams crushed; their moment lost - and they'll have to wait another four years to regain just the possibility of that moment again.

Maybe they won't be in their prime by the time the next Olympics rolls around. Or maybe some sixteen year-old who was on the cusp of greatness the first time around will have grown, matured and catapulted to the top of the betting slips as the the new, potential gold medalist. In essence, what makes the Olympics exciting for me is the moment. Much like American sports in general, it's all about that one instant before the action takes place: when the pitcher comes to the set, the quarterback steps under center, as the defender takes on step backward too many away from the two-guard with a hot hand in the closing seconds, when the goalie steps out of goal to meet the rushing skater or dribbler. We live for the moment in American sports, and I think that perspective has translated well into climbing. When I'm on the wall, my entire focus is on that one moment and my emotions range according to the situation I'm in. Is anyone actually afraid of the fall itself? No. They're afraid of that split second before the fall when all these thoughts rush into the brain: where's my last piece, how much rope is out, will the rope hold, is my belayor capable of catching me, will I deck out? It's always about the next move and sometimes what the next hold will bring. It's always about next.

Anyway, I was clearly excited to see the towers in the daylight for the first time. I'm not sure why, but I've always been in love with the risk, power, speed and grace of ski jumping. I know many people think it is a boring sport, but not I. There is something about the fear of plummeting one's body toward the earth on boards strapped to one's feet and ultimately being catapulted into what should be an open space but is actually like a large box that gets smaller and smaller the closer one gets to the ground. Imagine standing at the top and seeing in front of you a long, direct route to an unforgiving edge that leads out to empty space, eventually ending on the white earth that you'll be landing on shortly. Imagine seeing the crowd forming a "U" around the landing site. Imagine the rush of having the courage to compete in such sports. It is why I climb. I can imagine the ski jumper thinking of nothing but the next step, the next move in the process. He sits on the bar, lets go and disembarks downward. He reaches the edge and jumps, lifting his heels backward and shoving his chin toward the tips of his skis, floating, floating, floating until it is time to land; gently settling the skis on the wet snow, one in front of the other for just a long enough time period for the judges to access your style as well as your distance. It gives me shivers just thinking about it.

For me, when I climb, I think of nothing else in the world and all my stresses disappear. It becomes a survival moment for me, as if I'm playing a game that gives my life meaning away from the corporate cubicle and spreadsheets. It's no different than a man in a suit sometimes wishing it were he digging the ditch, only if because it would make him feel like a man for just a few moments. It's a do or die moment. Each move is meticulous. Each position is pushing me to think of only me and nothing else.

Sometimes when I reflect, I can think of myself on the wall as a jumper who is floating through the air with one goal on his mind: to land well enough to be satisfied with the endeavour. To see the steep drop of the ramp melt into the slope of the landing ground below. To look up at the scary crimps above me and realize, once I've reached the top, that the bottom has become the top in one, full swoosh of the body moving the mind upward. It became an obsession of mine every time I drove past the site, probably to the dismay of my passengers because I was the one driving. My heart still races when I think of it.

Ahem, I notice that this post has gone long as well. Midnight bouldering will come in the next post. Sorry!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Adirondacks - Saturday: Beer Walls - Part Two: Still Getting There and Then the Climbing

Now, I'm not going to point fingers here, because really, it isn't any one person's fault. No one had been climbing at Beer Walls, not even "Jello", but because he lived in the area, albeit for only a couple of months, and because he had been reading the guidebook dutifully since we left the house that morning, the task of getting us to the crag, which ever one that may have been, was given to "Jello" and we followed him blindly into the woods. The guidebook said to follow an obvious path uphill from the right-hand side of the parking lot, and that this path would take us to the top of lower Beer Walls; presumably where we wanted to go, but we weren't really clear on that, so that indecision made things a little hazy in the details.

But the path "Jello" found was, in some regards, obvious. I mean, it was obvious that someone had actually walked this way at some point in the past month-and-a-half. The fallen, brown leaves that covered this so-called path were quickly assumed to have been due to the lack of traffic that would have cleared them from under our feet otherwise. "After all", one person noted, "it has only just begun to be summer in the 'Dacks." We all agreed even if that sounded a little bit silly.

In any case, "Jello" seemed to be vindicated as we came along an obvious path that led us to the top of something. What that was at the moment we didn't know, and how to get to wherever else we wanted to go we also didn't know. So no one complained, even in the face of imminent where-the-fuck-are-we-dom.

We did manage to find Upper Beer Walls, but there were people toying around there already. We then found what we thought was the top of Lower Beer Walls, but we weren't sure. There was no rappel station, and the nine of us that stood on the occupancy-seven ledge were a bit freaked out about just how much personal space Americans really need to lose before the shoving begins, even amongst friends.

But we never feared, because our leader did not. "Jello" recognized the lost-sheep look in our eyes, and he took it upon himself to find the way - bushwhack style, the only way he knows how to travel. To be fair, he did find a path for us to follow, the problem came when we got a little off course and ended up falling into soft patches of leaves whilst battling downed trees and branches. This was all going downhill too, which made the travelling that much more sketchy for those who had a brain freeze at the campground and decided to wear sandals. But in the mind of our fearless leader, downhill was exactly what we wanted, be damned how it happened. If we were initially at the top of the Lower Beer Walls then it made sense to go downhill to get to the bottom of Lower Beer Walls. Why we don't have more people like this I'll never know.

Well, "Jello" led us to the bottom of the hill alright, but there was no crag to be seen. We were standing in a ravine, a gully or something of similar description when, using his noddle, "Jello" narrowed down our options to climbing up the hill opposite the one we had just come down or climbing up a gully and into the thick brush that separated the two hills. The using his head part wasn't just figuring the options. The man is a politician waiting to be elected. Instead, he gave the group the options and let them decide. After all, if the group chose correct then he would be the hero. If the group chose incorrectly, well, then what the fuck was the group thinking? He's only in his mid-twenties, but I tell you, he's going places.

The group almost immediately and unanimously chose the thick gully. It turned out to be "Jello"'s day after that. While the gully was certainly no fun climbing up (I'm not sure how many times I got whipped by a branch thanks to the person in front of me), it turned out to be the miraculous decision. As we emerged, scraped faces, arms and all, from the thick of the forest, we saw before us the shimmering glow of sunshine heated rock; all of it waiting to be climbed. Sure enough, we had found the bottom of Lower Beer Walls.

From then on, the climbing was great. For one, there was hardly anyone there. It is almost an unimaginable concept for me. The Adirondacks have far more climbs than Rumney, Cathedral and Whitehorse combined, yet no one was there. In fact, I'd even bet there were more climbs in Keene Valley alone than in the 'Gunks. I know, it's a long drive and the crags are not all situated in one location (though they are kind of across the street from each other). But still, this was Memorial Day weekend and I was looking at some of the finest rock I had ever seen. It blew my mind that we never had to queue for a route, and that we, a group of nine, more than doubled all other groups in the area combined.

In any case, we split off into pairs and monopolized every moderate route we could find: from stiff, single pitch 5.8s to long, smooth, multi-pitch 5.7s and 5.6s. There was nothing we didn't climb, and it felt damn good to get all that climbing in after the adventures we'd had the past couple of days. The next few paragraphs will go through some of the climbs and experiences that I had while at Lower Beer Walls that day:

Equis (5.7) - This was my first route of the day and the most obvious line that we found as soon as we arrived at the crag. The bulk of the route was a flaring flake with a cedar tree in the middle that ended on an easier-than-it-looked overhanging section just below the bottom of the cliff. Even the start looked harder than it was, but with the proper body position, gaining the flake wasn't that difficult and walking the flake was nearly a category four scramble. It was the top part that had most people concerned. Not only did it look overhanging, which it really wasn't because the easiest moves were more face-climbing on the side of the overhang than in the overhang itself, but a new word was spread around that also incorporated with the steepness the possibility of water in the cracks: Manky. Manky apparently means "suspect" as in - Boy that six-day old jug of non-refrigerated milk looks manky. I think, however, I was the only one who wasn't concerned about the wetness. I did note that it was wet to "Red" (who belayed and seconded), but it was never an issue for me. It was never an issue for "Red" either, and she came up to the top with a look of satisfaction on her face. We agreed it was a good, first climb.

The funny part of getting to the top of this route was that we discovered a path down from the top to the bottom, without bushwhacking. In fact, much to my amusement, before bushwhacking, we actually stood at the top of that very climb no more than twenty minutes before. How we didn't see the obvious trail down, I will never know.

Rockaholic (5.8) - I had seen a couple of guys run this while I was scouting Equis and it intrigued me. To be honest, it intrigued most of us, but the protection seemed very sketchy and thin (except to "Jello", who turned out to be correct in the end when he believed the crack was deeper than it appeared from the bottom). The two guys, by the way, were actually MetroRock routesetters: one of who's name rhymed with "Mars" and the other's initials were "AJC" - small world.

Anyway, they said the crack was deep and while it did not take cams very well, it would certainly eat nuts. This to me was acceptable, and I decided to make it my second climb of the day. But it also looked difficult. For one, I am not a crack climber (though at one time I used to think that I was. Why this is so, I do not know), and this climb was a diagonal crack leading from about ten above a blank-face start to a large block where there were rap anchors waiting at the top. I watched "Mars" and "AJC" work the crack from the bottom, that is, with thier hands holding the bottom of the crack and their feet smearing below the crack. They climbed this with ease, and I felt that this must be the best way to approach this climb. Boy, was I wrong about that. "Mars" and "AJC" were the only climbers of the day whose feet did not slip on the smears below the crack. Everyone else, including myself, found this section to be particularly strenuous. When I got on the climb, I went up and down several times before I told myself that this approach was ridiculous.

Now, I understand that people had told me the 'Dacks were sandbagged (meaning the routes were harder than the grade), and as I was flailing on this climb, I really began to believe this was true. However, it was what I did next that completely changed my mind on this topic. Instead of climbing the bottom part of the crack with my hands, I laid back against the top part of the crack and walked my feet up the bottom part. Sure, it felt exposed and not at all like what the route wanted me to do, but it actually felt 5.8, whereas the other approach felt more like a sloppy 5.9+. From that moment on, I essentially ran up the crack (well, as much as one can run while trad leading) to the block and made it to the top with ease. It wasn't long after that "Jello" asked me if I felt the grades were, in fact, sandbagged. I told him a resounding "no". Maybe it is true that the harder grades are sandbagged, but the easier ones we did at Beer Walls were accurately graded. All one needed to do was to find the easiest way to get up the damn climb. This isn't the gym people - everything is on!

Pegasus (5.7 - two pitches) - This was the best climb of the day, although to call it two pitches is a bit on the farcical side. Certainly, there was a first pitch, but it was only forty feet high and could have been topped by walking up a category four scramble to the right of the climb itself. Instead, there was what looked like, again, a stiff, flaring crack with jugs on the face that looked perfect for laying back on. However, the guidebook said the climb required creative thinking, and that worried me a little bit. It couldn't be all that bad, I thought. After all, I had just come to the conclusion that these routes were not sandbagged. If the book said it was a 5.7, then it had to be a 5.7.

The only problem with this line of thinking was the ringing voice in my head that kept saying: "be creative, be creative". I didn't know what that meant until I got up into the flaring crack and tried to layback off the jugs I had seen from the ground. Well, guess what, those were jugs without feet, and, in my mind, jugs without feet aren't jugs at all. For a good, few minutes, I was actually kind of scared...on a 5.7. This couldn't be right. "It's a damn 5.7," I kept telling myself. Finally, being nearly pumped out from laying back, I needed a rest and I gave up on the worrying and laying back and jammed my shoulder into the flaring crack when, suddenly, I got the amazing sensation of...SECURITY!!!! That's right. Being creative didn't mean reading what seemed to be obvious; it meant doing what was easiest instead. From then on, I slithered my way up the crack with my right shoulder (and the whole of my right torso to be honest) firmly stuck between the opposing sides of the crack until I was able to use the jugs I tried using for hands before...for feet! What a concept!

To say this route was the best of the day is really an understatement. Once "Wrongway" and "Red" made it to the top of the first pitch, I was in heaven as I wound my way up what seemed to be a runout face climb all the way to the top. I say "seemed to be" because in the end, there were plenty of places to put gear, they just weren't obvious all the way up. The book said this was the most popular route in the 'Dacks, and I believe it. It had everything: route-finding skills, exposure, a small roof, a long flake and, best of all, mucho, mucho face climbing. Whoohoo!

On a side note, before we began climbing Pegasus, we heard "Jesus" and "Ankle" communicating on another 5.7, two-pitch route that was directly above us. From the start, it sounded as if they had some serious route-finding issues that ended up throwing them into a long traverse that maybe they didn't want to get into when they started. As "Wrongway" and I were scouting out the exact starting spot of Pegasus (because that damn flaring crack couldn't have been the start), we overheard a couple of points of the "Jesus" and "Ankle" climbing conversation -

"Ankle" - I can't get this piece of the crack?

"Jesus" - What piece? They're all cams.

"Ankle" - I'm going to need to rest to get this piece out. Take!

"Jesus" - Take what?

"Ankle" - Falling! Whooo! jingle, skid, jingle, bounce, bounce, jingle

I didn't see the fall, but I saw "Wrongway"'s expression when it happened, and it wasn't one of "wow, that was a nice, clean fall." I looked up at "Ankle" to see if he was OK. He had apparently fallen something like ten feet down (due to rope stretch) and fifteen feet across (due to the traverse). I didn't realize this until later, but he mildly sprained his ankle during this fall and didn't climb the rest of the day (though he made it to the top, and this, I think, was a good decision. This is mainly because if he couldn't walk on his ankle then he would be that much closer to the parking lot to be carried out. If "Jesus" had let him down all the way, then we would have had to carry him back up the cliff and down again the other side). I also learned later on that "Jesus" felt the cam placement should have been easy to pull out. He justified this by saying he himself had pulled it out before finally placing it. He also said that when "Ankle" asked for him to take the rope that the rope, as far as he could tell, was already as tight as he could take it. It is believed that when "Ankle" asked "Jesus" to take that he wasn't asked him to pull in slack but to ensure that "Jesus" had him tight instead. Still, to be injured on the first climb of the weekend, that sucks. Traverses are always dangerous for seconds, and we learned that lesson well.

Afternoon Delight (5.5) - Is there any better way to finish a day but on a 5.5 jug haul that has more potential gear placement opportunities than a foot-long ruler has quarter-inch markings? I vote no, there isn't a better way, and this is what "Wrongway" and I did to finish up. I let him take the lead since I had just led Pegasus for two pitches. To be honest, I don't think I've been up as juggy of a route before. I mean, there were these massive - three or four of them - diagonal cracks that could have been climbed separately themselves and still have been a 5.7 at the hardest. I think most of the time when I get on a climb this juggy it turns out to be more of a hard scramble than an actual climb. But not this route. "Afternoon Delight" was just that, an afternoon delight that was essentially a face climb that used the space in the cracks as a way to get the climber from the ground to the top safely. We both got up with broad smiles on our faces, and we knew our day had been completed (or so I thought).

"Red" then asked me to lead "Rockaholic" again so she could second it, but I was hoping that "Jesus" would lead it as he said he would after he finished with "Afternoon Delight". When he came down to lead the route, "Red" asked him again if he would and he, looking up and seeing "Sherpa" already on the route asked, "What? Right now? At the same time?" We all kind of laughed and suggested that "Jesus" could actually lead the climb as "Sherpa" was seconding. The only downside for "Sherpa" was that she would have to carry "Jesus"' gear on her rack so that all he had to do was stand up and pluck whatever nut suited his fancy off the back of her harness. It was going to be, in our minds anyway, just like going to a store and picking items off a hook or shelf in front of you, hence the nickname "Sherpa", because "Sherpa" was going to carry all of "Jesus"' gear for him.

That finished the day for everyone and we all took a much more direct route out than we had taken in. When we got back to the parking lot, we actually came out a different way than we had gone in - no surprise there. While "Jello" certainly chose the wrong, obvious path, it wasn't all his fault. He did choose a path at the right side of the parking lot, and that path did get us to the top. The book didn't say exactly how far away from the right side of the parking lot the trail actually was. It turns out it was about fifty feet further down from the path we took. Oh well.

I hinted above that I thought my day was over, but that it actually wasn't. I'll post my notes from later in the day tomorrow. Until then, Apropos of Nothing -

1) "Jello" had a hard time getting his nuts out of the crack all day, even the dirty cracks.

2) "Jesus" was the only person who fell on "Rockaholic" causing me to think, but not say because no one knew what I had given him for a nickname yet, "Jesus Hangs!"

3) Greg really did have snacks that he forgot to take out of the trunk of his car, and he still has one bag as proof!

4) "Wrongway" didn't get lost on the way back, at least I don't think he did.

5) Greg hates snakes, especially ones that hang around the belay area with a large object being digested in the middle of its body

6) Beer Walls will always be remembered as a great first day in the 'Dacks

Adirondacks - Saturday: Beer Walls - Part One: Getting There

I awoke to "Jello" knocking on my door - a knobless piece of wood on hinges that served better as a deterrent to light than sound - and the smell of cheap pancakes sizzling on the stove in the kitchen next door. It was seven in the morning and I was as hungry as surprisingly well-rested. I don't sleep well when I'm not in my own bed. That's why I prefer staying in an actual bed over camping. If I'm not going to be in my own bed, then at least I'm actually in one. So to say I was well-rested is not accurate without context. To be honest, the drive up the day before had taken its toll. I roll my eyes as I type this. I'm thirty-two years old and can't take the same punishment that I could ten years earlier, but what is it going to be like in another ten years? Seriously, will I be crawling? I doubt it, but then again, maybe I won't see forty-two - so why care?

I crawled out of bed and stuck my hand in the open window to feel the crisp air waken the nerves in my palm and fingers. When we left Boston, it was a stark ninety degrees. In Ray Brook, it felt closer to a mild eighty; complete with the smell of pine and long grass, what you don't get in the city. After breakfast, "Jello" asked "Unity" if she wanted to join us, and she did. Our plan was to hit Beer Walls in Keene Valley, hopefully with the rest of the crew who didn't travel to Rodgers Rock, which, by the way, are the only pictures I have from the damn trip. It would be nice if people picked up the slack and sent me some Beer Walls photos (HINT, HINT).

However, I was unsure if we'd meet up with "Jesus", "Naples", "Lucky" and "Bikeman". The area seemed large, as in "Rumney" large with several different sections of crags available for everyone to pick and chose. I also didn't know if people were simply pairing up and taking off into the woods, only to be seen again as dusk settled in over the mountains the crackle of the campfire roared to life in North Hudson. I was mostly concerned, however, that my pals from Friday would not have a ride to the crag. I tossed and turned in my head the thoughts of going straight to the crag and heading to the campground to see if they needed rides. In retrospect, this sounds selfish and I should not have second guessed going to pick them up. But my main problem was not knowing how far away they were during the day without traffic from "Jello"'s place, and how far away again they were from the climbing site. In fact, we passed the climbing site on the way back to the campground, so the thought of missing valuable climbing time was pressing whatever lobes in my brain make decisions such as this. In any case, I decided to head to the campground just in case someone needed a ride.

I was lucky in the sense that if I had not gone back to the campground then everything would have been as confusing as I had thought it would be - with many places for people to hide and possibly, as a result, missed opportunities. We we approached the "Sharp Bridge - 1000 Feet" sign - a sign, by the way, "Jello" took offense to because there was no way the entrance to the campground was more than five hundred feet down the road from the sign - I was completely expecting to drive all the way in to the back of the campground to see if anyone was stranded. As it sometimes turns out, timing is everything (Yogi Berra would be proud). Sitting at the Ranger's office were two cars full of excited campers ready to go climbing. There was "Bikeman", "Jesus", "Wrongway", "Red" (btw - in an earlier post I had given the nickname "Red" to a person already, but upon seeing this new "Red", I realized I needed a new nickname for the old "Red". The old "Red" will now be known as "Sherpa" - story to come later),"Sherpa", and "Ankle". We smiled. We shook hands. We greeted one another and kissed our fingers to the sky as a sign of respect to life as we knew it to be. In short, we were damn lucky we had met when we did, because if we didn't meet at that moment in time then we would have had a helluva time finding each other at the crag.

After our greetings, it was noted that the campers had to stop at a general store to pick up supplies for the day and that evening. We all got in a line and drove to what turned out to be the local "Jellystone Park" campground, complete with Ranger Smith, Yogi, Boo-boo and bags of ice, water and goody snacks to be munched on later. But this wasn't without some adventure.

I was driving the third and last car in line when the first car, presumably driven by "Red", banked a right turn toward I-87. Not knowing where we were going, I followed "Wrongway" up a small hill and around a quick corner where, oddly enough, I found him sitting on the right side of the road with his left blinker on. "OK," I said. "I guess we should have followed "Red"." We turned around and headed toward I-87 when I was looking at something (not the road in front of me, and definitely not the car in front of me) and heard "Jello" shout "They're...they're...STOPPING!" I slammed on my brakes and went into full skid mode. "Wrongway" leisurely turned into Jellystone, where "Red" had turned, and I flew right past him, happy that his car had turned when it did because my car had neither the distance to turn nor time to get out of the way. (btw - because he had gear in the rear window, he never saw this happen). After scaring the shit out of my passengers, I calmly backed up and took the only remaining parking spot left (the handicap spot) and waited for us to head off again. When we finally did, I was happy to see that, in fact, anti-lock brakes do not leave skid marks. This required me to recite the conservationist mantra of "leave no trace" with a grin on my face not shared by my passengers.

But this wasn't the end of our little adventure. Far from it in fact. Once on the interstate we were all aware that we needed to take exit thirty to get to Beer Walls. We drove for a few miles in tandem at about eighty miles-per-hour until I, the second car in line behind "Wrongway" noticed that exit thirty was approaching. I also noticed that "Wrongway" was not slowing down and was still in the left lane. Here is the conversation that transpired:

Greg - Is he going to pull into the right lane?

"Jello" - I don't know, maybe he doesn't think he can squeeze in front of you. Trying slowing down.

Greg slows down..."Wrongway" does not.

Greg - Do they see it?

"Jello" waves both hands through the sunroof. He points, waves, even shouts a bit - not sure why as it was an interstate and he was more than listening distance away. "Wrongway" does not slow down nor does he pull into the right lane.

Greg and "Red" take exit thirty. "Wrongway" keeps driving. "Jello" confirms that exit thirty-one is a long way down the road and does not intersect with Route 73, where Beer Walls is located

Greg and "Red" drive to the Beer Walls parking lot. Greg suggests everyone heads in because it is going to be a while before the others show up. "Red" notes that, other than "Jello" and myself, "Wrongway"'s car has not only all the other leaders, but also all the climbing gear. Greg is intrigued by the fact that "Red" has all the food...mmmmm

But then all was well. No more than five minutes later did "Wrongway" surprisingly show up coming from the same direction we came. It turns out that "Wrongway" has a set of nuts (pun intended). He didn't need no stinkin' exit thirty-one, not when there are more than enough of those handy "authorized vehicle only" turnaround spots to use. We laughed, collected our gear and followed "Jello" into the woods.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Adirondacks - Friday: The Drive Up

Wow. My first climbing trip in a few years. The last time I went was maybe in 2002 when I went with the now defunct Weclimbs climbing group to the Gunks (as an aside - the MassClimbers group has gobbled up two entire climbing groups: Weclimbs and the MetroRock Google group. The takeovers havent been entirely successful, as only a handful of of people from each group are active. But still, long live the MassClimbers group and health to all!). That trip was an odd trip for me. I was really at the mercy of those with whom I stayed with, and we hit the same climbs each day we were there (Near Trapps? = Keyhole?). It was nice, however, to catch the fireworks at a nearby town's Fourth of July celebration. Don't get me wrong, the climbing was fantastic, but I wish I had better known what to expect then. My outdoor experience at that point had consisted entirely of learning to climb in Scotland, expanding my experience on the bens and crags of Scotland, and a two-week trip with my original climbing partners: "MG" and "KP" in Switzerland. This time, I vowed to myself, would be different. I wanted to play a greater role in what I climbed, whom I climbed with, and when I climbed. In this period of my life when things have been turned upside-down, I finally wanted to begin to take charge of the things I wanted to do. I felt this was my first opportunity to do so.

Why did I think this? For one, I felt that I was going up with people who valued discussion and variety. Two, I have my own car now and, despite driving others up and being responsible for their desires (which I should note is my preference for long trips), this means I have considerably more freedom to move about on my own if I should make that decision. I also don't have the commitments that I've had in the past and, while that fact is not all puppies and candy canes, it is a little load-lightening.

So when "Jello" first called me from Ray Brook (where he lives now - in between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake) last week, I knew I wanted to get out of Boston and get a good, solid weekend of risking my life on my terms for once. It was an exciting thought, "Greg's first step out in a long, long time." It was time to learn to trust myself and stop worrying about...well, I'm not sure what I'd worry about exactly, but that is my nature. Learning to look out for my own interests first is a new concept for me, and something I need to seriously focus on. It is odd because I wish I could do this with somebody else as my partner in crime. I know, that's a bit a hypocritical, but is an accurate depiction of my current state of mind.

Anyway, upon reading "Jello"'s long-coming e-mail to the group, I figured I'd ask the group if anyone else was interested in going up with me to meet our former karate kicking mate who never seemed to drain of physical energy. As it turned out, "Bikeman" was leading a group to the same region over Memorial Day weekend as well, so I made connections with him and then called "Jello" to confirm that I could stay with him (for me, it's about the climbing, not the camping. I don't mind camping, per se, but I prefer to have a roof over my head and easy access to the nearest bathroom - especially when I later found out that the campground everyone else was staying at lost their water supply Monday morning). I left a message with two phone numbers for him to call back to. And then I waited. And waited. Days went by and the trip on "Bikeman"'s end slowly started to come together. I was offered a place to stay at the campsite, but didn't have a tent (and was concerned that the two-tent per site limit would force me out into the cold - a notion I was foolishly worried about because I don't think "Bikeman"'s group would have allowed that to happen: such good people as they are). So I called "Jello" again, and left another message. I reread his e-mail. He was definitely going to be free beginning that Friday and through the weekend, but no return call came. So then I called yet again. Nothing. I paced. I fretted. I pulled out what little hair I have left. I even drank a bit too much whiskey wondering what to do.

"Where the hell is he?" I wondered, and began to realize that he was probably out in the thick of the woods working with the kids in the camp he worked for. The thought that he didn't have cellphone access started to creep in, and I wondered if I would actually hear from him for the first time enroute to his place Friday afternoon.

Tuesday came and went, as did Wednesday. No word from "Jello". Alternative plans were made. I could stay at the campsite, but needed a tent. I managed to borrow a tent, but I also knew the sites were filling up. I hated to be like this, but I knew my staying at the campground was going to be a last-minute decision. I secretly hoped that after everything was said and done there would remain one, last campsite where I could pitch my tent without the fear of kicking someone else out, someone who had likely been promised the site. This hope, sadly, replaced the hope that I'd get to stay with "Jello". I mourned the missed bed and slowly began to accept my fate.

Thursday morning rolled in with me to work, and stomped out as I headed to lunch. I was getting desparate. Already, I was to take "Naples" and "Lucky" in my car, and they were to stay at the campsite properly (they made all their proper arraingements with "Bikeman", something I was still obscure out). My intentions, I felt, were becoming disingenuous. I needed to hear one way or the other that I could or not stay with "Jello" after all. All I could think about was leaving at three in the afternoon, getting to the campsite at nine at night, having to drop them off and somehow get in touch with "Jello" when in all likelihood my cellphone wouldn't have the reception to call. It was stressful, and I seriously came close to biting the bullet and committing myself to camping only.

But then he called, (thank God he called!) laughing at me as I picked up my phone at work. He apologized profusely and explained that, in fact, he did not have reception whilst in the woods during the week and over the weekend. I felt foolish, but was relieved that I would have a place to stay, under a roof, and with access to a bathroom at the very low cost of five dollars per night. I couldn't have been more relieved. For the first time, I was not stressed and looking forward to the trip, but was excited only. I actually felt my heart sigh, and a smile came across my face.

So now it was set. "Naples" and "Lucky" were to ride up with me, and I could safely drop them off before heading another forty-five minutes north to Ray Brook. "Jesus" called later that evening and asked if he, too, could catch a ride up. With me wanting to split the cost among as many people as possible, I said "sure" and we set up a time to meet at "Bikeman"'s the next afternoon. Finally, things were falling into place.

As another aside, it should be noticed that I have a new car. I bought it a couple of weeks ago and when I did, I was generally impressed with the size of the trunk. In fact, I thought the trunk was too big and that the engineers who designed the interior could have saved some leg-room space for the rear passengers. Still, as I bought the car, I kept thinking about how great it was going to be to be able to stash my climbing gear in the car without the fear of not having enough room. Boy, was I wrong about that. To be honest, I knew there was going to be a problem as soon I put my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, suitcase and climbing bag in the trunk: it had taken up nearly half the space, and I still had three other people to squeeze into the car. When I got to "Naples" and "Lucky" I was certain "Jesus" was not going to be able to drive up with us. After loading thier stuff into the trunk, there was just no room whatsoever for any of "Jesus"'s things, and I knew from talking to him on the phone that he had a tent, trad gear, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and clothes. Knowing that the rear seats had little leg room to begin with, and that it was going to be a five-hour drive, I did not want to have to load bags onto people's laps just to make us all fit. In the end, however, that's exactly what we did. "Jesus" piled food between his legs in the front seat, "Naples" took the middle, rear seat with "Lucky" in one of the side, rear seats by her side. They had food sandwiched between their legs too (excuse the pun) and two bags stacked in the other side, rear seat beside them. We managed to squeeze two more bags in the trunk (how, I don't know) and we were off - straight into I-93 rush-hour traffic...all the way Concord from Somerville.

As you can imagine, the five-hour drive was pushed back to six, and that was just to the campground. After I dropped them off, I still had another forty-minutes to an hour to get to Ray Brook. I had told "Jello" that I'd be there by nine that evening. I didn't walk through the door until two minutes before eleven - seven hours after we left at four o'clock in the afternoon. I arrived, met his roommate and co-worker("Unity"), showered, and crashed. I was looking forward to seeing the crew and getting up some long, trad climbs the next day. It was a relief to finally settle down once I did.

Apropos of Nothing: 1) Vermont is very green with mountains that don't have a single bald spot to break the line of oaks, maples and pines (I'm sure there are other species, too, but that's all I'm going to write about); 2) It is really a pretty drive to Middlebury; 3)CR roads in New York are not well signed. I felt like I was driving in rural Boston; 4) Google Maps is not as reliable of a driving tool as you'd think it is; 5) Lake Placid is a long, long way away from the rest of the world to have an Olympic Training Center and; 6) the freaking ski jump tower at night is scary to discover if one doesn't know that it is there.

Tomorrow - Day One.