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