Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Non-Climbing, Personal Post

Sorry folks, but I felt the need to get this off my chest. There is some mention of climbing here, but it mostly deals with my "other" life.

Still Out There
My mind is playing tricks on me today, and I can't say if my heart is helping matters. I don't know what's wrong with me right now, but I'm feeling funny. Somewhere deep inside I feel both a need to rage out against something (what that "something" is, I don't know) and a need to be coddled at the same time. I'm angry, and yet, I don't really care that much. I want to talk about it, and at the same time I really don't feel the need to (not withstanding my post here, of course). It's so funny because I'm in a place that I both feel very comfortable in and so insecure at the same time. I just can't figure it out, and, predictably, I'm not sure I want to.

This album I'm listening to may have become my new "Peter Gabriel". What does that mean, you ask? Well, Peter Gabriel got me through a lot of tough days. Nothing like listening to Biko to cheer one up. I've thought of turning back to that album (Shaking the Tree), but I don't want to go back to then. I learned who I am now from that album, and I'm not sure I want to rehash old lessons. Sure, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, but those who don't focus on the future are doomed to never learn anything new at all. This has become one of my favorite songs recently:

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Darker With The Day

As so with that, I thought I'd take a final walk
The tide of public opinion had started to abate
The neighbours, bless them, had turned out to be all talk
I could see their frightened faces
peering at me through the gate

I was looking for an end to this, for some kind of closure
Time moved so rapidly, I had no hope of keeping track of it
I thought of my friends who had died of exposure
And I remembered other ones who had died from the lack of it

And in my best shoes I started falling forward down the street
I stopped at a church and jostled through the crowd
And love followed just behind me, panting at my feet
As the steeple tore the stomach from a lonely little cloud

Inside I sat, seeking the presence of a God
I searched through the pictures in a leather-bound book
I found a woolly lamb dozing in an issue of blood
And a gilled Jesus shivering on a fisherman's hook

It seems so long
Since you've been gone away
And I
Just got to say
That it grows darker with the day

Back on the street I saw a great big smiling sun
It was a Good day and an Evil day and all was bright and new
And it seemed to me that most destruction was being done
By those who could not choose between the two

Amateurs, dilettantes, hacks, cowboys, clones
The streets groan with little Caesars, Napoleons and cunts
With their building blocks and their tiny plastic phones
Counting on their fingers, with crumbs down their fronts

I passed by your garden, saw you with your flowers
The Magnolias, Camellias and Azaleas so sweet
And I stood there invisible in the panicking crowds
You looked so beautiful in the rising heat
I smell smoke, see little fires bursting on the lawns
People carry on regardless, listening to their hands
Great cracks appear in the pavement, the earth yawns
Bored and disgusted, to do us down

It seems so long
Since you've been gone
And I
Just got to say
That it grows darker with the day

These streets are frozen now. I come and go
Full of a longing for something I do not know
My father sits slumped in the deepening snow
As I search, in and out, above, about, below

It seems so long
Since you went away
And I
Just got to say
That it grows darker with the day

Great song. Very personal. I don't identify it with anyone in particular, but it struck a chord the other day and I love listening to it. Somehow, I get peace from it.

Anyway, I've been climbing a lot lately, and I'm going back to the 'Dacks this weekend. Hopefully it isn't cold. Next weekend I'll be at Cathedral, then Rumney, then maybe the 'Gunks if it gets too cold to do Rumney again. I'm heading to Red Rocks in November, and I'm looking forward to that.

I need to stop and let things settle. Just stop.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rumney After Cannon

Just to let you know, unless you want to read about fatigue and public nudity, the Whitney-Gilman post is better.

"Jello" and I desperately wanted to sleep in after the day before, but there's always one thing that keeps me from sleeping in while camping: the fucking sunlight! Well, that and the constant howls of coyotes off in the distance (at least I hope they were off in the distance). We were both up at about 7am, and we took our time eating pancakes and doughnuts left over from the day before. We both had a message from "Elegance" that said she was going to meet us in the parking lot at 930am, and that made us breathe a little easier. That gave us time to re-rack our gear, wake up, and convinced ourselves that if we brushed our teeth then we probably wouldn't stink the place up (I think we were wrong about that).

After breakfast, we headed to the Parking Lot Wall and did a 5.8 that I can't remember the name of (it's in the corner to the left of the easy 5.2 near the top of the path). We then met "Elegance" a bit later and three of her friends (two of whom we did not get introduced to and the other's name I forget). She came over to give me a hug but backed off when I told her I hadn't showered in days. She wrinkled her nose and stayed a good four feet away (Oh well. That's what separates the women from the girls. The women don't care. The girls still do - btw, keep reading for my own "men and boys" example below). The four of us headed to New Wave where "Jello" and I did Son of Sammy (5.8) and Couch Potato (5.9). "Elegance" and her friends did Debbie Does CPR (5.11), which has a really cool double-leg jam into a horizontal crack before a stiff mantle to the anchors. I was reminded that I was there a few months before with "Gammy", "Gammy GF" and "Chuck" and had done all the routes then, too. I shrugged. I was bored, and wanted to leave. I wanted to do Hammond Organ (5.10d) at Jimmy Cliff, but on the way down from New Wave I realized that my knee was really hurting me when I stepped downward. We decided that it was best to head to Main instead because the hike down from Main would be far less severe than Jimmy Cliff. "Jello"'s ankle was also bothering him. It's funny how carrying weight on one's back for hours on end will affect one's legs. *shrugs*

Once at Main, we hit Underdog (5.10a). I led it, but hung searching for the blind holds. "Jello" was too tired to lead anything, and so he toproped it. When he came down, I went back up for the redpoint and got it. This is a great climb that weaves and bobs through a couple of V-notches and over a couple of mini-roof sections. I highly recommend it.

After nailing that route, we were done. We headed back down to the Baker River and stripped down to our boxers for a quick swim. The water was damn cold, but I jumped in twice because it felt so nice to be both somewhat clean and cool (it was rather warm on Main Cliff). I then sat out on a rock to dry off while "Jello" took off his boxers to wring them out. That's right. He stood on top of the tallest boulder in the river, buck naked, and wrung his boxers out. It was not a sight to behold, but hey, that's what separates the men from the boys. The men can handle it, and I can't.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cannon - Whitney-Gilman Ridge And Beyond

Caution: severe male humor riddled throughout. If one is not offended, then one must read the humor with bad Scottish accents in order to appreciate the full flavor of the ensuing conversations

Some mistakes are accidental, and others are planned. The last time "Jello" and I hit Cannon our mistakes were accidental. This time, our mistake was planned, and we paid dearly for it in sore feet, tight quads, yellow scrapes that don't make any sense around our ankles, strained backs and a severe need to jump into a cold, cold Baker River when it was all said and done.

We awoke at 5am Saturday morning at a chilly campground on a farm less than a stone's throw from the Baker River. The grass was wet enough to make us believe that it had rained, even though we knew the dampness came from the heavy fog that surrounded our site. The road to Cannon wasn't much better, as dark clouds hovered high above the breaking fog. Knowing what happened last time, we should have been worried. But we weren't because we knew that if it did rain then it would be in the evening, long after we had finished climbing and, hopefully, had managed to get to the summit with pounds of shelter gear strapped to our backs just in case the heavens did open up on us.

It was 7am when we pulled into the parking lot, and 730am when "Jello" pulled himself up the stout crack (alternative start) at the bottom of pitch #1. He was to lead the first three pitches and I the last three. We were about to have a lot of fun. But before I begin, remember this: that stupid pack with the tent, stove, rain gear, food, etc, etc, etc, was heavy as all hell and seriously changed how the second climbed the route.

Random Scottish Conversation #1
"Jello" standing on a loose rock in the middle of the talus-field approach: You ever get the feeling that standing on a loose rock gives you the same feeling as having sex?
Me: I would have to say no on that. In fact, I would imagine that standing on a loose rock while climbing gives me a feeling closer to when she shows up at my door three monhts later.
"Jello" in a female Scottish accent: I'm pregnant.
Me: No, lassie, you're not!
"Jello": But the doctor said -
Me: You go back to that doctor with the wire clothes hanger and you tell him you're not!
"Jello" in an angry male voice: Lassie, if you don't jump down those stairs this instant I'm going to push you off!

Whitney-Gilman Ridge (5.7) - 6 pitches - Trad - "Jello" and Greg switched leads

Pitch #1 (5.6 variation) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 90 feet - "Jello" led

The approach to this route is easy in terms of route finding. Just head to the left end of the cliff on the talus field to the taunting, obvious ridge above. Once there, if one turns toward the ridge with the black dike on the right and the talus field cascading below to the left, the starting ledge is on the left of the ridge up a small scramble. Once there, one should be facing the cliff with one's back toward the road.

There are two starts: the first starts on the right near the edge of the ridge and traverses left to a large block before heading up while the other is the wide crack on the left just below the block. In my opinion, the crack is an excellent start that helps to avoid rope drag. Basically, follow the crack / corner for a bit, head right where it becomes easier, and then cut back left to a ledge. Once on the ledge, remember this conversation:

Random Scottish Conversation #2
"Jello": I've got to take me a crap, laddie.
Me: Aye. I was thinking your ass smelt a bit down there.
"Jello": Aye. I'm going over here to the LEFT OF THE LEDGE to let it out.
Me: Aye, mate... ... ...Holy crap there, mate. Are you OK?
"Jello": Aye, what's seems to be the problem?
Me: Your shit's wafting there, mate. You should have crapped downwind.
"Jello": Aye, well, it is what it is. Can't help it now can I?
Me: Aye, well, just so you know for the next time.
"Jello": Aye.

Pitch #2 (5.5) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 80 feet - "Jello" led

My recommendation here is to not combine the first two pitches, unless you know what you're doing gear-wise. In my opinion, making it one go is not worth the rope drag. In any case, there are two cracks. We did the right-hand crack, which is not necessarily visible from from the ledge if one does not look around the corner to the right (near the edge of the ridge). Anyway, climb either one and enjoy it. It's a nice pitch that follows the spire up to another ledge. It was easy climbing, despite the fact that the fog and mist had yet to recede and the blue sky to the east had yet to beat back the dark clouds hovering over the summit of the mountain. It should be noted here that while "Jello" was climbing, I was steadfastly watching the clouds coming from the south and west. They were black, and coming our way. If it rained, it meant we weren't hiking to the summit, a wish I was secretly hoping would come true. This was the case because, regardless of rain, we were going to finish the climb and hike off the top. I would have been more than happy to climb Whitney-Gilman, hike down and head back to Rumney for an afternoon of relaxing sport climbing. As it turned out, well, more on that later.

Random Scottish Conversation #3
Me: Aye, you safe up there at the top?
"Jello": Aye, you can take me off belay there mate.
Me: Aye, you're off belay. And I've got to tell you something too.
"Jello": Tell me, mate. What's on your mind?
Me: I think I know why it feels like I'm carrying 60 pounds around with me.
"Jello": Why's that, mate?
Me: I've got to do what you just did two pitches ago
(I'm jumping ahead here)
"Jello": Aye, well, there's a good spot right there that'll fit your ass nice and tight. It'll be just like sitting on a toilet.
Me: Aye, I see it. You turn your head now toward that anchor your supposed to be setting you hear?
"Jello": Aye
Me a few minutes later: Hey there, mate, make sure you don't step over there the next time you climb this OK?
"Jello": Aye. Where is it?
Me: Under that pile of rocks I put on top there. That should cover it up well don't you reckon?
"Jello": Aye, but what if someone picks up the rocks there? What's going to happen then?
Me: Well, that would be their problem then now wouldn't it?
"Jello": Aye, good point there, mate, good point.

Pitch #3 (5.6) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 130 feet - "Jello" led

I'm not sure this is really 130 feet long, but it is awkward with a heavy pack on one's back. The V-corner to the left of the belay station lacks good foot holds, so one needs to ensure solid balance and commit to the moves. Once up through the corner, head back right to the parallel cracks at a ledge. The blocks are loose here, so be careful.

Pitch #4 (5.6) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

This is supposedly the classic pitch on the entire ridge. It starts with two parallel cracks, the wider one to the left and the narrower one to the right. The book says one needs a large cam (#4 camalot) to protect this, but I used a #.5 and #1 in the small crack and was just fine. It's pretty easy to layback the small crack and stem out to the face for the first move. After that, I jammed my right foot in the crack and kept my stem out left. Two moves later and I was just below the "pipe" that is on the edge of the ridge.

The pipe itself is supposed to be super-exposed, but it really isn't. I agree, the start of the moves are right on the edge and when one looks down, one looks all the way down to the bottom of the ridge. However, the moves themselves are not over empty space. If one were to fall, one would fall back onto the ridge. This is unlike High Exposure in the Gunks, where one is climbing above open air. The move is pretty easy too, with good, solid holds all the way up.

After the pipe, follow the ridge to the next small belay stance on the other side of the ridge. This belay stance is below and on the right side of a small slab.

The clouds gave way to blue sky at this point, and I was able to see the top of the route from where I was, too. What did I hope to see? Easy slabs that led to the summit. What did I see instead? A thick and unforgiving spruce forest. Gulp.

Pitch #5 (5.5) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

Follow the slab up to the base of the face and traverse left to the right-facing corner. Go up that and head back toward the ridge where there is a razor flake just waiting to get jumped. The belay stance at the top is pretty cool too, as one will belay right on the edge looking down into the gully between the ridge and dike. There are three pitons here, but I placed back-up pro just in case. But, speaking of getting jumped:

Random Scottish Conversation #4
"Jello": Greg is freak.
Me: Aye, kind of has a ring to it doesn't it?
"Jello": Aye, but so does your sister.
Me: Aye, but I don't know how that matters since she's been dead for twenty years.
"Jello": It's called necrophilia there, mate.
Me: Aye, necrophilia. Brings backs memories of when we were but lads.
"Jello": Aye, the good old days.
Me: You remember that one woman who left a note for us in her coffin to not touch her after she died?
"Jello": Aye, I do. I do.
Me: We showed her in the end.
"Jello": That we did, mate. That we did.

Pitch #6 (5.7) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

This was a tricky pitch for me. The chalk says to go straight up the blocky slab in front of the belay stance, but I found the rock there to be unreliable and the jug in the slanted face to be awkward without a dynamic high-step. I ended up laying back against the right edge of the ridge and going up that side rather than the middle. It took me to the right of the piton, but that was OK.

The route basically became a sport route from here on out. Sure, I placed back-up gear, but there are pitons in all the sketchy spots. In any case, climb up to the top ledge (grassy, trees, large loose blocks) and wait for your partner to come up. It is a nice finish to the day.

Hike to the Summit

Simply put, don't do it from the top of this route. Unlike Lakeview, this route does not have an easy-access path across the bald slabs to the top. In the slabs place is, instead, a serious swath of thick spruce living atop of soft, dead spruce. What does this mean? It means that if you bushwhack like we did, you're going to end up fighting stiff branches, soft ground where there are more hidden holes to fall into than you could imagine, dead birch trees that are no good for holding onto and the genuine fear that you're going to fall into some crevasse and never be found again - dead or alive. We did this for an hour before we emerged onto slabs above the tree line. Thank God, too, because it wasn't like we were tired or anything. We stopped twice along the way to take our shirts off and brush the needles off our backs. We were so hot and sticky that we had to pick most of the needles off because they wouldn't simply brush off. It's a miracle I wasn't bleeding, too, though I did find many deep scratches the next day. To be honest, I'm kind of worried about two of them on my left ankle. They're yellow.

Anyway, we followed a series of cairns to the Kinsman Ridge Trail and that led us to the top. To be sure, the only reason I went to the top of the watch tower was because there was this really hot Asian chick in a short skirt on that windy day just a few feet ahead of me (I wonder why she was always just a few feet ahead). It was a stroke of bad luck that kept me from realizing a life-long dream (OK, not life-long. It was more of a "holy shit I can't believe my luck today" kind of dream - After what I had been through, I was desperately looking for a reward, so leave me alone). It turned out she had a firm, fist-like control over the flow of her skirt. Crushed, I headed down hill with "Jello". Two miles later, we were at the the wrong fucking parking lot. Forty-five minutes after that, we returned to his car...11.5 hours after we had left it that mornin

Moral of the story: don't think that just because "Jello" has a goal that it will lead to you living a loving, lucky or dreamy-pornographic life. It won't. But it will leave you with unidentifiable scratches, scars (physical and psychological) and a passion to never, never do that again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Two Parts Fun Mixed with One Large Dash of Disappointment

First things first, we have a nickname change. "Softspeak" will no longer be known as "Softspeak". For one, it's too damn long to write "Softspeak" every time I want to talk about him. Two, he has a better nickname already: Captain Obvious. Because I'm too damn lazy to write "Captain Obvious" every time, I'm giving his nickname a nickname: "Obvious". Now on to a bit of my personal, non-climbing history.

I've come a long way. I don't need to dive in too much on that, but let's just say I'm not the same kid who pondered suicide on a weekly basis from ages 11 to 15 and then again at times early on in college. I'm not the kid who used to get beat up every day on the playground during recess, and I'm not the kid who saw no reason to live because, well, it just wasn't worthwhile. But I am the kid who was told on a pretty regular basis while growing up that he was stupid, a follower and not a leader, a disappointment, the one who will never go to college, never get a good job, good wife, have decent kids or put any kind of worthwhile life together. At age six, I wasn't even mowing the lawn in straight enough lines, doing my laundry often enough and making my bed so tight that a quarter would bounce six inches when dropped, which, by the way, does not fucking happen...EVER. I couldn't stand up to the Navy way of life, and that was supposed to be the ultimate testing ground.

And then I grew up. Sure, I've had my complexes over time and I still have my incredibly useful defense mechanisms, but if it is one positive I can take from all that bullshit, it is that I am not intimidated. I don't back down if I don't want to, to anyone, regardless of societal standing. Decisions that I make are mine, even when I leave decisions up to other people (because even then I'm making the decision to let them take over). I question authority on a regular basis. I don't do this for the sake of doing so, but I don't ask "how high" when told to jump. I don't need to. No one has the right to say that to me, and I'll push back and live happily with the consequences. Respect for myself comes from within, and no where else. The entire world could hate my guts (and I admit that a good portion of it probably should considering my self-centered behavior - by the way, you want good reading, read the book that put Adam Smith on the map - The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is where the invisible hand was actually invented). In short, while I do still constantly yearn for support and love on a constant basis, I am most driven by pushing myself to tackle my fears and prove that it is I who still commands my own judgment. It is this very reason why I happily leaped from the chains of team sports to climbing. For me, as it is with most climbers, it is only me who needs to prove anything. Everyone else can go screw.

To be simple, this summer has been my climbing breakout summer. I have never climbed as much as I have in the past month alone in any given, prior summer. And I'm not talking about day trips to Rumney, Crow Hill or Quincy Quarry. For the first time (don't laugh) I'm actually waking up with roots under my back and feeling ready to hit the walls without so much a whiff of a need to shower. I'm OK with not shaving, brushing my teeth, crapping in an outhouse (OK, I admit, I'm still getting used to that) and wearing two-day old clothes for the third straight day. I want to climb, I've always wanted to climb, and that's what I'm doing.

"Obvious" and I drove down to the Gunks and met up with "Jello" at Camp Slime Friday evening. Despite it's reputation, I found Slime to be OK. In fact, I pretty much found the negatives (lack of facilities, cramped quarters, loud traffic below) to be outweighed by the simple fact that it is right across the damn street from some of the best climbing in the Northeast. No traffic. No finding a parking spot. Just walk and you're there.

Our goals for the weekend was to firstly climbing High Exposure (5.6) and meet up with a new member of the group "German" whom we hoped would provide some insight as to what to climb. While the three of us had been to the Gunks before, "Jello" didn't have much experience, "Obvious" hadn't been there in over a year and was there with a guided group the last time he was there, and I hadn't been there in over four years. We were glad when we did meet up with "German" because she provided good advice, direction and company.

Saturday - Trapps

Easy V (5.2) - 2 pitches - Trad - "Jello" led

It poured first thing in the morning, ad we were relegated to bouldering on the roof across from the Mental Block. When the rain let up, we started out Saturday morning in search of High E, but we had no clue what we were looking at whilst walking down the carriage road. Because we were essentially lost (well, as far as finding routes goes), we decided to head up a path and follow it along the cliff in order to better see what was above us. The only problem was that we had no clue where we were. To be honest, too, the book we had (the Trapps guide book, not the 'Gunks book) wasn't that great unless one knew where one was in relation to all the other climbs. Considering the path is about a mile long and the book goes in order from the bridge to the end, how does one know what is in the middle without either being with someone in the know ("German") or counting out the route numbers in the book as one walks along the cliff? It just doesn't happen that easily.

Anyway, after some searching, we finally found our way to the climbs Limelight (5.7), Arrow (5.8) and Easy V (5.3). Because I had to run all the way to the outhouse to take the crap I should have done an hour ago, I sent "Jello" and "Obvious" up Easy V as a warm up. When I got back, "Jello" was just getting on pitch one. I let "Obvious" clean (and why wouldn't I? He wanted to play around with gear so he'd have a better understanding of what placements looked like. Plus, he was the trad noob. He cleans), and then I came up behind them. Basically, pitch one follows the crack / face up to the ledge above. It's good, clean climbing with lots of good pro along the way. I, however, as the third, climbed the face in between Easy V and Arrow. Apparently, this section is somewhat called Quiver (5.8). However, Quiver starts in the corner with Easy V because that is the only place with pro the first 50 feet. I just climbed the face all the way up. I'd say that version is 5.8 or 5.8+. The upper section is harder than the bottom.

Pitch two (I know, I'm a bit out of style here in how I'm writing this - It is not a great climb and, thus, not worth proper "Greg" style) is a walk all the way around the corner to the left if looking down at the base of the climb. In fact, one walks all the way around to the next face on the other side of the buttress, if it is, in fact, a buttress. In any case, find the large roof and climb the face up to the left of the smaller roof about halfway between the ledge and the large roof (maybe a bit lower than halfway). Don't go all the way up to the small roof. Instead, step right (crux) about five feet below. Then follow the corner up to the right. Rap anchors are back on the other side of the buttress, whence one came, at the top of Arrow. Just follow the path until a rocky section comes into view. The anchors are not seen from the path, so walk up to the edge of the rocks and you'll see them. There is another path leading down to them.

Arrow (5.8) - 2 pitches - Trad - Greg Led

After we made "German" wait for about an hour below (she showed up after we got on Easy V), "Obvious" and I did Arrow while "Jello" and "German" got on Limelight. I would have loved to tried Limelight as well, but darkness was setting in as I topped out on Arrow.

Pitch One (5.6) - Trad - good pro all the way up to the ledge where there are chains

Find the first exfoliating block to the left of where Easy V and the face of Quiver are. Climb the face straight up. Remember how I've said in past posts that I'm a face climber and don't like cracks? This was a dream come true. I loved this route with all my might. In fact, after talking about Arrow later in the day, "Jello" quipped that "you're a happy little fucker down here aren't you?" (I'm paraphrasing).

Pitch Two (5.8) - Trad with bolts at the top - good pro all the way - chains at the top.

Whoa. Enough said.

OK, I won't tease you. From the anchors follow the "arrow" notch (thanks "German", I was told of your obvious, "follow the arrow, stupid" remark later in the day. Good to know you can spit them out with the best of us. Again, I'm paraphrasing) over the roof to the upper face. Climb straight up to where the piton and bolts are. Get to the crux, about 10 feet below the top where the slick, white marble is, flail around and swear for about fifteen minutes trying to find the way up, try going up one way, come down, try another way, come down again, try yet a third way and come down again except this time do so with the best, most creative foul language you can muster, and then resort to feeling around for something, anything better to hold on to. I speak from experience. As I've said before, I don't really think routes are sandbagged. I think if it is a 5.8 then there is a 5.8 move on the route. If it feels harder than 5.8, then you haven't found the 5.8 holds. My answer? Feel around until one finds the right holds. This is what went through my mind:

"Feel around. Come on. What's that? Nope. Just a sloper. Here? Nothing. How about that? Naw. Another sloper. This? Felt that already. That one, too. Yup, felt that one as well. Here? Another damn sloper. Christ, is there anything up here? Am I at the right spot? "German" said the move is at the bolt, and I'm there. What's over here? Fuck. Nothing. Can I undercling this? Nnnhhhh...Nope. OK. I can undercling it, but that does nothing for me once I get up there. How about over here? More fucking slopers. OK, let's think about this for a minute. If my body goes this way, then I can reach up over...nope. OK, so what if I lean this way...fuck. Dammit! Alright what about up here, just to the right...whoa...whoa...WHOA!! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! "

So I found the hold. It a crimper that faces away from the climber in such a way that it is nearly invisible from below. In fact, when one finds it, it really doesn't feel that great until one realizes that it is perfect for the body position one should be in to do the move. I pulled with my right hand (everyone else did it with their left), matched my left foot to my mantling left hand, stepped up and couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Solid 5.8 move. No sandbagging there.

As I was belaying "Obvious", darkness began to settle over the cliffs. I wanted "Jello" to give it a go and this is the conversation we had:

ME: "Jello"!
"JELLO": What?
ME: Climb it!
"JELLO": Uh, no.
ME: Why?
"JELLO": Um, it's dark?

He didn't climb it, so that pretty much ended our day. We met "German" in town for the best damn burgers in the state, had a couple of beers (gotta try Lindeman's Framboise - damn that shit's good) and hit the sack. We decided before that, however, that we'd try to get on High Exposure first thing and we'd meet "German" at the base of the cliff around 9am. It was a good night's sleep until we woke up:

ME: Yawn.
"JELLO": What time is it?
ME: Don't know. "Obvious", you up?
"JELLO": You think anyone will be on High E by the time we get there?
ME: Probably. I want to take down the tent first.
"JELLO": Yea, get it back to the car, eat and head up.
"OBVIOUS": It's 7am.
"JELLO": There's always a chance we'll be there first. Let's get going.
ME: Sounds like a - WHAT THE FUCK?
ME: Jesus, man. What was that?
"OBVIOUS": Sorry guys. Thought that one would slip past.
"JELLO": Are you nuts? Damn, that smells like ass.
ME: That's just wrong. I'm going to have to hang my tent for days out just to get that stink out.
"OBVIOUS": Sorry, sorry. Didn't see it becoming a problem. My apologies.
ME: Dude, take a crap before climbing OK? Man that's terrible.

As you can guess, it didn't take long for us get out of the tent. As a result, we had packed up, eaten breakfast and found High E empty at 9am (special thanks to "German" for telling us what to look for the night before while walking on the path, and kudos to "Jello" for spotting the buttress). We were shocked because "German" thought it was a route most likely hit first thing in the morning on Sunday morning by people like us who wanted to climb it before heading home at the end of of the weekend. We couldn't believe our luck. It was really great. By the way, on a side note, it just dawned on me that one of the three of us should have waited for "German" to show up before setting off. That way, we could have all climbed it. Instead, we left her at the bottom (we got there quite a bit earlier than she did) and when we were down again, she was gone. Sorry about that, "German". Mistakes happen. As a consolation of sorts, we once miscommunicated with "Obvious" about climbing at Rumney and he drove up alone, wandered around all the crags looking for us and ended up going home alone without finding us. These are the things we learn, and get better at over time.

Sunday - The Trapps

High Exposure (5.6) - 2 pitches - trad - Greg and "Jello" led

Pitch #1 - Variation on Psychadelic (5.6) - Greg Led - Poor anchor pro at top and difficult rope drag on the way up

Wow. What can I say about this route as a whole? Being the first on the route at 9am is something to hold close to one's heart, but getting up this thing is just a magnificent feeling. I must admit, however, that I screwed up the first pitch. Apparently, there is a small roof that goes out left from the crack and away from the arrete. Once over that roof, one is supposed to traverse right across the face back toward the arrete. I didn't read the guide book all that well, and continued straight up the crack system to the far left edge of the belay cliff. I should have finished the first pitch somewhere to the left of the corner of the arrete. In the end, it wasn't that bad. Sure, I had to deal with more rope drag than I wanted (or even planned for), but I got us all up and we then scrambled right across the ledge to where the next pitch began.

One recommendation: if one is going to go from the ground to the ledge, use two ropes, use very long slings / draws at the bottom below the roof, and don't place anything under the roof without extra long slings there as well. In fact, If one is going to place gear under the roof to protect the traverse left and the traverse back right once over the roof, only clip the left-hand rope in the roof section. Use the right-hand rope the rest of the way (before and below the roof, and then again once above it after the second traverse).

Pitch #2 (5.6) - "Jello" Led - good pro, use tri-cams

Start directly under the center of the roof, climb up to it and step right to the right hand edge. One won't necessarily see the hold out on the face, but, despite all the slopers you'll be feeling, there is a juggy side pull that one should find. It is a key hold that makes coming out from under the roof significantly easier. Both "Jello" and "Obvious" missed this hold, and I think it affected their climbing the rest of the way.

As for the the rest of the way, holy freaking cow man. What a feeling to all of a sudden step from being 15 feet above the ledge to a juggy overhang that is 120 feet above the ground. It's a jug haul all the way up, but man, what a feeling to be hanging over that edge. It is a great exposure feeling that I can't wait to repeat.

Once we were all up at the top, we rappelled down in search of "German". Unfortunately, she left, and I really don't blame her. It took us a while to get up the route, and we had spent a good portion of the morning out of communication. Still, this did not detract us and, after refueling, we ran over to CCK (5.7) to get one more climb in before heading home. It is this climb that links my rant at the top of this post.

Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (5.7) - 3 pitches - Greg and "Jello" led - trad - anchors at the top of each pitch

Pitch #1 (5.6) - "Jello" Led - face climb to the ledge

This was a great little pitch with some route-finding difficulty. Well, not really. It's basically just a shot right up the face, but "Jello" had difficulty finding good places to set pro. The face starts a few feet to the right of Updraft (5.8) and goes straight up to the next ledge. Pretty easy to visualize. The face is easier than it looks from below.

Pitch #2 (5.5) - Greg Led - climb the crack of Updraft to the slings mid-way up

At first, I did not climb the crack. The book doesn't say anything about the crack. In fact, it clearly states that the route starts well right of the crack in a small roof system that leads to a V1 boulder move up onto a series of runout slopers and a small crack. It then traverses left to the slings. Well, I got up into the roof four times and backed down each time. I couldn't find the right move that would get me up over the roof and back onto the face. I admit, I was very nervous because of what I kept thinking about while at Poke-O: that I was really only on a 5.7 (that was the grade of this route - the crack was 5.5) and that if I just committed to the move I'd find good, 5.7 holds up there somewhere. Right. That's what I said on Paralysis. "It's only 5.8, Greg. Just commit and get up there. There will be a 5.8 hold once you do." If you read the post (scroll to the bottom of that link), you know what happened. All of a sudden, I psyched myself out. All of a sudden, every fear that I could have had rushed into my head and heart and told me: don't do it; You can't do it; you're going to fall; you're going to fail; you're just not good enough. Disheartened, I downclimbed after hearing from another climber that the second pitch actually followed the crack, and that the move I needed to make where I was, was actually more of a stiff 5.8. I was tired, too. I admit that as well, but I really should have gone for it.

After downclimbing (and taking out all my gear), I resentfully climbed the second pitch in the crack, and I did this knowing there was another party right below us wondering what the hell we were doing up there. I felt bad for them because we totally stepped in front of them when we should have been up and gone. The climbing was easy, but man, I got up to that tiny ledge (big enough for only two people), belayed "Obvious" and then "Jello" up and said to myself, "I don't have it today." I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide, maybe even cry. Seriously, I was that affected by this decision. The third pitch was only 5.7, but it looked thin, and I just couldn't pull myself together enough to get the job done. Fuck. It still pisses me off.

We retreated from the belay station and I began to fume. I apologized to the folks below us (much to the dismay of "Jello" and "Obvious") and became even more embarrassed when I realized the cute girl I spoke to while on Toe Crack at Cathedral was looking at me as if I was the biggest pussy on earth. Fuck redux. Nothing like mixing shame with embarrasment.

When we finally got down to the path, I let out the loudest "FUUCCCCKKK!!!!" I could manage and stewed all the way home. Do you see what the problem is here? Again, I make my decisions, and this time, I let the conditions decide for me. I'm going back, and I'm fucking taking that route by the balls. I'm going to prepare for it at the gym by leading harder routes that I know I'll fall on. I did that tonight. I need to overcome this. I know this sounds harsh to some, but you have to know where I've come from. It's been a long, hard journey, and I'm not going back. I'd rather die fighting it then die sucumbing to it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Got Kicked By A Mule And Was Cured

Ever see the Christmas Vacation movie where Chevy Chase walks up to Cousin Eddie and his daughter, Ruby Sue, and notices that Ruby Sue is no longer cross-eyed? Eddie's response is something like: Yeah, funny thing. She falls into a well and her eyes cross. Gets kicked by a mule and she's cured.

The same thing kind of happened to me today. A couple of months ago I was paddling to a campsite and got my thumb slammed in between my canoe and paddle. It swelled horribly and I thought I had broken it. It turns out that it was just a severe contusion on the actual thumb joint. It is still a little sore these days, but I am getting better.

Anyway, I used to do this thumb-pop thing that looks as if I'm double-jointed. It turns out that my little trick, which I've always been able to do on both thumbs, is not a double-joint thing, but a weak tendon instead that allows the ball in my joint to move farther out than most people's thumbs move. In other words, the doctor said my little trick was abnormal to most people, and it is often seen after surgery and that symptom often means the person's thumb is useless to them without some sort of therapy. I have apparently learned to live with this abnormality, and have grown to rather enjoy it.

Well, since my injury, I haven't been able to "pop" my thumb, and this has concerned me. After all, I've been doing this all my life. When I asked the doc about this, he smirked and basically said, that injury of yours actually made you normal in the end. So I guess me being born was me falling into a well, and my canoe incident is me being kicked in the head by a mule. It's a funny world.

PS - I apparently can stretch the scar tissue that is keeping my thumb from "popping" until it allows me to "pop" it again. The doc wasn't sure why I would want to do that, but I liken it to putting one's toes in a pair of super-tight climbing shoes for hours on end. There comes a point when one wants to wiggle the toes just because one is used to doing so. However, when one can't wiggle as a result of the tightness in the shoe, one can, conceivably, become irritated. I am officially irritated.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Now I Know Why They Call It "Cannon"

I'm going to cut right to the chase here and leave out the drive from home to the campsite. It wasn't that interesting, but what was interesting was when I bumped into "Jello" (he drove into the campground literally seconds after I had secured us a place to stay) and his first words were, "Guess how much of an idiot I am?"

I admit, I froze for a few seconds because I wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say. One has to understand the difficulty we have had to endure just to get together for a weekend of climbing. For one, we're travelling from different places (me from Boston and him from the Adirondacks). Two, his cellphone doesn't work where he lives, and mine doesn't work anyone outside of where I live. Three, he can check his e-mail, but only once per day if the one, single satellite-internet-cable available to all those who work at the education center is not being used. Finally, there's this thing about us not knowing the place where we're supposed to meet, what time we're supposed to meet, and how the hell we're going to get in touch with each other if certain things don't work out.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about:

- We want to climb at Cannon, but we're not sure of where to stay, how far away it is from campgrounds, what the approach is like, how early we need to get there to ensure that we get on a climb, etc, etc, etc.

- We have decided that it may be best to stay at Rumney the first night just in case we can't find a place at Cannon, especially since we know that bandit camping is not ethical at Cannon and we know our way around Rumney.

- I call the Rumney campground we're to stay at. They don't want us showing up too late.

- I call "Jello" to tell him that, but he doesn't get the message until late that night.

- My cell phone rings at work, we talk and decide to try the campground in the Notch.

- I call the campground at Cannon, leave a message, they don't call back.

- I call "Jello" and leave a message telling him that there's no luck as of yet.

- He leaves a message on my phone saying where he bandit camps at an undisclosed location (I'm not giving that up - sorry) when he can't get a proper site in Rumney. Though we haven't figured this out yet, it assumed that we are to meet at this place.

- I call the campground at Cannon again. This time they answer and say it is first-come-first serve, but there are 34 campsites left.

- I call "Jello" and leave a message that we should go for the campground at Cannon. We set a time to actually talk on the phone (thurs at 1030pm).

- We talk Thursday and decide that whoever gets there first should get a site and leave a message for the other. If there are no sites, they should meet in the parking lot of the campground. If we aren't allowed to park there (I'm not sure why we wouldn't, but maybe there are loitering laws. One never knows) then we will meet at the "Old Man Viewing" lot and go from there. What we will we do? We don't know, but at least we have a plan in case our plan doesn't work, and then another plan in case that one doesn't work. Can you see the difficulty here?

Anyway, I wondered what it was that "Jello" had left and thought the worst:

ME: Harness?
HIM: No, got that.
ME: Shoes?
HIM: Nope.
ME: Gear?
HIM: Never left the car from last week.
ME: Helmet?
HIM: Got it.
ME: What did you forget then?
HIM: Sleeping bag and pad.
ME: PHEW! That's OK. We can work that out.

I lent him my sleeping pad and a small belay carpet in the trunk of my car, and he used the rope bags for blankets and a rope for a pillow. But before we went to bed, as we were racking up that night for an early-morning wake-up call, he turned to me and said, "You ever get the feeling that bad omens happen?" I looked him square in the eye and said, "After last weekend, I think we're safe." Famous last words (btw - this has become a bit of a slogan for us). I then closed the passenger side door in my car and heard a SMASH behind me. Dangling there was "Jello"'s car battery charger for his cellphone and camera. Oops.

We arose the next morning before sunrise and found ourselves the first people on the trail up to Lakeview (5.6). Our goals for the weekend were Lakeview on Saturday and the Whitney-Gilman Ridge (5.7) on Sunday. Our additional goal was to finish Lakeview by late afternoon and hike from the top of the cliff to the summit of Cannon before heading down. It was an aggressive goal, but we figured that we could do it.

Lakeview (5.6) - 8 pitches - mixture of face, corner, slab and crack climbing - For the most part, build your own anchors.

Pitch #1 - 5.3 - corner / face - build your own anchors - 140 feet - Greg led

This pitch starts pretty much as far to the right of the main, uninterupted face as you can get. There is a nice, small (one or two person) belay stance, and the climb starts on a series of steps going up a face to a good anchor spot below and on the right of the first over-hanging arch. Don't listen to the book when it says "step right". I'm not sure what it is talking about. Just climb straight up, keeping the left-facing corner on your right, until you get to about 10 feet from the bottom of the right edge of the arch. Anchor there and you'll be fine.

I should say that this is where we met a kind group of folks from the Rhode Island AMC. They arrived just after we did, and planned on climbing the same route. I should thank them here because as I was up on the first pitch, I was told several times that I was fading too far to the right and would end up way off route if I kept going to the right (note: I was trying to find the stupid "step right" that was in the book). The gentleman who kept shouting the route directions to me (and "Jello" on his leads) really kept us on-route several times throughout the day. Without his incredibly accurate help, we never would have finished the climb as we were supposed to.

Pitch #2 - 5.4 - horizontal crack - build your own anchors - 140 feet - Greg led
Again, I needed help finding the route here because the book says to step over the arch and follow the wide crack left. Well, there are about six different arches. I stepped over the first arch and didn't see the wide crack, but did find a crack that I could have protected underneath the second arch, so I assumed that was what I was supposed to climb. Again, the AMC shouted from below and told me to go over the next arch as well. OHHHHH! Yup, there was the wide crack, and as I high-stepped to get up to that crack, guess what fell out of my pocket. The guide book. Thankfully it fell near where the AMC folks were climbing, and they returned it "Jello" before he started climbing this pitch.

This was a fantastic lead that is easily protected. It traverses almost the entire 140 feet. I took a couple of pictures of "Jello" as he came up, but then the battery died. That's one of the reasons why I don't have photos on this post.

Pitch #3 - 5.5(R) - unprotected face / slab - build your own anchors - 160 feet - Greg led

Again, there was a bit of route finding here, but I did manage to find a way to get across the run out section of the slab. Depending on where one sets the anchor, one will have to step up above yet another arch and delicately step across loose rock and pebbles (the pebbles were by far more dangerous than the loose blocks) on the way to yet another long traverse to a left-facing corner at the start of... ... ...yup, another arch. Kudos again to the AMC folks for convincing me that I was climbing too high and would miss the anchor. They were dead on yet again (btw - if you can't tell, I'm building something here with the AMC. Read on).

Pitch #4 - 5.2 - face / slab - build your own anchors (though, if one has 60m ropes, one might be able to climb the next 30 feet to a larger, more comfortable ledge where there are two, brand new fixed anchors on the wall. These anchors are basically in between the belay I describe below (with the sling) and Lunch Ledge - 150 feet - Greg led

Another stupid traverse. Yawn. And yet another bit of route finding from the AMC folks. You know what? We just wanted to go up at some point, but, alas, that is not where the route went. Anyway, continue traversing across until you come across a small slab (about 10 feet tall) to the right of a right-facing corner / flake. There is a sling there, but I recommend not using it. I'd also recommend not relying on the chockstone there as the only anchor points.

Pitch #5 - 5.3 - face / slab - use the bolts - 110 feet - "Jello" led

"Jello" took over the lead at this point because he was going to get the best pitches on Saturday while I got the best ones on Sunday. It seemed like a good trade since I wanted to avoid being too tired to lead the crappy routes on the second day. In short, I didn't want a repeat of pitch #5 on Paralysis at Poke-O-Moonshine. We found more route finding difficulty, but ended up at the bolts, on a ledge and decided to have lunch. I should say that, at this point, we had no problems communicating with each other because we could see each other the entire way up. That changed on the next pitch. (note: we thought the bolted ledge was Lunch Ledge. It is not. Lunch Ledge is the top of the next pitch).

Pitches #5 and #6 - 5.3(R) - slab / gulley - Belay at Lunch Ledge (small, two-to-three person belay station with a dead birch tree that one should not use as an anchor) build your own anchor as the bolt is too old to trust - 140 feet - "Jello" led

"Jello" climbed this entire pitch with one piece of gear placed. This is somewhat due to the fact that he misread the route and went up a bit too early instead of continuing to traverse left. If he had just traversed another 10 feet or so, he would have found the "dirty gully" that the books talks about. Instead, he climbed up into what I consider to be a dangerous, slabby alcove with a large, exfoliating boulder the size of an SUV offering the only available anchor opportunities. Oh yeah, the cracks were wet too. Gulp.

This was the only pitch where we didn't have any guidance from our AMC friends, and we managed to screw it up enough to bring me closer to crapping my pants while belaying him than I've ever come before. It was essentially a hanging belay on two cams stuck in a horizontal, wet crack. If one of them slipped, we were both goners. Thankfully, after doing some searching, "Jello" found Lunch Ledge on his own (it was up to our left about 20 feet, and hidden around what turned out to be a left-facing corner. Because we were now having problems communicating (and our rope signalling hasn't been perfected yet), we dug out my radios so that we could talk to each other. I was somewhat concerned at the fact that the clips on the radios weren't that strong, but I decided to take "Jello"'s advice and buy shoestrings to tie around them in order to keep them from falling accidentally off the cliff. Besides, he needed to buy a sleeping bag and pad for that night anyway. We could make an easy trip to Walmart up the road and kill two bird's with one stone's throw. The radios, by the way, turned out to be an amazing luxury on the next pitch.

Pitch #7 - 5.5 - crack - build own anchors at the large ledge below pitch #8- 90 feet - "Jello" led

At this point, due to our frustrating reliance on the party below us to guide us up the damn route, we were insanely glad to finally find decent climbing. I mean, pitches #1 through #4 were OK, but #5 and #6 were crappy and boring. Nearly the entire climb up to this point was one, long traverse with the only excitement coming from the foot-management side of things. In other words, one slip and you're gone. But the climbing was so easy that it felt more like walking. Pitch #7 changed that, but it also became another pitch of disaster.

The climb itself is a short crack climb that is fantastically protectable. Top out on a large ledge just to the left of where the Old Man used to be (you can see the cables clearly from the parking lot). There are several belay spots on this ledge. We used the large crack to the right of the ledge, below the actual face that the Old Man was connected to. There is another spot called "Two-Butt Belay" right at the top. This spot allows the belayor to belay and watch the climber come up the crack. "Jello" initially chose the smaller belay spot, but he didn't like it and thus unclipped the first piece of the anchor he was building and... ...oops, dropped one of my nuts into the crack (God, I love / hate climbing terminology). That was mistake #1.

Realizing that his original anchor was probably going to create more problems than it was going to help (and knowing that he didn't want to lose any more of my gear), he moved to the larger crack along the face to the right. There were plenty of places to set gear, but because the area where he was setting up the anchor was sort of in a small cave, he was having a hard time keeping the antannae on the radio from jabbing him in the thigh while he scrunched up enough to reach the crack. He pulled it out of his pocket and clipped it on a sling and went to work. Soon after, I heard him yell "ROCK". I ducked and listened for the rock to tumble over me. I never saw nor heard it, and figured all was well. About ten minutes later, I felt three, strong tugs on the rope telling me that my belay was on and could climb. Knowing that we were practicing our rope signals as well as using the radios, I tugged three times back to tell him I was climbing, and then confirmed that fact by telling him on the radio. Up I went, smiling all the way on the best pitch of the day thus far.

When I got to the top, "Jello" looked at me disarmingly as asked how the route was. I smiled and said "best so far."

"Jello": It gets better.
Me: The next pitch? Yea, that's what the AMC folks said.
"Jello": No, I mean, I lost some of your gear over there.
Me: Really? What did you lose?
"Jello": Small nut. It fell into the crack when I went to take it out and move the anchor.
Me: That's OK. It happens. We should work on a protocol for losing gear.
"Jello": I agree, but it gets even better.
Me: Why?
"Jello": You know when I yelled "Rock"?
Me: Yeah.
"Jello": Guess what it was?
Me: A rock?
"Jello": Something not quite as natural. Think more...mmm...electronic.
Me: [silence] ... [silence] ... [silen - YOU DROPPED THE FUCKING RADIO?
"Jello": Hey, at least if it's found you don't have to worry about someone using an unsafe piece of gear like the Reverso you dropped last week.

In short, when I radioed back up that I was climbing, he never it, and he wasn't practicing his rope signals.

Pitch #8 - 5.6 - flake / crack - use the Old Man anchors - 90 feet - "Jello" led

Best pitch of the climb. Walk up from the edge of the ledge to the obvious flake on the very large, left-facing face. Either dig into the flake and hump your way up, or smear the outside and highstep. I did the latter and it turns into a bit of a stiff mantle, but the jugs are all there. Stem and climb the face to the top. It's a great way to finish the day.

The entire route was a struggle in a route-finding manner, but we had the AMC folks to help us along, and when they topped out behind us, we asked them how long the hike was to the summit. They told us that while there was not a path (it would be a quick scramble), the hike would only take about 30 minutes; 45 minutes tops. We thanked them as they took off down the cliff, and we began our scramble to the top.

Scramble to the Summit

OK, so a 30-minute hike shouldn't be too bad. Even if it is a scramble and not on an actual path. We'll just leave our gear on the edge of the cliff near the gutter / path going down to the parking lot so we can see it if we get lost. No need to take any gear with us, right? Besides, as we started up, we could see cairns all over the place. So there had to be somewhat of a path, right? Let me lay out the scenery for you: from the edge of the cliff, one can look up to the top of what appears to be the summit not too far off (a slight, rolling hill on top of the cliff), and patches of unconnected granite slabs separated by thick, stiff spruce trees that have grown short due to the wind that rips over the top of the mountain. There is no real path, but that is OK. The granite was nice and sticky under our approach shoes and we found ways of walking around the patches of brush. We got to the top of the hill in about 20 minutes, only to see what we expected to see, another rolling hill going upward. To be honest, that's fairly common around New England (seeing what you think is the top only to find out that it isn't the top once you get there), and we were not dismayed to see that we had not reached our final goal of the day.

However, as we were going up the second hill, the weather coming from the west became significantly more visible to us. I pointed north and noted that there was rain falling from the clouds. We climbed a little higher and saw that the clouds weren't just coming from the north, but the west as well. We thought about retreating, but we figured that we were halfway there (based on the time estimate given to us by our previously incredibly accurate AMC friends) and could beat the rain. Besides, we were making good time scrambling on the nice, sticky, granite slabs. It wasn't going to be a problem.

When we got to the top of that hill, however, foul language spewed from my lips at a rate I hadn't spoken since stubbing my toe against the door two weeks prior to that when I specifically warned myself not to step in that direction when I turned off the light. "Jello" looked at me and asked, "What's your problem." I pointed. He looked and couldn't see what I was pointing at (we were in bushy section). He came back to where I was standing, stood on a rock and joined me in my foul mood. There, about a mile off, was a large structure otherwise known as a ski lift, at the top of Cannon Mountain. Mother fucker.

We looked around and saw the clouds moving in faster than we expected them to move. If we only had to go as far as we had come, then we would have made it (no shit, right?). But we knew we couldn't make the summit in time now, and decided to turn back. Well, despite our disappointment, at least we knew the way back: just stick to the slabs, avoid the bushes and fade left toward the avalanche gully on the mountain across the street from Cannon Cliff. Easy, right? Not so fast.

No sooner than we had to turn around did we feel the first few drops of water pelting our heads. "OK, it's only sprinkling," we said and carried on. But then came the fog. "Hmm..." we said, "better stay away from the cliff's edge in case we can't see it" (an unfortunate consequence considering our bags were still on the edge of the cliff, somewhat - we stuck them on the path so we could find them if we got lost, but they were within 20 feet of the edge). Knowing we had to stay away from the edge took away some of the easier paths. This meant that we had to bushwhack our way through a few of the stiff trees in order to stay as much on the slabs as we could. Still, while our legs, arms and chests were getting scratched to hell from the unforgiving branches, we were minimizing our bushwhacking somewhat and could stay on the sticky slabs for fast moving. But then it rained. And I'm not saying that it "rained". I'm saying that it rained. The rain fell out of the skies so fast that within seconds the slabs became useless waterfalls and slides. We were only halfway back to where our bags were (or so we assumed), but our strategy of moving quickly along the easy granite had to change. Now, we had to stay off the slabs as much as possible. This meant we had to bushwhack, jump from rocky edges into unknown patches of trees, sometimes more than 10 feet down. We had to crawl under the tallest trees (never more than 10 feet tall, and usually only about five feet tall), pray that the branches we were stepping on for balance didn't break under our weight (thus sending us down into deeper, unknown depths) and sincerely hope that we weren't stepping on snake beds or disturbing otherwise unfriendly wildlife in our blind, mad dash to get back to our gear. It was dark now, the fog and rendered our position points (the gully on the other mountain in particular) invisible, and every time we reached a slab that we had to cross, we sat on our butts and slid over as carefully as we could. We were soaked, hungry, tired (not yet cold) and the thrill of adventure was waning inside. While we never heard thunder, we did see the clouds light up a couple of times and wondered if we should just find a spot in the bushes to hide under until the rain passed; if the rain passed. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a landmark that we had noted on the way up. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and realized that we were close. Believing it was better to go move the final 100 yards or so and get under the cover of the retreat path (and on our way back to dry clothes and a warm car) than it was to get wetter and possibly cold, we dashed (carefully) back to where we thought our stuff was. "Jello" saw the bags first. We smiled, we sang, we rejoiced, and then we headed the fuck downhill.

It was a long hike down and muddy, slippery and downright unpleasant. We were wet, climbing over slick rocks, wet roots and doing so carefully with only headlamps for light. An hour later and we were back in the parking lot. "Jello" signed us out (there is a sign-in / sign-out form climbers must fill out before heading up) three-and-a-half hours after we said we'd be down (good thing the forestry service checks those logs). I walked to my car (the only one in the lot) opened the trunk and proceeded to take off all my clothes to put on dry ones. Stupid me. Just as I was about to drop my underwear, a car drives into the lot. Well, two strangers got a show. What can I say?

When "Jello" came over to the car, he did the same, except he needed my spare dry clothes because (guess what, the bad omens continue), not only did he forget his sleeping bag and pad, also a spare change of clothes. That's right, he was going to wear the same clothes Saturday as Sunday (because he forgot).

We then drove to Littleton for dinner, went back to the tent to sleep and decided not to do the Whitney-Gilman Ridge the next day (good thing, too, because it didn't stop raining until I got back to Boston).

- "Jello" forgets bag and tent

- "Jello" fears bad omens, but Greg calms him and is not worried

- Greg smashes "Jello"'s battery charger

- Greg and "Jello" need a lot of help route finding

- Greg drops the guidebook

- "Jello"'s camera dies

- Greg and "Jello" need help communicating and dig out the radios

- "Jello" drops radio off cliff

- "Jello" loses nut in a crack

- Greg and "Jello" get bad advice on the hike to the summit

- Greg and "Jello" get caught in fog, rain and darkness on wet slabs

- All of our gear is soaking wet, including "Jello"'s camera

- Greg is seen naked in public

- "Jello" has to wear Greg's clothes

- Whitney-Gilman must wait another day.

- Greg loses out on his choice of the best pitches

And why does it matter that Cannon is named as such? Because it loads one up and shoots one out into unforeseen places; most notably, a country called "Epic".

Monday, September 03, 2007


A lot has changed since my last post on the Adirondacks. I've been outside more than I ever have before, I'm climbing stronger than I ever have before, and I've led (inside) my first 5.11 cleanly and (outside) my first 5.10 cleanly (Lonesome Dove). I've even jumped on my highest grade outside (Hammond Organ - 5.10d), and all of this in one summer of explosive freedom. Then, two weeks ago, "Jello" and I decided, maybe not consciously, to start learning how to climb big, long, trad climbs with each other. Our first venture was to Cathedral Ledge in North Conway, NH. We had a great time, got some good experience in and decided to hit Cannon and the Adirondacks one more time before the season finished. Though there is an outside chance that I'll go back up to climb with him in October, this is the log of what we climbed and how we climbed on the impressively grand cracks of Poke-O-Moonshine.

I left work on Friday with the sun shining high above Kenmore Square in Boston and looped through the early Labor Day traffic to Storrow Drive and then Route 2 West. I decided to take Route 2 because when I had taken it back from my Memorial Day trip, I was shocked at how easy and quick it was. The route's mainly two-lane, two-way traffic defied this logic, but somehow, with the same reckoning that leaves the hottest girl in the bar alone at the end of the night, Route 2 was empty of traffic and it saved many miles on my gas tank that I-90 would have stolen. It was a long trip, nearly six hours, but I made it on less than a tank of gas and arrived just after 9pm that night.

"Jello", having been unceremoniously relieved of his duties at his last job in Saranac Lake, stumbled upon the Pok-O-MacCready Education Center as a new opportunity that really seems to fit his skills and personality just right. It's a center where kids come to learn about all sorts of outdoor activities from climbing, to paddling and from horseback riding to tennis. There's a lot going on. In any case, like the rest of the staff, "Jello" lives in one of the farm houses on the property and, as luck would have it, had a spare room for me to crash in while I was visiting. It wasn't much of a room, but when the room is free and the food available, I was not one to complain. That, and the fact that it had a rope swing and water trampoline, I was in out-of-Boston heaven.

When I arrived, "Jello" was there waiting. We hit an end-of-training staff party and decided, thanks to a wonderful recommendation, to hit Gamesmanship (5.8) the next day as our first big route of the day. "Jello" informed me that we'd be climbing in a team of three and that we should get up extra early (7am) in order to be the first team on the ever-popular route. Due to the proximity of the cliffs from the camp, we were racked up and ready to go by 830am. There was no one else around (well, except for the fact that this is the second trip to the 'Dacks when I've bumped into people I know from the gym: this weekend it was Curt, and Memorial Day it was Lars and AJ), and I took the lead of the first pitch. It was a decision that would later come back to haunt me.
Gamesmanship (5.8) - 5 pitches - Trad - Switched Leads between Greg and "Jello"

Pitch #1 (5.8) - Vertical Crack - 140 feet - Greg Led

We bumped into Curt on our way to Gamesmanship and he warned us to be cautious with the first couple of moves. "They're tricky," he said, "and not to be taken for granted." We took his advice and on the way there I wondered if the first moves on a climb ever defined the grade of the climb. I know that the start of Child's Play (5.6 - Cathedral Ledge) had a non-5.6 move, but the rest of the route was absolutely stellar. I also know that Ladder Line (5.10a - Quincy Quarry) has the mother of all 5.12 starts, but the rest of that route also runs clean to the grade. This would be the third route I've come across like this, and became a but unsettled knowing that, firstly, it was a crack and, secondly, that I hate cracks. Well, Curt was not wrong in his assessment. The first three moves were of a pumpy, lay-back variety well into the 5.9 grade before the route settled into one of the best face climbs I've ever done. I know. I said that about Toe Crack (5.7 - Cathedral Ledge) too, and I'm not wrong about that route either. But you have to understand, if the holds on the face around the crack are better than climbing the crack itself, man, use the freaking face! That's what I did, and took a load of crap from "Jello" and his friend all the way up. But here's the real kicker...they did the same thing on SECOND AND THIRD! By the time we settled into the somewhat hanging belay (there are anchors), there was a line of folks waiting to get on the route behind us. We smiled at the fact that we had arrived first. "Jello" then took the second lead.

Pitch #2 (5.7) - Left-Facing Corner - 120 feet - "Jello" led

This was a quick run-up for "Jello" that led to a large belay stance below the choss-looking dike on pitch #3. There wasn't much excitement on this pitch, except we think we saw our fair share of death stares from the folks waiting for the first belay station to empty up. Oh well, suckers. Next time get out of bed earlier.

Pitch #3 (5.4) - Right-Leading Dike to Trees - 100 feet - "Jello" led

Another not-so-spectacular pitch, but it did provide some good views of the valley below and me a chance to spring one of my bad jokes on "Jello"'s friend. I won't tell the joke, but let's just say it took him the third time to realize that the cars that were "tailgating" the RV's on I-87 below us were actually being towed. This is also a chance to point out that, thus far, I have led the best sections, and "Jello" has led the least desirable pitches. Remember that.

Pitches #4 and #5 (5.7 / 5.1R) - Vertical Hand Crack to Run out Slab - 140 feet and 150 feet - Greg led

First things first, pitch #4 is supposedly a short crack that ends at an "obvious" birch tree just below the slabs. Secondly, this was the first crack since Bombardment (5.8 - Cathedral Ledge) time that actually forced me to climb in the crack, with my hands jammed into wide fists, my knuckles screaming for relief, my feet directly below my hands, and my body tensely trying to stay in a linear line from top to bottom. I felt off-balance the entire way up. I wanted crimps. I wanted stems. I wanted to stop thinking of busting my biceps on laybacks. When "Jello" reads this, I'm sure he'll say something about me wanting my Mommy too. OK, so I used the face and the parallel crack when they became useful, but I slipped above my gear and was lucky to have caught myself on the way down. It was a bugger of a problem for me, and I'm not sure if I'm ever going to learn how to climb cracks comfortably...ever.

I was glad when the crack was over and reached the bottom of the slab. I looked around for the birch tree and saw nothing but a couple of very young cedars and a few bushes hovering around the base of the slab. "OK," I thought, "Maybe the birch is higher up." So I went higher up on to the slab. I knew the slabs were the next pitch, but considering I couldn't see the "obvious" birch tree, I figured there was a slight slab section below the birch and that if I just went up a little more then I'd find it. No birch. I was now about 20 feet above my last piece. It was easy smearing on the low-angle face, but I was starting to worry a bit about getting to the top. Still, no birch. Another 30 feet without pro, and still no birch. I was definitely on the slabs now (pitch #5), but I couldn't see where I was going to belay from. I could have down climbed to the cedars, but these were no more than a few inches thick. I could have wrapped both hands around their trunks. They weren't good belay anchors (just to be clear, there weren't any cracks either above the hand-crack I had just climbed). I saw what I thought was the top of the cliff and wondered if there was another section of slabs above where I was at that moment. "It's possible," I thought, "that I just can't see the next pitch due to the rounding of the top of the slab." I climbed another 20 feet, and then another. I found one, sliver of a crack to dump a #5 nut into and climbed another thirty feet to a three-foot-tall left-facing corner from whence I could see the top of the climb. I stepped up and pulled the rope...ugghhhh...another pull...nnnnggghhh...a third pull...arrrrghhhh - WHAT THE FUCK AM I PULLING UP WITH ME?

There shouldn't have been any rope drag because I hadn't felt any until this point. I wondered if maybe the rope had become stuck in the crack below and jammed. I waited a few moments to see if "Jello" could pull it out. I pulled again and felt the same tenseness as before. "God dammit," I muttered. "I must have run out of rope. Holy mother of..." At that point I realized that I had to build an anchor on that three-foot left-facing corner I standing next to. There was no down climbing, not when the entire slab was friction on the way up. The crack in the corner was tight, but I managed a #.5 nut, a #.4 microcam and a #1 nut in three different spots. I set my anchor and tugged the rope hard, twice so that "Jello" and his friend knew to climb. When they came up, they confirmed I had run out of rope and that I was not crazy for missing the birch tree, because it was not there. I let "Jello" and his friend run out above me the remaining 20 feet to the top (something his friend was not thrilled about doing) and we rapped off. Our adventure wasn't over yet, however, as "Jello" managed to toss the rope into a bunch of trees on the second rap pitch. We made it down alive, but not without a few smiles on our faces.
Snake Slide (5.8) - 1 pitch - Trad - "Jello" Trad led and Greg Sport led

"Jello"'s friend had left to meet his parents and "Jello" and I were looking to finish off with something easy and / or single pitch. We chose Snake Slide; a shallow, left-facing corner that was best used as an under cling flake before topping out at a set of anchors above Libido (5.11). The moves are easy, but the feet were really sketchy where one doesn't want them to be sketchy. "Jello" has his best Elvis-leg going on this pitch.
Libido (5.11) - 1 pitch - TR

This was a great, great project route that I would absolutely love to climb with my Katanas (btw - thanks so much to La Sportiva for not having size 39.5 available before this trip. I had to climb all weekend in loose, bought-for-route-setting-only Mad Rocks that do nothing on crimpy, edgy climbs). It starts with a hornet-nest infested crack (seriously, there were five of the meanest hornets guarding the comb - DON'T USE THE LOWER CRACK), and then moves up to a series of opposing side pulls before ending on a series of ledges and smears at the same anchor as Snake Slide. These are serious crimps, and I loved every damned one of them, even if I flailed up the thing. It was such a relief, I almost led it (but didn't).
Paralysis (5.8) - 6 pitches - Trad - Switched Leads between Greg and "Jello"

Pitches #1 and #2 (4th class / 5.8) - Scramble / Vertical Crack - 50 feet and 140 feet - "Jello" Led

So, because I had the choicest routes on Saturday, "Jello" took the choicest routes on Sunday, and the first pitch of Paralysis is every bit as good as the first pitches of Toe Crack and Gamesmanship. There were a few scary moments for the boy wonder, but he powered through each move and managed to protect the scariest sections with relative ease. I highly recommend this pitch. However if one does it, one must face pitches #2 and #3 in order to get down.

Pitch #3 (5.6) - Straight Traverse - 75 feet - Greg Led

This, despite it's odd lack of good pro, was a rather easy climb. I wasn't sure what each move was going to be like, so I protected it was well as I could considering the plethora of flaring rifts between lower face and upper roof. Cams would have gone, but I didn't have enough large cams. It wasn't as well-protected as I would have liked, but it worked.

The problem came when I got to the left-facing corner where I was supposed to belay from. All I could see was an incredibly wet corner (which I've been told is always wet - wanna bet this climb doesn't last forever?), an old coradlette that I should have take out with me (it was stiffer than bike frame) but forgot, and three, amazingly rusted pitons that looked as if they had been there since the glaciers receded. All the cracks around me were flaring and wet, I had just left all my cams of that size in the traverse for "Jello", and I was started to think this was not going to be one of my best days. For a brief moment I thought, "Next time, save the
best routes for the second day." Well, I slung the same rock that the stiff cordalette was slung around and clipped into the pitons (what the hell else was I going to do - at least they're still there) to build and anchor and just started to pull the rope in when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of something silvery below me. I leaned out and swore profusely. There were the fucking bolts. Great, that took another 20 minutes just to down climb and set up a new anchor. All the while, "Jello" was baking in the sun at the top of pitch #1. That was mistake #1.

"Jello" finally made it across in much faster time than I had taken to just set up the stupid anchor, and we began to exchange gear so that he could lead pitch #3. Just as I was about to put him on belay, I pulled my Reverso off my biner and...

Greg: WHOA!
"Jello": Grab it.
Greg and "Jello" together: ROCK!
Ping...Ping...Ping... ... ...Ping...THUNK!
"Jello": That's OK. You have your other one, right?
Me: Gulp.

That was mistake #2. Neither of us had brought a spare belay device, but thankfully "Jello" knew how to belay with a munter. He jumped into pitch #4 and I swore angrily at myself that this was not my day.

Pitch #4 (5.7) - Awesome but heady Cave Traverse- 75 feet - "Jello" Led

This pitch was unbelievable. When one climbs a chimney, the idea is to use body tension by pushing one's back against the vertical side of the chimney with one's legs, which are pushing from the other side of the chimney. This cave was a chimney rotated 180-degrees. Instead of pushing against a sidewall, one has to push upward against a low-angle slab with one's back pressed firmly against the roof. There are no great holds (though there are some to assist in the traverse), but these holds are only good with good feet, and there are no good feet. Just imagine walking into that closet space underneath your stairs in your old house. That's what this was like, and if one looked between one's legs, one would see the whole 150 feet of open air leading to the ground below. If I ever were one to crap my pants on a climb, this would be the cleanest place to do it.

Pitch #5 (5.8-) - Over a Bulge - No Length Given- Greg Led

Remember when I told you to remember how I got the best routes on Saturday and Sunday was "Jello"'s turn? Well, this was the defining moment of that decision. From the proper belay stance, when one looks up, there are various bulges / roofs that one can see. There's the one slightly to the left over the cave we just climbed, one directly above the belay stance, and two roofs to the right, above where "Jello" was belaying me from (note: he belayed here because people were using the belay station to belay climbers coming up another route). The two bulges I noted before were covered with lichen and did not look as if they were the next pitch on what was supposed to be a very popular route. The two roofs above our belay stance were not covered in lichen, and thus it seemed to us, one of them must be the route. After all, the book said that the route went directly above the belay. (note: read that again).

I looked the line over for a good twenty minutes and placed three, solid pieces in in the lower part of the first section: I don't know what to call this, but if it were rotated 180 degrees then it would be a dike; otherwise it was a series of nasty, whole-hand pinches / grabs with a stiff and slick, unprotected (repeat: UNPROTECTED) layback near the top. I climbed up into the start of the layback three or four times, and just couldn't find the 5.8- sequence. This was really bothering me because, while I've been told the 'Dacks are sandbagged, I have yet to find any route in the 'Dacks that is sandbagged above the first move. This didn't seem right to me, but maybe there was something I couldn't see. Maybe there was something I was missing. Maybe, just maybe, this was slightly harder than the grade suggested and I'd be able to pull out fine if I just committed to it.

The first move out of the crack (where the gear was) required the use of a two-finger, shallow, finger pocket that led to an opposing side-pull just above the pocket. That required a very dicey body-weight switch that soon led me into a solid, but stiff layback at the top of the section. I didn't like the feet because I was completely smearing, but as long as I could keep my body tense in the layback, the holds were jugs for the next three feet or so. But as I moved upward, the layback went flat, and there was nothing above that except another, incredibly insane grab that I thought (nay: hoped) was a jug. It wasn't, so I backed off, but because of the awkward body-weigh switch below, I stayed in the layback. I was getting tired, but I was about seven feet above my last piece (remember, I said unprotected), and that was more than the distance between my last piece and the small, two-foot square ledge just above "Jello"'s head whence I started from. I looked behind me for a please-please-please foot ledge and saw nothing. I looked below me to see if I missed anything there, but my body and gear were in the way. I looked at the arrete in front of me. I studied and figured that I could dyno for the ledge. I just needed to know if there was something to grab. I pulled myself deeper into the layback again and upward toward the arrete. Imagine now that before doing this, my hands were above my feet, but my butt was not over my feet. Thus, my weight was being driven into the rock through my legs, like a layback is supposed to do. By pulling my body up, I was completely depending on my arms to hold my onto the route, because my butt was now above my smearing feet, and not driving my weight into my feet.

I looked the arrete over, but couldn't see anything worth jumping for. Knowing the large grab above the layback wasn't as juggy as I had hoped it would be, I assumed the arrete was going to be as crappy. I was in a precarious position. I just couldn't trust that by going up, I was going to find more solid ground. If I was wrong, then that meant falling even farther than I was already going to fall.

I backed off (and I'm shivering just typing this), tried to pull into the layback a little more. My hand searched for something good, something positive that would allow me to reclaim my vertical self. Nothing. Nothing at all. I remembered the awkward move from the two-finger pocket and the opposite-balance side-pull. "Too hard," I thought. I then thought of jumping out. I knew I was too high above my gear to be caught by it. Jumping would at least give me a shot at not decking out. But then I thought that if I did that, I'd slam right into "Jello", and, as he put it later, possibly lose all three pieces I had placed, rip him out of his anchor and send us both down 150 feet below. I had to downclimb. I couldn't hold this forever. My biceps were burning. I had been there for about five minutes, holding a no-longer easy dead-arm. I just couldn't go beyond this section. I stepped down into the lower layback. No problem. I stepped down, still smearing, into the beginning of the layback and felt the jug disappear. I had all of two seconds, I thought, as I felt my feet giving way, to grab the side-pull and find new feet without losing my body tension. I grabbed the side-pull, let my right foot dangle in order to find the next hol -SLIP!

"Jello" furiously checking ankles: That hurt?
Me: I'm fine. I'm fine.
"Jello" cautiously checking my ribs, spleen and kidneys: That hurt?
Me: I'm OK. I'm OK.
"Jello": You sure?
Me: Yeah. Let me rest a minute.
"Jello": OK. Take your time.
Me: If that's the line, I'm not leading that again. That's not 5.8-. We missed something. That's not even sandbagged 5.8-. That's 5.10 somethingorother. That's fucking hard.

The gentleman who was belaying another climber below us (on the proper belay anchor) said that the climber on his way up knew the climb we were on and could tell us the correct line. But when he came up, it had been 30 years since he had climbed that route and couldn't remember where it went. Not knowing where the actual line went, we decided to rap off and finish our day. After the two other climbers below us rapped off, we got down to the proper belay station and determined that the route was where the first two bulges were, but even then, we couldn't figure out which bulge it was. Because the book said that, despite the bulge looking harder than it is from below, the bulge was the way to go, and because both bulges looked impossible, we figured that we could't find the remainder of the route. It was a disappointment for both of us, but the correct choice. Especially since we didn't have two belay - OH FUCK!

As it turned out, niether one of us knew how to rap using oval biners. That was OK, however, because "Jello" could rap off and tie the belay device on the rope for me to pull up again. That's what he did, and I began my rap. But as I did, I looked at the rap anchors and saw that there were six slings / cordalettes wrapped around a large chockstone. Before I headed down, I remembered what happened to Mat, took a deep breath, remembered that this was my second time decking on lead, turned around and let out my breath when I was firmly on the ground. Even though I had a prussic on my rap, I was thankful that "Jello" was also giving me a Fireman's Belay at the bottom. In all, however, I'm fine.

I got up this morning at 7am and took "Jello"'s suggested route home: take the ferry from Plattsburg Bay ($9 per car and driver with $3.50 for each passenger) to Grande Isle Ferry (24-hours it runs, with trips every half hour). It cost me more than the Route 2 direction, but it saved me about 45 minutes on my trip (I-89 to I-93). I think I'm going back. It was just too damned good.