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.

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