Sunday, March 30, 2008

First Day of 2008

Today was the first day outside of the 2008 season, and I'm quite pleased with how it all turned out. The weather was a bit cool this morning - a stunning 35F, but Quincy Quarry (QQ) is known for being warmer than anywhere else because of the amount of sun that it gets and its protection from the wind. I went there with four people who I don't think I've ever mentioned in the blog before, but get used to these nicknames because I'm sure you'll hear plenty about them as the season progresses: "Ratherbe", "KITT", and "Asshole" (ordinarily, I don't let people choose their own nicknames, but when he suggested it, I jumped on that bandwagon gleefully).

We arrived at QQ sometime before 11am, and it was still pretty chilly. Our initial plan was to hit the Prow, the main section that one sees when entering the quarry, but the ground was kind of muddy, the wind was noticeable, the sun not quite as warm because of the wind, and there were these odd orange flags all over the place around the base of the cliff. We didn't think anything of the flags, though "Asshole" told us that they were up last Wednesday. Ordinarily when one sees these types of things, one kind of assumes there is something going on and to stay away. That wasn't the real reason we walked away, but we were all scratching our heads when we did. The other conditions didn't inspire us, and I was somewhat nervous about not being able to warm up well. My fingers and toes can both be cold in 50-degree weather, and today started in the thirties. I hoped that C-wall would provide a better experience.

So we headed over to said "C" wall, otherwise known as the "Reflector Oven". Can you imagine why it is known as such? It's because it is damn warm in that section of the quarry, and we needed the warmth on a day like today (well, I did). The sun was on the wall the entire day, and when we did walk into the shade, there was a noticeable 10-degree difference, even within a few feet of the sun-shade line.

It was nice that all four of us had ropes and top-rope gear, too. We were also the first people in this section of the quarry, and so we had our choice of climbs to set up. As the day wore on, more and more people showed up, and, thus, more TRs were set up. All in all, it felt like a gym day, except outside. I think I climbed about six ropes today, and about 10 routes all together. Since the climbs in this area are pretty easy (mostly in the 5.4 to 5.9 range), we ended up taking on the challenge of doing variations where we called the juggy sections off. That raised the grades into the 5.10 range, so we did get some quality climbing in and weren't bored at all.

All of the climbs that we did were very crimpy, slick, and balancy. You can see from the pictures that the graffiti doesn't help either. A lot of the grades at QQ seemed sandbagged because of the slickness of the rock. From what I've been told, the grades were honest about 30 years ago. Because they've been climbed, weathered, and painted over the years, they're slick and hard to read. My toes and fingers are feeling the effects of that style of climbing (crimps, smears, balancy high-steps), but it was great to get outside after a long, cold winter.

So the routes we conquered were, in no particular order:

Pink Center (5.6) - A-wall: We actually did a 5.8 variation where we said the large, horizontal cracks were off limits. The A-wall is almost in the far left-hand corner of the section of the Quarry that still has water. If one walks along the water's edge all the way to the other side, it is about 15 feet from the furthest one can walk without going for a swim. This is a low-angle slab.

Blood Streaks (5.9+) - C-wall: The C-wall is otherwise known at the Reflector Oven (because it is so damn warm here), and it is the short, slabby-looking wall that is straight across the water if standing on the grass looking in. Blood Streaks is the climb that follows the red paint (and arrows) to the top. It is almost all the way over to the scramble used to get to the upper path. Don't cheat with the large foot holds on the left. The start is the crux, and if you choose to avoid it, then you've lowered the grade considerably.

Double Overhang (5.6) - C-wall: With this start, there's no way it is a 5.6 anymore. The crux is working up to the first overhang, and then it is smooth sailing the rest of the way. This route, as one would expect, has two overhangs, albeit small ones. There is a nice, juggy undercling just to the left-of-center on the first roof. This route is to the right of Blood Streaks. The bottom seems balancy and tricky, but if one highsteps left and goes left up to the undercling directly then the grade is about 5.8. If one goes right and stays right up to the roof, and then traverses across to the undercling, then this section probably goes at about 5.9. It is solid 5.7 climbing the rest of the way.

Sour Grapes (5.10) - C-wall: This is the blank-looking face to the right of Double Overhang. Try to stay on the face itself without using the
obvious flakes to the right or the flake that runs up the right side of Double Overhang. Look for the highstep on the left and trust the crimps to make this a 5.10b (the book doesn't differentiate between letter grades and says it is a 5.9 - it's not that easy).

Flake Direct (5.6) - C-wall: This is the obvious, triangular block in the middle of C-wall. Routes run to the right, center and left of this block before they all converge at the top of the triangle and go straight up. We did yet another variation and took this grade up to probably 5.9. We did this by staying completely inside the two sides of the triangle, and disallowed all jugs until one got to the top of the block.

Palm (5.8) - C-wall: To the right of Flake Direct is another block that can be climbed from either side. Palm goes up the right-hand side and stays left on the face above. This was a good warmup.

Brown Sugar (5.9) - C-wall: Yet another of our variations
climbed today. Brown Sugar goes up the face of the block, just to the right of Palm. Like other variations, we disallowed using the jugs on the face, sticking simply to the crimps and sidepulls. Once on top of the block, stay directly in the center of the "n"-shaped feature (stemming the two sides of the "n" is difficult). The crux is moving through this section. Trust the crimps, jibs, and smears and you'll get through it OK.

Well, that's about it. We were supposed to go to the 'Gunks this weekend, but poor weather and my crankiness kept that from happening. Then we were supposed to go to Farley, in Western Mass, but there's still a lot of snow on the ground out there, so we chose QQ instead. In the end, not a bad choice. "Ratherbe" brought huge cookies, "Asshole" provided an awesome salsa and chips, and "KITT" and I provided the entertainment.

I'm hoping this is the first of a weekly update. Check back often for new stories (either mine or "Jello"'s), but please remember that it takes time to write these things. So if I'm a little late, please forgive me.

Click here to go to our photos from this day

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Camping in the 'Gunks

Sigh, well, it looks like the 'Gunks are slowly moving toward being that much more expensive to climb at. According to the AMC's climbing newsletter The Crux, the long anticipated, if not altogether desired, campground near the Multi Use Area camping land is moving forward to being developed, and this could mean the end of not only the MUA, but the accessibly favorable Trapps Camp, affectionately known as "Camp Slime."

Disclosure: these are rumors. Despite them being in the AMC's newsletter, this campground has been delayed for several years. Hopefully, the trend continues (OK, that wasn't objective, but the first sentence was).

There are ups and downs to this. For one, the new campground would have facilities (and by "facilities" I mean running water and actual campsites), which is something that the MUA and Slime does not have (well, Slime does have actual sites, but don't think it is uncommon to be able to wrap your arms around the beautiful blond the next site over in a dead sleep - they really aren't very private sites). I'll fully admit that I'm a bit of a shower / decent-place-to-take-a-crap crank, so a new, real campground would be welcome in that regard. But I have two issues that this new campground would hinder in my willingness to climb at the Mohonk Preserve: 1) accessibility and; 2) cost.

Accessibility can mean many different things to different people. For some it means literally being able to get from Point A to Point B. For some it means getting there easily, or safely, or conveniently. For others still it can mean lessening the impact of the ecosystem of a particular area without hindering a person's ability to use the area at the same time. Of course, by taking into consideration of all of these issues, a smart planner organizes a park by providing specific entry and exit points, easy-to-use maneuverability gateways (such as paths or roads), and facilities that help to keep the place clean and safe. The 'Gunks have a pretty good record for all of this. The parking lots and entry ways are easy to use and, for the most part, convenient. The paths and roads are also well kept and easy to navigate. But here is the kicker for me: I don't stay at the MUA because one must drive from that site to the parking lot each day. I know that sounds a little whiny, but driving four hours from Boston and back again is annoying enough. When I go to the 'Gunks, I like to park my car for the weekend and not move it until I'm ready to head home. That's why Camp Slime is so attractive. One can park the car in the main lot and leave it there all weekend. Camp Slime itself is right across the street from the Trapps, and thus it is easy to get up, walk across the bridge and climb for the day. No fighting traffic. No Searching for parking. No adding extra pollution.

Granted, I know a lot of people who camp in the main parking lot itself. They just sleep in their cars (well, the comfy folks sleep in vans, etc), and I'm not sure if that is going to be disallowed going forward. My guess is that people are allowed to do this because it is the same lot that the people camping at Slime use, and it is difficult to tell if people are really staying at Slime or in their cars (OK, I know there is a tracking system in place where campsites are marked with vehicle plate numbers, but still, you can see why this wouldn't be 100% easy to police). I would think that when Slime closes that parking overnight in the lot would be disallowed. I would think this for two reasons: 1) because there is no need to keep it open and, thus, have a higher insurance liability and; 2) if it's the only free place to stay...

This brings me to my second concern: cost. Look, I know that there are two contrasting issues when it comes to parks and public lands (and let's be clear, because the Mohonk Preserve is a non-profit, it is by default a public land that is operated by what some would call a private company. My basis for this argument is that non-profits are public because they don't pay taxes, and they don't pay taxes because they are supposed to provide a public benefit. It's as if the government is funding them by the company not paying the government - reverse funding, if you will allow the description). One argument is that public lands should be accessible to all (i.e. - free). This is somewhat the basis for the National Park System. I say somewhat because of the second contrasting issue, which is that it is incredibly difficult to provide free access to everyone without maintaining the land and / or preserving it so that it endures for future generations. That's why the National Park Service charges in a lot of parks (my hometown of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park is no exception - but hey, I'm a local and I know the back way, he he). Not only does the revenue allow for due maintenance, but it also, ahem, restricts access and, thus, ahem again, preserves nature (always comes back to capitalist economics, doesn't it?). So by charging, one preserves the land but, unfortunately also reduces access.

I'm not sure how many years the Mohonk Preserve has been charging for access, but it is understandable considering the risks involved with maintaining a climbing area (there are other activities there, but climbing, I believe, is the main activity). It is also understandable considering the fact that, as a non-profit, the Preserve's funding from the government is literally the ability to not have to pay taxes (I'm not sure if they receive grants or other direct funding otherwise). But let's not be foolish here. One must pay $15 per day to climb at the 'Gunks. That's $15 more than Rumney, Cathedral and Whitehorse, Cannon, Acadia, the 'Dacks, or any other climbing area in New England for that matter. Sure, there may be parking fees in some areas (like Rumney, but even that's only $3 per day, and that's only if one actually drives there), but it's all semantics at these places. At the 'Gunks, one must pay as if one was going to the gym. That's what makes Camp Slime and the MUA so attractive. It's only $30 per weekend to climb; sleeping doesn't cost a thing.

Again, I don't disagree with the idea of charging. It keeps the activity population from getting out of hand and maintains the area. These are benefits I quite enjoy and would be disappointed if they went away. However, driving to and back from the 'Gunks costs about $60 in gas from Boston, $30 to climb two days on a weekend (I think the annual pass is $80) and now they're taking away free camping? Add on another $20 and what do you get? Well, for me, you get the costs of living outstripping pay raises. OK, so maybe I need to get a new job, but that's not the point! If this new campground opens up next year (2009) and Slime and the MUA close down, then my time at the 'Gunks may dwindle from past years. If it's just not worth it, then it's just not worth it to spend $100 on a climbing weekend. If I'm going to spend money, I might as well go to New River Gorge, or T-Wall, or someplace where I feel as if I'm spending money on a trip, and not just a weekend jaunt. I admit, I'm a Pisces and our lot tend to enjoy luxury (luxury defined not as wealth or service, but as thorough enjoyment of the value of the product instead) I can clearly see myself spending a lot more time elsewhere in 2009. The 'Gunks are but one destination in the northeast, albeit a great destination, but they aren't cheap. But then again, maybe everyone else is thinking of the same thing I am right now, and maybe I'll end up spending $100 just to get away from everyone else. After all, it is all about exclusivity nowadays, and I'm an introvert who hates crowds. My quirks do tend to cost me money. Sigh. Oh well, climb on.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Man it's getting cold in here. I can feel my spine cringing with anticipation of the new season. Goosebumps have formed all over the outside my body, and glee is bubbling up from inside. We're there, we're there, we're there!

I'm looking upon this season with great anticipation and sullenness at the same time. I made so much headway with "Jello" last season. I climbed more than I ever climbed before. I did more big climbs, more technical climbs, more jug fests and took more trad falls than I have combined prior to last year. I camped more in that one season than I have combined in my entire life before that. I've learned to ascend, go hands-free on rappel, place nuts confidently and hexes scientifically, and I learned to not worry when rapping in the dark, climbing in the rain or bushwhacking to get to get to somewhere I had no business going. I had the most disastrous outings in my recreational climbing career, and conquered the best I've ever climbed in the same season.

And I want to build upon that. I want to go more, bigger, harder, funner (is that a word?) and better. Last year it was the quest for 5.9 trad leads in the northeast. This year, I want 5.10. Last year it was 5.10 sport, and now I'm gunning for 5.11. I want to wear out six pairs of shoes in one calendar year, get the inside of my tent wet just for that warm afternoon when the rock dries in the Gunks. I want to claim Recompense (5.9) this year and not be afraid of dying this time. Book of Solemnity (5.9+ or 5.10a - depending on the book) must go, too.

It's raining tonight. There's going to be a whole helluva lot of snow melt going on today and tomorrow. It's pushing my climbing back another weekend. Another gut wrenching weekend, but this is a good thing. The rain will wipe out the snow, and soon Rumney will be opening to the northeastern sporties. Sure, there will be mosquitoes and black flies this year. It was a particularly wet winter, even if the snow melted in Boston within days after falling. We had rain all winter long, so that's going to make life difficult. But I'm itchin' man. I'm itchin to get out, and it ain't the bugs.

Imagine this: a young man who's never been placed in a position of tough responsibility has his boss leave for another company, leaving the young man as the only person in the company who can do that particular job. He's never run such a large project before, but its his now, and there's nothing he can do about it except quit and walk away or plug his nose into his computer and hope that the dust that flies from his keystrokes doesn't cause him to sneeze himself into a coma. He doesn't quit, of course. It's winter and he doesn't ice climb, so why not stick it out and hope for the best? But it means long hours. It means stress, less sleep, fatigue, poor diet, weight gain, a complete lack of energy, and wishing, praying and hoping for the summer season to arrive. Not only does he want it for the climbing, but he wants the damn project done. He has a climbing calendar hanging in his cube, and he checks off the dates in his head. One week in March gone. Two more weeks and it'll be time for the Gunks, weather permitting. Just a bit longer and there'll be more climbing weekends. Soon, Cathedral and Cannon will be unbound from the winter's wrath. Rumney will be crowded, Farley visted, the 'Dacks calling and BOOM! it'll be time to jump on a plane to Yosemite and Lover's Leap.

So why am I sullen? With all this hope and anticipation out there? Why am I so sad? I might not get out this summer as much as I had hoped. You see, "Jello" is driving to my place tonight so that he has a place to stay before flying out to Colorado tomorrow. It's a job interview that he's going for; a climbing guide opportunity. It's what he wants to do, and I'm hopeful for him because he deserves it with all the time he puts in. That and he's a good guy. He deserves it for that alone. But if he gets the job, I'm stuck with playing the mercenary climber who wanders the climbing scene looking for partners. I'll be watching unhappily on the web, unable to look at my gym-friends in the eye, and lurking like a silent beggar in dark campgrounds for scrap meat tossed from a broken threesome. I'll take what I can get and be happy about it, all the while feeling unfulfilled after my day is done, and, yet, itchin' for more the next day. I need this summer to reinforce my therapy, and I may be stuck shelling out hard-earned dollars to my psychotherapist behind the bar at The Burren in Davis Square instead. Either that or heading home to Bar Harbor to hear my sane family members tell me, "we're glad that you stopped that foolish climbing stuff and joined the ranks of the conforming responsible," all the while knowing that Champlain, South Bubble, Otter Cliffs and Great Head are a few minutes down the road.

But it won't end this way. It can't. It's going to be OK. Because even if I find myself thinking of soloing when everyone else has a partner or other obligations, I'll be in search of my next hit, with the rubber tube dangling out of my backpack and dragging along the dusty road behind me. My forearms are already blistered. I'm itchin'...