Monday, April 07, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Early Spring Climbing

It was only a couple of weeks ago when I tagged along with a bunch of friends to the wonderfully local Quincy Quarry (QQ). It was about 50 degrees that day, and I was worried about how my sensitive fingers and toes were going to hold up. Thankfully, the weather forecast was spot on, and the sun burnt the backs of our necks to the point that we only noticed the bite of the cool air when standing in the shade.

Feeling that spring had finally arrived and that warmer weather would soon be creeping northward, "Ratherbe" and I scanned the forecast for New Paltz each of the two weeks after that QQ jaunt. Last weekend was rainy and cold, but this past weekend offered an opportunity that we couldn't pass up: 50 degrees on Sat and upper 50s on Sunday, with limited sun early and lots of sun later. We planned our drive down, hopped in the car Friday night and arrived at Camp Slime late that evening. We were to meet three people there: "Strongmansends" ("SMS"), "Cracklover", and "Mountain Woman" ("MW"). All three were on the same page that "Ratherbe" and I were on; that the sun would come out and we'd all be allowed to play.


The drive down was predicated by a discussion about the weather between me, "Ratherbe", and "Cracklover". The three of us went back and forth between leaving Friday night and bearing the known rainy forecast, driving Saturday morning while the rock dried, or Saturday night, thus skipping Sat altogether and climbing only on Sunday. For a while, all three of us disagreed on the weather, but "Ratherbe" and I were closest to each other in that we were both seeing partial sun on Sat and lots of sun on Sunday. Our difference in opinion was when to leave and whose car to take. "Ratherbe" and "Cracklover" wanted to leave Sat ("Ratherbe" in the morning and "Cracklover" that evening, essentially for only a day-and-a-half of climbing). I wanted to leave Friday night because four hours of one-way driving for one day of climbing is tiresome for me. So "Ratherbe" offered to drive, but then she got into an accident and didn't feel comfortable driving a great distance. So that left either me or "Cracklover" and "MW" driving. "Cracklover" and "MW" definitely wanted to leave later on Saturday as opposed to earlier. They felt the bulk of the climbing would be done on Sunday when the temps were warmer. Carpooling over 200 miles one way was an ideal situation for me, so we decided that "Cracklover" and "MW" would drive. Alas, they forgot that they had brunch to attend that Saturday morning and wouldn't be driving down until later that evening. So, that left me driving and "Ratherbe" and I thinking that two days of climbing was better than one. We took off Friday evening amid slowly-rolling traffic and spotty showers, and arrived sometime around 10pm.

We knew it was going to rain that evening, and we even thought it was going to rain that next morning. In fact, we had totally anticipated not getting on to the rock until sometime after 12pm. As it turned out, a wickedness of rain thumped the tent at around 2am, but that was it. By the time we sniffed the wet pine air Saturday morning, the rain had stopped and the rock was already starting to dry. We had breakfast, I bought a season's pass, and we hopped over to Shockley's Ceiling (5.6) to see if it would be dry and empty. We bumped briefly into "SMS" on the way, but didn't see him again the rest of the weekend (well, I saw him twice but "Ratherbe" only saw him once, as he belayed his partner near Keyhole). It's funny because "SMS" and his partner were heading toward the carriage trail while I was heading back down to the parking lot. As we passed, he looked at me and said "You look familiar." I looked at him and didn't recognize his face. He said his real name (which I will not reveal here), and I still drew a blank. It wasn't until he gave me his user ID on one of the climbing sites that I frequent when I made the connection. He seemed like a nice guy, and so I hope we get a chance to meet up again soon.

At this point, the sun was a mere hazy blur in the grey, but it was starting to poke through the clouds in some spots. The temps were still cool, and my fingers and toes really didn't want to come out to play. But I was doing everything I could to mentally tell myself that this was OK; that it was OK to get out into the cold and suffer a little bit. That this is what climbing is about. It's about the climbing, not about the comfort. We arrived to find Shockley's only moderately wet at the bottom and, more importantly, without a single climber above us.
Shockley's Without (5.3) - 3 pitches - build your own anchors: "Ratherbe" led

There is a difference between climbing on toprope at QQ and getting on gear the first time, especially when the first time is at the 'Gunks. There are a lot of people who say that the routes are sandbagged, which is something I have always contested because I've always felt that the routes went at the grades if done creatively. But thinking that the routes are harder-than-graded certainly gets into one's head. Also, forgetting how to do certain things also gets into one's head such as, in no particular order of importance: forgetting how to belay when not using a Grigri, forgetting how to tie a prussic as a backup on rappel, forgetting how to set a proper anchor, forgetting how to trust one's feet when smearing, and remembering to feel comfortable on blocks that are solid but don't always look it - just to name a few. "Ratherbe" essentially led the entire route, but not without each of us having some "fun" on lead on the ceiling itself.

Pitch One (5.4) - 50 feet - "Ratherbe" led - This route starts pretty much at the top of the staircase, which is across the carriage road from another staircase that leads down to the hairpin turn on the road below, except it is up to the right a bit from the top of the upper stairs. Start at a blocky, right-facing corner and climb to the top of a block section to a nice ledge about 10 feet long and three feet wide at its widest. "Ratherbe" actually climbed up right from there to a small alcove with a nice horizontal crack, about 40 feet up and right of this initial belay ledge. Either way, both are good spots to belay from. The ledge is nice because it is large, flat, and comfortable. The alcove is nice because it has excellent pro on the left side and in the upper, horizontal crack. From what I understand, the ledge is a shared belay spot with another climb, so remember that you have a couple of options.

The climbing on this pitch was less than spectacular, with slippery and off-angle jugs leading to to essentially a walkable rock alley, but it was fun nevertheless. Since "Ratherbe" had led the route before, she took the bottom pitches and let me have the money pitch going over the roof. It was a good first lead of the season, as all the pro was well placed. I couldn't wait until it was my turn.

Pitch Two (5.5) - 120 feet - "Ratherbe" led - Again, "Ratherbe" had actually started up this pitch by ending the first pitch 40 feet higher than the normal belay station. In any case, from the original station, head right up to a right-facing corner. Follow the corner up to the top and fade right to another belay stance, which is pretty much directly below the crack that leads to the roof. This section provided more dynamic moves that relied less on ugliness than on three-pointed motion. It was particularly nice because the sun had finally lit up the rock before me. "Ratherbe" had set up a belay in the shade below the crack, and I was grateful to be getting the next pitch, which was entirely in the sun.

Pitch Three (5.6) - 50 feet - Greg led, then "Ratherbe", then she led "Shockley's Without (5.3) - 70 feet - So, this was a 5.6. Yup, it looked nice and clean from the belay station. I could see a nice crack line leading up to a ledge just below the roof. I figured that's where I'd put my feet. The roof itself had a nice crack in it, too, with what appeared to be a grab-able horn on the right side of the crack. "Piece of cake", I thought, as I headed upward. Once I got there, however, I realized that the foot ledge was a little higher than I thought (about waist high), so I was going to need an intermediate move to place my feet before heading up over the roof. I looked around and saw only whiteish crystals and few sure edges. There was one jib that I could have used, but I was using my crappy shoes and I wasn't feeling that comfortable in them while on cold, slick rock. I down-climbed a bit, rested, and looked at the roof again. The crack was a bit too big for me to jam (hand or fist), and the feet weren't good enough for an elbow-to-hand jam (imagine a lever with my elbow pressed tightly against one side of the crack and my hand against the other side). It also didn't have anything to grab a hold of on the inside. "Hmmm," I thought. "This is a bit tricky." I figured that if this was really a 5.6 then there would be some nice, large jugs on top to really latch onto. So I went up again in search of the holds. I didn't really get my feet in place, though, so I wasted a ton of energy getting into a position that didn't help me gain any holds that would have been close to edge just above the roof. At this point, the horn that I saw below was a good 10 inches out of my reach, and not having felt any jugs before that, I felt that I was going to have to trust my feet to gain that horn.

All I wanted to do was find something I could wrap my hands around entirely so that I could just haul myself up. I figured since the horn was the most obvious feature from below that it had to be the hold I was going for. "OK," I thought. "It's still a 5.6 if I get to it because it'll just be a quick, heady foot move up, and then I can high-step and jug all the way over." I stepped out onto the foot jib that I initially didn't want to trust, got my hands in a good position, turned my other foot around so that I could have a little extra reach and went up... ... ...up... ... ...and up... ... the horn that's "NOT A F&CKING HORN!!!" "Holy Crap, holy crap, holy crap." All I could think of was the word "down-climb." This wasn't what I thought it was. Certainly, the hold(s) up on the now-known un-horn were good. In fact, I'd call them jugs in the gym, but they were right above that slick, blank face with no feet and I didn't have the strength or endurance to campus up to holds that I knew nothing about. So I down-climbed again, rested, thought about what to do, and went back up just to see what else was up there.

This attempt gained me yet more knowledge of the holds above. Yes, the holds on the right of the crack were good, but they didn't form a horn and were above a slick face without good footholds. So I tried the left side of the crack and found some great holds out there. But all of these holds left me way too extended to grab any positive friction under my fingers. I wanted to just let my feet swing out so that I could get them even higher and, thus, lessen the extension of my body. But I felt the entire time that if I let my feet go that I was going to swing out with them, so I down-climbed again. And went up again. And down-climbed again. And went up again, and down-climbed yet again. Each time I learned more and more about the holds above the roof, but none of them inspired confidence.

By this time, three things were running through my head: 1) I was getting damn tired from hauling myself up and down each time, to the point that my left arm was wasted from all the work I was doing; 2) that it was getting rather warm doing all this work in the sun, which I was extremely grateful for because I was worried that 50 degrees in the 'Gunks wouldn't be as warm as 50 degrees at QQ felt, and; 3) this type of roof was exactly the kind of roof that I had climbed once in Scotland when I dislocated my kneecap. Because of the angle of my body extension, I was nervous about blowing my knee so high up on a climb. After much struggle, I turned around to "Ratherbe", who was being a great partner on belay, and asked, "do you want to give it a go?"

I looked at her as she sat shivering in the shade. "S-s-s-surrrrrre. Ifff yo-yo-you ddddon't wwwanttt it. Ar-r-re you s-s-sure?" "Jesus," I thought, "here I am flailing away in this beautiful sunshine and I've left my partner stuck in the shade."

Knowing that I should have quit a while ago, I made the decision that she needed to get up and move, even if the route was difficult for her, too. I down-climbed all the way to the belay station, we switched off belay and she climbed up to the roof. I really hoped that she got this, because I wanted some success to come of the day, and I wanted her to be rewarded for sitting dutifully in the cold all the while I struggled. She made three very gallant attempts, even getting her feet up over the roof all three times, but she was never able to trust her hands well to move up from her high-point. Each time she went up, she fell. Finally, after her third attempt, she down-climbed and went up to the left on the escape route (Shockley's Without) and we finished there.

I told her after I came up that I felt a lot better about climbing with her after going through such struggles. She was patient, she tried the route herself, we worked it together, as a team, and let each other do what we each had to do in order to to finish the climb. This one climb built a lot of trust, and I was glad to have felt that trust because it was the same trust that I had with "Jello". Good partners are difficult to find, so one should never dismiss moments of good effort and the accompanying response in the face of failure. If there is comfort in effort and failure, then there will be glee in success.

Descent - Ordinarily, I will tell you about descents, but I can't remember what we did. In any case, Shockley's Without ends in a different spot than Shockley's Ceiling, so the two can't be compared (though the rap stations may be the same, I can't say for certain that they are). However, I am sure that we did it two raps, despite climbing with doubles. (Maybe if "Ratherbe" remembers then she can comment below).
Minty (5.3) - 3 Pitches - build your own anchors: Greg led

If you'd like to read about a particular rant that I have regarding the 'Gunks guide books, then click this link. Otherwise, continue on, just don't expect me to tell you where the route is, because it's too damn difficult to do so.

Pitches One and Two climbed together - total of 180 feet (120 then 60 respectively) - Greg led - The day didn't get any better for me. I was rusty. I hadn't led trad since I was with "Tattoo" in Red Rocks the previous November. Time, it turns out is something of a memory deflator. This route did not kick my butt by any sense of the imagination. It's a 5.3 for crying out loud, but it was dripping wet with mud and slime, especially in the chimney, and I forgot some of the basics that I learned last year and was hoping to progress upon this year. Oops.

Anyway, find a large boulder / block that is leaning against the cliff, and start on the right-hand side of that (the right-facing corner). Head left once up on the corner to a pine tree (the first one you'll come to if you fade left from the start). Belay here if you want to split the route (about 120 feet). From there, climb the chimney and then out left onto the face below the next tree that is diagonally left of the first tree. It is easy climbing with jugs for the hands and feet at every turn, even if it is absolutely disgusting when wet.

Anyway, what were the mistakes that I made? Well, I'll just list them off because it doesn't make sense to explain them all: poorly placed pro, poor rope management, poor route reading, forgetting how to use my Reverso to belay the second, not figuring out a better anchor that would have been way more equalized without possible extension problems, forgetting how to tie a prussic as my rappel backup, and forgetting that I hate rapping over roofs. Let's just say that I did a much better job the next day, but that I totally butchered my management technique, and that was far more frustrating than not being able to get over a 5.6 roof problem.

Descent - We descended from the top of the second pitch, and were able to rap all the way down with two double ropes.

With that, Saturday's climbed had ended, despite the fact that "Ratherbe" somewhat eagerly pointed out an empty classic route on our way back to the parking lot. But I was finished for the day. My left arm was still sore from Shockley's, and my head was eating at me for screwing up so many things on Minty. We continued back to the car where we found a dry spot to set up the stove, cooked some rice and chicken (the Greg-"Jello" climbing classic dinner lives), ate watermelon and grapes, and waited for "Cracklover" and "MW" to arrive.

When they did arrive, they joined us around our "table" and chatted while we ate. We told them about our events of the day, and I came up with three excuses for why I didn't get up Shockley's Ceiling: 1) I didn't want to stress my kneecap and dislocate it; 2) I hate all things roof and prefer all things crimpy and; 3)... ... ... I had actually forgotten what my third excuse was. That left a little awkwardness in the conversation. It was akin to a comedian leading a great joke into what should be a fantastic punchline, and then forgetting the actual punchline. Speaking of which, here's a joke for you: a man has 100 bricks to build a, never mind.

Anyway, we went back across the bridge to Slime and sat on the lone, see-sawish plank bench to converse before going to bed. It was a subdued and yet lively discussion the same. I think the vigor of the content was there, but we were all tired enough to not have the emotional or mental capacity to actually act the part of vigorous chatters. Among our conversations were: why people blog; three types of people from Maine (rednecks, normal, and from away - with a nomination for hippies thrown in); what makes the Mountain Woman sandwich so good (hence "MW"'s nickname) (something about eggs, bacon and a special sauce); and whether or not it is cool that "Cracklover" "turned his girlfriend on to Mountain Women" (yes, it is cool, just in case you're a bit daft).

It wasn't until after we had all gone to bed when I realized something and shouted out, "I wanted the onsite! That's my third excuse for down-climbing and not falling on Shockley's." A bevy laughter erupted from another tent, and then we all went to sleep (well, thanks to the bedtime story that "Cracklover" was reading. It turns out the characters were compassionately enamored with each other. I never would have guessed!).

Sunday awoke with the promise of sunshine and warmth. "Ratherbe", "Cracklover", "MW", and I decided to meet near the route called Andrew (near Arrow and Limelight). "Ratherbe" and I had breakfast (butter rum muffins...mmm!) at the car while "Cracklover" and "MW" took off to grab the famous Mountain Woman sandwich and some breakfast at the deli at the bottom of the hill. After breakfast, "Ratherbe" and I headed down to Andrew to get on some potentially dry and warm rock. But before I get to that, I want to point something out to "Jello", if he's reading.

Last year, "Jello", "Captain Obvious" (formerly known as "Softspeak"), and I climbed Easy V (the left facing corner to the right of Arrow and Quiver). But when we got to the top of the first pitch of Easy V, we couldn't find the second pitch. So we walked all the way around to the right of the ledge and climbed what we thought was the second pitch of Easy V. It turns out it is the second pitch of Andrew. Oops.

Anyway, we got to Andrew and noticed that it was sopping wet. It looked similar to the polished rock on the shoreline of Maine, just after high tide has released the earth below it. We looked at our options. Neither of us really wanted to do Easy V again, and there were people on Arrow. Also, we had heard that Arrow was wet on the second pitch, so we decided to do Limelight (5.7) instead.

Let me be clear about something, though, the weather was supposed to be in the upper 50s with lots of sunshine. It was now 10am and there wasn't even a hint of sun or warm weather anywhere. In fact, the wind was ripping across the cliff such that "Ratherbe" climbed the first pitch in her down jacket. Let that sink for a moment as I remind you that my fingers and toes don't do well in the cold. To be more clear, my thermostat in my house says 70 degress - and I'm cold. Now imagine what 50 degrees with wind and no sun does to me.
Limelight (5.7) - 2 pitches - build your own anchor

Pitch One (5.6-) - 80 feet - Greg led

I saw "Jello" climb this last year with "German" while "Captain Obvious" and I got our minds blown by the last move on Arrow. "Jello" liked the route, and recommended it to me, as I did Arrow to him. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to do either route. Since "Ratherbe" had led the first pitch before, and I neither pitch, I took the first pitch. It starts on a ledge about 10 feet above the path and in between Annie OH and Arrow (to the left of Easy V - I know, there goes my rant in my other post, but hey, what the hell else am I supposed to use if there aren't any other reasonable points of reference?). Basically, follow the face up to the large, right-facing corner / flake and climb the flake / face to the top, finishing at the second of two large trees that can be used to belay from. I want to warn you, however, THE PRO HERE FOR BUILDING AN ANCHOR SUCKS - make sure the tree is still sturdy, because it is the best anchor you're going to get. The lower tree is probably a more sturdy tree, but it makes for a terrible belay station because of how the rope travels over the edge of the rock (it is more to the left from the climb than the upper tree is). If you don't feel safe running out the flake section, bring extra large cams. Otherwise, enjoy the wonderful four-finger edges and safe liebacks. This really is a great climb.

Pitch two (5.7) - 100 feet - "Ratherbe" led

This route starts about ten feet to the right of the belay tree, and follows a ramp up to the right, so that one ends up being basically above the belay tree and below two roof sections above. "Ratherbe" disrobed for this section (come on! Get your head out of the gutter! She took off her down jacket out of the fear of it ripping. SHEESH!), and started to climb against the cold, hard rock and the bitter wind. I, on the other hand, had my unintentional revenge handed to me. While I left "Ratherbe" shivering on Shockley's the day before, I was left to belay her up pitch one and then pitch two right after (i.e. - two straight pitches of inactivity). I was so cold that when I finally started to walk again, my feet never thawed to the point of having feeling until we got back down. Again, my fingers still hurt from this climb, and I wrote this at 9pm later that evening.

The second pitch to be sure, especially under the weather conditions. Not only was the pro lacking in some spots (the percieved cruxes, no less), but this was thin 5.7 climbing. In fact, it felt way more like 5.9 climbing to me. But, that might have been because I couldn't even handle the triggers on the cams that "Ratherbe" placed. Seriously, I had to leave the gear clipped in while I cleaned because I was so afraid of dropping the gear. It was actually painful to clean the cams. I couldn't hold on to anything. Each move for me was accompanied by a loud grunt or yelp of pain. The rock felt sharp against my fingertips just as much as my fingers felt numb and were without feeling. I know that this is contradictory, but it is how I felt. And the wind didn't help either. If there was no wind that day then I might have been OK. But it was raw, so raw that I recommended that Limelight be our only climb of the day.

Descent - Limelight ends at a bolted rap station that goes down Annie OH right beneath the rings. One can rap from there to the tree below, and rap again off that tree over Annie OH to the ground. The benefit of this is that rap is right there. The downside is two-fold: Annie OH is a popular route that one cannot see from the belay station (i.e. - you're dropping a rope potentially onto climbers below) and; feeding the rope slowly over the edge has the great potential to knock a bunch of tiny debris over the edge (pine needles and pebbles). There is enough of a gap between the ledge and the tree to not really be able to avoid the debris, and there is enough small debris to make it annoying to the climber on Annie OH.

One could also walk right toward Arrow and rap from there. The benefit of this is that one is less likely to catch a climber too much mid-climb when one drops the rope (you still can't see the climbers at the bottom of the second pitch on Arrow). Another benefit is that if the rope does interfere with a climber, the potential to annoy that climber is low, as the only place one cannot see at the bottom of the first rap is the belay ledge. The disadvantage is that Arrow, too, is a very popular route and a little less safe to walk to (it is down over a thin ledge where one slip would mean the end of you).

It turns out that there was someone climbing Annie OH when we rapped down, but they were toproping it, and so we cared less about getting in their way than if the person was on lead. We packed up our gear and headed home when we got down. It was a lot warmer in the parking lot when we arrived at the car. It was even warmer still when we went back to pick up the tent. All the parking lots were loaded with cars, as people were trying to take advantage of the seemingly beautiful day. We started to have second thoughts about leaving because we thought that maybe the weather was turning for the better after all. But as we pulled out of the lot, we noticed the wind was still blowing and that folks were still belaying in their down jackets. Even when we stopped in New Paltz for food we felt that the air was still a bit nippy. I think it was a good decision to leave when we did. The drive home was relatively uneventful, and we can safely say that we got enough of a workout and still didn't overdue it in the end.

All in all, I can confidently say that this was a very productive weekend of climbing, even if it was cold and raw. We never did see "Cracklover" and "MW" after they left for breakfast, but that was OK because we didn't hang around much after we finished Limelight anyway. Still, I think I earned "Ratherbe"'s trust a bit more than before (we had never climbed trad together before), and she definitely earned mine. This was a good step toward learning each other's systems and preferences before we go with friends to Yosemite in June. I feel good about the weekend, but not about the weather. Now if only I could find my weatherman hunting bow. Hmmm...

For pictures of the weekend, click here.


Anonymous said...

re: Shockley's Without, Descent: If you end just above the level of the Shockley's roof after climbing the right facing corner to the left of said roof, you will come upon a tree-rap station. With doubles, it's 1 rap to the ground.

re: Limelight, p2: Spicy goodness!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Jen & Greg --- Good job getting out and "git'n'dun" in less than ideal weather conditions.

I have led Shockley's twice now. Both times it has been a grunt fest, featuring a heel hook turned over to a knee at the waist high horn. Yeah, I'm a bit embarrassed. There is supposed to be a "hidden hold" that allows you to get over it a bit more elegantly. However I have not been able to find it. Maybe you can only find it at night when you are naked. Check with GO for the details!


Supposed to be headed down this weekend but it looks too be a washout at this point.

GB said...

Bill - Hidden hold? Only visible at night when naked? What the hell you been doin' out there? And I wonder who else is doing this?

The things about climbing I have still yet to learn.