Monday, July 07, 2008

A First Day Outside

Being home was never about climbing. I grew up on the water; on a sailboat and lobster boat to be specific. It was also about pulling a paddle's fin against the Frenchman's Bay tides and pushing pedals on Rockefeller's carriage trails. I was the first bike guide to bring tourists down Cadillac Mountain after they had just witnessed the opening rays of sunshine touch land on the continental United States for the first time on any particular day. We'd drive up in the dark, watch the sun peer over Schoodic Peninsula, eat breakfast, and then coast all the way downhill into town, ending up on the sand bar that connects Bar Harbor to Bar Island just offshore.

Maine has a rocky coast. In fact, it is the longest coastline in the United States if measured by all the inlets at low tide, but it's also nearly all flat. Sure, there are small outcrops that rise out of the cold, green sea, but most are molded short by the height of the high tide and the strong, westerly trade winds. What Maine is not is a high-altitude state. Mt Katahdin is the tallest mountain at a mere 5,267 feet. It's peak is more well known as the final stop on the long Appalachian Trail than it is a mountain built for climbers. On the other hand, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park tops out at 1,530 feet, and it is here where climbers come from all over New England to get on short climbs just to witness the view from the top. I never climbed whilst growing up here. It was always something those crazy kids did, and it was always easier to remember the moments when we were listening on the scanner to the island rescue teams pull an injured climber off the face of The Precipice than it was to notice the successful and unharmed. I never dreamed of being a climber despite the abundance of beautiful rock in my own back yard. That was until I went away to school in Scotland. It was there that I learned one of my two passions in life (writing and climbing, in that order). When I finally came home, I was elated to finally get up some hometown routes that weren't made of wet roots scarred by bicycle chains.

Fast forward to the present (about eight years), and I've realized that my only cousin (we're the only grandchildren on my father's side) and her husband have also become climbers as a result of their experience at the Rhode Island Rock Gym. Since we each learned that we each climb, we've been trying to find ways to get together so that we could enjoy the activity together. Naturally, the best place for that would be at home in Bar Harbor. Unfortunately, two things have always managed to get in the way: 1) our differing schedules while we're both home and; 2) home is not a climbing destination as much as it is home. Whenever we're home, we're home to visit, relax, and enjoy the best part of growing up on the island - the summer atmosphere. To be honest, if I had a choice of either going climbing or going to Geddy's Pub, which, to be fair, has gone completely downhill from a bar with a phenomenal, edgy atmosphere to a stupid, bland, atmosphereless waste of human consumption (the place is so done up that it is obviously disingenuous with purposefully placed memorabilia, whereas the signs on the wall actually looked stolen back in the day), I'd still choose Geddy's just because the people who still go there as locals provide enough of the long-lost feeling of the place to make me remember how fun it used to be (except now you can't sit at a table and get a drink. God that drives me nuts. If it weren't for the awsome mudslides they make, I'd choose the Thirsty Whale over Geddy's any day). This place went from the best of the best of dive bars to TGI Friday's without the mandatory flair, and it tops one of my two passions because home will always be home. Now that's saying something.

Each year I go home when my mom flies out for a week to visit family (she's a homesick woman living in the wasteland that is southern California). I try to make it home more often, but life has pulled me aside and only allowed me a few moments to cherish the invigorating smell of the Trenton Bridge at low tide (trust me, it's that good) each year. So this year was going to be no different. Despite the fact that I knew some friends of climber friends of mine were going to be in Bar Harbor over the weekend, I almost left my gear behind thinking, "I just won't have time." But then, just as I was about to put it away, I thought to myself, "What if "Cousin" and her husband are home? What if they bring their harnesses and shoes? Well, I guess there's no need to not bring the stuff just in case."

I thankfully listened to my gut. When I sat down on my uncle's sofa the night I arrived, and when he told me that my cousin was coming up (her husband was already here, and he and I later went out and painted to town dark yellow and moon-peach), I asked if, when the next time he spoke to her, he could ask her to bring her harness and shoes with her. Well, my uncle being who he is, picked up the phone immediately and passed the request on. She arrived in town two days later and, upon me seeing her for the first time in a month, I asked her when she had some free time. After a brief discussion, we determined that Saturday morning was going to be not only our first time climbing together, but also her first time climbing outside.

South Bubble

Upper Slabs (5.4 - 5.9+) - Five climbs in all - No more than 50 feet tall for this one section - Greg led the 5.4 with all other routes topropped) - Two sets of bolts with rap rings at the top

Approach: There are various ways to get to the South Bubble parking lot depending on where you're coming from. Either way, you need to get to the two-way section of the Park Loop Road between the Jordan Pond House and the Cadillac Mountain turn-off.

We drove from downtown Bar Harbor and entered the Park Loop Road from the Eagle Lake Road, just up the hill from the Kebo Valley Golf Club. Turn right off Eagle Lake Road before the stone bridge and take your first left after that (just down the road a bit). Continue up the road toward Cadillac Mountain, staying right where the road splits, and passing the Cadillac turn-off. At some point you'll go down hill and pass a Carriage Road parking lot on the left. Continue past that until you come to the South Bubble parking lot. One can park here, but the preferable parking lot is down the hill a bit further on the right in an unmarked, paved lot. From this lot, go down the steps and follow the path across the stream bed (it may be dry). At the sign (or intersection if the sign isn't there), take a left and walk about 30 feet. There should be an unmarked path that heads up to the right and into the talus field. Fade left and up across the talus field. You should see the Lower Slab first. To get to the Upper Slab, continue uphill until you can see that you're level with the ledge. Then you'll have to scramble up some rocks to the right and back down again.

Climbs: The right-facing corner on the left of the slabs is a 5.4 that many people use to either start an island two-pitch classic, Gargoyle (5.8), or get to the top of the slabs to set up topropes. There are two sets of bolts that will cover all five climbs on these slabs, with one set of rap rings. Alternatively, use the old, iron rungs cautiously, as these are old and worn, formerly used as hand holds from a long-since removed hike that rivaled The Precipice and The Beehive in exposure when I was growing up (I remember my aunt throwing her dog over her shoulders and smearing across this section in flip flops!). The grades of the routes go as follows from left to right: 5.4, 5.5, 5.9+, 5.5, and 5.6.

For the most part, we were the only people there, and so I was able to set up two top ropes fairly easily. It is fun climbing here, with mostly friction moves off juggy flakes and ripples in the pink granite that dominates this area. "Cousin" learned to lead belay for the first time, and she also cleaned her first route as a second. The first climb of the day, the 5.4 that I led and she cleaned, also provided her with an understanding that not only is everything "on" outside, but sometimes a bit of creative footwork is needed to move upward.

We didn't climb very long, but she learned a lot. As I noted, she did her first lead belay, her first chance to clean a route, and also her first friction climb, her first time being brought up a route as a second, her first outdoor fall and, the best part, her first and completely fearless rappel. For such a short period of time, she had an incredibly productive day. Actually, I take back the part about her best being the rappel. Instead, I think the best part was her technique. I tried to take pictures of her reaching way too high and making noobish dynamic moves on the easy climbs, but did more pushing with her palms and lifting with her legs than anything else. She said that at the end of the day she it was her legs that were tired and not her arms at all. I was happy to hear that, and relayed to her that her fatigue was in the right spots.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to climb anything longer, but I had very few expectations of actually getting outside. To merely be a part of her first outdoor climb was a good moment for me, and a highlight of my climbing summer. Hopefully medical school (she got the brains in the family) doesn't keep her away forever, as I'd like to get her and her husband to the 'Gunks someday to do some easy multipitch climbing. Then again, if she becomes a famous doctor someday, maybe she can take me somewhere instead.

Click here for my Acadia Pics

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