Sunday, August 17, 2008

Snakes, Rain, Thunder, Lightening, Delays, and 10 Pitches...huh?

We were supposed to have gone to the Adirondacks this weekend. We had two campgrounds booked for two nights each for a trip that was supposed to take us to Poke-O-Moonshine, Pitchoff, and somewhere in Keene Valley (Washbowl? Beer Walls? Chapel Pond?). It didn't matter where we climbed, all that mattered was that we were getting away for a long weekend to enjoy a few classics in areas that see very little traffic despite the world class climbing in Northern New York. And then we saw the forecast.

"Ratherbe"'s comments in italics

While we didn't know it at the time, our bad luck actually started when "Ratherbe" made reservations at the two New York Department of Environmental Conservation campsites (Poke-O and Sharp Bridge). It seemed innocuous enough, but each reservation required a $9 reservation fee on top of the first night's stay ($14 and $16 respectively). That was OK to handle. After all, added fees aren't uncommon these days (despite being uninviting) and a first night's stay is certainly reasonable. But that's not really where they get you. If it rains, and one certainly wouldn't know if it is supposed to rain until a few days before, then it is reasonable for climbers to change plans. Naturally, with this summer's frustrating weather pattern (daily rain and thunder / lightening - in fact, I just saw on the news that through today, we've had rain on more than 50% of all days since June 1) we searched for the best alternative. We looked at Cathedral (rain), Rumney (rain), Cannon (rain), and the Gunks (sun!). "Ratherbe", in Montreal for a conference, cancelled our reservations while I helped her to arrange to change her bus itinerary from Montreal-to-Plattsburgh to Montreal-to-Albany, where I would pick her up on our way to New Paltz to the south. And then all hell broke loose.

I'm not so old that it feels natural to say, "I remember when..." But I found myself invoking this phrase the other day.

A few times, when I was a kid, I would take a Trailways bus to visit relatives in Rochester, NY. My mom would put me on a bus in Corning and a few hours later, my uncle would meet me in Rochester. It always seemed so simple. So I didn't put much thought into my choice to take a bus from Montreal to Plattsburgh to meet up with Greg for a long weekend of climbing in the Adirondacks. Last minute, we change plans. Next thing I know, I'm taking the bus to Albany instead so we can hit better weather at the Gunks. Ok, so 4 1/2 hours on the bus instead of 1 1/2... it's still the best way to coordinate our meet up. Or so I think.

Because Plattsburgh is about five hours from Boston (via the ferry across Lake Champlain), I had planned on leaving work at about 1pm so that I could get to Plattsburgh in plenty of time ahead of her scheduled arrival at 6pm. However, with our change in schedule, I now only had a three-hour drive to Albany, and I didn't have to be there until 9pm, thus giving me a new, 6pm start time.

The plan: depart Montreal via Greyhound at 4:45pm and arrive in Albany at 9:10pm.

The reality...

4:20pm... general boarding announcement (aka stand in line)

4:45pm... people start boarding the bus

5:00pm... bus pulls out of the station

5:01pm... driver announces the time of arrival for the final destination (NYC)

5:02pm... driver mentions that this time is not guaranteed and can be effected by the border crossing

Because I had some errands to run around town, I decided to take the afternoon off despite the later departure. I bought some groceries, picked up breakfast, went home and wrote a bit, took a nap, and hopped in the car just after the 530pm news ended with the hopes that there would be no traffic. In this regard, I was lucky. But I-90 was not as accommodating as I would have liked it to be. Somewhere between Worcester and Springfield two events happened: the skies opened up and I was thrust into one of the most severe lightening and rain storms I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand (I even saw what I thought was fire in the trees from a nearby lightening strike just a few moments before passing that very spot) and; "Ratherbe" called.

5:10pm... we experience stop and go rush hour traffic

6:00pm... stop at the border, the driver allows us 10 minutes for duty free shopping

6:15pm... bus pulls up to the border plaza, behind just two tractor trailers and we're quickly through

6:20pm... I think how nice and fast we get through the border

6:21pm... bus pulls up next to the custom house

7:15pm... I overhear the driver say, "didn't they call over and tell you we were here?"

7:17pm... border agent steps on the bus and instructs us on how to cross the border (take passports and money, leave all bags on the bus)

I was supposed to have met her in Albany a little after 9pm, and she was calling me closer to 730pm to tell me that they had just crossed the border. "Wow," I thought. "730pm and just crossing the border. If she was originally due in Plattsburgh at 630pm, then how late would she be getting into Albany?"

7:30pm... I ask the driver how long it takes to get to Albany from the border... am told 3 hours. I update Greg, hoping he finds a safe place to wait (I've seen the Albany bus station before).

7:45pm... yey, we all manage to cross the border and we're on our way again!

8:15pm... bus stops in Plattsburgh

8:30pm... upon leaving Plattsburgh station, driver announces that 1) Albany is the next stop, 2) it will take 3 hours, and 3) there will be no stops

Well, there was nothing I could do at this point. I was already more than half-way there. I had been through Albany before, and knew it wasn't much of a town if compared with, say, Tokyo, but I figured that if I was going to have to wait a couple of hours for her then I might as well wait in Albany. At least that way I'd be able to find the bus station and, hopefully, a place to get cheap pub food nearby.

Getting to Albany was no problem. I had good direction getting to the city. Getting to the bus station was another story altogether. Let's just say that after getting a good feel for the town of Rensselaer on the other side of the river, I finally pulled into the Rensselaer train station and asked for directions to the bus station. The ticket agent's directions seemed clear enough as I walked out of the station, but it soon became apparent that street signs on key roads in Rensselaer are just as common as they are in Boston...which is about as common as, say, an American Impressionist circa 1870 in Paris; there were a few, but not enough to make an American feel at home. By this time, not only had I gotten lost in Albany, but I was now lost in Rensselaer for about the third time. I thankfully found a mother/daughter team exiting their mini-van on the way back from a grocery run who were able to put me back on the road toward Albany (just my luck, they had only just moved to the area and had recently learned the road across the river). I took a couple of more spins around the intra-city highway before I finally found the street I was looking for (and gas, which was badly needed - funny, too, because the gas station operator was less than two miles from the bus station and he had never heard of the major road that it was off). The bus station was somewhat easy to find. I mean, had I actually been looking for it, I probably would have seen it very easily, but I drove around it twice (literally around the street that surround the station) not seeing it because I was trying to hard to ensure that I didn't get carjacked. Let's just say that driving with out-of-state plates at night while looking lost in this section of town should ABSOLUTELY give you the heebee jeebees. I now had about three hours before "Ratherbe" arrived, and was beginning to realize that I was going to have to sit in my car the entire time outside what was very likely a crack house. I really hope that I either found a place to eat, or her bus driver found the nitrous oxide button and she arrived sooner than expected.

10:00pm... while dozing, I suddenly feel the bus pull off the road, following an exit and turning into a McDonalds. Driver announces we are making a 15 minute stop. He repeats this at least 3 times.

Luckily, or not, depending on how you want to look at it, I found a bar somewhat across the street that looked as if it would have a normal clientele. After all, it was next door to the Albany sports arena, and in Boston, those types of establishments tend to be of reasonable quality, even when that particular team is off or away that night. The arena was closed and the entire downtown area appeared dead, but that wouldn't have bothered me in most places. For instance, Boston's financial district is often dead at night. This makes sense because it is a financial district and not a residential district. But Albany is a bit different. Remember the crack house across the street? Yeah, well next door to that was a Holiday Inn with a 15-foot concrete wall with barbed wire on top surrounding it.

10:30pm... bus leaves McDonald's.

So I headed to the pub next door to the arena and had these observations:
- There were about 10 people in the bar, and most knew each other
- Both female bartenders were slightly intoxicated
- The cook, who was playing cards on a table in the corner, looked like a retired NFL linebacker who hadn't kept up his weightlifting
- The geeky son from the cartoon American Dad was there
- I overheard the following conversations:

- Bartender One: What was that drink called? Oh yeah, the Carrot Cake!
- Drinker One: My mom used to make the best carrot cake (it is unclear if he was speaking of the food or the drink - this lack of clarity is kind of funny to me)

- Bartender Two: I love Metallica
- American Dad Son: They only played for 45 minutes each concert
- Drinker Two: Yeah, but those were the best live 45 minutes
- American Dad Son: You know who's great and coming to Albany? Ryan Adams

- Drunk Chick: I'm drunk, will you take me on your motorcycle?

- Drinker Four: I can't believe you missed Madonna the last time she was here.
- Drinker Five: I'd do Madonna... um, the show I mean, when is she coming back?

11:30pm... bus pulls into Albany bus station.

Thank God.

Despite not being that old, I'm left feeling crotchety and saying, "I remember when..."

We then took a longer-than-advertised ride to "Ratherbe"'s friend's house outside of Albany for a comfortable night's stay, and finally closed our eyes sometime around 1230am. As a result of the late night, we had a late morning, and didn't get to the cliff until 1pm on Friday morning.

Son of Easy Overhang (5.8) - 2 pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Greg Led

Approach: Walk along the carriage trail and take the first trail up to the left immediately before the rescue box. At the split, head right to the cliff. Once at the cliff, walk up left toward the edge of the path and about five or six feet before that, look for the winding, thin crack to the right of a couple of boulders.

Pitch One (5.8) - 80 feet

This was supposed to be three straight days of climbing: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We were going to drive to the Adirondacks and get on classics such as Gamesmanship (5.8+) at Poke-O and The El (5.8) at Pitchoff. As I noted, however, rain was forecasted up north and sunshine down in the 'Gunks. So Friday was going to be great then, right?

There were a few parties around us while we racked up. A few folks to our right were top-roping Pas Deux (5.8) and City Lights (5.8-), while another party was on a route near Baby (5.6) to our left. As I made the first move up to the first crack, I heard one of the guys to my left say, "Looks like rain to our left over there. I think it's going to miss us though. Looks like it's too far out into the valley." "Ratherbe" and I noted this, but didn't really pay much attention to it because I was trying to find the best first piece of pro. I felt a couple of rain drops, but it didn't bother me. I was prepared to go up in the rain, but there wasn't supposed to be any in the 'Gunks and so I figured this was going to be a passing shower. It was then that I heard a not-so-faint rumble of thunder. I decided that I didn't want to be up en route during a lightening shower, so I backed down. We had just enough time to stash our gear under one of the boulders near the start and hunker down for before the skies opened, and open they did for about 10 minutes. When the sun finally broke, this route was deemed unclimbable, by me at least, until it dried.

We were then put with the decision of doing self rescue, going for a hike, or bailing for the day (it was about 130pm at this point). Already we were starting to feel the impact of not going to the Adirondacks. Not only were our experiences on the way to Albany a bit defeating, but we also learned that, despite our campground cancellations, that we were going to be stuck with about 3/4 of the total cost of camping (again, despite not actually staying there - we had to to pay a reservation fee of $9 per campground, the first night for each campground ($14 and $16), and a $9 cancellation fee). Between all of that, our late start, and the rain, we opted for walking around the Trapps just to get some exercise and to see how long it took. At this point I will say that it takes two hours; two freaking hours of beautiful sunshine and discussions of what we were going to do once we got back to the car. And when we got back to the car? The heavens opened up once again, rendering our day finished.

We returned on Saturday, however, with the goal of getting 10 pitches in that day. While I don't think this is a tough task in the 'Gunks, especially with all of the moderates so closely located to each other, it was a difficult task ambition-wise because we were just plain out of it. With all the crap we had been through the past two days, we felt as if we deserved a break and not a reasonably difficult task to achieve. However, it is on those moments when one is expected to perform when forgiveness is off hiding in the woods and doesn't want to be found. I climbed up the first pitch of Son of Easy O without problem, but it was a bit too stiff for me to climb all in one pitch (particularly first thing in the morning) and so I set up a belay at the ledge.

This pitch is led by following the crack to the crux moves about 10 feet off the ground. The crux is moving through the small, left-facing corner. Once through that, follow the remainder of the crack to the face and angle up left to the left side of the second bush to a large belay ledge.

Pitch Two (5.8) - 80 feet

Like I said, I tried to lead this in one push, but I was not yet warmed up enough to finish it off. So I set the anchor and brought "Ratherbe" up. The second pitch goes up through a series of overhangs, so I studied the route carefully. From the ledge, traverse right and up to the base of the corner. If you trust the pin, then clip it (I did clip it but backed it up). I then did my classic yo-yo moves up and down to gauge the next few holds. None of them seemed solid and so I never committed. Finally, after doing this for about ten minutes, I hung on the rope. I feel a little badly about this now because once I did make the moves, I found this section to be more 5.7 than 5.8 (it seemed easier than the Strickley's roof, which goes at 5.7). However, I don't think I could have made it up without resting. I just didn't have the pump in me.

Once up through the first two roofs, and just below the third, step right around the arrete to much easier climbing to the top.

Descent: There are two options for descending at the top of this route. The first is a tree with slings and rap rings about 2/3 of the way up the face to the GT Ledge on the left. On the advice of "Ratherbe", I skipped that because she wasn't that confident in the strength of the tree (your choice, though). Your other option is to climb very easy terrain to the GT Ledge itself and then walk left to another tree with slings. You can probably rap down in one go with two ropes, however, we rapped twice with one rope due to a messy ledge with a lot of fist-sized stones ready to become dangerous projectiles upon the pulling of the rope.

Arch (5.5) - Two Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - "Ratherbe" led

Approach: There are two paths to take: either the first trail after the rescue box, or the first trail after the East Trapps Connector Trail that heads down to the road to the right. If taking the first trail (at the rescue box), head right at the top until you come to what are a couple of obvious arches; with the taller one creating a large roof well above and the smaller one peaking at about 15 feet off the ground. If one takes the second path, then head left at the base and look for the same features.

Pitch One (5.5-) - 160 feet

Ten pitches? After those first two we were looking at seriously cutting back on anything above 5.6. It seemed that my goal of hitting Snooky's Revenge (5.8) was not to be and that we were going to struggle all the way through the day. But it was "Ratherbe"'s turn to get up the next two pitches, and she led a strong route.

This pitch starts on the right-facing flakes and then moves up right below the small tree on the ledge to another short right-facing corner / flake. From there head straight up the blank-looking face to the bottom of the roof, then traverse right and exit the now left-facing corner to the face below the tree. Stay right of the tree for easier climbing (about four feet to the right) and then traverse back left, always staying under the tree, and climb the face above the arch itself to the GT Ledge.

"Ratherbe" had no problem managing this section, even though I thought the traverse at the roof was a bit worrisome with weird airy moves on solid-but-chossy-looking rock. At the tip of the roof there is a crack that one could climb in order to stay left of the tree. However, both "Ratherbe" and I felt that crack would have increased the grade above 5.5-. Still, that wasn't where the drama was. Just as "Ratherbe" was about to head up the blank face below the roof, I was greeted by a neighbor: a 15-inch copperhead snake. It had come out of nowhere, slithering out from underneath a rock to my left to a perfectly good sun spot. It then slithered back under the rock. And then came back out. And then went back in. And then came back out, all the while never moving much farther than three feet from my belay position. I'm petrified of snakes, so it may seem odd when I say that I was much happier to see the snake than when it was hiding under the rock. You see, snakes like cracks, and there is a massive, mostly-hidden crack system in the rock at the 'Gunks, and that crack system allows all the snakes hiding and living at this crag to move not only onto ledges, but to also find ways of slithering in needed hand cracks. The last thing I wanted was for that snake to go back under the rock and reappear somewhere else closer to my exposed legs without me seeing it.

Thankfully that wasn't the case, though I didn't stop thinking about it as I moved from ledge to ledge the entire way up the first pitch.

Pitch Two (5.5) - 80 feet

Some people climb the second pitch of Wrist (5.6) here, but "Ratherbe" climbed the remaining section of Arch. This second pitch starts to the right of the ledge, just right of the large roof. Climb to a notch about 20 feet up, and then head straight up to the top, exiting left to gain the ledge.

Descent: Walk right and down below to two bolted anchors that are facing away from the cliff (may not be easy to spot from directly above them, but should be easy to see the ledge from the edge of the top of the second pitch of Arch). We rapped in one go with two ropes. This can be done only if one angles left and hits the left-facing corner near the bottom of the rap. It cannot be done if rapped straight down or with one rope.

Wrist (5.6) - Two Pitches - Gear Anchors - Greg Led

Approach: The approach to wrist is the same as the approach to Arch (above) except that Wrist is the bushy, wide crack to the left of Arch, directly left of a tree at the base, and on the left edge of a shallow roof that is about 20 feet up. It is about 50 feet right of a large, right-facing corner. I would take the first path after the rescue box and head right toward this route.

Pitch One (5.5) - 100 feet

We were four pitches in on the day and figured it was best to climb whatever was easiest and closest, and that turned out to be Wrist, the
easy climb with a little bit of everything from bottom to top. Firstly, climb the crack to the ledge and then fade right to the left-facing corner. Then hit the lieback crux with confidence and step right at the roof. Finish at a pine tree below the large roof at the GT Ledge.

Now, I've had good days and bad days. I've even had good weeks, months, years and bad weeks, months, and years. This was turning into a good day after a bad start to both the day and long weekend. The only hitches were a slow first climb by me, and a snake that wouldn't go away on the second climb. But these are things that you deal with. Other things that you deal with while climbing are slightly more desperate moves than you initially imagine. This was the case with the start of Wrist. The crack really isn't that difficult, as there are plenty of good holds all around, but there is one move up to a good-sized jug in the middle of the crack. The jug is big enough for a full hand, and it is even large enough to get an entire foot in later on. I was happy to have gained it when I did, however, because the feet and moves leading up to it are a bit thin. In fact, at this point I was I feeling a bit desperate for gear. I wasn't going to fall, but the next move above this point was going to be a bit dynamic and if I had fallen by the time I got my feet where my hand was, then I would have decked. So, once I got my right hand up to the jug, I leaned right to look into the hole where the jug was to see if there was any ge - OOOH JESUS HOLY COW OH GOD OH GOD!!

- "Ratherbe": What? What? What?
- Me (feeling the rope tighten for a fall): Jesus man.
- "Ratherbe": What? What's the matter?
- Random guy who we warned of the copperhead earlier: Everything OK over there?
- Me: Holy crap. Jesus that's close.
- "Ratherbe": What's close?
- Me: There's a huge-ass black rat snake about two inches in the crack. Holy Mother Of God.
- "Ratherbe": Two inches? Can you work around it?
- Me: I don't think so. I have to use this hold for my feet, and I've got to get gear in now.
- "Ratherbe": You know you'll deck if you go up much more.
- Me: Yep. OK, fuck it, I'm going for it.

I moved quickly past the hole, reached up, and dragged myself up the face. I did not, under any circumstances, want to put my foot in that hole, but I had no choice. I heard "Ratherbe" mumbling below me, "don't use the hole, don't use the hole, don't use the - well, OK, you used the hole." I only used it for a second, as there was a jib just above it that I moved my foot to after gaining better balance, but even then I my ankle was exposed to the hole while I fidgited for gear. Finally, after placing a solid piece, I moved past the snake completely and up to the easy ledge where I grabbed ahold of the chockstone at the top. I shifted my feet around to get a better grip (I planned to use the chockstone as an undercling) when - "JESUS MAN!"

- "Ratherbe": What?
- Me: Another fucking snake!
- "Ratherbe": What?!?! Another one?
- Me: Yup, it's hidden under the chockstone and taking up the undercling jug. Damn it all!

This was no longer a 5.6 climb for me. Twice already I had to make adjustments, and once I had to brave the snake's temperment. This wasn't turning out to be the kind of 10-pitch day I had expected. Rain? Delays? Snakes? What was next, a stuck rope?

I worked around the snake and continued carefully past the chockstone to the left-facing corner. It was easy-enough climbing at this point until I got to the lieback section. This was challenging for me because I'm a climber who needs to use his feet. I'm just not strong enough to rely on my hands for very long. So whenever I find myself needing to smear on a lieback (it's a bit easier for me if on a horizontal ledge), I take my time and rest. Just like on the second pitch of Son of Easy O, I yo-yoed back and forth until I finally went for it (by the way, a fall here on slick rock would have been nasty and into the corner. I did place a cam, but I wasn't convinced that it was cammed enough to not slide, and it was already the largest cam I owned). It turns out that this move is fairly easy. Trust your feet and one, two, reach for the jug up right and pull up. Fire through the next section and exit right up to the GT Ledge.

Pitch Two (5.6) - 100 feet

This was a fun pitch. Find the right-facing corner under the large roof above, and climb that to the roof. Then hand-traverse left and go around the arrete. Find the path of least resistance to the top, and finish on an easy lieback, stepping left when finished.

Descent: Hike up and left to a path, and then scramble down left to a ledge. The rap rings are on a pine tree down and to the right. You very likely will not be able to see the base of this tree from the upper ledge. In fact, you may even scramble down to the first ledge and still not see the rap rings on the right, which will be on a small, lower ledge below you. We rapped in one go on two 60m ropes.

And oh yeah, that copperhead just a few feet away at the base of Arch? It lunged at someone who got too close and didn't see it. The snake missed, but apaprently it was an aggressive snake that I was wise to keep an eye on.

High Corner (5.5) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - "Ratherbe" led

Approach: From the carriage trail, take the second path on the left after the East Trapps Connecter Trail that goes down to the road below on the right. At the base, head right until you come to a large right-facing corner and a gap between it and a left-facing flake (the gap is a couple of feet wide). This gap is also a couple of feet left of a tree at the base.

Pitches One and Two (5.3 - we did a 5.7 variation - and 5.2) - 75 feet and 100 feet.

It was late, and we figured our goal of 10 pitches was out of reach. The best we could then do was an easy three-pitch climb that would get us as close as we could to our goal. This seemed an appropriate climb to do. Since I had four of the six leads to that point, "Ratherbe" took this climb and decided to lead the first two pitches in one shot. However, mid-way up the climb she started giggling. "What the hell is she up to?" I wondered. When I asked, she calmly said, "I'm off route and having a bit of fun." "Great," I thought, "she's off-route on a 5.3 pitch. That's OK. With all we've been through, it's only 5.3. It can't get worse." Well, I was nearly wrong about that.

To climb this climb, climb the gap either by chimneying up or using a lieback of the right flake to the start of the dirty gully. Head up left into the gully and climb the corner up to where it's easy to step left around the arrete. One can set an anchor for the first pitch really anywhere up to this point. The second pitch then follows the corner up to the GT Ledge. However, "Ratherbe" decided to climb a really thin chimney to the right that is actually the first pitch of High Coroner (5.9). She giggled in the chimney. I got stuck. It took me about 10 minutes to get out of that damn thing. I just couldn't see my feet. I knew there were feet there, but I couldn't see them and manoever enough to do a blind backstep. Eventually I used a very awkward jib out on the rear, left section of the chimney and put complete faith in the fact that my foot was not going to slip. I eventually worked my way out, but not without a few choice words for my still-giggling partner above.

It's important to note here that we ended up on the left-side of the ledge, but the Williams guide seems to suggest that the route stays in the corner all the way up. So please be sure to know where you're going if you climb this route.

Pitch Three (5.5) - 80 feet

Depending on where you are on the ledge, make sure that you walk right all the way until you're directly below the massive, right-facing corner that makes up this last pitch. Since we were on the left side of the ledge, we had to walk a ways (about 50 feet). If you ended up more on the right side, then you shouldn't have to walk that far. From the base of the corner, head straight up until you're about five feet below the upper-most roof. From there, hand traverse left to the ledge. It is the move before the actual traverse that is the crux, but it's all there so you should be able to just go.

Descent: The Williams guide speaks of a bolted rap anchor about 150 feet left, but we didn't go that far. It was now getting fairly dark and we didn't want to walk too far once at the bottom. So we bushwhacked up left and found a tree with rap slings high up on the tree. We rapped twice on two 60m ropes, with the second rap being off bolts. However, our day was not done. It was dark and we had nine pitches (not our goal, but enough to not push for more), and so we felt that it was done, but when we pulled the rope the second rope didn't quite make it all the way to the ground. We pulled, flicked, and yanked, but there was no way the rope was coming free. We looked around to see where we were and found no easy climbs (we were just right of Strickley's). We were stuck, and there was only one other way to get up to the rope, climb the Oscar and Charlie's (5.7) start, traverse about 30 feet right, free the rope, traverse back 30 feet to a sketchy tree with rap anchors, and then get lowered while I clean on the way down. Well, it wasn't a bad plan except the start of Oscar and Charlie's is damn hard with a tough crux that feels unprotected. I racked up with only a few cams (mainly because I was pretty much all racked up in my bag while "Ratherbe" pulled the rope) and went up to reconquer a route that had scared me the first time I got on it. It turns out that the climb was OK. It was still scary and difficult, but I was in the climb to get up it and, as odd as it may seem, I was much more comfortable with going for it and trusting the gear had I fallen. This has been true ever since my big fall on Hold the Mayo (5.9). Anyway, after retrieving the rope and after I came down, it dawned on me that we had, in fact, achieved 10 pitches that day. It's weird how destiny works sometimes. After such a crappy start to our trip, it was a lousy stuck rope that brought us to our goal for the day.


Moonlight (5.6) - Two Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Both Greg and "Ratherbe" led

Approach: The path to Moonlight is a long way down the carriage trail toward the end of the Trapps. Follow the path for about 15 minutes until you come to the Andrew Boulder, a large, roof-life boulder that hangs above the trail about seven feet off the ground. Head up the path after that and find a tree at the base just up left of the top. This tree will be below and left of a wide, left-facing flake that is at the start of a long, left-facing corner.

Pitch One (5.6) - 130 feet - "Ratherbe" led

Our goal for Sunday was seven pitches, and then we hoped to get three pitches on Monday for a total of 20 pitches for the weekend. Our first climb was an airy 5.6 that "Ratherbe" wanted to lead the first pitch on and me the second pitch (the airy crux - naturally).

The start of this climb is a bit tricky. There are two ways to gain the wide flake: either climb up right and traverse left to the "point" with large gear, or climb left to an easier but committing and unprotected face and step right so that you nearly backhand the point (we each took the latter). From there, fade right with the corner straight to the top. At the top, gear is sketchy for an anchor. There is a tree with slings out left on the face, but the roots did not look healthy enough to trust. "Ratherbe" managed to build a slight anchor at the very top of the corner. It took some gear-finding ability, but she was able to build a decent anchor nevertheless.

Pitch Two (5.6) - 100 feet - Greg led

At the top of the corner, walk right toward the right side of the ledge. There are two large, long boulders (about 7-8 feet in length near the edge). Find a left-fading ramp that goes up between two bushes. Go between the bushes on loose rock to the right side of the lower, left roof. Don't go up to the roof itself, but instead stay about three feet below and traverse left on sparse and committing hands until around the corner. From there, climb the exposed face and crack up to the right-facing corner at the top. This climb is definitely worth doing, and the traverse looks scary, but it's all there. The one aspect I can say about this climb that will drive you nuts is the switching of feet on thin hands on the traverse of the second pitch. Your left foot will always be where your right foot wants to be, and you won't have great hands to switch feet. Still, while this goes at 5.6, I would say this isn't much more than a 5.7 in reality. It is definitely worth doing.

Descent: Walk on the path to the right, keeping close to the edge. Upon seeing a dirt ledge down a semi-difficult (but safe) scramble of about seven feet and head toward the stout tree that seems to be right on the edge of the ledge. Once down the scramble, turn right for a bolted anchor. Rap in one go with two 60m ropes, or rap past the GT Ledge to another set of bolts on the left.

At this point, we weren't sure what we wanted to get on, but we felt that if we managed to hit an easy three-pitch route then we'd be on target to climb only one more two-pitch route after that to get our seven pitches for the day. And so we headed up toward a three-pitch route, Hawk (5.4), that would put us in a position to meet our goal. However, about 50 yards into our walk, "Ratherbe" looked up and said, "I don't like the looks of those clouds up there." It turned out her gut was right. We scored a spot under a tall roof (so that we'd be less likely to be shocked by a lightening strike while in a cave), and waited as a thunderous downpour raged directly above the cliff. There were a lot of climbers on the path who also saw the clouds and ignored their threatening posture, so I know some were caught in this storm, which had strikes that we saw in the valley not far from us. It rained so hard that we knew our day was done. Sure, the 'Gunks dry fast, but every couple of hours it rained again, and so the rock never had a chance to dry off enough for us to consider climbing again. Monday, as it turned out, was the same. We found a brief dry moment in between rain showers to take down the tent, pack up, and go home. We managed 12 pitches in three-and-a-half days. It wasn't what we wanted, and yet, 10 of those pitches came on the day when we wanted them the most.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Voo and Bolted Canyon

Where would you go if you had a few days to kill? Would you go to your favorite local spot to work your project? Maybe head somewhere far off and new to see what the world has to offer? If you live in the Colorado area you might head to Vedauwoo. Home of the meatgrinding, toe torqueing, cheese grater, offwidths from hell.

So after a boulder session and a few beers me and a few colleagues noticed a blank spot on the work calendar. Most assuredly time for a roadtrip, but to where. Surprisingly, there are a lot of places I have not been. I suggested Estes Park or Eldorado Canyon but then my boss suggested Vedauwoo. Could we handle the crystals, big as an egg and sharp as a shark's tooth? How would we handle the dreaded off-widths? Arm-bars and chicken wings, butterfly and fist-hand jams. It was going to be a good time. Jump ahead a week and we're packing the truck. We pack only the essentials, beer, tents, triples of #4-6 camalots, and tape. Now, I'm not really a fan of tape. If you're jams are good they won't slide and you don't need tape. Of course when you finally stick your hand into the maw of one of those crystalline cracks you quickly change your mind. Tape is not aid here, it's protection, as good as the #4 in those parallel fist cracks. So after a short jaunt of about four hours we stopped at the store for some additional supplies and headed into the park.

Vedauwoo is located in Medicine Bow national forest. So camping was free and we set up in a place nicknamed Shanty Town then headed into the park. After ascending the third class trail we were at the base of Fall Wall. We decided to ease into things by climbing something with which we were familiar, slabs. "Warm-up" is apparently not something my boss is fond of as he lead off on Drop-Zone, a nice 5.10a. After making my way up the thin slab we rapped down and I led both EO Lieback and EO Friction both very easy at 5.5. Certainly fun but then it was time for something a little longer. Heading over to Walt's Wall to climb Edward's Crack, a nice two pitch 5.7. We watched as my boss soloed up and I quickly racked up to try and catch up. Catching him at the first belay station we chatted about the next section and then he was gone. Leading off I came to a chimney/offwidth section. I happily plugged in a #4 camalot and searched with my hand. Finally, a large crystal and I could pull my head out of the chimney and there it was...a fantastic jug. A few more akward, feet above my head, moves and I was on easy ground. Rappeling down there was some minor discussion about soloing the climb by moonlight, apparently a local habit.
Heading back to the campsite I started up the fire and we got dinner on the grill. After eating some food and having a few drinks the subject turned of course to soloing Edward's Crack. I was a little more motivated than others but I didn't feel like doing it by myself so as the light of the fire faded so did our energy and we soon went to bed.

The dawn brought a new day which I was up rather early to greet. After starting up the fire again and wandering around people began to wake up. Luckily for us one from our troupe had made banana bread which was delicious. So, filled with caloric goodness we packed our gear and headed for the Crystal Freeway. After trudging up a boulder field, then down a boulder field, then across a boulder field we came to a nice boulder which we geared up on and set off on Northeast Cutoff. At 5.5 it was a good first lead for one of the less experienced members of our grop. Then I led the second pitch which starts off traversing across a seam to another seam which lasts for about one hundred feet before it becomes a mean size offwidth. Since the only gear I had to fit in there was a #4 camalot I had to continue pushing it along with me. So below me was a #1 camolot. When I say below, I mean way below, like 50 feet. So I took my time stacked my hands and eventually made it to the top.

Next we headed to Strawberry Jam. From the way my boss talked about it and the look of it I thought for sure it was hard 5.10 but it comes in at a stiff 5.8. Unfortunately, I had turned down the lead but felt quite good seconding. This was the last climb of the day. While we were heading down through another boulder field my boss and I have a conversation about an upcoming trip:

HIM: If someone shows you around do you think you could teach a lead climbing class for a guy in Boulder Canyon.

ME: I guess so, just sport leading?

HIM: Yeah, he climbs in the gym apparently. It'd be a two day class and probably just getting him on lead the next day after learning the rappelling and anchoring and everything like that.

ME: I think I can handle that. You're going to have to give me some money (I had forgotten my wallet).

So everyone else drove in a seperate car while I headed for Boulder. Now in a lot of ways I like Boulder. It kind of reminds me of Boston, a lot of young people, good public transportation, and crowded as hell. To say the least it's a pain in the ass to drive around in Boulder with all the stop signs, red lights, and pedestrian crosswalks. It's an exercise in patience. So luckily I stayed with another guide near Ft. Collins. Unfortuntely, this required I drive for about 45 minutes there and back. Either way though I met my client at eight in the morning and we headed into Boulder Canyon.

The previous day the other guide had shown me around and given me some ideas where to take the client. While walking around how the canyon is often nicknamed Bolted Canyon because people will bolt any piece of choss. My limited experience seemed to suggest that most climbs were responsibly bolted.

Either way I led my client up several climbs on a crag called The Riviera. We climbed Chouette, a nice single pitch 5.6. We also climbed Splash, which describes what will happen if you don't place gear when available. The last climb of the day was Topless Etiquette another single pitch 5.8 that was pretty fun. Unfortunately, our day was ended after this because of rain. Now rain isn't uncommon in Colorado, especially in the afternoons but it's usually just a splash here and there which dries quickly. So the day thus ended I headed back into Boulder to hook up with the other guide for some climbing.

The plan was to solo the 1st and 3rd flatiron. Unfortunately, it rained, and continued to rain so that plan was out. After cooking dinner and driving back up the canyon I decided to sleep in the truck I had been lent. At this point it was not raining and it looked like the rain was over for the day (I didn't have a weather report). Little did I know I'd be in for a soaking. So I pulled out sleeping pads and sleeping bags as well as the rain fly of my tent, just in case. All things considered I fell asleep pretty quickly since I was next to highway and a rushing creek. Sometime later in the night I woke up to water falling on my face. I quickly pulled the rainfly over me, making sure it covered the entire bag. I dozed off once again and soon was awoken by a feeling of moisture at my feet. Did I not cover them? I checked and soon confirmed that my feet were covered. Obviously the water was soaking through the rainfly. So what to do? The truck was filled with gear so I couldn't sleep in it, it'd be uncomfortable anyway. So in my infinite wisdom I practiced the art of suffering. I laid in my sleeping back with wet, cold feet. I felt water start to seep into the sides by my shoulders. eventually I was curled into the fetal position in the dry portion of the bag and dozed in and out of sleep till eventually my eyes opened to daylight.

As I looked out it was still raining. My trip would be cancelled. So after confirming this and meeting the client to let them know what their options were. I headed back to Colorado Springs to enjoy more rain. It was an exciting trip though with the exploration of new areas and new styles of climbing. Hopefully, I will be heading back to visit them soon.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lover's Leap Day Four: Deceptively Easy

We awoke the morning of our final day with the anticipation of getting a few more climbs in before having to split back to real life later in the day. "PBR" had a soccer camp to get to in the Bay area, and "Ratherbe" and I had a connecting flight out of Sacremento to catch in the early evening so that we would be comfortably red-eye bound on a Long Beach-to-Boston flight closer to midnight. The morning wasn't very stressful because we had a plan to get up as many climbs as we could before noon, and then we'd head back to the parking lot, tear apart our gear, repack it, shower at the Strawberry Lodge, eat, and get to Sacremento (construction delays or not) before our flight lifted off. It was a good plan, and we stuck to it even though we were all a little spent (emotionally and physically) from the preceding eight days.

Deception Direct (5.9R) - Three Pitches - Gear Anchors - All led

Approach: Deception Direct is on the far left of Hogsback. Hike out the trail across from parking spot #19 (turn left at the top of the stairs) and follow the ankle-breaker trail with the back of Hogwild and Hogsback to your left and Lover's Leap to your right. You'll follow this path for several minutes, looking for a small path that leads uphill and off to the left before turning right. This path is nearly as far down as the path to the left side of Lover's Leap, and it is not marked well. In fact, there is a smaller path on the left that you'll probably see first and wonder if this is the the correct one to take. It likely is not the correct path. I guess the easiest way to know this path is if you see the large, slabby boulder across from the right-hand path leading to Lover's Leap, then you've gone too far, by about 50 feet or so. Once on the path, follow it as it starts left and turns right and eventually to the slabs around Hogsback to the talus field. Knapsack Crack starts at a tree that is about a third of the way up the cliff, and Deception Direct is a bit more to the right and follows a right-facing corner most of the way up. Start at the small tree that is right of the corner.

Pitch One (5.2) - 90 Feet - Gear Anchor - "Ratherbe" led

There's nothing special to report about this first pitch except that it feels a bit harder than 5.2, but probably isn't much harder. The gear is good and there is more than one place to establish an anchor. "Ratherbe" set the anchor on the face just left of the corner just below and left of a small roof to her right, probably a bit lower than the full 90 feet. Essentially climb the corner until you come to a good anchor position on the face on the left.

Pitch Two (5.9R) - 120 Feet - Gear Anchor - "PBR" led

This was the money pitch, and "PBR" led it well. To climb this, follow the corner to the small roof where the corner ends and a thin seam appears. If you protect the corner well, then the seam (the R section) isn't so intimidating.
The moves here are less than dynamic and require solid concentration, balance, and commitment. But if you have good feet and can trust smearing a little (using your legs really helps here), then the tough series of moves (about 10 feet worth) are over before you know it. It helps that this is fairly low-angle, as there is a section where one is clearly depending little on hands and more on feet that absolutely must stick, but what makes this "R" is that the fall would be nasty; likely sliding straight down over a roof and alongside a corner after that. I'm not talking about big, flying whippers, just awkward and uncomfortable slides into unavoidable objects. Anyway, "PBR" took command of this climb like he had nearly everything else throughout the week and handled it with ease. I felt a bit thin on second, but managed it without incident. "Ratherbe" was also strong bringing up the rear (there's a good series of pics of her coming up this section when you click the link for photos at the bottom).

Pitch Three (5.6) - 120 Feet - Gear Anchor - Greg led

The Supertopo says this is 120 feet, but it felt much less than this (90 feet maybe?) because I was at the top in no time. There are many options on this climb to make this interesting, but essentially the route goes up the crack to the boulders, and then up over the boulderes
to the top. The variations come at the top where the boulders are. Either climb easier ground to the left, 5.6ish ground straight up, or harder to the far right. I chose the blocky section with the offwidths just for fun, which I must say is unusual for me considering my lack of love for cracks. However, the stuff to the left appeared too easy to seem interesting, and so I made an executive decision that the route went through the blocks to the top. My apologies for not having a good picture of the start of this pitch, but you can see the blocks in the above picture of "Ratherbe" coming up on second.

Descent: Fade down the slabs to the left and find the path that will take you back right toward the ankle-breaker path.

Accessory Dogs (5.10a) - 90 Feet - Mixed Bolts and Gear - Quick-Clip Anhcor - All led

Approach: Start at the path from parking spot #8 and follow the path to telephone pole 2569. Take that right and head up to the base of the cliff. At the base, look for a series of bolts on the face just as the path turns up to the right.

Accessory Dogs: This was a fun climb, though maybe poorly bolted. It is a thin-feeling route with some fun moves that'll make you think before you commit. All the moves are fairly easy, however, enough so that
I wonder if this is a 5.10. I struggle with this a lot. It seems that 5.10 is often easier than 5.9, and I'm not saying just outside either, but inside as well (because I'm well aware of the reason why many 5.9s really are harder than 5.10s outside - due to the now defunct decimal system formally establishing 5.9 as being the hardest possible climb, and older routes not being regraded as a result of the expanded system). For me, a 5.8 often feels like good holds and good moves. A 5.9 feels like good holds with crappy moves, and it is often awkward enough to make me grunt or sweat. A 5.10a often has good holds and good moves, too, but the moves require a bit more commitment and are spaced apart more than on a 5.8. It's difficult for me to say this route is soft because the moves don't feel as easy as 5.8, but they are certainly aren't awkward either. I find them to be very clean and easy, yet committing. I guess it really is 5.10 despite my feelings that this could be a very nice, un-awkward, 5.9 if one wants to look at it that way.

To climb this route, head up to the third bolt, and traverse left about three feet before moving up again. Once around the arrete, clip the fourth bolt and climb the corner straight up to the easy-clip anchors. We all led this succesfully, though "Ratherbe" was fairly tired and glad to have this as our final climb of the trip.

I guess the good thing about ending at this time was that the sun was getting hot, and we knew we were going to have to repack everything in the parking lot, which was devoid of shade for the most part. But all in all, the trip was OK. It wasn't fantastic. It wasn't a complete waste of time. It was OK. There were personal differences that were occassionally overcome, climbing deficiencies and achievements that added flavor, and a bit of learning, too. No one parted ways with a gold medal, and no one walked away any lesser of a person than upon arrival. I personally learned some things that I hope to post in my summary later on. Most of what I learned were reinforcements of assumptions I had already held regarding personal pursuits and ethics, and I'm not sure most people are going to agree with me. In fact, I expect a bit of a backlash, and my critics may be correct and it may turn out that my current beliefs are misguided, but I'm not so sure of that. As with anything, I'm sure there will be a little bit of pure disagreement mixed with a dash of inarticulation, with both shaken together with inexperience, ego, bold proclamations, and misiniformation to create a debate well worth thinking about. Oh well. That's life, and if part of our reason for being here isn't to learn and grow, well then, what the hell are we here for?

In the meantime, The Ramones spelled out essentially how I felt just moments before hopping in the car to Sacremento:

Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go
I wanna be sedated
Nothing to do, no where to go, oh
I wanna be sedated

Just get me to the airport, put me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry, before I go insane
I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain
Oh no oh oh oh oh

Just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry, before I go insane
I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain
Oh no oh oh oh oh

Just put me in a wheelchair, get me to the show
Hurry hurry hurry, before I go loco
I can't control my fingers, I can't control my toes
Oh no oh oh oh oh

Just put me in a wheelchair, get me to the show
Hurry hurry hurry, before I go loco
I can't control my fingers, I can't control my toes
Oh no oh oh oh oh

Ba-ba-baba, baba-ba-baba, I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-baba, baba-ba-baba, I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-baba, baba-ba-baba, I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-baba, baba-ba-baba, I wanna be sedated

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