Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not So Shocking Lessons Learned: Chasing Demons in the Gunks - Part Three

The past weekend had turned into a mixed bag of extremes. First there was the frightful glory on CCK, but that came at the expense of waiting two hours for the final two pitches. And then there was the slaying of Main Line (5.8) and Hold the Mayo (5.9), but they were followed by the failure on Birdland (5.8+). We battled cool mornings, poor restaurant service, and were blessed with warm afternoons and good food. We suffered through an overcrowded Camp Slime, a Foo Fighters post-midnight serenade, crowds galore, but we were happy to have had such a nice, three-day weekend at our disposal. The only thing left was knocking off the ultra-classic Shockley's Ceiling before heading home.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Rocky: Chasing Demons in the Gunks - Part Two

The day before had been good to us, and I felt particularly strong when the morning sun finally warmed the life into me enough to allow me to rack up. "This will be my shot at personal glory," I thought while envisioning myself coming out of nowhere to conquer climbs that had previously held me down. "This weekend will be a success, and I will not fall."

Near Trapps

Main Line (5.8) - Two Pitches - Trad - Mixed Anchors

Approach: Walk about 20min from the Route 44/55 side where the path begins to a massive boulder leaning against the cliff. The boulder will have a crack going up the outer edge and a large "cave" about two-thirds of the way up where the boulder rests against the cliff. Main Line is the short, right-facing corner just left of a low roof that turns the into a left-facing corner about 10 feet up. This is about 40 feet before the massive boulder (to the right if facing the cliff).

Pitch One (5.7) - 100 Feet - Bolted Anchor - Greg Led

While it seems as if this was my weekend to break through on climbs that had stumped me, "Ratherbe" had one climb that had haunted her for a few months that she wanted to slay before the season ended. The last time she had climbed this, she fell at the crux on the second pitch, but it was merely a slip as a result of switching hands (she got the sequence wrong) and less of an actual fall that caused her to miss the onsight. As anyone can probably attest, a fall such as this is more likely to cause sleepless nights than one where it was the climb that pushed back the attempt. If you fall, then it was likely due to the route being too hard. But if you slip, then you know you could have nailed it, and she knew that she should have done this clean the first time because she went back up as the second (her and her partner wanted to switch the leads after climbing it the first time) and had no problems the second time around.

The only issue was her unusual inability to get over her morale funk from the previous day. We had waited two hours on the CCK ledge so that I could get a crack at that, and as a result we hardly got any climbing done. I felt that there was something different in her this day because her body language seemed to have fought back against her soul. It was her mind that hadn't accepted that the day would be different and, as a result, her confidence was shaky from the start.

Of course, like a #2 cyclist on any team, it was my job to tackle the first pitch and put her in a position to draft past me so that she could surge ahead and into the lead. I did just fine with my part. This pitch is not very difficult, though it may be a bit confusing near the top. Climb the initial right-facing corner to the roof, step left into the left-facing corner and climb that nearly to the top. You'll have to make a decision once you get closer to the top, as there are a couple of different ways to get to the ledge. The corner is apparently still at the grade, but I chose to step left and out onto the face. Either way, once you choose one or the other there's no going back, so be prepared to go once you've committed. Once on the small ledge, make sure you place a directional piece above the corner / face before continuing to the bolts on the right. There isn't much for gear here, but I believe I used a yellow Alien somewhere up above. This will help dramatically with protecting your second. The bolts are about 20 feet to the right of where the first pitch tops out.

Pitch Two (5.8) - 60 feet - Tree Anchor - "Ratherbe" led

"Ratherbe"'s mind had not yet come around to what the rest of her body was telling her, that she was not only ready for this, but she was going to excel. And so, just as I had racked quickly on CCK the day before, she pulled gear off the anchor, where I had sorted it for her, with only a muttering of how nervous she was. She wasn't going to let the climb get in the way before she started up, but when she was finished tossing the gear on her sling, she looked around as if she wanted more gear. Her head and hands each moved about as they were forgetting something, but, alas, there was nothing to forget. "That was quick," she said. She took a deep breath. "OK, up I go."

This pitch heads up the face on the right of the anchor to the roof, and then it traverses left on sparse gear before entering the notch (crux). Climb straight up through the notch and fade right on jugs before exiting left at the top.

I could tell she was nervous. I do admit that despite the fact I was convinced that she'd be fine due to her improved disposition, that I was concerned about her physical strength, and so was she, to be honest. She made it up the easy face and made a bit of a committing move to the holds just below the roof. I was actually ready for a fall at this point because she really struggled to gain this position and looked as if she needed to rest before moving forward. She breathed heavy, though, and maintained her composure. Her last piece was about two feet below her, so she really wanted to plug a cam at the crux, particularly since she wouldn't get another piece in for several more feet after that. She got the piece she wanted and looked as if she was ready for me to take in the rope, but I could tell that she that she also did not want to fall. After the previous day's morale crasher, a fall definitely would have sent her reeling the rest of the weekend. All of the other climbs to tackle this weekend were mine, and so this was her one shot to come away with the glory on a haunting money pitch. I told her to downclimb back to the nearest ledge to rest, and she nodded her head as if that was already in her plans. She was down and resting easily in less than a half minute. I was relieved because I didn't think for the life of me that she would have made it up through the notch if she hadn't retreated to rest. But she was still nervous, probably because simply going up to the crux has pumped her out enough to get into her head. But she didn't rest long, and before I knew it she was back up and fully committed in the notch. There was no backing down at this point, and I held my breath.

The crux of the climb is not the notch itself. At least that's how I see it. Sure, pulling up through the steepness is hard work and probably a bit scary considering how far above your gear you feel when making the committing moves. But the notch is very juggy with good opportunities to move your feet and hands high as you inch your way up. I never felt a moment of hopelessness when I finally got a chance to climb the notch itself, but I was well aware of the exposure of the crux just before getting to that spot. You see, the first jug is somewhat hidden and definitely out of view because the climber must come up to the roof, commit to a thin and weight-shifting undercling, and then hold onto to the undercling while peering around the corner and back up to the right somewhat before the jug comes into view. This really isn't so bad if one commits to the undercling with the left hand, but committing with the right hand will undoubtedly screw up the sequence and, as what happened to "Ratherbe" on her first attempt a few weeks earlier, spit the climber off while the climber changes hands. The other thing that is tricky is that the jug is somewhat of a long reach away from the undercling. I know all of this because I was fully extended reaching up to the jug (and I couldn't see it! - I just knew where it was as a result of watching "Ratherbe"). Any less extention would have required an even greater shift out left on thin feet. So imagine "Ratherbe", who is a few inches shorter than me, making that same transition from the undercling to the jug the first time she led it, especially since she didn't know what she climbing up to.

But it turned out that all was fine. Despite the fact that there were a few tense seconds, because I just wasn't sure when she was going to get to the actual crux (I didn't know where the crux was until after I had climbed it), she was never in a position where she was going to fall. In fact, her body language was so strong as she sprung up through the lieback and mini-mantle that I kept thinking that she hand't hit the hard part yet. But then there she was, a couple of moves above the notch and looking down at me with a thumbs-up sign and big old smile of success (see the pic by clicking the link at the bottom for all Gunks photos).

Descent: Rap off the tree at the top all the way to the bottom with two 60m ropes, or rap twice with one 60m rope by using the bolts at the top of the first pitch.

Hold the Mayo (5.9) - One Pitch - Trad - Gear Anchor - Greg Led

Approach: To the right of the large, A3 roof with fixed gear is a prow that is called Muriel's Nose (5.10a). To the right of the nose is a gully with a tree and a five-foot tall block behind the tree. You should see the traverse roof that is the bottom of the prow slightly to your left if standing at the tree. This route is about as far down the Near Trapps as you can go. Expect a 20-30min walk.

Hold the Mayo: While yesterday's challenge was purely mental, today's was purely physical. I had tried this route several weeks earlier as my first 'Gunks 5.9, and I chose it because it was G-rated and close to where we were climbing at the time. But unlike my previous attempt, I knew exactly where I was going and that meant I wasn't going to pump myself out on the early traverse like I had done before. I also had a plan this time, and I didn't reveal it to "Ratherbe" because I didn't think that she would have been a willing participant. In fact, I was sure that she would try to talk me out of it, and I didn't want to question myself when I got to the upper crux. I just wanted to go, and not worry about anything else at all.

It is best if both the climber and belayor scramble up to the top of the five-foot tall boulder to start the climb. Despite the small area on top of the boulder, this will give the belayor a much greater sight-line of the route and will allow for easier / safer catches if the leader falls (trust me, I know). From there, work up the thin slab to the upper right edge of the traverse that is directly below the nose. Fight through some of the bushes on the right to gain a nice side pull with the right hand and then step left on the higher-up low-angle slab. Using the lower crimps, pull yourself up to the traverse and work across until you exit at the base of a corner. Rest here. After resting, work up the corner to a roof, and then step right out on to the thin face. Work straight up the face (crux) for about 20 feet to a mantle ledge. Then work up the easy face climbing on the right to the top.

Its funny how we imagine things. After my fall, which you should really read about in order to gain some perspective of what I was facing (click here), I had imagined this climb over and over again, and each time I imagined it the climb became easier. I had the move into the traverse dialed in. The traverse itself flowed like water over a broken dam. The corner? Pftttt...a piece of cake. And the face itself? Well, since I now knew where to go, all that stood between me and the top was a complete failure of something I clearly hadn't considered, and it seemed as if I had considered everything. So you'd think that I'd be ready to fly upon getting there, but I'll tell you that when we finally got to the base of the gully I looked up and realized that I hadn't quite remembered the climb precisely as it was. The face leading up to the traverse seemed a bit thinner, the traverse a bit longer, and the nose directly above the traverse, despite not being on the actual climb, a bit more imposing. I was in an odd concoction of nervousness and confidence. I was going to do this, and I was going to climb it clean. It wasn't as if there was an option. I was simply confident that this was going down and that was that. But I was also worried that I was going to get up on the climb and not remember things correctly, that I was going to be more pumped than I anticipated, that I was going to slip and fall at the point in my plan that I did not want to reveal to "Ratherbe". Again, like the day before, I was faced with a choice of either walking away or going. Well, I had left "Ratherbe" on the CCK ledge for two hours the day before, and we had walked all this way partially to satisfy my desires to knock this route off. I wasn't walking away, and so I roped up and headed up to the traverse.

Well, this was thinner than I remembered, but I handled it just fine. Part of the reason why I had fallen last time was because I was so damn pumped from finding the start of the route. That wasn't going to be the case this time. It took me a couple of seconds to get the courage to step up into the bushes to grab the side pull, but once I did it, and as soon as I flipped my left foot up onto the slab, I knew I wasn't going to be stopped. The traverse felt so easy this time that I hardly believed it to be a 5.9 let alone the crux. And I was also happily able to exit the final part of the traverse without slipping and banging my shin as I had done my previous two attempts (first as the leader and then as the second after the fall). So at this point, all was going well.

I then rested for a couple of minutes and headed up the corner to the roof. Again, this went swimmingly. The only problem I had here was that I almost killed a large stick bug who just wouldn't get out of the way of my flagging left foot (he lived, so don't call the SPCI please). I got to the corner and plugged a cam before resting again. This was the crux in my mind, and what I had done last time was to step out right and lunge for the horizontal crack above. Once there, I plugged a cam and rested, only to find that I was completely pumped and watching a #1 Camalot slipping out of the crack due to the rotten rock around it. Well, this time I wasn't going to plug that cam. And this time I wasn't going for the jugs on the traverse to the right. This time, once I turned the corner, I was going to the top - no gear, no resting, nothing but climbing. I wasn't going to make the mistake of pumping myself out before I could finish, and there was no other goal but to make it to the top without falling.

This was obviously what I did not want to tell "Ratherbe". I knew she was going to try to convince me to plug gear, and she had many good reasons for this. The first is that when I fell the first time I fell about 20-25 feet, and that left me only about 15 feet above the ledges near the left of the traverse. But the gear on this fall was about five feet higher than what my last piece was going to be this time. That meant any fall from higher up was going to send me directly to the emergency room with a broken leg. I guess the other reason was that I had already proven my willingness to fall on this route, and she didn't want to have to rescue me, walk all the way out to the end of Nears in search of help who would have to walk all the way in to get to me, and carry me all the way out. Certainly, it was not something to look forward to. But I knew two things that she didn't know (though I revealed one to her as I began climbing again): 1) that the crux for me was actually the very first couple of moves after stepping right onto the face, thus close to my highest point of gear, and; 2) that I wasn't going to fall this time.

I leaned out from under the roof and inspected the face before I went. I really thought I was going to be nervous here, because this required a very committing move off thin feet (well, one thin foot to be precise) and thin hands. I wanted to do this statically, but I just couldn't see how. The move requires stepping out on good hands to a single very, thin foot jib on the right, and then moving your hands up to two not-so-very-stable crimps that do not allow your body position to fully utilize your right foot. From there, you flag your left foot in the air and move up about two feet to a horizontal crack, all the while fighting was feels like a slight overhang. I told "Ratherbe" to watch me here due to this being my crux, and I turned to my trusted technique of stepping into the moves and moving off them to find the right body position and stepping back down before committing. I did this several times, but it wasn't out of fear that drove me to downclimb each time; it was more because the moves just didn't feel right and I wanted to ensure that I didn't screw this up. I kept going back and forth merely as a scientific approach to find the best balance position -I wanted to try and eliminate every thing that wouldn't work and, most of all, to not pump myself out by making a mistake down low. This was all a part of my plan. I would conserve energy getting into the traverse, and move quickly through that so that I wouldn't be pumped before entering the corner. I was going to give myself the right amount of rest before climbing the corner, climb the corner, test the moves on the thin face out to the right, and then use every ounce of my remaining energy to run it out to the top. And when I finally felt comfortable enough to go, that's exactly what I did. I stepped out onto the face, got myself into position, counted one, two, three - and went for crack. I didn't hit the crack square on, but I was able to bump my hands a couple of times and find the jug I knew was there. I thought for only a split moment of plugging a cam, but it didn't take me long to realize that I was completely resting on one arm and no feet. I had to make the lunge to the next horizontal crack, which was about 18 inches above the one I was in. It was going to take another dynamic move, but I was committed and I gained it with ease. My hands and feet were now each on solid ground, and again I thought about plugging gear. But I felt the blood surging through my forearms and I decided that the sloper I had mysteriously seen the last time I led this wasn't going to scare me this time around. I shifted my feet up higher again, found another solid hold, heard "Ratherbe" shout a few lines of encouragement, and snagged the mantle ledge confidently. I was in a very strong position, but I was also getting pumped, too. I'm not sure why the mantle seemed easy before I got into it, but I took it rather lackadaisically and almost fell when I didn't turn my weight up on my first attempt. I backed down, breathed a couple of times and went up a second time. Again, I couldn't throw my weight up onto my wrists, and I found the surrounding rock to be useless ("Ratherbe" did not, as she used a small, horizontal flake to pull up when she came up). "Fuck I'm tired," I said to myself. My chest was heaving and my arms were starting feel the strain. I even felt my head go light for a few seconds, and I was legitimately worried that I wasn't going to make it. I wanted to just sit back and rest on my feet, but the face was steep enough to not allow me a no-hands rest. I looked down and remembered just how far above my gear I was: at least 15 feet, and the ledge that was below my last piece of gear was about the same distance below that. If I fell here then I was definitely going to deck. There was no way around it. I had to use as much of my remaining energy to get up onto this ledge, and so I took three, slow, deep breaths and, hearing "Ratherbe"'s shouts from below, put everything I had into the final push. It took me about 10 seconds to finally get my foot up, but once I did, I stood and nearly collapsed on the upper face in front of me. I breathed a few more deep breaths before I decided that it was finally time to place a piece of gear for the final 10 feet of the climb. It wasn't a great piece, but I'm glad it was there because despite the fact that this upper part is probably 5.6 climbing, it felt like 5.9 the rest of the way. Each move required every last ounce of energy I had. I felt like a camera with dying batteries - each time you shut it off you can turn it back on and get one more picture in, before it dies for good several clicks later.

Oh yeah, and when I finally got to the top, well, remember that shout from the day before? This one topped that - "FUUCCCKKKKKKKKKKKK YEAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! YEAH! YEAH! YEAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOHOOOOYEAH!!!!"

Descent: From the top, either walk right toward the Main Line rap station (noted above) or walk off left. I recommend walking off left, as it is easy and takes no more than a couple of minutes.

Birdland (5.8+) - Two Pitches - Mixed Anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led

Approach: Birdland is about a ten-minute walk from the Route 44/55 road and is the right-hand face in a stemmy book-end. A crack that runs up to an awkward roof splits the two faces on the left. It is on the left of an obvious arrete that runs about half-way up the cliff, and it will very likely be busy here, as it and the surrounding routes are all popular.

Birdland: The last time we were here, "Ratherbe" led the first pitch and I hung on the second pitch, and she had taken a fall on the second pitch the previous time that she had climbed it before that. Because we both had either rested or fallen on the second pitch, this made Birdland a demon for both of us, but I hadn't led the first pitch yet, and so it made sense for me to climb that and to let her have the second pitch. But when we got to the base, we found there to be a line waiting to go up. This was fine because we kind of wanted lunch and I was still a bit pumped from the previous climb, but as we waited for two hours the day before, we waited an hour for the team in front of us to get up through this pitch (oddly, they flew up the second pitch, which I consider to be the crux pitch). When it was finally my turn to head up, I had lost all strength and ambition. It's too bad, too, because I really felt as if I was going to knock off all of my demons that weekend, but it was not to be.

Climbing this route requires a solid set of cajones, which was something I seemed to have left at the other end of the Nears on Hold the Mayo. To start, climb up the bouldery moves just right of the corner and fade right where the horizontal crack comes into play (the bouldery start is actually a bit easier to transition to the crack than starting in the corner). Then find the path of least resistance, clipping the spread out pins along the way. Just to let you know, the distance between the second and third pin is a bit intimidating, and a fall here could lead to a ground fall.

Well, I did OK getting up to the second pin, but once I got to the moves above that, I lost all memory of what I was supposed to do. I tried over and over again to climb straight up the thin finger pods to the right and the off-angle, sloping crimps to the left, but I couldn't find any decent feet and I couldn't trust my ability at this point to get me through this tricky crux. I even tried going out left a couple of times, but I never saw the sequence that had got me up the first time. I downclimbed several times before I decided to just go for it, but not without plugging some extra gear first. Unfortunately, there is a reason why this section only has pins; because there isn't much else to plug. The only places where I could possibly find gear were the two finger pods on the right, and they were both too flaring to plug good gear in. But, as a result of my inability to do math (more on that in a minute), I plugged a cam in the lower pod and a micronut in the upper pod. The cam had only three cams activated, and one of the three was only just rubbing up against the rock. I did my best, but it was too flaring on all ends (in and out, up and down) to get a good fit, and so this was only going to be used as a backup if I fell on the nut that I had placed in the pod above. That nut, as you can see from the photo, had almost no surface area because that pod was also too flaring in all directions to secure a tight fit.

And now for the math. Let's say that the second pin is 20 feet up, and the third pin is 12 feet above that. If you fall while your hands are at the third pin (with your rope / waist about three feet below that = nine feet above the pin), then you'll likely fall about 18 feet depending on slack and stretch in the rope. While you'll probably deck, there's a chance that you won't. Now let's say that the badly placed nut was at waist level when at the third pin (again nine feet). That's 29 feet of rope that is out, the same as before, except this time if you fall then you're falling only a foot below the nut. This sounds OK, right? Now what if the nut then pulled upon body weight being applied to it? Well, then you're falling the nine original feet plus the extra foot after the fall, and then the nine feet below the nut = 19 feet. Factor in stretch and you're hitting the ground a lot faster than you expect. In short, it's stupid to plug gear in these pods. They aren't great and if they blow on a fall, then you're going to be hurting.

Well, I was about to quit when "Ratherbe" reminded me of a quirky mantra that I go by. For some reason, whenever I say, "OK, this is my last try. If I don't get it, then I'm coming down," I always end up getting it. When she reminded me of this, I decided to give it one full, all-out try. After all, if I said those words then I was destined to make it up, right? Wrong. I made that desperate try and, just as I started to gain some traction, my right foot slipped and down I went. I was so afraid that the nut was going to pull, and then then cam, then every muscle in my body as they unsuccessfully tried to protect my bones from breaking on the ground, that I grabbed into space to try to grab onto a ledge on the way down. Unfortunately, the space between my left pinky and ring finger caught the rope, and a terrible burn ripped up the soft tissue separating the fingers. That was the second time I've had rope burn, but that was the least of my worries. I hadn't grabbed onto a ledge and that meant that the nut was either going to hold or fail. I waited, waited, cringed and... ...felt my body lurch forward into the rock and hang on seemingly nothing. It took me less than a second to realize that the nut had held, but I didn't want to tempt fate by moving around so much as to wiggle it out. I looked nervously down at "Ratherbe" and said, "lower me very, very slowly and very, very smoothly." She did just that, and while I was practically crapping my pants, I was happy to be getting closer to the ground. Of course, this meant that if the nut went at any moment that I would have the most rope out that I'd had the entire climb. If it went now, then there was nothing stopping me from hitting the deck. The only thing that kept me sane was the knowledge that if it did fail that maybe the cam would hold instead. Well, just as I got back to the easier section of the climb, I felt something hit me in the helmet and plop down in my lap. I was stunned at first because I didn't expect to get hit by loose rock. It turned out that my instincts were somewhat accurate because instead of rock hitting me on the head, it was the cam instead. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Stop. Holy shit. OK, that was my cam. That was my backup. Shit. OK. Um. I'm downclimbing." I was lucky to have been in a good spot to downclimb from that point on, as I was able to do so with relative ease, but for a few brief moments I thought for the third time that day that I was going to be hauled out.

So that left us with gear on the rock and me unable to climb. It was now getting dark, and so "Ratherbe" went up to the top and brought me up afterward (leaving me to clean the nut, which, by the way, didn't come out very easily despite its lack of surface area). We decided that it was too late to do the second pitch and therefore bailed after only one pitch. I was bummed. I was hurt, bummed, and satisfied all at the same time. This is why I named the thread "My Rocky." I had done so much to succeed early in the day, and even the day before, against the odds that had shut me down before that I felt unstoppable against the toughest routes I had faced all summer long. But alas, just like Rocky, I didn't win the day, because, despite the punches that I threw, the rock threw a few back at me and kept me from having the moment of my summer (or Rocky's life). It was a draw, and while that's not all I wanted in the end, that's what I'm happy to carry with me at the end of the day. One can only wish so much. Sometimes challenges are conquered, and sometimes they stick around for another fight. But, unlike in the movie, when Apollo Creed tells Rocky that there won't be a rematch, I guarantee that I will get back in the ring with this route again next summer.

Descent: Rapping off the first pitch is easy with a single 60m rope. Just rap off the bolt anchors.

Click here for all 2008 'Gunks routes (newest are first).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Running in Place: Chasing Demons in the Gunks - Part One

We all have demons. They live not just among us but within us, and they torture us from the inside and out such that when we're so outwardly mean and cruel that failure as punishment is merely a destination on the way to destiny itself. This was the first day to tackle those demons that had haunted me for over a year, and I firmly grasped the opportunity knowing that the cold weather would soon set in, ultimately forcing me to retire to the gym for months of thinking "what if" if I didn't seize the moment otherwise.

I've climbed much more frequently the past two years than I had since I first started climbing a decade ago. I had many successes and many more failures along the way. The successes were great to have in my back pocket. But when the jeans were worn and not well taken care of, the fabric of life, so to speak, those successes began to harden and crumble, as if they were shreds of paper that had carelessly gone through the wash, and fall through the rips in the seams so that the true story of what happened on those days could never be fully pieced together again.

The failures didn't bother me at first. They were just there, sitting on a dusty shelf as artifacts of things I had never bothered to finish. But then my life started to change. My marriage broke down, money became tight, work was less inspiring, my writing was terrible, and I had no time for myself despite the fact that I was finally learning who it was I wanted to be. So then I started going climbing, just to get away. And that's all it was at first; a moment spent with friends out and away from the hectic obligations of city life. I'm a small town guy by origin, and the personal space made me feel calm and relaxed, just as I was as a child walking along the Shore Path in Bar Harbor, Maine. I became more focused, and when each grain of static was turned into clarity, both my happiness and frustrations magnified. It was a painful period for me, and I'm not entirely sure that I've fought my way out of it yet.

I began to think about this weekend as it approached. So many mistakes had to be corrected. I was honestly scientific when I thought about tackling these routes that I had failed so miserably on in so many ways. There was my emotional breakdown on CCK (5.7), my 20-foot whipper on Hold the Mayo (5.9), my lack of courage on Shockley's Ceiling (5.6) and Son of Easy Overhang (5.8), my lack of ability on Birdland (5.8+) and Recompense (5.9), and a complete lack of route finding ability on Paralysis (5.8), which led to a deck-fall, and Oscar and Charlie's Linkup (5.7). If I just approached these climbs as I would my approach to work (in a get up and go face the day kind of way), then I could tackle these routes and be done with them for good with no emotion attached to the experience. I felt as I had the day I stepped on to the Old Course in Saint Andrews, Scotland for the first time: my friend suggested I not take a picture because that would replace the memory of being there. I wanted to have been there by the end of the weekend, and that is what drove me.
The Trapps

Something Interesting (5.7+) - Two Pitches - Trad - Mixed Anchors

Approach: Take the second trail on the left after the East Trapps Connector Trail. Head right and uphill at the top, and find the right-leaning crack that starts in a right-facing corner between two trees, with the right-hand tree on the ground and the left one growing out of the cliff above.

Pitch One (5.7+) - 140 feet - Gear Anchor - "Ratherbe" led

Just because this was a demon-slaying weekend that doesn't mean the warriors didn't need a warm-up to get the blood flowing first thing that cool morning. While I've never been diagnosed, and I doubt that I do, in fact, suffer, my fingers and toes often numb beyond the point practical use in cool weather. This is often blamed as Raynaud's Phenomenon, and I am particularly affected by any temps below 60F, especially when climbing. Simply put, I can't even grab and hold onto 5.3 jugs effectively, and retrieving gear can be the most painful event of the climb. The temps this weekend were supposed to be in the mid to upper 60s, but with temps hovering in the mid 40s overnight, I knew it was going to take some time before the temps, and thus my fingers, warmed up enough for me to be able to conquer any climb, regardless of fire-breathing dragons waiting for me nearby. As is customary for me under such conditions, I urged "Ratherbe" to take the first lead, and this is the route she decided to warm up on.

This was a good start to the day. The climbing was fairly easy and route-finding a breeze: just follow the crack as it fades up to the right to the GT Ledge. If one wants to rap from here, there is apparently a rap station to the left. But to head to the top, be sure to belay from the small, left-facing corner so as to allow better access to the second pitch.

Pitch Two (5.7+) - 90 feet - Bolted Anchor - Greg Led

This felt much easier than the first pitch to me, despite the grades being the same. "Ratherbe" didn't feel the same as I did, but that may be how we each approached the start. This pitch starts in the left-facing corner and goes up a bit to a roof, steps right around the roof, then traverses up and left to the massive right-facing corner above. It is the first few moves up to the roof that supposedly makes the grade, but I found that doing a more direct start (the right side of the corner) versus starting deeper in the corner to the left made the transition out on to the face rather simple. Now, to be fair, the moves off the ledge on the direct line may look a bit dynamic without any pro to protect the first six feet or so. The left-hand start allows for easier movement early on and gives one a good stance to place gear before moving right and out from under the roof, so I can see why someone would want to climb the deeper start. I didn't do that, though, and found the route to be more 5.7-, particularly with the very easy climbing after that.

Descent: We rapped off the bolted anchors at the top all the way down with two 60m ropes. You can probably get down with two raps with a 60m rope but will likely need three raps with a 50m rope.

Cascading Crysal Kaleidoscope (5.7+) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors

Approach: Walk quite a ways down the carriage road to the Andrew Boulder (the boulder that overhangs the path and provides a nice, shady roof and often has boulders swarming it). Take the first path after the boulder and, at the top of the path, go right and up to a massive right-facing corner.

Pitch One (5.5) - 140 feet - "Ratherbe" led

And it was time. I was scared out of my wits. I knew exactly what had happened that day last year with "Jello" and "Obvious" and I wasn't convinced that the crux pitch, the third pitch, had changed over the course of the year. Had I changed? Very likely, but what had changed in me was not yet determined, and if I hadn't changed enough to be able to get through this, well, then I was about to have another meltdown.

The first pitch is rather easy, but it is a bit runout at the start. Be prepared to make some committing moves at the grade without good pro if you're leading this pitch. Start at the short, left-facing corner / ramp that is about 10 feet right of the corner (probably at the peak of the small hill that the path follows). Once up a bit higher, you'll find another left-facing corner that is to the right of a shallow roof, and you'll probably look at the face directly above and see no opportunity for gear. Well, even if you head into the corner, there's little or no gear there, too. I will say that I think the climbing is actually easier going straight up the face to the roof than it is to go up the corner and stepping left to the roof. One can then place a small cam just below the roof to protect the next couple of moves. From there, climb past the bulge (crux) to a rust-colored roof before finishing at the GT Ledge.

As with the time before, this pitch offered no problems for me. "Ratherbe" had a bit of difficulty finding gear, but I didn't feel as if she struggled at all with regards to climbing. While she was climbing, however, a group of three guys told us that there was a crowd of about six people at the GT Ledge, and there was a log jam trying to get on both the last pitch of CCK and Updraft (5.5). This is because the second pitch of CCK and Updraft are the same pitch, with CCK stopping at some ratty slings midway up. It is very difficult for anyone to climb past the CCK anchor if on Updraft, so it wasn't as if there were multiple parties climbing over each other. We figured that there was going to be a wait.

Pitch Two - (5.5) - 60 feet - "Ratherbe" led

I want to be clear that this description and grade is different from the Dick Williams guidebook, The Climber's Guide to Shawangunks: The Trapps. The Williams guide states that this is 5.7, and that the route starts up quite a bit more to the right and traverses left across the face back to midway up Updraft. I tried finding this the last time, and was completely pumped and psyched out after trying to pull the roof that is just up right of the large rappel tree on the ledge. Maybe we just read the route wrong, but on that day last year we were advised by folks who had climbed in the 'Gunks their entire life (and even knew Dick Williams) that they were confused why he wrote the second pitch the way he did. They told us that nobody did that variation and instead climbed up Updraft itself in the corner to the slings. So this is what "Ratherbe" did, but not until we waited over two hours for a third person on a party of three to clean gear out of Updraft (took him about 30 minutes), and another party of three to go up to the anchors of the second pitch and then take pictures on the third pitch of CCK. Two hours! Sure, we could have bailed, but at this point, this was a goal climb and I was ready to take it on. I felt badly for "Ratherbe" because her morale was declining by the minute, but I was glad that she was willing to stick it out. Naturally, this put more pressure on me to actually do the pitch. I looked up at the pitch from the ledge and gulped. My vantage point provided me with the same information that I already had: that the third pitch was thin, and had no feet that I could see whatsoever.

Pitch Three (5.7+) - 50 feet - Greg Led

From the slings, step down to a small ledge to your right, then work across the thin feet and hands to the flake / crack (clip the pin and plug a small cam - I think I used a yellow Alien). Move up to the base of the roof and then traverse right on hands to the ledge around the corner. Bring some large gear (#3 Camalot if I remember correctly) for the sparse anchor (there's really no need for there not to be bolts here. I mean really, you're building an anchor by slinging a chockstone and plugging a loose flake. The trees are too far away to make a decent anchor without rope drag, and if anyone rapped off then he or she would only marginally be in the way of climbers doing the finish. They certainly wouldn't be in the way of anyone on the crux).

I got up to the anchor and refused to look at the climb. I wanted to focus on getting the rest of the gear off "Ratherbe"'s harness first so that I could just turn around and go. No thinking. No strategizing. Just grab and go, or at least that's how I wanted to happen. The good thing was that I wasn't feeling any anxiety as I worked my way up the juggy corner that caused me to not enjoy this pitch. In fact, I think any anxiety that I was feeling was causing me to overly enjoy the climbing up to the anchor. I tried to block out the fear of watching the party before us while on the ledge below. They looked like such beginners who were taking each move step-by-step, as if they weren't aware of the danger they faced, as if they were just told to go and they trusted that nothing bad could come from leading this pitch. There was nothing smooth about how they bumped each hand and foot over without ever gracefully crossing limbs. In fact, every move over to the flake looked to be a crux. And when they got to the flake, the real crux, they sailed right up what appeared to be nothing. Is that a crack? I thought to myself? Thin moves to a crack?

As I approached the anchor, an odd thing happened to me. The song I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls popped into my head and it made me happy. This isn't so bizarre because I've been known to get songs stuck in my head while climbing, and this is well known because I can't sing worth a lick and am constantly reminded of this. Usually, though, the songs that get stuck in my head are songs like: Lost Cause by Beck, Heaven by Warrant, or Darker by the Day by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They're all songs about, well, being out of control, death, a great loss, and there's no reason why these songs pop into my head when they do. They're just there, and I sing them to myself while belaying, walking from climb to climb, or waiting for other parties ahead of me to move on. But to sing a song while climbing, and to sing one that was making me happy to the point that I almost burst out laughing, was just so odd. And the song was about running away!

I walked along the avenue.
I never thought I'd meet a girl like you;
Meet a girl like you.
With auburn hair and tawny eyes;
The kind of eyes that hypnotize me through;
Hypnotize me through.

I arrived at the anchor and immediately turned away from the traverse. I situated myself below where "Ratherbe" was anchored and started to mindlessly rack up. I picked out all 12 of her draws and slings and threw them onto my chest sling without really organizing them like I normally do. I noticed my hand was shaking, and so I moved it away from the gear on my sling to the gear on "Ratherbe"'s sling quickly to ground it from vibrating anymore.

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldn't get away.

Moving to rack up quickly was exactly the opposite of what I wanted at this point. I know that I said I wanted to rack and go, but the closer I got to the moment of truth the more I wanted to just relax. Well, that's not entirely honest. I didn't want to relax so that I could breathe easily. I wanted to relax because I was afraid, and I wanted to put off the moment of truth forever; I wanted to just sit there in Purgatory, waiting for my soul to ready me for the ascent to the top so that I didn't have to make the difficult choice to do so myself.

A cloud appears above your head;
A beam of light comes shining down on you,
Shining down on you.
The cloud is moving nearer still.
Aurora borealis comes in view;
Aurora comes in view.

And then I went. My nerves were shaking my insides to the point of soulful epilepsy. I felt out of control. I've backed off climbs before, but it is rarely out of fear exclusively. There also tends to be an ability factor rolled in at the same time. I'll try the crux moves of a route and go and go until I come to the conclusion that I just don't have it in me on that day to go up. I'm afraid of falling, there's no disputing that, but I'm rarely afraid of making forward movement, and this time I was petrified.

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldnt get away.

I've always said that I was a crimps climber. I've always noted that I love thin face moves and prefer the feeling of being on my fingers versus jammed with my fists. I've always said this, and I'm wrong. Well, I'm partially wrong. I really don't enjoy cracks that much, even though, thanks to "Jello"'s tutorials, I've started to become more confident in my jamming ability, so I'm not wrong in saying that I prefer face climbs over cracks. But I've never really been honest when saying this, because I've come across routes the past year or so where I longed to be on something more solid than the thin fingers and toes that I was moving from. I've even found myself practically paralyzed by the puzzle set out above me on routes that I really shouldn't have been anything less than gung-ho for. The truth is that I don't like anything hard. OK. There. I admit it. I don't like anything hard, and what is particularly difficult for me to handle are routes without good feet. I really rely on good feet, and I never felt solid on the traverse to the crack. Sure, the holds were there. Everything was there, but I wanted to get the hell off that route as fast as I could. I could just sense something bad was about to happen, and the fact that I had nothing to hold onto if tragedy struck me or "Ratherbe" caused my neck and jaw to choke up. No, I wasn't about to cry (I wasn't even close), but I felt a certain sense of hopelessness that told me there was nothing I could do - "Just walk across and have the courage to meet your destiny," a voice said to me as I approached the crack.

Reached out a hand to touch your face;
Youre slowly disappearing from my view;
Disappearing from my view.
Reached out a hand to try again;
Im floating in a beam of light with you;
A beam of light with you.

I should also note that I've had the firm belief that I'm going die a young, dramatic, and completely uncontrollable death. I've dreamt this a million times over to the point where I sometimes noticeably shudder and cringe. I've been in a completely calm conversation as I've walked down a sidewalk before when, let's say, the image of an approaching car suddenly swerves out of control and careens into me such that I've only got a split second to react flashes in front of my eyes. I'm serious. I've jumped six feet in the air with what's left of my hair standing on end for what appears to be no reason whatsoever. Often times this has scared my current companions to the point where they feel threatened by some unknown action that I noticed and they hadn't. Is it too obvious to then say that I've dreamt a million times of falling wildly into open air with only the slighest chance of saving myself? It's why I don't like falling into mid air, the softest and safest of falls (but it's also odd that I don't mind exposure either. In fact, I normally really like exposure. It's just the lack of control when facing a fall that I don't like). But notice the hint not so subtly buried in there: the courage to trust, to have faith, to not have to rely on just me holding on, because there's always a split chance that I could save myself in these dreams. Sometimes I do save myself, and sometimes I don't. Often times its those moments when I don't save myself that I feel as if God is testing me to always be prepared for the unexpected. It's as if He's taking me at my weakest moment and flashing me with an image of doom and disaster just to see how I'll react. I swear, one of these days I won't just jump with raised hair; I'll actually react by ducking away from the speeding bullet that's flying toward my head. And then will I really be saving myself or merely the sidewalk laughingstock?

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldnt get away.

I hit the flake and noticed that while it offered huge holds, the tiny ledges I had just traversed my feet across had faded away into a blank, mirror-like darkness before me. The pro was a couple of feet below me with my next piece uncomfortably one move above me. And that one move required trusting no feet on a committing throw to a nice hold at the pin above. I prayed to myself (yes, I do this sometimes. I know how weird that sounds, but it really helps to calm me) and figured I had two options: quit and die, or go up and face God's death. Which would it be: "Fuck you I'm doing it my way?" or "Well, If I'm going to die and you control Heaven, then I might as well do it your way until I get there myself?" I chose the second option, stepped up, clipped the pin, scurried right across the thin face, reached up to a jug under the roof with my left hand, squared up, shot up to the ledge, and yelled, "YEAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" The whole valley must have stood still upon my shout as if it were waiting for me to be judged, and then I was. The valley's silence then ceased, a swell of confidence filled my chest, and I plugged my anchor to bring "Ratherbe" up.

Descent: Walk right about 40 feet to a faint notch in the path on the right. Scramble down two levels and find the bolts on the right. Two 60m ropes will get you down in one rap. Anything less requires rapping down to the GT Ledge and rap off the anchors on the left.

Lichen 40 Winks (5.7+) - Two Pitches - Tree Anchor - "Ratherbe" led

Approach: Take the third path on the left after the Andrew Boulder (about a 15min walk after the Rescue Box). At the top of the path, find the roof that should be straight in front of you.

Lichen 40 Winks: Climb the face left of the roof to the GT Ledge. It was now "Ratherbe"'s choice of route considering we had waited for so long on the GT Ledge of CCK. She had initially chosen Directissima (5.9) but slipped at the start and didn't feel comfortable enough to continue on. Because we were in the High Exposure (5.6) area, the place was as crowded as expected, and so she chose Lichen 40 Winks as the final climb for the day. I can't say much about this route, though, because I don't think we did this correctly. Instead of heading up to the pine tree that was off to the left, "Ratherbe" continued past that to a tree with a hanging belay / rap station off to the right. In all, it was a nice climb and regardless of the variation, I really enjoyed the moves. I was told by some passersby that this route often needs to be cleaned each year because no one ever gets on it. I think that's too bad because the movement and line both felt fluid and comfortable (I guess it's these kinds of crimps that I prefer), even if it was a variation of the actual route not listed in the guidebook.

Descent: We were able to rap off our variation anchor with two 60m ropes. I am sure that one could rap twice with a shorter rope because I believe Ant's Line (5.9), which was right below us, finishes on a bolted anchor midway down.

That was the end of the first day of the weekend of chasing demons. We then proceeded to meet up with some friends to watch the Red Sox get pounded in Game Two of the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays. While this day wasn't as kind to "Ratherbe"'s morale, it was very kind to me, and I couldn't wait to tackle two more of my demons the next day along with one of "Ratherbe"'s.

Click here for Gunks photos from 2008 (newest are first).