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).


Jeremiah said...

Hey nice job on the climbs. You can't get all of them. If we finished off all our demons we wouldn't have anything to push towards in the future.

GB said...

That's a good point - life's challenges are never over until, well, it's over.

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