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.


Shockley's Ceiling (5.6) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors
Approach: Take the second left after the East Trapps Connector Trail, which goes down to the right. You should find at the top of the path a small left-facing corner just to the left of the wide and massive right-facing corner to the right. The short corner works up to another right-facing / flake that is the top of the first pitch.
Pitch One (5.4) - 50 feet - Gear Anchor - "Blow" led
"Ratherbe" and I had our goals for the weekend, but we were there with a couple of friends who also had their goals, too. The past two days had been a mixture of success and disappointment for all four of us. The weather and crowds had somewhat complied with our dreams of a fantastic and potential final summer outing, but we were tired and all of us wanted to get home before the slogging traffic that we knew was going to jam up I-90 eastbound built the normally four-hour drive to five hours and above (as it had been on the westbound side Friday evening). There wasn't much on anyone's plate after such a great weekend except for one of my final demons: Shockley's. It didn't take much to convince everyone that should be our final push of the weekend, and so we headed off to one of the most classic climbs in the 'Gunks.
Shockley's is one of the great climbs at the 'Gunks. I think it ranks nearly as highly as High Exposure in fame and maybe just as much in disappointment. Don't get me wrong, they're both ultra-classics that absolutely need to be done, but they're also so hyped up that one will undoubtedly be disappointed upon clearing the final moves. I had only attempted Shockley's once before, and that was during a cold spring weekend when "Ratherbe" and I first tied in together. I was cold and out of shape then, both physically and mentally, and neither of us were able to clear the famed roof that day. But despite my failure of Birdland the day before, I was still feeling fairly confident in my ability. It turned out that our friends, "Blow" and "Caboose", were also game to give this great climb a go. We were all excited about it, particularly "Blow" and "Caboose" because neither of them had been up it before. It was going to be a two-team assault, with "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" doing the Strictly-to-Shockley's (5.8) link-up and "Blow" ready to catch me on the final pitch crux that is the roof. We were the second and third team to arrive, as one party ahead of us was just starting up while we racked. The goal was to meet at the crux pitch, ascend one right after the other, and then descend together before heading off for lunch and the long drive back to Boston.
"Blow" took the first pitch, which climbs the small corner to the left of the massive corner and heads straight up to the wide chimney / flake that is the last section of this pitch. Belay at the top of the flake if you want to stop here. Otherwise, if you have two ropes, it is possible to link the first two pitches together. "Blow" had a somewhat difficult time with the upper section, and so he smartly set an anchor below the flake and brought me up. Another party had come up the path behind us at this point, and with "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" not far behind us on Strickley's, well, we knew there was going to be a logjam at some point if we didn't all move. We could only hope that the party above us moved at a good pace as well.
Pitch Two (5.5) - 120 Feet - Gear Anchor - Greg led
I screwed this pitch up and bit, and I don't recommend doing what I did. I was supposed to head up right to the right-facing corner, climb the corner for about 10 to 15 feet and then step left before finishing at a small ledge about thirty feet below the roof. I did most of that, except I forgot to step left and found myself too far right in a place where the climbing was considerably more difficult and the rock more fragile. I really couldn't down-climb at this point and going straight up wasn't an option, so I decided to continue right through a sketchy traverse without any gear. I say this as if it was scary, because it was, but only just a little. If I had fallen then I would have simply swung on a bomber cam placement, but that doesn't take away from the stupidity of my adventure. I finally managed to get to a series of jugs and was able to place some gear above the traverse so as to protect "Blow" when he came through, but I was a good twenty feet right of the belay station at the corner, which was exactly where the next party was still sitting. I didn't have much room for building an anchor, but I knew that "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" were waiting for me to figure out how much room there really was before they climbed behind "Blow". When I finally started to bring him up, I basically told "Ratherbe" that she either had to wait a while or climb past us to another ledge and wait there. Of course, by this time, the party behind us was on its way up faster than expected, mainly because they decided to link the first and second pitch together. Sound like a mess so far? Well, it gets better. Remember the party above us? Yeah, they decided to split the final pitch into two pitches (which is recommend in the book, but really, it's unnecessary). I didn't get a picture of this pitch from below (sorry about that), but you can see from my vantage point after going up the third pitch a ways (only to have to sit and wait for the party above to move) that there was quite a party at the top of the second pitch.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 100 Feet (combining the last two pitches) - Tree Anchor - Greg led
This was a total cluster fuck of a mess. There was a party above us who had decided to split the last 100 feet into two 50-foot pitches because they weren't familiar with rope signals (OK, to be fair, the second was a total newbie who hadn't been climbing in years. The leader was doing the right thing, but it caused a serious logjam for about 20 minutes), and the party behind us decided not to split the first two pitches. Of course, we were just as much a part of the problem as everyone else because we had two parties converging at essentially the same spot at the same time. But hey, we all worked it out. Once "Ratherbe" saw how crowded my belay ledge, she climbed past us to another spot. And once I saw the fourth party linking the first and second pitches together, I headed up toward the roof. Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo to the right, I had a to wait a bit for the first party to break down their anchor and head up. But once they did, I started planning my revenge on the route that had started my ticklist for 2008.
From the anchor, head up right to the obvious crack that starts on a ledge and is to the right of the right-facing corner. Head up the crack to a pin below the roof, plug a cam in the roof, and find the awkward high step to clear the first crux of the pitch. From there, head up to the next roof, step right, and clear that before finishing straight up to the top.
The last time I had attempted this was with great frustration and effort. I was really afraid of falling, and so I did my typical climb up and check the holds out before committing routine. I must have gone up and down 15 times before I finally turned around and saw "Ratherbe" shivering in the sunless corner, patiently waiting for me to move or give up. At that point, I knew I wasn't going to get over the roof, and so I down-climbed to give her a shot. She went up and gave it a couple of shots (falling once) before giving up, too, and so we finished on Shockley's Without (5.3) to end our day. But this time it was different. I already knew that there was a jug (i.e. - a large hand-ledge, nothing to curl your fingers around) on the left that would allow me to pull up and at least see the holds above the roof. I had loved this hold from the first time I had felt it, but the difficult part is moving off the hold to what amounts to not much for hands higher up. People will say that there is a jug higher up and that the feet are great, but the truth is that there is no jug higher up and, while the ledge below the roof is large, the feet suck due to poor body position (due to a lack of good holds up high) and a slick face just below the lower ledge. Well, there is a roundish-type hold up high that if one grabs with the right hand that is OK. It isn't great, though, and it certainly doesn't allow any more than an awkward high-step with the left foot up to the upper ledge. My recommendation is to be prepared for an awkward move off a not-so-great hold once the roundish hold is gained. At this point, either commit and fight with all of your strength to get your balance shifted up to your left foot (after the high step), or back off until you're ready to make this commitment. To be fair, the cam that can be placed in the crack at the lip of the roof (#2 Camalot) is perfectly bomber, so falling isn't that big of a deal. But don't ruin this opportunity to clear a perfectly easy roof just because you aren't committed. Yes, it's awkward and frustrating ("Ratherbe" later said that she just doesn't like Shockley's because she's never been able to do it gracefully), but it's actually pleasantly rewarding once cleared.
Despite my lack of confidence at the end of the previous day, I was loaded with fervor this time around. I knew where the left-hand jug was, and I knew what the crappy hold up right felt like. I was just going to do it. No messing around, and so I climbed up to the roof, clipped the pin, remembered how far away the pin was from the roof (a scary two feet), plugged the cam in the crack, remembered just how difficult it was to plug the cam from below (you're not exactly directly below the crack just yet), reached up to jam the crack from below with my right hand despite the left hand being the more natural and intuitive extremity to use, remembered how much of a barn-door there was on frighteningly slick feet after the jam, reached up, grabbed the jug with my left hand (without fingers, mind you, so it's a downward jug, not an outward jug), worked my feet up to the ledge below the roof, held on with all of my might against the urge to fade backward with no fingers to pull me in, snagged (and snagged is an appropriate word) the roundish hold with my right hand, and realized that, without even thinking, I was both higher up on this climb than I had ever been before and totally committed because down-climbing was going to be harder than going up was scary. I had been to this hold before, but never with my feet so high, and that made a big difference in my perspective. For some reason, I just felt as if I was in a better position than I was this past spring. I breathed three deep breaths, paused for a moment, and felt my body go limp. This worried me at first because I had lost my body tension. Gaining that kind of tension back for me is difficult, and so I readied myself for the ensuing fall. All I wanted to do was dead arm for a moment so I could rest and chalk up for the final section of the crux. Unfortunately, that relaxed moment caused more than a stir in my soul. I had felt so strong getting up to that point that I figured a dead arm would allow me to clearly think out the next few moves. Instead of relaxing, however, I was slowly giving in to gravity. I could feel my right hand and then my arm continuously fatiguing under the strain of my lower body. I was going to go at any moment, but just then I heard three voices from below encouraging me. One after the other, they shouted up and kept showering me with the courage to move upward. "OK," I thought, "I'm not here to fuck this up. Let's get a move on then." And so I threw my left foot up high, rocked a bit to get my right hip (and eventually my butt) on the small face to the right and, upon gaining enough satisfaction in my balance, I tossed my left hand up to a tiny knob above my right hand and pulled. I pulled, and pulled, and pulled, but I could only feel my body gaining slight traction the whole time. I needed to get my right foot up, but my balance was still too far to the right and my hands weren't solid enough to simply pull up. It was a tenuous situation for a few seconds, and I almost thought about letting go and doing it all over again after resting. But again, I was encouraged; this time, however, not necessarily by shouts (they were still streaming upward), but by the long line of climbers below waiting for me to finish the damn route. You see, I had learned a lesson from the day before. "Ratherbe" and I had waited forever on Birdland for the party in front of us to clear the first pitch. It took them a good hour to finally get up high enough before I felt comfortable starting up below them. At first, I was OK with this because we were eating lunch, but as lunch slowly digested so did my muscles and courage become cold. I became irritated and verbally wished they'd hurry up. After all, I was getting cold and I needed to get this in before the weekend ended. When it was finally my turn, well, I also struggled and took a long time (didn't even finish the damn route). Poetic justice? Maybe for some, and certainly for me. I thought about my hypocrisy and then about "Ratherbe" shivering at the same spot on Shockley's earlier that spring and came to the conclusion that it wasn't just a demon I was conquering, but a duty for all those climbers below me to get the hell out of the way so they could have fun, too. Two seconds later and I was standing comfortably above the roof with a raised fist and smiling at my adoring fans below.
But, the story doesn't end here, because there's still another 60 feet to go, and another roof to clear. But of course you're probably thinking that there's no need to worry because the crux has been conquered, right? Well, that's only partially correct because once you clear the first roof and head up to the second one, you probably assume that all you have to do is step right and continue up the face. Ahem, "Ratherbe" gave me this quote and I'm going to use it at the point at which I stepped around the corner to the second roof, "What the hell? Didn't I just do this?" Don't worry, once you get the sequence and manage to trust the left hand for balance, this crux is far more of a mental one than it is physical. After that it's smooth sailing to the top. Belay from a tree or two (if you have long slings), and if you have a party below you, walk around to the left (if your back is to the trees) to a ledge that gives a great photo position for folks coming up the second roof.
Descent: Walk left until the trail ends (note: the upper trail won't end, but this lower trail that you should be on at the top of Shockley's will end) and scramble down to the the lowest ledge to find the bolts on the right. Rap all the way down with two 60m ropes (note: to do this, you must rap into the dirty corner on the left at the last obvious ledge to walk on. Otherwise, you won't have enough to get down. This is because the left-hand base of the cliff is higher by about thirty feet than the base that is straight down). If you only have one rope, then rap down to the bolts and head straight down rather than fading left to the corner.
And so that was our weekend. We had fun and were challenged beyond our perceived limits, but we also took seriously our fears and our commitment to tackle them with the idea that not only would we be back again, but we'd have both some of the same and newer challenges waiting for us.

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

P.S. - "Caboose" got her name by being the last to come up Shockley's as well as the last to finish eating every time we ate out. "Blow" got his nickname from, well, that's going to remain an inside joke.


sonso45 said...

Very exciting description of the route, now I have to get on it. Good writing with lots of feeling.

GB said...

Thanks man. There's more coming in the near future. I have about 5 or 6 more posts that still need to go up from this past season.

Keep coming back, and comments are always welcome!