Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why I'm More Famous Than...

My final outdoor climbing weekend was one of the most interesting weekends I've ever had in all of my climbing experience.

"Ratherbe" and I knew it was going to be cool for what was my final weekend outside. We were also certain that the 'Gunks were going to be busy due to what seemed to be the last stretch of warm weather for a while and a fairly large contingency of 'Gunks greats coming together for a reunion. But we still had a couple of routes that we wanted to try to knock off if we could, and so we risked not finding a spot at Camp Slime and drove down anyway with the hopes that we wouldn't get shut out. It turned out that we were plenty of spots, and so we were pretty happy to get to sleep after we finally unpacked and set up the tent. Still, when we awoke the next morning, we knew the weather was going to be a problem for me. We could both see our breaths in the early morning air, and a cup of hot cocoa only warmed me up a little bit. We were lucky, though, in that we were able to stumble pass a ranger at the Mohonk Preserve who we knew well and he told us that there was an invite-only event at the Visitor's Center that evening if we were looking for a warm place to hang for a few hours. It was the part of the reunion event that was not open to the public, but the ranger told us that he didn't think anyone would notice if we showed up. It sounded very enticing to hang with what turned out to be about 50 legends of not only 'Gunks climbing but climbing in general, but we already knew that Sunday was going to be colder than Saturday and had sort of decided that we were going to head back that night after a cold day of climbing. Still, the thought lingered in our minds as we wandered over toward the Nears to start our day.

Near Trapps

Baskerville Terrace (5.7) - Two Pitches - Trad - Varied Anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led


From the main Near Trapps path, which starts at the Route 44/55 sign on the road just down from the bridge, walk until you see two trees growing from the same root about six feet above the path. There is a small roof directly above the trees. This route is not very far down the path.

Pitch One (5.7) - 60 feet - Piton Anchors - "Ratherbe" led

Our goal was to actually climb the link up of the first pitch of Baskerville Terrace and the final pitch of Yellow Ridge (5.7) called Basking Ridge (5.7), but "Ratherbe" had trouble route-finding at the top of the first pitch and decided to belay from the pitons at the top. We had decided that she would lead the entire climb because: 1) I was too cold to lead anything without warming up yet and; 2) she really wanted to go back and do the final pitch of Yellow Ridge because: a) she really enjoyed it and; b) I got the final pitch the last time we climbed because I didn't want to do the first pitch of Yellow Ridge (a squeeze chimney - ugh!). So this was her reward for not getting her pitch and having to wait for me to do my goals the previous weekend, which included a two-hour wait on the upper ledge below the money pitch of CCK (5.7+).

Basking Ridge essentially takes the start of Baskerville Terrace and continues past the pitons and traverses right to the overhangs at Generation Gap (5.11b/c) before continuing right to the arrete where the overhangs are on Yellow Ridge. "Ratherbe" got up to the overhangs and searched for a 5.7 traverse, but couldn't find anything that she felt confident in. There were a couple of traverses she could have taken, but they looked quite a bit thinner than 5.7 and didn't appear to have gear (or at least decent gear). With a 5.11 looming nearby, she appropriately didn't want to get caught on a traverse with bad gear on a grade that she wasn't yet ready to lead (nor I to second, for that matter), and so she backed off and we did Baskerville as it was intended.

This route has a scary crux about twenty feet off the ground, and it isn't well protected, either. Climb the corner and crack straight up until there is an obvious step right onto to a left-facing flake. This is the crux, and dicey if you don't take care as to not slip. The feet are better than they feel, though, and the flake is juggy enough to follow the small traverse with a high-step with the left foot to clear the blank section in between the flake and crack. Again, this is tricky. Also, this doesn't protect well, but if you have small gear (cams work best) then you should be OK. From there, head up the face and crack to the obvious ledges on the right. There are two old pitons there to anchor from. I found out earlier this summer that there used to be three pitons there and one of them pulled right out. A 0.5 and 0.75 Camalot will work nicely as backups (there's also a nut placement nearby).

Pitch Two (5.5) - 150 feet - Tree Anchor - Greg led

Birdland (5.8) is one of my goals to get clean, and it is not too far down the path from where we were climbing. There was a large crowd in that area, and it turned out that a rather famous climber was belaying a friend of hers. I have to admit that I was a little giddy and wanted to catch a glimpse, but I had to climb up to meet "Ratherbe" and then take my next pitch in turn. I hoped that she would still be there when we came back, but I figured that was a pipe dream at best. Still, the thought that she would likely be at the reunion event that evening kind of made me feel that going home, despite the cold weather expected to come in that evening, was not the best option for Saturday and was better left for Sunday. I climbed up to the belay and told "Ratherbe" what I thought and she agreed that it sounded like a plan. Still, we weren't sure we wanted to sleep in the cold that night, so it was still up in the air. It was my turn to climb, however, and so off I went to the top.

From the belay, head up and to the left toward a two-to-three-inch crack in a small roof below the larger roof that is directly above. A #1 Camalot will fit nicely here to protect this committing crux to the ledge above. From there, traverse right to the right-facing corner. Climb the corner to the top and belay from there.

Descent: Walk left to a hefty tree at the top of Fat City. You'll need two 60m ropes to rap this route. The intermediate station is too difficult to swing back into, so rapping all the way to the ground is the best way to go. Otherwise, walk off to the right to the end of the cliff (about five minutes back to the base).

Yum Yum Yab Yum (5.3) - Four Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led

Approach: Walk down the path and go to where two rocks narrowly split the path. A little ways down, the path goes up a short, steep section. Find a tree next to the cliff 50 feet beyond that steep section, and look up and see the P1 tree with slings.

Pitches One and Two (5.3 each) - 60 and 120 feet respectively - Greg combined the two pitches into one

We came down from our climb and I was happy to see that the crowd was somewhat still at the base of Birdland. Birdland was somewhat of a goal for the weekend, but I had struggled with the cold on the last climb and had completely ruled out doing anything hard the rest of the day. So seeing a crowd there meant nothing to me at this point except that I'd maybe get a chance to see our famous climber. I'm going to give her the nickname "Nose" at this point because, well, that should pretty much make it easy for folks to figure out my shame in wanting to meet someone famous. I'll be honest and say that, while big name climbers don't inspire me much, she has actually inspired me as much as anyone out there. I'd say her and the couple famous for putting up tough, long Yosemite routes are probably my top three favorite famous climbers. So to even catch a glimpse was going to be satisfying to me.

So "Ratherbe" and I packed up our gear and headed toward Yum Yum Yab Yum, an ultra-classic 5.3 that I had never done. Along the way, we passed by "Nose" and I was pretty much satisfied enough to continue on. I saw her, it was great, no need to linger. But then, just as we were passing by, a guy started a conversation with "Ratherbe" that I didn't notice at first. He is a member of (a site that I unfortunately frequent way too much) and his nickname here is "Jrathfon":

- "Jrathfon" to "Ratherbe" and an obvlivious me: Hey, is that GMBur...
- "Ratherbe": GMBurns2000? Yeah that's him (she looks at me, and I say nothing).
- "Ratherbe" nudging me to respond: Another fan just recognized you.
- Me: Oh wow! Hey, you're the third person who has recognized me from the site.
- "Jrathfon": Well, you've got a pretty distinct photo.
- "Nose": What photo is that?
- Me (kind of startled that she actually wants to engage in this conversation): Oh, uh, it's just a photo on Folks have recognized me from that and my blog.
- "Nose": What's your username?
- "Jrathfon" at about the same time as "Nose"'s questions above: What are you guys getting on?
- Me to "Jrathfon": We're heading to Yum Yum Yab Yum. Too cold for me.
- Me to "Nose": GMBurns2000
Jrathfon introduced himself to me, and I will leave his name out of it.
- Me to "Jrathfon": I'm Greg, nice to meet you.
- "Nose": Greg? Why don't you use your real name?
- Me to "Nose": Huh? Oh, uh, it's just a username. GMBurns is pretty close to my real name.
- "Nose": Oh, it's "G" not "Jmburns".
- Me (smiling and trying to not seem overly famous): Yeah, that's me. Well, we should get going. Nice to meet you all.

Ahem. What more can I say? Well, there's more to the story, so read on!

We continued to the base and I was giddy as all hell, but I was also worried about us not being able to climb much due to the stiffly cold air. I couldn't see my breath anymore, and was glad that the first two pitches were in the sun. I decided to link them together becuase they looked as if they pretty much followed a straight line (and they do). I was also glad that these first two pitches were in the sun. That would help me tremendously.

Start up the face near the tree at the base and fade left to a left-facing corner that will lead to the tree with slings. Belay here for the top of the first pitch. I continued on into the second left-facing corner that is about 10 feet right of the first one (the one on the first pitch). Climb this and the upper face straight up to the ledge. The Williams guidebook says to belay at the tree about 10 feet to the right. I found that the rock directly above the face was solid enough to provide a good anchor. I also felt that belaying at the tree would have unnecessarily caused too much rope drag for the belayor.

A word of caution should be noted here. The lower three pitches are loaded with choss. Yes, there is a fair amount of good, solid rock, but there's also a lot of loose blocks, flakes, and horizontal ledges. I know about the last one because I damn near took a big whipper when I almost yanked it out.

Pitch Three (5.1) - 60 Feet - "Ratherbe" led

The route was now starting to get into the shade, but I had a decent sunny spot to belay from. "Ratherbe" initially wanted to link the next two pitches together, but thought better of it due to the traversing nature of each pitch. From the belay ledge, start at the tree where the second belay could be set up, and climb the right-facing flakes to a tree. Then head directly left to the base below the dihedral. It is easy climbing, but, like I said, the rock had all sorts of "X"s on it, so beware.

Pitch Four (5.3) - 80 feet - "Ratherbe" led

From here, the climb goes straight up the awkward corner and then traverses all the way right until it is easy to head up straight to the top. "Ratherbe" struggled a little bit at the start, but managed to gain the upper ledge fairly easy after figuring out the sequence. Neither one of us felt that the moves in this section were 5.3 (maybe closer to Gunks 5.5 or 5.6), but once she was up on the traverse, it was easy sailing the rest of the way. About halfway across the ledge she thought about doing the 5.7 variation, which goes up an overhang about midway through the traverse. She felt confident enough to climb the start of the overhang, but didn't have the gear that was recommended in the William's guidebook (a #3 Camalot), and so she decided not to risk the chance of getting stuck above the start and well above her last piece of gear. So she continued right and eventually made it to the top. Then it was my turn, and a very painful turn it was. The shade was in full force at this point, and the rock might as well been ice to the touch for me. Pain isn't even the proper term, but I can't imagine what is. Let me put it to you this way, I almost hung on a 5.3 traverse with huge feet. I almost unclipped her gear and left it there because I could barely pull the trigger on the cams. I wanted to stop right then and there and quit. Thankfully, I kept going and was able to finish the climb without any hangs or lost gear (not that I actually would leave gear, just to let you know). Still, that was the end for me. I told "Ratherbe" that I'd be willing to climb whatever she wanted, but she was leading every pitch from there on out and I couldn't guarantee that I'd be quick and efficient. It turned out that she was cold, too, and so we quit for the day.

Descent: We walked off all the way back to the start of the cliff. However, I want to make clear that the path at the edge of the cliff at Yum Yum Yab Yum is not the same path at the edge of the cliff near where Baskerville Terrace is, or any of the climbs near the start of the Near Trapps. They are two different paths and it is not very easy to tell the difference until you're lost or way off target. The path at the top of Yum Yum Yab Yum is the Blue Trail, and the other path is simply a climber's path. Be sure to turn off the Blue Trail at some point to stay close to the edge of the cliff. Otherwise, you'll walk all the back to the bridge over Route 44/55. There are also numorous raps along the way. Most require two 60m ropes to get down, but not all do. Be sure you know which rap rings your are going off of if you choose this option.

So that was the end of our climbing day, but we still had a decision to make: either head home now and have Sunday for errands and such, or stay the cold night and attend the reunion. We decided to grab dinner and stay the night, and to attend the reunion after eating. We also happened to stumble on Rock and Snow's (the local climbing shop) annual garage sale where folks bring in their gear to sell. I bought a set of smaller tri-cams and I think "Ratherbe" bought a cam that was missing from her rack. We then cautiously walked in to the reunion while "Haircut" (another legendary climber from back in the day - see if you can guess who that was based on the nickname) was making a long speach about how the 'Gunks were the greatest climbing destination of all time. We also had a great opportunity to sit in on a slide show of a former climbing photographer who had many front-cover shots of the old climbing magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. What was great about that was that all the climbers in the photos were also in the room and they were all shouting out the names of everyone they knew. "Ratherbe" had her moment when she was the first to recognize "Annie O". She shouted it out as if she knew the woman and the place went silent. Well, I had a quiet laugh anyway.

We also bumped into our ranger friend and "Jrathfon", who, oddly enough, was also invited by the same ranger. It's funny because "Jrathfon" later asked me, "Did you know that was "Nose" talking to you earlier in the day and standing right in front of me? Because I had no clue." So there you have it, he recognized me over her. How's that for apples?

Click here for all 2008 'Gunks photos - newer photos are first.