Saturday, May 30, 2009

One goal shy of a hat trick

I have no clue what's going on. Seriously, there's been a complete reversal of everything I've been as a climber the past several years. The world has been turned nearly upside down, and this is a good thing.

Yeah, yeah. You've all heard about my ankle sprain, and you've all heard about how it's held me back in the gym. I'm flailing on 10a's in there and falling on 5.8s by the end of the night. Last week, I even ran away from a 5.7 for my last climb. "It's too long," I told my partner. "I want something easy." What the hell is that?

But there I was two weekends ago jumping on a sopping wet 5.9 (in someone else's shoes that are three sizes too big for me, no less) when I hadn't even warmed up yet. OK, so it was on top rope, but what does that matter? Anything above 5.9 in the 'Gunks is supposed to be too hard for me. And then I decided it was OK to lead my first 5.8 of the season, which is right at my onsight level there, too. I hadn't led at my level on gear in over six months. Is it possible that my training in the gym in past years had actually set me back as opposed to moving me forward? I'm just not sure how that's possible. Aren't gyms supposed to be these training grounds where one learns acrobatic moves and how to control one's lead head? All these years of trying to get stronger, and all those years of being afraid of falling inside, all of those days breathing in the chalky hair as it smokes away from slapped hands and rises up from the blue foam when skin-tight shoes and red-stained feet pounce at the start and in between the many artificial climbs where the tops lean out above the starts, the hanging draws rock when the ropes get pulled through, and the steel anchors do their sturdy jobs without a hint of complaining while the thousands of pounds yank them downward - after all of that, I'm now stronger outside than inside and, despite the fact that I'm nearly floored by this, I couldn't care less.

I think there are two things going on here. One is that I'm feeling so much less stress in life than I have in years. I'm making a change soon - a big one - and knowing this has relieved me from the worries of normal life. I no longer need to buy a house, sit in my cubicle with boredom, and I have no need for the material items I used to crave. In fact, I'll be selling nearly all my crap in a few month's time and living with only a minimal amount of belongings; there will be enough to get by, enough to hold on to childhood memories, and enough value to store away. Otherwise, there will be nothing. Simply put, I just don't care as I used to, so the nine-to-five no longer inspires and traps me anymore.

The second thing that happened was my foray into aid climbing. Yeah, I know, I lead a freaking bolt ladder and that's it (call me weak - I don't care. It is what it is and I am who I am. Go screw). But it was still an awakening experience. As noted in the Moab Diary series, these were quarter-inch bolts with wing nuts screwed into them. The rusted pitons were the less scary pieces, despite the fact that the mud was so soft chunks as large as my head crumbled down when I tried to partially free climb a move. Whether that is scary to you or not is irrelevant; it was to me and I, for the first time out in 2009, got a good lesson in trusting my gear. I had never done that before, at least not that early in the season. I was very afraid at times, but I also grew as a result. And I cared less. And I grew. It's a dangerous combination.

Sixish (5.5) - Trad - Three pitches - Gear anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

"Ratherbe" and I have been partners for the past couple of years. We've had other partners, but we've been pretty consistently climbing with each other since we climbed together before heading to Yosemite last year. Two of those other partners, "Caboose" and "Blow", joined up with us to tackle the 'Gunks over Memorial Day weekend. We all had plans on what we were going to do, and "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" were going to team up while "Blow" and I had our own projects. But I wanted to warm up first to see how I was feeling that Saturday morning.

We all awoke somewhat early, and were the first on our warmups. "Sixish" was open so I jumped on it and cruised the first pitch with ease. Then "Blow" ran up the second pitch and I was ready for the third, which turned out to be a fun pitch to the top. I don't have much to say about this route except that it is one damn fun route from bottom to top. I recommend it both as a good route for beginners and as a warm up for more experienced leaders. I'm sure others do, too, as the line that goes up it is constant in the heaviest traffic months.

Son of Easy Overhang (5.8) - Trad - Two pitches - Mixed anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

I felt strong, and this meant that my first goal of the season was going to get knocked off. "Son of Easy O" had kicked my butt last year. The first pitch was brutally pumpy, and I wasn't expecting that then. The second pitch was supposed to be even more pumpy than the first, so when my fatigue made my muscles stale, I hung at the pin below the start of the overhang and believed I didn't have it in me to continue without resting first. But then I did it, and was really angry with myself for not pushing ahead. The second pitch, despite being over hung, is nothing compared to the first. In fact, I'm not even sure it's harder than the "Strictly From Nowhere" roof, and that is 5.7. I knew I could not only do this climb clean, but that I could do it in one pitch as well. And after jumping on "Annie Oh" (5.8) recently, I knew that I was ready to climb at this level. It was time, so we went to the base and waited for a couple of folks to finish top-roping the climb.

I bought new shoes recently, and they're still tight on my feet. But they edge well and I'm getting more comfortable with letting them stick on whatever I touch even though the thick soles make it difficult for me to feel the rock. Still, knowing that the first pitch is so thin, and knowing that I'd be putting a lot of pressure on my feet for the first 90 feet or so, I wondered how that would affect me as I moved through the overhang on the second pitch. My strategy was to see how I felt as I approached the second pitch. If my feet hurt, then I'd find a good ledge, take off my shoes for a couple of minutes, rest, and then finish up. If all felt fine, then I'd just go straight up.

The first 40 feet are just plain thin on the first pitch. The gear is good, but specific. You have only those placements to make, and you need to make them good. I was about six pieces in until I finally felt comfortable with a nut in one of the upper cracks. Everything below seemed pretty bomber, but I didn't want to fall because I wasn't completely sure. And the moves are fairly specific, too: the left foot goes here, and the right hand goes here, pull up, lean over, the left hand goes here, the right foot goes there, and so on. It is really fun climbing, but not for anyone uncomfortable with thin feet, off-angle hands, and slightly dynamic moves (at least for me anyway). It's the second half of the first pitch that really gets you. The gear is a little easier to place up there, but also a bit more run out, too. The climbing is also less technical and more burly. You're pulling on larger holds, but they aren't the kind of jugs you'd find on a ladder. The moves are a bit more committing and at this point all I wanted to do was get to the base of the overhangs. I was tired again, but not as much as I was last year. Still, the combination of my arms pumping for oxygen and my feet dying a slow death under the tight leather and rubber pulled tightly across the bridge of my foot by three velcro straps didn't convince me to keep going. I asked "Blow" to tie me off and I rested on a decent ledge with my bare feet awakening like a flower in April. This also gave me a chance to find the best gear for a bomber placement about 15 feet below the start of the second pitch.

It didn't take long for me to get ready again, so I strapped on my shoes and headed up. But boy, I was stupid in how I approached this section. I had three draws left and about 80 feet of climbing to do. I also had several cams left, all with their own biners. There were at least two pitons at key spots that I wanted to clip, and so I saved two of my draws for those. I then figured I should save the last one for the upper section, just in case I needed it for a nut placement or something. One piton and two cams later, as I pulled through the final overhang, I felt the drag of the 100 heaviest offensive lineman in the history of football pulling me downward. I should have extended those draws. I was really stupid to not have done that.

"Blow" arrived a few minutes after I put him on belay, and we both nervously rapped off the anchor that consisted of two rusted pitons, an incredibly weathered tricam, and a clearly blown out and ready-to-die cam all tied together by a tat that had too many pieces looking old, ripped, and torn enough to make a rusty nail look fun to step on. I seriously considered climbing the final 15 feet to the top and rapping off another station, but I wasn't sure what the anchor situation was like up above to bring "Blow" to the top. I figured that since I had seen a man larger than me fall repeatedly at the start on top-rope and another man rap from the anchors before I started that the anchor must be good. Still, my theory on suspect gear is that just because someone else used it safely that doesn't mean anyone after that person will also be able to use it safely. Gear gets weaker each time it is used. Someday it will break.

Squiggles (5.5) - Trad - One pitch - Gear anchor (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

There was a 70% chance of rain in the afternoon on Saturday, and we heard the distant rumbles move in with the suddenly cold wind. It certainly felt like rain, and we felt a few drops here and there, so it was time to quit. The girls would probably be around soon enough, so "Blow" and I decided to seek cover near the Uberfall area. It wasn't quite raining yet and "Blow" wanted to get another route in before the end of the day. We scanned several routes, but because the Uberfall is the 'Gunks version of a gym, we were left with few options. "Squiggles" (5.5) was the only route available and once we learned that it didn't climb up through a dead tree about 20 feet up, and that it traversed right under a roof before heading up the right-side face instead, it seemed a better option than when we first considered and dismissed it as an option. Well, that and, as I noted above, it was open.

"Blow" racked up and worked his way through the traverse to the upper face. He struggled a bit with the lack of feet and not knowing where to climb to (the anchor situation isn't that great), but he eventually made it up with ease once he committed to a line. I followed him up and, as I've been doing all season long on easier climbs, I kept my approach shoes on. I'm not sure if I'll learn, but yeah, I'll definitely get called on this one of these days. Some routes just don't have great feet, and this was one of them. I struggled more on the upper section of "Squiggles" than I did on "Son of Easy O."

Alas, "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" had made their way to the Uberfall area and as we topped out they were finishing up "Ken's Crack" to our right. I went to take a few pictures, but just as I leaned over the edge with my arms outstretched and my camera aimed downward onto what I couldn't tell, the rain started to hit with heavy but infrequent drops. "Blow" and I scurried down the walkoff and waited under a roof for the girls to finish up. When the girls had finished, they had met up with "Sensei" and "Burrito" and we all decided to grab dinner somewhere. I'll have a review of the restaurant we ate at soon, the Golden Fox in Gardiner, but let me say that all six of us were absolutely thrilled with every bit of the service, food, and drinks. This restaurant is a bit out of the way from the normal path to New Paltz, and "Ratherbe" and I had started to drive this way to avoid the normal backup of traffic that heads into New Paltz from the cliffs. I wanted to try something different than what was in town, and this is where we landed. Just trust me on this one: go to the Golden Fox and eat. The burgers are fantastic and reasonably priced. The dinners are more expensive, but not absurdly so, and they have vegetarian options as well. But I have to recommend the garlic and horseradish burger. Holy cow that was good.

After dinner "Sensei" took a fastly crashing "Burrito" back to sleep and the rest of us went into town to Rock and Snow to watch "El Capitan," which is apparently the first climbing movie ever made. It was fun, and I even have a video the next day that was inspired by the pendulum scenes in the movie. I've linked that below.

Three Pines (5.3) - Trad - Two / Three pitches - Gear / Bolted anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

Having brushed aside a demon from the previous year, I was ready to tackle my next test: "Ant's Line" (5.9). This was going to be my first jump into the 5.9s on trad lead in the 'Gunks in over seven months, and the earliest I had ever done so in the season. I wasn't expecting to jump on a 5.9 until mid-summer when I was feeling stronger and more secure, but something was telling to just do it, and so I had committed myself to doing just that.

But first we had to do a warmup, and "Three Pines" had been on "Blow"'s tick list for a long time. We were the first one's there and the plan was for him to do the first and third pitch, with me taking the second. But he realized once he got to the top of the first pitch that it didn't make sense to stop there. So he continued past he first ledge, where one must sling a large tree for an anchor, up to the GT ledge where there are bolts. I came up after he put me on belay and then we walked along the ledge to the start of the third pitch. Because of how the rope was stacked, I let him take this pitch, too, and it was a good one for him to take. There is a rather exposed move about 25 feet up, and I think that was good for him to experience.

I also wanted to check out "The Dangler", a 5.10 that I thought might be a good first 'Gunks 10 to get on. I had been given the beta (moves and gear) and always thought that if I could just hold on for 20 feet that I'd be able to get up it. The fall onto the slabs below also appeared good in my mind: soft, clean, and easy to ascend back to the start of the pitch. But I was struck by two things when I finally saw the pitch up close. The first is that while the fall is potentially soft and probably easy to get back up to the start, it wasn't as clean as I imagined it. There are a lot of bushes and grassy ledges right below the mid-section of the dangled part of the pitch. I had imagined a clean rock face below the roof, but it was much dirtier than that, and I was worried about falling onto a sharper-than-it-appears bush.

The second concern was more about climbing ability than anything else. One of the main ledges, probably in the second quarter of the roof if one divides it into four sections, looks as if it is much more sloping than it is a jug. I was under the impression that the entire line across was one big jug, and that it earned the 5.10 rating because it is pumpy and requires a series of campus and / or heel hooks to get across, and also requires that the climber cut his feet and switch direction at the point where the route stops going out and starts going up. I wasn't aware that maybe the holds themselves on the dangling section could possibly be not that straight forward, too. I don't know, maybe I'm just viewing it incorrectly. This is something that I'll have to think about as the summer progresses.

Anyway, "Blow" finally gave me the rope signal that it was time for me to ascend. I did so and was, at first, pleasantly surprised to see that he had chosen a more difficult variation at the top, particularly when he didn't know what the grade of that variation was. "Blow" is a good climber, but he's still getting his trad confidence up and so he's keeping things easy until he's comfortable to progress. This is a good approach to take, but sometimes one simply has to let inspiration take over and take the risk. Often times, the heart is capable of judging that risk better than we might give it credit for. In this case, the variation was 5.6, and that was harder than what he wanted to lead this weekend. But, he did it with ease and was rather happy with himself after getting to the top. On the other hand, however, he sandbagged me once again with my approach shoes on. I got up the slick, white rock without much of a problem, but I think I need to start working on my abs just as much as my feet. This variation did not feel 5.6 to me and I was breathing heavily when I finally topped out.

Ant's Line (5.9) - Trad - One pitch - Bolted anchor (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

And then it was time. I couldn't say if I was nervous or not. I was nervous, but at the same time I knew I would send. But then again, I was OK with falling. In fact, I wasn't going to hang at all. I knew this, but I was still nervous.

The route was empty when we arrived, but I wanted a little more time to rest and eat a quick snack before heading up. The rock was just as intimidating as the first time I saw it, which was different than how I'd imagine it would be upon seeing it that day. Because I had top-roped it a couple of weeks earlier, I imagined not being intimidated at all. But it didn't look as easy as I'd had in my mind the past 15 days. Sure, there were jugs, but they weren't the same as the jugs on "Son of Easy O." "Would I do it?" I wondered. "Could I do it?" I had flailed so much on top rope. Despite the fact that it was sopping wet that day, I was still not convinced that my confident gut wasn't missing something. "A 5.9 this early in the season? Really?"

"Sensei" and "Burrito" just happened upon us just as I was about to rope up. They sat down for the show and I started up the climb. Firstly, this route would be significantly easier if the damn first crux wasn't so hard and awkward. A person my size has to crawl up to the roof and reach out left and above where the roof ends to pull a layback off weird feet with no place to go. Up is where I wanted to go, but the roof was in the way. I almost fell at the start, and that would have been frustrating to say the least, but I pumped my way through it and felt the blood doing the same through my arteries. "Shit," I thought, "I'm only four moves in and I'm already tired."

I scanned the next few moves and plugged enough gear in to make me feel comfortable. The moves were straight-forward and a bit committing for me, but there was no problem getting to the rest below the crux. It was here that I was worried because the crux involves getting one's feet high in order to use the undercling in the small roof. Unfortunately, the feet aren't great. They're there, but they aren't great. Another issue was that the rest spot is really only good for resting the left foot. The right foot is on a nice ledge while the left is on a pebble, but all of my weight was on the right foot as a result of the angle of the hand holds. By the time I went to make my first attempt my right calf was screaming.

As is my M.O., I worked my way up, felt around, and came back down. I didn't like the feet. I didn't remember them the way they actually were. I thought the crux was the last move getting to the undercling, but in fact the crux was the before that; it was the set-up to the move that gets to the undercling. This wasn't what I had imagined, or maybe I had done it differently last time, but it was now playing in my head. I moved up two or three more times only to back down each time due to mistrust in the feet.

I was tired, too. My arms needed a better rest and my right foot could only be rested for about 10 seconds at a time before my arms needed to rest again. It was a sour coincidence that the good foothold above was for my left foot. I assumed I was going to have to go off that one alone to pull past the roof.

My next attempt was merely to get a cam into the roof. On each attempt before I was either unable to get to the roof or I incorrectly believed I could place the gear from a better stance than I had (i.e. - the crux ended up being lower than I thought it was, and once I hit the crux, I needed to go right past the roof in order to complete it). But this time I knew what I was going to do, so I pulled the cam I needed off my harness, clipped it to my shoulder-gear sling so that it was ready to go, moved up through the crux, plugged the cam, and clipped it. I thought about continuing from there, but I was pumped and decided to head down to the rest instead. This is what "Ratherbe" had done, and this what I had seen another climber do and was recommended by yet another friend. I rested once more and had it figured out. I was going to put my foot "there." I pointed to the hold and told myself, "this is what has to be done. It has to be done. That's what has to be done. I have to put my foot there in order to do this. It must be done like that." And then I moved up, put my foot on the spot, stood up, grabbed the undercling, moved to the left toward the finger pocket and my foot slipped. I could have regained my composure and kept going, but I decided to catch myself and down-climb once again. My right calf was burning and my arms were stale. I had little or next to nothing left in the tank. I wanted to hang and rest. I thought about it several times as I chalked up each hand one after the other and over again until my hands were as white as the chalk itself and were caked as solid as dried paint. I wiped my sweaty brow and instantly my hand was wet again. So I chalked again. And I wiped my brow again, and my hand was wet again. I wanted to hang. I needed to hang to rest my arms. My left bicep would tire while my right one had rested, and then my right one would tire while my left one rested. And my right calf burned while each arm rested, and both my arms ached while my right calf rested. I was all in a flux of nothingness; there was no rest unless I weighted the rope.

I wanted to rest so badly that I nearly let go without asking "Blow" to take in the slack. But then I remembered a story I had read: The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber. My dream is to be a literary fiction writer, and while my intellectual influence is Dostoyevsky and, partially, Camus, my stylistic influence is hugely Hemmingway. I had tired from reading The Brothers Karamazov last year and wanted something easier to read. I flew through A Farewell to Arms this winter and started reading the Finca Vigia complete collection of Hemmingway's short stories. Francis Macomber was the first story in the book and it struck me more in the heart than any other short story I've ever read. In fact, it has been less than a week since I read it for the only time and I can firmly state that it has and will continue to influence me as much as the three most crucial books in my life: T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. These three books were so fundamental in forming my deeply personal philosophies that I largely credit them for helping me to believe in what I believe, but there was always something missing in my life. There was the question of commitment, and I don't mean the personal relationship kind. I'm speaking of the wordly risk kind, of doing what I want to do, of being happy, of not being afraid to break social, cultural, and professional norms. I have been confident in who I am for several years now, but I've never been confident in where I was going. And then I read Francis Macomber and so much came together. There is no running away. It's perfectly OK to not do things. It's perfectly OK to be afraid and not act. It's perfectly OK to be indecisive, but it is not OK to be all of these things after choosing to do so. I was going to choose to do something, then I was going to do it. I wasn't going to choose to do something and then back out. The exception of course was if circumstances changed such that I could decide not to tackle the new feat, but this was not the case here. Nothing had changed. I knew what I had to do. I had to put my foot "there" and I had to go up. If I fell, then that was OK, but I had to fall as opposed to letting go. I had to do this. I decided that I was going to do it, and that meant I had to do it. There was no running away. There was no putting people in a position they weren't prepared to clean up if I messed up. This was my decision, and up I went.

I can't really recall what happened next, except that once I cleared the roof I buried my shoulder so deep in a hole and grabbed the deepest jug I could find to hold myself into the awkward position I was now in. I placed a nut and ran the final 20 feet out to the chains. There was no need to plug gear at that point. The jugs were only good enough for cruising to the chains. Any fall from there would have been an embarassment anyway. I clipped the chains and happily listened to all my partners congratulate me from below.

"Blow" then topropped the route and left the draws for folks to toprope "Ent's Line" (5.10d) if they wanted. I tried to toprope it myself but was unable to get up the upper half of the route due to my fatigue. Instead, "Blow" and I watched "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" work on the first pitch of "Bonnie's Roof" (5.9), some of which was rather amusing. At one point, "Caboose" had fallen of the crux and couldn't swing back onto the route. It was rather fun to watch all of her extremities swing wildly in the air as she tried to get back on the rock. I have a video, but I'll have to post it later once I find out how to rotate the picture (I don't have video editing software).

When "Ratherbe" and "Caboose" came down off the first pitch of "Bonnie"'s, my rope and draws were still at the top of "Ent's Line." "Ratherbe" still had some juice left and she was able to work her way up to the top to retrieve the gear. The end of the day had come, and once again we heard the rumble of thunder off in the distance.

Gelsa (5.5) - Trad - Three pitches - Gear anchors. (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

I was one goal short of a hat trick. The third goal was "Birdland" (5.8) in the Near Trapps, but that was not really a goal for the weekend. It was more of a route that I'd do if I didn't have anything else to do. But that would have to come after "Gelsa", another one of "Blow"'s projects. He hadn't led the third pitch yet and wanted to get that out of the way first. So off we went.

I knew right away that "Birdland" wasn't in it for me. I didn't necessarily struggle through the first pitch, but I felt it in my muscles that I was stale and in need of rest. The second pitch, which I led, secured that notion. I just didn't feel strong. "Blow" led the third pitch fine. He was a little nervous about a couple of his placements, but I told him that I wasn't sure I'd do anything different. He didn't sew it up as a paranoid leader might, but his pieces weren't ungodly run out from each other, either. With me being tired, I decided to walk off instead of rapping. We gathered our stuff and met "Ratherbe" and "Caboose", of which "Ratherbe" was already leading. I suggested to "Blow" that I was done. He said it was OK if we did something easy, but I was done. I had made the opposite decision of what I made the day before on "Ant's Line" - I had made the decision to not climb anymore. But even still, Francis Macomber reared his head once again in the form of an actual decision. I was OK with being spent. It is where I was, and I allowed "Birdland" to be conquered on a later date.

Click here for all 2009 'Gunks photos.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guidebook: Gunks - Gelsa (5.4), Three Pines (5.3), Sixish (5.5), Squiggles (5.5), Son of Easy O (5.8),

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Three Pines (5.3) - Two / Three pitches - Trad - Tree / Bolted anchors

- Approach
: Take the third trail after the East Trapps Connector Trail that goes down to the road on the right. Head left at the top toward a right-facing corner that is across from a left-facing flake / corner / cave with two trees in between the two.

- Pitch One (5.3) - Trad - Tree Anchor - 75 Feet: Climb the face to the eventual left-facing corner, and continue to climb that straight up to the large ledge with the tree. While that is certainly not a bad belay option, a 60m rope easily allows one to climb straight past this to the bolted anchors at the GT Ledge at the top of the second pitch. If you can do this, it is recommended. A few long slings will help with drag.

- Pitch Two (5.3) - Trad - Bolted Anchor - 60 Feet: Continue climbing straight up to the ledge on the path of least resistance (mostly in the corner)

- Pitch Three (5.3) - Trad - Bolted Anchor - 70 Feet: Walk 30 feet along the ledge to the right to the large roof and left-facing corner. Climb up the corner to above the jutting block and traverse right to the blocky ledge that would be above the lower, large roof. Find a corner to the right and climb that to the next ledge. Fade left and climb left of the white rock up an easy slab to the bolted anchors.

- Descent: Rap to each bolted anchor with one rope or do two raps with two 60m ropes (either rapping to the GT Ledge and then to the bottom (<- recommended) or bypassing the GT Ledge to the lower bolts and then to the bottom).

Gelsa (5.4) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Take the Nears path to a tree growing out of boulders about eight feet up. There is a crack that is about four feet up from the base of the tree. The tree looks as if it growing out of a series of small boulders.

- Pitch One (5.4) - Trad - Gear anchor - 50 feet: Climb up the blocks to the awkward "open" area and begin to head up and left. Traverse left until you come to a ledge that makes a good belay stance. The Williams guidebook suggests linking the first two pitches together, but I don't think this is a good idea. The second pitch continues to traverse up and left another 20 feet, and that would essentially mean 20 feet up, 25 feet left, 10 feet up, 15 feet left, and 25 feet up of rope out. It just doesn't make much sense without long runners and double ropes.

- Pitch Two (5.4) - Trad - Gear anchor - 50 feet: Sorry about a lack of a beta photo here (photo that is noted is one of the belay at the start of the third pitch, not the start of the pitch), but basically you climb up left through the overhang and step left into a traverse straight out to the nose. From there, either decide to smear up the face along the ridge or step left again around the corner to the crack. Climb up to the base of the massive, right-facing corner for a good belay stance, avoiding the second left-hand crack below the stance.

- Pitch Three (5.4) - Trad - Gear anchor - 90 feet: Climb the corner to the top.

- Descent: Either walk off (5 min) along the path to the right, or walk 20 feet to the right to a tree anchor. This rap station requires two 60m ropes to get down the very airy rappel.

Sixish (5.5) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchors

- Approach
: Take the fourth marked trail up to the left and find the large, blocky, right-facing corner to the right (on top of boulders).

- Pitch One (5.4+) - Trad - Gear anchor - 75 feet: Climb the right-facing corner to the juggy flakes, then step left and pull up to the face on the left where there is a piton anchor (this should be backed up).

- Pitch Two (5.3) - Trad - Gear anchor - 90 feet: Start to the left of the anchor and move up over-hanging rock. Step right toward the crack and climb that and the face straight up to the GT Ledge.

- Pitch Three (5.4) - Trad - Gear anchor - 50 feet: Climb the arrete and face that leads up to the second roof (the one above the large roof to the right of the face). Traverse right under the second roof and over the first one about 15 feet to a notch. Climb through the notch and head straight up to the top.

- Descent: Walk right along the path until you see rap anchors on a tree that is far back from the edge of the cliff. Rap once to GT Ledge and once to the ground with two 60m ropes. Or rap three times with the final one coming off an intermediate tree with slings.

Squiggles (5.5) - One pitch - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Walk along the Carriage trail and to the Uberfall area. Squiggles is a short dihedral capped by a tree and has a large roof to the right of the tree. There is also a roof system down low to the ground immediately to the left of the dihedral. The route is before the walkoff if you're heading toward the outhouse.

- Pitch One (5.5) - Trad - Gear anchor - feet: Climb the crack to a good stance about 10 feet below the roof. Step right under the roof and continue to traverse up and right to the face on the right of the roof. Find path of least resistance to the top.

- Descent: Walk right about 25 feet to the obvious scramble back down to the carriage trail.

Son of Easy O (5.8) - One / Two pitches - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Take the first path after the rescue box and fade right where it splits. At the top, head to the farthest left of the ledge and find the start about 10 feet to the right of the dropoff.

- Pitch One (5.8) - Trad - Gear anchor - 80 feet: Climb the thin face across and to the left of the tree up to the crack. Move up right to the small roof and left-facing corner (crux). Follow the crack up to the left, using the larger holds as you get closer to the top of the pitch. Either set an anchor on good ledges about 20 feet below the overhang, set an anchor on a large ledge higher up and to the left (about 15 feet left of the overhang), or continue through the overhang to the anchor (making this a one-pitch climb).

- Pitch Two (5.8) - Trad - Gear anchor - 80 feet: If anchoring to the left, traverse right on pumpy jugs to the base of the overhang, clip the pin and head straight up, exiting right onto the face that leads to the top. If climbing from below, then simply climb straight up through the overhang and step right as noted above (easier than the traversing option). Follow the path of least resistance up and left to the piton anchor about 20 feet below the top of the cliff. You may want to determine if you like this anchor as a rappel opportunity. If not, continue to the top (anchor situation is unclear at the top, but there are other rappel opportunities around).

- Descent: Rap all the way to the ground with two 60m ropes. One rope should make it, but I've never done it and can't say for sure if this would work. An option with one rope is to top out on the ledge and use one of the other raps stations on nearby climbs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nothing like a bit of choss to kick my booty

A year later and we returned. The heat wasn't so bad as last time, but the crowds were. I was thankful, though, that the man who had put up many of the routes was there to show me around.

It was a weekend off, but I wanted to get out. An evening fundraiser kept me from playing too hard, but an early start would suffice. We drove until the road narrowed, and then we drove some more until the speed slowed. We thought we had missed the new parking lot, but it was farther down.

I'm not sure why I brought my trad gear. I've always wanted to trad climb here but I've never been able to pull myself away from the bolts. The bolts led the way up too many nice lines. Sigh, they would have to do.

We chatted with a few friends and took a ride up an easy warm up. I'd done the route before but my partners were fresh meat. They lapped the horizontal ridge lines like a dog does with water from a bowl, and rightfully ignored the irrelevant mess on the floor after their first foray onto the grey and golden rock. It was busy over here, so we moved on.

The cave up the hill was cool, dark, and damp. I felt the nip of the air just as I approached the opening, and I slipped in. My eyes had a difficult time adjusting, but I knew where I was going. Hushed voices around to the left became louder as my feet met the daylight. I turned the corner and noticed one new route right away. There were folks on it, though, so I showed my partners around. There's the 12 something that clears the roof, and eight is around the corner, and that's a short nine right there to the right. It's a one-move wonder, but what a wonderful move it is.

One of my partners, the strongest of the three of us, found what looked like a nice line to the left of the nine. He clipped the draws to his harness and headed up. The start looked easy, but it wasn't. Then the middle was easy, but the next section was hard again: overhanging, juggy in the wrong spots and crimpy in the good spots. The feet pointed in the wrong direction and only a full leg bar in the roof itself allowed for any rest. He stretched long to clip the last bolt and topped out on thankfully easy terrain. Then another partner went up, and I after her. We flailed, but the man who put up many of the routes here came to join us. His barefoot climbing brought us shame, but we knew he was a better climber anyway.

It was late, and begging-for-money-from-the-generous was my next call of duty back home. We packed up, but before we left I asked the original climber a few questions. I was grateful to not only get his thoughts, but also a drawn map of the upper tier. He's a nice man and willing to show folks around so long as a guidebook isn't published any time soon. The climber's coalition owns the parking lot, and that's about it. The mortgage needs to be paid before the masses arrive, and there's no money to pay it. I like what they've done here, though. They've developed a nice series of crags, some bolts and some not. They've bought the parking lot in order to keep people from parking on private property. They've worked with the land owners and have developed a relationship that allows for climbing at such a good location. But most importantly, they've opened it up without opening too much. They've allowed people to come and enjoy without over-stepping their bounds. The money may not be there, but I hope it comes in. They've done this right, and I hope that continues.

We pulled out of the parking lot satisfied with our day. It was short, it kicked our butts, but then again, choss always seems to have the upper hand.

Click here for more Farley pics

A rainy start turns out great

"Ratherbe" and I hadn't climbed outside together since our last adventure in 2008, and I had only one weekend outside on real rock, Moab excepted because, well, I didn't actually climb and what I did get up wasn't real rock. I wanted to take things easy, but deep down inside I felt more confident than I ever had been before. My strength had not yet returned after a long recovery from an ankle sprain, and yet things seemed to be clicking inside my head to the point where I was already thinking of jumping on 5.8s, which I normally leave as either projects or until June when I have a few weeks of the easy stuff under my belt. It was raining when we approached Camp Slime, but the rain stopped in time for us to pitch the tent. We crashed, went to sleep knowing that the rain would soon end (and that the rock would be dry when the sun came out), and woke up unexpectedly defeated.

I woke a few times in the night, and I heard the water droplets pop down on the rain fly above me. Most of the time they were soft and intermittent, as if they were rolling off the leaves above us and not falling straight from the sky. But every now and again it was clearly raining: the pops were louder and more frequent, I could hear puddles forming on the ground outside. "Still," I thought to myself, "it's dark and I can't tell how long I've been asleep." If it was still night then there was still time for the rock to dry off by the time we rose from our slumber. The only downside would be that it would dry off later, but that didn't really bother me so much. I'd be fine as long as I got on rock at some point.

I must have fallen back asleep because when I awoke later the rain was really coming down. "Ratherbe" was awake, too, but not just because of the noise. Her eyes were peeled open by the early morning light. It was day now, and the rain had not relented.

- Me: What time is it?
- "Rathberbe": A bit before eight.

Crap. This much rain falling this late in the morning meant we'd be waiting for hours. Yeah, I know, we're wimps. There are a lot of people out there who would rather squirm up waterfalls than not climb at all, but we don't belong to that group. Climbing for me is an escape. Adding wet rock to the equation doesn't eliminate the stress for me.

The rain stopped about an hour later and we crawled out of the tent and into the mist. A thin cloud of precipitation hung over the entire valley. I couldn't see more than a hundred yards down the road.

Breakfast was good, but slow. What do we do?

- "Ratherbe": I wish I had my short rope. We could do self-rescue stuff.
- Me: I forgot my book. I usually have it in my bag's pocket.
- "Ratherbe": I don't feel like getting things wet anyway, not if we're going to use them tommorrow.

We tossed around the idea of going to a movie, or heading into town to do whatever town offered: shopping, drinking, reading books for free at the local gear shop. A hike wouldn't be a bad idea. I didn't want to spend money if at all possible. We finally decided to do some scouting.

Neither of us are particularly strong climbers. A 'Gunks 5.9 is pushing our limits and we'd both managed our first 5.9 leads last summer. It was time to expand on that success and add a few more to the tick list. I was even thinking of a few 5.10s as well. Since we'd both rather be climbing instead of sitting around on good days, we figured it was worth walking around to see all the 5.10s that seemed within our range: it had to be no harder than 5.10a, had to have a couple of stars, and it had to have at least a PG-rating. There aren't very many of those, but we found a few and headed off to get some exercise.

Ant's Line (5.9) - One pitch - Trad - Bolted anchors (<-- click her for guidebook info)

I don't remember all the climbs we looked at, but none seemed doable to us. A couple of the tens that had been recommended to us as good openers to the grade seemed runout, thin, and devoid of good rests, the latter of which was important to gumbies such as us. It made us realize that we were probably dreaming above our abilities. But since we were near Ants Line, the 5.9 that she had conquered the year before, I wanted to take a look at it just to see if it should be added to my list of desired climbs. I had looked at it once before and felt that it was too intimidating for my tastes, but a mutual friend of ours suggested to me earlier in the week that it was much easier than it looked. Was I ready for this? Who knew, but I was going to look at it anyway.

Well, it turned out to be my lucky day. While we were out walking around and pouting and waiting for the fog to lift and the rock to dry, two climbers we knew from the gym were racking up for Ants Line. We had nothing better to do, so we decided to sit back and watch. It was worthwhile to see it, but it was also both comical and nerve-wracking at the same time. The leader is a very strong climber with a good personality. He kept mentioning how wet the rock was all the way up, and sometimes we could tell the hesitation in his voice. I mentioned that I was glad I was giving it a pass on that particular day on lead, but the belayor offered to let me give it a ride on top rope. I was hesitant. I'd have to use someone's harness and I wasn't sure I wanted climb a wet 5.9 in my approach shoes. But the leader offered to let me wear his shoes with socks on. I could have worn them without socks, but I wear a normal size 8.5 and he wears a size 11. The funny thing is that his climbing shoes are supposed to be a fairly high-performance edging shoe, and here I was wearing them with socks. Oh well.

After both the leader and belayor had taken a run, I hopped on the rope and worked my way up. Yep, it was wet; wet and slimey with water dripping through the crux. I took about five times due to the wetness and me jumping on a pumpy climb at my limit without a warm-up, but I eventually made it to the top. I felt considerably less intimidated by this route after I was finished because I realized it had a ton of jugs. Still at issue, though, is what is always at issue with 5.9s, awkwardness. There's just some really awkward positions.

We took off after I climbed and checked out a few other areas before we noticed the weather was turning. It certainly wasn't sunny and warm all of a sudden, but the sun was trying to break through the valley mist and it was getting noticeably warmer. We had lunch and then decided to do one climb once it got a little warmer. We were going to meet "Wonderwoman" and "BEC" for dinner to celebrate "Wonderwoman"'s birthday that evening, and weren't sure what time dinner was going to be. I think we could have climbed later into the evening, but the rain had really dampened our spirits.

Maria (5.6+) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchors (<-- click here for guidebook info)

I had done Maria the previous year with "KITT", but we couldn't find the start of the third pitch and decided to head down after climbing the second. We had been told that the money pitch on Maria was the second pitch, and so it didn't seem so bad that we didn't finish it up. However, after that weekend, several folks told us that the real money pitch was the third, and that clearing the roof was as fun of a move as any at the grade in the 'Gunks. Since learning that, I had always wanted to finish that up. Both "Ratherbe" and I are solid enough to climb a wet 5.6, so we headed off and got there just ahead of a family that wanted to set up a top rope on Frog's Head (5.6) nearby. Since we got there before them, and since the first 20 feet of Maria is shared with Frog's Head, they graciously let us go first and up I went.

The initial crack was wet, but my experience a couple of weekends before of climbing in my approach shoes had changed my perspective on what I could do with only a little bit of support under my feet. I moved up through the tricky crux and stepped right into the traverse with relative ease. It wasn't long before I was sitting at the anchor below the large, left-facing corner. I felt solid, and this was good to know.

"Ratherbe" was up next, and she soon discovered that the corner was still wet. I found it odd that she was as nervous as she was considering she is a much stronger climber than I am, but I chalked it up to her spending a week in the dry condition out in Red Rocks and me ready for the instability because I had lost my shoes two weeks before and was required to climb with a little more trepidation. However, my impressions changed when I made it to the crux. It wasn't just the crack that was wet in this specific spot, but also the face on the opposite side. This was the crux because the jugs had ended. Good feet and balance was needed to step through the thin series of moves just below the ledge. I was nervous even as the second and told "Ratherbe" as much when I topped out. We agreed that Maria is no picnic when wet.

But then it was my turn to be hesitant. I racked up and headed up the right-facing corner that is the start of the third pitch. The roof loomed over me, but it didn't look that scary. However, once I got beneath it I realized how awkward and committing the moves are for clearing the roof. It was bizarre that it didn't scare me that much. I should have been much more nervous than I was. Instead, it was a matter of figuring out the sequence. I pivoted out over the corner two or three times before I finally figured out what to do and where the holds were. Before I knew it I was up and over and belaying "Ratherbe" to the top.

We rapped off and headed back to the car with "BEC" and "Wonderwoman" for her birthday celebration. The food was tasty, the drinks smooth, the rain not so much (we were sitting on the balcony when the heavens opened that evening), and the games of pool fun. The evening came to an end and it was time to rest for what everyone hoped would be a better next day.

Middle Earth (5.5) - Two pitches - Trad - Gear anchors (<-- click here for guidebook info)

I had done the first pitch with "LiClimbs" two weekends earlier, but it was too dark to continue up the rest of the climb so we bailed. I told "Ratherbe" that I wanted to clean that up as a warm up for the day's activities on Sunday and she agreed it was a good route to start on. She led the first two pitches fine (she strung them together), and I followed up, again in my approach shoes (as I had done with "LiClimbs"). "Ratherbe" was skeptical of this decision, but she didn't voice much opposition. She was the one leading the first two pitches and I'm not sure she thought the third pitch would be too much of a challenge at the grade. In the end it was my decision, so I went with it.

The first pitch went fine. I had the same footwork issues in the same place as last time, but that was to be expected. Approach shoes don't edge as well climbing shoes and I wasn't leading this time. There was nothing to worry about.

The Williams Guidebook suggests this is a four-pitch climb, but the third pitch is really a walk along the GT Ledge. It's more than a few feet over, so I can understand why this would be described as a pitch, but I just don't see it as such. I walked over to the start and pulled the rope when "Ratherbe" had taken down the anchor. I scanned the pitch above me and didn't see anything overly daunting. It looked to be a quick climb up the shallow corner to the roof, then a traverse left to the jugs, and finally up over the roof. Easy. But then I read the guidebook and it said "This crux is the same as Wonderland - harder if short". "Hmmm," I thought to myself. "I have no clue how hard Wonderland is, but how hard can this really be? It's only 5.5."

I racked up and headed up the face to the roof. The gear was good so far and I could clearly see the line that I needed to take. But things became a little more stressful when got to the roof and discovered that the traverse to the jugs, and the face directly below the jugs, had few options for feet. "I should have worn my climbing shoes," I muttered to myself. It wasn't that it was hard, or that I needed my climbing shoes. Instead, it was more that the hands were clearly very good and the feet very thin. Climbing shoes would have helped to keep me from getting pumped out this early in the day.

The traverse was fairly easy. Both the hands and feet were thin, but the jugs just at the lip of the roof were fantastically large enough to ensure good balance. I placed the best tri-cam I could get in the horizontal crack below the roof and reached up to the obvious ledge that made the top of the roof - wet! Ugh. The rain had obviously stuck around longer than I expected. I backed down to the lower jugs and dead-armed for a few minutes while I chalked up. This was a little discouraging because the feet weren't great and I was going to need the ledge to be solid while I smeared up to foot holds.

I finished chalking up and went back to the ledge, but the ledge wasn't just wet; there was a puddle up there and any chalk that I had caked onto my palm, fingers, and knuckles disappeared the instant I set my hand down. I muttered a few bad words and down-climbed to the jugs. I was tired this time and needed a moment to collect my thoughts. The only place to rest was before the traverse, so I delicately moved back across to the right, asking "Ratherbe" where the foot holds were because I was blinded both by the rock and the size of my springtime belly. I rested for a couple of minutes, thought out the moves, and headed back to the jugs.

I wasn't afraid. In fact, I was confident that I could do this very easily. But what stopped me was the fatigue. The time off as a result of a sprained ankle had sapped me of most of what I had in the tank before I slipped on the ice in February. Its tough coming back from that after so much inactivity. I'm too old to simply start off where I once was. Being in decent shape requires maintenance, and I had cut that part of the budget when things got tight. I was committed, and when I got back to the jugs, I went for it, moving past the slick and sloppy ledge and up to the next hold, which, as it turned out, wasn't the jug I would have expected on a 5.5.

"What the hell?" I thought to myself. The key hand-hold after the freaking puddle was a small, square-shaped ledge the size of my fist, and it sloped slightly to the right and was wet just enough to keep me from getting a good hold of it. My bicep was burning from the semi-mantle off the puddle-filled ledge and so I slowly lowered myself down to the jugs and, trying to ask for less help from "Ratherbe" this time, traversed back to the right for another rest. I shook my head and muttered a few words of disbelief. It wasn't because I was scared! That was the difference. It was easy and I knew I could do it, but my body was so far behind my head that I simply didn't want to trust the sketchy tri-cam at the crux. "For the love of God!" I shouted in my head.

"Alright, this is it." I wasn't going to take no for an answer this time. I was either going to do it or fall. That was it. I didn't care about the potential swing if the tri-cam ripped, or the fact that my body would potentially hurtle down to the large belay ledge below. "No, fuck that. It's a 5.5. Who cares if it's wet?"

I was tired before I even started. My outstretched muscles ached as I chalked up at the jugs. The puddle soaked my right hand and then my left hand as I matched on the ledge and moved my feet higher. I flicked my hip upward and snagged the stupid square hold and held myself there for what seemed like an eternity. "Great," I thought, "I've got the what?" I wouldn't say that my body position was awkward, but it certainly would have been if I had moved any of my four extremities. They all held me in that perfect spot, where I knew I wasn't going anywhere until the first extremity to lose all holding power collapsed with the full weight of my body tumbling after it. I thought about high-stepping with my right foot, but it was too high and awkward for me to do it confidently. To do that would have required putting too much weight on my left hand, the one that was on the insecure square hold at the top. I could have bumped my left hand higher if there were any holds that I could reach. My right hand was firmly pressed deep into the puddle and wasn't going anywhere unless I could move my -

- "Ratherbe": Why don't put your left foot on the jug?
- Me: Oh.

It took me no longer than a minute to finish the pitch.

Arrow (5.8) - Two pitches - Trad - Bolted anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

"Ratherbe" wanted to get on the ultra-classic Arrow and I was all too eager to join her. I had done this route a few years earlier with "Captain Obvious" and had ever since regarded it as one of the greatest climbs I've ever done. The first pitch is about as fun as a route can get: easy 5.6 face moves with lovely gear placements and fun, exposed climbing on gorgeous crimps and edges. We got there just as a guide was about to set up a top rope and we jumped ahead of him before he could get his harness on (OK - so he let us go, but we were quick). I had so much fun on this climb that I professed to a complete stranger two routes over that if I were the king of climbing I'd ban all vertical cracks. I brought "Ratherbe" up and she racked up for the famous second pitch.

I honestly don't know which pitch is better. The first pitch has such nicely spaced out semi-dynamic moves that it is difficult to believe anything could be more enjoyable. But the second pitch, with its similar style is different in that the notch (or the "arrow") at the start is juggy and overhanging, the middle is run out on slick, white, crystal knobs, and the top has what I call the blowjob hold. You get up to where it is and you feel around, but you don't find it. You lower to a rest, move right, and feel around again before you realize there's nothing there. You stand up directly above the bolt and feel around again, but still realize that you have no clue where this thing is. You retreat for another rest and move up again, feeling, feeling, finding nothing, nothing at all, completely and absolutely nothing and you're just about to give up until - OH! OH! OH! God yes! Oh yes! OH GOD! HOLY CRAP! I FOUND IT! I FOUND IT! WOOHOO!! - and you're at the anchors before you can clean up.

Annie Oh (5.8) - Two pitches (we only did the second pitch) - Trad - Tree and Bolted anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

Our original intent was to rap back down to the ledge to do the second pitch of Limelight (5.7), the route that "Ratherbe" and I had chosen as our early-season warmup the previous spring. Back then it was too cold, and I seconded it but with a lot of pain. The crimps and raw temps were brutal on my fingertips, and I swear that I never would have made it up on lead that day. I was lucky to have made it up on TR. But Limelight was taken, and so "Ratherbe" recommended another of her favorite climbs, the second pitch of "Annie Oh."

I wanted to do both pitches, but between "Ratherbe" suggesting the first pitch was terrible and the fact that there were folks toproping it, we decided to hit the second pitch only. It was getting late anyway, and we wanted to head out at a reasonable time in the afternoon. So I racked up and headed up the blocky mess at the start. Easy enough. I then moved up to the more technical climbing and came to the upward-facing and seemingly death-encouraging flake.

I couldn't believe it when I first saw it. This thing looked as if it could be trundled by me breathing on it let alone weighting it, and it was loaded with chalk. I looked at it and the thin horizontal gap in the rock about three feet above. Was I going to have to make a dynamic move off this thing? There was no way I was going to do this. The thing is that my head was so confident this weekend. It just was. I had felt it building up the past few weeks and I thought this was a good thing. The fact that I was taking a step forward was not only something to get excited about but it was also believable. But here I was, staring at a death flake that seemingly required a dynamic move off of it to gain the spicy holds above, and I was about six feet above my last piece. I certainly wasn't going to place a piece behind it. If I fell after pulling off the flake then I didn't want my falling weight to pull this kitchen sink-sized block on top of me.

It had been a while since "Ratherbe" last climbed this route, so she couldn't offer any help. I wasn't going to down-climb. This was a route that should have been within my skill-level, so I said "screw it" and followed the chalk. The funny thing is that this isn't even the crux. I learned that as soon as I grabbed onto the top of the flake and traversed right. It sure looked scary when I was finally directly below it with both hands firmly attached at the top. But just as I was going move upward off it, I noticed a hand-sized horizontal crack to the right. "Hmmm...," I thought. It had chalk on it and it appeared to be far more stable than the flake, so I reached out and grabbed it, moved my feet into a better position below it, and stood up. The upper gap was easily within reach now, and I could happily move up to the real crux at the top.

The next few moves were tricky but easy. I felt so good about them. I was well above my gear at this point, but I felt fine moving through the larger 5.8 moves. I finally found a good spot to plug one last piece and I encountered the crux: a move up to two jugs for feet with no hands, all the while being pushed backward into space by an overhanging boulder sitting in just the wrong spot. The puzzle was fun to guess, but I couldn't figure it out. "Ratherbe" remembered the move, and she offered to give it up, but I refused. I wanted to figure this out. It stumped me though. There were no hands up high for pulling, and the obvious foot holds were both as waist level. Finally I turned and looked down and said, "I'm going to high-step and then do a mantle to get my other foot up, and then stand up with no hands. How does that sound?" She looked up at me said, "You do what you have to do." I was hoping for a little more confirmation. I mean, if I had guessed correctly then the guesswork was over. All I had to do was execute.

It was a little nerve-wracking, moving my feet up high without any hand holds to speak of, but I got my left foot up high and then pushed off the jug on the right side with both hands until I was high enough to match my right foot to my hands. Bingo. I stood up with no hands and once again professed my love for a climb to the strangers who were right above me. To steal a word from Hemmingway, it was grand, as grand as a climb could get, and I was standing on top.

Click here for all 2009 'Gunks photos.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Guidebook: Gunks - Maria (5.6+), Arrow (5.8), Ant's Line (5.9)

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Maria (5.6+) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Take third marked trail and head right where it splits. The second pitch of Maria is the massive left-facing corner on the right. The route starts well to the left of that, however.

- Pitch One (5.5) - Trad - Gear anchor - 80 feet: Climb a crack that about 10 feet left of a short right-facing corner and about 40 feet left of the obvious left-facing corner that makes Maria's second pitch. Climb it until above the corner and begin to look for the easiest way to start the traverse right. Traverse right and up to the base of the large corner. Be sure to back up the anchor that may already be there.

- Pitch Two (5.6+) - Trad - Gear anchor - 90 feet: Climb the corner to the ledge above.

- Pitch Three (5.6+) - Trad - Gear anchor - 50 feet: Climb the short left-facing corner to the top and then the right-facing corner to the triangular roof. Step awkwardly left (crux)and pull the the roof to the crack. Climb the crack to the top.

- Descent: Walk left on shallow path (watch out for the soft edge) for about 25 feet to where you can scramble down rocks on the left and down to the continuation of the upper path. Walk another 15 feet or so to a faint path on the left. This path goes to the rocky edge. A bolted anchor is around the corner to the left (beware of loose rocks on the edge). Two 60m ropes will get you to the ground. There are bolts to the right (you'll have to look for them a bit) and that may allow you to rap with one rope.

Arrow (5.8) - Two pitches - Trad - Bolted anchors

- Approach
: Take the 11th trail after the East Trapps Connector Trail that goes down to the road on the right. At the top of the trail, head up left to the top of a series of boulders that are left of a long left-facing corner.

- Pitch One (5.6) - Trad - Bolted Anchor - 100 Feet: Begin on the face below a small right facing corner. Climb up to and through the corner, the face above the corner, and the next right-facing corner above that. Follow the path of least resistance up the face to the ledge. Bolted anchors are to the right.

- Pitch Two (5.8) - Trad - Bolted Anchor - Feet: Climb through the notch (the arrow) at the overhanging section to the left of the bolts. Follow the face and the bolts up to the top (fading up right as you go).

- Descent: Rap all the way to the bottom with two 6om ropes or rap twice with one rope (the second rap off the bolts at the top of the first pitch).

Annie Oh (5.8) - Two pitches (only the second pitch is shown due to the first pitch having not been climbed yet) - Trad - Bolted anchors

- Approach
: ONCE ON THE GT LEDGE -> walk left from the bolted anchor at the top of Arrow's first pitch (see above) to a series of broken blocks. This should be above a large tree with slings on it (this tree makes the top of the first pitch of Annie Oh).

- Pitch Two (5.8) - Trad - Bolted anchor - 100 feet: Climb the left-facing corner to the left-facing flakes. Move up to an upward-looking flake (scary!) and traverse past it to the right, using the face holds on the right to move up. Move up and left to a notch / groove near the top and figure out the fun finishing move that will lead just to the right of the overhanging bulge. Finish at the bolts on top.

- Descent: It is best to make two raps despite two 60m ropes being long enough to reach the bottom. Rap off the bolts at the top and either rap off the tree anchor at the top of the first pitch, or walk right along the ledge to the bolts at the top of the first pitch of Arrow.

Ant's Line (5.9) - One pitch - Trad - Bolted anchor

- Approach
: Take the third path after the Andrew Boulder up to the obvious dihedral that is straight ahead (and around to the right of a small, low-hanging roof). There are a couple of leaning boulders in this area that make the belay and gear storage area feel like a "room." The route starts on a ledge just beyond a large tree.

- Pitch One (5.9) - Trad - Bolted anchor - feet: Climb up to the ledge about six feet off the ground, then climb up to the roof and pull around it to the left (first crux). Follow the corner up to the triangular roof (crux) and follow the jugs to the top, exiting to the bolts on the left.

- Descent: Rap with one rope to the bottom off the bolts.

The Moab Diary: Two Grade III's in a Day or Castleton is my Bitch

I woke before the sun was fully poking it's fiery head above the horizon. "Utah" was lazily sleeping the day away so I decided to get my breakfast down and start organizing my own gear before I woke him up. As I sat in the sand I watched the sun struggle over the horizon. The cold prism of Castleton Tower slowly brightened to a fiery read as the sky exploded in sunset hues of red, purple, and blue; complementing the red landscape miles below.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Guidebook - 'Gunks - Middle Earth, Snowpatch, Thin Slabs, Bloody Mary

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Middle Earth (5.5) - Three Pitches (only the first shown at the present time) - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Take the ninth trail up to the left after the East Trapps Connector Trail (which is the only path that goes down to the right). Fade to the right where it splits.

- Pitch One (5.5) - Trad - Tree anchor - 100 feet: Climb the jagged, z-shaped, left-facing corner at the start to a shallow, left-facing corner that is below two parallel cracks about 40 feet up. Climb the face / cracks above to the ledge, step right to the tree anchor at the top.

- Pitch Two (5.2) - Trad - Tree anchor - 80 feet(: Climb straight up the face to the GT Ledge and the tree anchor.

- Pitch Three (5.5) - Trad - Tree anchor - 80 feet(: Climb the face and the right-facing corner to the roof. Traverse left about five feet below the right-facing corner that is above the roof. Pull through this crux and fade up to the right to the corner below the tree.

- Descent from first pitch: Sorry about this, but I've forgotten what we did up there and didn't write it down. Just trust me and believe that there are tree rap stations nearby. You may have to walk a bit and search along the edge of the cliff, but they are there.

Snowpatch (5.5) - Two pitches (only the first pitch shown at present) - Trad - Gear anchors

- Approach
: Take the tenth path on the left after the East Trapps Connector Trail (the only trail that goes down to the right). Fade left at the top.

- Pitch One (5.5) - Trad - Tree Anchor - 140 Feet: Climb the right-facing corner straight up to the GT Ledge. The Williams guidebook says to traverse right past the laurel bush and pine tree (about 40 feet up), and then to climb the left-facing to the next tree for an intermediate belay. However, we climbed straight up through the overhang. The overhang isn't as straight forward as it seems, but it is also easier than it seems when you get to the point where the obvious lieback ends.

- Pitch Two not noted because it wasn't climbed

- Descent: Rap from the tree at the top with two 60m ropes. It may be possible to use the intermediate belay station to rap with one rope.

Thin Slabs (5.7 with direct start) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchors

- Pitch One (5.7) - Trad - Tree anchor - 90 feet
: Climb the right-fading crack that is to the right of the bolt (about 25 feet up) for the 5.7 start and better protection. Otherwise, climb the blank face directly below the bolt for the 5.6 start. After clipping the bolt, climb straight up to the left-facing corner. Climb either the corner or the face to the left up to the ledge.

- Pitches Two and Three (5.3 / 5.5) - Trad - Gear anchor - (60 feet each): We combined these two pitches for two reasons: 1) you can, even with one rope (though long slings help) and; 2) the Williams guidebook is a little misleading. It says to climb to the second ledge, but in fact the first large ledge is the top of the second route. We passed the obvious large ledge because we didn't think it was the correct one. That essentially put us on the third pitch, and so we continued just because we could.

In any case, start to the left of the tree below a shallow overhang. Climb the left-facing corner and then fade right up to the ledge for the end of the second pitch. From there, walk right and climb the obvious, large left-facing corner that has a small chimney near the top. Exit to the right and build an anchor at the top. Just over the top is the tree where one can rap from, however, it is not advised to belay from this tree unless one is climbing the 5.7+ variation that goes under the roof on the third pitch.

- Descent: Rap from the tree at the top back down to the large ledge. The rap in one go with two 60m ropes all the way to the ground.

Bloody Mary (5.7) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchors

- Approach
: Take the first path up to the left after the large bouldering boulder (this is the path before the East Trapps Connector Trail that goes down to the right - so if you see that, then you've gone too far). Fade to the right at the top.

- Pitch One (5.7) - Trad - Tree anchor - 80 feet: Climb the block that forms a left-facing corner to the crack. Follow the crack straight up to the small overhang, then step right and continue to follow the crack up to the belay tree. This tree is a shared belay spot with Morning After, so it may get busy. Because P2 really starts about 20 feet to the left, it may be best to build a gear anchor below the tree that is growing just below the large roof.

- Pitch Two (5.6) - Trad - Gear anchor - 90 feet: Climb up to the steep jugs below and left of the tree, climb under the tree and fade right without going all the way into the corner at the end of the roof. About midway between the tree and the far corner on the right, reach up to gain the jugs above the roof. Pull and mantle up to the face. Climb straight up to the ledge.

- Pitch Three (5.5) - Trad - Gear anchor - 90 feet: Climb the right-facing corner to the ledge, then climb the path of least resistance up the face to the top.

- Descent: I think there are several options here. One could walk left along the trail toward Maria and Frog's Head, but those are popular routes. We went right instead, and before the trail headed uphill, veered right toward the edge of the cliff. There's a large belay ledge / terrace with a tree slightly below it and to its right. On that tree should be belay slings. Be careful walking down to the tree, as it is somewhat thin getting to the ledge, and steep from the ledge to the tree itself. With double 60m ropes, one can rap all the way to the ground. I am not sure if there is an intermediate rap station for a single rope.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Moab Diary: Going back is yet another battle

- "Utah": Hey dude bra, I'm in Vegas and heading to the Creek soon. Give me a call and we'll meet up to do something gnar in the desert.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Plugging for the first time...without shoes

To say that I'm bold is akin to saying I love milk, and I haven't had a glass of milk in over a decade.

But I have been suffering from an ankle sprain the past few months and this weekend was the first time since 2008 that I've plugged gear. Add on a complete lack of strength and endurance due to inactivity, and I should have been a complete head case my first time out. But I was feeling competent, and so I took a couple of risks that I normally would not take.

My partners had all gone away. "Jello" was living it up in his new-found freedom in the desert cracks out west, "Ratherbe" was on vacation in Red Rocks, and "KITT" had returned to Germany for professional reasons that still mystify those who like to climb on a regular basis. I knew that I needed to get out this weekend just to fiddle with gear, to get my head back into shape, and to, well, have fun on rock for once. I put out a feeler on for partners, and "LiClimbs" responded. I vaguely knew who she was, so I did some homework and determined she would make a good partner for the weekend. We exchanged info and I left work early on Friday to pick her up. We were each 'Gunks bound for the first time in 2009.

I was surprised by how chilly it was first thing in the morning. I had gone to bed without zipping my bag up because the air was too sticky, but by the time my eyes peeled open for the day all was dark where the neck and the hood of my bag met. It took us a few minutes to get up, but once we did, and once we were hiking along the carriage trail, the weight of the heat of the day was was fully upon us. The bugs were also out in full force, and we had each forgotten to buy bug spray at the grocery store the evening before.

Thin Slabs (5.7 start variation) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors (<-- click for guidebook info)

I looked up at the 5.6 version and saw a blank slab for 25 feet, and then there was a bolt. Did I really want to do this for my first lead? It was doubtful, so I scoped the 5.7 start in the vertical crack to the right. It was harder, but at least it was protectable. I really didn't want to start with a climb that hard. In fact, I wasn't sure I wanted to climb 5.7 all weekend. I just wanted to get warm and remember what it was like to set a cam, nut, and manage the rope. But the 5.7 seemed to offer better protection. I chose it, climbed and plugged gear for about 20 feet, and then gingerly stepped left to the bolt. This was easy, and so was the rest of the pitch, even though it was a bit run out after the bolt. I chose to climb the face directly under the tree instead of the left-facing corner to the right. I cruised, and it felt good to get on real rock for the first time in months.

"LiClimbs" followed and, after some struggles between my last piece in the lower crack and the bolt above it, she joined me on the ledge. She'd take the next pitch, and then I the third. But it turned out that wasn't necessary. It was easy to mistake the end of the second pitch and start of the third, and she combined the two without really knowing that she was going to. I came up and we rapped off.

But we were hot. The temps were in the mid-90s and we had left our water at the base. Our throats were scorched dry, and our shirts and pants were glued to our skin as wet as a bathing suit would be upon exiting the sea. We weren't going to climb much in this heat, so we rested at the base in the shade.

Snow Patch (5.5) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchor(<-- Click for guidebook info)

Snow Patch was in the shade and close to our gear, so we walked left about 15 feet and climbed the right-facing corner to the top. "LiClimbs" took the lead, and it was recommended that she go straight up through the corner rather than traverse right about mid-way up. The moves to exit the corner stopped her for a few minutes, but she was able to pull through. I wasn't sure how far away the rap station was from the top, and I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to climb this route with my approach shoes on instead of my climbing shoes (and either walking a long way in my climbing shoes or carrying my approach shoes up with me). I had tossed the idea in my head the entire time she was leading, and figured what could go wrong if I was the second and on top rope? It was also an opportunity to see if I really could climb without my climbing shoes, kind of like practicing lowering someone with a fireman's belay on rappel, or practicing belaying the wrong way with a Grigri for the first few feet of a climb. It wasn't so much a challenge or an act of stupidity but more an opportunity to see what it actually feels like to do so; to see if it could be done in case I was put in a position to actually do so. I found the climbing easy, and my confidence grew.

Middle Earth (5.5) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchor(<-- Click for guidebook info)

It was my turn to lead, and I tossed in my head the idea of leading in my approach shoes just to see if I could do that, too. I finally decided to give it a go and, for the most part, it was very easy. I ran into a couple of situations where I wished I had my climbing shoes: the rock became slick about half-way up and the edges were small - requiring precision, often a couple of feet away from each other. I admit that I was afraid for a few moments while the late afternoon heat sapped my already weak endurance. But I pushed on and was able to get to the top with only one slip and no near falls. It was hard work, but I was proud of myself. "LiClimbs" was also impressed, too.

But it was now dark and we figured we did not have time to finish the route. We rapped off and decided to head into town to buy bug spray (the bugs were TERRIBLE!). I normally eat down by Split Rock and enjoy the rush of the waterfall and camaraderie of the end-of-the-day climbing crowd, but the bugs were too much so we decided to eat out. For the first time in my climbing experience in the 'Gunks, the Mountain Brauhaus was nearly empty. We waited 15 minutes for a table, the burger was, as usual, too dry (so was the chicken), and then we left. It wasn't until we got back to the tent that we realized we had left my guidebook at the restaurant. We went back and retrieved the book, and then we settled into our steaming tent, unbathed and all.

Bloody Mary (5.7) - Three pitches - trad - Gear anchor (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

The next day was also hot, and we wanted to leave early so we got an early start. Bloody Mary was the choice, and if things went well then I felt strong enough to jump on a nemesis of mine from last year (Son of Easy Overhang (5.8)). But alas, when we got to the base it was revealed that I had left my shoes in the car. Bummer. That took care of me taking on any challenging routes. It was seconding only for me, unless the route was easy. "LiClimbs" wanted to climb this first pitch, so she went up as easy and clean and she could manage. In fact, I was impressed with her skills. Her gear was solid, and her climbing never caused me any fear. I struggled, but made it up without any falls, even though I had a hard time cleaning a couple of pieces.

We read the book once I got to the top of the pitch and it dawned on my that I had already climbed this route, and had, in fact, climbed the next pitch as well. It isn't an easy pitch for anyone taller than 5'7", so I gave it to her. It was fun watching her first make her way up to the traverse with the tree in the middle, and then I enjoyed watching her pass the tree and clear the roof on the other side. I don't think she knew what she was in for, but I knew it was well within her ability even having only climbed with her for the first time the day before. Besides, she was going to have an easier time on the second pitch than I was due to her height and her having climbing shoes. I used the tree to get through the traverse and damn near fell backward when clearing the roof. It was hot. I was weak from inactivity and sapped of my strength by the sun. We rapped down and called it a day.

The frustrating part of the whole trip was that my climbing shoes were not, in fact, in my car. I didn't realize until the next day when, upon asking folks on if they had seen my shoes, several people noted that they had seen my shoes on a coping stone both on Saturday and Sunday. It appeared that my shoes had unclipped from my bag, and that my experiment on Snowpatch was less an experiment and more a study on preparedness.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Moab Diary: The final "push"

"Jello's" comments in Italics - which happens to be the bulk of this post

I didn't want to wake up. It was our last day and I was pretty tired. Why should I get up? Maybe I'll just lie here forever, in my desert grave. A few minutes later and I gave up. I had to piss anyway. I ambled over to the designated urinal and watered the lawn. I looked around. The dihedral above the campground dominated my view. It was a fantastic-looking crack. I had been a little disappointed when I discovered it had been climbed before. For some reason I feel more compelled to seek out new lines than to climb old ones. I don't feel like I can push myself when there is so much information available on climbs.