Friday, July 31, 2009

Today, I need to climb

It’s no use. There’s so much turmoil in my life at the moment that it almost isn’t worth dealing with it all until something settles down. But then there’s the pressure knowing that if I don’t buckle down and deal with it all, all at once, that there will be missed opportunities that could affect me for years to come.

See the rest here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Brotherhood of the Rope

"I am immensely happy, for I have felt the rope between us. We are linked for life. We have approached the stars together and at such heights, the air has a special savor...Together we have known apprehension, uncertainty and fear; but of what importance is all that? For it was only up there that we discovered many things of which we had previously known nothing: a joy that was new to us, happiness that was doubled because it was shared."

I recently read this in Gaston Rebuffat's book Starlight and Storm, which for the most part I found to be a mildly interesting communication of his climbing of the great north faces of the Alps. Where I found the book overwhelmingly good and entirely worth reading was at the very end, as if the seminal knowledge was a reward for people who stuck through entirety of his work describing his climbs.

As I have developed as a climber and also as a guide, my reasons for climbing and my thoughts about climbing ethics have changed. When I first started climbing I was immature, reckless, and stupid. I clipped bolts and took big falls, built scary anchors, tempted fate with the first traditional leads during which my legs quivered while I dropped my nuts when I was only five feet off the ground. There was always the element of adventure and unknown. I would get on climbs and I didn't know if I would make it. I didn't know if I would get hurt, what would hold or was safe. The "apprehension, uncertainty, and fear" brought forth characteristics that have played out in my life to make me a better person, in facing considerable hardship never in everyday life do those hardships approach the difficulties I've felt climbing. One cannot look at work projects with anything but boredom having flirted with death on high.

I have always been attracted to adventure and the outdoors. I would often wander for hours in the woods until a parent had to come looking for me. I always want to go further, to find out what was behind the next bend. I still have this problem when I hike. I simply like exploring but with every corner of the globe categorized, graphed, mapped, and steralized it is difficult to find places not trodden by the masses. Vertical rock has always had enough of the unknown that I could deal with the many hands and feet that came before mine, which is why I am more of a climber than a hiker. As I have grown, though, I feel I have grown onto a distinctly different branch than the vast majority of climbers as well as normal human beings. As I go to almost any crag in the United States I see this proliferation of morally deteriorated climbers. They don't care about the adventure or the exploration, they simply want to climb that hard move, to tick that hard climb, adventure a byproduct that must be eliminated through the use of technology. In order to focus simply on the difficulty, climbs have been bolted into submission.

In his 1972 Catalog Yvon Chouinard emplores climbers to remember the rock and other climbers, employing restraint and good judgment in the use of his products and to climb clean. Early on he describes the moral deterioration: "Armed with ever more advanced gadgetry and techniques the style of technical climbing is gradually becoming so degraded that elements vital to the climbing experience-adventure and appreciation of the mountain environment itself-are being submerged. Siege tactics, bolt ladders, bat hooks, bash chocks, detailed topos and equipment lists, plus a guaranteed rescue diminish rather than enhance a climb. Even now existing techniques and technology are so powerfult that almost any climb imaginable can be realized, and the fear of the unknown reduced to rote excercise." This is extremely common today amongst climbers. They train in the gym and most of them learn in that sterile, plastic environment. This in itself is not so bad in that it gives fledgling climbers a few skills so they don't injure themselves or others. The problem is that the sterile environment does not provide new climbers with any direction or real knowledge for when they do get outside. What we have then are climbers barely interested in adventure or the outdoors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Silver Lining

I've wanted to taste the adventure of climbing for a long time. But just as in life, I've also always kept things as well mapped out as possible. After all, what's the point of attempting success if you aren't going to actually succeed? Advanced planning is probably the most important tool that I have with regards to success. Whenever I've succeeded easily or even spectacularly I can always look back and point to my preparation: the harder I worked preparing the easier success was. And this begs the question, where is the adventure in that?

I'm not a very good climber, yet I dream of doing first ascents. In fact, "Jello" and I nearly had an Epiphanous moment when we first rolled into Moab a few months ago. We looked up at the towering buttress and for a few seconds we were both convinced we were going to bag one of the corners that rose high above the highway below. But then we realized that we didn't have the best gear, and so we drove off with a mixture of somber and relief flowing through our hearts and brains. "Jello"'s part wanted the route adventurously, and my part wanted the route intelligently. We both understood each other's position, and I can't speak for him anymore, but since that moment I've wanted to answer the question, "why did I want it intelligently?"

I've said before that I don't climb for the adventure. Instead, I climb for the escape. But what is the escape if there isn't a bit of the unknown? According to my use of the word "escape" in this context, isn't escaping about getting away from the familiar? If so, then isn't getting away from the familiar adventurous by definition?

I've been saved by my partners more than once. This is partially because I generally climb with stronger climbers. But this is also partially because I know that I climb with stronger partners. I'm not afraid of heading up a route that is too difficult for me because I know that my partner is likely able to clean up my mess if I fail. Look, I know this isn't a good attitude. It certainly isn't one that I consciously take with me. I'm both a budding and enthusiastic individualist, so I want to both make and stand by my own decisions. But deep down I know that I can make certain decisions because I have someone to bail me out. This is why I've always played it safe in life: because I'm not sure who will bail me out if I make risky decisions in life. It is why I plan ahead so much: because if I'm going to live by a decision then I might as well see it through, and planning in advance, for me, is the easiest way to ensure I complete the task successfully. It's also why I don't mind beta on climbs: because I don't care about the surprise as much as I care about completing the task. But alas, without rapping down to see the route first, how can I ever be so prepared for a first ascent if I'm so stuck on planning the damn thing first? I'm not sure the answer is "I can't" because I feel as if it is more complicated than that, and I also feel as if I have a long way to go before understanding enough to answer that question outright. But this weekend I unexpectedly got a taste of what the answer might look like, even if it was on a route that not only was definitely not a first ascent, but it was also a route that I have been on before as a second. It was only a taste. I don't know what the full flavor is yet, but I have enough information now to think hard about what the answer might look like.

Easy Baby Link-up (5.6) - Trad - Two pitches - Gear and tree anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

It poured Friday night, the night we arrived, to the point where "Ratherbe" and I felt the water rushing underneath my tent. It felt as if we were on a water bed, but thanks to the footprint under the tent most of our stuff was dry. "Blow" and "Caboose" were just as lucky, and even though the downpours lasted for hours over night, and even though the rain hadn't stopped until relatively late in the morning, the rock was surprisingly dry at 830am when we all awoke. Still, it made sense to grab breakfast first, so after we ate in town, and when we arrived in the West Trapps parking lot, the rock was even drier and ready to be climbed then.

Probably the most amazing aspect of that Saturday was that the 'Gunks were nearly completely empty. It was supposed to have been a beautiful day in New Paltz, with the sun shining all day and temps in the mid-70s, but it seems that there are a lot of visitors who don't understand how the rock dries there. We didn't care though because that meant more rock for us. There's definitely nothing wrong with that.

"Blow" had the duty of leading our first two pitches. We were worried that there would be a crowd on either "Easy Overhang" or "Baby", the two climbs we were going to link up in two pitches, respectively, but we were happy to see that only one group was on the first pitch and that they were continuing onto the second pitch. We would be doing the second pitch of "Baby", so all was working out as planned.

The first pitch went fine; it was a very easy chimney that took "Blow" no more than a few minutes to climb. I came up behind him, we exchanged gear, and he went straight up for the roof above.

He cruised most of the second pitch, stopping only once before getting to the roof due to an initially unseen high-step midway up. And then he hit the roof. This stumped him for several minutes and he went up and down to the base of the roof several times before noticing there were a couple of climbers ready to rap down the line he was on. There are a lot of loose stones, many about palm-sized, right on the lip of the ledge at the top, so he stepped aside to a good place where he could rest and let the other climbers rap through. It was sunny out, so I turned myself around to face the green valley that lain below the blue sky. It was so warm, and dry, and the air around us was peaceful and quiet. I felt as if this is what it must feel like during the week in the 'Gunks when the crowds are sitting in their cubicles at work.

I looked up to see if the final rappeller had passed and noticed that the rope was being pulled. "Blow" was also three feet higher than he had been before and closing in on the finishing moves of the roof. Within seconds he easily brought his lowest foot above the roof and was calling off-belay. I was impressed because it wasn't his climbing ability that had limited him before, but more his route-reading. Once he read the route it became easy, and it turned out to be a praiseworthy moment: it was his first 'Gunks 5.6, and he did it on only his second pitch of the day. I was happy for this accomplishment because I was with him when he backed off the first pitch of "Shockley's" the year before.

Bonnie's Roof (5.9) - Trad - Two pitches - Gear anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

My confidence was the same as it was before "Ant's Line" (5.9); it was nervous, unsure, and completely convinced that I was not going to fall. I remember walking to "Ant's Line" that day and thinking about not being another Francis Macomber, about not quitting, and about showing up to do the job I had set out to do. I climbed OK that day, but I also climbed with courage. It was probably one of the most courageous days I've ever had. We walked to "Bonnie's Roof" with a spring in our steps. "Blow" was excited to finally get on such a classic and I was running the moves of the crux through my head.

As always, when we arrived I immediately noticed that the crux moves I had imagined in my head were different in real life. The committing section of the corner below the roof was longer than I remembered, and the roof itself was also longer and higher above the committing corner. There were at least six more moves than I remembered and imagined. I wondered how many of those six were actually harder, too.

We stopped and snacked before I racked up and "Blow" flaked out the ropes. I then tied in and headed up the first 12 feet to the ledge above the ground. Now the climbing started, and I moved up another 10 feet or so and plugged my first piece of gear. It was a bomber nut, and I felt good about it.

Two nuts and a cam later and I was standing at the last decent rest before the committing section of the corner. I was pumped and sweating despite the fact that the entire pitch was in the shade. "Blow" had given me some of his loose chalk before I went up, but my hands sweat from the the back of my hand and then through the knuckles and spaces in between my fingers. I can chalk my palms and the front of my fingers multiple times but if I don't move immediately after then the pores on the back of my hand wet the front all over again. I tried to chalk the back of my hands, and that worked for a while, but I was too pumped to move quickly from my stance so the sweat formed again, and I'd chalk again, and before too long I was chalking just to hang on during the rest.

I made two moves off the rest stance and quickly realized I was at the most difficult section of the climb for me. It was the slick and pumpy layback up to a thicker section of the crack where I could arm-bar easily, except that the feet were terrible there, and of course I was going to be too pumped to hang on one arm long enough to place gear and clip in once I got up there. I backed down and rested some more. I tried maybe twice more before I realized this was going to require complete commitment on my part. I finally went up, made it to just below the thick part of the crack, and threw in the first piece of gear that I felt comfortable with in a while (the two pieces below me at that point probably would have held, but if they hadn't then I would have likely hit that rest stance on the fall if the gear ripped). My breathing was heavy and my hands were soaked. The crack was unforgiving with such wet hands, so I chalked again only to realize that my hands became wet just as soon as the other one was chalked up. Resting on two hands seemed easy enough for a while until both hands needed chalking again. I wiped the rolling streams of sweat off my brow and that eliminated any and all advantage I had from chalking up multiple times. I knew I could do this. I just had to try. This the easy part to the roof, right? I wondered.

I stuck my hand up to where the crack continued and tried to jam, but I quickly discovered that there was no hand jam here. Instead it was a shallow section of rock deep and wide enough only for a couple of fingers. I bumped higher to what seemed a better hold, but it was not. It was worse, and I could see that the feet were slick all around me. I knew I was done and that I had no chance of getting "Bonnie's" clean. The cam in front of me seemed solid, so I cautiously asked "Blow" to take and lower me back to the rest stance.

He lowered me and I sat down on the flat section to gather my thoughts. A few minutes of rest would probably do the trick, but I had been battling endurance problems all season due to two injuries and a lack of good climbing weather. I rested for about 10 minutes and headed back up.

The initial moves were easy enough. I had rested after all. I also had the the energy to pull past the shallow holds that had just sent me downward a few minutes before, but then I was pumped again with still the most pumpy moves yet to come on the roof. The climbing past the roof is not that technical, but it does require a bit of stamina to pull through the five (or so) moves to the semi-rest above. I plugged a nut in the wide crack and tried to move up to the undercling crack in the roof. It was further than I thought it would be, so I backed off again to the base of the wide crack. Again, my hands were soaked, so I chalked up multiple times. I wanted to clip the tattered sling on a fixed, old cam jammed up high, but I didn't trust it. Still, I didn't trust the nut I had placed either. The crack above seemed to be a good size for a #3.5 Camalot, so I plugged it. I was worried because the crack was uneven and the lobes weren't sitting nice and pretty liked I'd want them to, but it was what it was and I had to rest once again because I was too pumped to hold on.

The cam held just fine, but it was still too low. I was now looking at hang-dogging my way up this route. There was a good chance that I'd be able to climb up the rest of the corner after the main roof, but I was too damn pumped to get through the next several moves without resting on each piece. However, this was only part of the solution; it was only the end goal. Getting through the roof was another problem altogether. It was so close and yet so far away. Every time I tried to pull myself up to place the next piece of gear I found myself too tired to get myself close enough to reach the upper crack. I wanted to get through this, but I wasn't sure I had it.

It was then that I started to think about the anchors that were about 25 feet to my right. I'm not sure which climb they are on, but I began to convince myself that I could traverse on the huge hands all the way from my position to the anchors, except that while there were great hands there were also no feet for the first 10 feet. Did I mention that I was pumped at this point? How on earth was I going to hand traverse without feet for ten feet when I could barely pull myself upward five feet? The traverse was also largely unprotected, too. If I fell then I was going to swing right back into the hard rock that made up the corner, with the entire swing being caught by the cam that was good for a downward pull but still questionable on a swing. To top it off, there was another corner to the right of me, so if I made it across OK and "Blow" fell then he'd be the one slamming into a corner. It wasn't ideal, but it seemed to be the best solution. At this point I didn't care about getting to the top. All I cared about was getting down without anyone getting hurt and without leaving any expensive gear behind.

Of course, the thought of first ascents was now playing in my head. I was ready to give up, and yet there I was wondering just how I was ever going to get good enough to bag a first ascent. It was completely ridiculous and I felt a fool for thinking such thoughts. I had always figured that if the climbing on a first ascent got too rough then I'd aid it. I didn't care about getting first free ascents, per se. I just wanted the adventure. And there it was, stuck in my head as a beetle in a spider's web - why was I climbing? Was it for the escape or for the adventure? It was even more frustrating when two women walked up the path behind "Blow" and I shouted down "any interest in climbing Bonnie's?" They looked up at me and I was instantly disappointed to learn that the women weren't "Ratherbe" and "Caboose", which I had assumed when I first saw them. Yes, I had even inquired about two other climbers on "Ant's Line" if they wanted to climb "Bonnie's", too, but the turned the opportunity down. At this point I was actively looking for someone to bail me out. I was ashamed. I had reached a point where I knew that first ascents were not in my future. I knew that if I didn't climb with someone stronger than me that I shouldn't push the grade, and I knew that I needed to climb harder routes with someone who could bail me out: "Ratherbe", "Jello", etc. This was nothing against "Blow". This had nothing to do with him at all. It was all about me and my lack of courage and my wealth of incompetence. Just like Francis Macomber would have understood all to unfortunately, I had injured the lion and was willing to let it slowly bleed to death despite it's willingness to fight back. I was being cruel, and everyone who was paying attention knew it. Unlike Francis, however, I knew it more than anyone else.

"Blow" and I conversed several times about what I was going to do. He felt more than confident than I did that he'd be able to do the foot-less traverse to the right, as long as there were large hand holds then he'd be fine. I wasn't sure I could do it, and I wasn't sure I wanted to put him in a position to test himself in that way. I was also sure he could do it, too, but if he fell then it wouldn't have been his fault. In fact, him merely climbing the traverse wouldn't have been his decision because he would have been doing his duty as the second. I thought again about aiding the roof, but I couldn't even get to where the next piece needed to go, how was I going to aid it if I couldn't place the gear?

I thought and thought and thought for a long time. I was at least 20 minutes at the wide crack below the roof when I finally made the decision that it was too dangerous for me to try the traverse and too unfair to expect "Blow" to risk himself on the traverse as well. I had to make it up. Three tries later and I finally plugged my first cam in the upper crack, and I rested. I then moved out left, horizontally to the end of the roof, where the crack also ended and where one exits past the roof, and placed a red Link-cam. "Blow" took in the rope and I rested on that. This was working. I was getting somewhere. I knew that if I just rested a little while longer then I could pull the final moves to the rest stance above. I dangled and shook out my arms. The tide was turning. I had actually managed to pull through a difficult section when I had nothing left in my arms. I was happy, and then -


- Me: What the fuck?
- "Blow" (about 100 feet below me): What the hell was that?
- Me: The Link-cam.
- "Blow": What?
- Me: Holy shit, I gotta go, NOW!

I threw my hands to the jugs above and hauled myself up. Pain surged in my biceps as I ignored technique and pulled myself higher. There was no falling now. I was not going to fall. My breaths were shallow and quick and I felt my nose and the muscles around my mouth go numb. One jug led to another and before I knew it I was at the rest stance trying to slow down my hyperventilation. I had swore the cam was good. There was no reason whatsoever for it to crack like that. The mere thought that a cam had possibly broken shook me inside. I climbed the rest of the route clean because it was easy and because the adrenaline was shooting through my body and mind. "Blow" came up and commented how stiff that section was and that I shouldn't be embarrassed. But I was, and it wasn't because of the climbing but more because of my attitude. There was a question as to whether we were going to head down because the second pitch is a no-fall pitch in certain sections (lack of decent gear and the fixed pins are a bit sketchy). But I had just gone through one of the more difficult periods of my climbing life and I wasn't going down without leading the easier money pitch.

Just to be clear, though, there was nothing wrong with the Link-cam. It merely moved a little bit as I hung on it. The sound was much worse than it really was. I was relieved to hear that, but it was difficult to get past the fear that the sound had invoked.

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

I was completely toast by the time we got down from the top of "Bonnie's" but "Blow" still had a bit more in him. He had already knocked off one of his goals (his first 5.6 lead in the 'Gunks) and wanted to knock off another. "Horseman" is one of those classic climbs that only certain people have ever climbed: those who climb at the 'Gunks when it is not busy, those who are lucky enough to have jumped on the route when it is busy, and those who are lucky enough to remember when the 'Gunks weren't so busy. The rest of the climbers are like me: those who climb at the 'Gunks on weekends and easily resist the urge to climb in the sickeningly busy and loud Uberfall area. But because Saturday was such a shockingly unbusy day, this classic was open and "Blow" took the lead.

Because "Horseman" is so sustained "Blow" took his time working through the traverse and upper face. There were a few moments when he called down to me but we couldn't hear each other due to the road noise down below. Still, I never once thought he was going to peel off the route, and I was impressed at his stamina when I finally climbed up.

By the time we walked down the walkoff, the girls had met us at the base. It was time for swimming and dinner at Split Rock, so we packed up and headed down for some refreshing, cold water and campstove vittles.

Hans Puss (5.7) - Trad - Three pitches - Mixed anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

"Hans Puss" is one of the wildest climbs at the grade that I've ever been on. Each pitch has fun and interesting moves with a unique flair that makes one wonder which one is the money pitch. Add in the fact that the gear isn't always great and the moves aren't always the most predictable, and you've got a climb that gets the blood flowing from the ground to the top.

Because it was "Blow" and "Caboose"'s anniversary, the plan was to climb until 2pm so they could get out of town early. At that point, "Ratherbe" and I would decided what we wanted to climb in the afternoon while the other two ran off to a secret, romantic hiding place somewhere in the Berkshires. And we knew it was going to be hot on Sunday, but just how hot was not something we fully understood.

The walk in was warm, and "Blow" and I hoped the route would be in the shade. We were discouraged to find that the entirety of the first two pitches were in direct sunlight, and it was going to be particularly bad for "Blow" because he was going to lead the first pitch while I was going to lead the second pitch. This meant that he'd be hanging at the bolts at the top of the first pitch the entire time I climbed both pitches. But he racked up and cruised through his second 5.6 lead in the 'Gunks in as many days. He hesitated a little bit at the physical crux where a high step was required to clear some slick rock, but once he found the high step he was fine. He's a much stronger climber than he gives himself credit for, and I felt that on each of the past two 5.6 leads that he did, in each instance where he was a bit wigged out at the crux, he ended up climbing through it easily once he discovered how to climb it. In other words, it was more about route finding for him than it was actually making the move. It was funny, though, because the mental crux is over an exposed, traversing step that doesn't appear to have many holds at first. He looked down at me and asked me to read the route description a couple of times because he couldn't believe that what he was about to do was still at the grade. But he hesitated much less this second time because I think he read the route confidently enough to make that exposed step. Once he did, he was at the anchors in no time. Now, to be completely fair, even though I lead a couple of grades harder than he does, when I got to that same exposed spot I said, "holy crap!" and I saw instantly what he was seeing when he was on lead. The moves were definitely easy, but you have to commit before you see that the holds are good all the way across the gap and around the arrete. It was a bold lead for him, and I hope that he gets more comfortable at the grade as the season progresses.

It was hot at the bolts. The rock was hot to touch and "Blow" was sweating profusely. He had also been on some medications lately and had to stay away from sunburns moreso as a result. I looked up at the roof above me and the left-facing corner seemed harder than 5.7, but I figured that it would be easier once I got up there and checked it out. But the book said to traverse right. I looked right of the corner directly above us and saw another left-facing corner with chalk directly below it. "Well," I said, "if it has chalk then that must be where the route goes." The only problem was that I couldn't see chalk in the corner itself (only below it), and there was a lot of lichen around were I figured the climbing would be. Neither option looked good.

I was a bit nervous because all this year I've been short on endurance, particularly the day after pumping myself on a hard climb. "Bonnie's" had taken the energy out of me completely, or so it seemed. I was still able to climb the 5.7 final pitch and a sustained 5.5 at the end of the day after that, and I felt fine so far on Sunday despite the heat slowly sapping me of my energy. Did I really want to do this harder-than-5.7 corner above me? Did I really want to take a pass on that and risk heading up through the lichen and chalk? I told "Blow" that I was going to head up and check out each corner before committing to one of them. I figured that once I got closer I'd be able to see which one was the right corner to take. So I headed up and took a look.

The first corner looked much harder up close than I expected. I figured that once I got closer I'd see better holds, but there were none to be found so I followed the chalk right to the lichen and took a peak at that corner instead. This, too, had no decent holds, and the lichen was everywhere. There was no clear path up through this corner, at least one that had been climbed in 2009 (or else it would have been a bit cleaner than it was).

I traversed back left to the first corner and rested on better holds. I asked "Blow" to read the description again, and this time we interpreted it differently. Instead of traversing right and heading up 50 feet, we read it as if it was saying traverse right 50 feet and then head up. I couldn't see a corner that far to the right from my vantage point, but "Blow" could see a very shallow corner way off and I decided to head there.

This was a good decision because it turned out to be correct. I later learned that the original corner was actually the second pitch of "Feast of Fools", a 5.10a pitch that "Ratherbe" had actually led a couple of weeks before with another partner. It was her first 'Gunks 5.10 lead, and I felt a little foolish for not remembering her description of the pitch (and where this pitch was located). I also felt a little foolish for not realizing that the reason why there was chalk below the second corner and not up in it was because that chalk was used on the traverse farther out right. It all made sense once I saw how the route went. I shook my head at myself for wasting so much time hanging on in the sapping sun.

Anyway, once I got to the proper corner, I started to play around and realized that the climbing here was harder than I expected. I told "Blow" that I had found the crux, and he confirmed that he had me if I fell (not that he needed to say that, but it's always a nice conversation to have before you crap your pants). After meddling on the rock for a few minutes, all the while that "Blow" remained hanging at the bolted belay directly in the sunshine, I found an easier way around the difficult climbing and reached the next stance. I played around there for a few minutes and once again told "Blow" that I had found the actual crux this time. Again he confirmed his attention to my climbing, and again I found an easier way around the awkward moves. A third stance brought me to the final moves below the ledge. I could clearly see where to go, but it was going to require using a semi-sloper to move up. This was the guaranteed crux, and I made a dynamic move up to the sloper, switched my feet around and shifted my body position so that I could free my other hand to grab the jug that was higher up. It was an exciting move that really got my blood pumping because my hands were sweating enough that I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold on to the sloper for very long. I was exilerated to have done that pitch, and I rushed up to the ledge to build and anchor so that "Blow" could get out of the sun.

He did fine through the entire pitch including the long, semi-unprotected traverse, the three "crux" moves, and searing heat. While the climb seemed fun and challenging enough, we knew that we had little energy to do another climb after this one. Despite what the girls wanted to do, "Blow" and I were ready to jump in the water at Split Rock. We were dehydrated, tired, and the back of his neck was redder than a fire truck. The plan was for him to lead the next pitch, a 5.5, but he was too sapped to do so. I took it on and had another wild experience.

The start of the third pitch is an awkward, yet fun offwidth that is much more comfortable for shorter people than taller people. I had to scrunch myself into the offwidth below a small roof and really commit to leaning way out away from the crack to get up and over the roof. It was only 5.5, but it felt pretty exposed despite being only about 10 feet above the ledge.

Once I pulled past the crack / roof, I stepped up onto a larger ledge and took a look at the right-facing corner above me. It looked pretty straight forward, so I headed up and immediately noticed there was some route-finding that I had to do. Things were a bit awkward for a few minutes while I figured out which of the non-lichen paths I should take, but I eventually found my way up to the blank slabs that lead away from the corner and to the right.

The slabs looked interesting. They weren't as slick as one would expect them to when looking at them from below, but the pins that protected them certainly didn't inspire confidence. I climbed up to the start of the hand traverse that led back left to the top of the corner and the belay ledge. The traverse looked wild with good hands down low and good feet up high. The two didn't match each other well without scrunching uncomfortably, so I tried to go with the good feet and use the crappy hands up higher. That was too pumpy, so I looked at using the lower hands with crappy feet on the slab below. I was surprised at how sticky the seemingly slick rock was, and within a few seconds I had my shoes off and an anchor built.

After "Blow" came up we determined that we were done. "Ratherbe" probably wanted to climb some more, but I was ready to jump in the water. "Blow" agreed, so we rapped off, packed up the gear, and headed up the carriage trail to meet the girls. "Ratherbe" still had her harness and gear on when we met her, but I was relieved to find that she had little to no motivation to climb the rest of the day. Split Rock was our destination, and we all were happy to feel the cold water rinse away the day's sticky heat. We parted ways after that and I felt better about the weekend. "Bonnie's" had still kicked my butt, but I was able to come back and climb a solid 5.7 with committing moves the next day, which was something I was worried about heading into Sunday. The biggest relief, though, wasn't that my endurance might have started to work it's way back, but more that I was able to work my way through a difficult situation without any help. Sure, it came with a lot of second guessing and some embarrassing whining, but I was still able to pull through. Am I ready for first ascents? Not by a long shot, but I'm slightly closer than I used to be, and I know that now, which may mean I'm a lot closer than I think I am.

Click here for all 2009 'Gunks photos (newest are first)

Guidebook: Gunks - Horseman (5.5), Easy Baby Link-up(5.6), Hans Puss (5.7)

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

- Approach
: In the Uberfall area, look for the obvious right-facing corner that starts just right of the first large roof along the carriage trail. The corner itself is about 30 feet up and is capped by a roof.

- Horseman (5.5) - 110 Feet: Climb the crack directly below the corner. Climb about 20 feet above where the corner meets the crack (about midway to the top of the roof) and then traverse left to the arrete where it is obvious to do so. From there, step right to a crack directly above the roof, then follow the face straight up to the ledge.

- Descent: Rap with two 60m ropes all the way to the ground, or walk right about 100 feet to the easy scramble back down to the path.

Easy-Baby Linkup (5.6) - Two Pitches - Trad - Mixed anchors

- Approach
: Take the third path up to the left after the outhouse, at the split in the trail head right, and once at the base of the cliff head left to the edge of the dropoff that is below a chimney / offwidth.

- Pitch One (5.1) - Trad - Bolted anchor - 80 feet: Climb the right-facing flake, step left, and then follow the chimney to near the top. From there, step left and follow the face to the bolts at the ledge above. Please be careful with all of the loose stones that are on this ledge.

- Pitch Two (5.6) - Trad - Tree anchor - 60 feet: Climb the closest, left-most corner from the bolts (basically directly above) and follow the left-facing corner through the roof to the ledge above. This ledge has even more precipitously placed loose stones. Again, please be careful.

- Descent: Either rap off the sketchy tree anchor all the way to the bottom with two 60m ropes, or rap twice using one rope and the bolts at the top of the first pitch. Or, if you feel like using a better rap station, walk right about 30 feet to a path that leads down to the edge. Walk around the jutting rock that sits low above the edge to find the bolts on the face on the left. Rap once with two 60m ropes or twice with one rope using the bolts mid-way down.

Hans Puss(5.7) - Three pitches - Trad - Mixed anchors

- Approach
: Take the 12th path after the East Trapps Connector path that goes down to the right (if you get to the overhanging Andrew Boulder then you've gone too far). At the top of the path, head uphill and to the left to the base of a massive left-facing corner / roof that is yellowish and orange in color.

- Pitch One (5.6) - Trad - Bolted anchor - 80 feet: Climb the corner to an obvious ledge that would allow for fairly easy traversing back to the arrete. Traverse right along the exposed ledge and step around right of the arrete (mental crux) to the bolts on the face.

- Pitch Two (5.7) - Trad - Gear anchor - 110 feet: The picture shown here is a bit of a false photo, so read carefully. From the bolts, follow the chalk way out right to a shallow left-facing corner. This corner is probably a good 50 feet to the right of the bolts, so it is NOT the two corners that are somewhat directly above. I found it easy to climb up to the roof, traverse right under the roof until it ended, and then downclimb a few feet and continue to traverse on good hands and feet to the shallow corner.

From there, climb up the face following the path of least resistance to the ledge. This part of the climb might have been one of the most exciting sections of rock I've ever been on at the grade, and I also found that route finding is key. Often times, staying left of what seems the most obvious worked the best.

- Pitch Three (5.5) - Trad - Tree anchor - 80 feet: Climb the obvious, weird-looking crack / offwidth to the next large ledge. Once on the ledge then climb the corner (see photo), again with route-finding a necessity, until you get to the slabby sections that lead to the right. Head up right on the slabs (following the pitons) until you get to the right of the obvious hand traverse. Stay low with your feet and adjust your hands high or low as needed while traversing left and up to the ledge.

- Descent: There are rap anchors on the tree at the top, but where the anchors are on the GT ledge below is unclear. We took the easy route and walked left (had to do a tiny bit of bushwhacking and scrambling upward in the beginning) about 50 feet to the Arrow anchors, which are on the nice ledge where the white rock is. Rap with two 60m ropes all the way to the ground or rap twice with one rope using the bolt at the top of the first pitch of Arrow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Passionless Weekend

Rain, rain, rain, judging a comp, rain, rain, rain, grandfather in the hospital, rain, rain, rain, elbow tendinitis, rain, rain, rain...

I climbed in the gym last week for the first time in a little less than a month. The body felt fine but the endurance was whacked beyond dead. Still, there's been a weird difference between my outdoor and indoor climbing this year - they've reversed roles.

In past years I've always been stronger in the gym than outside, and this makes sense. But after battling two injuries in 2009 I've been worried about losing strength, endurance, and ability outside, particularly considering I've been climbing like crap in the gym (i.e. - hanging on 5.8 and struggling to clip the anchor at the top...when hanging onto the anchor itself). The gym always helped to build that strength and endurance, but this year it hasn't done it's job and I've felt a bit uneasy with that. I have some goals this year, and one of those goals is to push the grades a bit. If I can barely lead an eight in the gym then how am I supposed to climb harder outside while placing gear? Of course, it might be my attitude.

Inferno (5.8) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchor (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

With two days of flailing at the gym after not climbing for a month out of the way, "Ratherbe" and I risked the weather and headed north for our first climbs in North Conway in 2009. The forecast was beautiful blue sky on both Saturday and Sunday with downpours overnight in between. We weren't sure what the rock would be like on Sunday after the rain in North Conway, but we knew two things that sent us north anyway: 1) we were starting to get 'Gunks'd out and; 2) the downpours scheduled for Saturday night in North Conway were going to pound the 'Gunks Saturday afternoon. We figured that one good, solid day of climbing up north where we weren't yet bored was better than a half day of climbing in a place where we knew we'd be back to several more times before the season ended.

There was little to no traffic on the way up Friday night, and we pitched the tent just before 10pm. I feel asleep seemingly worriless about the climbs ahead the next day.

Saturday awoke us early, and we were in the Whitehorse parking lot by 830am. We had directions for the approach to the Inferno area, but we weren't sure exactly what to look for because the guidebook we were using was written in the mid-1990s. Still, I was sure I had been to Inferno before, and I was certain it was a long walk in, but I couldn't remember how we had got there in the past. All I could remember was the large, right-leaning roof feature that makes up the first pitch. I knew that once I could see that feature we'd be fine. Unfortunately, things weren't so straight forward and we were about 30 feet less patient than we should have been.

We walked about 20 minutes in and lost sight of the cliff. This worried us, but we kept going because I had a hunch it was much further down than we thought. But as we kept walking along the trail seemed to fade further and further from the cliff. All we could see now were trees and a few dirty slabs and boulders up the hill above us. It didn't feel right, so we read the guidebook again. The guidebook noted a climbers' path marked by ribbons on the uphill section of the path. We hadn't seen any ribbons but we sure had gone uphill and downhill several times already. We continued onward and checked the guidebook each time we went back uphill just to be sure that we were reading everything correctly. There was still no sign of the ribbons, though, and the only trail we saw really wasn't a trail at all but more of an inconvenient scramble up through the forest instead.

Finally, we reached a point where we could see a faint hint of cliffs to our right. The path went left uphill some more and then it went downhill and away from where the cliffs should be. The cliffs appeared small and everything in between us and the rock seemed sloping and dirty. We believed we had passed the climbers' path for sure because it seemed as if the cliff was now somewhat behind us.

"Ratherbe" took the initiative of starting the bushwhacking back across the leafy and wet forest while I went ahead just a bit to ensure that the main path did actually move away from what realistically seemed to be the end of the cliff. It was a quick run uphill to a flat spot for me, and it was easy to see that the main path continued downhill and to the left. I ran back to catch up with "Ratherbe" and never saw the climbers' path to my left on the way back. I ran a mere 30 feet uphill and the same 30 feet back downhill, picked up my pack off the ground where I left it to run ahead, and tried to follow "Ratherbe"'s path through the brush. I met her at the base of a cliff, but we weren't sure where we were exactly. I certainly didn't believe it was where Inferno was because I didn't see the roof-like feature. She had an idea of where we were based on the pictures in the book and the features on the cliff in front of us. We frustratingly decided that we had not gone far enough and needed to head back whence we came, except this time we'd try to follow the cliff if at all possible.

So back we went along the cliff and we followed the worn dirt beaten down by years of climbers' impact. Then we came to the same wet slab we had tentatively stepped across only a few minutes before,and that led us away from the cliff. We thought we saw a scramble back up toward the cliff, but it looked nasty and worthy of exporing. So "Ratherbe" went first on the wet slab and slipped on the other side. I followed her without slipping, and then we approached another wet slab, this one farther uphill from where we previously had thrashed through the trees before. This time she slid all the way down to the base. She swore at our misadventure while I found another way over the slab. Her frustration grew with each step through the thick brush, and at the same time my apathy kept me calm. She wanted an better day than this, and yet, I didn't really care.

We could both that see the main path was ahead and that we were also 25 feet higher uphill than when we had previously abandoned it. Staying next to the cliff hadn't worked and for a moment we felt defeated. We walked along through the brush to the main path, and then we stood on it, except it wasn't the main path. We could see the main path as clear as day, and it was about 10 feet in front of us. So what were we on? Huh, wouldn't you know it, it was the climbers' path that I had missed only a little while before. If we had simply walked another 30 feet up the main path instead of bushwhacking then we might have already found the path.

There was a little bit of tension in the air when we finally set our bags down at the base of the cliff. But after a few minutes of eating, drinking water, and catching our breath, we unpacked our gear and scrambled up the easy first face to the ledge about 40 feet up, which is where Inferno actually starts. It was my lead, and I was a little nervous about what condition I was in. I remembered climbing this with "Jello" a couple of years back, but I also remembered that he took a more direct route straight up and that route was a harder climb than what I was going to attempt. We checked our knots and harnesses and I set off to the right on a 30-foot run-out before I got my first piece of gear in. I then moved upward about 20 feet without any gear and plugged a cam that I didn't trust. The plan now was to head up left toward a point where the right-leaning roof ended and a left-leaning ramp began and headed up to the ledge above the roof. I spied a good flake to plug a cam, but alas there was a lively hornet nest conveniently hung in the middle of the flake. This was really too bad, too, because this flake offered not only the best protection I had seen thus far, but also it had the best holds for moving up to the easier dikes that led to the point where the roof and ramp met.

I thought for a few moments (in fact, I took a good long look at all of my options because while some of the climbing looked easy, none of the routes had 100% easy climbing and none had obvious gear placements, either). The last thing I wanted to do was stupidly commit to a sequence of moves with no gear. I hadn't climbed in a month and I wasn't prepared to do something so physically challenging that I'd put myself in a position of taking a nasty twenty-foot fall on my first climb back.

After thinking, I decided to climb below the nest and risk running up through a series of dikes that led to a section that I knew "Jello" had struggled on when we did this route before. It was a stroke of luck that I did this and found a fairly new piton hammered into a solid crack. I clipped it and felt comfortable about the gear for the first time in a while. And all the while I fretted over not having any gear, it never occurred to me to be afraid. I simply didn't care enough to be worried. "Just get to the top, Greg," I said to myself. "That's all you have to do." It felt more like work than fun, albeit work that I enjoyed.

But now it was time for the real challenge. I seconded the route when "Jello" led it and pulling the point was a real challenge for me then. It requires a committing layback at an awkward angle and I wasn't sure I'd have the strength to pull it without resting or falling. I placed two cams, one below the point first and another above the point after I moved up higher. I was confident that the gear would hold, all I needed to do was pull the moves.

I scouted the moves for a few minutes and saw two different options: 1) up left through a notch with good feet but crappy hands or; 2) pulling the awkward layback on the right with great hands and crappy feet, with the hands becoming marginalized with upward movement. I decided to try both by pulling through the good hands on the right until I could get good feet on the left. It worked. There was a bit of grunting and worrying, but it went better than expected. I then brought "Ratherbe" up and she commented that it was a nice lead, particularly for my first time out in a month. It was strange to hear that, though. I believe she meant it, but it didn't feel like a good lead to me. In fact, it felt rather ordinary, or maybe it was simply uninteresting. I think the biggest thing for me this is year is that my lead head is much healthier than it has been in previous years. Maybe that's why I wasn't freaking out when climbing on moderate terrain (for me anyway) without much (or any) gear. It may be why I'm simply climbing better outside. Maybe that pitch was simply an uninspiring pitch, too; one that's easy enough to keep me from worrying too much and from having fun at the same time. I generally like all climbing, even when I'm struggling or climbing well below my grade. For me, climbing was about getting away from the world. It confused me why I was so apathetic about having walked ordinarily far enough away from civilization to feel as if I had got away, and I was still unimpressed.

The next two pitches belonged to "Ratherbe" and she sent both crack systems with ease. I highly recommend doing the upper pitches on this route, even if the third pitch isn't as good as the second. The second pitch offers pretty good jamming, particularly for the northeast.

Hotter Than Hell (5.9) - Two pitches - Mixed sport and trad - Tree anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

We then rapped down to the base of Hotter Than Hell (5.9) (which is where the rap off Inferno leads to) and looked up. It was one of our goals for the day, so we decided to tackle it. I felt good on lead earlier, but that first pitch of Inferno was only 5.7 and Hotter Than Hell goes at 5.7 for the first pitch and 5.9 for the second. I gave the second pitch to "Ratherbe" and kept my thoughts about wanting the second pitch to myself. I ran up the first pitch easily and "Ratherbe" came up and started on the second pitch soon after. She did very well despite slab not being her favorite style. There were a few tenuous moments, but all in all she made it up clean and then I followed her.

I got to the top and said that I wanted to give it a go. It took a little prodding from "Ratherbe" to get me to say it, but I wanted to say it all along and held back because I wasn't sure I even wanted to climb let alone this route in particular. It had actually pained me to climb it as the second. I really wanted to challenge myself by grabbing the hard lead as an onsight climb, and to have done it as the second was a disappointment. But I had made the decision to give her the lead and that was what I had to live with. The decision to give up the initial lead probably had more to do with me accepting my place in the world of climbing - as the second and not the leader. I didn't understand this, but I felt it was true. It is important to note that this has nothing to do with my climbing partnership with "Ratherbe", as I'd feel the same way with anyone right now.

I wasn't sure now if my endurance would hold up, but I was going to see just how much I had in the tank. We lowered back to the start of the second pitch and, after taking a necessary bathroom break, I raced through the opening moves.

The pitch was actually pretty easy in the end. I was a little pumped, and I said so as I neared the top (this pitch is about 130 feet of sustained climbing after all), but I never felt as if I was going to fall. Not once was I afraid of the thin and committing moves, and not once was I afraid of the distance between the bolts and / or gear. "Ratherbe" said I cruised it. Maybe I did and maybe I didn't, but I certainly didn't struggle. Later on we both stated that we were somewhat disappointed by feeling good about what turned out to be a sport route (eight bolts and three cams spread over 130 feet). OK, so it was more of an alpine sport route where the bolts weren't placed every few feet like they are at Rumney, but 5.9 is well within my sport range and the success seemed empty.

It was getting late at this point and we called it a day. I'm not sure why I felt this way but I was completely uninspired by my performance. In fact, I was rather unambitious. I felt as if I could have climbed anything and nothing at all at the same time. It was an odd mix of emotions that were swirling inside of me. I worried if I had suddenly lost my passion for climbing.

We drove back to the base of Cathedral to meet up with some friends who we will collectively call "The Bickersons" (individually they are known as "Popeye" and "Astro"). They are an interesting pair who formerly and briefly dated but decided to continue the climbing partnership after the romance ended (similar to "Ratherbe" and I, except we don't bicker nearly as much, nor is our bickering nearly as entertaining). The four of us went into town to grab some food, stayed longer than we should have, and headed back to the tents earlier than we should have, and fell asleep well after the down-pouring rain began. It's easy to tell when it is raining hard - if you're in a tent and under the trees then usually the leaves break up the fall of the raindrops before the raindrops hit the ground. Saturday night's rainfall was nothing of the sort; the rain fell hard and straight from the sky, through the leaves, and deep into the softened dirt and layer of pine needles beyond the protection of our rainflies. None of us figured there'd be any dry rock available in the morning, but after taking our time getting breakfast and coffee Sunday morning, a last minute decision took "Ratherbe" and I up to Toe Crack, a 5.7 that "Jello" and I had also done as an alternate start to Cathedral's Standard Route (5.7).

Toe Crack (5.7) - Two pitches - Trad - Gear anchors - usually climbed as a variation to surrounding climbs (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

The rock on the Thin Air face was surprisingly dry. I thought I knew that Cathedral doesn't dry quickly, and I thought that was true when the rain was as far out as two days let alone downpours the evening before, but I was apparently wrong on this day. There were certainly wet streaks, but the dry streaks were thicker than the wet ones and we decided Toe Crack was going to be a go. We also decided that, depending on the situation at the top, we'd probably finish on the final two pitches of Thin Air to get to a project of mine at the top: Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8).

Since the normal approach to Toe Crack that goes up the dikes on the very bottom of Standard Route was wet, we decided to use the ramp-like traverse uphill and to the left to gain the small tree ledge at the base of the crack, which is about 40 feet up. I took this pitch, and for the second straight day I found myself on sketchy terrain well beyond my last piece with a potentially nasty swing if I fell. The climbing was a little more difficult this time with a no-hands step across onto a long, inch-wide ledge mixed in ten feet past my last piece of gear. But again I wasn't afraid. In fact, I was more annoyed that if I did fall then I'd have to go back and do it again. It turned out that I didn't fall, and despite the fact that I was having fun, I didn't feel as if I was at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's true; sometimes it is possible to really enjoy what you're doing at any given moment without enjoying anything at all. I wondered if this was because of my diet, that maybe I wasn't eating properly and it was throwing off my psychological balance, but that can't be the case because I eat lots of veggies and fruit on a regular basis and nothing had changed in that regard. I was simply enjoying the moment without enjoying the long-term, with the moment being the same as one move and the long-term being the same as a ten-foot stretch of climbing.

I brought "Ratherbe" up and she ran up Toe Crack like it was nothing new. What is going on with my partners the past few years? Both "Ratherbe" and "Jello" have grown increasingly more comfortable with climbing cracks while I've floundered in them. As I did on Saturday, I climbed this crack clean but not without trepidation. We were now two pitches up and had to make a decision to either continue up the crappy finish to Standard Route or make the long, run-out traverse to the Thin Air (5.6) finishing pitches. There was already a party on Repulsion (5.8), which splits Standard Route and Thin Air down the middle, so we decided that Thin Air was the best way to go.

This naturally left me with another run out pitch. OK, so it was likely only 5.4, but it was also about 90 feet of traversing along thin, wet ledges and crossing over the rope owned by the party on Repulsion. A fall would have been both 90 feet down and back to the right, with the finish being a beautiful leap over and into a crummy gully. Was I even the least bit afraid? No, not at all. The fear of falling never came over me because it simply wasn't going to happen. And again, I actually had a lot of fun, but I had considerably more fun belaying "Ratherbe" over to the top of Thin Air's third pitch and belaying her as she led the final pitch to the top. It wasn't an emotionless day, but to call it anything but cold emotion would be inaccurate. I barely felt anything while I was climbing, I felt more while I was not climbing, and all of what I felt was neither good nor bad nor apathy. I was there, I was doing what I was doing, I had no reason to complain nor shout for joy, and I did nothing while doing something at the same time.

When I finally got to the top I told "Ratherbe" that if we were going to run up Pine Tree Eliminate then I wanted to toprope it. She noted that it was getting late in the day, so we decided to skip the route altogether. And there it went - one of my goals for the year was blowing kisses at me from a few feet away while I coldly and calmly walked past it to the tarred road on the other end of the path. I wanted to climb it badly, and yet I didn't care if I even looked at it again.

We hitched a ride back down to the base, sorted our gear, and took off. I hadn't been on the Kancamagus Highway since I was a kid, and since I wanted to know where another local crag in the area was, and since that crag was near the "Kanc", we took that road peacefully across New Hampshire to I-93, one of the major arteries for Sunday afternoon traffic heading to Boston, and drove home.

Click here for all 2009 North Conway photos

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guidebook: North Conway - Inferno (5.8), Hotter than Hell (5.9), Toe Crack (5.8)

Click here for the Cathedral Ledge index and here for the Whitehorse Ledge index.
Click here for all Guidebook posts
Click here for all Cathedral posts and here for all Whitehorse posts.

Whitehorse Ledge
Inferno (5.8) - Three pitches - Trad - Gear anchors

- Approach
: OK, so this is a bit adventurous, and not all of the signs, ribbons, and path markings that are mentioned in the guidebooks are still there. But it's easy to find if you're paying attention and if you're patient. At the start of the path, head left toward the next path intersection (about 40 feet from the start). At the intersection, head left on the path that would follow just above the parking lot, keeping the parking lot to your left. Follow this path (yellow blazes) for a fairly long time (longer than you'd expect - maybe 20-30 minutes). In fact, you might feel at some point that you've gone too far because you can't see the cliff any more. This is OK. Follow the path and at some point you should see yellow arrows painted on a rock (the path will split two large boulders and there will be a yellow arrow painted on each rock for people going in either direction). From there, keep following the path and look for a second yellow arrow up ahead. Head uphill about 100 feet from the second arrow to where the path levels off and begins to fade around to the left (and eventually downhill again). The climbers' path is right at the flat spot, just a few feet to the right beyond a flat, stone step. It is marked by two small stones on either side of the path, and it is not easily visible until you actually step a few feet into the faint trail. Once you're on it, however, it is obvious.

The start of Inferno is straight ahead at the end of the climber's path, and is the right-most face at the top of the steep path that heads down to the right. Most people scramble up this face (or the dirty and easy gully to the right) to the next ledge to start the climb (about 40 feet up).

- Pitch One (5.7) - Trad - Tree anchor - 130 Feet: From the upper ledge, and standing below the massive, obvious right-leaning roof / under cling, head right, taking the path of least resistance to a short flake about 35 feet out. There isn't much pro here, but there is a fairly new piton to clip to the left of the flake. From this short flake, take the path of least resistance again up left to the point where massive roof stops going right and starts going up left. Pull the point on layback and stem moves (crux) and head up left to the tree at the ledge.

- Pitch Two (5.8) - Trad - Gear anchor - 100 Feet: Part of pitch two is the walk along the ledge to the left to the base of a broken gully below an obvious crack system. There will likely be people at the point belaying off the large tree on the edge as they come up Hotter Than Hell (see below). Climb the gully to the semi-separated block, climb the crack between the block and the cliff to the crack above to the right. Jam this crack to an obvious belay ledge at the top.

If it is crowded at this ledge, a good hanging belay can be made with small gear to left of the nice ledge at the top of the crack. The third pitch starts to the left anyway, so this may be more convenient for belaying the third pitch.

- Pitch Three (5.8) - Trad - Tree anchor - 50 Feet: Climb the crack to the top.

- Descent: Walk left across the slab to the slings on the tree. I'm pretty sure that you'll need two 60m ropes to get back to the ledge at the start of the second pitch. This lower rappel station is also further to the left from the start of the second pitch if you only want to climb the first pitch. From the lower rap station, rap with two 60m ropes all the way to the ground.

Hotter Than Hell (5.9) - Two Pitches - Trad - Gear anchors

- Approach
: From the path that takes you Inferno (see above), head left until the path goes steeply uphill. You should see some bolts on the lower face that leads to a ledge about 40 feet up.

- Pitch One (5.7) - Sport - Gear anchor - 40 feet: Climb the face following the bolts on the left first then head up right the bolt on the right near the top. This pitch isn't much, to be honest, so climbing to the ledge can be a point of simply following the path of least resistance. If you want to skip this uninteresting pitch (it has a couple of fun slab moves), then it is possible to walk to the upper ledge from the path by walking uphill about 30 feet and then back to the right across the easy ledges.

- Pitch Two (5.9) - Mostly sport (with a few trad placements) - Tree anchor - 150 feet: From the ledge, climb the block, which has an under cling flake, to the small ledge on top of the block (one can either follow the small ledges on the left or climb the notch on the right, which is easier than it looks from below). Clip the bolt and step right. Continue traversing right to the next two bolts, then follow the path of least resistance straight up past the bolts to the pod (optional belay). Clear the pod and finish up and right to the large tree at the start of the gully that makes the start of the second pitch of Inferno.

- Descent: A lot of people finish on the last two pitches of Inferno, but to descend from the Inferno ledge, walk left along the ledge to the slings in the tree (20 feet). Two 60m ropes will get you to the ground.

Cathedral Ledge
Toe Crack (5.7) - Two pitches - Trad - Gear anchor

- Approach
: Follow the signs to the Thin Air face. When you get to the cliff (you should be at the Mordor Wall), head up the steep steps to the left. There are two different places to start Toe Crack: head up the easy, dirty dikes at the start of Standard Route to a small tree ledge at the base of the crack or; start on the easy, right-fading ramp further uphill and traverse on the tricky ledges right to the same tree ledge that the dikes leads to. If the rock is dry, then climbing the dikes lower down the path is recommended (though the slab about 30 feet up is still tricky). If it is wet, then the traverse is recommended. The picture for the first pitch shows the traverse.

- Pitch One (5.7) - Trad - Gear anchor - 60 feet: Climb up the easy ramp to the top. Walk right along the top to the next set of ledges. Either step up high and walk along the next two ledges (tricky and mentally tough to step across due to a lack of hands - requires good balance!) or stay low and smear right to the wide crack. If you stay low, then climb up the wide crack on the right and make the tricky step right to a small flat ledge around the corner (if already high up, then simply make the same tricky step right). From there, use the side pulls to get a better angle at jamming Toe Crack (you won't be able to see it, but you'll be able to feel it - a #1 Camalot protects well in there if you need to make a blind placement), then carefully down-climb to the ledge.

- Pitch Two (5.7) - Trad - Gear anchor - 130 feet: Follow the crack up to the tree ledge that is up the gully (watch out for loose rocks) to the right of the arrete.

- Descent: Rap with two 60m ropes to the ground. Many people follow the Standard Route to the top (not recommended). Can also finish on Repulsion (5.8+) (following the arrete) or Thin Air (5.6) (see below).

Link-up from Toe Crack to Thin Air - Two extra pitches

- Pitch Three (5.4 R) - Trad - Gear anchor - 100 feet
: From the Toe Crack anchor, head up the arrete and clip the bolt about 20 feet up. Climb up to the decent ledge above the bolt and begin the long, run-out walk along good ledges to the left. There's no gear between here and just below the blocky corner that you're heading toward. Watch out for the large, loose flake below the blocky corner (usually marked with a large "X"). Gear can be placed in the flake below the loose block, however. Step left to the small ledges on the left of the loose block and climb straight up to the top of the block corner to an obvious and very nice belay ledge.

- Pitch Four (5.6) - Trad - Tree anchor - 160 feet: Climb straight up above the ledge toward steeper rock. Stay left at the steeper rock (crux) and follow the path of least resistance up to the dirty gully. Either climb the mentally difficult slab on the right or climb the much easier gully to the left (most climb the gully) to the ledge.

- Descent: Most people walk off to the right (and some hitchhike down the long, tarred road). However, if you're feeling brave, then belay one another left along the steep and often wet (read: slick) slab to the anchors at the top of the Saigons. Two 60m ropes will get you back to the path this way (I believe two raps can be made with one 60m rope, as there are anchors at the top of the first pitch of the Saigons). However, this is often wet and slick, and it may not protect well, so beware.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Newest Blog Post Link

Hey folks,

With the rain and all that crap going on outside the past month, things have been slow around here recently. But the weather has turned and I'm heading back to the 'Gunks this weekend and I promise more is to come.

Also, Jeremiah has two posts on the way, too. Can't wait for those.

For now, however, my latest post on is up. It is about the experience of being a judge at comps. It's a quick, fun read. Enjoy!