Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Start of a Grand Adventure - Day One

"I'm going to climb the Grand!" I practically screamed into the phone. "Iowa" was not as happy that I was going to be gone but she was happy that I was finally happy. It had not been a sure thing. "Busterman" was good with his time away from home but I was worried things would fall apart with people covering for me at my jobs. The time of departure was getting closer and things came together and fell apart with each setting sun. The plan was to leave Thursday night after I got done work and to come back Wednesday night or Thursday morning. A full week of climbing in Grand Teton National Park! Unfortunately, the person planning to cover my shift had a problem with his internship and the night before I was going to leave I was still unsure if he would show up for me or not. I stopped calling people. I didn't want to know whether things went to hell in a handbasket after I left. I wanted to go climbing.

By Wednesday night all my gear was packed. I put myself in charge of food and as I lifted that bag I lamented my need of tasty food and snacks. The food alone felt like twenty pounds and I hadn't even added in my personal camping and climbing gear. Thursday afternoon saw my seventy liter pack full to the brim and me tottering underneath it. The gear explosion was now finally cleaned up from the spare bedroom. We both decided to pack for early winter conditions since the Tetons had experienced what sounded like a pretty large snowstorm just a few weeks before our arrival. It is Thursday just before ten 'o' clock and I'm rushing through work. Deposit is done, e-mails are done, phone messages forwarded, floor cleaned, ropes tied up, and finally I walked out the door with minutes to spare before the clock struck ten. I called "Busterman" to let him know I was on my way. He wasn't quite finished packing but he had a little more than an hour before I met him in Loveland. I wanted to get the driving done with. "Busterman" was content to wake up early in the morning. When I arrived he was still packing. While I thumbed through the guidebook we decided to stay the night and leave in the morning.

I tossed and turned in the foreign bed, too excited to fall asleep. Our main goal was to summit the Grand Teton via the Exum Ridge (5.7 IV). We were going to simul-climb from top to bottom. When I'd first called "Busterman" I had illusions of doing the Grand Traverse (5.8 V) in a day; my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. After both agreeing on the Exum we decided we didn't care what else we did. Our main concern was weather since it was late in the season and the Tetons had already received some snow. My own main concern was my knee. I hadn't gone to a doctor because I didn't feel like paying a specialist hundreds of dollars to tell me what I already knew: It had to be a meniscus tear. The dull pain on the outside of my knee increased in intensity whenever I went to kneel or step up. The dull ache that would go away if only I would stop pushing so hard. That's what I get for trying to set speed records in the dark. If two hours car-to-car up Otto's Route on Independence Monument isn't a speed record then I don't need to know. Ignorance is bliss.

I lay there for hours with so many thoughts running through my head. What if it was too cold? Could my legs handle all that vertical? Who'd lead the crux pitches? How much gear should I place? Where would we stay? Would we be able to get a backcountry permit? Eventually the thoughts died down and I drifted into restless sleep with thoughts of climbing occasionally awaking me. We had made a small amount of progress on our Grand adventure.

A Weekend of Debauchery

It was to be a one-day assault on the 'Gunks. Saturday called for beautiful sun and Sunday called for rain. There was a hint of flirtation in the air and enough childish innocence amongst the gathering of thirty somethings to make gizzard blush. But we weren't there for anything but the climbing...or were we?

- "Caboose": So "Blow"'s at a bachelor party down at Foxwoods.
- "Ratherbe": Is he going to blow your collective fortune?
- "Caboose": I hope not. I told him not to drink or gamble too much, but it is a bachelor party.
- "Ratherbe": At least there isn't a strip club there.
- Me: Oh, don't worry, they'll just hire the strippers for the room.
- Both Girls: GREG!!!!!

I had never slept with two women. Once we set up the tent it was obvious it was going to be longer still. I had managed to talk "Caboose" back off the edge by convincing her that her husband was as good a man as I've ever met. I convinced her that the guys I went to a bachelor party with last year in Manhattan were men I wouldn't trust to do anything but get me through my first real strip club adventure. She hinted that the guys he was with might have been hatched from the same egg. I countered with, "but he's not one of those guys." She stepped back but never took her eye off the running start she'd need to clear the cliff's edge. "Ratherbe" duct-taped my mouth shut and I mumbled, "mm mmmm, mmm mmm mmmmmm mmmm" trying to get "Caboose" to turn around completely and walk back to sanity. She did, and I was happy to have stepped away from trouble, until I later on, in the tent and under the cover of complete darkness, with me on one side, "Caboose" in the middle, and "Ratherbe" on the far side, I heard "Caboose" utter the words - "so that's my boob."

Apparently "Caboose" had more to worry about "Ratherbe" than she did "Blow", and there I was without my night vision goggles.

(side note: I've only been to three strip clubs my entire life. I'm really not a strip club kind of guy. I've got nothing against naked women, per se, but these places just don't get me up like the real deal does. The first two times I went was the same night in Atlantic City when a college friend of mine and I flew to visit his parents in Cape May, NJ. His father, a NJ Cop, picked us up in Philly, learned that I had never had fun in my life, and drove us first to one of those peepshow places where everyone sits in a private booth with a window that opens up to the circular stage on the inside.

I had no clue what I was doing, and my friend and I were still both 18 years old. They both told me to not look the manager in the eye, pop a quarter in the slot, open the door, and get in the booth before he could ask for I.D.. "OK," I said and we went in. The father went to the right, drawing the front desk worker's eye with him. My friend took advantage of the lack of security and went straight ahead to the first open booth. I couldn't see an open booth. So I started to the left, away from the front desk, and just as I saw an open booth, the manager came around the corner and glared at me. He saw my deer-in-headlights eyes and he pointed at me: "You," he said, "I need an I.D.." I didn't have one that would get me in, so I told the truth and went outside on my own. I sat with my chin buried in my palms on the front steps of the club. I'm from small town Maine and I was alone, in the dark, at a sketchy building in a dodgy part of Atlantic City, and I was practically crapping my pants every time someone walked by. It was ten minutes later when my friend and his father came out and said, "don't worry, there's a reason why it was only a quarter to get in. You didn't miss much."

We then went to a classier place. It had a $50 cover and my buddy's father paid the law enforcement discount to get us in. Now, these girls were something to adore, but I had no clue what to do. One of the girls, who was probably the one who started my affection for baldness, managed to squeeze herself in between my knees. "What the hell does she want?" I thought to myself. "I thought they just danced on stage."

I looked at my friend and his father for help. They smiled and said, "pay her, dude." I asked how much (which, in hindsight, was probably a tip off to the girl that I was a complete moron), and they said, "give her a twenty."

I thought for a moment and realized I only had forty bucks on me for the entire weekend. That was going to have to get me through the weekend AND the drive back to Maine. "No way," I said. "I need that money for food!"

My friend and his father grabbed me and we exited the club before they had a chance to throw us out. Too bad, too, because that experience affected the third time I went to a club, which was several years later for the bachelor party noted above. I thought I knew what I was doing this time, and I dropped twenties like I had an ATM in my pocket (no one actually asked me if that was an ATM in my pocket or if I was happy to see them - kind of a bummer actually). My problem, though, was that I didn't know that I COULD say no. Honestly, I thought if I did I was going to get thrown out. It took several of the guys who did know what they were doing to hijack me and drag me to the bar (not that the bar was any cheaper) before I blew my cash before 9pm.

I think it can be safely said that I have no clue how to be dirty strip club kind of guy, and I think it is even safer to say that "Blow" is far beyond me as a stand-up guy (though he may very well have more strip club capabilities than me). I wasn't worried about him and I felt that "Caboose" needed to understand that. Of course, she did in the end, but it sure was fun going through the process.)

Arrow (5.8) - Two Pitches - Trad - Bolted Anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

Pretty much everyone knows about my ankle problems this year. I was still recovering after falling on Moby Grape on Cannon and on the corner of a tarred path heading in to Quincy Quarry. I'd been to the doctor twice, worn the braces I was supposed to wear, and generally felt fine. The ligament I tore didn't cause any pain while walking or using stairs, but it did when I was in bed with heavy covers preventing my foot from remaining in an upright and normal position. The season was running late and I was worried about not climbing outside in the northeast for a long time into the future. If I was going to get out then I was going to climb hurt. That was my decision. I figured that if things went well I could stay on easy stuff. If not, then I could sit by the water at Split Rock and read or write while the others got their rocks off in the beautiful autumn air.

It was supposed to be the three of us meeting two others: "Shadow" and "Onions". "There was something amiss between "Ratherbe" and "Shadow" that I just couldn't put my finger on. "Onions" was late to the show, so "Caboose" and I paired off to tackle Arrow while the other two ran up a couple of climbs to the left. My hope was that the first pitch of Arrow, which is 5.6, would give me a good feel for where I was at. If I felt good then we'd do the second pitch. If not, then we'd rap down and "Caboose" would join the other two, who, as it seemed, were having a rather mysterious and fun time with each other. I felt good and gave the second pitch a go. It was touchy-feely for a bit, but I finally sacked up and made the smearing moves midway up the upper face that were making me nervous. The climb went down clean and "Caboose" came up behind me and we rapped off.

Double Crack (5.8) - Two Pitches (recommended) - Trad - Gear / Sling Anchor (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

Next up was Double Crack. This is a bit of a test-piece at the grade and it was something "Ratherbe" had wanted to do for a while. I was nervous about it because while I discovered I could smear, I was worried about foot jams. The goal was for "Ratherbe" to lead it and determine if there were any jams at all ("Caboose" was also suffering from a sprained wrist). If there weren't we'd go up behind her. If there were then she'd rap down and clean along the way. "Shadow" and "Onions" had finally met up, and they followed us like puppy dogs to the area around Double Crack. I wasn't sure why they insisted on climbing near us, there they were regardless. They went off to do a nearby route while "Caboose" and I watched "Ratherbe" climb.

The start was a struggle for her. In fact, we all thought she was going to spit off a couple of times. One was from a moment when she clearly slipped and the other time(s) was from sheer fatigue. It looked like hard climbing, particularly when she went head first into the wide crack above before sliding her hips into place so that her whole body sat awkwardly in the final opening before the top. But she got the onsight, pulled the rope tight for me follow her lead, and I got about 12 feet off the deck when my good foot slipped and all my weight landed on my bad foot, and what had earlier been fine was suddenly sore to the point where I didn't want to continue. Because of rope stretch and because a second-climber had broken an ankle on this route sometime in the recent past, I asked for a spot before I let go. When I did, I slowly dangled in the air until I gently caressed the ground with my feet; there was enough stretch in the rope that I went all the way to the ground without "Ratherbe" lowering me an inch. I gave myself some slack by walking uphill and unbonded myself so that "Caboose" could tie in and give the route a go. She made it to the wide crack before her bad hand got stuck in a hand jam. She fell but was able to finish the route without an other issues.

"Shadow" and "Onions" had finished their climb and we all decided to head back toward the City Lights (5.8-) and Maria (5.6+) area. "Caboose", "Onions", and I walked slowly behind "Shadow" and "Ratherbe" while they suspiciously chatted away in front. "What could be going on?" we wondered from behind. "Two single people walking happily together away from the pack?" It just didn't seem right, particularly since "Ratherbe" had managed to feel "Caboose" up the night before. I was skeptical, but I suspected the two in front of us wanted to climb together.

Maria (5.6+) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

But even though we all had our suspicions, "Ratherbe" wanted to give Maria Direct (5.9) a go. She had seconded it once before and felt strong enough to get up through it on this day. So "Onions" and "Shadow" went off to do a roof climb called Genie (5.9) while "Caboose" and I gave a spot to "Ratherbe" on her attempt to get up a somewhat dangerous climb.

Maria Direct avoids the long traversing first pitch that is a part of the 5.6 version of Maria. In instead goes straight up past a horizontal crack before going past a hard bulge. The landing below the difficult moves is rocky and there's a serious potential to get hurt if the belay isn't excellent and the climber falls at the bulge before getting good gear in (getting gear is also tough due to the pumpy nature of the bulge).

"Ratherbe" initially had trouble getting up to the horizontal (where the first piece of gear is) without using some sort of dynamic move. She tried several times and each time we literally caught her before she touched the ground. Each time our hands ventured to strange places and each time we spit out odd phrases such as:

- "Push the gopher back."
- "Nice ass."
- "My finger stinks."
- "I didn't get enough the first time, can we do it again?"

At one point "Caboose"'s wrist was hurting from all the action so she bailed and "Shadow", who was now finished bagging Genie, excitedly joined in for two more catches. "Ratherbe" eventually got her fingers firmly into the crack where she was happy to plug some protection, but the bulge above proved to be too hard for her to take. So she lowered and decided that she'd rather climb Genie instead. That left "Caboose" and I to head up Maria the traditional way. And despite the fact that "Ratherbe" was giving me a hard time for taking the "tall" route on the traverse (I was supposedly not taking into account that my second, "Caboose" is much shorter than me), "Caboose" made it fine to the bottom of the long corner that makes Maria such a great climb (well, the roof on the third pitch does, too, but I don't think people really think about the roof when they think about this climb). I then racked up for the second pitch.

First things first: "Greggiepoo" as a nickname was not something I condoned, but there it was, stuck in the cool evening air and lingering like a regrettable three-day old glass of milk left on the counter for an unknowing victim to drink. It stuck for the rest of the weekend and for that I have "Caboose" to thank. After all, it is somewhat better than my original nickname of "The Old Man Burns" (or, T.O.M.B. for short). I'm not sure who it is better for, but I hear that it is, in fact, better.

Second: I had forgotten how sparse the gear is on the second pitch of Maria. The gear that's there is bomber, but I found myself run out 20 to 30 feet at times. That might have been a result of my rustiness from inactivity, but I admit that I looked down several times only to look up and mutter, "where's the fucking gear?"

Now, I wasn't worried about the runouts. My lead head has been powerful all year, but I was more afraid on this pitch than I was at any other time this summer, and that included the Tyrolean Traverse 250 feet in the air on scary choss on River Tower in Moab. It wasn't because I was afraid of the distance or was worried about the gear; it was more that I was afraid my ankle was going to give at any moment. Where it was fine earlier in the day, I was still nervous about its performance. I felt fine climbing, but it could have been shot at any moment without notice and I would have little to no control over it if it did.

But I made it up to the GT Ledge without incident and brought "Caboose" up. She was eager to wrestle the roof on the third pitch, but I didn't have it anymore. I just knew that I was taking too much of a risk by climbing the next pitch. So we rapped down and waited for "Ratherbe" and "Shadow" to finish City Lights. They decided to simul-rap only to find each end of the rope tangled into a straight overhand knot with the other end of the rope. Ordinarily this would piss partners off, but they were oddly giggling at their predicament. It was as if hanging side-by-side in mid-air was fun to them. I just couldn't place my finger on why.

That was the end of our day. We packed up and headed to the Brauhaus for the famous 'Gunks burger and were there from about 6pm to 10pm because it took them that long to seat us, take our order, bring the food out (which was wrong all around), and give us the check. That was OK because it gave us ample time to learn that "Onions" doesn't do onions well, that "Shadow" is a drinking lightweight, that "Caboose" knows when she's about to become a stumbling drunk after a goblet of raspberry beer, that "Ratherbe" really, really, really, wanted "Caboose" to get drunk, and I'm willing to send my only meal of the day back because it was cooked well instead of medium ("Shadow" saved the day by giving me his medium burger and taking my well burger, so I offer a round of thanks for that).

We then headed back. "Onions" took off for home. "Caboose" and I beat it to the tent before the rain set in, and "Shadow" and "Ratherbe" stayed behind to chat. We were all suspicious of why they did that, but I knew this gave me the perfect opportunity to re-address the female boob-grabbing that I had missed the night before. You see, "Caboose" was in between "Ratherbe" and I in the tent the previous night. When "Caboose" and I made it back to the tent I subtly recommended that she switch tent positions with "Ratherbe". This would put "Caboose" on the end and "Ratherbe" in the middle, but if "Ratherbe" didn't know that, and if she was drunk off her rocker when she finally arrived back at the tent, I knew I was going to get two drunk chicks unexpectedly tangled with each other in the darkness (until I got my headlamp on, that is). It was a plan that was well conceived but terribly delivered. Simply put, it didn't work out the way I hoped it would. My evil plan was foiled and my hopes and dreams of witnessing spontaneous hot lesbian sex by two straight women continue to appear cursed to the very end.

It was raining the next morning and the art gallery that "Onion"'s father contributes to was closed (we were planning on going there if it rained). So we grabbed breakfast in town instead. It was a good breakfast even though a couple of folks had slight headaches. My french toast had nuts in it, but I ate it anyway. "Ratherbe" and "Shadow" seemed in good spirits and "Caboose" and I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until we paid our bill and headed to the car when we saw "Ratherbe" walking him back to his car with her arm around his back and his around hers and then we knew something was up.

Click here for all 2009 'Gunks pics

Guidebook: Gunks - Double Crack

Double Crack (5.8) - Two Pitches (recommended) - Trad - Mixed Anchors

: Take the fifth trail up to the left after the overhanging, roof-like Andrew Boulder (about a 10-min walk down the Carriage Trail after the Uberfall area). At the top, head right and up hill to an arrete that has a low roof on the left and an obvious vertical crack system on the right face.

Pitch One (5.8) - 75 feet - Gear Anchor: Most guidebooks will say this is a one-pitch climb that runs 150 from the ground to the ledge. However, if your second falls even from about 15 feet up then it is possible for the second to deck as a result of rope stretch. There is a popular story out there where a second did just that and she managed to break an ankle, even though the leader (belaying from the tree at the top) had pulled the rope as tight as he could (he was apparently using the autolock belay technique that can be done with popular devices such as the Black Diamond Guide). Rope stretch can be eliminated simply by breaking this out into two pitches. Of course, using a thicker rope (with less stretch) or setting up a sling-shot belay at the top will also help. In any case, climb the pumpy start (crux) up the crack to the rest about 25 feet up. Fade left toward the pod and exit the pod to the right on a couple of good ledges for the optional belay.

Pitch Two (5.7) - 75 feet - Tree Anchor: Climb the off-width to the left of the belay and exit it (crux) to the face, following the path of least resistance to the top.

Descent: Rap off the tree at the top all the way to the ground with two 60m ropes. Otherwise, rap twice with one rope using the intermediate rap station that you'll pass while climbing the off-width (not recommended).

The First Time

Well, I've been injured much of the past few weeks, so I thought I'd give you guys something to read. Sorry for the delay, but I can't write much about climbing when I'm strapped into a boot that's meant to keep my ankle from twisting. I am hoping to get out this weekend if only to remember what rock feels like again. In the meantime, here is a short fiction story that I wrote last week...

He looked to the top of the dome and said, "Wow." It stood so tall and grand, and its wildness excited him. The granite was hard and grey and pink in spots, but mostly it was grey. It was cool to the touch in the shade and his fingertips dragged across the rough bumps through the warm sun and back to the shade again as he walked along the base. There was a wide, arching flake that spit off from the middle to the left and it rounded into a ledge where the gap narrowed two hundred feet off the deck. He wanted to climb to the ledge not because he could see the whole valley from the top, but because it looked so climbable; it looked easy and pure and safe and fun.

I remember watching him that first day. He'd never climbed before and yet felt the allure, and I felt that he felt it. He looked at me and asked, "Can I go up?" "Sure," I said and went back to the car for the gear.

When I got back he was already thirty feet up. His legs were stiff against the dome and his back pressed against the flake. He moved up the empty space perfectly, as if he'd done this a thousand times before and knew every move, every rest, and every grain of friction. An offwidth for me was a chimney for him, but I knew it would turn to an offwidth for him before he reached the top. His mother would kill me if she knew I had let him climb this without gear, and I was startled when I first saw him so high. But then I saw how he loved it and how free and graceful he looked from below. I tossed the rope around my back, put on my harness, clipped his to mine and stepped up.

He saw me climbing behind him and he waited a while. It wasn't long before I caught up to him. The climbing was harder here. He was still in the chimney, but now his knees replaced his feet and the rough rock made his knees bleed through his jeans.

I stayed below him, but I was close enough to talk him through the narrow section. Then we came to the narrowest part where the crack suddenly pinched down to nothing, and I thought he'd be stumped just ten feet from the ledge. There was a small ledge I knew he could climb to and I wanted him to go there to put on his harness. But without looking he said to me, "Papa, look at this." I looked up and saw him swing his legs out from the chimney to above the land below us. There was my son, thirteen years old and his feet and legs were flying away from the rock and his body only connected to the flake by the fingers on his hand that wrapped over a ledge and, after he'd had his fun, they pulled him back into the rock into a solid stance on the face below the larger ledge.

My heart skipped a beat and I shouted, "Be careful!" and he was. He recomposed himself, looked around, and stepped up to higher ground. Within seconds he was standing on the ledge and watching his old man top out.

We sat there on the ledge a long time watching the trees below us sway in the wind. It was fun to be above the birds.

We moved on when it was time. I got him into his harness and we simul-rapped to the ground with ease. He loved the exposure. While he was careful to listen to me and pay attention to what I told him, he bounced joyfully in the air while he let the rope slip through his fingers and his belay device. The wind pushed our hair around during the descent, and it was fresh and we were free, together, and happy.

I contemplated telling him to not tell his mother, but I was so impressed with him that day that I decided to see what else he had in him.

When we got him his mother asked, "how was it?"

"It was great, Mom. We climbed to the top and then we rappelled down." He went to his room and I kissed my wife, thankful for the day he and I had and grateful that there would be more to come.