Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Weird Season: Part I

CCK (5.8)
If you're a regular reader then you'll remember my "retirement" post from a few weeks ago. It's silly to call it a retirement because I never was making a living as a climber, but that trip to Red Rocks did change things for me as a climber. It killed all ambition I had to challenge myself on routes, and it turned my attention to more serious matters such as writing and taking whatever next steps I had to take in life. Because of that decision, I was suddenly confident in the choices I had made, and the direction I was going in seemed obvious for the first time in many years. But it didn't come without worries, the first and foremost was finding and / or keeping climbing partners who continued to push themselves beyond their limits. I still wanted to climb, but who would want to climb with someone who wasn't in the game seriously?

I met "Lonestar", "Mom", "RightOn", "Superfreak", and "Fashion" over the course of two separate weeks while climbing in the 'Gunks. Those two weeks were the only two weeks that I managed to get in after my trip out west with "Jello", so I was coming in with a fairly intense lack of ambition. I wanted to climb, but there was nothing new that I was interested in. "Lonestar" had never been to the 'Gunks before, so my plan was to take him on as many classics as I could, all the while giving him all the money pitches. And during the first week, that's exactly what I did. We ran up several of the routes that I wanted him to try: Maria (5.6), Son of Easy O (5.8), Frog's Head (5.7), Disneyland (5.6), CCK (5.8), Gelsa (5.4), Bunny (5.6), and an old-school ascent of Easy Keyhole (5.2), using a hip belay and no harness. We topped off that week with a night ascent of High Exposure (5.6), which was one of my more favorite ways of doing any of the climbs I've ever done.

Moonlight (5.6)
Leaving on a high note like that made me feel better about taking it easy, but I got the sense that "Lonestar" was starting to find his groove and was desiring harder and more adventurous climbs. We met up with "Mom" and "Superfreak" at around that time, and both of them are both strong climbers and relatively local to the area. This allowed me to leave knowing that "Lonestar" would get his fill of good, classic hard routes in without involving me too much. I was satisfied, but the desire to climb really wasn't there. I wasn't sure if I was going to be back for the second week that I had promised to "Lonestar", and when I look back on it he may be lucky that I'm one who tends to keep his promises.

Moonlight (5.6)
I came back only on my word, but I'm sure glad that I did. It was there that I met "RightOn" and "Fashion" for the first time. "RightOn" was also on an extended trip like "Lonestar"'s, and they had been partnering up for a few weeks already. The three of us climbed together the first couple of days until we came back to Camp Slime one night with a barrel full wise cracks that none of us could stop laying on to each other. We noticed someone giggling a few tents over, and it was only a matter of time before "Fashion" crawled out of her tent and joined our brash conversation about how sick we were about talking about having spaghetti for breakfast the next day. We invited her to climb with us the next day and she accepted our invitation, which made for a fun foursome.

We hit the Nears and climbed Mainline (5.8), Spinal Exam (5.10c), and Criss Cross Direct (5.10a). "Lonestar" also tried his luck on a former 5.8 that, when it lost a key hold, turned into what I think is now an 11b, and while he and I were on Spinal Exam, the other two went off and did Te Dum (5.7).

High E (5.6)
It was a really a fun day, and that was something I had been missing from climbing for a while. For such a long time climbing had turned into something with goals and challenges and achievements that I had to pursue, and I just got sick of it feeling like it was something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. Even though I swore at "Lonestar" multiples of multiple times for taking me up the harder variation of the top of Spinal Exam, I still had fun (though I'm sure I made him feel bad, I only meant it in the moment and had completely forgotten about my anger as soon as I topped out). Even Criss Cross Direct thoroughly beat me up, but again, I was having fun. There was no pressure to perform or do it in fine style. I had wished that I had this attitude on Epinephrine (5.9 IV) a couple of months before, not that I did that in any fine style at all.

Kansas City (5.12d)
I drove "Fashion" to the bus station the next morning and we agreed to meet up again at some point in the coming months. Then I went back and met up with "Superfreak", "Lonestar", and "RightOn" for the day while "Mom" was climbing with a friend in another part of the 'Gunks. We went back to the Nears, and I knocked off Te Dum as a warm-up (boy that crux at the top is awkward for a 5.7, regardless if you go high or low), and Alphonse (5.8) (which I had never led before - I did it in one pitch and found the crux to be much easier than I anticipated). Then we did Grand Central (5.9), which is a route that I had wanted to try for a while, but being a 5.9 it felt a little too committing for me. I'm glad we did it, though, because the 5.9 section actually felt pretty manageable and the "crux" (the 5.8 roof) showed me a secret way for shorter people to top out without avoiding the roof. It is definitely a route that I'll get on lead the next time I head down there.

Mainline (5.8)
By far and away the most adventurous climb for me that day was Broken Sling (5.8), which is in no way, shape, or form still a 5.8 at the start. I was glad that "Lonestar" led the first pitch because he was strong enough to pull through it on lead. It was only about a year ago when "Ratherbe" attempted this route, fell at the start (the start is INSANELY slick), and knocked her belayor / spotter ("Caboose") onto the ground with such force that "Caboose" broke her wrist (did I mention that the ground is jagged?). However, despite those difficulties, I really enjoyed the second pitch, which, is not for the fainthearted. It is solid 5.8 for sure, but the first 20 feet are thin both on gear and holds, and the final notch is the most interesting S-shaped notch I've ever had to weave through. I kind felt as if I were caving. 

Mainline (5.8)
Still, the point of all of this spray is that 5.8 is really my trad onsight level, and I was suddenly comfortable making things spicy again, and I was OK falling on harder stuff, too. The difference for me was that these weren't sought out goals, they were just climbs we happened to get on. I don't know if I'd always feel good about simply getting on whatever. It may have just been my mindset that week; I don't know, maybe I was simply comfortable for the first time in a while, but that was the difference: I was comfortable and thus, having fun.

I finished on Birdcage (5.10c) on TR, while the other three played on Transcontinental Railroad and some other climb they were all falling all over on to the left of that (off the Birdland anchors above). I was wiped and couldn't climb any more. It was nice to watch the rest of these guys have fun and swing all over the place in the meantime. I simply had a really fun day.

Spinal Exam (5.10c)
But of course that ended with mixed emotions. The better part of the mixed emotions was that "Mom" had invited us over for dinner and Game 7 of the Celtics-Lakers series. Dinner was good, and I'll leave you to figure out where the bad feelings came from, but to be clear, we had dinner at "Mom"'s several times over the course of the two weeks I was there (and "Lonestar" a few times while I wasn't), and she was an AWESOME host every single time. She really is a cool gal to hang with. I still haven't had a chance to climb with her, but I'm hoping I can make that happen later this summer. Even so, her hospitality is welcomed and appreciated, and we all had good conversation each time she invited us over.

But at the moment, my return to the 'Gunks (or maybe even to climbing) hangs in the balance. It could be as severe as I can imagine or it could be nothing to worry about at all. At the moment, it's completely 50-50, and I won't know more until after consulting my doctor later in the week. I'll explain that in Part II.


John Wesely said...

Crazy Cliffhanger.
Kind of like the Stalone movie.

Greg said...

I really should have given you a different nickname.