Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Consecutive Days and I'm Ready to Go?

It was only a week or so before when I awoke after my first day of climbing after contracting Lyme Disease that getting out of bed was the crux of the day. I rolled my feet to the floor, stood up, and immediately felt as if a truck had hit me head on. My swim session later that day was the slowest I'd had in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to eat the house out of food. I didn't, of course, but if that's how I was going to feel after one day of climbing easy stuff at Rumney then I openly wondered how my trip in September with "Jello" was going to turn out when we would hopefully be climbing every single day for two straight weeks. One day clipping bolts at Rumney clearly wasn't going to do the trick; I needed multiple days in a row of plugging gear, and "Lost", so nicknamed because we got lost trying to find our tent after heading back to the car to fetch the ill-forgotten beer in the backseat, provided me with an opportunity to climb for three days at the old haunt in the 'Gunks. We had been somewhat trying to climb together for a couple of years without luck, so I took the opportunity when it finally emerged and off we went in search of my long-lost endurance.

"Lost" on P2 of Baby
"Lost" was dealing with some endurance issues of his own. He hadn't been climbing much and wanted to get back into shape, and even though he's a much better climber than me in both skill and knowledge, I felt a little better knowing that I'd be actually able to keep up with someone who was both twenty-five years my senior and in generally better shape. Even so, that was difficult to do, but we had a plan in case I struggled on the second and third days. I was grateful that we only partially put that plan to use.

Our first day was without much excitement: we knocked off Baby (5.6), of which I had never done the first pitch; Drunkard's Delight (5.8), of which neither of us had been on; and Snooky's Return (5.8), of which "Lost" had never led the first pitch. He had never led the third pitch either, and despite his reluctance to lead something he hadn't at least thought about beforehand, I managed to convince him that this was a nice pitch. Unfortunately, the conversation went something like this:

- Me: Yeah, you're going to love it. It's a fun crux.
- "Lost" (pointing up at a dirty ramp below a dirty roof that has a dead tree growing out of a crack directly below the crux): Wait, this is it?
- Me: Yup, it's a fun pitch. Trust me, you'll like it.

- "Lost" (below the roof now): You sure this goes right and not left?
- Me: Definitely goes right. It's all lichen off to the left. That's nothing over there.

- "Lost" (mid-crux): This is NOT 5.7. Are you sure this goes right and not left?
- Me: Trust me, if there's lichen to the left then that means it isn't part of the route. It definitely goes right.

- "Lost" (after pulling around the arete): What the hell Greg? No one does this route. There isn't a clean path anywhere up here. There's more lichen here than to the left!
- Me: Huh? What?
- "Lost" (showering me with chunks of fluttering lichen that he has mass-scraped off the rock): It's a lichen shower! You're taking a lichen shower!
- Me (giggling and trying hard to keep the black-filled sky above me from floating down my shirt): I didn't sandbag you, honest! I remember this as a great climb!
- "Lost": Whatever dude. Here, let me pull some more lichen off for you.

- Me (after pulling the crux and seeing "Lost"'s cleaning job): What the hell do you mean this has never been done! There's an obvious clean path all the way up to the ledge. I can't see any lichen anywhere!
- "Lost": (laughs)

"Lost" on P2 of Shit Creek
That ended the day for us. It was hot and we were looking for food, but we first went to Split Rock to clean up a bit. All that was nice and dandy until I dipped my toes in the water one last time to get the sand off my feet when I heard a thunk next to me on the rock. I looked and saw a shiny, silver object bouncing out of my pocket and into the drink: plunk! My phone was there for no more than a few seconds, but not having a bowl of rice handy, and because I had accidentally pushed one of the side buttons and sent an electrical charge through the system, the circuit was toast. A $200 phone I had bought exclusively for use in Chile had ceased its usefulness.

We awoke the next day both feeling OK, but "Lost" feeling better than me. While I managed to dodge the truck that had hit me a couple of weeks before after Rumney, I could feel the breeze from the passing weight push me around before the draft behind the truck sucked me toward it after it went by. We started on Shit Creek (5.7), which has a 5.6 first pitch that felt way harder than 5.6. It was hot in the sun already by that time, too, so that sapped any energy I had before I got to the belay stance, which, as it turned out, was perched on top of a precarious stack of boulders that felt as if they were going to collapse at any moment. I sat belaying "Lost" up and into the next pitch both sopping wet from sweat and concerned that I could go for a ride downward at any minute. I was grateful to get off that climb, even if it was a route I'd recommend to others.

We stayed in the area and hit the Filipina-Boldville (5.7) link-up just down the hill from Shit Creek. "Lost" led the first pitch, which is a steep, overhanging crack at the start with really nice climbing straight up to the anchors. I took the second pitch, which was a significantly easier pitch at 5.6. In fact, it was so much easier that I felt it was either 5.5 in relation to Shit Creek's first pitch or Shit Creek was really a 5.7+ at the start. Either way, it was nice to lead on something easier. I was simply fatigued from the sun and my lack of ability to recover quickly, but things felt better. Somehow, I felt as if I had made progress in my recovery the past two weeks. I began to look forward to my September trip with "Jello". "Lost" was disappointed that my lead was significantly shorter than the 100 feet promised in the guidebook.

"Lost" coming around P2 of the Filipina-
Boldville Link-up
But "Lost" encouraged me to take on Blistered Toe (5.7) next. I was reluctant because at 5.7 it felt harder than what I was looking for, but I didn't want to disappoint, so after a quick bathroom break I racked up and tied in. The route didn't disappoint. I've never liked crack much, but the first pitch is as good of a crack as I've ever climbed. Of course, it isn't really a jam climb (as one friend describes routes like this: it's crack protected face climbing), but it was sustained and it took me a fairly long time to get up through the multiple cruxes that seemed to come right at me several times in a row.

This wasn't the real crux, though. I was battling another issue that came to light enroute, so to speak, right at the second crux:

- Me: Hey, is that a jug up there?
- "Lost": Where?
- Me (pointed toward what I thought was a jug): Right there, up and left.
- "Lost": Um, I don't know what you're looking at. Why can't you see it yourself? You're closer!
- Me: Ah, well, my contacts are dry and everything is foggy now.
- "Lost" (after a few seconds): Wait, what?

It turned out to not be a jug at all, but instead rock with two different colors, the bottom of which was white in a sea of red. Naturally, with such blurry vision, I mistook the white as missing rock (i.e. - a nice side pull or undercling), but alas, it was rounded smooth and of no use to me whatsoever.

Of course I made it up, but that ended our day. Despite my insistence that I could, in fact, see well enough to belay and even climb (shoot, I felt I could have led the next pitch at 5.5, a lack of vision be damned!), "Lost" wasn't having any of it. To him, it was better to call it day than to call it a life, so we packed up, went for another swim and dinner, and hit the sack soon after. Well, I didn't hit the sack so early because we stumbled upon "Fashion" and her crew just down from the Uberfall area on the hike out. I went up to their campsite for a beer and chit-chat before retiring, but I slept well after that and that made me think the final day was going to be a good one.

"Lost" on P2 of Snooky's Return
Indeed the final day was productive. We went over to the Nears and warmed up on Grease, Gun, Groove (5.6), of which I led the choss-filled and gearless second pitch (seriously, I've done this pitch a couple of times this summer and, well, it sucks. Just do P1 and call it good). We then went over to Birdland (5.8), which is a route that had been a nemesis of mine in previous years but had now been slayed well enough that I felt I didn't ever need to lead either pitch again. "Lost" hadn't been on the route at all, so I encouraged him to take both pitches. He ran up the first pitch, which is a technical, thin, climb and I followed him to the anchors. I asked him if he wanted the second pitch and he deferred. This was discouraging to me. I was still beat from two days of climbing and this second pitch was one of the pumpiest pitches I had ever climbed in the 'Gunks. At 5.8, it was right at my limit and probably two grades above what I felt comfortable leading at this point. This isn't to say that 5.6 was my limit overall, because I had thought about Grand Central (5.9) as a potential target for this trip, but on the third day?, I was pooped.

I took the lead, however, and went up. The start was harder than I remembered, but I pulled through it and went up to the series of overhangs that made up the crux. I must have stood at the base for thirty minutes trying to find the energy to pull through. I had the nerve to do it, but seemingly not the physical strength. Finally I pulled through the first crux, plugged gear that I thought would never come out ("Lost" later laughed at this because he couldn't get it out and summarily gave me his nut of the same size in replace of my now fixed piece), and panted and heaved oxygen until I was ready to commit to the exposed second crux. Again, this was harder than I remembered it, but I got through it after only a few minutes of working things out. The final crux was more of a technical thrash; I knew I couldn't stay there long so I just did it, and thankfully I made it to the base of the 5.9 finish.

This presented a good rest for me, and I thought about doing this finish because I had never done it before (two of my seconds now have). I remembered the last time I tried it I found it easier than expected, but I was too pumped to pull what was a mantle for me (I'm a little too short to grab the next jug without getting my upper body up higher). In my condition, I knew it was going to be a fall if I tried it, so I finished out right and set up the belay directly above the 5.9 roof. After setting it up, I peered over the edge at "Lost" and shouted, "Hey, if you want to do the 5.9 finish then it's here, if you want to do the 5.8 finish then that's over here." It wasn't until later that I realized I had totally sandbagged him into doing the 5.9 no matter what.

"Lost" not very confident of getting off the rock
with daylight after P1 of Blistered Toe
"There wasn't a soul at the cliff who didn't hear you shout that," "Lost" said to me later. "I had no choice but to give them the entertainment you had set up so well and they, as a result, so desired." (note: that isn't a direct quote, but it's good enough)

I laughed at my apparent brashness. It had never occurred to me that I had done that. I'm not sure "Lost" believed me, but I swear it was true. However, looking back, I also think it was rather funny, even if I did feel bad that it was the second time I had done that to him (the first being the third pitch of Snooky's).

Our real goal for the day was actually Alphonse (5.8), which is a two-pitch climb that really needs to be done as one, long pitch. It was finally empty (it wasn't all day leading up to this point), and because "Lost" hadn't led this either, he did the whole thing to the top. This route wasn't a problem for either of us because we both think this isn't 5.8, but merely a 5.7 with a hard(ish) single move at the crux. This route reminds me of the old joke: what's the difference between a 5.5 and a 5.7 at the 'Gunks? The the 5.5 has only one 5.7 move. Well, Alphonse is really a 5.6 with only one 5.8 move that, if done with commitment, feels easier than that.

Still, this ended our day. We were both wiped at this point and had a long drive back to Massachusetts. We stopped for dinner and, because I had taken my antibiotic without food (and just after drinking a celebratory beer, which I almost NEVER do after climbing), I gave the driving to "Lost" while I battled nausea and stars in my eyes. We crashed at his place and awoke to a nice pancake dinner with his family (wife, daughter, grandson, and two dogs, one of which hilariously couldn't understand why no one would pet him with the plastic cone wrapped around his head that was meant to keep him from scratching an infected ear). I left after breakfast and was glad we had finally managed to climb together. We both learned something: me about zippering nuts (no gear was pulled on this trip, but I still learned about it) and him about climbing with two ropes to reduce rope drag. "Lost" is a good partner, and a knowledgeable one at that. I hope to get the chance to learn more from him in the future. As for my looming trip in September? I'm ready to roll, so we'll see how things turn out in a few weeks.

Click here for all 2010 'Gunks photos

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