Friday, October 29, 2010

Getting With The Times

"Blow" on V3's P3 (5.7)
 My hands were cold. The tips on my fingers were turning white, just as they always do when the late autumn shade hits at the end of the day and the rock swings from motherly warm to freezing beast. I was only a little nervous and very excited. Unsure is probably the best way to describe it. My heart was racing and my head was calm. A girl, the second in her party, had just fallen at the crux and she swung out into space and dangled there, at least five feet from the jugs she had just ripped off from, and waited for someone above her to teach her how to prussic the rest of the way up. I was alive with energy.

I arrived at the 'Gunks alone for my final weekend there in 2010 and on the tail end of a nor'easter that had just dropped a bucket of water on the entire northeast. The wind was all that was left when I set up camp below a left-behind blue tarp that was flapping loose in the 50mph gusts. I stuffed my sleeping bag with clothes and squeezed myself in for what I hoped would be a warm sleep.

"Milsap" enjoys the sunshine
 The next day I awoke with sunshine and howling winds. "Blow" and "Caboose" wouldn't arrive until just before noon, and even then the warm air that had emerged from the cold night was chilled by the fierce wind. We took "Milsap" for a walk so that she could get her chipmunk chasing desires out of her before being leashed up while hoped to be several pitches above the dirt later in the day, but during the walk we felt the wind slowly destroy our plans. I was hoping to get on Modern Times (5.8+) before the weekend was through, but without good weather we were stuck to playing on the easy stuff because neither "Caboose" nor I could climb 5.5 if our fingers were frozen white and "Blow" is still a budding 5.8 leader who isn't confident enough to lead what I had been told was the best route in all of the 'Gunks. I had three other partner options as the weekend progressed, so there was still hope to be found if I dug hard enough, but even then if it didn't warm up then this route was going to be a colossal undertaking for me.
"BMR" coming up V3 (5.7)

Saturday turned out to be a bad day for me. We did finally climb, two easier routes called Classic (5.7) and Ken's Crack (5.7), each of which "Blow" completely destroyed with his new-found confidence, but I was in all sorts of pain from my new shoes squeezing my feet to the cold air and rock rendering my fingers useless. I had to let go on Ken's Crack; It was simply too painful to continue. I hoped with all that I had that Sunday would be a better day. The temps were supposed to be warmer. The door was open slightly even if my partner situation hadn't improved. Modern Times was a goal of a lifetime for me, a route of such intimidation that I never, even if I had ever become a stronger climber, felt I deserved to climb. I needed a partner I could trust and the one partner I had hoped would second it with me, "Mom," wasn't able to go on Monday as we had tentatively discussed. "Fashion," who I had later learned could climb with me on Monday, was coming back from a shoulder injury and this seemed too much too soon for her. That left a new-comer to my growing world of climbing partners: "BMR." I had met him once at the Southern Adirondacks Climbing Festival a few weeks before, but I hadn't climbed with him yet. I knew from other sources that he was a solid partner, but what I didn't know was if he was strong enough to second the climb and, if he wasn't, if he knew how to prussic.

I had to wait until Sunday to figure all of this out, even then he was only around for just that day. It was either Sunday or bust.
"Caboose" on V3's P3 (5.7)
The day arrived warmer than the last one. Sunshine littered the sky and the wind had moved eastward and out to sea. We set off to do V3 (5.7), a three-pitch climb that had a pitch all three of us (me, "Blow," and "Caboose") could lead. Of particular interest was the second pitch that "Caboose" could lead. "Blow" and I had been encouraging her to lead more gear routes, and she had taken up the encouragement with vigor the last few weeks. I was more excited to see this than to do anything else that weekend, and she didn't disappoint because she fired the long pitch with ease. "BMR," who we had met at the top of the Stairmaster on the walk in, provided excellent guidance to her as she built her first gear anchor in years. All was well with world...well, almost.

I felt infinitely stronger than the day before (thank you warm, oh beautiful warm sunshine), but my head was still a little unbalanced. Easy moves felt tentative, and all the potential falls looked hazardous. I even climbed the escape hatch to the left on the third pitch just so I could place a piece above the harder moves in the roof  so that I could essentially be on top rope when I downclimbed and climbed the roof proper, and this was a small roof compared to Modern Times. I mentioned to "BMR" that I wanted to get on Modern Times and that he would have to second the money pitch because that was what I wanted to lead. I kind of threw it out there, simply hoping that in the dead of the wind the comment would stick.

- "BMR": No problem.
- Me: You'll have to prussic if you can't pull the roof.
- "BMR": No problem.
- Me (a little nervous now): Seriously, there's no getting back on the rock if you fall.
- "BMR": No problem.
- Me: You can prussic, right?
- "BMR" (with a little smile across his face): No problem.

It was cold on Saturday
He wasn't sure if he'd be able to pull the roof, but he was certain that moving up the rope wasn't going to be an issue if he fell. He was as excited as I was, and we were both nervous, too.

However, "Blow"'s goal for the weekend was CCK (5.7+), so that was next. I was relieved to know there was another route before Modern Times that would allow me to breathe a little longer, but when "Blow" and "Caboose" said that it was late and that they had to get back on the road the game was suddenly on. I looked at "BMR" and he looked back at me. We both had "are you ready" looks on our faces while simultaneously smiling "yes" in return. I wasn't scared, but boy, was I feeling something I hadn't felt in a long time. It was so long, in fact, that I simply couldn't figure out what to make of the situation. I was giddy, confident, unsure, nervous, and happy. Yes, happy is the best way to put it now. Pure and sheer happiness had developed inside of me, and because it hadn't existed in my climbing heart for maybe years, it was unrecognizable to me.

"Fashion" has fun on CCK's P3 (5.7+)
A party was on the second pitch when we arrived. The leader was at the start of the crux, and he was as hesitant as I expected to be when I got there. He worked the opening moves several times before he finally committed and made it to the top with an exuberant shout of accomplishment at the top. I always assume everyone is better than me, so to see a "better" climber hesitate and pull through made me nervous and confident at the same time. "BMR" took the first pitch soon after we watched the leader pull through, so there was no time to second guess that we were, in fact, going to do this.
The only real delay, however, was that the second above us had fallen at the crux and was now swinging in mid air with no way to get back on the rock. The problem? She didn't know how to prussic! I guess we were all fortunate that there was a cameraman and two climbers who wanted to jump in front of us to get the perfect end-of-the-day light for a Rock and Ice article they were writing. We let them climb through ahead of us, and as a result of that the cameraman, who was suspended from an anchor at the top, he was able to teach the woman how to prussic. Soon after she topped out the photo dudes climbed, the photos were snapped, and off I went to the roof, that massively committing roof with all that air and space below it. I was going to do it now. There was no turning back and there was no question about it. It was going to happen.

"Fashion" tackles Limelight's P2 (5.7)
Of course, however, with me there is no lighting-quick way to do something. I don't just get on routes and run up hoping that I'll figure things out on the fly. I don't mind commitment, but I can't stand not knowing what the hell it is I'm trying to do. I want to be able to commit to the moves under control. Some people laugh at me for not simply going up all gung-ho willing to fall if things don't work out, but to me that approach is stupid. I want to do the climb, not just flail all over the place. What's the point of falling when one can get the route clean? And I'd much rather take on the rope than fall not because of the fear of falling, but because I'm not particularly interested in doing the same stupid moves I've just done all over again. If I'm going to fall then it's going to happen when the shit really hits the fan and I haven't been able to figure any other way of getting out the mess I'm in. Modern Times is not a route that one can really suss out, however, with the exception of the opening moves under the roof, and even then one can only really look things over. There is very little opportunity to climb up, feel things out, and climb back down. As a result, I spent about 15 minutes really looking over all of my options. "BMR" kept encouraging me from below, and, finally, I went.

A beautiful morning on Monday
I had heard that this route was full of slopers and that it was height dependent. Bullshit. Whoever said that is full of shit. I'm 5'7" and I skipped holds through the opening sequence. Getting my feet high and forgetting the stupid heel-hook beta was the best thing I ever did. Boom, boom, BOOM! and I was there resting (albeit a bit scrunched up) and placing bomber pro midway through the excitement. Then came the traverse, and oh boy what a traverse that is with bomber feet and a huge handrail, the only thing better would be holds that are more incut, but with feet that good who needs them? It was pumpy, though, and I felt gravity pulling me out into space, not downward but backward because the latter was almost exactly the prior. What I didn't expect was the final move, which I won't describe here to save anyone from knowing the beta: I'll just say to be sure to save you're energy for the final move because you're going to need it if you want to do this gracefully.

With 200 feet of air below me, I stood on the final hand-hold of the crux section and prayed that my legs and balance would let me catch my breath before I plugged my next piece. I was shaking, not from fear or exhaustion, but from pure unadulterated excitement. I had done it. The route wasn't over for another 15 feet, but I had done it. There was no way I was going to peel off now, and even if I did I still would have said that I had done it and called the pitch off into the air as a victory whip. "BMR" shouted from below and I grinned from the top. I hadn't been so happy to get to the top of a climb since "Jello," "Sungam," and I stood on top of River Tower in the Moab Desert. But it also wasn't over yet. "BMR" still had to come up, and he wasn't sure if he could do it clean.

Remember, I was COLD the day before!
My second-to-last piece was placed specifically to get "BMR" to the final ledge without swinging if he had to prussic. I set the anchor extra strong just in case, too. He was on belay and started climbing. I couldn't see him once he went under the roof, so all I had to go by was the feel of the rope. The rope had stopped moving and I knew he was there, just before the start of the crux. It was still for a few minutes, but not for as long as I had been standing there waiting to sack up and go. At about that time the climber ahead of us, the one who was getting his photo taken on the route,  walked back to ask me how it went, the rope started moving again and I knew it was time. The other climber and I both got excited in the conversation, however, and neither one of us noticed that I was steadily pulling the rope in. Over and over he and I kept talking about the excitement of it all, as if there was nothing better in this world that could be climbed. The conversation stirred me again and my heart starting racing more. My hands were moving faster, too, with the adrenaline pulling faster and faster still. This was great, it was just fucking great. So exciting with no more exciting than -

- "BMR" (breathing very heavily): Oh god! Holy fuck!
- Me (stunned at what I saw below): DUDE! You made it!
- "BMR" (breathing heavily still): Wow, what a route! Wow! Nice job!
- Me: DUDE! You made it!

I call this pic "Friends on a Ledge"
A bigger smile had come over my face than the one I had when I first cleared the roof. "BMR" hadn't pushed through the final move yet, as half his body was resting on the final ledge while the other half dangled over the edge and into the airy void beneath him, but he was there! There was no way he was going to fall now either. I did feel that for a moment when he regained body position that he was going to peel, but he didn't. He was in better control than I could see, and within a few seconds he was at the top and sharing fist pumps and high-fives over and over and over again.

We descended in the dark with the photo shoot guys (I can't wait to see the one photo of the dude who was ahead of us where he hung at the crux one-handed with his feet kicked out into the air) and since they cut in front of us (with our kind blessing of course), they bought us a drink at the restaurant at the bottom of the hill. "BMR" and I had dinner with "Fashion" who, in her own right had an awesome weekend climbing, too, and the day was over. After dinner "BMR" gave us a ride to Camp Slime, we shook hands one more time, he congratulated me on the send, I congratulated him on that too as well for soon becoming a father, and we went our separate ways until next year when I hope to get "Blow" on CCK, "Fashion" on lead on the same route (which we did together the next day with her seconding), "Caboose" on more gear climbs, "BMR" on whatever he finds time to do with his new parenthood, and me with ANYONE who wants to do Modern Times again and again and again and...
I'm going to miss this place


SethG said...

Nice piece! I'm still gathering courage for my own Modern Times moment. You brought the drama to life nicely.

A couple weeks ago I was on High Exposure and watched a guy link both pitches of MT in about five minutes. He put a sling around the tree on the GT ledge and then placed one more piece (!!) before the traverse at the top. He and his partner were done with the whole climb before I was finished leading the first pitch of High E.

(One quibble: Ken's Crack is NOT a 5.6! It's a solid 5.7.)

The Mountain Man (山男) said...

I need to get back and hop on that climb. Sounds like a good day indeed.

Greg said...

Thanks guys...and Seth, you're right, Ken's Crack is a 5.7.