|The New River from Snake Buttress|
"Rocky" came to meet me when I pulled my car around his sloping green yard to the dirt lot on the side. His off-southern accent threw me; I knew I wasn't blanketed by steely New England atmosphere anymore, but I wasn't expecting the twang to be so novel. It was as if I had never heard a southerner speak before, and it took me at least ten seconds to respond to his query about if I was the dude with the car with Maine plates with a long, drawn out, and wide-eyed "Ayuh." He smiled, shook my hand and welcomed me to his campground by giving me the scoop and telling me how much I'd owe him at the end of my nine days. He certainly seemed friendly enough.
|The New River Gorge Bridge|
The climbing felt easy that first day, just as clipping bolts always does after a few weeks of exclusively plugging gear. We stuck to the classics at the Tattoo Wall (Zietgiest (10a), The Decameron (10b), and a few other eights and nines along the way) with the idea that there was no reason to get on anything that sucked because I wasn't there long enough to work something uninteresting. The Decameron was my first taste of pure, New River Gorge joy with a thoughtful crux and fun determination that led me to the redpoint. Zeitgeist, on the other hand, sandbagged me a little bit. It is an extension of Crescendo (5.9), which is a slabby route with a balancy crux just below the anchors, and I looked up to the overhangs above and thought, "This looks like an eight." It felt it too, with both me and "N/A" agreeing that it felt softer than the grade after we had climbed it. Naturally this led me to believe that I was about to have a great week. "If 10a feels like this," I thought to myself, "then I should be able to bag my first 11a sport route and 10a gear route before I leave." I was giddy.
|"N/A" topping out on |
The Decameron (5.10b)
|A nice rest|
This definitely transferred over to the weekend, which was now the time to plug gear. We risked the weekend crowds and headed to Bridge Buttress where there were a slew of moderate classics that we both felt were in our capabilities. I personally enjoyed the view of the bridge from underneath, but that's less about climbing and more about enjoying your current space.
Our first route was Easily Flakey (5.7), which was an R-rated route that was more fun than scary with an annoying, in-the-way tree followed by an exposed, runout 5.5 traverse. It was a good warm-up for Zag (5.8), which was the supposed first route in The New. As a crack, this route intimidated me a little bit, particularly the off-fingers crux near the start, and I hung twice on lead the first time up. But I also felt good about it for some reason. My distaste for cracks is well-documented, but there was something about this crack that seemed doable a second time around. At 5.8 it should have been a lot harder to me than it felt. The Bubba City feeling was creeping back into me. "Cracks at this grade should completely shut me down," I thought to myself, but again, after yesterday's finish at Orange Oswald, my heart was in a sending mood.
I needed a rest, so "N/A" ran right up it after I did, and I went back up for the redpoint. The finger jams were easier this time around and the chicken-wing at the top was secure as I secured my feet underneath me. My fingers slotted perfectly, my feet got stuck where I wanted them to, and the plentiful rests got me through the strain of climbing the hard sections in that way that I was never afraid of falling. For the first time in a while I actually enjoyed a crack climb. I felt again as if The New was being good to me.
|Belaying at Junkyard Wall|
"N/A" took the lead and found plenty of gear at each point in the lower section. Naturally, this was good. The problem was that we both thought it would be the last gear he'd get until he got to the roof, so he sewed it up pretty tight through the lower cracks. Then, protected by a bomber cam placement at the base of the roof, the route goes up right into a layback corner with feet that leave much to be desired. He aced this section but quickly discovered that he had used all the gear he needed to finish the route off. He was now about ten feet above his last piece and making the dicey final moves to the anchor above. I was a bit nervous due to the size of the fall, but I knew it would be clean. None of that mattered, however, because he clipped the anchors soon afterward and was on the ground telling me that I should bring a #1 Camalot up with me to protect the final section. However, even that didn't matter. While I cruised the bottoms section, the layback after the roof gave me a lot of problems. I couldn't even aid past it.
Ashamed at making him go back up to finish the route, I lowered and watched him struggle through the crux a bit more than last time. He still got it, though, and when he lowered I suddenly felt the need to toprope it. "It's a 5.9," I thought to myself. "This can't be that hard." I went back up and relied on pasting my feet to the slick rock and my back muscles to keep me into the layback. Damn it was hard, and scary too. Even on toprope I felt the strain of this move. It was clear that I simply wasn't very good at this style of climbing. I was glad to have held on, however, but this was a lead that I was sure I'd think about for a long time going forward.
I was also pumped by the time I got to the top, so my day was over, but "N/A" had one more route in him, so we walked over to Promised (5.10b) so that he could push himself a little more than what we had been climbing. It was a tricky start that required a good, attentive belay with a solid strategy on how to protect and approach the early moves before leaving the ground. If he fell at the wrong spot early on then he'd surely hit the ground. There was no place for me to run without him landing on my end of the rope, so we both spent the next tense ten minutes anxiously waiting for things to work themselves out. They did, of course, but not until it was dark and we were packing our gear into our packs under the watchful eye a single headlamp.
|"N/A" on Dreamtime (5.9)|
"Limey" has a great affection for "Rocky," so while "N/A" and I shared a similar anti-social, climb-only mentality, I was thrust once again into the wonderful world that is the Rocky Top Retreat, and I have to admit that this time things felt a little different. For one, the Jag had gone away and the annoying talk about weed going missing was now absent. The folks also seemed friendlier this time around. I don't know, maybe it was because I had been around for a few days and people started to let me into their world, or maybe it was "Limey"'s sociable personality that brought out the openness in me. Whatever it was I started talking with people and enjoying myself there. We all went down to the cave late that night to do the famous swing off the Lactic Acid Bath anchors. Everyone was drunk, so despite me initially saying I'd do it I eventually passed the opportunity to others. It seemed like great fun, but not under those circumstances. Still, we all laughed, told jokes, and had a good time. I'm not the kind of person who can make himself feel welcome with a strange crowd, so it was nice that these folks made me feel as if I belonged.
|"Limey" gazes upon The New|
While I'm not sure what might have been had I simply jumped on Delirium Tremors first, what happened next was a near crash of all my confidence. The start to Beer Wench was significantly harder than I expected, and I really struggled to not only clip the first bolt but to move past it once it was clipped. That starting crack and the slopers above it were, simply put, not the jugs I expected, and the feet were slick and off-angle, too. Each new body position I tried seemed as difficult as the last; they all had the same problem: I couldn't move past the bolt. I hung, flabbergasted by something that should have been much easier than the route directly to the left, which, even though was listed as a much harder route, simply appeared more straight forward.
|Approaching the crux on |
My first reaction upon clipping the first bolt was, "Damn, that was easier than I feared it would be!" I was a little disappointed in myself for not trying it on lead at the outset, but then I realized that the crux was actually moving past the first bolt. All the chalked up holds were really crappy slopers or finger pockets, and none of them gave the straight-up-and-down body position I craved. I played around going right, straight up, and left, but nothing seemed to work and, as one might assume, I hung after feeling that first sense of accomplishment float away. But after playing around a bit, I found a sequence that worked for me, and despite the fact that there were still a couple of (easier) cruxes above, the rest of the route had me completely enamored. I wanted this to be my first 5.11. There were other routes at Rumney and Camden, ME that I felt for sure would go down first, but the opportunities to get on these routes never materialized. I simply couldn't let this opportunity pass by.
"Limey" gave it a shot on toprope, hanging the first few draws for me before getting pumped out and lowered. To be fair to him, not only had he led this clean several years earlier, but this was his first time out on rock in months. I really only wanted the first couple draws to be hung, so I was grateful that he managed the first four before tiring out. He touched down and we pulled the rope. It was now my turn to shine.
|Celebrating past the business on|
Delirium Tremors (5.11a)
I looked to my right and saw "Limey" at full attention. His hands were ready to pull in slack and give me the best catch he could. I couldn't blame him. Just as I was nervous with "N/A" on Promise a couple of days before, he must have been nervous with me on the sharp end. Despite our common lineage and shared birthday, our brotherhood was only a few hours old.
There was only one chance left to fix my feet. If I blew it, I was going for a ride. If not, there was still a chance. Deep in the back of my head I thought about taking, but I remembered how I felt on She Got the Bosch and I got Drilled, that final route after a bad day at Orange Oswald. Somehow, even on a bad day, I had managed to get through that clean. I was happy to have not taken, and as a result of that experience I dug down deep and managed a very strenuous downclimb before getting the left foot up first, then the right, then my hands on the crimpers, the rope through the gate on the second clip and, boom, boom, boom...I was at the top with a smile that ripped across my face from ear to ear. "Limey" congratulated me when I touched back on the ground and I shouted for everyone (despite there being no one there) to hear. The smile still hasn't gone away. Two weeks and two accomplishments (the other being Modern Times (5.8+)) equaled the best month of climbing for me ever.
The day wasn't over, however. "Limey" wanted to get me on a few classics that he had done in years past. We looked at them and I felt confident in my decisions to not do the routes. I just didn't feel good about the first clip on any of them, so we kept going until we came across Look Who's Pulling (5.11a), which is a left-diagonal pumpfest that looked well within my homerun range. Look Who's Crimping (5.10d) is a three-bolt extension past the anchors, so to knock off both of these would be a serious accomplishment for me. At the very least Look Who's Pulling would have potentially been my first 11a onsite. I was excited, but just as soon as I dropped my pack, "Limey" pointed to a word and diagram scribbled in chalk on the wall: "Bees" with a circle around the word and arrow pointing up to the left, where the route went, was inscribed as a warning to anyone who dared to do the route. I looked up and figured that the last thing I wanted to do was find the nest mid-crux, so, somewhat disappointed, we moved on until we came across our final route of the day, Casper Says Boo (5.9), which turned out to be everything I could handle anyway. Its overhangs at the bottom were incredible and fun, filling the void Look Who's Pulling left behind, but the crux was definitely at the blank section above. The hands were thin and the feet smears. I admit that I was kind of scared. It was only a 5.9, but the commitment felt harder than that because the finger cracks were thin (tips only) and didn't have any good locks. They were straight up and down, too, so that meant I was going to have to layback off them for a few moves (I was about ten feet below the anchor), but the problem was that there weren't any feet to layback from! The only way to do it was to stick my fingers in the crack and trust the rubber on my shoes as they smeared on a featureless blank wall. It took a fair amount of commitment to get to the anchors, and I was glad to have done so cleanly, but I wouldn't actually know how important that commitment was until end of the next day.
|"Daywalker" after playing rope gun|
|From the top of |
Flight of the Gumby (5.9)
After that "Limey" bouldered a bit and then we headed up the Kaymoor trail back to the Rocky Top Retreat where I helped him pack, we shared a beer, and bid each other farewell until the next time. I then hung out at the hut with the other climbers until "Rocky" closed up shop for the night. It was dinner time and bed time. I packed up everything except my tent and sleeping bag, washed my pots, put away my food, drank a beer, finished off the Highland Park, and went to sleep. I was off to St. Louis the next day and then to Colorado after that, but in a way, I didn't want to go. I've struggled all year with making climbing fun again, and The New, with its climbs and its people, made it just that, fun, just as I always remembered it being when I was discovering the sport for the first time. In an odd twist, The New River is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, and true to its form, it brought new feelings back to an old sport that will make me return for years to come.
|Kaymoor Miner's Trail Bridge|