Wednesday, April 9, 2014

At the Mac Wall: Try Again (5.10b) & Coexistence (5.10d), plus Turdland (5.9 or 5.10d)


(Photo: Gail finishing up the traverse on the 5.8+ pitch one of Birdie Party.)

I have been trying to get ready for my trip to Yosemite next week.

I went to the new gym in NYC, the Cliffs of Long Island City, and threw myself at the easiest of their three crack climbs. Several times, I tried it. It wasn't pretty. When it comes to hand cracks, I have my work cut out for me. I am going back again this week. And while we are in Berkeley, before we drive out to Yosemite, I hope to practice on some of the crack climbs at the Berkeley Iron Works, if I can find a partner.

In addition to working on my crack climbing skills, I have attempted to get some mileage on real rock in the Gunks. It has not been easy to find any climb-worthy days in the last few weeks. The weekends have been rainy.

Gail and I made a go of it one Saturday. Of course, it had rained on Friday and was supposed to rain on Saturday and Sunday as well. But on Saturday the rain was supposed to hold off until the late afternoon, so we decided to go for it and hope for the best. Sometimes insane optimism pays off.


(Photo: Looking down at the first pitch of Frog's Head (5.6-).)

As I drove up I could already tell it wasn't going to be worth it. It was raining at exit 15 in Sloatsburg. (Then again, isn't it always?) It wasn't raining when Gail and I arrived at the cliffs but everything felt a bit slick. It was just warm enough for climbing, probably 42 degrees, but there was a damp chill in the air. I backed off of Baby (5.6) when my fingers started to feel numb inside the off-width. We ended up getting just four slimy pitches in before it started raining in earnest just after noon.

Desperate for more time outside, I agreed to meet Gail again on a weekday that had a more favorable forecast.

This time we had better luck, though again the day started out feeling cold and damp. We began with moderates and never got around to doing anything really challenging.


(Photo: Gail studying the crux move on Snooky's Return (5.8).)

The cliffs were pretty much deserted so we had our pick of popular climbs. Any day on which you get to climb Snooky's Return (5.8), Madame G's (best 5.6 in the world), and Raunchy (5.8) is a very good day indeed. Also Gail led up the first pitch of Columbia (5.8) like it was nothing at all. That crux move is kind of tricky, I think. I was impressed. By the end of the day the sun was shining, the rock felt good, and winter finally seemed to be receding from view behind us.


(Photo: Leading into Spring on Raunchy (5.8), reaching for green leaves and blue skies.)

This past Sunday the weather gods seemed poised finally to deliver the kind of glorious Spring day we'd all been waiting for. Gail and I got out by 9:30 and headed straight for the Mac Wall. I was hoping the routes would be dry because there were several climbs there that were suddenly high on my agenda.

The Mac Wall is well-liked, and for good reason: it has a high concentration of good 5.10's, all in a row, one after another. But until this past weekend I'd never done any of them except the ones on the left side (Interstice (5.10d) and Mother's Day Party (5.10b)), which I could set up as a top-rope from easier climbs. And I've led the Dangler (5.10a), but I'm not sure that really counts as a Mac Wall ten.

The prime reason I've stayed away from most of the popular Mac Wall tens is that, knowing only their reputations, I am scared of them. Each one has its own fright-inducing aspects for the budding 5.10 leader. Try Again (5.10b), for example, has some poorly protected 5.9 climbing off of a ledge and a crux roof protected by an ancient pin. Coexistence (5.10d) has 20-30 feet of 5.8 R/X climbing right off of the deck. Star Action (5.10b) features a crux dyno 60 to 70 feet off the ground. Graveyard Shift (5.10d) just seems scary, period. The name alone is terrifying. And finally, Tough Shift (5.10a) is supposed to have a big runout after the crux move around a corner.

Another reason I've avoided these climbs is that the Mac Wall tends to be incredibly crowded. It sits right at the top of the Stairmaster approach to the Trapps and there are many bolted anchors. Groups of top-ropers regularly hog multiple lines for hours on end. Not my idea of a great time.

But as the new season approached I decided I might be ready to start to fill the Mac Wall hole in my resume. With the annual spring peregrine closure likely to restrict access to some or all of these climbs it seemed like time was of the essence. I thought maybe I could lead Star Action. The pro was reputed to be good. I'd just have to suck it up and try the dyno. And I thought I could handle Try Again safely, making sure I got the best pro I could at the dicey bits and backing off if necessary. I was even considering leading Tough Shift, because, well, how bad could it be? What could possibly go wrong?

We weren't the first party to arrive at the Mac Wall on Sunday but Gail and I had our choice of lines. We decided to start off with a climb I love, Birdie Party. I thought maybe we'd do the 5.10b roof on pitch two if I felt good leading the 5.8+ pitch one.

Right off the bat I did something incredibly stupid. I got up on the wall and with my feet perhaps six feet off the ground I tried to worm a small nut into the vertical seam beneath the good holds. I thought I'd placed one there before. After some tinkering it seemed I had a solid placement. As I said "this seems pretty good!" to Gail I gave the nut a dramatic tug and, wouldn't you know it, it popped right out and I was suddenly flying off the wall. On instinct I converted the fall into a jump and in a split second I landed squarely on my heels next to Gail on the ground. It happened so fast Gail didn't even see it.

I felt fine but I waited a minute to get back on the wall. I worried that I'd sprained or broken something and that the pain would come on over time. This was just what I needed, an injury right before my big climbing trip! But luckily I seemed to be okay and I was able to go right back to climbing.

The second time around I ignored the nut placement and instead placed a hybrid cam in a little v-slot above the seam so I was protected for the smeary move up to the little ledge. The rest of the pitch went well, much to my relief, and soon enough I'd completed the thrilling traverse to the MF (5.9) bolts. This first pitch of Birdie Party, including the traverse, is one of the very best 5.8 pitches in the Gunks. It is full of good moves and the ending is just superb, exposed and exciting.


(Photo: Gail following pitch one of Birdie Party (5.8+).)

By the time Gail reached the end of the pitch it had become much more crowded at the wall. Climbers were coming up both Birdie Party and MF behind us. And the stance at the MF bolts isn't very comfortable. I decided I shouldn't subject Gail to waiting there in a crowd while I tried the second pitch. I suggested to her that we rap and go somewhere else.

But when we got down I saw that there was no one on the right side of the Mac Wall, where the tens I wanted to lead reside. So I gave them a look. Star Action was a wet, seepy mess through the crux, so that one was out. But Try Again appeared to be dry, so I decided to go for it. I wasn't concerned as much with the on-sight (though I hoped to get the roof cleanly) as I was with being safe and reasonable. I told myself to not be afraid to leave a piece and bail, and to take it slow.

I liked the climb. The early going up an easy left-facing corner to a big ledge is no problem. Then you confront a blank face right above the ledge with thin moves up to a dramatically leaning, right-facing corner. There isn't any real gear for the blank face. I got two small nuts in opposition placed in low horizontals, not far off the ledge, which I chained together with a carabiner so they wouldn't pop out. But these nuts were only to make sure I didn't fall further than the ledge. There was no gear available to prevent a ledge fall if I blew the moves on the blank face.



(Photo: Gail at the crux roof on Try Again (5.10b).)

Once you pass the blank face there are some interesting moves up two right-facing corners with good gear, and then comes the crux roof. When I reached the roof I saw that the pin seemed to be brand new! Someone had replaced it. Hallelujah. I clipped it and looked for other back-up gear, but I didn't find anything.

The stance under the roof was strenuous but by leaning into the corner I found I could shake out a bit....

And then I went for it. News flash: I failed. I thought the challenge on Try Again was supposed to be finding the holds above the roof, but I saw holds all over the place. For me the real challenge was choosing the right ones! It took me three tries to step up just right. I think I have it now; I could cruise it next time. I know I always say this. I'm as predictable as the rain in Sloatsburg.

Once above the roof I was kind of shocked to see the climbing wasn't over. I needed to make two or three more thin moves up and right to a flaky rooflet where there would be gear. With my feet above the pin, feeling shaky and pumped out, I had to calm myself and make sure my moves were precise until I could get to the gear. Once I carefully made these moves it was all done.

It felt good to go for it on Try Again but it took a lot out of me. I was safe about it but very slow, tense and deliberate. I don't know if my head is really back in shape yet for the season. It is a quality route, and though it is broken up by ledges it has several fun sequences and a great roof problem. If you place the nuts off the first ledge it is not a horror show and the new pin definitely helps.

After Gail attacked Try Again, solving it differently than the way I did it, we decided we might as well top-rope Coexistence, a climb I thought I would likely never feel confident enough to lead. Why not check it out?


(Photo: Dealing with the beginning bulge on Coexistence (5.10d).)

This is a great great pitch! Much better than Try Again. High quality the whole way, with good 5.8+ moves over a bulge at the start and then some steep climbing up a diagonal crack to a right-facing corner and crux roof. For me the hardest technical move came in the diagonal crack. Maybe I did it wrong. After I sneaked past the crack it seemed like I attacked the corner just right, nailing the reach to the horizontal beneath the roof and then blasting over the roof, proudly, on my first try. The whole way up I was thinking I would never lead it but now.... I really think I might do it one day. The issue is the pro during the early 5.8+ climbing. There is very little gear there, though a small cam might protect the hardest move. If this tiny cam is good then it probably isn't soooo dangerous, though there is still some do-not-fall territory after the protected move. There is dynamite gear for the roof crux at the end of the pitch.


(Photo: Getting into the real business of Coexistence (5.10d).)

After Gail also top-roped Coex we decided to move on. The Mac Wall had become packed with people, both friends and strangers. My gym friend Leo was there and Gail ran into her Philly pal Olivier. While Gail was still climbing Coex I counted over twenty climbers in my immediate field of vision. It was time to go.


(Photo: A typical Mac Wall crowd on a Sunday.)

As we walked down the cliff, it was apparent that the season had officially begun. There were climbers everywhere, on practically every route. I suggested we do Turdland, a climb that gets three stars from Dick Williams but which no one ever seems to do. I think the main reason it is not popular is that Williams lists the 5.10d direct variation as the main route in his most recent guidebook, even though the original route is just one step to the right from the variation and goes at a more approachable 5.9.

I'd heard it was a good 5.9, and a contrived 5.10d if you choose to do the final crux move the hard way. I'd also heard it was a little necky, even though it has three protection bolts (a rarity in the Gunks).

We walked up to the route and I could spot some of the bolts as well as the little roofs and corners described by Dick in the guidebook. I could not tell exactly where I was going but it seemed clear enough. So I headed on up.

It went well, although again I felt like I was really slow. I got stuck just after the first bolt, mystified about how to step up for quite some time until I realized I was too far to the left.

The bolts caused me some concern. I am not an expert in evaluating bolts but all three bolts on this route appear to be really old and rusty, and on some of them the very rusty (and perhaps homemade?) hangers spin. After the first bolt there is a hardish move and then delicate, thin climbing heads up and left to a pin at a rooflet. There is sparse pro in between. The climbing here is not 5.9 but it isn't that much easier. I got a red Camalot in a funky pocket, which gave me some comfort, but if I hadn't managed this placement I would have felt quite run out. Even with the pro I had, this was heads-up climbing above gear during which I did not consider falling to be a viable option-- actually almost the whole pitch felt this way.

But the climbing is very nice. The rock is of high quality, similar to the nearby Absurdland (5.8), and there are a lot of thoughtful moves on the pitch. By the time I got to the upper rooflet beneath the final bolt I was feeling both mentally and physically fried. I checked out the crimps for the 5.10d finish but I could see the better holds literally just an arm's reach to the right and so I chose to finish the pitch the 5.9 way.

I would climb Turdland again if I could get some assurance about the bolts.... And maybe even if I couldn't. The climbing on it is really good. Gail liked it a lot as the second. It is hard to find a route that is new to her! It is not a good climb for the new 5.9 leader. Even though the climbing style is totally different than on Try Again, I think doing the climb was similarly helpful for me in terms of getting my head together for the season. It felt good to go above the gear and work it out, on-sighting challenging moves in a careful, precise way.


(Photo: Gail leading V-3 (5.7).)

After we were finished with Turdland I was ready to dial it back. We ended our day more casually. Gail cruised up V-3 (5.7 and always a pleasure). Then we headed back to the Stairmaster trail and I led Strictly From Nowhere (5.7), which I've done a million times. It is mostly an easy romp up to a fun, steep roofy corner. You have to climb up into the steep corner, place gear, and then escape right. Very exciting for the grade and a very good time.

We ended the day with another new climb for me. I led the first pitch of Revenge of the Relics, just left of Strictly From Nowhere. This pitch is 5.9, with a reachy two-move crux over a bulge not far off the ground. There is bomber gear for the crux, so it's a good little lead, even though the gear gets a bit more sparse for the easier, unremarkable climbing up to the Oscar's Variation tree at the end of the pitch. It is worth doing once.

Next week I head to Yosemite. I am determined to lead some good hard climbs out there, and not to follow my buddy Adrian up everything that is challenging. I know he'll always be able to bail me out if I need him to (crack climbing on granite is his specialty), but I hope not to be forced to push the panic button. I think I've done everything I can to climb as much as possible this season in preparation, given our lousy recent weather.

I will let you know how it goes!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winter of Our Discontent? Early Season Climbing in the Uberfall


(Photo: Snowshoeing around the Trapps in mid-February.)

Man, it has been a long winter, hasn't it?

When I climbed in the Trapps on November 10, I didn't really believe that was going to be it for the year. Usually we get a few warm days here and there, even into December. And sometimes there are some reasonable climbing days in January and February. 

Not this winter. It has been pretty brutal.

Of course it has probably been a tremendous winter for ice climbing. But I haven't felt motivated to make it happen this year. I don't feel experienced enough to lead on ice. I could top-rope in the Catskills. I really should have done this several times. But for some reason I just haven't gotten it together.


(Photo: The Casablanca wall in the Trapps in mid-February.)

I was feeling pretty good when the 2013 climbing season ended. After missing most of the summer with various obligations and vacations I had a little run of success in the autumn, knocking off several 5.10 projects-- Bird Cage (5.10b), Feast of Fools (5.10b), Wegetables (5.10a), Red Cabbage Right (5.10b), and Nosedive (5.10b)-- leading most of them on-sight. 

All winter I've intended to put in place a real training regimen, but it never seems to get beyond the incipient stages. Usually I enforce whatever diet and exercise plan I've come up with for a week or two and then inevitably I revert to eating whatever and "just climbing" at the gym.

On President's Day weekend I was up in the Gunks for the first time since November, with my wife Robin and the kids. Gail was kind enough to host us at her house in Gardiner. We did some snowshoeing around the Trapps as well as some sledding with friends who live in the area.

The Preserve was beautiful in the winter conditions. I'd never seen it so snowy. Walking past the "S" turn on the Undercliff Road, I could see icicles hanging from the roof on Casablanca (5.9). The Boxcar boulder was half buried in snow. We had a good time trudging around. I fooled around a little bit, pretending to boulder while wearing the awkward snowshoes.


(Photo: Doing the Andrew problem (V4) in snowshoes. Or pretending to, anyway...)

Our wintry visit to the Gunks sent my already-severe feelings of climbing withdrawal into previously unseen, dangerous levels. I was more desperate than ever to get out there at the first opportunity.

Last weekend this opportunity finally came. It was due to hit fifty degrees in New Paltz on Saturday, March 8. Sunday was supposed to be colder. Unfortunately we had evening plans on Saturday, which made it difficult to climb that day. So I decided to go on Sunday with my gym pal Deepak.

But the forecast for Sunday got colder and colder. At about 9:00 on Saturday morning I checked the forecast and, seeing projected highs for Sunday in the low thirties, decided I had to call it off. But then it occurred to me that half a day on Saturday would be better than nothing at all for the whole weekend. So I asked Deepak if he'd like to go, say, RIGHT NOW???

Luckily for me he was flexible and we were in business!

We got to the Gunks just before noon and only had a few hours in which to climb. But it was great to be there at all. It was like a Gunks reunion. We ran into local celebrities Denis O'Connor and Christian Fracchia. Everyone was all smiles, grateful for any opportunity to feed our little shared obsession.

The cliff was in surprisingly good condition. There was still more than a foot of snow on the ground (and atop the cliff) but the snow was pretty consolidated and easy to walk upon. And the walls were generally dry. The melt-off hadn't really begun yet.


(Photo: At the base of Nice Crack Climb (5.7), excited to climb! The tarp was helpful.)

We had limited time so we jumped on the first thing we saw. As we rounded the Handy Andy corner and got our first glimpse of the main face of the Trapps, it appeared all of the climbs on the Black Fly wall were dry, so I decided on Nice Crack Climb (5.7) for my first lead of the year. It is an okay climb. The crux move is right off the ground and the rest is pleasant enough, if rather unremarkable.


(Photo: Deepak working out the crux move on Nice 5.9 Climb.)

Since we were right there I decided to knock off Nice 5.9 Climb for my first 5.9 lead of the year. I felt good and had no trouble. I had to think through the high-step crux-- is the foothold really THAT high? Yes it is!-- but then it was not a problem. And the second crux is more fun than I remembered. This pitch looks like a throwaway but is well worth doing.


(Photo: Leo on Apoplexy (5.9).)

Next we walked into the Uberfall area and found climbers on Retribution (5.10b) and Nosedive (5.10b). We found our gym friend Leo there too, leading my old favorite Apoplexy (5.9). Deepak and I decided to do a quick run up Rhododendron (one of my earliest 5.6 leads, and a good one) and then we hung out briefly with Leo and his friends until they were finished with Apoplexy. When they moved next door to top-rope Coronary (5.10b/c), I led Apoplexy for our final route of the day. It felt so good. I was in control, casual. I felt absolutely free. 


(Photo: Chillin' (literally!) at the base of Apoplexy (5.9) and Coronary (5.10b/c).)

It was wonderful to be out there, even if we were just doing familiar climbs in the glorified gymnasium atmosphere of the Uberfall.

This weekend turned out to be kind of a repeat of last weekend. Robin and I were hosting a party on Saturday night so I planned to meet Gail on Sunday (today) for a full day of climbing. But again the forecast was for much warmer temperatures on Saturday than Sunday so Gail and I decided to settle for a half day on Saturday rather than risk being shut out entirely for the weekend.

The conditions had deteriorated from the week before. Numerous freeze-thaw cycles had caused the snow atop the cliff to run off and then re-freeze into icicles, which during our climbing day came noisily raining down at some locations around us. The carriage road was a treacherous sheet of ice as we walked in and a slushy puddle as we walked out.

But most of the cliff was fine. We stayed in the Uberfall area again and actually managed to do a few routes I'd never done before.

We started with Eyebrow (5.6), which was new for me. I was pleasantly surprised by this pitch. As you leave the ground it seems there is no obvious line, but as you climb up it presents itself. There is a lot of climbing on this one, including some good traverse moves. I enjoyed it.


(Photo: Gail at one of the harder sections on Nosedive (5.10b).)

I'd felt so good last weekend that I couldn't resist the idea of jumping on a 5.10. Retribution and Nosedive were open so after we were done with Eyebrow I hopped right on Retribution (5.10b)

I found out pretty quickly that I'm not in prime Gunks mental shape yet. Retribution felt pretty hard to me, much harder than when I'd previously led it in the summer! I hesitated at the low move at the pin but got through it, and then at the little crux roof I got up into the undercling and only half-committed to the crux reach before taking a short fall onto my bomber gear. Angry with myself, I went right back up and committed fully to the big reach, getting the bomber pockets and moving up above the roof. Through the easier remainder of the pitch I placed good gear and made the moves, but after my little struggle at the crux I felt a bit shaky and pumped-out at the tougher bits. 

I had toyed with the notion of leading Nosedive but, recognizing that I'd been a little bit overly eager on Retribution, I was content to top-rope it. This remains a very high quality pitch, much better than Retribution, with several unusual challenges.


(Photo: Mitch on Dirty Gerdie (5.8++).)

Gail's husband Mitch came out to join us as we finished with Retribution & Nosedive. We moved over to the Gerdie Block so I could lead Dirty Gerdie (5.8+). I really enjoyed leading this one last year and yesterday I liked it just as much. It packs several great sequences into 50 feet of climbing. And I still think the 5.8+ grade is a ridiculous sandbag. This is the hardest 5.8 I've ever climbed.

I was already running out of time and Gail suggested one last lead for me, another climb I'd previously overlooked in the Uberfall: Sudoriferous (5.8 variation). It was just a short scramble up around the left side of the Gerdie block. 


(Photo: Gail negotiating the steep face on Sudoriferous (5.8 variation).)

This is a nice one, not unlike No Picnic (5.5) and Shit or Go Blind (5.8) on the same wall. It features good steep Gunks face climbing with jugs. I liked the early bits too, the easy climbing up the initial chimney and the step across to the right-facing corner beneath the bulging face. Good fun with nice variety. I would suggest caution at the step across, however: the rock quality here is questionable. 

After our long winter, I feel fortunate to have made the most of these two half days in March. I am eager to get more days on rock in late March and early April, because I have a big trip to Yosemite planned in mid/late April with my old buddy Adrian. It is a dream come true for me and I don't want to waste the opportunity. I plan to get my lead head together by leading as much as I possibly can outside, and now that the Cliffs of Long Island City is opening back up (any day now!) I hope to put as many sessions in on their jam crack as I can. I feel like I've lost every bit of crack confidence I acquired in Squamish last year and I need to do some crash prep in the gym before the big test out on real granite in California! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cool November Climbing: The Nose (5.6+), Bold-ville (5.8), The Winter (5.10d) & More!


(Photo: Gail in the traversing portion of the Nose (5.6+).)

We're running out of climbing days in 2013.

The last time I got out was Sunday, November 10, with Gail. The forecast was for temperatures in the high forties, with a zero percent chance of rain. Sounded good enough for November.

We decided to head on down to the Seasons area. Gail expressed an interest in leading the 5.9 first pitch of the Spring. I was considering (maybe?) leading the second pitch of the Winter (5.10 b/c), which is directly above the Spring's first pitch. I was also thinking about the first pitch of the Winter (5.10d), just to the left, as well as several other more moderate climbs in the immediate vicinity, such as Shit Creek (5.7) or Torture Garden (5.8).

When we arrived at the Seasons area there were some other climbers looking around but everything was still open. I elected to start our day with the Nose (5.6+), a route I've often wondered about. I never see anyone on it. I had previously done the opening moves of the route, up an open book, as the direct start to Fillipina (5.9-), but I'd never continued with the real business of the Nose. After the open book, the Nose traverses left for fifteen or twenty feet above the lip of a roof out to a point (the namesake "Nose") and then face-climbs upwards to eventually meet Fillipina above its crux roof at a fixed piton belay station.

With Gail I started up the open book and found it kind of tough to get established, just as I did when I did this part of the route in 2011. There is great gear in a crack at the back but the moves are a little stiff for 5.6 in my opinion. I had hoped it would feel different this time. You know, since I'm a much better climber now and all that.

But no, it felt the same.

Up at the top of the open book, as I prepared to move left into the traverse, I felt a few drops.

Looking up, I realized that it was raining.

I thought I was the victim of some cruel hoax. It was cloudy as we walked in but I figured it would just burn off.

There was a zero percent chance of rain! Zero!!

Life is so unfair.

I waited there for a minute, trying to decide what to do. I could probably get quickly to a fixed anchor up and right, rather than finishing the Nose, if I needed to bail. But it seemed like the sprinkles in the air weren't making the rock very wet, at least for the time being, so I continued with the original plan.

I liked the Nose traverse. There are footholds at the lip of the roof and the pro is fine all the way across. The exposure on the traverse is exciting. At the nose of the Nose you are forced to wrestle with a tree in order to move up to the crux face climbing. It is an enjoyable enough sequence if you like negotiating with living but unconscious obstacles. Just above the tree there is a thin move up that I think is again a bit stiff for the grade, and the pro is not that easy to arrange. I got a small nut in a twisted placement in a little horizontal that I thought would hold, but I had to work to get it and I wasn't thrilled with it. You can also sling the tree at a small branch.

After the one sketchy move there is very nice face climbing up a crack to the anchor.

The Nose is a really cool little climb. I think it is harder than 5.6, and in the cruxy spot above the tree the gear is pretty tricky. But there is a lot of good, varied climbing on the route. I think it deserves to be more popular.

I hadn't noticed any wetness as I finished leading the pitch, but after Gail lowered me and took her turn on the climb the rain picked up. It got pretty steady as Gail traversed and then moved up out of my view. She reported that the face above the traverse was starting to get slippery. Once she was back on the ground we stashed our things under the roof where our gear would stay dry and waited a bit to see whether the rain might stop. I wasn't enthused about leading any of my projects in wet conditions.

Others around us were still climbing.

Kathy, a great climber I know from Brooklyn Boulders, was leading pitch one of the Winter. I snapped a few photos of her as she did the second half of the pitch. I was interested to watch her since I was considering leading it too. I top-roped this pitch once with Maryana a few years ago and I remembered the crux as being short and not too bad. I thought there would be good nut placements in the crease at the back of the crux corner.


(Photo: Kathy starting the crux sequence on the Winter (5.10d).)

As I watched Kathy I lost my nerve a little bit. The crux moves looked hard and different than I remembered. Kathy went a bit to the right where I recalled staying in the corner. I worried about the fall I would take into the corner if I couldn't get a secure enough stance to place a nut mid-crux, before the fixed pin that is above the hardest moves.


(Photo: Kathy almost through the crux on the Winter (5.10d).)

Kathy made it up without incident and then she and her partner Matt decided to keep on climbing even as the rain continued unabated. They were excited about Matt's project, Uphill All the Way (5.12a), a climb he'd come very close to sending before. He'd previously fallen at the final crux move, a high-step over an overhang onto a blank face.


(Photo: Matt in the lower bits of Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

Gail and I were inclined to wait for the rain to stop before continuing to climb so we watched Matt attempt Uphill All the Way.

I was deeply impressed with his performance. The climb ascends a thin little corner that turns into an arch. The gear is all tiny nuts and a few small cams. Matt made it look easy but it was obviously quite difficult all the way up to the final move. (Dick Williams says the early moves before the crux are 5.11d, which isn't much easier than the finishing 5.12a move.)


(Photo: Matt on Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

At the last challenge Matt seemed to struggle for the first time but it all worked out. He made it over the roof and onto the glassy face without falling, getting his redpoint. I was very happy for him. He was psyched, and with good reason.


(Photo: Matt getting close to the final move on Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

Kathy and Matt kindly offered to let me try Uphill All the Way on top rope. I was taken aback. It hadn't even occurred to me that I might try this climb. But I accepted their offer. I regret to inform you that I didn't get very far on the route. I made some difficult moves but then struggled three or four times at a bulging bit several moves up, right before the route starts to move to the right. There is a big reach to a jug. I couldn't find the right body position and repeatedly fell off. Matt and Kathy encouraged me to continue but I felt that I was wasting their time. I also suspected that if I removed the next piece of gear and then fell off while moving right I wouldn't be able to get back on the route. The rain was finally stopping so I figured we were all better off if I moved on. (Gail wasn't really interested in trying Uphill All the Way.)

I walked away feeling like maybe I should have tried harder. I don't want to be dramatic, but watching Kathy and Matt was awe-inspiring for me. I know I challenge myself, and I set serious goals for myself given my limited climbing availability. But what I do is nothing compared with what Kathy and Matt were doing. These two were REALLY going after it (in the rain!), on routes beyond my comprehension.

It is one of the great things about climbing: there are no rules about how hard you have to climb. You can compete against others if you are into that. Or you can admire the achievements of others and compete against only yourself. Or you can choose not to challenge yourself, and just have fun on climbs that are well within your limits. There's nothing wrong with that either.

I wouldn't mind being good enough to climb Uphill All the Way, though this isn't my goal. What I really want is just to be super solid at 5.10. But it isn't as simple as that, since top-roping more and working 5.12's would go a long way towards making me more solid at 5.10. So I probably should be more eager to work at routes like Uphill All the Way, even if I never plan to be a 5.12 leader. I have to readjust my thinking. I have to conceive of such routes as reasonable and possible for me. And then work on them. The same goes for harder problems in the gym.

I hope that watching Kathy and Matt will inspire me to work harder over the winter.

But I digress.

Once Gail and I got back to climbing, I decided to lead the first pitch of Bold-ville (5.8) to see if the rock was feeling dry. Bold-ville is a great 5.8, with several interesting moves up an arching corner/crack system and then a small overhang at the end of the first pitch. It is not what I'd call an easy 5.8. There are some challenging moves on Bold-ville and the difficulty is fairly continuous. But there is bomber gear the whole way so I would encourage anyone breaking into 5.8 to give it a try. (The second pitch is also a really good 5.6.)

Once I reached the end of the pitch I suggested to Gail that we top-rope the Winter. The rock felt fine but the rain must have sapped my mojo as I was no longer feeling so sure about trying to lead harder stuff. I thought it would be good to preview the Winter and then maybe I'd come back and lead it later.


(Photo: Gail getting started on the Winter (5.10d).)

I set it up from the chains over the Spring. There is a manky threaded sling anchor directly above the Winter but when I arrived there was a party using it, finishing up the Winter as I led Bold-ville, so I elected not to confuse matters by sharing the fixed anchor. I thought it looked pretty junky anyway. (There is a second junk anchor a little higher up that I wish I'd removed. It is just knotted old slings stuck in a vertical crack. At least two of these slings can be easily lifted out by hand. Please don't use this anchor. It is dangerous.) Instead of using the fixed junk I set up our rope on the bolts to the right (over the Spring) and placed some solid directional pieces over the Winter. It was easy enough to arrange and the bolted anchor gave me piece of mind.

I climbed the Winter cleanly but I found it difficult. It is steep down low and there is a little alcove near the ground that you have to work your way in and out of. This part of the route isn't 5.10d but it may be 5.9++.

Then you get to the crux right-facing corner. It is pretty blank but there are some crucial finger-locks and footholds. As I worked out the moves (staying in the corner, unlike Kathy), I said to Gail that I was finding it hard and that I didn't think I was ready to lead it. But then I immediately had second thoughts and considered that I'd been able to step up into pretty good stances in the corner. I thought I would be able to stop and place gear.

I might fall if I lead the Winter. But I am pretty sure I can protect it well. So I really should come back and lead it soon.

After we were both done with the Winter (which Gail also climbed cleanly) we moved left so that Gail could lead Fillipina (5.7). The traditional second pitch goes left through a neat roof at a sandbagged 5.9- but Gail planned to stay to the right, heading to the fixed anchor that is directly above the start. Gail's path is written up in the guidebook as the first pitch of a link-up climb that combines pitch one of Fillipina and pitch two of Bold-ville. If you do Fillipina this way, going straight up rather than left, it is no harder than 5.7.

Gail led the pitch in no time. I enjoyed it, though it isn't really anything special. A couple of steep moves up a crack right off the ground lead to easier climbing up a face and left-facing corner. It is a pretty casual 5.7 (we both thought it was easier than the Nose) and the gear is good. It would make a nice link-up with Bold-ville's pitch two, although pitch one of Bold-ville is much better than pitch one of Fillipina so if you're up to leading 5.8 I would definitely do Bold-ville instead.

We had time for one more pitch so I decided to try Lady's Lament (which is 5.8 straight up to the anchor-- there is a loose 5.10 roof traverse which Dick Williams now lists as a variation). This climb is on the face between the Nose and Fillipina. I've never seen anyone on it or heard anything about it. When Gail and I looked it over we saw no chalk. Dick calls it PG. I though it might be fun to give it a try.

So I stepped up into the reachy, steep first move and got a slap in the face. It was surprisingly tough to get the horizontal and rather strenuous to hang out and place gear. And the horizontal crack was pebbly and more shallow than I expected. Still I needed to get a piece in there because the next move was another big reach. I didn't want to crater after blowing this second move. It could be an ankle-breaker.

After some urgent fiddling I got what I hoped was a bomber green Alien and then I made the rather dynamic move up.

Having made this second hard move I could exhale a bit. These opening moves felt about as difficult to me as Maria Direct (5.9). I was not in the mood for such a challenge. I thought we were cooling down with a 5.8 hidden gem, or at least that was the story line I had already written for myself before I headed upward.


(Photo: Gail making the reach to the first horizontal on Lady's Lament (5.8).)

And it wasn't over. I was back in groundfall range before I got another piece in (though the climbing was easier) and then I arrived at the supposed crux face climbing up a face with a thin crack.

I studied this face for a while, not seeing any good gear above me and unsure of the move. Stepping up and down a few times, I decided I really wasn't feeling it. I knew it would be easy to step to the left and follow the Nose up past the crux of Lady's Lament, after which I could easily move up and right to the fixed anchor. So that is what I did. I aborted Lady's Lament because it was enough already and I just wanted the pitch to be over so we could go home. Not the proudest way to end a day that was already short on accomplishments.

I'll have to go back and lead Lady's Lament another time. Gail did the crux face moves when she followed the pitch and she spotted potential gear placements and some hidden holds. She said the crux was nice.

As we packed up to leave Kathy and Matt ran by us in the fading light. They were on their way to try to knock off the Sting (5.11d). Their mojos were certainly intact! I hope I recover mine if I get another shot at the Gunks before the year is out.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gunks Routes: Teeny Face (5.10a), Simple Stuff (5.10a), Wegetables (5.10a) & Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b)


(Photo: Climbers on Cool Hand Dukes (5.8), as seen from the optional first belay on Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)

Another October weekend. It was a nice one in the Gunks.

I was climbing with Maryana, one-on-one, for the first time in a long while.

There was once a time when I felt like she and I were in the same place, working towards the same goals. But that was a long time ago. Maryana climbs much more often than I do and now she's much better than I am. Most of the 5.10's I'm trying now for the first time are old hat for her. She has done them enough times that she has them wired. She and her boyfriend Beau recently did a day in the Trapps in which they ran up ten 5.10's in a row, sticking to climbs they both felt familiar with and could knock off quickly.

I'd be thrilled if I could make a list of ten 5.10's in the Gunks that I felt so sure about.

Last Saturday she and I had a great day together. We did a bunch of climbs that I have written about before. Some of them were routes I've been meaning to lead and a couple of them were routes from which I've previously backed off.


(Photo: A leader on High Exposure (5.6+), seen from the Obstacle Delusion belay ledge.)

We started off at the Obstacle Delusion/Insuhlation buttress, just to the right of High Exposure, because Maryana wanted to lead a climb there called Teeny Face (5.10a).

I warmed us up by leading both pitches of Obstacle Delusion (5.9) in one pitch. I followed Maryana up this climb once before, in the spring of 2012. I've wanted to come back to lead it. I thought about trying it when I was at this same formation with Parker on Labor Day weekend this year, but on that day I was feeling kind of rusty so I decided to wait until I was in better shape.


(Photo: Maryana following my lead of Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)

I felt good leading it. It is a solid 5.9, with a tough roof problem and then a challenging endurance-fest through several good overhanging moves near the top. I really enjoyed it and was pleased with how I managed the moves and the gear. There is good pro everywhere you need it, so while I'd say this is by no means an easy 5.9, it is a well-protected one. It features steep Gunks-style climbing at its finest.


(Photo: A climber named Sung leading past the roof on Obstacle Delusion (5.9) after Maryana and I moved on to Teeny Face (5.10a).)

After we were both done with Obstacle Delusion we rapped to the optional belay ledge about forty feet off the ground so that Maryana could lead Teeny Face (5.10a) from there.

Teeny Face is written up in Dick Williams' guidebook as a variation to Insuhlation (5.9), but I think you can get at it from either side, by passing the first overhang on either Insuhlation or Obstacle Delusion and then moving up to the orange face that sits between the two climbs. Whichever way you approach it, the climb is quite nice and worthy of consideration on its own apart from the surrounding climbs. It isn't very long but the crux-- which is really two separate crimpy sequences with good gear in between-- is pumpy and challenging despite its brevity.


(Photo: Maryana below the Insuhlation roof, about to head up and left to Teeny Face (5.10a). Unfortunately the tree branches in this photo obscure most of the route.)

Maryana did a great job leading it. She did one thing I'm pretty confident I'll never be able to do. She climbed through the first crux sequence, placed gear, and then down-climbed back through the first crux to get a good rest! Then she climbed back up and fired through the rest of the pitch. She later said she thought this was a dumb idea, but I was pretty impressed that she pulled it off.

I felt strong following Teeny Face, much better than I did following Parker up the same climb on Labor Day weekend. I've now followed this pitch three times. I've climbed it cleanly every time but have never tried to lead it. I think I know it pretty well now and I should go back and lead it just to add it to my list of 5.10 leads. It is well-protected though the pro is spaced. The second set of crux moves comes above gear, but the gear is super good (yellow Camalot) and the fall should be clean, as the face is flat and steep.

Once we were done with Teeny Face we headed down to the far end of the cliff so I could have a go at Simple Stuff (5.10a), a stem-corner climb I tried once before but from which I backed off, never completing-- or even attempting-- any of the hard moves.


(Photo: Maryana following my lead of Simple Stuff (5.10a).)

The first time I tried Simple Stuff, the weather was terrible. It was brutally hot outside and at the first hard section I'd hesitated and lost my nerve.

This time around, in perfect fall temperatures, I hoped things would be different. But I hesitated again at the same spot. I have heard that people have been hurt when their gear has ripped out at this location. Now that I've been there I understand. Although there are vertical cracks for gear, it isn't so easy to get nuts to seat well for this first hard move.

Luckily for me, someone has fixed a nut up above the first tough bit and with a few twists and reaches I was able to clip the fixed piece before making the move. With my own gear plus the fixed nut I felt very safe. I nevertheless had to step up and down several times before I figured out a way to move up, getting rather tired in the process. And then after moving up I still had to confront what Maryana told me was the crux move, past a bulge.

I botched it at the bulge and had to take a hang. I was fatigued and off-balance, and couldn't make good use of a hold on the right wall. After hanging, I set my feet better and found the move to be not that bad. Then I got through the rest of the pitch without a hang or a fall but it wasn't exactly pretty. I'm sure I could have made it easier for myself in a few spots.


(Photo: Maryana working through the third hard bit, above the crux bulge, on Simple Stuff (5.10a).)

I was a little disappointed in my one-hang performance on Simple Stuff but I took some comfort from the fact that this time I eventually got it done and did not back off. I think that the first hard move will remain the crux for me. I'm not quite sure how I eventually got through this move and I may find it just as difficult the next time I try it. I can visualize the rest of the pitch and I think the other difficult sequences, including the part past the bulge, will be easier for me the next time around.

I don't see Simple Stuff as an "easy" 5.10 and I find it rather mystifying that people recommend it as a good early 5.10 lead. The gear is good for most of the way but it is at times tricky to get bomber pro and at other times it is strenuous to place. The climb is sustained, adding to the challenge. I can think of several 5.10's that are easier to lead. Almost every other 5.10 I've tried, actually.

When Maryana followed the pitch it appeared much more straightforward for her than it had been for me. She arranged herself into comfortable stances in places where I got pumped out. I had thought I was getting good with corner climbs, based on my success on climbs like Bird Cage (5.10b) and Slim Pickins (5.9+). But after working on Simple Stuff I can see I still have a ways to go. I think maybe I just need to stem wider. Sometimes I think I'm already stemmed out, but I'm not getting anywhere. Maryana at times commented that she thought I wasn't stemming enough, even though I felt pretty widely spread out. I should just stem more, even if it seems awkward.

After Simple Stuff it was Maryana's turn to lead and she wanted to hop on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b). But when we got to the base we found a party working on the first pitch. The second was struggling on the 5.6 moves right off the ground so we figured it was going to be a while before we could get on it.

Maryana suggested I could lead Wegetables (5.10a) and then we could come back. It sounded like a great idea to me. I previously tried for the redpoint on this climb in October of 2012 and I should have been successful. I stopped and took a hang one move from the top, mistakenly thinking I had two tiers of overhangs still to go. After resting I easily did the final move and felt like an idiot. I've been kicking myself ever since.

As I walked over to Wegetables one year later, I was pretty confident that I would send it.


(Photo: Maryana in the thick of the multi-tiered overhangs of Wegetables (5.10a).)

It ended up going very well. I protected the bottom moves the same way I did it last time. The pro here is tricky but I believe what I get there would hold. A low blue Alien in a horizontal won't do much to keep you off the ground but it does guard against the zipper effect. Then I get a tiny micro nut at the bottom of the vertical seam that runs up the low face, and a slightly larger (but still small) brass nut a little higher. Maryana has purchased a secret specialty curved nut just for this climb, which she believes provides an even better placement than the small brass nut. But I couldn't make her weirdo nut work when I tried it and I thought the brass nut was fine. I wasn't too concerned about the gear in any case. I knew I had this part of the climb all sorted out. (The thin face moves are thoughtful but not strenuous.) Falling was not on the agenda.

After the thin early going was finished, I just had to motor through the three-tiered roof. And I'm pleased to say it felt relatively easy for me. I stopped to get good gear at every tier and still had plenty of gas left to get over the top. The holds are fantastic, and they are everywhere.

We can put Wegetables at the top of my list of 5.10 climbs I feel super solid on. Now I just need to find nine more for my day of ten 5.10's...


(Photo: Maryana getting into the crux 5.9 face climbing on pitch one of Falled on Account of Strain.)

After we knocked off Wegetables we went back over to Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b) and found it wide open. Maryana wanted to lead both pitches in one. I was happy to follow her because I had been on the route two years ago and I was interested in getting a second look at the thin climbing on pitch one. I remembered thinking pitch one was a bit of a necky lead and I wanted to see if I still felt this way now. I was also very excited to follow pitch two, which goes through a huge, improbable, multi-tiered roof. Two years ago I led up to this roof but then I chickened out and finished on an easier route to the left instead.

Maryana and I tried to scope out the Falled on Account of Strain roof from the ground. She had been on the route before but neither of us were completely certain where the final roof was to be surmounted. In the guidebook Dick Williams mentions a small, hard-to-find corner at the final roof. We thought we could see it from the base of the climb. It turned out to be easier to see from the ground than from right underneath it.

Maryana did well managing pitch one. The crux moves are pretty well protected, but it is run out for the easier climbing that comes before and after. There is one crucial placement at a spot that resembles the low crux on Red Cabbage Right (5.10b). You have to step up to a great horizontal for the hands, where you place a good piece while your feet are smearing on nothing. Place this piece carefully, because the next couple of moves are still hard and there is no other gear.

Maryana made it through this section just fine and soon she sailed past the bolted pitch one anchor and into the crazy multi-tiered roof that makes up the majority of pitch two.


(Photo: Maryana at the final overhang on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b).)

Despite her prior experience on the route, Maryana got a little confused about exactly where to go up into the roof. There is a trail of chalk to the climber's left and another path further right. It looked to me as though the left-hand path was the way to go but what did I know, standing on the ground? After some scouting around, Maryana eventually picked the left-hand way and it seemed like a good choice. It was only an instant before she moved up and found a piton at the second-to-last tier. She clipped it and backed it up, then prepared to do battle with the final overhang.

As she reached out to the little hard-to-find corner, it seemed she was right on track but struggling. She found another pin above the roof, on the main face, and managed to clip it, but the noises she was making suggested she was barely hanging in there.

I started shouting encouraging words at her.

"Come on Maryana, you've got this!"

Just then two more climbers walked up. I didn't know them. But maybe they knew Maryana? I never found out. They started yelling too.

I don't know whether Maryana even heard us, but suddenly she had a cheering section urging her over this ridiculous roof.

"Come on Maryana, you can do it!"

She threw a heel and rocked over, making it to the belay stance.

She had done it. I was proud of her; it looked hard. She always says roof climbs aren't her style, but this big roof seemed to suit her just fine.

I managed to follow her cleanly, but barely. I felt fine on pitch one and had no worries. I felt pretty good on pitch two as well. The tiers of roofs are of course very steep and the atmosphere is insane but for most of the way they aren't as hard as they appear. It's all jugs until the final overhang.

But this final overhang is the real deal. It is a tough roof problem. I thought I knew exactly where to reach out for the little corner but I missed the spot twice. You have to lean way out just to paw around out there and you get more and more pumped as you search in vain for the magic hold.

On my third try I finally found it.

I was overjoyed but now I was feeling the namesake strain and I still needed to pull the roof. I did not want to fall. I wasn't sure I could get back on if I fell. I didn't want to have to prussik up the rope to get back on the wall.

More importantly, I didn't want to fail. I wanted to send.

There was no time to waste. I heel hooked on nothing and somehow managed to haul myself up.

Wow, what a climb!  Great face climbing on pitch one is followed by a phenomenal roof on pitch two. I want to come back and lead Falled on Account of Strain IMMEDIATELY.

Our day was done. The wind had picked up as Maryana led Falled on Account of Strain and the sky had grown overcast. By the time we got down from the climb it was starting to drizzle. But it was of no importance. We were both pretty happy with our day.

They say 5.10 is the premier grade at the Gunks. As I work my way further into the grade I'm really starting to see why. There are so many high-quality tens and I've just scratched the surface. It seems like every new ten I'm exposed to becomes my new favorite. Recently it was Stannard's Roof, then it was Bird Cage, and now it just might be Falled on Account of Strain.

I can't believe the season is almost over. It feels like it's just getting started.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekday Fun in the Uberfall: Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9), Nosedive (5.10b), Red Cabbage Right (5.10b) & More!


(Photo: Peak colors along the carriage road.)

September was a beautiful month.

October has been a little more spotty. Gail and I were supposed to get together to climb on October 6 but we got rained out. The next weekend I was away. Though little time had really passed it felt as though it had been ages since I visited the Adirondacks with Manny in late September. I had plans to climb with Maryana on October 19th, which was right around the corner. But as the days dragged on I was preoccupied with finding some way to go climbing sooner.

Then a weekday just dropped into my lap.

I had to work a night shift at the courthouse, which meant I didn't need to come in to my office during the day. This happens from time to time.

Ordinarily I would not have considered climbing on such a day. I would need to be in downtown Manhattan, dressed in a suit, by 5:00. This would require me to leave the cliffs at, say, 2:00 p.m. at the latest? It hardly seemed worth it.

But maybe this was no ordinary time.

We were in peak season. Sending season. If we had a truly perfect weather day, maybe it would be worth the drive up to the Gunks from NYC for just half a day.

I mentioned the possibility to Gail, not really expecting much support from her. To my surprise, she said she was on board. She was working in NYC on both the day before and the day after but she was free on the day I could take off.

So we were really going to do this? We are sick people, the two of us.

As the day approached the forecast seemed poor. I was expecting to have to cancel but then the weather suddenly improved. The chance of rain dropped to practically zero. It was going to be pretty warm. We were on again. I drove up to Gail's house in Gardiner the night before so we could start climbing on the early side.

When we left Gail's house at 7:30 a.m. it was already 60 degrees out. It was cloudy and threatening rain as we got in the car but by the time we started climbing it was already clearing up. It quickly turned into just the kind of perfect day I had dreamed of, with ideal temperatures, blue skies and peak fall colors.

Climbing-wise, we accomplished a lot given our limited time. We stayed in the Uberfall and knocked out six pitches before we had to pack it in.

It was kind of a weird day. I backed off of two 5.9's but did well on the 5.10's!

Right after we reached the cliff I asked Gail if she'd ever done Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9), a no-star climb at the very beginning of the Trapps. She had not. I've been curious about it, just as I'm always curious about climbs in the Uberfall that no one seems to do. I'm always hoping to discover some gem hiding in plain sight, right in the most crowded part of the cliff.

When I was working my way through the 5.9's I thought this could be a good one to knock out quickly and put in the bank-- it is a short route-- but I never got around to it.

Why not today?

We looked it over. It seemed like a one-move wonder, with easy climbing into an alcove and then a short roof problem crux, after which the climb would be finished. I decided to do it.

Of course I was forgetting one of the rules of Gunks climbing, which is that if a climb has a one-move 5.9 crux it is likely to be a doozy of a move.

I climbed up into the alcove with no trouble. I got gear at the roof level. But I couldn't for the life of me figure out the roof. I knew I was supposed to follow a seam that goes up from the right side of the ceiling, but I couldn't find any good holds. I kept climbing up into it, pawing around, finding nothing useful, and then stepping down. I added gear on a few of these trips up and down. Soon I had three pieces protecting the crux. I thought the gear was good but I still didn't want to fall into the blocky alcove. It seemed like a bad idea.

Eventually I gave up and climbed back down to the ground.


(Photo: Gail working at the crux on Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9).)

I walked around left to get on top of the climb, and then I set up an anchor on a tree and lowered in so we could clean my gear and top rope the route. Gail went first and after some exploring she found a hidden hold that got her over the roof. I felt like a chump for missing this key hold.

When I went back up on top rope I still couldn't see the hold! I don't want to tell you where to look; it would spoil your dream of on-sighting Birthday Biscuit Boy without unwanted beta. I wouldn't be able to live with myself. But the hidden hold is slippery, like polished marble. It is unusual. Once I finally found it I was over the crux.

There is gear to be had after this one move, and then a bit of a run-out up slabby, dirty territory to the trees. I don't think I'll bother to go back to redpoint this one. It just isn't worth the time and effort. It is a stupid little climb.

After our inauspicious beginning we headed over to Nosedive (5.10b). Now, Nosedive is not a hidden gem. It is a very well known, popular climb. But it is a good one for a weekday since on the weekend you will usually have a large audience if you try to lead it. If that idea makes you uncomfortable then weekdays are where it's at.

I wish I could say this was an on-sight attempt but I did climb Nosedive once before, in 2011. I followed Adrian when he redpointed it. Watching him do it was inspiring to me. As usual he was solid through the crux, making sure to stop and place gear even when in the middle of the strenuous layback.


(Photo: Adrian at the crux of Nosedive (5.10b) in 2011.)

I didn't recall any tricks or secrets from my prior ascent. What I did remember was that the climb had some hard moves other then the crux layback. I remembered a sketchy mantle onto a pedestal near the ground, and then some tough moves up a corner, followed by some easier bits and then the steep layback crack to the finish.


(Photo: Looking down from halfway up Nosedive (5.10b).)

This time around with Gail I hoped to be patient and in control, just like my friend Adrian, for my own Nosedive lead.

It went very well. I am proud of this one.

I got good gear for the sketchy mantle. A lot of people place nothing through this hard part of the climb but I got a small nut, sideways but locked in, in a horizontal crack at the same level as the mantle shelf.

The next move up into the right-facing corner was the crux of the whole pitch for me. It is a tough little move, but the gear is good. Gail did it very differently than I did. After that move I relaxed a bit, and the final layback went like butter. I negotiated the footwork well and found it easy to stem out and place pro while in the midst of the finishing flake.

Another win for the good guys! All of a sudden I seem to be on a roll with the 5.10's.


(Photo: Gail getting started on Nosedive (5.10b).)

After we did Nosedive it seemed like it would be a shame not to take a quick top rope run up Retribution just to the left. So we did it. The climb went down easily for both of us. After the multi-cruxed Nosedive it seemed a bit pedestrian, with its one-move rooflet crux. Still, both routes are of very high quality, and both are well-protected leads.

What next? I decided I wanted to lead Dirty Gerdie (5.8+), the climb that goes right up the middle of the huge detached block that sits just to the left of Retribution and Nosedive. I had never led it but I'd tried it on top rope several times. In fact one of my earliest climbing memories is of the time I came to the Gunks with my friend Greg and utterly failed on top rope to get anywhere on Dirty Gerdie. Another time early in my climbing life with my friend Vass we top roped both Dirty Gerdie and Apoplexy (5.9) on the same day and I remember thinking that Dirty Gerdie was the harder climb of the two. I took a fall that day at the low, stand-up move to the first piton. This move seemed very difficult to me at the time but now that I have broader experience I know that this climb is typical of harder Gunks thin face climbs, with long reaches between good horizontals and some mantles and high steps required.


(Photo: Looking down from most of the way up Dirty Gerdie (5.8+).)

I'd always thought Dirty Gerdie looked like a heady lead, with hard moves above gear to reach questionable pitons. But Gail had led it and she said she thought it was reasonable so I gave it a whirl. And it should have been no surprise that I found Dirty Gerdie to be a great little lead. You do have to climb up above your gear several times, adding excitement to the route and creating the potential for short falls. But the falls should be clean. The gear is good. There are three pitons protecting the cruxy bits but each of these pitons can be backed up if you wish. And the moves are great. The climb packs several nice sequences into a short distance. I thought it was very worthwhile, and the stand-up move was still not a gimme for me. Gail led it with my pre-placed gear after I was done and made this move look much easier than I did. She turned the opposite way (I won't say exactly which). I'll try it her way next time.

After we were done with Dirty Gerdie, Gail suggested we try a climb around the corner on the steep side of the Gerdie Block called Red Cabbage Right (5.10b). This relatively obscure climb probably sees a lot of top rope ascents, although I have never seen anyone on it. I get the feeling it is seldom led. Gail had done it on top rope before and thought it appeared to be leadable. I was willing to check it out.

I looked in the guidebook and found that the right-hand start (which was the way Gail had done it before) is rated R. But I could see a series of tiny seams that I thought might take small nuts. If these were good placements then the climbing would be safe. So I scrambled into the gully to the right of the block and tried to reach over to test out the first two of these seams. One of them turned out to be flaring and useless. I couldn't get anything to stick in there. I got a nut to seat in the other seam but I thought it was really marginal. I wasn't sure it would hold in a fall. I decided I did not want to lead the right-hand start.

The left-hand start has a PG rating in the guidebook. It appeared to me that the crux of the route was the first step up onto a smooth face, and that I would need to reach a thin horizontal with my hands and plug gear there with no real footholds. I was concerned that a fall here might be an ankle-tweaker to the blocks at the base.

I thought the solution I came up with was pretty neat, if I do say so myself. I climbed up a couple of moves onto Red Cabbage (5.9-), which ascends a vertical crack just to the left of the start of Red Cabbage Right. Then I placed a bomber cam, clipped it, and climbed down. Using this pro on Red Cabbage I felt safe making the crux step up at the start of Red Cabbage Right. Still the stance was very tenuous after I made the step up and as I carefully placed an Alien I said to Gail "I really might fall here."

Sure enough, as soon as I clipped the Alien one of my toes popped and I did fall. The Alien caught me and kept me off the ground. I'm not sure I would have been so lucky had I fallen before making the clip. With an armload of rope pulled out I'm not certain the cam to the left would have helped me.

Anyway after I shook off the lead fall jitters I started all over again and led the whole pitch cleanly. So I'm counting it as another 5.10 win for me. It is a pretty good pitch, with the early crux, then some steep enjoyable moves with pebbly jugs up and right to a smoother face with a vertical crack, where another pumpy crux move awaits. (It is a Gunksy crux-- you think you'll have to crack climb but instead you end up finding the hidden good holds and making a big reach.) There is bomber gear for this second crux but in between the first crux and the second there are few placements. I got a tiny nut in a little right-facing corner. I thought it was a good placement but the nut was the smallest one I carry. Until I got to the horizontal just below the upper crux where I could place more gear I was pretty tense about the prospect of a sideways, swinging fall onto this nut. Despite this one issue I would probably do Red Cabbage Right again. I enjoyed it. And it felt not-so-hard for a 5.10b.


(Photo: Gail working up the last bits of Red Cabbage Right (5.10b).)

It was almost time to go, but we wanted to do one more climb. Gail pushed me to lead Trapped Like a Rat. This climb is either a tough 5.9 or, if you believe the guidebook, a (ridiculously sandbagged) 5.7. There is a steep, awkward vertical crack up a corner right at the start. Dick Williams claims the climb is easy if you use the "5.7" face holds to the left of the crack, but he concedes that if you stick to the crack it is a 5.9.

Gail recently led this climb cleanly, using just the crack and not the face holds, and I give her tons of credit because I still haven't led it at all. On one occasion several years ago I attempted the lead but as soon as I confronted the move into the crack I decided I had no desire to do it and backed off.

This time, with Gail, I thought it would be different. But it wasn't. I stepped up to the crack, placed what I thought were two good pieces, and pulled myself up, using both the crack itself and some holds to the left. I thought the next move would present itself but I got stuck. I went up and down a few times. Then I took a hang.

We were running out of time. I tried again. I climbed up again, but it still wasn't happening. I decided to hang again, but this time I dropped onto my top piece from above, and it popped! I still had another big cam right below it so I was perfectly safe. I was left hanging a few feet above the ground. But this was the last straw. I was done for the day with this annoying climb. It is no route to do in a rush anyhow. I'll have to come back and conquer it when I can be more patient and really work it out.

We ran over to Bunny (5.6 direct) and did that one instead, with Gail in the lead. It was a nice mellow way to end our short day.

As we rushed back to the parking lot I thought I had left myself enough time to make it back to NYC. But a forty minute traffic jam at the tunnel foiled my plans. I was still basically on time, but I didn't have any time to freshen up. I've never felt so tired during a night shift but my two 5.10 sends more than made up for it!

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.