Monday, April 25, 2016

Learning the (Top) Ropes in Lost City


(Photo: That's me leading Resistance (5.10c) at Lost City. Photo by Connie.)

I'm getting frustrated.

"I don't think I can do this," I say.

We are in Lost City, in the area known as the Survival Block. It is ground zero for Gunks hard man top-roping.

I'm just one move off of the ground and I'm already flailing on an "easy" 5.12 top-rope. I need to get up an overhanging arĂȘte using invisible Houdini footholds. A juggy rail is just out of reach. I can't find a way to stay in balance and sneak up to the good hold.

Perhaps I can forget about advanced footwork and throw for the jug? My partner Andy has just done it this way.

I try for the throw and come up short, swinging out away from the wall a few feet above the talus blocks.

"Maybe this is pointless," I wonder out loud.

"You'll never know if you don't actually try," Andy says. "You have to do it again, and COMMIT this time."

I know he's right. My throw was utterly half-assed. I set up to try again, and fail again. But I'm improving: I get my fingers on the good hold for half a second.

"You've almost got it and you're still not really going for it," Andy observes. "Stop being such a WIENER about it, and you've got it made."

Again, I know he is absolutely right. What am I afraid of? Is it the harmless swing out into space? Could it be the crowd of onlookers, every one of them (I assume) a better climber than me?

I psych myself up to try again.

"Just do the move, idiot."

Eventually I get the jug.

The rest of the climb goes more smoothly. I don't get it clean but I quickly work out the difficult bits and believe I could do these moves again. Once I am back on the ground, I feel okay about it all.

Resistoflex is a Gunks 5.12. And it isn't that bad! It can be accomplished by mortals.


(Photo: Gabe taking a quick top-rope run on Resistoflex (5.12), with Andy handling the belay. Gabe led the pitch earlier in the day.)

If I come back to Resistoflex and run through it a few more times I might even consider leading it.

I'm still not used to this style of working routes, but I am coming around to it.

*    *    * 

Years ago I dabbled a bit with the Gunks top-rope game and found it maddening, boring, even counter-productive. Twelves in the Gunks seemed cryptic and impossible. Why was I wasting my time shredding my tips on these climbs that I couldn't do and did not enjoy? I had a mile-long list of easier, leadable routes I desperately wanted to climb.

I recognized that other people achieved rapid progress by working these hard routes into submission. But I had a limited number of climbing days and I wanted to spend them doing full-length, world-class routes, not struggling for hours just to do a few hard moves. If slow improvement was the price I had to pay for adventure and on-sight leading, then that was a bargain I was happy to accept.

This way of climbing was very satisfying to me, for a while. But then I seemed to stagnate at the 5.10 level. I fooled around with the tens for years, having occasional success with the easiest climbs in the grade but struggling with the harder ones. The most impressive tens in the Gunks seemed beyond me, or too scary. Elevens? No way.

I wanted to get better, but I didn't want to sacrifice what I found most fun about climbing: going for the on-sight and trying new routes. So for a long time I just carried on in the same way, and didn't really get anywhere.

I finally broke through the plateau when I started treating my climbing as a series of projects. I picked climbs that I knew were pushing my limits. I hoped for the on-sight but if it didn't happen I did not give up and move on. Instead I thought about what I needed to do to come back and succeed. And then I made sure to return and put in the work.

This approach yielded dividends. I sent harder climbs than I'd ever considered possible before. And routes I used to struggle with seemed suddenly easy. I knocked off many of the legendary classics I'd always dreamed of doing. With my horizons broadened to include many climbs that were new and difficult for me, I didn't feel like I lost much of anything in terms of adventure.

And now it is 2016, a new season. In order to keep improving, I know I have to keep picking climbs outside my comfort zone. And recently I've started thinking that if I really want to get significantly better, I need to reassess my antipathy towards working on seriously hard stuff on TR.

So when Andy and I headed up to the Gunks on a recent Sunday, I was thinking about Lost City, the home of the hard top-ropes. Our friends Connie and Alex were coming along, and they also had the same idea, so we were all on the same page.....

...maybe.

I had several climbs I wanted to lead. I figured we would probably get around to doing something on TR eventually. But first I had some unfinished business to take care of with Stannard's Roof (5.10).


(Photo: That's me on Stannard's Roof (5.10) in 2013, struggling to get the wrong cam off of my gear sling.)

I led this route in July of 2013 and I should have sent it on the first go. I fell because I wasted all of my energy trying (and failing) to get a cam off of my gear sling. I remember it as a comical scene. I was fully horizontal in the roof, hanging in there forever in the slimy summer heat. My cams were all behind my back, dangling off of my gear sling into space. I couldn't see the gear. I had to fumble blindly to get at the cam I wanted. Finally I got the cam loose, but then as I reached up to place it I saw to my horror that I'd fished out the wrong cam. It wouldn't fit, and I was screwed.

After this incident I swore off the gear sling forever. I have racked on my harness ever since.

Now, almost three years later, I hoped to run through Stannard's Roof as our warm-up, with no drama. This was April, not July, and there was a chill in the air. The rock felt fine in the sun, but as I approached the roof I went into the shade under the big ceiling. The rock under there was quite cold to the touch. But I wasn't worried about it (cold rock = good friction!), and I tried not to waste any time as I moved out under the roof. I placed one cam, moved out some more, and placed another.

Everything was going great as I grabbed the holds at the lip of the overhang. I just had to rotate my body and reach up to the higher holds so I could stand up above the roof. I was almost done. Easy peasy.


(Photo: Andy coming up Stannard's Roof (5.10).)

But then I couldn't move. The rope seemed stuck. I looked down under the roof to see what the problem was, and I realized, once again to my horror, that I'd messed up. I had Z-clipped my two cams under the roof! This was a nightmare. Talk about a comical scene. What was I going to do now?

Moving up was not an option. I had to downclimb back under the roof to fix the cams. I couldn't see any alternative. So that's what I did. I reversed the moves, unclipped the second cam, and re-clipped it correctly. Then I had to climb back up and out again, and by this time the tips of my fingers were freezing. They were starting to burn. But I was determined not to blow it and I got out without falling.


(Photo: Andy making it over the lip on Stannard's Roof (5.10).)

I was furious with myself for making such a stupid mistake, but happy I was able to hang in there. I was so relieved to get to the stance above the roof.


(Photo: Andy leading an unnamed (?) 5.10 to the right of Stannard's. This is a good route, with a fun crux at the triangular overlap.)

Andy and I did a few more 5.10 leads and then went looking for Connie and Alex. They had started out climbing nearby, but at some point they'd wandered off. We found them at the Survival Block with some other folks we know from our gym, the Cliffs at LIC.

Gabe, a strong climber who is less than half my age, seemed to be leading the group. He'd set up ropes on Resistoflex as well as on Persistent (5.11d) and Survival of the Fittest (5.13a), and on Gold Streaks (5.11) over on the next wall to the right.

Connie was gamely going for it on Survival when we showed up. The climb looked brutally hard. But Connie was thrilled to be trying something that was a real challenge for her. Kat, another LIC regular, was taking multiple burns on Persistent, trying to pink-point it on lead with pre-placed gear.


(Photo: Kat on Persistent (5.11d), with Gabe belaying her.)

As I watched them gleefully working these routes, I knew that I should be doing exactly what they were doing. Why am I not more like them? If I had the same attitude, I would improve. I felt shamed. So Andy and I did some top-roping.

It went fine. The world did not come crashing down around us. We had fun. Andy and I ran up Gold Streaks (5.11), a wonderful route with poor protection. Then we gave Resistoflex a good effort, which in the end was very worthwhile, and not pointless at all.

Gabe offered me a run on Persistent, but I begged off. I had reasons, of course. I told myself that the climb has great gear; it seemed like I should save it for an on-sight attempt. But the real reason was that there were so many people around. Several of them were strangers to me. Such a big audience made me self-conscious. I felt like I didn't belong.

Honestly, I was being silly. But Connie and Alex had wandered off again, and this provided as good an excuse as any for us to clear out too. We wanted to find our friends. So we moved on.


(Photo: Alex on Gravity's Rainbow (5.12).)

We located them at the far right end of Lost City, laying siege to another 5.12. I'd never ventured this far over to the right before. The trail comes much closer to the cliff line at this end, and most of the rock is on little free-standing buttresses. I don't know the names of any of the routes in this area, but it looks like there are a bunch of easy scrambles... and one imposing, overhanging climb up a smooth face.

This is Gravity's Rainbow (5.12).

When Andy and I arrived, Alex had already set it up on TR. He was now climbing it, and was almost at the top, having figured out the hard bits. He was thinking about leading it at some time in the near future.


(Photo: Connie on Gravity's Rainbow (5.12).)

Once he was done, I watched Connie work her way up the route. It seemed like there were two very very hard cruxes. And one of them was wet.

I started thinking about finding something else to do. I could see a crack climb over yonder. It didn't look too bad, probably 5.9 or 5.10. Maybe Andy and I could go do that one...

But it was too late. Connie was finished. The rope was free. There was to be no escape.

It was my turn to man up and do some more 5.12 top-roping.

*    *    *

I'm getting frustrated again.

Is this really the move?

I'm supposed to hold on to this ridiculously small, greasy crimp? And then I have to rock up over a high heel hook?

This crux is heinous!

I find myself saying it again: "I don't think I can do this."

Andy says he's heard that one before.

But this time I'm doing my best to prove that I mean it. I really, truly, can't do it. I'm failing over and over again. My fingers won't stay on the hold. I can't find the flexibility to get my heel up. When I manage to get the heel up, I'm frozen. I have no leverage to rock up over the heel.

I keep on falling.

I'm conscious of the fact that it's about to get dark. We have to hike out of here soon.

I hate this.

But I have to admit I'm slowly getting better. When I first tried the crux I couldn't hold the crimp at all, but now I can step up, just so, and grab it as if it is an actual hold.

I keep working the angle on the heel hook and finally, after who knows how many attempts, it all clicks. I grab the crimp; I raise my heel; I lock it in. Somehow I'm shifting my weight over the heel hook and I find myself standing, not falling. I have done it.

My three friends cheer, mostly because now we can get our gear back and go home.

But never mind, I take it as validation.

I'm learning.

I can do this.

I can top-rope.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Last Days of The Winter (5.10d)


(Photo: Getting into the overhangs on Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Photo by Adrian.)

We live in an age of great environmental peril. Temperatures are climbing at an alarming rate. Ice sheets are melting. Scientists project that someday soon the oceans will rise up like giant gulper eels and swallow our coastal cities whole.

It is enough to make you feel guilty whenever the weather is nice. On days when it is warm and the sun is shining, it is hard to enjoy yourself without feeling at least a small, nagging tug of disquietude.

"What a wonderful day," you think to yourself.

"(We are all going to die.)"

So one might expect that yucky, cold days would provoke feelings of relief. Maybe if the weather is lousy, as befits the season, we are NOT going to die. Or not so soon, anyway. We ought to take comfort in any anecdotal evidence we can get that the end is not so near after all.

But it doesn't work that way. Not for me. When it is appropriately damp and cold in March, I am not grateful. I am resentful. I feel the weight of our impending doom, regardless of the present conditions. And I expect something in return. If my property is soon to be beneath the sea, the very least nature can do for me is to grant me some excellent climbing days before everything goes forever into the crapper.

Is that so much to ask?

I was supposed to take a trip to the New River Gorge at the end of this week. "This week" being practically mid-April, for crying out loud. But with snow (!!) in the West Virginia forecast for Friday, and an expected high of 37 degrees in Fayetteville on Saturday, it looks like we are calling it off. We had a contingency plan-- we were going to push it off for one week if the weather was lousy. But the forecast for next week is a solid wall of rain showers. So it looks like that ain't happening either.

I am feeling grumpy about it all. But I will make the best of it.

Maybe I'll console myself with a day in the Gunks, if it gets warm enough to melt the snow they got this week.

Since my last report, I did get out in the Gunks one time, with Adrian. The temperatures were in the low forties (just warm enough for climbing, in my opinion). Unlike my prior (sunny) day with Andy, this one was overcast and the air felt a bit damp.

My goal was to put Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) away, once and for all. Adrian was willing to do it with me, so we trooped on down there first thing, hoping in vain that we would warm up on the walk.


(Photo: Adrian getting started on the 5.8-ish pitch one of Carbs and Caffeine.)

It was still cold and damp as we got started. Adrian led the first pitch without delay, but as I stood there belaying him I found myself shivering. I told myself I would feel warmer once I got up on the wall. Soon enough I was climbing and I joined Adrian at the anchor, ready to see if the third time would be the charm for me on the crux pitch.


(Photo: Coming up pitch one of Carbs and Caffeine. Photo by Adrian.)

This time I knew I had the beta. It had been only a week since I'd almost sent the damned thing. I expected that the crux move would be hard but as long as I executed my sequences properly I figured I would get through it.


(Photo: Ready to go for it on Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Photo by Adrian.)

Heading upward through the tiers of overhanging rock, I got to the first bolt without a problem. After I clipped it, I tried to move up into the crux right away, but when I made the big reach up to the sloper hold, I didn't like it. The rock felt slippery. I needed to match on the hold but I wasn't sure I could hold on in the current conditions. I stepped back down and tried to shake out beneath the crux.

Then I went up again. Still no good. It seemed like I was about to slip off the sloper. I had to step back down again.


(Photo: Adrian at the 5.11a crux of Carbs and Caffeine.)

If I didn't get on with this move I was going to end up taking a hang. I was shaking out in an overhanging position. I couldn't really rest. I wished I'd found the knee-bar rest at the crux that people talk about. I decided I couldn't afford to wait around any more.

On the third try I forced myself to commit to the match. I thought for a fraction of a second that I was about to go flying but, luckily, I didn't. I stuck it. And then I stepped up to the crimps knowing that I had this climb in the bag if I could keep it together. I tried to stay focused as I moved up the slab to the final challenge.


(Photo: Adrian in the final crab-crawl traverse on Carbs and Caffeine.)

This time I remembered to move up to the good hold in the corner before plugging in gear for the traverse. Placing a bomber blue Alien over my shoulder, I dove out there into space, hoping I would feel as solid on the no-feet crab-crawl as I had the previous week. But in the damp air the traverse felt a little bit harder. I nearly lost it when one of my toes slid off, but again I managed to hold on and with a few more moves I got around the corner to the stance. The pitch was over.

As I stood there backing up the fixed anchor I felt very relieved. And a little bit proud. Carbs and Caffeine, baby! And it was only March!

I was quickly brought back to earth when we moved on to The Winter. This pitch, at 5.10(d), is supposed to be marginally easier than Carbs and Caffeine-- but it is a very different style of climb, so it is hard to make a meaningful comparison. The Winter is a technical corner climb, with some awkward climbing up a slot before the real business begins in the smooth, thin corner.

The route has been a nemesis of mine. I find it intimidating and scary. I've backed off of it twice before even reaching the crux corner. The early going up the slot is kind of in your face (though it is definitely easier than 5.10+), and the cracks for gear are kind of flaring. On two occasions I've made the first couple of moves, and, confronting a committing sequence with so-so cams, I've decided to step back down and walk away.


(Photo: Starting up the awkward slot on The Winter (5.10d) in October 2014. Photo by Gail. The tights were in honor of Eighties Day in the Gunks.)

I'm sure my fear of the upper portion of the pitch has played a role in the urge I've felt to abort. From the ground it appears there are placements in the crux corner, but they are tiny nuts. There is a piton at the end of the hard climbing, but the move to get to that piton isn't easy and on the lead you are going to be above whatever small gear you can arrange in the corner.

This time around I hoped to commit to the move down low and then, once I reached the main corner, I would make sure I got the best pro I could get.

As I started the pitch I managed to place three pieces before committing to the move out of the initial slot. The move went fine and soon I was standing at the base of the desperate crux corner.

So far, so good.

But then it all fell apart.


(Photo: Finessing gear at the start of the crux corner on The Winter (5.10d). Photo by Adrian.)

I placed as much gear as I could manage. I got a good Alien at my knees and then I placed four (yes, four!) nuts in the corner. I liked a few of these nut placements but they were all small.

I had a hard time getting myself psyched up to launch on up above the nuts. I worked out the move but couldn't make myself go. Eventually I took a hang. Then I made the hard move up the corner but got really nervous making the stand-up move to the piton. I fumbled desperately and then took a real whip. The fall was clean, and now that I'd really welded my top nut in place I felt a bit better about climbing above it again. I went back up, made the final hard move and finished the pitch.


(Photo: Adrian on The Winter (5.10d).)

I'm not happy about how it went. I was so tentative. But now I have The Winter all sorted out. And now I know that The Winter is quite safe. The fall is clean and the nuts are good. Adrian had to fight to get some of them out. I think I should be able to go back and fire it off. And then I'll have to try the second pitch of The Spring (5.10d), directly above, which everyone says is a great roof problem pitch. I've never been on it.

I think Carbs and Caffeine and The Winter showed both my strengths and weaknesses as a climber.

On the plus side, I think I have reached a basic level of climbing proficiency (after many years of mediocrity). And I'm persistent, which is also a plus.

On the negative side, I know I have real mental challenges. I have a fear of falling. When the moves are hard I often find it difficult to commit, even when I'm certain that the gear is good. And when I do eventually commit, my fear makes me climb poorly. I get tunnel vision and fumble around because I am scared. It happened the first time I tried Carbs. And it has happened several times now on The Winter. The fear of falling has caused me to give up, to hang, and to fall.

It is a paradox. To some degree fear is healthy and necessary. Especially when trad climbing, you should always be aware of the risks of falling. It would be foolish and dangerous to behave as if falling were not a potential problem. But when reasonable caution morphs into irrational fear, the danger increases because failure becomes much more likely. The fear makes you fall when you might not have fallen otherwise.


(Photo: Feeling fine while running it out on the first pitch of Annie Oh! (5.8). Photo by Adrian.)

I'm not sure what I can do to address the issue except to keep trying hard. I've never been a big believer in taking practice falls, and I don't think my specific fear of falling would be addressed by the type of deliberate falling one does for practice. It isn't falling in and of itself that is the problem. I'm not paralyzed on easier climbs-- it's when I'm at my limit, or when I'm climbing on a style of route with which I'm uncomfortable.

The good news is that, as I push to work on harder climbs, the grade at which I feel free and easy is also getting higher. I think I really need to push myself to trust my gear and go for it more often. If I can do that, I'll have a shot at on-sighting more of these harder climbs, and I may reach a whole new level.

We'll see how it goes when I pick the next project. What should it be? Harvest Moon (5.11a)? No Man's Land (5.11b)? Square Meal (5.11a)? So many to choose from...

Friday, March 25, 2016

What's next?


(Photo: Gingerly exploring Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a). Photo by Andy.)

So what's next?

What do I want out of the 2016 climbing season?

I've been asking myself this question all winter.

2015 was a great year for me. I broke through to a whole new level, climbing my first trad 5.11's and knocking off a bunch of the most legendary tens in the Gunks, including Ridicullissima, Erect Direction, Fat City Direct, Coexistence and Graveyard Shift, just to name a few! The year was like a dream come to life-- every visit to the Gunks seemed to produce a new milestone.

In 2015 I also took really fun trips to Seneca Rocks and Indian Creek. At Seneca I felt instantly comfortable on my feet and on-sighted several classic tens. At Indian Creek I was much less sure of myself but I still had fun working on the amazing splitters and learning the ways of the crack climber.

My last big goal for the year was to climb Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) at the Gunks. I spent the whole year wondering if I could do it and working up the courage. I did finally attempt it in late November, though it was far from a send. I ended up hanging all over it, in both crux sections. Still, when it was over, I could see that this climb was possible. I knew what to do. I just needed to go back and execute, without a lot of dilly-dallying.

So as the winter began I knew that Carbs would remain on "the list" for 2016. But what else did I want to accomplish in the new year?

I have a list of Gunks elevens I want to tackle (i.e., virtually all of them). And there are so many great tens in the Gunks that I have plenty of them left to do as well. (Matinee (5.10d), I am looking at you.) And there are even a few twelves I am considering.

But I need more than a list of climbs. I need a plan. I want to keep my trajectory of improvement going. I don't want to plateau-- I think I have plenty of room yet to get better.

Over the past few months, the climbing days have been infrequent despite the relatively mild winter. As a consequence, When I've been able to get out I've taken it easier and not pushed it so much, although nowadays when I'm not pushing it I'm doing climbs that used to be a big deal to me.


(Photo: Adam below the intimidating Wishbone (5.10+) roof.)

In December I went to Lost City with Adam and had a great time on some climbs that I'd long wanted to attempt, and we also had a lot of fun trying to lead a few lines that were a total mystery to us. I was happy to on-sight the Wishbone (5.10+?) roof. I also made a game effort at the nearby Resistance (5.10c), but had to hang at the crux. I think Resistance is one of the nicest face climbs in the Gunks. It has consistent, beautiful thin moves up a little seam. I need to go back to lead it cleanly.


(Photo: Adam on Resistance (5.10c).)

There are so many great leads at Lost City. Just to the right of Resistance is another technical face climb called Cars That Eat People (5.11a), which I am dying to try. Further to the right, I have stared with wonder at Persistent (5.11+) on more than one occasion. The list goes on: I have never attempted the popular Lost City Crack (5.10), and I still have to go back and get the red-point on Stannard's Roof (5.10). And there are many awe-inspiring twelves and thirteens that can be top-roped and worked into submission.

Goal No. 1 for 2016: spend more time at Lost City!

I have also been out in the Nears a few times over these past few months. On a warm day in December I went there with Anna and Robbie. I was psyched to get clean leads on both Shitface (5.10c) and Transcon (5.10b). Shitface has nice climbing up a bulging, smooth face and then a brief but stout crux at the overhang. People say it is a scary lead but I thought the pro was good throughout, even above the crux where the route has a reputation for being necky.

Transcon, by contrast, was a frightening lead for me. I was quaking in my boots as I high-stepped on the low slab even though I had three pieces in. I know people have been injured here. Even with good gear it seems perilous. And at the top, above the well-protected roof, the finishing moves are truly run out and intimidating.


(Photo: Anna following my lead of Shitface (5.10c).)

I need to get used to Transcon, so I can run up it to set up the hard climbs that surround it. This part of the Nears is known as the "Workout Wall," because it is stacked with unprotectable hard climbs that are usually top-roped. In December, Robbie and I tried to do one of these, El Kabong (5.12c), on top rope, and neither of us was able to get past the crux-- it is steep, balancy and thin. But it was fun just working out the moves to get to the crux, and I think going back would be good for me.


(Photo: Robbie confronting the scary slab on Transcontinental Nailway (5.10b).)

I have barely touched on any of the hard climbing that is available in the Nears-- and actually I've not hit many of the cliff's classic tens like Elder Cleavage (5.10b) and Criss Cross Direct (5.10a).

Goal No. 2 for 2016: spend more time in the Nears!

In February and March we had some really good days for climbing. I got out a few times with Andy and sometimes a few others as well. I've previously described Andy as a person with a sport climber's mindset. He is still pretty new to the area, and trad hasn't been his big thing, so I have been acting as his Gunks tour guide for the last year or so. But I think I've been holding him back. He has been ripping it up in the gym lately and on our last few visits to the Gunks it has become clear to me that he is poised to do great things in our little trad paradise.


(Photo: Andy past the crux on Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a).)

In February Andy and I were out at the far end of the Nears. I wanted to take a look at some of the elevens out there. We checked out Harvest Moon (5.11a but it looks harder). The starting chimney was slimy/wet so there was no chance we could do it. Moving over to the Voids, I attempted to lead the one on the right, Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a). I hadn't been outside in a while and I felt tentative about committing to the move, even though the gear was so good that I was essentially on top rope, with two perfect red Camalots in the vertical layback crack at the crux. I made a few meek efforts at figuring it out and then decided I wasn't feeling it, and asked Andy if he wanted the lead.


(Photo: Andy trying to get started on Void Where Prohibited (5.11d).)

Andy flashed the right-hand Void in ten seconds. And he used exactly the same beta that I was experimenting with. I was mad at myself. I sent it on top rope and wished I'd been bolder.

Then Andy got greedy and decided to lead the other Void-- Void Where Prohibited (5.11d)-- but got nowhere. I couldn't do it either. There must be some very specific beta for getting your body into this blank corner right off the ground, but neither of us could find the solution.


(Photo: That's me on Last Frontier (5.10a) with Simon handling the belay. I liked this climb-- it was hard for me, but if you like jamming it will be easy for you. Photo by Gail.)

More recently, in March, Andy and I found ourselves with a group of climbers down at the Slime Wall. I was psyched to lead Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b) like it was no big deal, which was quite a change from my abortive on-sight attempt at this route a few years ago. This has to be one of my favorite tens. It combines wonderful face climbing with a truly outrageous, multi-tiered overhang. And I finally got around to red-pointing Simple Suff (5.10a/b), so I can take that one off of the list as well.


(Photo: Gail at the finishing lip of the roof on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b).)

The real star of the day was Techno Suff (5.12a), which we top-roped from the Simple Suff anchors. This steep face has interesting climbing up an arching crack and then some big technical moves between small holds. When I tried this climb I fell several times but in the end I was pleased because I figured out every move and I could see myself sending it one day. Andy one-hanged it, which I found very impressive. He also on-sight led Frustration Syndrome with the R-rated direct 5.11b/c start. (The man is on fire.) I tried to follow him but I had to hang at the direct start and ultimately worked out a totally different solution than the way Andy did it. I don't know if I'd dare lead it. There is no gear for the hard move but a good spotter or a strategically placed backpack might suffice.


(Photo: Connie confronting the crack on Techno Suff (5.12a).)

On our most recent day out, I decided it was time to really get started with my season. Andy and I paid a visit to Carbs and Caffeine. Andy led the first pitch and then I set off on pitch two for my red-point attempt. It went pretty well. I ALMOST got it done. I led up into the roofs with some confidence and got to the 5.11 crux without wearing myself out too much. I clipped the first bolt and took a look. I basically remembered the beta from my last attempt so I didn't waste too much time before I made a big reach up to a sloper hold, matched hands, and then stepped up and left to some little crimps. It was a tough sequence but I got through it. I was crimping on to the tiny holds, and feeling a bit shaky, but I was still in the game.

Standing there, with the second bolt at my chest, I carefully grabbed a draw and clipped it. I wasn't quite done but I knew I was in good shape for the send, if only I could stop trembling.

I started talking to myself.

"Calm down," I told myself. "Breathe! One more move and you are out. Keep it together."

Andy couldn't see me but he could hear what I was saying. He called up to me. "Dude, you are scaring me!"

This snapped me out of my near-panic. I told him I was fine: I had two bolts clipped, after all. I made the move and got out of there.

I should have been home free but at the top of the pitch, right before the dreaded crab-crawl traverse, I forgot about a crucial hold from which it is easy to place gear. I wore myself out trying to place the pro from a bad hold and when I tried to step back down to shake out I got tangled in the rope and had to hang. It was disappointing. When I went back up and did the moves they felt much easier than the last time.

I will go back again. I can do this climb. I know it now.


(Photo: Andy on the 5.9 pitch one of Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).)

After we were done with Carbs, Andy and I took a look at The Sting (5.11d). I've never really dreamed that I was capable of sending The Sting but Andy saw it and got more excited than I've ever seen him. The climb is short, perhaps just 50 feet, but it packs a punch. It has big moves between horizontals on a smooth white face. The first and last moves are both dynamic jumps. It is very unusual for the Gunks. Andy decided to lead it.

He placed a bomber blue Alien at the first horizontal and launched off on the dyno. He missed. The Alien held and Andy was caught a few feet off the ground. He tried without success a few more times, and then decided to lead up Lisa (5.9), the climb next door, so we could work The Sting on top rope.


(Photo: Andy heading up Lisa (5.9). I didn't care for this one. It is a two-move wonder with an awkward crux. But it is a very useful climb for setting up The Sting)

Andy had little trouble working out the moves on The Sting once he had the security of a rope over his head. It was much harder for me. I failed at the opening dyno over and over again. But with some helpful coaching from Andy I eventually was able to stick it-- on what was perhaps my 15th try. I couldn't get the other dyno at the top worked out but after I was done Andy went back up to work it again and I think now I can see what I was doing wrong.


(Photo: Andy getting set up for the dyno at the start of The Sting.)

I'm sure I'll get the chance to try it again. Andy left the cliff determined to come back and lead The Sting, and when he does I'm pretty sure he'll get it. And maybe I can get it too. These last few days at the Gunks have been the first occasions on which I've tried climbs in the 5.11+/5.12- range and not felt they were totally hopeless for me. If I make a concerted effort to work on these climbs I will continue to improve. Lately that sort of projecting doesn't seem so boring to me anymore.

Goal No. 3 for 2016: keep hanging out with Andy! He will push me to greater heights.

As it happens, Andy and I will be heading to the New River Gorge in two weeks for a four-day climbing trip. Gail is also coming with her son Max. The New has both sport and trad but for the first time in my life I am thinking that sport climbing should be my focus. I've never really given it a fair chance. And I want to really work at a "soft" 5.12 and see what I can do.

2016 has barely begun but I feel like great things have already happened. I'm in pretty good shape and it's still March. I am excited to see what the rest of the year will bring.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gobbling Up the Remains of the Season: Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) & More!


(Photo: I'm heading into the crux on Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a) once again.)

After hosting the big family meal on Thanksgiving day, I was ready to collapse into a food coma. What with all of the cooking, baking and eating that came with the holiday, I felt ready for some rest and relaxation on Friday.

But duty called.

Alec asked me to go climbing. It was going to be quite nice in the Gunks, with a high approaching sixty degrees.

How could I refuse?

At this time of year, I tend to dial it back. Every November, as the days get shorter and cooler, my ambitions fade. I start cruising up old favorites instead of pushing my limits.

But 2015 has been such a great year for me. I don't want it to end. As November came to a close I couldn't bear to waste any remaining climbing days that came my way. I still had many projects I was eager to hit.

While I've been making some progress, Alec has really been on a roll in the Gunks. When I've run into him at the crag he has looked super solid to me. I knew he was more than able to handle anything I could come up with.

First on my list was Graveyard Shift (5.10d). I had failed to get the redpoint on my last attempt. I should have made it, but I messed up above the crux roof and stuck my right toe out too far, causing a fall at the final hard move! It was a silly mistake and I regretted it deeply in the days that followed. I knew that if I'd executed my beta properly I would have sent this climb.

I had to go back again. I told Alec that when we got to the Gunks on Friday, I wanted to march right up to Graveyard Shift and knock it off.

So that's what we did.


(Photo: Alec heading into the scary bulge on Graveyard Shift back in July, with his wife Liz-- also a strong climber-- handling the belay.)

Heading up, I got through the initial scary bulge in no time and danced up the face to the good hold beneath the overhang. I tried to place my crux gear quickly and then I briefly reviewed my strategy before firing it off. It was an instant success. The sequence went down easily and before I knew it Graveyard Shift was over.

It was 9:00 a.m. and my send of the year was in the bag.

Despite my numerous fumbling attempts at this route, I think Graveyard really isn't that hard. It is cryptic if you don't know where the holds are. So it's a tough on-sight. But now that I know what to do I think I really should send it every time going forward. This is in contrast to a route like Coexistence (5.10d), which I could easily fail to send tomorrow. Even if I do everything right, I might not make it.

Once we were done with Graveyard Shift, Alec and I moved just a little ways down the wall so that he could lead MF Direct (5.10a R). I was psyched to follow him up it because I wanted to check out the gear in preparation for a lead of my own.


(Photo: Alec placing gear next to the pin below the crux of MF Direct (5.10a).)

Alec made quick work of it and then decided to keep going, tackling the Birdie Party roof (5.10b) too. When I followed, I looked around to see if I could make the pro on MF Direct a little more PG than R. I managed to find a tiny vertical crack just over the roof in which I could seat a purple C3. It might hold in a fall, but I'm not sure it would be worth hanging in there to place it.


(Photo: Alec at the Birdie Party (5.10b) roof.)

I liked the Birdie Party roof. I'd never done it before. It requires a big move over the hang and then you aren't quite out of the woods once you stand up. There are a few more thin moves in steep territory before it is really over.

If you combine MF Direct with the Birdie Party roof, it makes for a great single pitch-- one of the best 5.10 pitches around, I'd say. You need a 70-meter rope to lower from the fixed anchor.

Now it was my turn to pick a route and there was something I knew we just had to do.

We needed to try Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).

I've been talking about this route all year, and with the final days of the season fading away I couldn't think of any excuse not to finally get on it. Alec had never done it-- not even the first pitch-- and he generously gave me permission to lead the crux second pitch.


(Photo: Alec setting off on the 5.8/5.9 first pitch of Carbs and Caffeine, with the insane roofs of pitch two looming above.)

Alec knocked off the first part of the route without any problems. It is a really nice face climb, with a good technical crux protected by small nuts.

Standing at the bolted anchor atop the first pitch, I couldn't see where the route went. I knew there were two bolts up there in the sea of roofs, but I couldn't spot them.

I would have to get going and see how it went.

I set myself up for a hang-fest by moving very slowly and deliberately right from the start. I found out that the crux comes after you've already weaved your way up and left through several overhangs. It went roof, roof, roof... oh here's the first bolt, how nice! And by now I was already fatigued, hanging in there, and I was faced with a very cruxy, beta-intensive sequence to get up to and past the next bolt.


(Photo: Alec following pitch two of Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).)

I had a tough time with the crux and after a few game attempts I had to hang. I kept trying to clip the second bolt from below, which was a tremendous waste of energy. Once I got the second bolt clipped (after several tries) I worked out a difficult but doable way to get through the move and I could finally get on with the rest of the climb.

The upper crux was still to come. Once I got beneath it, I was very intimidated. There is a no-feet traverse out from under a huge ceiling. Again you have to do a few roof moves just to get to the place where you start the crux. I wanted perfect pro for this sequence and I confess I took another hang at the optional belay point in order to fiddle with the gear and get my head together. I figured the send was already blown anyway.


(Photo: Alec getting into the intimidating final traverse on Carbs.)

Once I committed to heaving myself up into the space below the huge roof I was able to reach out and place a good piece further out to protect the traverse, and then I made it through the desperate moves to the fixed anchor. The hands were surprisingly good. It's really just about getting your toes on something, anything, as you move out from under the overhang.


(Photo: Alec finishing it up.)

Because we had my 70 meter rope, I could lower to the ground from the fixed anchor and watch Alec work through the entire pitch. He sent it easily. I wanted to watch him do the crux but I looked down for just a second and missed it! That's how easy it was for him.

I think Carbs is safe and it is one of the very best climbs I've ever done. It just goes and goes. The atmosphere of endless overhangs is pretty special and unique to the Gunks. It is one of those routes which you could say epitomizes what the Gunks is all about. 

I could have climbed it better, obviously. But even if I'd been perfect and confident I don't think I would have sent this thing on the first try. It's so continuous and the crux comes after so many roofs.  

I will go back for a real send attempt. This one worked out to be more of an exploratory mission. 

If you plan to hop on Carbs and Caffeine, I would advise you to extend all of your early pieces, up to and including the two bolts. There is an edge below the first bolt which could damage your rope if the rope is pulled tightly against the rock. With the pieces extended, I thought this wasn't an issue.

After we were done with Carbs I was feeling pretty worked. But Alec was still full of energy and he proposed we try a route called Three Vultures Direct (5.10c). This variation route starts up the second pitch of Three Vultures (5.9) but then busts straight over a roof instead of traversing to the right. The Direct eventually goes up and left to join Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a) at its final roof problem. This route is described in the Trapps App but it isn't in Dick's guidebook.

After I led the first pitch of Face to Face to get us to the GT Ledge, Alec sent Three Vultures Direct but it didn't exactly look easy. The roof seemed like big pull and then Alec found another tough, technical sequence up the face before he ultimately joined Amber Waves. He found good gear along the way.


(Photo: A tough shot of a tough roof. Through the branches you can see Alec at the crux roof on Three Vultures Direct (5.10c).)

When I got up there I found out that I was really wasted. The roof was very difficult for me. I made it over but I was grateful I was on top rope. It is a good challenge, and the face climbing afterwards is also fun. I thought this variation was quite worthwhile, though it isn't as spectacular as its neighbor Face to Face.

We still had a little time before it got dark and I decided to sleepwalk up Silhouette (5.7+), an old favorite, to finish the day. I was wiped out. We'd done some hard pitches.

After this day with Alec the season seemed all but over in my mind. As I organized my gear at home, I noticed some of my slings were starting to look a bit beaten up. I calculated the age of all of my stuff and I realized I was long overdue for some gear maintenance. So I decided to get it all over with at once. I packed up all my cams and sent them off to be reslung. And I pitched my slings, bought a new backpack, and washed my rope.

Of course I did all this before I checked the forecast! It seems that this will be the season that never ends.

Luckily most of my climbing friends have their own gear. And in a few weeks when I have all my stuff back I'll really be ready to hit it in 2016.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mac Wall Machinations: Interstice (P1 5.10b), Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a), Men at Arms (5.10b), & Tough Shift (5.10a)


(Photo: The Trapps in early November.)

My office was closed for Election Day. It was one of those rare weekday climbing opportunities. The weather was going to be beautiful and Julia was looking for a partner.

Julia and I haven't climbed together much so I approached the day as a sort of bonus. I didn't have anything on the agenda.

After we warmed up a bit, we found ourselves at the Mac Wall, standing at the base of Something Interesting (5.7+). It was a weekday so there weren't too many people around. A party was racking up for the ever-popular Three Pines (5.3) but everything else was available, and it was my turn to lead.


(Photo: Julia on Something Interesting (5.7+).)

I've spent a lot of time at the Mac Wall over the last couple of years, but on most of my visits I've been focused on red-pointing just a few of the routes. It took me more than one attempt to nail Try Again, and it happened again with Coexistence. So there remained several routes that I hadn't explored. There were some that I'd top-roped but never led, and a few more routes on the wall that I'd never even touched, despite all of my days there.

I've been thinking lately that I want to fill in the gaps and send everything at this wall. Or at least, all the tens. Or maybe all the tens except for Water King (5.10d R)?

Standing there with Julia, I checked out the nearest 5.10: Interstice. The first pitch is 5.10b. I was on this climb once before, in 2013, with Deepak and Chin. On that occasion nobody led it. I set it up as a top rope from the Birdie Party bolts. I found it devilishly difficult to make the first crux move just ten feet off the ground. You have to stand up on a good foothold above a shallow roof to a balancy position with no handholds to speak of. I also remembered the upper crux as a tough move, cranking over a bulging, leaning corner to a thin stance.


(Photo: This is Chin at the first crux on Interstice (5.10b) in July of 2013. She's been waiting two years for me to write a post about it!)

At the time, two years ago, I didn't think I would ever lead this route. Both cruxes involve moving up past the gear and you have to keep it together above your pieces to complete the sequences.

But that was a long time ago. As I glanced over at Interstice on Election Day with Julia, it looked like good fun to me. I told Julia that I was feeling like leading it. As we talked about the route, I pronounced the name as "Inter-stiss."

One of the guys on Three Pines immediately piped up:

"I am a scientist, so I can tell you: it is pronounced 'In-TER-steh-see.'"

Who knew? I stood corrected (though the people at the Cambridge Dictionaries Online seem to disagree).

It is a clever name. The word means "the space between," which is a good description for a face route which ascends the blank nothingness between other obvious, natural lines.


(Photo: Fall colors at the Mac Wall.)

I racked up and got started. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped right up into the first crux move and had no trouble standing up above the little rooflet. This was so different from my 2013 experience. Right after this stand-up sequence there is another thin, delicate move up. You really want some gear for this move-- you are still so close to the ground. I managed to get a small Alien in a little v-notch. It seemed like it would hold.

Once I was through these early moves I found pleasant climbing past a shallow left-facing corner and then it was time for the upper crux. I placed the highest gear I could manage in the bulging corner. Then I committed to moving up. It took a little bit of work to get the move right, but I managed to hold on just fine and to get out onto the face, where after one more easy-does-it step up I was relieved to get another small cam in a tiny downward-facing slot.


(Photo: At the upper crux on Interstice (5.10b) in 2013. Photo by Chin.)

I loved Interstice. It has the same excellent rock quality as the other more well-known climbs on this part of the wall, and two excellent, interesting crux sequences. It doesn't get much attention, but I think it is one of the best of the tens on the Mac Wall. And while it is mentally challenging, requiring moves above gear, I believe it is a safe lead. Bring small cams. I used Julia's C3's in addition to my Aliens.


(Photo: Julia on Star Action (5.10b).)

After we were done with Interstice, Julia went hard at Star Action (5.10b), a climb with which I've become quite familiar over the past year or two.

While I stood there belaying Julia I couldn't take my eyes off of Graveyard Shift (5.10d or 5.11a, depending on who you believe). It was another climb I'd tried once on top rope, this past July. I'd gotten it clean on the first try, which was nice.

This is the most feared hard 5.10 on the Mac Wall. Near the start it has some scary, run-out 5.8 climbing over a bulge. And above, at the crux, you go over a small roof with great gear but then you have to make a few more hard moves before you can place anything else. This hard part isn't dangerously run out but I expected it to be very committing.

I decided to go for it. I'd felt so good on Interstice. Again I took Julia's C3's.

I got through the scary 5.8 part just fine and once the run-out section was done I was pretty happy with my pro as I moved delicately up the face to the crux roof. I worked in a few more pieces at the overhang and after shaking out for a while, I went for it.

Alas, I didn't make it. I got above the roof but then I couldn't find a way to stand up. I fell. Then I tried and fell again, and again and again, coming off each time with my feet just above the level of my gear.

With every fall I had to psych myself up to go back above that roof again.

Why was this so much easier on top rope?

Finally I realized I was totally missing a crucial handhold. Once I found it I figured out the sequence and finished the route.

When it was over I was a little bit disappointed that I'd had such a tough time at the crux and that it had turned into such an epic struggle. I wished I'd read the route better. But, on the other hand, I was overjoyed that I'd just led Graveyard Shift, because it meant that OH MY GOD, I AM CAPABLE OF LEADING GRAVEYARD SHIFT.

A year ago I would not have believed that this was possible.


(Photo: Julia approaching the crux roof on Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a).)

As we left the cliff I hoped that the weather would hold out so I could come back soon. I had to return to get the send. A successful lead of Graveyard Shift would really put an exclamation point on the year.

As luck would have it, we had some unseasonably warm temperatures into mid-November. I got back up to the Gunks with Andy on Sunday the 15th, and we went right back to the Mac Wall.

I was debating whether to hop on Graveyard Shift to start our day but there was a party already on it. This was fine by me. I could fill the time by doing the rest of the Mac Wall routes I hadn't led.

I started us off with Men At Arms, which was totally new to me. This climb is supposedly 5.10b. It starts at the same corner as Try Again and then heads left and wanders up the face, past the right side of a big overhang. From below it looks like nothing much. The face appears dirty in places and it is hard to tell where you'll be going.

It went well enough, but the climbing is thin and the gear is spaced and consistently small/fiddly. It seemed like I was stepping above marginal gear to do cruxy moves in the 5.8/5.9 range over and over again.


(Photo: Andy on Men at Arms (5.10b).)

I never found any 5.10 on Men At Arms. Maybe I skipped it? The route wanders a bit and I may have moved right and then left to avoid the "direct" crux climbing. If I'm right about where the direct climbing is, then it doesn't get done much. It is covered in moss.

Also I did the route in one pitch, climbing up until I could traverse over to the Try Again anchor. Doing the climb as one pitch makes for a nice outing of consistent 5.9 climbing-- it is also the way the Trapps App and some users on Mountain Project recommend doing the route. In Dick's book he says you should stop and build a belay at a stance where I wasn't happy with the gear.

I enjoyed Men At Arms, but this route is heady, and very different from all the other Mac Wall climbs. I'm not sure I should admit this, but I have really come to enjoy this type of climbing: thin 5.9 face climbing with marginal gear. I don't know why, but I like the mental challenge. If this type of climbing isn't your bag then you might want to stay away from Men At Arms.

Late in the day I saw someone else on Men At Arms. It was funny: I'd never before seen anyone on this route and then on the same day I decided to finally do it, another person had the same idea. I saw this leader get a little bit lost and then he took a fall. He ripped three pieces, eventually falling thirty feet! He finally came to a stop about fifteen feet off the ground. Luckily it all worked out okay, but it was a close one. I don't know what this says about the route, but please be careful out there, folks.


(Photo: That's me, getting gear for the crux on Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a). Photo by Andy.)

After Andy put up Higher Stannard Direct (5.9), we went back over to Graveyard Shift.

I tried really hard but I felt nervous. The scary 5.8 part seemed scarier the second time around. The handholds were slippery and the footholds seemed very very small. Nevertheless I made it up to the roof, got my gear in place and tried my best to get over it. As I stood up to reach for the undercling hold above the roof-- the last hard move-- I realized, to my dismay, that I'd misplaced my feet. I wasn't set up right. I couldn't release my right hand and I couldn't fix my feet. I fell, cursing.

After a rest I went back up and sailed over the crux, furious that I'd blown it because of a single toe placement. I'll have to go back and try again.

Once we were done with Graveyard, I took a long look at the climb next door: Tough Shift (5.10a).

This was it: the last Mac Wall 5.10; the only one that I'd never tried.

The final frontier.

I'd racked up for Tough Shift once before, back in July, but on that day after checking out the start I decided I wasn't feeling it, and walked away. Though Tough Shift is far from the hardest of the tens on the Mac Wall, it is one of the more frightening leads in the area. It has a reputation for having lots of run-out climbing. In the guidebook, Dick says that Tough Shift is "not for the meek." I'd never seen anyone dare to lead it. It seems that most people are scared away by the orange face at the top, across which you do a rising traverse with no gear until you reach the big overhang. If you mess up here on this upper face you risk a swinging, sideways fall onto an old piton.

Standing there with Andy I felt ready. This was my favorite type of climbing, right? Anyway, I'd just led Graveyard Shift, which had to be more scary than this, surely.


(Photo: Trying to figure out the opening crack on Tough Shift (5.10a). Photo by Debra Beattie.)

Getting started, I had a bit of trouble working out the move to get established in the vertical crack at the bottom of the face. There are great nuts here, so it wasn't a big worry. And it turned out that getting established in this crack is the only 5.10 climbing on the route. Once I finally worked out this move it was smooth sailing up the crack to a ledge where a right-facing corner begins.

If you ever decide to lead Tough Shift, I advise you to get gear as high as you can when you are standing at the base of this corner, because there is no more gear until you are almost level with the piton at the upper crux. The climbing here through the middle is very run out, worse than the at the top of the pitch, though the climbing is also easier. There was little risk that I would fall but there was no question that a fall in this part of the route would have been bad.


(Photo: Andy resembling a rock ninja in the opening crack on Tough Shift (5.10a).)

Once I got through it and clipped the pin I spent quite a while at the top of the corner, contemplating the exit. I could see where I had to go but it took several trips up and down before I committed to moving left and putting myself out there. I backed up the pin by making another move up past it, placing a good nut in the crack at the roof atop the corner, and then stepping back down.

When I finally reached for the jug out left, it went fine. The move to the jug, and the next interesting move afterwards, are reasonably well-protected, I think. Then it gets into more risky territory as you keep climbing up but I felt with each successive move it got easier until I was level with the roof, where I could exhale and put in a bomber blue Camalot. The rest of the way was all gravy, moving further left to go over the roof above Graveyard Shift.


(Photo: Andy about to embark on the upper face portion of Tough Shift (5.10a).)

I liked Tough Shift and I would do it again. There is great climbing up the initial crack and on the orange face up high. The route has significant runouts, but they are in relatively easy territory. Because the unprotected climbing is pretty straightforward I think Tough Shift is less mentally challenging than either Men At Arms or Graveyard Shift. I expect others might disagree with me on this. All three of these climbs are serious, to some degree.

After we finished with Tough Shift, Andy was looking for a ten to lead and since we were standing right there I sent him up Star Action. As I've mentioned before, Andy is a very strong climber but his background contains more sport than trad climbing. He seemed nervous through the middle of the pitch, where there is gear to be had but it is a little bit tricky to place. At the crux, by contrast, he made the big reach over the roof look like child's play. As soon as he gets used to the sporty pro at the Gunks he's going to be unstoppable. I won't be able to keep up with him.

At the end of the day, I was a little bit sad that I couldn't say I'd capped the year off with a send of Graveyard Shift. But it will come, maybe this year, maybe next year. And now, after two days' work, I can say that I've done all of the Mac Wall tens. I still haven't led MF Direct (5.10a R), but I top-roped it easily earlier this year and I think I'm ready to lead it now. (I also have not done the roof pitches on the three tens that are just to the left of MF.)

The next-level challenge that I am mulling over is to lead them all, from left to right, in a day! This would involve:

Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a)
Interstice (5.10b; 5.10d if you include the pitch two roof)
Mother's Day Party (5.10b)
MF Direct (5.10a; 5.10b if you tack on the Birdie Party roof)
Men At Arms (5.10b but not really)
Try Again (5.10b)
Coexistence (5.10d)
Star Action (5.10b)
Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a) and
Tough Shift (5.10a)

A worthy project for next year? When the days get longer I may give it a try.