Saturday, July 19, 2014

Better Redpoint than Deadpoint? P-38 (5.10b), Precarious Perch (5.9+) and Fun Moderates in the Uberfall

(Photo: Nani on Classic (5.7).)

We are about to embark on the great sleepaway camp trek of 2014. My wife Robin and I are taking the kids to New Hampshire, dropping them off, and then we will take a little time off to do some hiking in the White Mountains.

I am very excited about the hiking, don't get me wrong.

But let's face it: hiking isn't climbing.

Friday was supposed to be a beautiful day in the Gunks, so I decided to start my little vacation with an extra day for climbing. I made plans to meet up with Nani so we could climb together for the first time this year.

Nani and I have been partners almost as long as I've been climbing. She's been there for some of my big climbing moments, both highs and lows. She was there for some of my first 5.9 leads, and she was there when I broke my ankle in a climbing fall in 2009. But for the last couple of years she's been in and out of the climbing habit and we've seldom been able to get together. Recently she's been getting back out there and she's decided to focus on getting used to trad leading, an aspect of the game that she's flirted with uncomfortably for a long time. I'm really psyched for her and I hope I'll have the opportunity to watch her grow into the confident leader I know she can be. I know that her climbing and gear placement skills are both very strong. She just needs to get used to handling the climbing and the pro at the same time and then she'll be ripping it up out there.

On Friday we got up to the Gunks to find it was a beautiful a day, as predicted. Since it was a weekday we had our pick of lines and we gave in to the temptation to stay close to the parking lot.

(Photo: If you follow the rope you'll see me at the end of Classic (5.7); I'm the blue dot up above the roof.)

I warmed us up with Classic (5.7). This was my first 5.7 lead back in 2008. It can be a little scary for the new leader because the hardest move is right off the ground and the pro for the first several sequences consists of fixed pitons. As of this writing the pitons seem solid. One of them was replaced just last year.

(Photo: Nani striking a cool pose during the early bits of Classic (5.7).)

Since this part of the cliff gets insanely crowded on the weekends, I generally avoid the whole area. But the first pitch of Classic is so nice. I forgot how nice it is. The moves are good throughout and consistently thoughtful. As long as the pitons are okay the pro is good too. The roof at the end is all jugs. It's probably no harder than 5.5.

After I led Classic, Nani took a turn leading Jackie (5.5). This is another quality pitch full of good moves.

(Photo: Nani at the finishing roof on Jackie (5.5).)

I always find Jackie a little confusing after the tree about 20 feet up. You can head left up a vertical seam or more easily right past a little ledge. And then you pull past an overlap, either at a right-facing corner at its left end or a few feet to the right. I've never been sure which is the "correct" route and it seems I change my mind every time. It's all good climbing. I think heading up the seam to the corner at the left end of the overlap is the path with the best gear. Nani worked it out on the lead and got through it just fine, despite my poor attempts to point her in the right direction.

A few weeks ago I decided I needed to go get the send on all of the climbs I've failed to on-sight on lead. Last week I managed to knock off one of them, Frustration Syndrome (5.10c). This was a good start but I have a bunch left to do.

So after we finished with Jackie we moved over to one of these climbs I've failed to send: P-38 (5.10b). It had been over a year since my first attempt at the route, but I thought I remembered what to do at the hardest move.

(Photo: Working my way up P-38 (5.10b).)

Well, I guess I waited too long. Turns out I didn't really remember much of anything. I couldn't for the life of me remember how I previously made the first hard move right off of the ground. It took some real thinking and experimenting but I eventually got over the initial hard bit, using a secret toe hold that I don't think I found last time.

Then, moving up the diagonal crack, I got flustered. Hadn't I been able to rest last time? I found the climbing so awkward. And then when I moved left into the crux I got very confused. I wanted to do a step-through move I remembered but I couldn't find it! Where was the pebbly toe hold I was aiming for? It turned out that the step through was still a few moves away. I discovered it again as if for the first time, after a few hangs.

Once I put it together and did the crux properly it felt straightforward. Again. I think there is some kind of lesson to be learned here about memory and expectations. I should have studied the route a little more carefully before I hopped on, and I should have approached the climb with more patience. I wasn't looking and thinking enough. I let my expectations dictate my actions and when reality didn't match my memory I got all messed up.

I know I can do this route cleanly if I go back to it THIS YEAR. I have it all worked out again.

(Photo: Doing the finishing moves on P-38 (5.10b).)

P-38 remains a nice pitch. I enjoy all of it, even the mellow traverse after the crux, and the finishing moves. There is gear everywhere. There has been a lot of run-off this year and right next to P-38 there is a filthy brown streak on the wall. But don't let that deter you, the climb itself is clean.

We decided not to do the Radcliffe walk-off which is right behind the climb. There seems to be a family of vultures inhabiting this descent route and we didn't want to bother them. Instead we scrambled up the notch to the top of the cliff and walked off the Uberfall descent.

It was Nani's turn again so she led pitch one of Dennis (5.5). This is another nice easy pitch with a (surprisingly hard!) "easy" bulge right off the ground and then some fun slabby low-angled climbing right after. The pitch steepens again towards the end. The gear is great for all of the challenging bits.

(Photo: Nani getting solid gear for the hardest moves on Dennis (5.5).)

We rapped off at the tree anchor atop pitch one and made the short journey over to another one of the demons from my past: Precarious Perch (5.9+). This one I failed to send just a few weeks ago. I knew exactly what to do, but still this was not going to be easy. The long reaches between crimps over the crux roof would be hard. I could easily mess it up.

(Photo: Starting up Precarious Perch (5.9++). Look, I can place gear while standing on one foot!)

Luckily it went very well. I cruised through the puzzling 5.8 move to get into the Jean corner and then I had no hesitation during the rightward thin traverse. I plugged in two good pieces below the Precarious Perch roof and got a good rest before firing through it.

I still think it's a 5.10. That roof move is a lunge/dead point. I was able to do it but I could easily have missed it. I can't think of another 5.9 roof like this. Jean is definitely easier, as is pitch two of MF, Keep on Struttin', Grim-Ace Face... I just can't think of any comparable 5.9's.

(Photo: Working on the roof on Precarious Perch (5.9+++). Sorry about the shadow of my arm in the shot.)

Anyway I was glad to take care of Precarious Perch. Nani, who'd danced up P-38 like it was nothing, had some trouble at the Precarious Perch roof. Once she got over it we decided we might as well try pitch two. It is rated 5.8 and someone on Mountain Project once said it was worth doing. Why not check out something new?

I thought it was actually pretty terrible. Pitch two of Precarious Perch has below-average Gunks face climbing with dirty rock that is at times loose. The first few moves up aren't bad, ascending a blocky left-facing corner. But after that it is not very nice. I couldn't find any 5.8 on it, either. I think I might have skipped the crux. I came to a spot with a long reach to a pointed horizontal hold. It looked kind of fragile to me so I touched it lightly. When I did so I thought that it creaked and flexed a bit. My last piece, below me, was a green Alien in questionable rock. I wasn't about to trust my weight to this suspect hold. So I moved to the right just a few feet and easily climbed around it. I probably should have continued traversing another five or ten feet to finish on pitch two of Sixish. It would have been more fun.

(Photo: Coming up the 5.8 pitch two of Precarious Perch.)

When Nani joined me on the GT Ledge I suggested that she could end our day with pitch three of Sixish. The pitch is only 5.4 but it is one of those special Gunks pitches, offering great exposure at a moderate grade as you traverse above the lip of one roof and below another, and then finish up a fun v-notch. The traversing nature of the pitch challenges the budding leader's rope management skills and the climb's finish at the top of the cliff, over a big overhang, can make communication difficult.

(Photo: Doing the traverse on pitch three of Sixish (5.4).)

Needless to say, Nani got it done without any trouble. Like all the other climbs she led on our day together, Sixish is well below her ability level. But of course this was by design, so she could focus on the gear and not on hard moves. These were great confidence-building pitches, I hope, and anyway it's nice every so often to romp up some of these fantastic moderate climbs at the Gunks. It's easy to forget how much fun they are.

I hope Nani and I get out again soon for some more climbing, whether easy or hard or somewhere in between.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A New Route in the Trapps?!? Erogenous Zone (5.10 or 5.11 or something), plus Frustration Syndrome (still 5.10c) and Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a)

(Photo: The view out from the ravens' haven at the belay stance in the cave, on Erogenous Zone.)

I was excited to climb this past Saturday with Kathy, a new partner for me.

She isn't really a "new partner." Though this was our first time roping up together, she and I have been running into each other constantly at the gym and the crag for years. We've talked about routes and shared beta many times, and the conversation inevitably ends with us resolving to climb together. It just never seemed to happen until this week.

I love running into Kathy. She's always about to go on a great climbing trip, or she's just coming back from one. She never fails to have some amazing, ambitious project in her sights. Her enthusiasm is infectious. And her skills are impossible to deny. Through her travels she has become a solid crack climber and lately she's been obsessed with attacking off-widths, so that she can be truly well-rounded.

When we decided to get together on Saturday she told me she wanted to do this new route in the Trapps which she heard about from our local Millbrook expert (and friend of the blog) Chris Fracchia. The new route starts on the GT Ledge to the left of Andrew, inside a big cave at the back of the buttress that houses Twilight Zone. Chris and his friends named it Erogenous Zone.

Chris told Kathy that the first pitch of Erogenous Zone involves a 5.10 off-width crack. This was all Kathy needed to hear, given her recent fascination with wide cracks. If it had an off-width, she was up for it.

I have almost no experience with off-widths but I was game to try the climb. I just hoped I could get up it without making a fool of myself.

First we needed to get up to the GT Ledge. We hiked on out to the Andrew area. I was going to lead our first pitch of the day up to the ledge and I was thinking about two not-so-popular climbs in the vicinity that I hadn't yet tried, Proctor Silex (5.9+) and Man's Quest For Flight (5.8). But as I scoped them out I thought Proctor Silex looked kind of hard and Man's Quest looked really dirty, so I decided to do Silhouette (5.7), a climb that I'd really enjoyed once before.

I liked it just as much the second time around. The face climbing off the pedestal at the start is good, and then the traverse under the roof is really nice. Kathy thought the traverse was kind of thin for 5.7 and I think I agree. The final climbing up a vertical crack system over a couple of crux bulges makes for a beautiful finish. Silhouette has great, varied climbing all the way from the ground to the GT Ledge. I think it is one of my favorite 5.7's.

(Photo: Kathy just over the little roof on Silhouette (5.7).)

Once we were both on the GT Ledge we could see where we needed to go. I quickly led up the start of Andrew's second pitch, moving the belay up about 40 feet to a good ledge directly beneath the big cavern behind the Twilight Zone buttress.

Then Kathy stepped up to explore Erogenous Zone.

(Photo: Figuring out how to get into the wide crack of Erogenous Zone.)

For Kathy the biggest challenge was figuring out how to get started. She had to work her way upward into this bottomless crack. She turned herself around a few times and tested various holds before committing to the wideness. But once she went for it all hesitation disappeared. She slithered into the gap and squirmed her way up inside of it in what seemed like no time at all.

(Photo: Kathy fully swallowed by Erogenous Zone.)

After she finished the hard bit Kathy moved up to a ledge near the top of the cave, where Chris had suggested belaying by an old ravens' nest.

Now it was my turn, and I had the benefit of knowing which holds Kathy had used to get on the wall beneath the wide crack. Still, it took me a little while to get myself in place and commit to hauling my body up and into the crack.

Once I did so I realized that this isn't really an off-width. Technically, I would call it a squeeze chimney, since you get your whole body into the thing. As I pulled up into it, I quickly found myself firmly wedged inside. I knew I wouldn't fall out, which was nice. But I wasn't sure that I could move any further, which was not so nice.

Eventually, with a substantial amount of thrutching and grunting, I managed to move a little bit higher. I heard Kathy laughing at the ridiculous, involuntary sounds I was producing. I'd like to say the indignity of my situation made me even more determined to get the job done, but really I needed no additional motivation. The prospect of spending the rest of my life stuck in this stone coffin was reason enough for me to give the pitch my maximum effort.

I scrunched my way up some more, but then my progress was abruptly halted because my head got stuck. I was wearing a helmet, which (in retrospect) I do NOT recommend for this pitch. I panicked for a brief moment but then I got unstuck somehow and with a move slightly to the left I was able to get my head not just unstuck, but entirely out of the squeeze. Soon my whole body had escaped the chimney, and after I stopped hyperventilating, with victory in hand, I said to Kathy:

"That was awesome.... but I'm never doing that again!"

(Photo: View of the ridiculously overhanging territory ascended by Twilight Zone (5.13b) and its variations.)

Once I joined Kathy at the belay we tried to figure out where the next pitch was supposed to go. It appeared you could traverse out an overhanging orange face on one side of the cave. There was a sloping rail for the hands (but no feet to speak of) and a thin horizontal seam containing a couple of terrible ancient pitons (perhaps a sign of an old aid pitch or an unfinished project?). Chris had said something to Kathy about a single, desperate 5.11 move on this pitch, but to me the entire face looked desperate. And the pro appeared very thin and hard to place.

On the opposite wall of the cave we could easily traverse about fifteen or twenty feet to the v-notch of a different route called Moby Dick (5.8).

Kathy got on the orange wall a few times to see how she felt about it. It seemed very challenging, and we weren't sure this was where we were supposed to go. Maybe we were supposed to do the traverse higher, or was it lower? Was this the correct route or would we be discovering our very own Erogenous Zone (so to speak)?

Eventually Kathy decided she wasn't feeling it and we escaped to finish on Moby Dick. I was relieved. The orange face seemed like it would be scary for both the leader and the follower. Later I took a look at Chris' photos and realized that we were looking in the wrong place. Chris had traversed above, out the ceiling of the cave, which we never considered. When I told Kathy that we were looking too low, she responded with her typical enthusiasm: "Now we have to go back!"

(Photo: Kathy trying to make sense of the orange face after moving to beneath the notch on Moby Dick (5.8).)

I'm not sure I'll ever go back but Erogenous Zone was something rare in the Trapps: an unknown. I was glad we did it and I was pleased Kathy didn't have to hire a crane to haul me out of the squeeze chimney. It was also a good shady choice for this hot day.

We already had four pitches down and the day was slipping away. I needed to get on with my plan. I really wanted to go knock off Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), a climb that had given me fits during the last weekend in June. I figured the Slime Wall would have shade for us and we'd find some other good stuff to do down at that end of the cliff.

We arrived there to find no one around. We had the whole area to ourselves.

I felt strangely nervous as I started up the route. I don't know why. I knew exactly what I had to do. I wanted the red point and knew I could do it. I think I was just worried I'd do something stupid and blow a sequence somewhere unexpectedly.

(Photo: Climbing Frustration Syndrome (5.10c) in June.)

Everything went fine despite my shakiness. Once I got through the initial traverse and stood up in the main corner I calmed down a bit. I got my crux gear and then the hard move up to just beneath the final roof went well. I got a little pumped placing a nest of pro at the roof but when I stepped up into the finishing sequence it was never in doubt.

I felt very satisfied and not frustrated at all this time. Frustration Syndrome is a really nice little pitch with some good technical moments. And if you take the time to place the nuts it is very safe. I have it totally worked out now and I'd lead it any time.

(Photo: Kathy at the technical crux of Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

After we were done with Frustration Syndrome, Kathy took a look at some of the 5.11 climbs to its left. The Slime Wall has a whole bunch of these short 5.11 pitches. Kathy had previously led what looks to me like the best one, The Stand (5.11a). So she and I examined the other ones: April Showers (5.11a), Golden Showers (5.11a) and Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a). I was intrigued to see what these climbs were all about.

Though we were by now totally in the shade of the mid-afternoon, both of the Showers climbs felt pretty slimy in the heat and the opening moves seemed just about impossible. Kathy tested the holds a bit but then shifted her attention to Comedy in Three Acts.

(Photo: Kathy approaching the initial rooflet on Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

Comedy in Three Acts is short. The hard bits are really hard. The opening rooflet is challenging and then the real crux comes above at a vertical cleft through a bulge in the rock. At this final crux you have to find a way to use the sloping edge of a little corner and some tiny crimps above it that face the opposite direction. Kathy didn't get it clean but I admired the way she worked at this hard lead. It is a bit heady, since the final crux is protected by a tiny nut and even assuming it holds you could hit the ledge below.

(Photo: Kathy entering the upper crux of Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

After Kathy finished the pitch I hoped there was a chance for me to send it on my first try on top rope but I wasn't even close, sadly. I struggled on Comedy, much more than Kathy did. I needed more than one go at the initial overhang and then the final balance move up the cleft was a toughie. Eventually after several tries I found a way to make the last move and we were done.

(Photo: Starting up Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

I'd like to think I could lead Comedy some time but I'm not even sure I care. I didn't enjoy it all that much. I know there are some spectacular 5.11's in the Gunks. Comedy in Three Acts isn't one of them. It's no Yellow Wall, that's for sure. It is a 45-foot scramble to a ledge with two brief hard sequences on it. And the fixed anchor is pretty manky, with some okay slings tied to a bunch of very rusty fixed nuts and hexes.

Still, even if I didn't think that much of the pitch, it was good to work on some moves above my level, something I should do much more often.

It was time for us to head out. It had been a good day, not too overwhelmingly hot and not at all crowded. I don't mind these summer days when the temperatures are in the eighties and the crowds go elsewhere. If you look for shade it isn't too bad out, and by mid-afternoon, when the sun goes behind the cliff, it can be perfectly pleasant. The only downside is the chiggers, and ugh, they seem to have been out in force for us. I was wearing long pants and I'm still covered in bites.

I'm so glad Kathy and I finally climbed together. I got some good experience in wide crack climbing and we had a very nice, easygoing time. I hope it won't take years for us to do it again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On-Sighting is Hard: Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), Precarious Perch (5.9+) & More!

(Photo: Starting up the crux corner on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

Last Thursday the kids finished school for the year. To celebrate, we rented a house in the New Paltz area for the weekend. I planned to climb for a few hours in the mornings and afterwards I would spend the afternoons relaxing with the family by the pool. It was going to be pretty hot in the afternoons anyway, so I was content to cram in a few pitches early each day while it was still reasonably cool outside.

Summer was officially upon us. 

I knew that soon it would be beastly hot all day in the Gunks. Prime early season was ending. And what had I done with the Spring? I had tried a few new climbs here and there but during the first half of 2014 I'd put barely a dent in my Gunks 5.10 list. I had City Streets (5.10b) in the bag, and I had attempted Try Again (5.10a), but that was about it. I did on-sight Turdland (the 5.9 way). And I red pointed Proctoscope (5.9+). 

Not exactly a hero's resume.

I wanted to try to get on something ambitious this weekend. When Gail and I met up on Saturday we decided to head out to the Slime Wall at the far end of the Trapps. We could warm up on something easy and then I would tackle something BIG. Maybe Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b)? Maybe Frustration Syndrome (5.10c)? Maybe even 10,000 Restless Virgins (5.10d)? 

We trooped down to the end of the cliff and in our enthusiasm we went too far. We passed the Slime Wall and headed up a trail to find ourselves at Almost Pure and Simple (5.8). And then instead of heading back down to the carriage road we stupidly bushwhacked our way back along the broken-up base of the cliff to WASP (5.9). We probably wasted 25 precious minutes stumbling around among loose rocks and pine needles making our way to the Slime Wall, when we could have easily walked there in a couple of minutes if we'd just gone back the way we came.

By the time we reached the base of WASP I was sweaty enough that I didn't really need a warm-up any more, so we just did WASP. 

WASP was an early 5.9 lead for me and I remember thinking it had great gear back in 2011. This time around with Gail I still felt the gear was good but it was a bit hard to find for the first few moves. I got a pink Tricam in a little pod for my first piece but it was one of those placements that doesn't seem possible. Somehow it fits. My second placement was also a challenge. Once I got to the little overlap where the right-facing corner starts, about fifteen feet up, the gear became automatic. But for the first couple of tough moves I was less sanguine about the pro than I was the last time I led the route.

Concerns about gear aside, WASP remains a great climb, with several awkward hard moves up to the rooflet about 25 feet up and then nice cruiser climbing above. We also did pitch two, which I really liked. It is allegedly 5.5 but the crux roof felt much harder than that to me. It is a long reach past some sandy/slopery intermediate holds before you find the jugs. The second pitch ends in a clean white V-notch that appears utterly blank from below, but which turns out to be easy. Nice climbing at the finish; I think when I did this with Vass three years ago we may have skipped the V-notch and climbed up dirty rock to its left. 

Watch out for loose junk above the GT Ledge in this part of the Trapps. It's a lot like Millbrook up there: seldom traveled and with lots of lichen and fragile flakes around.

(Photo: At the roof on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

After we finished with WASP it was now or never. I decided to attempt Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), which is just left of WASP and which follows a shallow left-facing corner up to a little roof. 

My biggest concern was safety. I told myself not to get committed too far away from my gear. I thought the pro was supposed to be good, with nuts available all the way up the corner. I just needed to make sure to place enough of them.

I enjoyed the early going, traversing into the corner. There are some good moves and protection is available when you need it.

Once you reach the corner the first steps up are casual enough but then the hardest technical sequence on the route (in my opinion) comes as you leave a stance on a small ledge about halfway up to the roof. After I spent some effort working it out, testing holds, moving up and down and placing more gear, I made it past this move.

So far, so good, but then it all came apart. I got under the roof and the stance there was terrible. The handholds were hard to use. I wasn't willing to move up any further without more pro but I couldn't arrange myself so that I could place anything. I went up and down and then eventually took a hang, and then a fall, rather than go higher without gear. I kept moving up to just beneath the roof, failing every time to find a way to get stabilized. I wasn't even trying to make the moves over the roof, I was just trying to figure out a way to hold on with one hand and slot a piece.

After what seemed like an eternity and countless efforts I realized that I had completely missed a crucial jug hold. It was so obvious. I felt like such a moron. If only I'd bothered to look around the first time. Once I found it I stepped up easily to the roof and placed gear.

The roof too was a challenge. I didn't get the sequence right at first but eventually I figured it out. 

(Photo: Gail moving up to the corner on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c). She sent it on the first try! Of course she was helped by watching me try all the wrong ways first...)

Frustration Syndrome turned out to be aptly named. I was so frustrated by this pitch. It really brought into relief for me how many ways one can fail in on-sight leading. I got tunnel vision and ignored a crucial hold. I misdiagnosed the crux sequence over the roof. I was tentative, afraid to move above my protection. Each of these factors contributed in its own way.

I tried not to be disappointed. 5.10c is hard. I was very safe about how I approached the climb and that was the most important thing, right? There is great gear on Frustration Syndrome. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Mostly small nuts but they are bomber. I know, I tested them.

I walked out of the Trapps on Saturday wishing I could come back in the evening just to get the red point on Frustration Syndrome. I know that now I could fire the sucker off. I want to do it soon, too, before I forget all of my beta. 

(Photo: Gail making the traverse on pitch one of Maria (5.6+).) 

On Sunday, Gail and I decided to stay close to the parking lot so as not to waste any time. We were early enough to have our pick of lines so we began with all three pitches of Maria (5.6+), one of the best 5.6 climbs in the Gunks.

(Photo: Gail starting up Maria's pitch two corner.)

Every pitch is good but I especially love the roof problem on pitch three. Many have called it a sandbag but the holds are all there. It is just a little weird, moving left out of a corner and into an overhang. It is thrilling, and not just "for the grade." Great moves on beautiful white rock. 

(Photo: Gail finishing the roof problem on pitch three of Maria (5.6+).)

After we were done with Maria I wanted to hit another tough climb. I suggested we try Precarious Perch, which isn't a 5.10 but is something worse: a 5.9+. Oh, that dreaded plus sign.

It was nearby and it was sure to be open.

No one ever seems to do Precarious Perch. As with Frustration Syndrome the day before, I knew basically nothing about it. I knew that like its neighbor, my old nemesis Jean (5.9+), it was supposed to have a hard roof problem. I read Dick's entry in the guidebook and hoped for the best.

(Photo: Investigating the roof on Precarious Perch (5.9+).)

I was familiar with the starting face and corner, since it is shared with Jean. But then after a funky move into the corner, Precarious Perch does a delicate traverse right instead of heading straight up into the Jean roof. This thin traverse is very nice. I really enjoyed it.

Then there is a good stance at the roof. There is ample gear there too, and then Dick says you are supposed to move up over the roof slightly to the left. I thought I spotted the correct route upward, using a couple of improbably long reaches between crimpy holds, but when I explored it a bit it seemed too hard. I didn't really commit to it. Gail seemed to think I was looking in the wrong spot and I started to think she was right. Looking around, I could see other options in either direction.

I should have trusted my first instincts.

It turns out there are sucker holds to both the left and the right of the correct path on Precarious Perch. They seem better than the correct holds but lead nowhere. I found out through much testing and eventual falling that I couldn't get over the roof using them. It seemed like I tried a million things, taking a long long time and leaving Gail down there belaying me forever, again. Eventually I thought about giving up. 5.9+ wasn't supposed to be this hard. 

Finally I went back to the first path I had considered and rejected. I committed to the big lock-off and reach and made it over the roof, feeling like a moron for the second day in a row.  

(Photo: Gail making the delicate traverse on Precarious Perch (5.9+).)

On Precarious Perch I had fallen victim to some of the same errors as the day before. I'd been afraid to commit to a hard move above my gear. I had misread the route. Once I figured out what move I was supposed to make and really tried it everything worked out.

This is a hard roof! Much harder than Jean. I think it is the better route of the two, as it has the nice traverse before the roof. But in my opinion this is a solid 5.10. The move over the roof is quite difficult even when you know what to do. 

I was exhausted by the long effort on Precarious Perch but we still had a little time left so we ended our morning by top-roping Jean next door. 

(Photo: In the midst of the roof on Jean (5.9+).

After Precarious Perch, Jean felt pretty casual. It made me tempted to lead it again one of these days. I never did go back to get it clean on lead. 

I have to admit I was pissed off about how Precarious Perch went down. I should have gotten the on-sight but instead it was an epic siege. I hope in retrospect I've learned the right lessons and will do better on similarly hard on-sights in the future.

I need to do a red point day in the Trapps to hit all of the hard climbs I've failed to send. It is getting to be a pretty big list. We could move down the cliff, going from P-38 to Jean to Precarious Perch to Try Again to Balrog to Simple Suff (currently closed) and finally to Frustration Syndrome. 

Actually I think that would be a pretty fun day! Maybe I'll do it soon if it isn't too beastly hot out. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Climbing at Millbrook: Realm of the Fifth Class Climber (5.9) and Old Route (5.7)

(Photo: Gail on the last pitch of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber (5.9).)

I got up on Monday morning, looked in the mirror, and found bits of lichen in my ears.

This could mean only one thing:

I'd been climbing at Millbrook.

Sunday was one of the longest days of the year. It was expected to be a beautiful day in the Gunks. The main cliffs were sure to be overrun. Why not head back out to Millbrook, where we might find solitude? It had been more than a year since my first trip out there. I was overdue for another taste of this most mysterious and daunting of Gunks cliffs.

Last year Gail and I had picked off the two most obvious plums, Westward Ha! (5.7) and Cruise Control (5.9). These two great climbs are centrally located and relatively easy to find. They sit pretty much directly beneath the spot where the Millbrook Mountain Trail reaches the cliff.

This time around I suggested we venture a bit further afield, towards the southern end of the cliff. I was eager to check out Realm of the Fifth Class Climber (5.9). There were a few other routes nearby that I thought we also could do.

Realm of the Fifth Class Climber has a reputation for being on the easy side of 5.9, and also for being well-protected. It seemed like a good candidate for Gail and me. I also thought that since it ascends a prominent corner system we could be fairly sure we were in the right place when we started climbing, which is important at Millbrook! I didn't want to mistakenly stumble into 5.11 X territory.

Chris Fracchia (a fount of knowledge about Millbrook) had given me some advice about approaching Realm. He said we should rap in from directly above the climb rather than traversing over to it on the shelf popularly known as the "Death Ledge." The Death Ledge traverses the whole of Millbrook about one third of the way up the cliff, and all of the climbs start from this ledge rather than from the ground because the rock beneath the ledge is crumbly choss. The Death Ledge itself is pretty crumbly in spots, too, hence Chris' suggestion that we avoid it as much as possible by approaching our chosen climb from directly above.

We followed Chris' instructions and it seemed like we were in the right spot. We were able to find a good tree to rappel in from without too much trouble. By a stroke of dumb luck we stumbled upon another experienced Millbrook climber who confirmed we were in the right location, which gave us the confidence we needed to back our butts off of the cliff and into the unknown.

Even though I knew we'd found the right spot, I was nervous, just like the last time, as I stepped into the void and rappelled down the steep white cliff. Millbrook is a little bit spooky, there's just no getting around it.

(Photo: Rappelling down to the Death Ledge. The triangular roof visible up at the top of the photo is pretty much directly above the start of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber (5.9.).)

Once we got down to the Death Ledge, Realm of the Fifth Class Climber was easy to locate, just to the left of our landing point. The guidebook splits the climb into three pitches, but they are pretty short. I thought maybe I'd combine the first two into one 100 foot pitch.

I led the first 5.7 pitch up a right-facing corner without any trouble. The rock was pretty good and the climbing was mellow. I didn't place very much gear, hoping to reduce drag and save my favorite pieces for the crux climbing above. I finished the first pitch in no time and with plenty of gear left. But as I looked up at the intimidating crux of pitch two right above me, I worried that if I continued without stopping I might create some bad drag going in and out of the overhanging corner. And let's face it, I was still feeling some Millbrook jitters. I decided to bring Gail up and to do the route the traditional way, in three pitches.

(Photo: Gail climbing the last bits of pitch one of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber.)

Pitch two of Realm is a great pitch. It climbs another, larger right-facing corner. The crux comes near the start of the pitch as you escape a ceiling, climbing up to and around it and continuing up the corner system. There is a committing move out right from under the ceiling and then a challenging move up on the face with poor footholds, which leads to more good climbing up the corner with better holds. The pro is outstanding. You can place gear pretty much whenever you like in the crack at the back of the corner.

(Photo: Making it look easy, as always! Here I'm working up the corner to the crux roof on pitch two of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber (5.9).)

Full disclosure: I went back and forth several times before I finally did the crux move out and around the roof. It is a committing sequence. But once I put myself out there it went okay. I didn't find it soft for 5.9. Seemed like solid 5.9 to me. I was glad that I had Gail nearby for moral support.

(Photo: Gail reaching the end of pitch two of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber.)

After two very good pitches, I thought the third pitch was kind of a letdown. There is a hard, awkward move up onto a shelf, right off the belay. After that the pitch is pretty easy and not that much fun. You climb up and left to easily skirt two different roofs and then the climb is over. Watch out for some very loose plates on the wall beneath the first roof. 

I wasn't sure where the 5.9 is on this pitch. Maybe it is just that first awkward move.

(Photo: Heading up pitch three of Realm of the Fifth Class Climber.)

After Gail joined me atop the cliff we rapped in again from the same tree as before. I was hoping we could take a short walk to the north on the Death Ledge to do Again and Again (5.7). I was intrigued by this climb's long traverse under a roof on pitch two. Though the climbing isn't supposed to be hard I thought the position under the roof might be very exciting. Also, after the roof traverse this climb meets Cuckoo Man (5.10) and I was considering checking out that climb's final roof problem.

But when we got back down I couldn't find a secure way to cross the ledge from Realm to Again and Again. The Death Ledge just north of Realm is so much worse than it is over by Westward Ha!. It is very steeply sloped and loose. I couldn't see a safe path across, and I wasn't eager to try to make it, even roped up. I pictured myself sliding right off into oblivion.

So we decided not to do Again and Again.

But the only way out was up. We had to climb something.

(Photo: Hanging out on the sloping, loose Death Ledge near Realm of the Fifth Class Climber.)

I had another moderate climb in mind, Old Route (5.5 or 5.7, depending on who you believe). This was the very first climb ever done in the Gunks. It was put up by the great Fritz Wiessner in 1935. Wearing sneakers (!!) and using just a couple of soft iron pitons for protection, he made history, establishing with this climb what would become THE eastern center of American rock climbing for the next half a century.

Gail and I crossed the Death Ledge over to Old Route without a problem. It is south of Realm, in the opposite direction from Again and Again. We pitched it out, staying roped up while we moved on the ledge. I slung some trees along the way. The ledge wasn't as terrible to the south of Realm, but it was still pretty junky and loose. It is just a touch more than 60 meters from Realm to Old Route. I stopped at a tree when I was just about out of rope, and then after Gail came over we scrambled up to the right-facing corner where the climb begins.

Everyone agrees on where this climb starts, at an obvious right-facing corner. But different guidebooks disagree about where the route goes from there. Dick Williams has the climb going straight up the corner until it ends and then veering left up a woodsy dihedral to the top, while Todd Swain sends the climber on a long horizontal traverse after the corner ends, finishing the climb in a totally different place. Chris Fracchia identifies on his website yet another possibility, this one based on Fritz's own recollections as published in Appalachia magazine in 1960. We did the climb this last way, going up the corner just until we reached a bush and ledge, then stepping left to a v-notch and, at the top of the notch, moving back right to the belay at the top of the corner. And then moving left as the Williams guide has it for the second pitch up the large vegetated right-facing corner to the top.

Standing beneath Old Route, we both had to wonder why Fritz picked this line out of all the thousands available in the Gunks. It doesn't look so great. My guess is that he chose it because it looked like it could be climbed. The initial corner has lots of features to grab on to and the part towards the top of the cliff goes up a gully/notch, so Fritz figured he wouldn't get shut down at some massive overhang.

(Photo: Pitch one of Old Route (5.7).)

The first pitch, it turns out, is well worth doing. The initial corner is easy and pretty dirty, nothing to write home about. But the move into the v-slot is a toughie (easily 5.7 or harder) and then the climbing up this slot is clean and interesting. Once you reach a roof and start to traverse right to the belay ledge the moves are easier again and the exposure is really nice. I would think that anyone following Fritz on this traverse in 1935 would have been terrified! If this pitch were in the Trapps, it would have been cleaned up by the passage of human traffic long ago and it would by now be a popular trade route.

But since this climb is at Millbrook it hasn't been cleared of its considerable debris. Every ledge is full of loose rocks-- some small, some the size of cinder blocks. I couldn't get through the pitch without knocking a couple of the small ones off, and I narrowly avoided sending down some of the big ones. The belay ledge, too, is a mess, covered in loose crap. And the trees there are not very useful for the belay. One tree is dead and the other is very small. I chose not to use them. Instead I moved up and left to the next ledge and built a gear belay in some cracks that seemed solid.

(Photo: Finishing the clean climbing at the beginning of pitch two of Old Route (5.7). It is pretty densely wooded the rest of the way.)

The second pitch begins with enjoyable moves up the wall to the left of the belay, and then you chimney/grovel your way to the top up the big dihedral with a wide crack at the back, past bushes, trees and lichen-- lots of lichen. It is all 5.easy climbing. I found it fun up to a point. By the time I got to fighting my way past the final tree I'd had about enough.

I doubt I'll ever do Old Route again but I'm glad we did it once, partly for the connection to Fritz Wiessner and also because the first pitch has some very nice moments.

Realm of the Fifth Class Climber, by contrast, was pretty high quality for most of its length and I would be happy to do that one again.

It was great to be out at Millbrook, no matter what we were climbing. The place has a special atmosphere and it is very enjoyable just to hang out at the belays and up atop the cliff. You feel removed from it all up there, much more so than at the Trapps or the Nears. The ground, the buildings, other climbers... all of them are much further away. The cliff demands caution and respect, but it also offers genuine adventure and some very good climbing. I hope not to wait another year to go back. I'd like to jump on Rib Cracker (5.9), The High Traverse (5.8 by one of the variation finishes), Again and Again/Cuckoo Man (5.7/5.10), maybe even The Time Eraser (5.10-), some time soon.

If we have some agreeable weather this summer (not too hot) I might be able to make it happen in the near future.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chapel Pond Blahs

(Photo: Climber on Drop, Fly or Die (5.11a).)

I knew it would be wet.

It had been a rainy week, with heavy thunderstorms on Friday, continuing into the evening. I almost called the whole thing off.

But it was supposed to be a beautiful day on Saturday in the Adirondacks and I really wanted to go. Maybe in the afternoon Chapel Pond Slab would be dry? Maybe we'd find some dry lines between the streaks of wetness on some south-facing cliffs in the morning?

I missed climbing in the Adirondacks. I wanted to work on my crack and slab skills. I had dreams, my friends. Dreams bigger than any thunderstorm.

And the Dacks was very convenient for my partner Adrian, who was driving down from Montreal. He'd made the five hour trip from Montreal to the Gunks twice recently. It was only fair to give him a break this time around. I could make the long drive from NYC up to the Keene Valley area.

Unfortunately, I only had Saturday available. My daughter and I both had a piano recital on Sunday so I had to be back. This meant nine hours of driving just on Saturday, and my wife Robin wasn't exactly thrilled about it. It seemed a little bit insane to her. (Just between you and me, I think she worries too much.)

"If it's going to be wet, why don't you just go to the Gunks?" she said. "The rock there dries really fast, that's what you always say."

She was right, but she didn't understand. I needed some Dacks action.

I'll cut to the chase: it turned out to be a shitty day for us on Saturday. We should have gone to the Gunks. The irony was that the weather in the Keene Valley area was absolutely gorgeous. But there had been far too much rain earlier during the week.

I got up at 5:00 a.m. and drove out of Brooklyn. The roads were wet but the sky was clear the whole way up.

As I drove in to the Chapel Pond area I was amazed. Not only was the Chapel Pond Slab soaking wet-- which was to be expected-- it was worse than wet. It had a running waterfall right down the middle. Mostly, it seemed, on the route Empress (5.5. X) but also on parts of the Regular Route (5.5), which I had hoped maybe we could do.

In truth, I knew before I drove up that the Slab wouldn't work out. This was no big deal. We could check out some other options. We walked in to the Beer Walls. These cliffs are low and tucked in the woods, so I had no illusions that they'd be much drier than the Chapel Pond Slab. I thought maybe, just maybe, there'd be some dry sections. But no such luck, the entire Upper and Lower walls were absolutely soaked, not just wet but actively running with water in most places.

We walked back out. The Spider's Web looked pretty dry from the road. So we negotiated the talus field all the way up there to find that it wasn't really very dry. It was okay on some parts of the upper portions of the wall but mostly wet on the bottom. All the climbs I'd previously done there were wet, and all the tens I'd hoped to try were also wet.  There was a party there starting one of the 5.11's (Drop, Fly or Die) which was dry except for the very bottom. But I would need good conditions to be brave enough to lead the tens. There was no way I was hopping on a 5.11.

Having struck out three times, we decided to walk over to some of the Lower Washbowl cliffs. These cliffs are not very popular due to the steep, thickly wooded approaches and chossy rock. But you can get there from the Spider's Web without going all the way down to the road, so we decided to try to cross over to a wall called Lost Arrow Face which wasn't too far away

After a filthy, slippery bushwhack we found the wall and it actually seemed to have some dry routes. We found two women from Montreal climbing there.

It was, by this time, after noon and we hadn't climbed anything. We'd been trooping around looking for dry rock for more than two hours. It was about time to do some climbing! We did Excalibur (5.8) after the ladies told us it was dry enough. This is kind of dirty but it is an interesting route up the left side of a pillar which forms a corner, with some really tricky climbing in the corner. Both Adrian and I thought it was harder than 5.8. Maybe we did it wrong?

(Photo: Adrian heading into the tricky bit on Excalibur (5.8).)

Next I started to lead the 5.9 on the wall (Virgin Sturgeon), which the guidebook authors highly recommend. But I got kind of spooked because I couldn't see the bolt above on a blank face and the route ends at some corners that can't be seen from the base of the cliff. I kept worrying the corners at the top would be soaking wet. I aborted and headed over to check out Sergeant Pepper (5.8), which goes up another big corner to the left. But when I got beneath the corner I could see it was very dirty/licheny and the roof exit at the top was dripping water down on me. Yuck. No thanks.

So then I moved left again and did Chunga's Revenge (5.6+). The two women had done Chunga's while Adrian and I did Excalibur and both of them had sent down some sizable rocks as they climbed! So I tried to be careful. This route has a really interesting move left across an orange face to a tree and a ledge with an optional belay. The holds are there but it is a committing step over. And then it goes up a corner to a roof.

(That's me heading up to the crux move on Chunga's Revenge (5.6+).)

In retrospect, I realize that most people end this climb at the optional belay. But I did not. The corner above was full of junky rock and loose flakes. I passed up many opportunities for gear in the bad rock. The roof too had some loose crap and when I got over it and reached the top I built a belay in a crack because the belay tree (which had ancient crusty slings on it) did not appear to me to be stable. I could see it totally falling down if it were weighted. The rock it is attached to up there is all chossy and crumbly.

I brought Adrian up and he found a bolted rap station about ten feet to the right of the tree so I came over to join him. But I thought it was really bad, with just one ancient button-head bolt and a piton, connected by stiff old webbing in an American Death Triangle. Someone had added a more recent sling to the bolt. This sling was still identifiable as blue and it wasn't stiff but it was quite faded, clearly at least a few years old.

Adrian thought the bolt was fine but the whole arrangement gave me the chills. We decided to add a tricam to the anchor with one of our prussik cords and left this gear behind. We both rapped off and, thankfully, nobody died.

Then we hiked down the loose, annoying talus field to the road. I was glad to put the Lost Arrow Face behind me. What a pile.

(Photo: The Lost Arrow Face as seen from the road, with one of the Montreal women we met visible (in a white shirt) low in the center of the wall, leading Virgin Sturgeon (5.9).)

I suggested we go next to Jewels and Gem, a small wall with moderate routes one minute from the road. If it was dry, well then we could lead some routes. If not, we could top rope. We went there and almost all the leadable routes (the ones that go up cracks) were wet. We spotted a dry one, In the Rough (5.7+). This ascends an off-width crack in a corner, and then goes through a good roof problem. Adrian led it. We both enjoyed it. Hallelujah! A good, dry route. So nice. 

(Photo: Adrian on In the Rough (5.7+).)

It appeared a couple of the other routes on this wall were really good-- if only they were dry. The two 5.6 routes appeared to be great natural lines up easy cracks, but they were both dripping with runoff. The dry routes all seemed to have no gear. I thought maybe I could lead the 5.9 variant just to the left of In the Rough, so I started it... and then I backed off when it appeared there were no placements for a long stretch above the initial crack. 

We considered top roping some other climbs but I checked the time and it was already 5:30. We decided to leave. I had lost the mojo and I had a long drive ahead. 

I would definitely come back to Jewels and Gem some time when it is dry for some fun moderates. It seems like a nice little wall.

We both walked out pretty disappointed with our day. We did a lot of trudging for three mediocre pitches.

And the worst was yet to come. I'll spare you the details, but some car trouble kept us from leaving for another three hours. 

Once that was resolved and I finally got out of there I drove home in an over-caffeinated haze, wishing I'd listened to my wife and gone to the Gunks. The day was largely a waste of time and money. But you know, sometimes taking a chance really pays off and sometimes it doesn't. You gotta play to win and all that garbage.

And even if the day basically sucked we still got a little taste of some adventure. 

Don't worry, Dacks. I still love you and I'll be back. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gunks Routes: Lost and Found (5.6), Unholy Wick (5.8), Diana (5.8) and More!

(Photo: Doing the fun traverse above a roof on Lost and Found (5.6).)

Another sunny Sunday in May, sure to be a crowded disaster in the Trapps. But I had a plan.

I've been repeating myself a lot lately. I wanted to try some different routes. I proposed to Adrian that we could get ourselves up to the GT Ledge in the area between CCK and High Exposure, where there were several quality climbs I'd never tried. I was thinking in particular of climbs like Diana (5.8), Unholy Wick (5.8), Jim's Gem (5.8 and new for me by the higher traverse), Exit Stage Left (5.9), and Psychedelic (5.9+). We could kill most of our day on these climbs, most of which no one seems to do.

At the last minute Gail decided to join us for a few hours before her husband Mitch arrived at the cliff, but this did not alter our plan. She could rap off whenever she needed to go.

I got to the parking lot in high spirits, ready to hit it hard. Gail and Adrian, on the other hand, seemed a little droopy. They had both been climbing for the full day on Saturday and they were feeling tired. They were happy to follow my lead, but it looked like I was going to be calling most of the shots.

We headed on down to the area just left of High E and looked for a warm-up climb to take us to the GT Ledge. No one was on Lost and Found (5.6) and I had never done it so I decided to embrace new routes and lead it. Gail warned me that she thought the bottom bits were run out but I wasn't worried. The guidebook calls it PG and I figured a little bit of run out climbing in 5.6 territory would be no big deal.

The opening moves go up and right over a little bulge to the right edge of a roof. The climb traverses back left over the lip of the roof then heads straight up from there to the GT Ledge.

I placed a piece quickly and then started to move through the bulge. As Gail had predicted, I found a lack of options for my second gear placement. I ended up getting an Alien I wasn't thrilled about in a shallow pocket. But I figured after a move or two I'd be over the bulgy bit and it would be smooth sailing. I had each hand on a good crimper as I moved to the right, so I thought everything was fine. Suddenly my right handhold snapped right off. The hold went flying (hitting no one, luckily) but I didn't. Somehow I managed to stay on the rock. It could have been a little bit ugly if I'd fallen and the iffy Alien had popped. I would have decked.

I tried to just laugh it off.

Gail said, "I can't believe you didn't fall!"

"Well, the reason I didn't is that I'm really kind of awesome," I blustered. "I don't like to talk about it, but it's true..."

Meanwhile, I tried to stop shaking so I could get back to leading the pitch.

It went fine from there. After the slightly sketchy early bit, the traverse left over the lip of the roof is fun and well-protected. Then the climbing from that point to the GT Ledge is easy and kind of undistinguished and dirty.

I wouldn't do Lost and Found again. It isn't that nice. The Last Will Be First (5.6) is just to the right and it is so much better.

When Gail and Adrian joined me on the GT Ledge we took a look at Unholy Wick, which was right in front of us. This climb goes straight up a 5.6 face to a little roof. There is no gear on this face and Dick Williams suggests that you can avoid the runout to the left by following Ken's Blind Hole (5.6) to the little roof. I haven't done Ken's Blind Hole but it goes pretty far to the left and if you go just a step or two to the right instead as you start Unholy Wick off the ledge you can get some gear in the left-facing corner over there. After just a few moves you get to the ceiling where there is ample gear.

(Photo: Climbing up to the initial roof on Unholy Wick (5.8).)

I enjoyed climbing up to the small roof, and the rest of Unholy Wick as well. The climb isn't a great classic and it is kind of broken up into sections but there are a bunch of good moves on it. The guidebook advises you to do it in two pitches from the GT Ledge to the top but I took it all the way in one pitch and it worked out fine. The little rooflet is the first challenge, and then you have to get in and out of a small alcove, moving left along a horizontal and then making steep moves up to a large flake and a small tree. (This is where Dick would have you belay.) All of the climbing to this point is allegedly 5.6, but I thought the moves in and out of the alcove were a little harder than that.

(Photo: Gail has almost reached the flake and tree where there is an optional belay on Unholy Wick (5.8). Despite appearances the route isn't choked with lichen-- it traverses behind the lichen-covered flake and climbs the clean corner barely visible at the bottom of the photo.)

Once you reach the flake and tree the regular route moves left to a right-facing corner, where a single 5.8 move gets you to jugs and then the finish. I thought about doing a 5.9 variation to finish called Bow Tie Ceiling, but it looked very dirty/licheny and difficult, so I just did it the 5.8 way.

(Photo: Getting set to rappel from the top of the cliff.)

After we rapped down to the GT Ledge, Gail checked in with her husband Mitch and found out he was on his way, so she left us and Adrian and I continued climbing from the GT Ledge.

We decided to look into the top pitch of Diana (5.8) next. This pitch starts at a distinctive multi-forked tree that is easy to find on the GT ledge. The line Diana follows isn't that obvious from below but it makes sense when you do it. After some face climbing and an easy 5.6 roof, the climb heads up a little right and then left to the right edge of a larger ceiling. You move up diagonally onto the face above the ceiling, which ends up feeling like a roof problem. It is a really good roof problem and I thought it was a little stiff for 5.8. Then the pitch heads up and left again to another crux on sloping holds up into a notch, where you meet CCK for the final couple of moves.

(Photo: Adrian pulling into the final notch on Diana (5.8).)

I really enjoyed Diana. It has two nice cruxes and good protection (though I did not see the piton mentioned in the guidebook). If you are stacked up on the GT Ledge waiting to do CCK I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't do Diana instead. The top pitch is very good.

Adrian and I rapped back down to the GT Ledge and now I was ready for a challenge. My eye was on Psychedelic (5.9+). I was totally psyched to climb into the dirty chimney at the back of the High E buttress. I was ready to fight past a tree to get to the tough roof problem. After that the wild 40-foot 5.6+ traverse would be a fun payoff.

But Adrian had a request:

"Can we do something facey/slabby instead of another roof?"

He was a little tired and a little bored.

(Photo: Unknown climber on Modern Times (5.8+). "I hate you a little bit right now," she said to her belayer.)

I had to admit that all of the climbs I'd planned at this one location above the GT Ledge were of the roofy variety. If we were going to do something different we'd have to look elsewhere. Reluctantly I acquiesced and we descended to the ground to find another climb.

This turned out to be a mistake. It was a nightmare down there.

Everything was occupied. We started out looking for a good climb that wasn't a roof problem-- something like Airy Aria or the first pitch of Carbs and Caffeine-- but when that didn't pan out we just started looking for something, anything that was open. We kept wandering around, always coming up empty. Doubleissima? Forget it. Insuhlation had a group of climbers plus some wailing babies. Another group of adults and children had a top rope on Double Crack and Lito and the Swan! I'd never seen anyone at all on Lito and the Swan before, and I never thought I'd see some pre-teens top-roping it.

We headed back towards CCK and Erect Direction, but no dice.

Finally we arrived beneath Proctoscope and it was open. I needed to get the redpoint on Proctoscope so I volunteered to lead it.

(Photo: In the middle of the crux face on Proctoscope (5.9+).)

It went really well. I think this first pitch could become a climb I come back to again and again. I like the easy off-width that starts it off and the crux thin face is beautiful. The fixed nut at the crux I mentioned last year in my first post on Proctoscope is long gone but I think I was actually hindered by that nut the first time I led the pitch. This time I placed the good cam a few feet below and just climbed right through the crux sequence. My footwork was solid and I felt like I used the handholds just right. It was a nice feeling.

(Photo: Adrian on Proctoscope (5.9+).)

Adrian really liked it too. It was more the sort of thing he was hungry for, something technical and not so thuggish.

By now it was getting late and Adrian had a long drive back to Montreal ahead of him. We could see that the pleasant, casual first pitch of Arrow was open so Adrian suggested he could lead that one and then I could lead something from the ledge to the top of the cliff. I hoped that pitch two of Limelight would be open and it was.

(Photo: Adrian climbing the beautiful flake feature on pitch two of Limelight (5.7).)

If there is a better 5.7 pitch than the second pitch of Limelight I want to know about it! The moves on Limelight are just exquisite and the white sickle-shaped flake that the second pitch ascends is very unusual. It looks as though it will be very difficult to climb but then the holds present themselves, as if by magic. The final traverse is delicate and satisfying.

It was a fitting end to our day. Though we wasted some time searching for open routes we still got on several climbs that were new to me and one that I was familiar with but that I felt proud to send. I plan to make a point of working more of these unpopular climbs into every climbing day. I really enjoy on-sighting and I like the feeling of exploring the more obscure parts of the cliff. And sometimes, as I learned by doing Diana, a less-popular route can become a new favorite.