Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Get Up, Stand (5.11a) Up!

(Photo: Inspecting the crux corner on The Stand (5.11a). Photo by Gail.)

I have been remiss. I let a more than a week go by without reporting my big news:

I led a 5.11 in the Gunks.

Let me try that again:

Holy Toledo, I led a 5.11 in the Gunks!

If you know what I've been up to, this news won't come as a big surprise. Breaking into trad 5.11 has been one of my goals this year. I've been working towards it all season.

I chose The Stand (5.11a)-- again, not a shocker. I've been talking about this climb for months. I even gave it a top-rope preview back in May in preparation for my lead attempt.

I didn't expect it to happen so soon. Right now we are in our annual sleepaway camp season, during which I'm usually not able to take very many climbing days. While the kids are away, my wife and I tend to do things together on the weekends which do not involve climbing. This year has been no different. After dropping our son at his camp in New Hampshire, we spent several days hiking in the White Mountains.

But right before we drove out of town with my son, I got a last-minute invitation from Gail to climb in the Gunks on a Thursday. I really couldn't afford to take the vacation day... but when I saw that the weather was going to be just about perfect I couldn't resist the opportunity.

Gail knew all about my goals. She proposed that we head down to the Slime Wall so that I could take a run at The Stand, which I had already named as my likely next target when I finally knocked off my last project, Coex.

When Gail and I got to the cliff we didn't waste any time. I knew that if I didn't hop on this thing early in the day, I'd likely lose my mojo and decide against trying it. So after we did a quick warm-up climb I got set up for The Stand.

The route has just one crux sequence. It is an unusual move, requiring flexibility, balance and patience. You can see it from the ground. A shallow, left-facing corner hangs on the wall about twenty feet up. The face to the right and above the corner is nearly vertical. It appears to be smooth, like glass. After you climb up to where your hands are atop the corner, you must swing over to the right onto the smooth face and get one of your feet up to where your hands are. (No problem!) Once you've accomplished that, you have to figure out how to shift your weight to your high foot and gently rise up to a standing position on the glassy slab.

This is the namesake "stand."

I wasn't too worried about protecting the crux. There is good gear there at your hands before you start the sequence. But by the time you make the stand-up move, the gear is at the level of your feet, so it is a bit spooky.

I was a little more concerned about the gear AFTER the crux. I remembered (from my top-rope preview) finding a tiny horizontal seam when I stepped left just after the crux move. I recalled that there was another hard move above this little crack, and I worried that if I couldn't get gear in that seam when I led the pitch, I would start to freak out. Also, I knew there was another hard move at the beginning of the pitch, right off the ground. I had no idea if it was easy to protect this move or not. I would have to climb up there and find out.

When I racked up for The Stand I brought some little C3's with me (in addition to my usual small Aliens) for the tiny seam.

Heading upward, I immediately started playing the old up-and-down game, climbing into, and then out of, the initial bulge just off the ground. As I'd remembered, there is a hard move there (probably 5.10a?), pulling up through the opening bulge, and I didn't want to go splat right off the deck at this first challenge.

After several reconnaissance missions, I was able to slot a good nut over my head in the vertical handhold above the bulge, and with this pro in place I made the move, getting up and over it. From here I found easier climbing and plentiful protection up into the crux corner.

(Photo: Approaching the crux corner on The Stand. Photo by Gail.)

Now it was time for the actual 5.11 climbing. Once I'd attained three good placements (!) at the top of the corner, I got started figuring out the move. Back in May, on top rope, I eventually got over this move but it took me three tries. This time I really wanted to get it without a fall.

I'm pleased to tell you that it all worked out, though not without a tiny bit of drama.

Turns out, you can get fully into the "stand" move on The Stand and still climb back down out of it if you don't think you're going to make it. This makes the climb a pretty good lead, I think. The move is very tricky but if you are patient you can work it out before really committing all the way. I went up and down, getting a little bit higher each time, and then finally it clicked. I could feel it was just right as I shifted my weight over my toe and slowly stood up-- and it was over.

(Photo: After "The Stand" on The Stand. Photo by Gail.)

Except it really wasn't over. After feeling a great rush of joy, which lasted for about five seconds, I started getting really jittery. I still had to make a very thin move to the left and pray that I could find gear there in the little horizontal seam. I had to protect the next sequence, a hard step up the blank face to a wide horizontal. Once I slowly made the thin step over, I actually got a few pieces of pro in the little crack, much to my relief, but then I found it so hard to calm myself down for the move up.

Eventually I did make the move. But then I found the next one to be very hard too! There was another tough move up blank rock between another set of these spaced horizontals. I'm sure these moves weren't as hard as they seemed. Nobody talks about them. But I was feeling a lot of pressure. My 5.11 send was within reach but not in the bag. I did not want to fail. I kept trying different ways to reach the next horizontal and, feeling like I was about to blow it, I would step down and start over again.

Would it ever end?

Finally I remembered to breathe. I shut down the sewing-machine leg, committed to the move and made it up to where I could traverse left to the bolted anchor.

I had done it: I led The Stand without a fall or a hang. It was a clean 5.11 lead. I took more time negotiating the final two moves than I did on the whole rest of the climb, but who cares? It was in the bank; a great success.

(Photo: Gail at the big reach over the initial bulge on The Stand.)

It was worth it. But I was pretty whipped from the mental strain. Later I tried for the redpoint on Simple Suff (5.10a) and I ended up having to hang at the same move where I failed the last time I tried it, almost two years ago. I have to go back and get the send on this one, soon. It is annoying. This climb seems to have my number. I find it very sustained and tiring.

Gail and I also tried some climbs that were new to us.

(Photo: Gail leading Sticky Gate (5.5).)

Our warm-up for the day was the first pitch of Sticky Gate (5.5), at the right end of the Slime Wall. I've enjoyed nearby climbs like Wasp (5.9) and Coprophagia (5.10a), as well as the upper pitch of Sticky Gate off the GT Ledge, which the guidebook calls Sticky G Direct (5.7). But neither Gail nor I found much to like about the first pitch of Sticky Gate. The climbing is unremarkable and there are some scary stacked blocks just to your right as you go through the middle of the pitch. It's also kind of run out down low. I don't think I'll come back to it.

We also did Hooky (5.6), so you don't have to. Ugh, don't bother with this one. There's nothing really interesting about it. It is dirty and wandery, with some crapola rock.

Finally, we did an interesting link-up of Double Crack (5.8) with the second pitch of Uphill All the Way (5.8). This combination of pitches is given no stars in the guidebook but it has a lot of good climbing on it. It is the only practical way to approach the second pitch of Uphill All the Way, since the first pitch of that climb is a 5.12 testpiece which ends at a fixed anchor way off to the left. Getting to this neglected second pitch from Double Crack is much more direct and makes a lot more sense.

When you do this linkup you get to do the hardest and best part of Double Crack: the first thirty feet. Then you traverse left along the obvious horizontal to a large set of flakes. There are some cool moves up these flakes, which lead to a small belay stance at the corner. I decided to continue, doing the whole linkup as one pitch, but this was a mistake. I had horrendous drag at the top. Next time I will split it up and belay at the stance.

After this optional belay the climb follows Uphill All the Way up and left through a bulge in orange rock. This is the 5.8 crux of the second pitch and the moves are very good. The pro is spaced, however, and there are several fragile flakes and plates on the wall here. Be very careful. After the crux bulge the rock improves and an easy roof is followed by a long diagonal traverse back right to the corner again. Finally you do some steep juggy reaches to a ledge with a tree, maybe thirty feet beneath the Double Crack tree.

(Photo: Gail finishing Double Crack/Uphill All the Way (5.8).)

We both enjoyed the link-up despite the questionable rock through the crux. The climbing is very interesting, with some exciting situations. I would do it again. Bring doubles for the rap, or if you use a 70 meter rope (as we did) you will probably just barely touch down. A 60 meter single rope definitely will not make it. Watch the ends if you use a 70, and angle your rap up the hill for the landing.

I'm still kind of in disbelief about The Stand. Having knocked off my first 5.11 lead, I have to decide if I'm ready for a tougher one: Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Though Carbs has the same difficulty rating as The Stand, it is a much bigger undertaking. I've never been on it, but I understand it has a hard roof followed by a desperate, hyper-exposed crab-crawl traverse to the finish. There will be no top-rope preview of this one. I've got to just walk up to it and try to do it.

I think I am prepared for it and I there is no question in my mind that I can attack it safely. So when we see some favorable conditions in a month or so it will be high on my list. I'm excited just thinking about it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

June Rain + July Heat = Summer Sendage!

(Photo: That's me leading Le Teton (5.9?) on a hot July afternoon. Photo by Adam.)

June was the cruelest month.

Maybe not for everyone else. I'm sure there were many beautiful days. But I seemed to have a knack for picking the wrong days in June this year.

On my last trip out to the Gunks with Olivier, it rained in the middle of our day for about an hour. We still got to do some great climbing before the storm, so I wasn't complaining.

But on my next two planned weekend climbing days, I was rained out completely.

After that, I'm pretty sure I started complaining.

Things were getting desperate in a hurry. I had to do something.

I made a plan to take a day off of work on a Tuesday to climb with Emma. This was supposed to be a beautiful day and I drove up to the Gunks with great expectations. But we only did one climb before a cloud settled over New Paltz and started dumping rain on the cliffs! At first we ignored the mist, but as it started to really come down we went into town to wait it out and have lunch. I checked the radar and the whole region was clear, save for this one dark cloud sitting directly over New Paltz. It had to pass soon, right?

When it didn't let up after more than two hours we decided finally to call it off.

I wasted a vacation day for one pitch. That sucked.

I had to put it behind me and hope July would be better.

Adam and I were heading up to the Gunks on a hot and sweaty Saturday early in July. It was expected to be close to 90 degrees. I figured we should avoid my project, Coexistence (5.10d) (much as I wanted to jump on it), as it was sure to be baking in the sun.

I tried to be grateful that it was supposed to be a sunny day, whatever the temperature. Forget projects: we didn't have to do anything really hard. We could just have fun out there on easier stuff until we wilted from the heat.

I suggested we try Traverse of the Clods (5.9), which Adam and I had discussed before. The route starts from the GT Ledge in the same area as Hans' Puss (5.7). Adam was down with the plan. But first we needed to do some other climb in order to get up to the GT Ledge.

Recently I'd read on Mountain Project about the 5.8 first pitch of Man's Quest for Flight. (The top pitch is 5.11a). The climb is not popular. I was interested in checking it out, mostly because this pitch sits next to some of my favorite climbs, like Silhouette (5.7+) and Proctoscope (5.9+).

In the past when I've looked at the first pitch of Man's Quest it has seemed kind of dirty and uninspiring, and I've ended up walking away. But when I read a recent positive comment about the climb on Mountain Project it was enough to pique my curiosity about the route again.

I led the pitch. It begins beneath the huge corner ascended by Andrew (5.4). In the guidebook Dick Williams describes two different starts. If you diagonal up the left wall of the corner right away there are some steep 5.8 moves. Alternatively, you can move up the Andrew corner just a little bit and then head left at 5.6. I chose to do the 5.6 start because I found gear that way. It was steep and fun, although I had to fight past a small bush to get started.

(Photo: Adam on the slightly grungy Man's Quest For Flight (Pitch 1 5.8).)

Once I got around the outside arete and onto the face it was easy to find the route; you just have to stay between Silhouette and the corner. It isn't bad. There is a nice 5.7/5.8 cruxy sequence up through a bulge in orange rock. But it is a little bit dirty, and it is always difficult to resist the temptation to move a few feet left to Silhouette's beautiful, clean crack system.

If this route got some more traffic it might get cleaned up and become a fine climb. But even if it were cleaner I'd still say Man's Quest is nothing special.

Now that we were on the GT Ledge it was time for us to climb Traverse of the Clods.

(Photo: I'm leading Traverse of the Clods (5.9). I'm just starting to traverse to the right after clearing two small overhangs. Photo by Adam.)

This is an interesting and intimidating route. In the guidebook it is described as two pitches. The first pitch (5.8) starts out heading more or less straight up, but soon enough you embark on a 50-foot traverse to the right, which ends at a hanging belay in beautiful white rock amidst the the roofs of Twilight Zone.

(Photo: Adam starting up Traverse of the Clods (5.9).)

The second pitch is short, but it is the crux. You move up over a small overhang and then do another traverse to the right, following a little foot ledge until it ends, and then doing a thin 5.9 sequence to reach a jug. From the jug you exit straight up over a notched roof to the top.

I found the first pitch to be a bit necky and route finding was sometimes a challenge. Please avoid the death block that is just sitting on a shelf with a piton driven beneath it! That thing is freaky.

Once you wander up and past two overhangs and start traversing the moves are very nice and the rock is great. I always found myself wishing I could find a little more gear but it wasn't a horror show. The crux for me was at a point about a halfway across the traverse where I had to make a delicate step down to continue. Once I was through this move I was relieved to see that the hanging belay wasn't too much further.

(Photo: Adam confronting the crux step-down move on the first pitch of Traverse of the Clods (5.9).)

I was feeling mentally fried by the time I finished pitch one, and as Adam tiptoed his way over to me I seriously considered bailing on pitch two. It is easy to escape the route from the hanging belay. You can go straight up instead of continuing the traverse. It is only 5.6 to the top if you go this way. But after a little prodding from Adam I went ahead and led pitch two and it turned out to be very exciting and worthwhile. A couple of thin moves over a big void will get you through it. The gear for the crux is tiny-- I had a black Alien, a small sideways nut, and a blue Alien in the little tips crack at the back of the roof. It was hard to tell if any of this gear was actually solid. I later read that Dick Williams recommends Ballnutz.

After Traverse of the Clods was in the bank I didn't have much ambition left. I was already spent. Luckily Adam had a whole list of classics he was eager to lead and since it was so hot we didn't have too many other parties to contend with. We spent the rest of our day on a parade of three-star climbs, knocking off the upper pitches of Annie Oh! (5.8) and Three Doves (5.8+), as well as both pitches of Modern Times (5.8+) and Bonnie's Roof (5.9). These were all on-sight leads for Adam, except for Modern Times, which I led. (I had to step up and lead something at some point.)

Looking back, this was a pretty amazing, fifteen star day.

(Photo: Adam at the classic photo op on pitch two of Bonnie's Roof (5.9).)

This past Saturday Adam and I got out again. It appeared we might be wasting our time. Rain was predicted for the afternoon. We hoped it would hold off long enough for us to at least do a few pitches.

As we drove up from NYC things looked very bad for us. It rained almost the whole way up. Adam kept checking the weather on his phone, insisting that in New Paltz it was not raining. I told myself that the fact that it was raining in Sloatsburg didn't mean a thing-- it is always raining in Sloatsburg! I'd had good luck with this sort of gamble before. But while externally I tried to project confidence, I was dying inside. I felt that we were sure to be shut out. There was no way this rain wasn't hitting the cliffs. The feeling grew stronger as we drove on and the rain did not let up. It was still raining as we left the Plattekill rest stop, just a few miles south of Exit 18.

At 9:00 a.m., my wife sent me an email telling me that it was pouring in the city and asking if we were still going climbing.

Against all odds, we were.

We pulled into town to see a band of fog hanging over the cliffs. But, miracle of miracles, it wasn't raining in New Paltz. The streets were dry. We were in business. And as we drove into the Stairmaster lot I took a look at my dashboard and saw that the temperature outside was a mere 68 degrees.

This was sending weather, my friends.

We probably wouldn't see such favorable conditions again until mid-September.

Time was of the essence. It could rain at any moment. We gathered our stuff and marched up the steps, heading directly to the base of Coex.

I realized something recently about my struggle with this climb. It occurred to me that every time I've done the route I've ended up finishing it the same way. But even though I know what to do, I still find it hard to execute, and it feels like I'm on the verge of popping off when I try it. The feeling that I'm about to fall makes me stop, hang, and look for other options. But ultimately I fail to find a better way and I come back to square one and commit to the one way I know that works for me.

This time I said NO MORE. I vowed to stick to my beta and commit to it on the first try. I told myself that if I could just keep going, keep moving my feet up, no matter how bad the holds felt, I would get through it. Maybe.

(Photo: That's me at the crux on Coexistence, once again (5.10d). Photo by Adam.)

I got up to the roof, feeling pretty solid. I placed my crux gear. I stepped up and clipped one of the pins. I stepped back down to shake out. I got myself mentally prepared. Then I announced I was going for it.

Hitting the good rail with my hands, I set my feet right where I wanted them. Then I grabbed the crappy left handhold. It felt a little bit slimy in the fog, but I held on. I reached for the shitty sidepull with my right hand, barely catching it.

"These holds are terrible," I thought, as I always do. "I'm about to slip off."

I drove these thoughts from my mind with one command: "Foot up foot up foot up! Get the right foot up! Keep going!"

I stepped up and-- lo and behold-- the sidepull improved, as it always does. And then in an instant I had the jug in my left hand and it was over. Success: a clean lead of Coex.

It took me only four tries.

(Photo: Getting ready to fire the crux on Star Action (5.10b). Photo by Adam.)

Some friends of ours from the gym, Alec and Liz, showed up just as I was finishing Coex. A few minutes later Josh and Tiff (who I met through Gail) also appeared. It was turning into a private party at the Mac Wall, all of us overjoyed that we were actually getting to climb.

I was feeling great after our first pitch, so once Adam finished with Coex, I led Star Action (5.10b), getting the redpoint without much trouble. I struggled on this route the first time I tried it last year-- and I wasn't even sure I wanted to go back, as I found it a little bit heady-- so I was very pleased that it felt pretty straightforward this time around. If you want to get solid at 5.10b, I've found the secret: start flailing away on 5.10d. It really helps.

The crux of Star Action is awesome. The move up to the jug over the roof is hard, and the step left to the corner afterwards takes willpower and technique. But in my opinion the route is all about that crux roof. The rest of the climb is less interesting. I can't say it's one of my favorites.

Since we were there on the right side of the Mac Wall we decided to throw a top rope over Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a), another testpiece 5.10d which many say should be a 5.11. I thought maybe it could be the next project for me. But several people have cautioned me about the gear being all small stuff and hard to place, so I thought it might be wise to give it a top rope preview. I'd never been on it before.

I got the coveted top rope flash but it was tough going all the way. It is a great pitch, with steep moves up a crack over a bulge, then some thin steps up the face to a little roof, which is followed by a burly sequence to get over it. There is not much in the way of stances. I think this would be a demanding lead for me.

After Adam and I were done with Graveyard Shift we watched Alec go for it on the sharp end.

(Photo: Alec leading Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a). He's heading into the steep little bulge that presents the route's first crux.)

Alec told us he's been rehearsing for this one and you could tell; he was smooth as silk as he calmly led the pitch. He placed a lot of gear too, but it was all small, fiddly stuff. I'd like to get to his level on Graveyard Shift, some day. But I think my next project will be some other 5.11 with a shorter crux like The Stand or one of the Voids.

Our day was turning into an avalanche of hard climbs. The expected rain still hadn't materialized; in fact, the fog had lifted and now the sun was out. It was growing hotter by the minute.

Adam still hadn't had the chance to lead anything. He decided to do Birdie Party (Pitch 1 5.8+), including the long traverse over the flake to the MF bolts. He did a fine job on this on-sight lead, although he got a little bit lost on the traverse and wandered up to the Birdie Party pitch two roof before stepping down to the bolted anchor. He sorted it all out, though. It remains a great 5.8, with consistent thoughtful climbing.

(Photo: Adam on Birdie Party (Pitch 1 5.8+).)

I considered one more Mac Wall 5.10: Tough Shift (5.10a). I even started climbing it, but in the crux crack near the bottom I decided I wasn't feeling it any more. It was now sunny and rather hot. Things had gone so well. I didn't want to push too hard. After checking out the move a few times I decided to climb down and walk away. I'll attack it when I'm fresh, some other time.

Much better to do a scary 5.9!

I decided to lead Land's End, a notorious sandbag. Dick Williams gives it a rating of 5.9- G in his guidebook, but many people think it is harder than that and everyone agrees it has a significant runout past some very shaky flakes. Sounds good, right? I've always wanted to check it out.

(Photo: Adam following Land's End (5.9-).)

As I led the route I had to agree with the grumblers. It felt like a solid 5.9 to me, with steep moves over the initial roof and then a strenuous, awkward undercling traverse at the upper crux. In between the cruxes the route is quite run out. And there is loose rock all over the place, not just at the fragile flakes. I can't recommend this climb. It is dangerous.

And yet.....

This short pitch has a ton of fun climbing on it. I'm just saying.

(Photo: I came within inches of stepping on this four-foot snake as we walked over to the Guide's Wall from Land's End.)

It was now mid-afternoon and we had no plans. We walked down the cliff, looking for a climb for Adam to lead. I was ready to dial it back and do something easy. I half-heartedly suggested Hawk (5.4), but we kept walking.

As we passed the Madame G buttress we saw that Le Teton (5.9) was in the shade. Suddenly I got excited again. It was irresistible to me.

Adam led quickly up Northern Pillar (5.2) to the pedestal at the start.

I followed Le Teton once before, in 2011, but I never wrote about it. I remembered it as pretty tough for the first fifteen or twenty feet. The route is on you from the first moment you step onto the wall. The feet are thin as you work your way up an overhanging crack on the face to a juggy traverse. Once you get out to the arete it's all air beneath you and easy steepness to the top of the Madame G buttress. The route is challenging and thrilling, but when it's all over you wish it were a little bit longer. You want those jugs to go on forever.

(Photo: Adrian in the finishing jugs on Le Teton (5.9) in 2011.)

Ever since 2011 I've wanted to lead it. I never made it a priority because I've always been a little bit intimidated by those tough opening moves.

But not this year.

This year I knew it would be fine. And I think that's the difference between this year and all previous years, for me. It is mental more than physical. I'm sure I could have climbed better when I led Le Teton this past Saturday. I was tired and it was hot. I fumbled in the vertical crack. I failed to clip the fixed nut. I threw in a desperate cam and then hucked for the jugs.

But through it all I knew I wasn't going to let go and that all was right with the world. As I reached the arete and took in the fantastic exposure I thought of Le Teton as a metaphor this whole year. It has been a great ride so far with one highlight after another. I want to keep pushing further but I know soon I'll reach a barrier I can't pass-- I'll get shut down by a project, or the season will end with no further progress-- and then I'll look back and think the ride was great but that it ended too soon.

I want the jugs to go on forever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Coexisting With Coexistence (5.10d), Lito and the Swan (5.9+) & More!

(Photo: A climber named Nina leading Easy V (5.3), in between rain storms.)

I take it all back.

Remember when I said I had Coexistence (5.10d) all worked out-- and would maybe send it on my next try?

I even said it wasn't ridiculously hard. It's pretty much like Try Again (5.10b), I said.

I must have lost my mind.

I've been back twice since then and I still haven't gotten Coex clean. I haven't come close. If anything, I feel further away from sending it now than I did before I tried it the first time!

I went back with Gail the very next weekend, on a very hot and humid Sunday. The Mac Wall was quite literally baking in the sun, but I was determined to try Coex anyway. We warmed up on Higher Stannard (5.9-), one of my longtime favorites. For a change of pace I tried the 5.9 direct start, which is thin and without gear for three or four delicate moves. I'd never tried it this way before but I liked it. Dick Williams calls it R-rated in the guidebook but it isn't so bad. You can get a piece at the first horizontal a few moves up.

Everything went well and I was feeling good.

(Photo: Gail on Higher Stannard (Direct Start 5.9).)

Then we went directly over to Coex. I tried to relax, but I was very tense again. It was so hot, and I was really sweating as I negotiated the tricky 5.9-ish moves before the roof. They felt harder than before. Once at the crux, I thought I remembered my beta but I just couldn't get it to work. I must have fallen four times. I stubbornly kept trying the moves the same way, because my beta had been effective one week before! Finally something clicked and I got over the roof, feeling very frustrated.

(Photo: Gail at the roof on Coexistence (5.10d).)

I was back again on the very next Saturday, with Olivier. It was expected to rain in the afternoon but the morning was dry and with the changing conditions it was reasonably cool at the cliff. I thought maybe this time I would sail right over that Coex roof.

(Photo: Olivier getting us warmed up on Something Interesting (5.7+).)

But the weather didn't make any difference. I still couldn't achieve the taste of victory on Coex. I fell several times, again. This time I tried to work to improve my beta, but eventually after approaching the problem from several different angles I still could just barely get over it using a very similar strategy to what worked for me the first time.

I think I have to accept that this is not a terribly high-percentage sequence for me. The crux is always going to feel desperate and I just have to try to hit it fresh and with confidence, and hope for the best.

(Photo: That's me approaching the crux overhang on Coexistence (5.10d). Photo by Olivier.)

Coex only has one really hard sequence on it-- but boy is it hard. I'm not ready to give up on it yet. I'm determined to go back again.

I've found that flailing away at Coex does have one benefit: it makes other 5.10 climbs feel a whole lot easier. Since we were right there, Olivier and I threw a top rope over Try Again (5.10b), the climb next door, and it was like a different world. I can't believe I described the cruxes as similarly difficult, just two weeks ago. I guess they are somewhat similar-- but having done both of them in one session, I'd say the Coex crux is much, much harder.

I also led Mother's Day Party (pitch one 5.10b) while I was there at the Mac Wall with Olivier and I think my experience on Coex helped me with that climb too. Mother's Day Party felt pretty reasonable to me.

This is another Mac Wall ten that I'd tried on top rope once before, but since it was three years ago I couldn't remember much of anything about the moves. I was going for the pseudo on-sight, you might say.

(Photo: Olivier getting started on Mother's Day Party (5.10b).)

I found this first pitch of Mother's Day Party to be really nice, nicer than some of the other Mac Wall tens, in that it isn't all about one roof move. But it is also more committing than some of the others. The pitch has two distinct cruxes. Both cruxes require hard moves above your gear. The first crux involves climbing up some crimpy flakes above a little overlap. The pro is at your shins as you do the move but there is a ledge not too far beneath you so it feels a little bit risky. I ended up placing three pieces in the horizontal crack at the overlap. Then I tested the move several times (until I was just about certain I had it) before firing through it.

The second crux involves steep climbing up a bulging green corner. There are two hard moves, each one leading to a juggy hold. I would have been very pleased to find a gear placement in between the two hard moves. But I couldn't find anything, so I had to carry on.

(Photo: Olivier showing off some fancy footwork in the steep green corner on Mother's Day Party (5.10b).)

After leading Mother's Day Party I remembered that three years before, when I top-roped it, I questioned whether I would ever feel confident enough to lead this climb. Yet on this day I'd just done it on a whim, without a second thought. It felt good to sort it out above the pro and to know throughout that it was all going to be fine. I tried to remind myself that this was great progress and that my constant suckage on Coex was not in vain.

It began to rain as Olivier and I finished Mother's Day Party, and though we waited it out and got in a few more pitches before our day was through, we didn't do anything really notable.

We took a jaunt up Asphodel (5.5), which I hadn't done in many years. It is a high quality, long pitch, up a giant corner. The upper third is kind of dirty and there is some junky rock up there. But before the route turns grungy it is very nice, with fun moves.

(Photo: A foggy view over to Skytop from atop Asphodel (5.5).)

Flashing back to my day with Gail one week earlier:

I was so excited to see how strong Gail is leading right now. She's been climbing a lot lately and pushing herself to take the sharp end more frequently.

Once she and I left the Mac Wall on our hot, sunny Sunday, we went looking for shady climbs, and we found several over the course of the afternoon. Gail led pitch one of Airy Aria (5.8) and I swear she reached the bolts at the end of the pitch in less than two minutes. She had no hesitation at all during the technical climbing up the polished corner. I'm sure I took longer to do the pitch than she did, and I was on top rope.

(Photo: Gail leading Airy Aria (5.8).)

Gail also led pitch one of Oblique Twique (5.8?). I tried gently to suggest that this pitch might not be the best choice. I reminded Gail that it is a one move wonder, that the move is difficult and strange, and that it is hard to protect without blocking the key hold. I did the climb way back in 2010. I had a lot of trouble with it then and have never wanted to return. But Gail shook off these warnings and got it done with nary a hiccup. She managed to place a whole nest of small nuts for the crux move, some of which might actually have held in the event of a fall.

(Photo: Gail leading Oblique Twique (5.8).)

In our hunt for shade Gail and I also found two climbs that were totally new for both of us.

We climbed Tangled Up And Blue (5.8), which goes up a chimney hidden behind a corner next to Simple Suff (5.10a). It is pretty gritty in the chimney (which comes as no surprise) and I got my knees all scratched up as I wormed my way tentatively up this pitch. I thought it was fun-- at least in retrospect! We don't have enough climbs like this in the Gunks. It is good practice for other climbing areas. There is good gear throughout.

(Photo: Gail approaching the chimney on Tangled Up and Blue (5.8). Looks good, doesn't it?)

We also did Lito and the Swan (5.9+), which was probably the highlight of the day for both of us. This climb is an overlooked gem right next to the ever-popular Double Crack (5.8). Lito and the Swan is similarly long, steep and interesting. I think this climb doesn't get done that much because of Dick's PG/R protection rating, which is a shame because there is a ton of great climbing on it.

After you start up at some blocky flakes, you will see two vertical seams heading upward. Be sure to move immediately to the one on the left-hand side. There is a great 5.9 sequence there, with good rock and some hidden holds.

Once you reach a pedestal with some loose blocks, you are at the second crux, a move up the face to the ceiling of a small alcove. There is gear here but I think the PG/R rating comes from the fact that a fall at this point risks a landing on the pedestal. I don't disagree with the rating, but I think there are many climbs in the Gunks with similar risks that are not given the PG/R rating. One example is Mother's Day Party! I don't think the PG/R rating should keep you from doing the climb. Just watch it when you step off the pedestal.

I thought Lito and the Swan had good gear overall, and maybe this was just the Coex effect coming into play again but I thought it was a reasonably straightforward 5.9. I don't know where the "plus" comes in. Gail felt the same way. Whatever its proper grade should be, Lito and the Swan is very worthwhile.

We are officially into summer now. I don't know how many good runs at Coex I might get before autumn but if we have a cool enough day in the near future I'm going to hit it again. I have to send the stupid thing so I can get on with failing to send The Stand (5.11a)!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Guest Post: Rediscovering the Joys of Any Kind of Climbing

(Photo: Elizabeth leading Horseman (5.5) in 2010.)

Editor's Note: 

What follows is a first for Climb and Punishment: a guest post! Written by Elizabeth, and published below without interference from me. It records her experience of our time climbing together this past Sunday. You can see my own impressions of the day here. The main difference between the two versions is that my account is true, while hers is full of lies. Don't believe her!

Please enjoy. I've thrown in some photos-- new and old-- just for fun.

Did you ever read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson? Do you remember when Bryson’s buddy Katz shows up to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail with him, and Bryson comments that Katz appeared to be coming from the other side of too many pancake breakfasts? So that’s me. You may remember me from Climb and Punishment fame as the pregnant and anemic belay b*tc@ of a few summers ago. I’ve climbed in the Gunks one time since then, in the fall of 2011. I’ve been to the gym twice since then. Also in the fall of 2011, I moved to an area of PA that does not have a local climbing gym and where the outdoor climbing that’s worth anything is, well, the Gunks. A few years and two kids later I am lucky to get away for a yoga class or a quick run or bike ride from the house, so climbing has regrettably been on the back burner. Meanwhile, Seth has been devoting his spare time to climbing and has become more than a respectable Gunks climber. I am jealous. 

(Photo: Elizabeth on The Last Will Be First (5.6) in 2011.)

I hope that in an act of pity he will agree to take me climbing for the birthday/Mother’s Day present I have convinced my husband to give me. Seth is the quite the sucker and he agrees.

Seth and I met at Chelsea Piers one fall when I was in law school in the City and a recent transplant from Boulder. I was missing Climbing Town, USA, and feeling isolated from my climbing buddies but decided to get out there and sit at the wall until someone noticed this lonely, lost soul haplessly trying to boulder. Enter Seth. He walked up to me sitting on the crash mat and said, “Do you want to climb with me?” It was like that Lifesavers commercial with the two little kids. My eyes went wide. “A climbing partner?"

(Photo: Elizabeth on Grand Central (5.9) in 2011.)

Over the next few years Seth and I spent many, many Gunks and gym sessions together, so even if this one-off climbing day amounted to a misadventure, I was looking forward to catching up with my old friend. So much so that I was willing to wake up at 5 a.m. to get a good start to the day. We decided to meet at the mall in Paramus as the mid-way point in my drive and also on the way for Seth. We plan to meet at 7:15 and I’m on track to arrive early. I’m never early. Seth texts me at 7:05 to say that he’s early and lets me know where to find him. I let him know I’m a few minutes away. I’m so excited! And then I get lost in a maze of highways and on-ramps and off-ramps and it takes two full circles and 10 freakin’ minutes to figure out how to get into the mall. I was expecting to see the mall from the road, or see signs for the mall from the road, but no. Clearly I need to brush up on my Jersey driving skills.

Finally I can see Seth, and I roll down my window to yell hello. I am sitting at a red light on the access road to the mall. WTF? I don’t wait for it to turn green. I jump out of the car to greet Seth. He comments that I look just the same as always, and I tell him the same, except for looking trimmer. This will be relevant later. At 7:20 we’re rolling in Seth’s car. “New?” I say. “Two years old.” We laugh and talk about our kids and old times, and Seth points out that I clearly favor my sweet, sweet baby who is eight months old over my terrible two-and-a-half year old. We also set some expectations for the day and I confess I’m not even sure I remember how to tie a figure eight. I’m not sure if Seth is psyched that he agreed to this.

We’re approaching the cliff about 8:30, and because I ate my first breakfast in the car at 6:00, I am already starving. When Seth asks if I want to stop at the deli, I say yes. I don’t think we’ve ever not stopped at the deli. I’ve never seen the parking lot so full. We already know it’s going to be crowded at the cliff, but wow! It seems crowded. As we park by the latrine Seth says, “Oh hey, there’s Gail,” my successor as his regular climbing partner. He introduces us and I try to give Gail a hug but she kicks me in the shins. She tells us to order because it’s going to take a while to get an egg sandwich. Seth doesn’t order anything. He chats with some other folks he knows at the deli and I stand around feeling like a poser for being here. I get over it. I contemplate whether I want M&Ms or a gluten-free brownie for a treat. Seth asks if I’m “gluten-free.” “No,” I reply, “I would get it so I can make fun of it.” I’m pretty sure M&Ms are gluten-free too but they are not pretentious about it so I go with those. I finally get my sandwich and as far as I can tell it’s not even hot.

We park at the bottom of the Stairmaster and Seth hands me the rope and does some more standing around as I change shoes, pull my hair back, rearrange my pack making sure not to smoosh my lunch, and take a bite of egg sandwich. I try to continue to eat my egg sandwich on the trail to the carriage road but it’s hard to hike with a heavy pack, talk and eat at the same time, so I wrap it up halfway through and toss the rest in my pack. As the day goes on it becomes clear that after wasting 30 minutes of Seth’s time waiting for my egg sandwich he will deprive me of any opportunity to eat it.

On the carriage road Seth starts pointing out places we could start and asking me if I remember such and such, or this and that, and my answer is always no. I am ordinarily pretty good at navigating and remembering where I am but it became clear early in our climbing relationship that Seth was the guide. I placed my trust in his capable hands and never thought for myself. I don’t remember the details or even the summaries of any of the routes by name, and with the exception of the time I led the money pitch of High E, I quickly forget everything about a climb the moment after topping out. (I do, however, remember that night on Moonlight. So apropos.) He worries a little that he will push me too hard and doesn’t want me to cry like I did that one time on Birdland. He made me cry climbing Birdland? Apparently the experience was more traumatic for Seth than for me because I don’t remember crying on Birdland.

(Photo: Seth leading Birdland (5.8+) in 2011.)

Seth suggests we start on Raunchy, a fun 5.8. For some this might be considered a warm-up, but for others it might be the pinnacle of the day. I am slightly scared near the bottom, which is a bit sad because of course I am following. But after getting a few moves under my belt and generally not flailing about, I remember that I love climbing. I think Seth is impressed that I just waltzed up this route as if I hadn’t off the couch’ed it. I am definitely rusty in my route-finding, but I don’t have trouble with any of the moves. Raunchy? Check! We move on to Cakewalk. I’m glad that this does feel a bit easier and that the route is a bit more obvious. True to form, I don’t remember anything else about this climb.

(Photo: Elizabeth on Raunchy (5.8) in 2015.)

At this point I can tell Seth is getting antsy to climb something harder, but he is still asking me what I want to do. I finally suggest that we do a multi-pitch classic. Madame G’s is overrun with people as we expected, so he suggests Snooky’s instead. We will take all three pitches to the top of the cliff. Sweet. We take a detour at Balrog because Seth wants to try for the redpoint. I am concerned that I haven’t caught a fall in at least as long as I haven’t been climbing, but I should have more faith. Seth gets it clean. He mentioned the grade back on the carriage road, but I forget and as I’m putting my shoes on I tell myself that it is 5.9 so as not to get psyched out by the number. Seth then ruins my strategy by telling me that it’s a 10b. I am happy to make it past the first difficult moves below the roof, but I am sad that I have to ask what a “mail slot” is. I don’t think we referred to horizontals as mail slots four years ago? Anyway, I can’t get my hands in the mail slot and also get the gear out of the mail slot, and after five or so attempts I admit that it’s futile and Seth has to top rope the route to retrieve his gear. He actually falls this time. I think he omitted that part from his post.

(Photo: Elizabeth starting up Balrog (5.10b) in 2015.)

We find Snooky’s to be relatively available, and after a short wait chatting with acquaintances of Seth’s who are finishing the first pitch, we’re on the rock again. I’ve managed to sneak a few more bites of egg sandwich at this point, but I’m not even feeling hungry. Which is annoying because if I don’t eat all of my food before the end of the day then I didn’t need to squander that time waiting for that stupid egg sandwich. Seth has not eaten a thing in my presence so now I understand why he is so thin. As I start up on Snooky’s, my fingers are already raw and I think my toenails are already turning black. I didn’t expect anything different, really, so I don’t dwell on the pain. We cruise up pitch one to the belay station and as I hook in with my PAS, I say somewhat inadvertently, “Piece-A-Shit.” I think one of the guys in the party sharing the ledge with us chortles slightly while Seth responds, “Ah, just like old times.” I don’t know how it came about that the device perhaps most important for preventing our untimely deaths should receive such a moniker. Later when I am getting punch drunk I am laughing out loud about this again. I have no idea why this is so funny. It just is.

(Photo: Elizabeth on pitch two of Snooky's Return (5.8) in 2015.)

Snooky’s is great, I think I hang on pitch two once? Maybe not. I only remember hanging quite a few times on pitch three. And first having to get lowered back to the deck, second having to use a heel-hook to pull myself back onto the wall, getting stuck on a dead tree branch with the loop of a draw—why??—and third, finally having removed the gear and being high enough to get back on the rock, still not fit enough to make it over the roof without getting pumped on the moves approaching the roof. I am worked and so frustrated I want to cry. Suddenly I remember crying on Birdland. At the top Seth asks me what happened and scoffs ever so slightly when I say that it was really hard to get the gear out in that position with my hands so far above my head. I remind him that that is a physical move for which I currently have no endurance. I remind him that he is ever so slightly being an ass for forgetting what it was like before he was killing it. We take in the breeze and the view for a few minutes before starting our rap back down. I’m ready for a little break that hopefully involves enough time to actually eat something. Seth is already planning his next climb that will be too hard for me to even attempt.

He chooses Co Ex. Again this means nothing to me. After he’s back on the ground he starts spewing beta on the crux sequence to the guys next to us and he’s looking at me too so I nod and smile encouragement but my eyes are glazing over. I don’t speak this language anymore. Sad face. At this point I am actually the one getting antsy to get back to climbing, and am rewarded by the opportunity to climb Madame G’s! On top of the first short pitch I happily comment that it feels easy. Seth rains on my parade by—gratuitously, I might add—telling me that it’s a 5.4. He cruises up the second pitch, as he should, offering commentary about what an awesome route it is. And it is. Of course it is easy for him but I am thrashed at this point and take a few hangs at the small roof where I find the handholds a bit less juggy and a tad reachy. I take another hang or two at the slightly bigger roof near the top. The phrase “power through” seems relevant. I at least get Seth to admit that Madame G’s is steep.

(Photo: Seth at the hanging belay on Madame G's (5.6) in 2009.)

After a fun rap we are back down on the dirt and ready to walk out. In an act of pity or chivalry, Seth carries the rope along with all the gear. I think I’m fine to carry my own weight but maybe I am not. Back at the car I pull out all my remaining snacks—not substantial enough to have negated the need for that egg sandwich, thank god—and Seth joins me in eating a carrot stick. After a series of whiplash-inducing experiences due to Seth’s erratic driving, I can text my husband to say that I am still alive and heading homeward.

(Photo: Elizabeth at the belay on Madame G's (5.6) in 2009.)

The ride back to Paramus is filled with more catching up and lively conversation and I wish we had more time together. He suggests that I get out to climb more than once every three and a half years. When we reach my car he helps transfer my gear and we thank each other for the awesome day. We hug goodbye like three times, then go our separate ways. I have 90 more minutes of driving and when I get home around 10:30 and creep upstairs to take a shower, a glance into my two-year-old’s room shows a small, blue glow on his face. “I found my phone, I watching videos,” he says proudly. You have got to be kidding me. (And no, he doesn’t have his own phone.) I take the phone away and tell him to go to sleep, but a few minutes later he pulls back the shower curtain and joins me in the shower. For the first time ever I let him fall asleep in our bed, at least that is what proves to be true at 3 a.m., because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before he did. Ah, 3 a.m. The only thing not sweet about the baby is his persistent night feeding. The 3 a.m. wake up call is unequivocally unwelcome tonight. He mercifully slept through the previous night and was my husband’s problem when he woke up 20 minutes after I left in the morning (that probably has nothing to do with my opening his door to take a little goodbye peek, right?), but I guess two nights in a row would be asking for too much. After he’s back in his crib I carry the toddler back to his bed so that he won’t wake us up too early with kicks to our private parts. I fall back into bed. When the morning becomes too obvious to deny, I pull myself from sleep feeling like I was run over by a truck the day before.

Same diff.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rediscovering the Joys of Multi-Pitch Climbing

(Photo: Climbers on the seldom-climbed upper pitch of Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a).)

This past week I was reminded of how much fun it can be to romp up easier multi-pitch classics in the Gunks. I got out twice with different partners.

On Thursday I took a day off from work to climb outside with several of the folks from my winter training program. Don McGrath, the leader of the program, came to New York from Colorado with his wife Sylvia, who is also a climber and who also participated in the program. I drove up to meet them in the Gunks with with another participant and fellow Brooklynite named Dave.

Dave has very little outdoor climbing experience so it was my privilege and mission to give him a pleasant introduction to trad climbing in the Gunks.

(Photo: Dave on Classic (5.7).)

Since it was a weekday we had our choice of routes.

From my perspective we had a great time on several classic moderates. We took our time and worked on things like belay commands, double-checking of systems, and rappel procedures.

(Photo: Dave on Rhododendron (5.6-).)

I hope Dave remembers the day the way that I do, and not (for example) as a never-ending death march of too many climbs.

Dave said he had fun. He also said he'd do it again, which is a good sign.

(Photo: Dave on Horseman (5.5).)

We tried to stay in the same general area as Don and Sylvia. Sometimes we all shared ropes and pitches and sometimes we did our own thing.

(Photo: Dave on Dennis (5.5).)

The only real surprise of the day for me was an obscure route called Three Pines (5.3). Perhaps you've heard of it? After you've exhausted all the other climbs in the Gunks you might get around to this hidden gem...

Dave and I ran up Three Pines on Thursday and it was only as I began the third pitch, off the GT Ledge, that I realized I'd somehow never done the route in its entirety before. I knew the first two pitches well. They are great fun, featuring super juggy climbing. They are easily combined into one long pitch. But the third pitch was new to me, and wow! Great exposure as you traverse to the right away from the main face of the cliff, above The Dangler and 150 feet of air. And then if you go directly to the top of the cliff with no wandering you will do a few nice 5.6 moves up a short bulge. Pretty cool.

(Photo: Dave on Three Pines (5.3, Direct Variation 5.6).)

Dave got a taste of the real trad experience on Three Pines, traversing out over all that air, alone and with his belayer out of sight and earshot. He performed admirably, getting through it all without stopping. By the time he reached the 5.6 face at the end of the pitch he was just about ready to quit, but he did not quit. It bodes well for his climbing future.

(Photo: Elizabeth on Cakewalk (5.7).)

Sunday was a special climbing day for me because I was getting together with my old partner Elizabeth for the first time in a long time. She used to be my go-to partner, back when I was working my way through the sixes and sevens and eights. We learned a lot about the Gunks together, having many adventures and misadventures along the way, some of which I've written about here.

Liz and I were together on what remains, for me, the best day ever. This was the day in 2009 on which we did CCK and Bonnie's Roof for the first time. Both routes were previously unknown to us. I had dreamed of attempting them some day, and then, without warning, "some day" came along and it turned out we were actually ready. On that day it seemed like a whole new world opened up to us.

The excitement of climbing, the physical and mental challenge, the tingly sensation of exposure over a great void, the realization that the Gunks is a magical place full of wonders... all of it was ours and it was brand new, as though we alone had discovered it.

The Gunks is still a magical place to me and I love it dearly, but sometimes I think every new challenge I set for myself is just a vain attempt to recapture the innocent bewilderment that I experienced on that awesome day back in 2009.

Elizabeth and I haven't climbed together recently because her life trajectory took her back to her hometown of Allentown, PA, where she settled down and had two babies. Climbing hasn't fit into her plans.

But she never lost the climbing bug, and a few weeks ago she asked me if I could meet her to climb for a day.

I was psyched.

We had a great time. Again, I hope I didn't push it too hard. We did a lot. Elizabeth struggled on some climbs but that was to be expected after her long time off. Considering it had been years since she climbed, she held up really really well.

We walked into the Trapps looking to do just about anything moderate that was open. After we knocked off Raunchy (5.8 and still a lot of fun) and Cakewalk (5.7 and great but a little run out in the initial face climbing), I saw that Balrog (5.10b) was just sitting there, available. I had attempted it in late 2012 but had to hang at the tough, burly crux moves up onto a slanting face above a roof. Ever since then I'd wanted to go back for the redpoint but whenever I came near Balrog it was either wet or occupied.

So on Sunday when I found Balrog just sitting there, dry and open, I couldn't resist it. I asked Elizabeth if she'd be cool with trying it. This was a harder route than I thought she would really be interested in doing. I hadn't planned on it. But she was okay with it so long as we followed it up with an easier multi-pitch classic.

Sounded like a great deal to me.

Balrog still wasn't easy but I got it done this time without a fall or a hang. I felt like I'd really improved in the 2.5 years since my last attempt. Reaching the holds above the roof was so much easier this time, and while I still grunted and worked hard to find a way to get my feet onto the sloped face above the roof, I was able to hang in there and eventually work it out. I still think I must be doing it wrong. It should be easier. But it is of no consequence! It is finished.

(Photo: Elizabeth battling the Balrog (5.10b).)

It was time for our muti-pitch classic. I thought immediately of Madame G's but when we got there there were several parties strewn all over it. It looked like a nightmarish situation. I thought we might as well check out Snooky's Return (5.8), which was nearby, though I had no illusions that we'd actually get to climb it. It is very popular.

When we got there it appeared that Snooky's just might be possible. Gavin and Jen, two climbers I've met at Gail's house, were about to clear out. No one was waiting. There was a group of climbers top-roping Friends and Lovers (5.9) next door. I felt we'd be within our rights to start up Snooky's without saying anything, but it seemed more considerate to ask the guys next door about their plans. If they wanted to TR Snooky's from the shared bolted anchor I didn't want to get in their way.

So I asked one of the climbers what they were going to do. I believe these were my exact words:

"Excuse me, sir, but I was wondering what your intentions are with regard to Snooky's Return?"

For some reason this gentleman thought my query was amusing.

I couldn't understand why.

Later, when the aforementioned amused person overheard me making an offhand remark about law school, he said that he "knew" Liz and I must be lawyers. I resented this. I don't know how a person can make such a cruel judgment based on something as trivial as the wording of a simple interrogatory.

Of course, it happens to be true that I am a lawyer (and so is Elizabeth). But to suggest that I sound like one? That's a horse of a color that is not dissimilar.

The next time someone says I sound like a lawyer, I just might sue.

(Photo: Elizabeth on pitch one of Snooky's Return (5.8).)

In any event, the top-ropers gave us their blessing and Elizabeth and I did Snooky's all the way to the top. It was a joy. The first pitch is the clear winner with its excellent, consistent face climbing. But pitch two is pretty darned nice as well. It has interesting face moves as you traverse left and then, a bit higher, back right. The line wanders but it presents itself as you move along.

(Photo: Elizabeth finishing pitch two of Snooky's Return (5.8).)

The top pitch too is worthwhile. From below it looks like a bushwhack up a dirty corner but there is a clean, steep traverse and roof escape hidden there. It is brief but pretty good.

After we were done with Snooky's, Liz was feeling kind of beat. She suggested maybe I should do another hard climb and she would sit it out and take a breather.

She didn't have to ask me twice. I was feeling really strong so I decided to try Coexistence (5.10d), the great Mac Wall testpiece.

The big one.

I thought maybe I could send it. I did it clean on top rope once.

As we were about to get started I got pretty nervous. People started appearing out of nowhere-- some of them known to me, some of them strangers-- saying "Ya gonna try Coex?? Good luck! Tough route!"

It was unnerving. I felt the weight of their eyeballs. I was a little bit tense about the runout 5.8 part up to the first ledge. Heck, I was a little bit tense about everything.

(Photo: Past the opening bit on Coexistence (5.10d). Here I'm just beneath the first ledge. The next move is very easy but if I blow it I'm probably hitting the ground.)

It didn't go too badly, but I didn't get the send. I worked my way upward, slowly and carefully. I placed lots of gear. It wasn't so bad getting to the first ledge. Then there were some interesting moves up the crack before the crux roof, but the protection was good and I worked these moves out without much trouble.

At the roof itself, I had a hard time committing. There is great gear; you just have to move up on some pretty crappy holds. It is hard to figure out. I did a lot of testing of holds before finally getting pumped out and taking a hang. After exploring a little more I figured out what to do and when I finally committed to going for it I got up and over the roof.

After it was over with I wished I hadn't been so tentative, but even if I'd really gone for it on my first foray above the roof I think I still would have failed. I needed to work out the beta, and this took me a few tries. I don't know what I did on top rope last year. It seemed like a different route on lead.

On the bright side, I think I have it worked out now and will, with luck, get the send next time. Coex felt easier to me than Ridicullissima, for sure. It is so much less sustained. I can't really see how it is harder than Try Again (5.10b), actually. Coex has much better climbing on it than Try Again, but the hard part is rather similar.

I made a mess out of the descent. I tried to clean the pitch on rappel, which presented a challenge since the route follows a crack with a slant. I attached myself to the side of the rope going through the gear so I wouldn't go too far from the pieces, but I found it very difficult to control the rappel and also pull myself over to the right so I could get at my gear. I should have had Elizabeth lower me while I retrieved the pro, or maybe I should have just lowered off entirely and then followed the pitch from the ground in order to clean it. Or we could have offered a burn on Coex to any of the twenty people who were around the Mac Wall at the time. That would have been better, and likely just as quick.

I ended up leaving a few of my pieces behind and the folks next to us on Try Again kindly retrieved them for me on their way down.

It was now after 5:00 and the cliff was clearing out. I wanted another good muti-pitch route for Liz and luckily we found Madame G's sitting completely empty.

It was a perfect way to end the day. I've previously described this climb as the best 5.6 in the Gunks-- now I think it might be the best climb in the Gunks, regardless of grade. It is just so great for such a long time. It offers fantastic juggy fun.

(Photo: Topping out on Madame G's (5.6) as the sun goes down behind the cliff.)

Standing atop the Madame G buttress, belaying Elizabeth up, I felt a renewed love for the Gunks, my hometown crag. Yes, the place gets crowded. But we got on some of the best moderates, on a gorgeous Sunday, without waiting for anything. You just have to be flexible and willing to climb whatever you find open at any given time. That's my secret: don't wait in line. Keep looking. You'll find something else that's good.

And do the upper pitches! Up above the first-pitch frenzy, a cool breeze is blowing. The birds are circling gracefully and Skytop cliff is visible in the distance. It is easy to get sucked into doing mostly single-pitch climbs, especially when you are looking for harder pitches to do. But there's a special pleasure to be found in getting up high off the deck. It took a couple of "easy" days for me to remember it. But this week I really felt the magic again.