Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is Oblique Twique a Gunks 5.8?

One recent day in the Gunks I decided to lead the first pitch of Oblique Twique. I chose it because it is a 5.8, and I hadn't previously tried it. I like 5.8's. I hoped Oblique Twique would go easily and then I'd either make an attempt lead the Spring (5.9), which I'd never been on, or we'd just top-rope the Spring from the chains along with the harder stuff like the Winter (5.10d) and the Fall (5.11a).

My plans were foiled when Oblique Twique kicked my butt. It really only has one hard move on it, and it comes late in the pitch, after an easy little chimney and a step to the left. You find yourself just below a short open book. There are some cracks in the center of the open book, but only one of them is useful as a hold. This one hold is a really good sidepull, however. I placed a little C3 in the crack just below the good hold, and figured if I stepped up strong I'd find some good finishing holds somewhere above and the climb would reach the ledge and be over.

So I stepped up and to my dismay I found no holds at all after the good sidepull. I pawed at the sloping upper part of the left side of the open book, finding nothing useful, and then fell. I went back up several times, trying this and that, and every time I ended up steppping back down with nothing to show for the effort. I gathered you were supposed to find a way to get your feet up and then grab the top of the shelf on the right side of the open book, which looked flat and positive. But I couldn't find a way to do it. Finally I had my partner Liz lower me to the ground and I offered her the lead.

Liz went up to take a look, but decided she didn't want to try the move on lead, even though my tiny purple C3 was obviously (obviously!) totally bomber. So I lowered her. I then led up Shit Creek (5.6) and traversed over to the chains above the Spring (creating oceans of ridiculous drag). I set up a directional over Oblique Twique and Liz tried it on top-rope. And she found after several tries that she couldn't do it either.

I wondered: what kind of 5.8 is this??

I went back up on top-rope and finally got it. I pawed around a bit again, and found that with opposition you could use the upper left portion of the open book as a sort of sloper hold long enough to take a step up and grab the top of the open book with your right hand.

After this confidence-destroying episode there was no way I was leading the Spring, so we did it on top-rope as well and it just raised more questions. There was no one move on this 5.9 climb that seemed as hard as the crux move on Oblique Twique.

Later on I looked up the climb on Gunks.com, and found a thread that made me feel like I wasn't alone. Several climbers complained about Oblique Twique and expressed the view that the move was undergraded. After I posted my own experience to the thread, a minority suggested I'd ultimately found the right way to do it and that this was a 5.8 move once you find it.

I've thought about it and I still believe it is undergraded.

Ratings are subjective, of course, and several different styles of climbing are put together under the umbrella of a single rating, so comparing one 5.8 to another can often seem like comparing apples to oranges. But when I think about other Gunks 5.8's, there is a pattern I can identify, and Oblique Twique in my opinion doesn't fit.

When I think of 5.8's in the Gunks, I see several types of climbs.

There are those climbs that work their way up more-or-less vertical crack systems. Usually the holds are quite good but there may be moves that are strenuous and require a committing step. I'm thinking here of routes like Airy Aria, Columbia, pitch 1 of Directissima, Bold-ville, and Groovy.

Then there are the thin face climbs, in which the moves are delicate and the holds are small, sometimes requiring a balancey high step, but the holds are all there and if you look and think the moves themselves aren't terribly difficult. I'm thinking here of routes like Absurdland, the lower part of Son of Easy O, and the beginning of Hyjeck's Horror. And the crux face moves at the end of pitch 1 of Three Doves.

And finally there are the steep climbs, which have overhanging sections but which generally have positive, juggy holds through those sections. The moves can be strenuous but they are generally obvious. In this category I would place routes like Double Crack, pitch 1 of Erect Direction, the upper portion of Son of Easy O, and the short crux of Alphonse.

Oblique Twique would seem to fit in the thin face climb category, but I think the face move in question is harder than the usual Gunks 5.8 move. It is less obvious than the usual 5.8 face move. It is also more difficult to execute once discovered, requiring the use of a sloping surface that isn't really much of a hold, and the use of balance and body tension not usually required in 5.8 territory.

Really I think there shouldn't be much debate about this. Oblique Twique isn't a 5.8. This climb belongs in a different category of Gunks climbs in which the usual rating rules do not apply: the one-move wonder. As I am learning, climbers should beware the one-move wonder, because it seems a climb with only one hard move on it will often be graded at a level below the true difficulty of that one move. Arrow is another climb rated 5.8 in which a similar game has been played. It has one super-hard move, which luckily is protected by a bolt. This move should not be rated 5.8 but it is significantly harder than the rest of climb, so an irrational discount is applied.

So that's the final verdict. Oblique Twique should be a 5.9. Or a 5.9+, maybe. Is it even worth bothering to do it?

I would say probably not. Bold-ville, a stellar pitch of consistent 5.8, is a much better way to get up to the anchor above the Seasons, if that is your goal. And if you want to continue with the adventurous, traversing upper pitches of Oblique Twique (which I have not done), then Shit Creek is a nicer way to start the route.


  1. Hey Seth,

    I had the misfortune of climbing this route at the end of the day yesterday. Suffice it to say after a day of climbing 9s, 10s and an 11 (TRed), Oblique Twique ruined my day. I stuffed a .4 C4 in the little corner pocket (it took up the whole thing) and made repeated attempts at finding a good hold beyond the two crimps on ether side of the open book. At some point my foot slipped and I took my first lead fall on a gunks route below 5.10. Angry, I tried again, grasping an undercling and popping for the hold a the top of the open book and it went. Probably my last gunks lead of the year. Blech.

  2. I'm sorry I wasn't able to stop you before you tried it!