Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gunks Routes: Alley Oop (5.7) & Dry Heaves (5.8)

(Photo: Liz following me up Alley Oop, pitch one. She's about to exit the roof. The Dry Heaves finish is at the next little alcove down to the left.)

Alley Oop (5.7) and Dry Heaves (5.8) sit right next to each other in the Trapps, starting from atop the same boulder pile, to the right of Balrog/Bullfrog and to the left of Cakewalk.

I have only climbed the first pitch of each. All the climbs in this area of the cliff feature easy, lackluster second pitches. Alley Oop and Dry Heaves both share a bolted anchor atop the first pitch, making it easy to quickly run up the first pitch of both climbs. You could also easily toprope Dry Heaves after leading Alley Oop.

Each climb features a low crux, then some mellower climbing to an exciting roof escape.

Alley Oop has a reputation as a climb with a difficult, problematic start. Maybe I was just feeling good when I climbed it the other day, but I thought the start featured simple, good face climbing. Usually, when I hear that a Gunks climb has a bouldery start, it means to me that the moves down low will be two grades harder than the rating suggests they should be, and that there will be inadequate pro until the early challenge is over and done with. Think of climbs like Laurel or Drunkard's Delight and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But Alley Oop? Not so! The moves are all there, and there's seemingly good pro. Dick Williams says "yellow Alien helpful" to protect the starting move, and when I got to the first horizontal, I thought he must be crazy. The crack seemed too shallow to accept a cam. But then lo and behold, right in front of my face, there was a spot where the yellow Alien fit like a glove. I yanked on the sucker pretty hard, and of course there's a limit to what that kind of testing will tell you, but it appeared to me that it would hold a fall.

Once you place the yellow Alien (a yellow TCU or a #2 C3 might also work), it's another couple of thin moves up and right to a stance with bomber gear. From there the pitch follows an obvious corner up and then left to an orange face. Climb past a couple of hollow flakes straight up to the corner under the roof. It is not necessary to place gear behind these hollow flakes; look elsewhere for pro, there's plenty. Exit left out the roof, and you're at the bolts. The roof is awkward but not too difficult. It feels pretty airy when you're in the thick of it.

Dry Heaves is a definite step up in difficulty and commitment. The route starts up a nice right-facing corner just to the left of Alley Oop. the corner leads to an overhang about 15 feet off the ground. This overhang goes out right for about eight or nine feet and then turns upward, forming a big flake against the main wall. The strenuous crux involves the underclinging traverse out this overhang to the outside corner of the flake.

There's great gear and a good stance in the corner before the crux sequence. I spent a lot of time standing and fretting in that corner. Again Williams advises that the yellow Alien will be "helpful." For some reason I never even tried to place it on this pitch. I think I know where Dick wants you to put it. About halfway out the traverse the crack under the overhang (which to that point is too small even for fingertips) suddenly widens enough to fit the cam. But there is a much wider opening a few feet further right, almost at the end of the traverse, and I thought I could reach over there instead and slam in my big #4 Camalot. When I climbed it, I tip-toed out two or three times before I decided to go for it and place my #4. I grabbed the undercling hold, had my feet in place, and edged to the right as I reeeeeached over with the big cam in my hand... but then I dropped the freakin' thing.

I'm lucky I didn't bean my partner Liz in the head with it.

So then I quickly retreated to the stance, shook it all out again, and recommitted to the sequence. I had to go right away or I was never going to do it. This time I forgot all about the yellow Alien and motored through the strenuous, underclinging crux until I turned the corner of the flake. Then I slammed in a red #1 Camalot and exhaled.

My recommendation to you, dear reader, is that you don't do as I did. If I'd blown it at the crux I would have had a long swing into the corner. You should place the yellow Alien or its equivalent halfway out the traverse. You can probably get it in before you commit to the undercling and step off the good footholds. It will greatly lessen the pendulum swing backward if you blow the next move.

At the end of the traverse you can fit anything from a #1 through a #4 Camalot. Then it's another couple of thin moves up the flake to easier climbing into the final roof problem, which is just as entertaining as the final problem on Alley Oop.

It's a really nice pitch and in my opinion kind of stout for 5.8. I imagine it's good preparation for Inverted Layback (5.9) in the Nears, a climb I've really been wanting to try. Now that I've done Dry Heaves I think I might be ready.

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