Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gunks Routes: Drunkard's Delight (5.8-) & Morning After (5.8-)

(Photo: My partner Vass just after the cruxy start of Drunkard's Delight.)

I recently changed my opinion regarding Drunkard's Delight (5.8-).

My first experience on the route, this past April, was kind of a debacle. I was still pretty fresh off my broken ankle and I was trying to take it easy. So I didn't have any 5.8's in my plans. But we did Bloody Mary (5.7) and I really enjoyed it. For the first time since I broke the ankle I was feeling pretty good on the rock. And when we got back to our packs after topping out I saw both Drunkard's and Morning After (5.8-) were sitting open, and I couldn't resist. 

I looked them both over, and while I knew Drunkard's was famously cruxy right at the start, it looked to me like the pro wasn't bad. Morning After, on the other hand, looked very difficult to protect. I read in the guidebook about a piton somewhere up there, but I couldn't see it from the ground, and the pitch looked like it had few if any other placements in the first 25 or 30 feet.

So I decided to give Drunkard's a try. I moved up two steps and placed two pieces right away, a red C3 in the vertical crack system to the left of the greasy, chalk-covered holds, and then a little purple TCU in the thin horizontal that runs just above those greasy holds. (One puny cam for each of my half ropes.) Then I edged gently to the right, put my hands on those greasy holds, put my feet on the dime edges beneath, and attempted an awkward high-step up.

Predictably, I fell. Both little cams held. I was safely off the ground with two feet of clearance. But in the little fall I'd hit my bad ankle on the wall and it didn't feel good. I feared I'd sprained it. 

I was pissed off-- I thought I'd just about made the move. And I also felt the move was really much too hard for a 5.8-.

So I started to try again, but then realized I was being an idiot. Falling from ten feet off the deck on microcams was not in my post-surgery recovery plan. I was supposed to be taking it easy. "Why am I doing this?" I asked myself aloud.

Just then another pair came up, hoping to do the route. I gave them my blessing and we retreated.

And then I watched their leader sketch through the move in pretty much the same way I had attempted it.

I limped away from Drunkard's Delight feeling defeated, and hating bouldery starts. 

Later, I learned that I was doing it wrong. Those greasy, chalked up holds right in front of your face when you start the route? Those are sucker holds. Don't use them for your hands. The route starts just to the left, and you can step up one more time before moving right and never touch the sucker holds with your hands. Use those holds for your feet. But not your hands. It's much easier.

A week ago I was up in the Gunks with Vass and he mentioned that he'd been wanting to get on Drunkard's. I was thrilled to let him lead it and see how it went this time. I gave him my gear beta for the first two gear placements and advised him to skip the sucker holds. And he cruised through it, placing gear where I did and a ton more following the low crux as well (as you can see in the photo above). I believe after the red C3 (out of the frame to the left) and a purple C3 (first piece on the pink rope), he's placed two nuts and he's working on a third. 

When it was my turn to follow the pitch, I found it so much easier than I did in April. I employed the additional step up before heading right. It's still a balancy couple moves, but not bad. The rest of the pitch features good face climbing, pretty thoughtful most of the way, easing a bit as the route trends slightly left to the ledge beneath the break in the large roof. I now recognize that this is a great pitch. I would gladly lead it tomorrow. 

There's a pathetic, possibly dying tree with some slings at the end of the first pitch; I'd recommend building a gear anchor.

(Photo: Just past the roof on pitch two of Drunkard's Delight.)

Pitch two features the biggest 5.6 roof in the Gunks. It's nearly a body length in size. But no worries, this is a super-juggy fun time. This roof is much easier than the roofs on Maria and Shockley's Ceiling. There's a great placement for a threaded sling right in the middle of the business (see photo above), and then it's just an ocean of jugs until you're past the roof. There are many, many more holds than you need. After the roof, the pitch trends a little left and up to the GT Ledge on cruiser climbing. 

Once you reach the GT Ledge, there's a good tree from which a two-rope rappel will get you down.  If you have only one rope, you have several options: a short walk climber's left on the GT Ledge will get you to the bolts above Kama Sutra, from which you can get down in two single-rope rappels. Or if you walk to the right, there is a rap tree above Rusty Trifle from which you can get down in two single rope raps, using another slung tree halfway down. Finally, you can do the final pitch of Drunkard's Delight, which ascends the obvious 5.4 corner above the belay tree on the GT Ledge. (I haven't tried it.)

(Photo: Pitch one of Morning After.)

After we had such a positive experience on Drunkard's, I thought I should give Morning After another look. And this time it looked to me like a reasonable lead. I still couldn't see the piton, but I thought I could tell where it was supposed to be, and it seemed like there was gear nearby. The rest of the way seemed protectable.

Pitch one of Morning After features nice face climbing. The crux moves, which are right after the piton, are not as hard as the low moves on Drunkard's Delight. It's a few moves up from the ground before any pro appears, in a thin vertical slot formed by the little right-facing corner just before the piton. I placed a great little nut in this slot, and then after moving up again a good cam. Then, after stepping up so your feet are even with the piton, you should be able to place another piece in an awkward, flaring pod that opens downward. I worked a gray Alien into this slot, and while I thought it would hold, this was the one piece of gear about which I had my doubts. In order to work it into the slot, I had to place it at a rather strange angle. I should have tried a tricam. 

After one more thin step up, you're through the crux. The pitch then angles left through easier territory to some right-facing flakes, then back right to the multi-forked tree that also marks the end of pitch one of Bloody Mary. You can belay at the tree, but you'll have a much more comfortable belay stance if you build a gear anchor using the great cracks in the wall behind the tree.

Pitch two is rated 5.7. It looks like it's going to be a roof problem pitch but it's really another face-climbing pitch. From the belay the pitch climbs up into a corner to the right, then around the corner and up onto the face. From the belay stance you can see a piton at the lip of the overhang, telling you exactly where to go. The climbing here is a little steep and exposed but the holds are great. The crux of the  pitch comes later, in a thin section right after a perfect horizontal slot with an angle piton. Put in a cam to back it up and you're set.

I regret that we didn't have time for pitch three, as it was getting dark. I hear it's a high quality 5.8 pitch.  but based on the first two pitches alone I'd say Morning After is a great climb. It doesn't have any world-class moments but it features consistent thoughtful moves.

From the GT Ledge you can descend with a single two-rope rappel from the Drunkard's Delight tree, or use any of the single-rope options listed above. 

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