Monday, December 13, 2010

Gunks Routes: Oscar's Variation (5.7), Strictly From Nowhere (5.7), and Shockley's Ceiling (5.6)

Strictly From Nowhere (5.7) and Shockley’s Ceiling (5.6) are both great classics. But both have flaws.

Strictly’s has a fantastic first pitch, highlighted by the final bit of climbing up into an overhanging corner, and then around right to a bolted anchor. The easier pitch two begins with nice juggy climbing to the GT Ledge, but unfortunately this is over quickly, and then the rest of the way to the top is undistinguished and dirty.

On Shockley’s, the third pitch is the real business. The climbing through the namesake ceiling is followed by a fun dihedral and then another, smaller roof crux.  It is a world-class pitch, with great protection at the crux and very exciting moves at the moderate 5.6 grade.  But the two pitches that precede it involve pretty forgettable 5.4 climbing, in my opinion.

As I (and others) have noted before, by combining these two climbs, doing Strictly’s to the chains, then doing a short 5.easy pitch up and right to a belay beneath the ceiling, and then finally doing Shockley’s third pitch, you get one of the best moderate multipitch climbs in the Gunks. But I recently went back and tried Oscar’s Variation (5.7) just to the left of Strictly’s, and I think the addition of this variation to the climb makes it even better.

Oscar’s Variation is easy to find. Only a few feet left of the start of Strictly From Nowhere is a prominent left-facing corner that goes up about 50 feet. Oscar’s variation climbs the corner. The pro is great; There is a crack in the back that will allow you to place gear at will. The climbing is very good, and I thought a bit stiff for 5.7. There are a couple of bulgy moments where the fingers are locked into that crack, but the feet are thin, and a committing step up is required. Remember to make use of both walls. When in doubt, stem!

In Williams’ guidebook, he suggests doing Oscar’s Variation as one pitch, and then doing Strictly’s from that point up to the chains as another pitch. But there’s really no reason to break the climbing here into two pitches. It is only 100 feet from the ground to the chains, and when I led it recently there were no drag issues created by doing Oscar’s and Strictly’s together in one pitch. Putting them together makes for a much more sustained and varied start to the climb, and I recommend it highly. You don’t lose much from Strictly’s if you start on Oscar’s.  You’ll still climb the part of Strictly’s everyone comes for: the overhanging final moves to the anchor. I don’t really have any advice to offer about this part of the climb except that you should just place some gear and then keep on moving. The holds are great, don’t worry.

Now, the other week when we did this climb, I was sending my partner Adrian up from the chains to do the crux pitch of Shockley’s. It occurred to me that there was no reason to stop and build a belay before the crux roof. I was pretty sure you could go from the chains on Strictly's to the top of Shockley’s in one 60 meter pitch—it couldn’t be more than 200 feet from the chains to the top of the cliff, right?  It turned out I was right, but not by much.  My partner Adrian made it to the top and had enough rope left over to build a belay on a tree set back ten or fifteen feet from the cliff edge.  But he used the entire length of the rope to do so.  It is a rope stretcher of a pitch, and of course the actual length of various 60 meter ropes will vary, so your rope might not make it with quite so much room to spare.  With a 70 meter rope you wouldn't have any stress about the rope length at all.  Another caveat:  I wouldn't do the crux pitch of Shockley's this way if I were being followed by a new climber who might have trouble with the crux ceiling.  It might be wiser in that circumstance to build a belay right after the ceiling, as Williams suggests in his book. 

Doing Oscar's to Strictly's to Shockley's as two outstanding pitches is to my mind one of the best moderate climbing experiences the Gunks has to offer.  You get crack and corner climbing, followed by juggy steepness, and then a classic roof problem followed by still more quality rock to the top of the cliff.  It just doesn't get any better than that.

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