Monday, March 28, 2011

Gunks Routes: Te Dum (5.7)

(Photo:  the opening moves on Te Dum)

It was still winter, technically, when I got my first Gunks opportunity of 2011.  But spring seemed to be in the air.  The temperature had suddenly spiked up into the sixties.  The internet hummed with reports of great early-season climbing.

I couldn't wait to get out there. 

I was feeling pretty good.  I was perhaps in better physical shape than ever before, and I'd been climbing well in the gym. 

But it got colder as the the weekend began, and by the time my climbing day, Sunday, dawned, it felt like winter all over again.  As I drove up to New Paltz with A and M, I watched as the thermometer on my dashboard reported the dropping temperature outside:  32, 31, 30...

It bottomed out at 28 degrees just before we hit Exit 18.

Whatever, I wasn't worried.  The high was projected to be around 48 and I figured with the sun shining on the cliffs it would feel warm enough once we got into it.  I suggested to my friends that we head to the Nears, where the classics are piled deep, one after another, at the northern end of the cliff, closest to the road.  I was thinking of a couple good warm-ups for us.  One was Alphonse, a 5.8 climb that's really a 5.6 for all but one move.  Another was Te Dum, a 5.7 that I remembered as having only one 5.7 move on it: an exposed but easy crux step around a corner about two-thirds of the way to the top.  I was eager to get started and I volunteered for the lead. 

As we walked to the start of Te Dum we passed Broken Sling, a notorious 5.8 with a bouldery start and a poorly-protected thin traverse above.  Like Pavlov's dog I started salivating at the thought of getting on that one.  Then beneath our chosen climb I stared straight up at the crux downward-facing off-width that finishes the first pitch of Inverted Layback (5.9).  Boy, I'd like to do that one soon, I thought.  But first I have to knock off this easy 5.7.

We racked up and I headed skyward.  

The climb starts just left of the back of an open book, at a wide vertical crack system that passes two ledges on the way to a third.  At the third ledge, where the vertical crack system widens, you traverse to the right wall of the open book and head up past a few flakes to the crux move around a second corner.  Once you make the thin move around the crux corner a few jugs usher you up to a small ledge where a tree used to have slings around it, forming an optional belay station. This tree has lost its largest branch and these days hardly seems suitable for belay duties; in any event the rest of the climb is 5.4 and short. A rising traverse takes you out from under the roof over your head and then it's a couple moves to the top. Best to do the whole thing in one pitch.

As I started the climb, worming up to the first little ledge, I realized I was actually feeling very rusty after our long, snowy winter.  I wasn't used to real rock anymore, and neither my fingers nor my toes felt secure on the stone.  Even though the sun was shining directly on the rock, it still felt cold to the touch, and it may have been irrational but I didn't feel confident that my grip on the holds was solid. 

At the second little ledge, I found myself standing to the left of the vertical crack and couldn't figure out how to step up.  I had two pieces right there-- in fact, I'd placed four pieces of pro in about 10 feet-- but I confess I was starting to panic.  I couldn't commit to the move.  My fingers were feeling numb.  I told myself this was just season-opening jitters and to go ahead and step up, but when (after what seemed an eternity) I finally did so I immediately slipped off the foothold and down to the ledge on the right side of the vertical crack, where I should have been standing in the first place.  Now that I was standing two feet to the right of where I'd been standing a moment before, the move was obvious-- I'd fallen into the proper position.  The rest of the climb went smoothly.  The rock even started to warm up and by the time I got to the crux I cruised through it, as I'd expected I would. 

My verdict on Te Dum two years later: despite my jittery beginning, it's still, to my mind, an easy 5.7. The opening bit, up to where you move right, is a simple matter for anyone who isn't climbing (like me) with blinders on. Then a very easy and well-protected traverse (use the crack at the back of the open book for pro) leads to a couple nice moves up to the crux. One deep breath and a committing step will take you around the second corner to jugs and the optional belay. Then it's an exposed, 5.4 romp to the trees. A nice pitch, with more climbing on it than I remembered.

So much for starting the year feeling strong.  I'd secretly hoped the Gunks 5.8s would feel ridiculously easy as the year began, but that's just not how it works, is it?  You have to pay your dues year after year, make a few mistakes, get yourself a little scared, ask yourself why you're even contemplating this stupid sport. And then it all becomes fun again. 

The rest of my day went much better.  After my shaky performance on Te Dum I handed the lead over to A for Disneyland (5.6) and Alphonse (5.8), and these climbs did a lot to shake the slippery feeling off my fingers and toes.  Then I took the lead for the first pitch of Yellow Ridge (5.7), which I'd never been on before, and felt absolutely fine about it.  And then we hit Farewell to Arms (5.8), which A led and which I thought packed a ton of climbing into the short first pitch.  This was not an easy 5.8, but I'll write more about that and our other climbs of the day in another post.

We ended our day with a rope up on To Be Or Not To Be (5.12), which none of the three of us could even begin to conquer. As we flailed away at it I couldn't take my eyes off of Birdland, just to the right, another 5.8 that has somehow eluded me these past couple years. I prefer roof climbs to face climbs, and Birdland is definitely in the face climb category, at least for its first pitch. But for some reason it just calls to me, and I'm going to jump on that sucker soon. Something about it just looks so appealing, and knocking it off my list early this year just seems like something I have to do. Assuming my jitters really are shaken off.

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