Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gunks Routes: Cakewalk (5.7) & Raunchy (5.8)

After our hasty descent from atop pitch one of Bitchy Virgin (5.5), Liz and I sat around a while, eating and hydrating. Liz, who is expecting a baby in the fall, had suddenly felt faint while I was leading Bitchy Virgin's pitch two. I had downclimbed back to her and we'd bailed.

Back on the ground, we had to decide whether to continue climbing or just give it up and head back to my rental house.

Liz was insistent that she could, at the very least, belay me while I did another pitch or two. But I didn't want to be the only one climbing. Also it seemed a little insensitive to use the pregnant lady as my belay slave. Eventually Liz convinced me to climb something else, and we left it tentative-- maybe she'd try it too. I decided to pick something that could be easily set up as a single pitch toprope.

It just so happened that there were a few such climbs nearby that I'd been eager to try.

The first was Cakewalk, a 5.7 I've wanted to get on for about as long as I've been climbing. It is one of those climbs I've inspected from the ground and rejected previously because I couldn't spot the line. It begins with a scramble up to a tree, and then it gets confusing. If you keep going straight up from the tree, you're on a 5.10b called Nurdland. Cakewalk, by contrast, goes up a bit from the tree and then traverses left to a crack which is followed up to a larger flake system and then a big corner. Several folks have made the mistake of going up too far without traversing left and found themselves committed on the 5.10 Nurdland when they'd intended to stick to the 5.7 Cakewalk.

I recalled reading on the web about this hazard, so I was sure I'd find the correct route and not fall into the trap. I thought I could spot the correct traverse. It looked to me like the route went a bit up from the tree and then traversed through a slightly lower-angled weakness to the left, heading up again at the prominent right-facing flakes below the big corner. It didn't seem like there was much pro in this section, but Dick says this part of the pitch is a little run out, so I thought I must have found the correct path.

Well, I soon found out I was way off. I headed up to the tree, moved up, placed some gear in the flakes directly above the tree, and took another step or two upward. Then I tried to place some more gear in a thin vertical seam. It was a bit of a struggle, but I finally wormed a marginal C3 in there.

I didn't realize it, but I had already gone up too far. In my ignorance I made another couple moves up and left, and soon found myself in very thin territory. My feet were on a little edge, and my hands were matched on a pimple. It looked like I could make a couple more thin moves left to the flakes that I thought must be on Cakewalk, but these moves clearly weren't going to go at 5.7. What had appeared lower-angled from below now seemed plenty steep and basically featureless. Looking back now, I don't think I was on either Nurdland or Cakewalk at this point; instead I was in a no-man's-land between the climbs.

Contemplating the moves I was sure that in a fall I would hit the ledge even if the marginal cam I'd placed was good. I'd messed up. Even though I had been warned in advance, I had fallen into the trap. I was off-route and committed. I had no choice but to carry on. I managed to place another tiny cam in a shallow horizontal, but I didn't like it any better than the first microcam I'd placed. Then a couple very tense 5.9-ish thin moves to the left brought me back to the 5.7 territory.

I was shaking and sweating like crazy, but I'd made it through. Now I could relax and go back to the easy climbing I was expecting.

The rest of the pitch was pretty awesome. Good steep juggy climbing, with an interesting mantle or two to get atop various parts of the big corner system. Once you are established beneath the huge right-facing corner, the route finding could not be more obvious. It is straight up the corner past several overhanging bits to the bolted anchor. Lots of fun with good pro.

When I reached the top, I set up a toprope so Liz could give it a shot. I cleaned the gear as I came down so she wouldn't have to follow my errant path. She sent Cakewalk with no problem, and she found the right route.

It's actually easy to stay on course. Please, if you want to climb Cakewalk, listen to me. Go left immediately after the tree! This is the key. On the ledge just above the tree level, go straight left. Do not go upward again until you are beneath a thin vertical crack that leads to right-facing flakes and the big corner. I didn't climb this vertical crack, but Dick says it is actually the crux. Liz said it felt like 5.7 to her. I'm sure it is easier ground than what I traversed through to get above it!

After we were done with Cakewalk we took a look at another nearby climb that's been on my tick list for a while: Raunchy (5.8). The first pitch is very popular. It has a good tree directly above the pitch so it is also easy to use Raunchy to set up the R-rated Wild Horses just to the right, which adds to the traffic.

I thought Raunchy would be good for us because it would be simple to set up the first pitch as a toprope for Liz. After her success on Cakewalk she was thinking she might just try another climb too, and it didn't have to be an easy one. If she didn't want to finish it or wasn't feeling well I could just lower her and go up again myself to clean it.

Raunchy has two cruxes. The first one is right off the ground. A seemingly blank, smooth face leads up about 15 feet or so to a ledge with a tree. There is no pro.

Earlier, as we'd walked over to Cakewalk, we saw a group of three starting Raunchy. Their leader had scrambled around left to sling the tree, effectively stick-clipping it and giving toprope protection for the early crux moves.

"No way I'm doing that," I thought, full of hubris.

When we came back to check on the climb after Cakewalk the party of three was just finishing up. I said something about how excited I was to try Raunchy. One of the party of three said "Oh, you haven't done this before?"

I told him I had not.

"Do you want a little beta?" he offered.

"Absolutely not!" I said.

Then I started up. There were a few little features to the right and a few little features to the left, leading to some slightly bigger horizontal edges. I tried to go to the right, made a step or two up. It didn't feel right. I stepped down again. I looked it over, then tried again. Again I decided to step down, thinking the start to the left must be better. This time I slipped off the starting foothold and slid to the ground, skinning my knee.

Undaunted, I headed up from the left side, and after a couple tenuous steps I made it to the better holds. From here the climbing got easier to the tree. But it still wasn't exactly a gimme. I had to wonder, as I approached the tree, whether the protection on this climb is correctly rated. Williams gives it a PG. I know it is typical in the Gunks for the protection ratings to disregard bouldery starts. But how is the start of Raunchy any different from the R-rated Hyjek's Horror? Isn't the distance to the first pro roughly the same? Aren't the hard moves at roughly the same height?

After I put a sling around the tree I looked up at the shallow right-facing corner that makes up the second crux of the pitch. The traditional route steps left around the corner after a move or two. There is a 5.9 variation that goes straight up the corner instead of stepping around left.

I was thinking about doing the 5.9 variation. But then as I stepped up into the corner, I somehow got my foot caught in a sling, and I stumbled back to the ledge with the tree. The rope was never weighted and I wasn't hurt, but I acquired a couple more scrapes and bruises.

I was kind of rattled. I decided to have a seat next to the tree and rest a minute.

I realized that I had been ignoring some warning signs. With the downclimbing earlier on Bitchy Virgin and the off-route sweat-fest on Cakewalk, I was mentally wasted. It was very hot out. I was making poor decisions: I probably should have stick-clipped the tree, and I'd just stumbled on an easy move. Maybe this just wasn't my day.

I considered packing up and heading home. But after thinking it over I went ahead and did the rest of the pitch, the traditional 5.8 way. It is very nice. I thought the crux step around the corner was fun, with good pro in the crack at the back of the corner, and then on the face after the move. The hardest moves on the pitch are the ones right off the ground. One day I'll go back and do it the 5.9 way, and try the 5.8 second pitch, which no one seems to do. Williams also suggests a couple other quality second pitches in the area that seem worth trying out: Stop the Presses, Mr. Williams (the second pitch is 5.6) and High Times (P2 is 5.7). It also might be worth checking out the short final pitch of Pleh! (5.8), which is a roof problem that starts from the GT Ledge.

Liz sent Raunchy on her first try on toprope, her near-fainting episode long forgotten. At this point we were both fried. We finished up with Dennis, a joyful 5.5.

It ended up being a productive day, and one with maybe a few lessons I've yet to fully digest. Something about being sensitive to your partner's limits, perhaps? Or maybe it's about being more observant of warning signs? Or is it all about route-finding skills? No, maybe the lesson is that you have to be mindful of the heat...

Maybe shit just happens.

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