A week's vacation in the New Paltz area is, to me, like a dream come true. My wife is very generous to agree to it year after year. Not that it's such a huge sacrifice for her. She likes the town and the beautiful countryside. There are great hikes for the whole family. And the community pool is nice.
But if the cliffs weren't there it obviously wouldn't be our first choice for a vacation destination. My wife goes there for me, because she knows how much I love climbing there. In a week in New Paltz I'll climb two of the days, maybe part of a third; more than that would be too much time away from the family. And the whole rest of the time we're there I'll just be staring at the cliffs, wondering how anyone can live in such proximity to them and NOT be a climber.
This year as our week approached I was in the unusual position of not having any partners firmly lined up. Gail suggested a new partner to me named Parker. A young guy, Parker's been climbing a couple years, and he's been working on the 5.9's like me, even trying a couple 5.10's. Gail is a good matchmaker; we had a great day together.
We met up on a sunny Thursday. It was expected to be quite hot so we mostly stuck to first pitches, which at least gave us some shade at the base of the wall.
On the way to the cliff we talked a bit about our objectives. Our goal: do some 5.9's! We settled on the Mac Wall as our first destination of the day. Parker was interested in leading MF (5.9). It is known as a real testpiece at the grade, with a pin at the first crux and then a bit of a runout through the second crux. I have never done MF and I am still too scared to lead it, so I was kind of excited to follow it and see what the fuss is all about. We were thinking that after MF I would lead Higher Stannard (5.9-), which is just a few climbs to the left.
As it turned out, MF was wet. So I had no choice but to jump on Higher Stannard right away. Warming up is overrated, I've decided.
Higher Stannard is a face climb, and the line isn't obvious from the ground. Dick does his best in his guidebook to to help you find the route; various thin cracks and right-facing, ramp-like corners are mentioned. The problem is that there are many little cracks and right-facing ramp-like corners on the wall. It all looks the same. Last year I tried once to stand beneath the route and find the line; on that occasion I was about 95% sure I could see where to go. Then I tried to lead the route earlier this year, got up about three moves, and decided I had no idea if I was on-route or not. So I downclimbed and did Something Interesting (5.7+) instead.
This time I had Parker as my trump card. He'd done the route before. I also took a hard look from the ground and thought I spied the crux ramp-like corner beneath a thin crack. So then I started up, did the surprisingly difficult starting move with the smeary feet, and got it wrong again. I moved to the right, and then started to head up too soon, but Parker told me I was off. If you are as unfamiliar with the route as I was, my advice is that you make a note of the crux corner and crack from the ground. It is behind and just to the right of the big tree at the base of the wall. You start climbing well to the left of this tree, then move right. Continue going right, farther than you might think you should. Then look up for the corner and crack, using the tree as a reference.
There is a great horizontal for gear at the base of the crux corner. I put a bomber tricam in there, and then started to work out the move. It is thin, balancy... with the gear at your feet. I started to step up, then backed down and placed another piece next to the tricam. It was an application of the timeless climbing wisdom expressed by the father character in the opening scene of Vertical Limit: in climbing, best to have both a belt and suspenders.
Once I was satisfied with my two pieces of bomber pro, I made the move-- walking up the little ramp-like corner with sideways crimps for the fingers. Nice, and fairly graded, I think, at 5.9 minus. The rest of the pitch is outstanding, with many thoughtful moves in the 5.7 to 5.8 range. The gear comes along just when you need it. The final two overhangs are in the same range and very well protected.
After the initial route-finding challenge, it becomes easier to stay on the path, but you should still take care to look around. The usual Gunks chalk marks are very helpful.
Despite the wandering line, I think the first pitch of Higher Stannard is one of the best climbs I've done this year. Awesome moves from the start to the finish. With a short crux and good gear, it is a wonderful 5.9 on the easy side of the grade, although the climbing is sustained at just a slightly lower level of difficulty. High quality face climbing throughout, and then two little roofs as a bonus.
After Higher Stannard it was Parker's turn to lead and he decided to have a look at Beatle Brow Bulge, a 5.10a that used to be rated 5.9+. It has a huge crux roof and then juggy steepness after that for 30 or 40 feet to the end of the pitch. It was another climb I was psyched to check out. I've even considered that I might try to lead it one of these days. Unfortunately it was wet, so we had to change plans again. Parker decided to lead the nearby Friends and Lovers (5.9), which I'd followed once before. Climbing it again for the second time, I breezed through both cruxes but still doubted I'd be happy leading it, with the pro at your feet for the smeary second crux and at least one or two more moves before the next placement appears. It seemed committing in the extreme, and yet I'd just led a climb that was very similar. The gear was at my feet on Higher Stannard, and hadn't I made another move up before finding another placement? What was the difference? Was it the difficulty? Or was it just that every time you follow a hard climb you think "whew, I sure am glad I'm not leading this!" Then when you are on lead yourself, you just carry on and get through it.
Soon enough it was my turn to pick another climb, and I suggested we head down the cliff, past High E, to where the wall undulates in and out, creating more shady nooks for cooler belaying. Once we got down there I settled on The Nose/Fillipina link-up (5.9-). This was one of the few 5.9 minuses I had left to try.
Fillipina is another route people sometimes have trouble finding. But if you know what to look for you can locate the correct roof from the base. Looking upwards, try to find the roof with two thin parallel cracks running diagonally to the right from the wall to the lip. Several feet below these parallel cracks there is a fixed piton you can spot from the ground. This is where you're going.
I thought most of the pitch was just okay, but the roof problem gave full value.
When I started on the Nose's dihedral, I was surprised-- it seemed pretty stout for 5.6+. Fun moves go up the corner, with great pro in the crack at the back.
Then it becomes awkward. It is kind of awkward exiting the corner, then it is awkward again moving past the tree and stepping left and up to the slab beneath the roof. I didn't find this part of the climb so difficult, but my anxiety increased as I approached the overhang. It seemed more and more imposing as I approached it; my movements became slower and slower.
There is a good stance beneath the roof, and thank goodness, because I needed a place to retreat to. From the stance you have to get your hands to the good holds above the lip and then move right. I stepped up there and placed a bomber cam in the good horizontal. Then I stepped down again and took a rest. I went back up and took a good long look at the next move right, to a finger-sized horizontal where the footholds just drop away. Scary. I stepped down again.
It was time to commit. I went up again, threw in another cam (suspenders and a belt!) and then made the move right to the finger-sized horizontal. This was it, I wasn't going back now. Thankfully I could now see the way up through the notch, and two or three burly moves got me through it. It's all there, and the hands and feet improve with each move up. I don't know if I could have thrown in another piece mid-crux, but even if I could have there was no way in hell I was stopping to place one.
For me there's no feeling like pulling a roof. Getting over the roof on Fillipina was definitely one of those let-out-a-whoop and an "oh yeah!" kind of moments. I also recall shouting something (and here I'm paraphrasing to avoid using off-color language in this family-friendly blog) about the "minus" in the grade being kind of unreasonable.
The crux on Fillipina is harder, in my opinion, than anything on Wasp or The Spring, two other 5.9 climbs I've led recently. I thought it was harder than Apoplexy and Pink Laurel. I don't think I would give it a "minus."
It is a really good 5.9 roof problem, and committing for sure. I thought Friends and Lovers was committing? After doing Fillipina it seems like nothing.