Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gunks Routes: Pink Laurel (5.9)

It had been a wonderful weekday in the Gunks. After we finished up with The Seasons, Maryana was looking for a 5.9 to lead. She suggested Pink Laurel, mostly because the first pitch has a G rating. I'd never done the first pitch, but had long been curious about it. I told her my understanding was that the first pitch crux is short but polished/greasy and that some people hate the route. But I also told her I've been wanting to do it and that I'd love to lead the 5.9 pitch two. So off we went.

Pink Laurel is a two-star classic you don't often see people doing. It looks intimidating. It sits just to the right of some very popular, easier climbs like Jackie (5.5) and Classic (5.7). The first pitch ascends a corner system, with the crux coming low at an escape from an awkward alcove. When we arrived at the base and looked upward, it seemed to me like the dark, awkward alcoves continued throughout the whole pitch.

(Photo: Maryana pondering the crux alcove on pitch one of Pink Laurel (5.9))

Maryana was more than up to the task of climbing the pitch. Although there were placement opportunities, she didn't put in any gear until she got herself through the easy starting territory and into the crux alcove. Once there she placed two solid cams. At the time I was ignorant of what was to come, so I didn't know to tell her what I'm going to tell you now: I'm not sure those two cams were placed optimally. If she'd blown the crux move they would have kept her from hitting the ground, but maybe not the rock at the base of the alcove. Maryana placed the cams in the ceiling of the alcove, one in the crack on the left and one in the crack on the right. Because the cams were set back a bit from the lip, she extended the draws on both of these pieces. Better, I think, would have been to place a cam right at the lip of the roof of the alcove, clipping it direct. No extension.

But she was totally solid on the moves, so there were no worries. As soon as she stepped up out of the alcove, I suggested she place a piece ASAP, which she did from a rather strenuous stance. Then it appeared the climbing eased for the rest of the pitch.

(Photo: Maryana almost through with pitch one of Pink Laurel (5.9))

When it was my turn to follow, I saw why people gripe about Pink Laurel. The polished part of the route is short, but it is the crux. Dick tells you to undercling left out of the alcove, but this advice only tells part of the story and doesn't begin to capture the weirdness of the move. It is a committing undercling up left with very slippery feet, then a step right, awkwardly straddling a corner. Another strenuous step up and you're out of the crux.

I didn't think the moves were hard, exactly, but they were strange and insecure. Very good protection is available but as I realized watching Maryana some care should be taken to protect the crux well.

I thought the climbing above the crux was interesting and unique. The remaining alcoves went at around 5.6, and there were some funky moves required to get out of them. Before I knew it I was at the ledge with Maryana.

Pitch one of Pink Laurel was very interesting, and a little different from your typical Gunks climb. I'd like to go back soon and lead it myself.

And I'd really like to go back and lead pitch two again because I totally botched it with Maryana.

(Photo: Vass leading pitch two of Pink Laurel (5.6 variation))

Last fall I did the 5.6 variation to pitch two of Pink Laurel with Vass, sending him up on lead after I led pitch one of Jackie. This easier variation of Pink Laurel is fun (I thought it seemed pretty soft for 5.6), and it led me to believe the 5.9 version of the pitch wouldn't be too difficult, because the crux would have to be short. Both versions of the pitch, easy and hard, start and end the same way. The only difference is that the 5.6 version cuts left around the roof while the 5.9 version cuts right.

Returning to the pitch with Maryana, I set off, getting to the stance atop the prominent pointed flake (just over Vass' head in the photo above) with ease. Then I headed right, towards what I thought was the 5.9 finish. An overhanging 5.7-ish traverse around a little nose led me a stance at a shallow left-facing corner. Here I looked up and could see a big angle piton in the roof above and to my left. I thought that this piton must be at the exit to Pink Laurel, but I wasn't sure I was supposed to go that far back left to exit the roof. It seemed especially contrived to go back and left when I was already standing at an easy-looking corner that seemed to go straight to the top.

So I went straight up the corner instead of heading back up and left, and since the climbing to the top couldn't have involved any moves harder than 5.5, I knew I'd messed up.

Later I looked at the photos in the guidebook and realized I'd traversed too far to the right, going all the way to the finish of A-Gape. This climb is a 5.11 down low but the part I did is easy and from all appearances seldom climbed. Judging from the line in the book I went straight right when I should have gone diagonally up and right from the stance at the flake. I don't know how I missed the line so completely.

Now that I've avoided Pink Laurel's second pitch from both sides, I have to go back and attack it directly!

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