Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gunks Routes: Red Cabbage (5.9-) & Triangle (5.9-)

I think I’m almost out of "easy" 5.9 climbs in the Trapps.

I’ve found many more of them lurking there than I expected.

Part of the reason I’ve found so many introductory 5.9’s is that as soon as I climb a 5.9 and find it pretty straightforward, I begin to discount it. I think that if I’ve done it so easily it must be one of the less serious ones. So, when I got through WASP with no problems I began to categorize it in my mind as a former 5.8 and not a legitimate 5.9. The same logic demoted Casablanca. Swain said it’s a 5.8, so it can’t be a “real“ 5.9. Bonnie’s Roof? Obviously it should still be a 5.8+, as it was for so many years…

You can go on and on this way, rationalizing away all of your success stories. The first pitch of Three Vultures? Just a boulder problem, not really worthy of the grade. Pitch three of Keep on Struttin’? Not as hard as pitch two so obviously overgraded.

Apoplexy? Okay, I’m still proud of that one.

Oddly, one place I haven’t found too many easy 5.9’s is in the land of 5.9 minus. One exception is the first pitch of Higher Stannard. When I climbed it I thought it was graded 5.9- appropriately. (It is also one of the best 5.9 pitches I’ve climbed.) Fillipina, by contrast, seemed hard to me. Another 5.9-, Land’s End, is so notoriously hard for its grade (and run out between the cruxes) that I haven’t even dared to try it.

I recently hopped on two more 5.9- climbs that I’d previously dismissed as not worth the trouble. And I was surprised to find they were both pretty good, and pretty much spot-on in terms of their difficulty ratings.

The first one was Red Cabbage. It is a short climb (perhaps 50 feet), squeezed in on the side of the Gerdie Block. It begins just around the corner to the right of the Gerdie climbs, at a vertical crack that goes up about fifteen or twenty feet. The crux comes as you figure out a way to exit the crack at its end and head left around the corner, at which time easier climbing takes you to the top.

I had always assumed this climb had maybe one move on it, and so never found it very appealing.

But recently I was standing there at the end of a nice Saturday full of climbing with Adrian and Maryana. I thought I was pretty much done leading anything of any real difficulty for the day, but then Adrian did a great job leading Retribution (5.10b), and, inspired by his example, I followed it clean.

I decided I was still feeling pretty good and so why not try Red Cabbage?

It turned out to be more than one move’s worth of climbing.

As is usual in the Gunks, the vertical crack is jammable but there are face holds to the right as well, so no jamming technique is really required. The face is steep and the early going is surprisingly pumpy. I wanted some jamming practice so I made sure to try to throw in at least a couple of jams. I got a really good cupped-hand jam about halfway up the crack. I also placed a lot of pro, perhaps unwisely, in quick succession: my # 1, # 2, and # 3 Camalots all went into the crack.

Then at the exit to the crack I had to decide whether to go immediately left or to go a little right (the chalk goes right) before moving up and then left around the corner.

I started to head left but quickly realized it wasn’t happening.

Feeling the pump clock ticking, I headed right, and confronted the move up to what looked like a good horizontal. I kept pawing the key hold, a pebbly ball of rock, with my right hand, wondering if I’d be able to hold onto it as I stepped up to the better horizontal. I hesitated, thinking I just might blow it, but finally clenched the pebbly ball, made the move up, grabbed the good hold, placed a great tricam, and the difficulty was over.

But I wished I hadn’t used all my bigger pieces in the initial crack, because once you’re around the corner you’re at a big horizontal. I didn’t have anything left on my rack that was big enough to place there, so I had to run it out a bit on easy ground.

Reaching the top I decided Rad Cabbage is a totally worthwhile little route. It’s no destination climb but it’s certainly not the waste of time I assumed it would be.

More recently, on my day out with Gail in late August, I had occasion to try out Triangle.

Really the only reason I led it was that I wanted to set up a toprope for us above Never Never Land (5.10a). (Later on I flailed all over the ridiculous crux of Never Never Land, but that’s another story.) I had always assumed that this was the only reason anyone ever climbs Triangle; after the crux it is easy to traverse to the bolts above Never Never Land and several other hard face climbs.

Considered in its own right, Triangle looks unimpressive. The triangular, blocky feature it is named for leans against the main wall of the cliff, offering what appears to be very easy climbing up the right side. Then a little roof awaits above. This roof is the crux. It doesn’t look like much from the ground.

There is a variation to Triangle that Dick Williams recommends in his guidebook, which goes up the center of the face of the triangle, offering a pitch of more sustained 5.9 climbing than the regular route. But I have read that the hard moves on the face of the triangle are poorly protected. So I elected to just do the regular route.

Like Red Cabbage, Triangle surprised me. I thought it was good fun. The climbing up to the roof is easy but enjoyable. Then the roof itself is a good one-move problem. There are several pins just above the roof. I saw at least three; I clipped two of them. It appears that people get above the roof two different ways. I started from the left, stepping up to the obvious undercling block beneath the roof to reach a good hold above. Then a couple pumpy moves right and up took me out of the crux. I noticed as I moved right, however, that the whole right side of the roof seems like a good layback flake hold, which may present another (easier?) way to solve the problem.

Whichever way you solve it, the climbing is clean and the pro is good so long as at least one of the old pins will hold. There’s probably other pro for the crux besides the pins if you stick around to look for it.

Don’t get me wrong; the Triangle crux isn’t the kind of roof that will have you letting out a whoop and an “oh yeah!” But it is a good little route, a nice warm-up for another challenge like Never Never Land, or a casual way to end your day with just a little more good climbing.

Neither Red Cabbage nor Triangle comes close to the greatness of Higher Stannard, the king of the 5.9 minuses. But they’re both good, and far from the waste of time I assumed they might be. And now that I’ve done them, I think I’m just about out of easy 5.9’s to try. I’ll have to stop being such a bore and work on some 5.10’s.

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