Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gunks Routes: Minty (5.3) & Mr. P's Wurst (5.8)

(Photo: Coming up the 5.8 pitch one of Mr. P's Wurst.)

So nice to be back home in the Gunks.

After nearly two months away, I longed for the old familiar climbing surroundings.

The overhangs.

The pitons.

The long reaches.

The horizontals.

I was climbing with Margaret on an October Sunday. She wanted some easy leading and our first target was Three Pines. Unfortunately Three Pines at 9 a.m. already had a party of three on the first pitch and another pair at the base waiting to start. This was hardly a surprise on a Sunday during peak season.

My general policy is not to wait for climbs in the Trapps. In my experience, you always find something else open if you keep looking. Sure enough, we went a little further down the cliff and found Minty (5.3) available so we were in business.

Margaret led pitch one. I think this pitch is a great introductory Gunks lead because it has an early move that seems several grades harder than the rest of the climb. This might not seem like an ideal situation for a new leader to deal with, but it happens all the time on climbs of every grade in the Gunks. You have to confront it eventually, so you might as well start to get used to it when you're leading 5.3!

On Minty, the move can catch you by surprise. You start up this little corner. A big shelf is right there for you to grab, just one step up. But the feet are these tiny, polished little half-pebbles. You have to trust your feet just long enough to step up to grab that ledge.

The move should be no big deal.

But it seems totally possible you could fall here.

So you stand there thinking "This is supposed to be 5.3! How can I be such a failure that I am worried about this little move on a 5.3??"

And you psyche yourself out.

And you try this, and you try that, desperate to avoid this tenuous little step.

Finally you just do the stupid move and feel like an idiot.

Welcome to the Gunks.

(Photo: Past the crux on pitch one of Minty (5.3).)

The other hazard on Minty is that you might go up the wrong corner. The climb keeps moving left, and all the corner systems look alike. The first time I did the route, with Liz, she went up too soon, when she should have continued moving left. But if you make this mistake, you'll likely end up on Tipsy Trees, which is another nice 5.3. So no worries.

To stay on track you should look up for the distinctive Minty tree. It is a pine tree over 100 feet up that sticks out sideways from the cliff. This tree is where pitch one ends. If you keep in mind that you are heading for this tree, you should find the correct route.

(Photo: The 5.2 pitch three of Minty.)

Minty has lots to offer. The steep, juggy climbing you'll find in the second half of pitch one and all of pitch two is especially nice. Pitch three goes at a very casual 5.2 and it isn't terribly long, but it too has good moves out from a corner system and then up jugs to the top.

My personal preference for descending from climbs in the Minty/Snooky's area is to walk a short distance to the bolted rap route at the top of the Madame G buttress. Using the bolted rap route guarantees a safe descent and avoids throwing ropes over nervous leaders on very popular climbs. The problem with this method is that the Madame G rap starts from the GT Ledge and you have to follow your nose and downclimb from the top to find the bolts. If you aren't already familiar with the location it will be hard for you to find it. In the past I have spotted the distinctive tree which grows out at an angle from the cliff right next to the rap bolts, but I must have done this at a time of year in which the trees have no leaves. Last weekend with Margaret I couldn't spot the correct tree from the top and I had some trouble finding the bolts, overshooting the right path and having to work my way back. Still, I prefer these few minutes of hunting to rapping off of the manky anchors which come and go atop the cliff.

Coming down, I could see it wasn't going to be easy to get on another three-star classic. The cliff was looking very crowded. There were parties on Madame G's, on Finger Locks or Cedar Box, on Hyjek's Horror, on almost every climb in sight. Was this a nature preserve? It bore a greater resemblance to Occupy Wall Street.

I suggested to Margaret that we do an empty climb right in front of us: Mr. P's Wurst. The climb, which ascends the right side of the Madame G buttress, is almost always open, even though it sits amidst some of the most popular routes in the Trapps.

I've been wanting to get on Mr. P's for some time, in part because I like the name, which Ivan Rezucha and Rich Perch bestowed on the route in the best Hans Kraus tradition.

Hans put up Madame G's (full name: Madame Grunnebaum's Wulst) in 1943. How many climbers understand the bawdy humor in this classic route's name? I'd wager that very few get the joke. As Susan E.B. Schwartz explains in her biography Into the Unknown: the Remarkable Life of Hans Kraus, the name was not inspired by a real person. Instead, Hans looked up at the buttress and saw two bulges up high that-- to his one-track mind-- resembled a woman's bosom. The route he created begins at a pine tree and weaves between the two breast-like features. Grunnebaum is German for green tree and wulst means bulge. Thus the route's name can be translated in full as "Mrs. Greentree's Boobs."

Once you understand the humor in Madame G's name, the meaning of Mr. P's Wurst becomes obvious. The latter route snakes up right next to Ms. Greentree's bulges, and what could be better nestled in those bulges than Mr. Perch's sausage?

Apart from the name, what interested me about Mr. P's was that no one ever seems to do it. It is always open, despite the fact that Dick Williams decided to anoint it with two stars in his 2004 guidebook. Dick also did his part to make the route more accessible, describing a new start from 50 feet up the gully to the right of the buttress instead of the 5.6 R climbing previously needed to get established on the route.

I think this new start is actually one of the reasons the crowds stay away. The gully looks unappealing and from the ground it is hard to see exactly where you're supposed to jump onto the wall.

It looked to me as though the right spot was about five or ten feet below the rap bolts that are on the other side of the gully. We decided to do pitch one of Northern Pillar (5.1) instead of climbing the gully, with Margaret leading up and cutting left near the top of the pitch to set up a belay either at or near the bolts, from which point I'd decide exactly how to get over the gully and onto the wall for Mr. P's.

Margaret ended up building a belay to the right of the bolts, in order to avoid having parties constantly rapping through as she stood there waiting for me. This worked out fine, although I think it would have been okay to use the bolts so long as she set up on the left side of them. It seems to me that when people rap and pull the ropes from above they usually fall just to the right of the bolts. So if Margaret had anchored into the bolts but stood to the left she would probably have been unaffected by the rapping parties. In the final analysis, it would have been simpler just to go up the gully.

(Photo: Approaching the crux of the 5.8 pitch one of Mr. P's Wurst. From the photo you can get some idea how overhanging the final bits of the pitch are. The other climber in the photo is on Madame G's.)

From our belay at bolt level, I traversed to the gully, downclimbed a few moves, and then made the step across to the other side. These moves are easy, but if you do it this way you need to place pro as you step down, and then again at the other side of the gully, if you want to protect your second. Again, probably it would have been better just to go up the gully.

Now I was finally on Mr. P's. The pitch wasn't difficult to follow. Good holds lead up and around the corner until you find yourself on the right side of the face of the Madame G buttress. The climbing is juggy throughout the first pitch, and the rock quality is generally good. The angle gradually steepens until it becomes overhanging for the last ten to fifteen feet of the pitch. The crux move comes at three ancient pitons. I equalized the lower two and then clipped the third one as well, hoping at least one of them would hold in the event of a fall.

A big move up to a bomber horizontal, a good cam, and another move up to a tenuous stance finished the pitch beneath a roof.

(Photo: Looking down from the hanging belay at the end of pitch one of Mr. P's Wurst (5.8). My belayer Margaret is in blue. The climber in red is descending by the bolted rappel route.)

I found the hanging belay suggested by Dick to be rather unpleasant. There are two ancient pins, plus enough horizontals to place a few cams. It isn't unsafe, but it is truly a hanging stance; I couldn't let go with both hands in order to set up my anchor. Equalizing the cordalette and tying it in a knot with one hand wasn't easy.

(Photo: Approaching the hanging belay at the end of pitch one of Mr. P's Wurst (5.8).)

Pitch two is rated 5.7+. I followed Dick's instructions exactly, moving through the roof at the break and then stepping left. The move was fun and well-protected (you can get a good cam in the break in the roof), but I thought it was a big, reachy move, definitely harder than 5.7. It reminded me of the crux moves on Maria Direct and No Glow, both 5.9.

The rest of the pitch was easier, but still good. Getting past another roof on its right side requires a couple more interesting moves, and then the route joins Madame G's to the finish.

(Photo:  Just over the roof on the supposedly 5.7+ pitch two of Mr. P's Wurst.)

After I pulled up the rope and put Margaret on belay, she immediately took a fall. Then she seemed to have no trouble climbing the pitch. She told me when she arrived at the top that she'd tried the roof my way, found it ridiculously hard, and then had moved four feet or so to the left, where she found 5.7 climbing up past the roof.

So maybe Margaret's way is the right way to do it, since it is 5.7. But it isn't how Dick describes the route. Personally, I enjoyed pulling the roof, and I did exactly what Dick instructed me to do, but if you do it this way the roof move is the hardest move on the whole route, and the 5.7+ pitch becomes more like a 5.9-. So you make your own call.

I would gladly climb Mr. P's again, but I would do it differently. I would just go straight up the gully rather than deal with the bolted rappel freeway and the downclimb/traverse. And I think I would bring a few extra cams and runners and do it in one pitch all the way from the ground to the finish on the GT Ledge. This would avoid the unpleasant hanging belay. And then you'd get one super long pitch of juggy steep climbing, wholly in keeping with other great climbs on the same buttress, like Columbia (5.8) and Madame G's (5.6).

If you do it this way I'm sure you too will end up a friend to Mr. P.


  1. Minty photos are missing and I'd really like to see what a 5.3 looks like outside. I didn't have a chance to read it yet, but I love the other pics.


  2. Thanks for your comment. I think the photos are fine; they show up on my computer and my Droid. Maybe if you refresh or clear your cache or something?

    1. Mr. P's = not two star climb. The moves are uninteresting and the rock quality is a bit lacking. To eaxh his own. I can think of a lot better one star 5.8s than this two stat route