Wednesday, November 30, 2011
(Photo: Approaching crux # 1 of MF (5.9) in the fog. Is there a climber up there?)
The weather gods have been joking around with me.
Thanksgiving weekend was stunning. We had record highs, in the sixties and seventies, and abundant sunshine. I had a full agenda of stuff going on. This was joyous, important, family stuff. Stuff that I wouldn't dream of missing, it goes without saying.
So there was no way I could go climbing over this beautiful weekend. But I had to take advantage of the warm-weather window somehow. It was killing me to let it just roll by; this could be our last good climbing weather until next Spring. Surely, I thought, there must be something I could do?
I decided to take a vacation day on Tuesday to go to the Gunks.
The only problem was that it was expected to rain. After reviewing the forecast, I decided to go for it anyway. It was going to be warm, and the rain wasn't supposed to come until the late afternoon. A pretty full day was possible, even likely, I told myself. And the weather report for the following days called for deteriorating conditions: more rain and then colder temperatures. My obsessed mind saw Tuesday as my final chance of the year.
Parker agreed to meet me. We'd climbed together once before, in early summer. Back then we were both leading similar climbs but since that time Parker had been climbing a lot, and it sounded like he'd been ripping it up. I was eager to see what he could do. I told him I wanted to climb MF, one of my big goals for 2011. He wanted to do Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a), which I was really excited about climbing (as a second) as well.
When I got up on Tuesday morning it was pretty gloomy out. During the drive up from the city I grew concerned about how foggy it was. The air felt damp. I worried that the cliffs would be coated in a slick, wet mist. It was an unpleasant experience I'd had before.
Then at the Sloatsburg rest stop, as I stood there pumping gas, I detected rain. Not just wet fog, but actual rain.
I paused to search the sky. Were these really drops of rain, falling from the heavens to the earth?
Yes, it was definitely raining.
It grew heavier as I stood there.
This wasn't supposed to happen! Not until later.
I was furious. I started yelling into the air. "Stop it! Stop raining!"
I'm sure I resembled a crazy person.
I got back in my car and started driving faster than before. I'm not sure why-- was I trying to outrun the rain? I kept hoping it wouldn't be like this in New Paltz.
The rain stopped, thankfully, before I got to Exit 18. I couldn't tell whether the cliffs had seen any precipitation. Actually, I couldn't tell whether the cliffs were even there. They were invisible, hidden by dense fog. This was not a good sign.
As I drove to the stairmaster parking lot I saw that the roads were wet. Also not a good sign. If the roads were wet, the rock was likely wet too.
Upon his arrival at the empty parking lot, Parker remarked that we seemed to be the only idiots intent on climbing. But since we were already at the cliffs, we decided we might as well go see if the rock was, by some miracle, dry.
We went straight up to the Mac Wall to look at MF. Described by Dick Williams as "THE standard for 5.9 in the Gunks," MF has a reputation as a tough climb. (As you might have guessed, the letters in the name stand for "Mother F**ker.") The first pitch has two cruxes, the first coming at an awkward, scary move around a corner, and the second involving some thin moves over a bulge. Pitch two has just one crux: a big roof.
I've been working up to MF all year-- all my climbing life, really. I knew on Tuesday as I stood before the route that this could be my last chance to climb it before the end of the season. But I was scared to try it if the rock was damp. Hell, I was scared to try it, period. Even in perfect conditions. Maybe in this iffy weather it was beyond scary. Maybe it was a stupid idea.
But Parker touched the rock and said he thought we were okay. It seemed dry to him. "Feel it," he said. "There's plenty of friction!"
I wanted this climb. Badly. I put my hand on the rock, and it appeared Parker was right. Even though we were surrounded by mist, the rock felt fine. I decided to do the climb. I could always bail if it started really raining. It's only gear, I figured. Who cares if I leave a piece or two behind? Don't I have a catchphrase that covers this situation?
Yes I do: Carpe Diem, bitches.
I tied in and headed upward.
The early going on pitch one is tricky. There is a steep bit right off the ground, and you have to make a few moves before you get any pro in. Maybe this part of the climb just seemed hard to me because I was a bundle of nerves. The conditions were making me jittery. I stepped off the route, back to the ground, just after I started because the fog suddenly turned to rain. But then in a minute it turned back to fog again.
I went back at it, placing two pieces at the first opportunity.
After the initial moves the pitch jogs left, then back right to the big overhang. I moved slowly, checking each foothold, fearful I'd pop off. I placed a ton of pro. As I approached crux one, it seemed much more intimidating and difficult than it did from the ground. It is steep there. It is pumpy to hold on. You can see the horn thingy that you need to grab as well as the foothold that will bring you around the corner, but it seems kind of improbable that this move will work out well.
On the bright side, the pro is great. There's a pin just where you want it and another piece can be put there to back it up. The fall is clean. The holds are good. You can stand there for a good long while, shaking out each hand in turn as you reflect on the life you've lived, and the leap you're about to take.
I hemmed and hawed there a long time, but in the end I found no real trick to the move. You just have to commit. Grab the horn, get your right foot on that hold, and go. And then it's about balance. Shift slowly to the right foot and keep inching to the right. The holds are further around the corner than you want them to be, but they exist, trust me!
(Photo: Having placed pro, I'm getting ready to move through the bulging crux # 2 on pitch one of MF (5.9).)
I spent even longer hemming and hawing over the second crux. I didn't want to blow it. My flash of MF was within reach, yet still so far away. Luckily there's a good stance below the bulge from which you can think over the moves as much as you like. Again the pro is good. There is a horizontal right below the bulge (quite slimy on Tuesday, but it took a cam), and an irregular pod/handhold up in the bulge in which I managed to seat a solid green Alien. This last placement made me feel really good. I clipped the piece direct and knew if I fell I wouldn't go far.
When I finally went for it the moves were not bad. The holds were small but positive, and before I knew it I had the jugs.
As I hit the chains I was thrilled. It had been a slow lead, a methodical lead, but it had been a successful onsight lead of MF. I was no longer breaking into 5.9. I felt solid in the grade. I couldn't ask for anything more.
Parker started following me up pitch one. I heard him say something about a nut.
"Did I place a crummy nut?" I asked.
"No!" he replied. "I said YOU'RE nuts! I can't believe you did this pitch. The rock feels so slimy!"
So much for Mr. "Go For It, There's Plenty of Friction!"
I tried to remind Parker that his enthusiasm is what got me to climb the route in the first place, but he wasn't accepting the blame. For some reason, he was convinced that I was the crazy one.
I have to say it didn't feel so slimy to me. By the time the pitch was over I'd forgotten all about the weather. I thought the rock was okay, and I really wanted to continue and do pitch two. Parker said if we kept going I'd be leading. He'd led the pitch before and he had no ambition to lead any longer, given the conditions.
(Photo: Examining the roof on pitch two of MF (5.9).)
Pitch two begins with easy moves directly to the right from the bolted anchor, around a small corner. Then it's straight up to the roof. Just beneath the roof is a pin. After clipping the pin I spent a lot of time experimenting and feeling around, trying to find some holds, any holds, that I could use to get up to the obvious horizontal that was out of reach a few feet above the roof.
It's tricky because you can't really see what's just over the roof, and there are no footholds right under the pin. So you paw around over your head, finding nothing. Then you paw around to your left, finding nothing. Then you retreat to the stance to the right of the pin, shake out, and get ready to do it all over again.
I found some really poor crimps around the pin, and kept trying to contrive a way to use them to reach the horizontal over the roof. But it wasn't working out.
After a while I looked at Parker, who was standing just a few feet to my left. I said "I'm about to have you take so I can hang on this stupid pin."
"Dude, your feet are, like, on a ledge," he replied.
"Yeah, but I'm getting frustrated."
I was tired of going back and forth. I wanted to rest and look it over. But just in time I finally found the crucial hold. I'm not going to spoil the details. It makes reaching the horizontal a breeze! And it's hiding right there, in front of your face.
As soon as I had that hold, I stepped right up to the horizontal and clipped the second pin. Then I placed a cam to back it up, even though I was already feeling the pump clock ticking away. Above me I could see the creaky little flake mentioned by Dick in his guidebook. It was the next hold. The path was obvious. It was time to go. A couple quick, pumpy moves and I was through the crux, standing at the big horizontal that heads left. Pitch two was basically in the bag.
Although I really enjoyed the crux, I didn't think the rest of the pitch was nearly as nice. The difficulty level decreases greatly and there's some questionable rock. After traversing left, the pitch follows an obvious corner to the GT Ledge, but it seems numerous other paths can be taken to the finish. It all goes through similar, moderate territory.
(Photo: Parker coming up the final bits of pitch two of MF (5.9).)
Parker reached me on the GT Ledge just as a real storm started to roll in. We could see the rain falling over New Paltz as we set up to rappel and by the time we got to the ground it had reached the cliff. Our climbing day was over after just two pitches.
Ah, but what a pair of pitches.
I realize this particular trip to the Gunks was a waste of a vacation day. I know I've been clinging to summer, to the climbing season. It's been good and I don't want it to end. I probably should have gotten out of bed on Tuesday, looked out the window, and called it off. That would have been the sensible thing to do.
But then I would have missed MF.
And MF I will cherish. It's so nice to have my last climbs of the season confirm that I've made progress. Maybe I'll still be able to squeeze one more milestone into the year. And maybe not. It doesn't matter. It's been a great year either way.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Gunks Routes: Falled on Account of Strain (Pitch 1 5.9), Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Pitch 2 5.8)
(Photo: Pointing where I think the route goes on Falled on Account of Strain, pitch two (5.10b).)
Another late-season climbing day, another chance to push the limits.
I had big ideas as Adrian and I headed to the Gunks. I knew Adrian wanted to lead WASP (5.9), which I led earlier this year. WASP sits down at the Slime Wall, near the far end of the Trapps. I've spent very little time down there, so there were a bunch of climbs I was interested in checking out. One of the top climbs on my list was Falled on Account of Strain. The first pitch, which ends at a set of bolts, is rated 5.9. The second pitch goes at 5.10b through an incredible set of gigantic, tiered roofs.
As insane as it might sound, I was thinking I would lead the second pitch. I'd seen pictures of the route; the roofs pulled at me like a magnet. The thought of climbing them had me slobbering with Pavlovian anticipation.
But first we did WASP, and I have to say I wasn't exactly feeling super strong. Following pitch one I found the early moves surprisingly difficult. I caught myself thinking I wasn't sure how I'd feel leading the route, and then remembered that I'd led it a few months ago! I had thought I might try to lead the 5.9 variation climb Stubai to You as our second pitch, but when we got up to the GT Ledge I decided, given that I felt a little tentative, to check out Sticky Gate Direct (5.7) instead. (It was good! A very nice pitch, better than pitch two of WASP.)
Back on the ground, we walked over to Falled on Account of Strain and had a look. I thought we should go for it. Adrian was totally up for the first pitch, and since it ends at bolts we could easily bail from there. I figured I could venture out to look at the roofs and come back if it seemed too hairy. Also Dick Williams suggests as an alternative the second pitch of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which goes through the roofs at an easier 5.8 grade. Dick gives Tomorrow x 3 no stars, but I guessed it would still be an interesting alternative, and maybe from the shared rap station we could lower ourselves over Falled and try the crux if it was too scary on lead.
(Photo: Early in the 5.9 pitch one of Falled on Account of Strain.)
We got set up beneath Falled and before getting started I wandered into the woods to take a quick leak. As I stood there amongst the trees I jokingly called over to Adrian "you're on belay, climb when ready!"
"Are you going to belay me," he replied, "or are you just going to stand there with your dick in your hand?"
Maybe you just had to be there, but this became a source of much hilarity for us. "Or are you just going to stand there with your dick in your hand" can be usefully adapted to fit into just about any climbing conversation.
"So go ahead and give me the rack, whenever you're done standing there with your dick in your hand."
"I just took this amazing photo of you, while I was holding the rope AND standing here with my dick in my hand."
And so on.
I guess you had to be there.
Anyway, pitch one of Falled on Acoount of Strain turned out to be a very worthwhile climb in its own right. Dick rates it at 5.9 but Swain calls it a 5.9+ and I think Swain has it right. The first moves are 5.6-ish but unprotected, up the face to the left of a thin seam. Once you get some pro in, about 15 feet up, you move to the right and into the crux, thin moves between spaced horizontals. The first of these moves puts your feet even with your last protective gear. Your next pro comes in a blind placement over your head at the next horizontal. Adrian is much taller than me and he had to do a pull up to examine the gear and fix it before making the next moves. Following him, I found that I had to step up fully into the move to examine the gear and get it out. I had to struggle a bit with the piece and I almost popped off while trying to remove it.
Dealing with this one difficult placement is my only real concern about eventually leading this pitch. Afterwards the climbing and the gear get easier to handle.
(Photo: Almost done with pitch one of Falled on Account of Strain. The tiered roofs await, overhead. The pitch one crux comes between the two horizontals visible in the lower right corner of the photograph.)
When I joined Adrian at the belay he asked me if I was really up for leading pitch two. Looking out at the roofs I thought it seemed simple enough to wander over and check them out. I was sure I could get gear in the first tier of the roof system. So long as I could get pro at each tier, I figured, I could keep moving up. There would be no shame in taking a hang, as long as the gear was good and the falls were clean.
And so I ventured forth, promising not to make any moves I couldn't reverse until I was sure about continuing.
(Photo: The point of no return. To continue, or not?)
I traversed easily to the first overhang. There was good gear. I believed I was at the right spot at which to pull up and over to the next tier. There was a lot of chalk even further right, but it seemed to me this was errant chalk, sucker chalk.
I pulled up enough to see if I could get gear at the next tier. I couldn't see any potential placements. This was a major bummer.
What about further right? I ventured over to the sucker chalk and looked up there. But I didn't see any gear over there either.
I wandered back to where I thought the route really went and kept looking it over. I felt a rush of emotions and excitement. I had a decision to make.
Option A: I could commit to the next tier, knowing I would have to move up AGAIN to the final tier before finding any pro. There had to be gear up there, or this thing wouldn't be rated PG, right? But if I committed to this course I doubted I could climb back down and if I popped off it would be a real fall.
Option B: I could give up and traverse back to the anchor.
I hope this doesn't sound too grandiose, but I felt I stood at a sort of crossroads.
I was straddling a line dividing my climbing past and my hoped-for climbing future. A past mired in moderates, and a future involving the real deal. A past of mucking about on ledges, and a future filled with improbable environments and thrilling situations. A past of standing around with my dick in my hand, and a future of bold action.
The atmosphere beneath the overhang was incredible. I wanted to go for it, but I wasn't quite sure I was ready. It had been a great year. Maybe this climb was meant for next year?
Adrian called over to give his opinion.
"You want me to support you, right?"
"No, dude, tell me what you really think."
"It looks crazy to me."
That was all I needed to hear. I decided to traverse back to the anchor and climb Tomorrow x 3 instead.
(Photo: Getting into the 5.8 roof on Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.)
I'm glad we went ahead and did Tomorrow x 3, because the roof was fun. It is not a cakewalk by any means. The holds are very good, but once you are in the roof you traverse out to the left (with good pro) and it is very strenuous, a little burly, I think, for 5.8.
I later learned that Swain calls this a 5.10 roof, so I could claim this as my second 5.10 Gunks lead... but let's get real. There's no way this is a 5.10. Maybe 5.8+ or 5.9-.
Once you get above the roof, the remaining climbing up and right to the Falled anchor is very dirty/bushy, and not very pleasant. And the fixed station for Falled as of this writing is crap. There is a big old angle piton (rusty but probably fine), three nested rusty pitons (impossible to evaluate), and two equalized nuts in a horizontal, at least one of which has a cable that is almost rusted out. All of it is tied together with ancient, faded, stiff cord and webbing.
I refused to use this anchor. If you go up there, bring some cord/webbing and maybe some nuts to shore up the station. We ended up bushwhacking through filthy territory to the GT Ledge and then we rapped off the Sticky Gate tree, which will get you down with a single 70 meter or with 60 meter doubles.
Adrian later asked me why I am so attracted to these roof problems. I gave him the cold, logical reason: I'm looking for good holds and clean falls. Face climbs of the same grade tend to involve more difficult sequences and more fiddly gear. He responded quite reasonably that he prefers the face climbs because you can stop and think before the crux, whereas with the roofs you know the clock is always ticking. He felt more secure on the 5.9+ face of Falled, for example, than he did in the 5.8 roof on Tomorrow x 3, because on Falled he knew he could chew over the moves as long as he liked before making the commitment.
This is of course a matter of personal preference, with no right answer. What I failed to add to my side of the argument, but what still tips the balance for me, is that the roofs are awesome. To me there's no thrill like getting over a big roof. I guess that's just what makes me a Gunks guy. Looking at the roof photos above, I find it hard to imagine feeling any other way.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
(Photo: Trying to get psyched beneath the crux roof on Jean (5.9+), back in August.)
In my last post I wrote about my unexpected triumph over my first trad 5.10 lead, Beatle Brow Bulge. This was a great milestone for me. My onsight success climbing this soft 5.10 also made me wonder if the old rumor might actually be true:
Is 5.9+ in the Gunks harder than 5.10-?
Earlier that same day I found a reason to believe the rumor. The lesson came courtesy of my second attempt at Jean.
Back in August I'd attempted to lead Jean, but I hadn't liked the pro for the crux roof and I'd bailed without attempting to lead over the ceiling. I'd wanted a piece at the lip or above the roof but the best pro I'd been able to get was under the roof and to the right. I felt like a fall from just over the roof would result in a sideways landing onto the slab below the overhang, which would quite likely result in injury.
After giving up on the lead I'd tried the crux on toprope and found it to be not that difficult. Above the roof are a couple bad crimpers but then you get a great jug. I started to think that blowing it might not be so bad after all, because if you fell it would happen at those first couple of poor holds, before pulling over the roof and not too far from your gear.
I resolved to go back before the season ended to get redemption and conquer Jean.
Fast forward to November. With the end of the season coming quickly I figured if I was going to exorcise my Jean demons I had better get around to it soon.
But my memories from August were fading and I wondered if I'd really be any happier with the gear this time around. I decided to start a thread on Gunks.com asking about the appropriate gear for Jean. I'd read that there used to be a ball nut fixed right at the spot where you pull over the roof. I know nothing of ball nuts, but I thought maybe I could place one there myself, so I asked the wise climbers of Gunks.com which ball nut I should buy.
The consensus seemed to be that the cam off to the right is good enough, and that I should forget about the ball nut placement.
Armed with this information I felt somewhat reassured, but only somewhat. When our climbing day arrived I knew that I had to attack Jean right away or I was going to lose my nerve, so when we got to the Trapps parking lot I told Adrian that I wanted it to be our first climb of the day. We found it open and I went right at it.
(Photo: Here we go again. I'm hanging instead of trying the crux on Jean, this time in November.)
I felt strong as I got started. There is a cruxy little 5.8-ish move about halfway up that gets you established in the shallow corner system that leads to the roof. The pro for this move is totally solid, and while the move has pretty good hands, the feet are smeary. In August this move caused me much hesitation but this time, in November, I committed right away.
So far so good.
Then I got up to the pocket right under the roof and placed the key cam out right without too much strain. With this bomber pro in place, I should have been ready for the crux.
Determined to send, I reached up to the shitty crimper with my left hand...
and I couldn't make myself go for it.
The crimper felt so lousy. And I still didn't like the thought of that fall.
So I downclimbed a step and rested for a minute without weighting the rope. I still wanted this redpoint, in the worst way. I gathered my courage and tried again.
Such a bad hold! Was it this bad in August?
I chickened out for the second time and took a hang.
So much for that redpoint.
I must have repeated this routine once or twice more, going up, testing the hold, not liking it, retreating, and hanging.
Finally I decided to shorten the draw on my top piece of protection. I figured drag be damned, I need to reduce the potential fall. This decision gave me a certain amount of additional (and perhaps irrational) confidence. With the fall distance shortened by a foot or two I could commit to the moves and found them easier than I remembered. The bad crimper feels from below as though you'll pop right off it but once you crimp hard and commit, it isn't so bad. Shitty crimper left, shitty crimper right, then shelf, then jug and you're done. The crux is over in a few seconds.
I left Jean frustrated that I didn't get it clean. But I told myself I'd made progress. At least I finished it on lead this time. And my failure to redpoint had nothing to do with any inability to do the moves. It came down to a lack of faith caused by a combination of that crummy crimper hold and sub-optimal pro. Maybe my lack of faith was actually, in retrospect, completely justified. I wonder if that ball nut placement is necessary after all; the roof move might be an ankle-breaker without it.
Even though I haven't conquered Jean, I don't think I need to go back to lead it again. I don't know what I would be trying to prove. And I might be risking a needless injury, unless I buy that ball nut...
Is Jean a sandbag at 5.9+? I am torn. The climbing isn't easy. It isn't nearly as sustained as Beatle Brow Bulge. But those two crimps over the roof on Jean are less positive than any of the holds on Beatle Brow Bulge. Jean may require a little more technique, and a cooler head.
Friday, November 11, 2011
(Photo: Approaching the huge roof on Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a).)
This past weekend was just beautiful. It was autumn at its best in the Hudson Valley, with crisp mornings, followed by moderate temperatures and abundant sunshine.
In other words: perfect climbing weather!
I was psyched to get out for a day with Adrian, especially since this was quite likely going to be my last Gunks day of 2011. Two of the remaining three weekends in November are already booked up with family activities, and who knows what the weather will be like on my few remaining potential climbing days this month. Climbing in December is always a possibility, but a remote one. So this really could be it for the year.
As is the case every year, there is so much left undone.
But this has been a year of real accomplishment for me as a climber.
I got in better shape last winter and once the climbing season got under way I finally got my mojo back. I began to feel more like the climber I'd been in 2009, before I broke my ankle in a climbing accident. This new/old me felt solid, confident, and hungry for harder climbs.
As I've chronicled here on my blog, I started leading 5.9 climbs in the Gunks again. I led a whole bunch of them this year, for the most part with great success. My goal was to become solid in 5.9, with the idea that I could go anywhere in the world and jump on a 5.9 and be sure that it would be well within my comfort zone.
I can't say I've quite reached that goal. The kind of climbing the Gunks offers is just too limited for that. Certainly my four days of climbing in the Adirondacks this year demonstrated to me that I'm not a solid 5.9 leader if the climbing involves vertical cracks and jamming. I'm sure that if I went to Yosemite, to cite another example, and tried to lead a typical Tuolumne 5.9-- featuring long runout slabs and oceans of fragile knobs-- I'd have my ass handed to me there as well.
But I feel good about the progress I've made in the Gunks on its brutish overhangs and thin face climbs. I've tried to keep stepping forward while at the same time being reasonable. I am convinced that you can make progress, climb hard, and still be careful. So far it all seems like it's making sense, most of the time.
I had another goal this year that I have not talked about so much.
I wanted to lead at least one Gunks 5.10 before the year was over.
I didn't necessarily care if I sent it onsight. It didn't have to go perfectly. I could take a fall, I figured, so long as I protected the hard moves well and kept things in control. Even if the climbing proved too difficult for me, if in the end I felt I'd done things right and protected myself well, then I'd regard the climb as a success and something I could build upon.
All year I had certain candidates in mind, climbs that had a reputation for being soft for 5.10 and for having good pro at the crux, like The Dangler or Wegetables, to name just two possibilities.
But as the year wore on I started to think I'd never really do it. And why push? This year's goal was 5.9. Why not make 5.10 the goal for next year?
Then a few weeks ago I went out climbing with my eight-year-old son Nate. We were climbing with another dad/son duo I met through my kids' school. The dad used to be a regular Gunks hardman and his son, who is Nate's age, is also into climbing. I thought if we all went out together it might inspire my son to get a little more interested in climbing. (Alas, it didn't work out that way. Nate gamely tried a few climbs, mostly just to humor me, but he was not converted.)
We were climbing at Lost City. I'd never been there before. After all these years it was nice to finally go out there and check the place out! I didn't get to try any of the legendary climbs there, because I was too busy setting up 5.4's for my son. But I saw something that really inspired me: a fourteen-year-old boy attempting to lead Stannard's Roof.
The young man actually lives in my apartment building, though we'd never met before. (Small world!) He'd spent a few weeks this summer at a rock climbing camp in Maine and had recently led his first 5.9's in the Gunks. But today he'd elected to try Stannard's Roof, which upped the ante significantly. The route is reputed to go at "easy" 5.10, and though the roof is very large-- it requires getting truly horizontal for a couple body lengths-- the holds are quite positive, or so I am told.
The boy couldn't do it. He made several efforts, getting up into the roof, placing good pro, then climbing down and resting. He repeatedly got up to his high point, decided he couldn't hang on, and came back down. Eventually he downclimbed to a fixed anchor and retreated.
Watching him, I was impressed with his good sense. He didn't just run it out and go for it. He wanted to do it right and in control. And when he knew he wasn't going to make it, he backed down.
His effort on Stannard's Roof reawakened my desire to hop on a 5.10 of my own. This kid was doing EXACTLY what I should be doing. I resolved to find a 5.10 like this, with good pro and clean falls, and get up into it. Whether I succeeded or failed, I knew it would be good for me.
So when Adrian and I got out last weekend I was determined to find the right 5.10. Ultimately I decided on Beatle Brow Bulge. It seemed like one of the easier 5.10 climbs. It was historically rated 5.9+ until Dick Williams boosted its rating to 5.10a in his 2004 guidebook. It seemed to me like strenuous climbing, but juggy and unmysterious. I'd just have to hang in there and keep moving. And it looked like I'd find good pro out the roof, so that any fall would be into the air.
Most of all the route just looked awesome. The roof is HUGE.
(Photo: Grabbing the holds under the roof on Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a). The real business starts with the next step up.)
Dick Williams lists the climb as having a first pitch consisting of 50 feet of 5.3 climbing up to a stance beneath the roof. I didn't see any point in stopping half-way and decided in advance to just do the whole thing in one pitch.
As I approached the roof it seemed to get bigger and bigger. My main concern was where I would place pro. I wanted something in the roof, not below it. And I wanted the piece to be out several feet from the wall, so if I fell I wouldn't slam right into the cliff.
There is a big block that sticks out like a thumb below the roof level. This block has chalk all over it, although it is not a necessary handhold. (It is a very useful foothold once you're in the business.) It appears a # 2 Camalot would go nicely in the space between this block and the roof, but I decided against using this placement. I was worried about the rock quality. It appeared to me that this block may not be well attached to the cliff. The last thing I wanted was to send a death block the size of a microwave down on Adrian.
Instead I found a great spot for a yellow Alien. (A yellow Metolius or yellow C3 may also work.) The cam goes in just above the two crucial first handholds in the roof; the spot is right above where my right hand is in the above photo. I was able to place this cam before committing to the roof, and it gave me great peace of mind as I started the moves.
(Photo: Getting into the roof! My right foot is on the thumb/death block that I avoided placing pro behind.)
One step up and I was really into it, fully horizontal beneath the big ceiling. The hands and feet were great, but it was strenuous. Immediately I reached over my head and placed a perfect red Camalot at the lip of the roof. I wanted to extend it with a runner but I knew the clock was ticking and I had to get moving. So I just clipped it direct, hoping it was close enough to the lip that it wouldn't create too much drag. (It worked out fine.)
Once I made that clip, everything was going to be okay. It was a piece off of which you could hang a truck, and below me was a totally clean fall into air. I could hear Adrian yelling his approval. "Yeah! Now go!"
And so I went, for once totally in the flow of the moves and not even thinking about the consequences of blowing it. The holds are great; there are no devious sequences. It's strictly a matter of hanging in there and continuing to move upward.
(Photo: getting over the big roof.)
Once I was over the roof, the pumpiness of the route really set in. It was still quite steep and after I moved up and placed more pro I started to worry that I might pop off. I stepped up again and placed another cam, then tried to shake out a little.
I decided maybe I should take a hang, just to be safe.
"Adrian, can you take?" I shouted.
But Adrian wasn't having it. He didn't pull in the ropes.
"Really??" he yelled. "It looks like you're almost there! Don't you want to keep going?"
"I'm just so pumped!" I shouted back.
(Photo: In the final pumpy territory on Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a).)
But then I looked up and I realized he was right. The angle eased in another two moves. I could do this.
I got back to moving and in another couple steps got to a real rest stance. I was so grateful that Adrian hadn't let me take a hang. Instead of noble failure, I had sweet, sweet success. I had done it. I had led my first (alleged) 5.10 trad route in the Gunks, onsight. It was an amazing feeling.
I finished the climb as Dick Williams suggests, heading to the right as soon as I was level with a tree ledge with an anchor. We were using doubles, but it appeared to us that you could reach the ground from this first station with a single 60 meter rope. There is another station at the next ledge, up another 30 feet or so through dirty, low-angled territory. This higher station is attached to a much bigger tree, but you'd need double ropes or maybe a single 70 meter to use it.
As I stood at the station waiting for Adrian to join me, I felt a great satisfaction with not just this one climb, but the whole year. I am so lucky to have gotten out to climb as much as I have, and to have made real progress over the course of the season. I may get another day or two on the rock before 2011 is over, but if the weather sucks for the rest of November I'll still be happy. I hope I can keep improving and make this climb not just a peak climb for one climbing year, but a preview of numerous 5.10's to come. This winter I'll have strong motivation to work to make this 5.10 just the first of many.