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.