Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Still Fighting With 5.9+: Jean (again)

(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. 


  1. Hey Seth,
    I met up with some friends who were climbing City Lights the other day and searched through my guidebook for something nearby to climb. I spotted Jean and thought about your blog entries. One of my friends had both the red and blue ballnuts. The red one goes perfectly. Given the Gunks.com posts, apparently, it's anybody's guess if it would hold a fall, but both of us thought it was solid. I went up above the roof to check out the higher holds and then retreated to rest before finishing the climb. I got the chalky slot with my left hand, then stood up and used the obvious block under the lip as an undercling with my left. Then, I found a good spot on the near horizontal for one hand and just reached through to the higher horizontal shelf. I actually thought it was much easier than any of the other 9+ climbs I've done. We top roped Precarious Perch right next to Jean and we both thought that it had much tougher crux. Did you use the undercling on either of your trips up Jean? Maybe it's height related? I'm about 6' and my friend is maybe an inch or two shorter.


    1. Also, the Gunks.com posts I was talking about are for the "DAMN those pins on Thin Slabs Direct are OLD!" thread starting after about page 8.

    2. Hmmmm, I can't remember whether I used the undercling. I should buy a ball nut, I've never used one. Thanks for your comment, you may even send me back up Jean....