Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gunks Routes: The Last Will Be First (5.6)

(Photo: A view of climbers on the High Exposure buttress from high on the first pitch of The Last Will Be First (5.6).)

So you had your heart set on climbing High Exposure (5.6+)... but you arrived at the base of the climb to find it stacked three-deep with parties waiting to get started?

Well, don't waste your whole day waiting below the cliff.

Go hit The Last Will Be First (5.6) instead. It features high-quality moves all the way from the bottom of the cliff to the very top. It is in my opinion harder than High E and more sustained in its difficulty and its quality. I climbed it for the second time in early December with Liz and I was struck by how great it is, from start to finish. I think it is a contender for three stars, though I understand why Dick Williams gives it only two. It has no single standout moment, like the swing out onto the face on pitch two of High E, or the move over the big roof on Shockley's.

But it has something different: consistent fun. I think only Madame G's rivals The Last Will Be First when it comes to great continuous 5.6 climbing.

The first pitch is outstanding. After the initial easy moves up a slab to an obvious crack, you'll find never-ending steep climbing on good rock with good pro. Nice move follows nice move and then you hit the crux, where you'll bust it over a rooflet and up to the top of a shallow left-facing corner. Then you escape right from the corner and past a dead tree to the final good moves up to the GT Ledge. 160 feet of goodness. I can't think of another pitch of 5.6 in the Gunks that is so long and sustained at the grade.

(Photo: Liz almost finished with pitch one.)

When you arrive on the GT Ledge, you'll see a set of rap bolts off a ways to climber's left. I'd recommend against belaying from these bolts, as they do not put you in the best position from which to start pitch two. Instead you should build a gear belay in the cliff behind the ledge, just a step or two left from where you top out after pitch one.

Dick describes pitch two as beginning at the first left-facing corner, about 20 feet to the left of where you emerge from pitch one. I think it is actually less than 20 feet, and there are two corners right next to each other. You want the closer, shallower one. I was confused by Dick's instructions the first time I did The Last Will Be First and ended up going a little too far to the left, coming closer to the second pitch of Unholy Wick by mistake. What I actually did was an unnamed variation between the two climbs. Perhaps this was a first ascent? I can call it The Last Will Be Unholy (5.6). I thought my new variation was fun and well-protected.

I realized I was off-route afterwards, when I looked at the topo photo in the back of the guidebook. In this instance the photo is more helpful than the description. I also have a photo of my own that should help you make sure you don't suffer from the same confusion I had the first time around.

(Photo: Going the wrong way on pitch two of The Last Will Be First (5.6). The actual route is the yellow line on the far right. Click on the photo to enlarge and see the captions for the lines approximating the correct positions of the routes in this part of the cliff.)

In early December when I did the route for the second time I did the correct pitch two. Don't go as far left as I am in the above photo. Instead go up at the first, shallower left-facing corner, heading straight up about ten or fifteen feet then heading diagonally up left to the break in the little overhang.

(Photo: Looking down the correct pitch two of The Last Will Be First, from just above the crux overhang.)

The second pitch is not as sustained as pitch one.  It features face climbing up and left to a small crux overhang that is cleared at the notch. The pro is good but it's a little spaced as you head left from the corner to the overhang. Great pro is available at the crux.

Once above the overhang the climb joins Ken's Blind Hole (5.6) to the finish. Straight up a shallow dihedral to a fun, easy traverse beneath overhangs to the right along a big horizontal. This leads to an exit at the top at a set of belay/rappel bolts.

(Photo: Liz at the finishing traverse on pitch two.)

While it isn't as sustained as the first pitch, pitch two offers good variety: face climbing, then a small overhang, then an entertaining traverse. Definitely well worth doing, and a fitting finish to a really nice climb.