Friday, January 6, 2012

More Unfinished 2011 Business: Alpine Diversions (5.8), but not Insuhlation (5.9)

(Photo: Just over the big roof on pitch two of Alpine Diversions (5.8).)

As I've worked my way through a bunch of 5.9 routes at the Gunks this past year, a certain route has been hanging out there in the background, taunting me. It is a two-star route that is supposed to be really good. It also happens to be the route on which I broke my ankle in 2009: Insuhlation (5.9).

A part of me has really wanted to go back and climb it-- to slay the demon, as it were. To put it behind me. And to find out what I think of the route, two years later. Who knows, maybe if I climbed it now I'd find it to be no big deal.

But another part of me wants nothing to do with Insuhlation. I worry that I'd become a shivering wreck if I led it again; that I'd be so in fear of a repeat injury that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And a repeat injury on Insuhlation would be absolutely ridiculous. I can't let that happen. I'd never forgive myself.

Perhaps the thing that makes me most wary of Insuhlation is that I don't really know why I fell off of it when I did. I am also unsure of whether I could have done anything to better protect myself. I recall a little roof, and a (wet) keyhole-like hold that I tried to use briefly while reaching for a chalked-up, bigger hold above that I thought would be a jug. I remember grabbing this jug and finding it to be not so juggy. I had a green Alien below the little roof and I was looking around for more pro (but finding none) when I went flying.

Did my hand slip off? Did my foot? Was there better pro available than what I had? I'd feel better about going for it again if I had answers to these questions.

I had a brilliant idea about halfway through the season. It suddenly occurred to me that I should have one of my partners lead the route, and then I could follow it. It is such an obvious idea, I don't know why I never thought of it before. I could, for example, send my reliable guinea pig Adrian (who seems always willing to lead anything) up there and then as a second I could suss out whether I thought I could safely lead it at a later date.

But then Adrian led the route with another partner before I had a chance to suggest it to him. It didn't seem right to try to make him go right back to do it again. Adrian's impressions seemed to be that the last bits of the route were totally straightforward, and well-protected too. Hearing this only deepened the mystery for me.

As the year came to a close and the climbing season extended into an unseasonably warm December, I came up with another idea. I decided to lead the route right next to Insuhlation, a 5.8 called Alpine Diversions. Dick Williams gives the route a single star and calls it "surprisingly good." It seemed worth checking out in its own right. And it goes very close to Insuhlation. The second-pitch crux roof is only a few feet to the right of the Insuhlation crux, or so I believed. I thought I could lead Alpine Diversions and get a good look at the exact place where I fell. I might even get some ideas for some placements I missed. Maybe it would help me decide whether to lead it again, and if I felt good on Alpine Diversions I could do Insuhlation immediately thereafter.

So on December 4 when I climbed with Liz I suggested we try Alpine Diversions. Liz was game to try it.

I thought both pitches were just okay. Each pitch has one interesting crux moment and not too much else to offer.

On pitch one the interesting moment comes right off the ground. The pitch follows a thin, steep vertical crack running a few feet to the left of a little gully. One hold, a sidepull, is easy to reach. A jug sits above. If you are tall enough to reach the jug from the ground, you will probably find the opening moves to be a breeze. If, however, you are short like me, you will have to boulder up to the jug. And this boulder problem is a puzzler. I don't want to spell it all out but I will tell you to look around to either side of the crack. I found another crucial hold off to the left which made all the difference for me. This hold allowed me to get on the wall and reach up to the jug. And once I had the jug, I threw in a piece and made another step up to find that the pitch was essentially over.

Dick Williams suggests in his description that you continue directly over a blocky overhang and then up to the belay ledge past the big pine in "the steepest way." What this all means (I realize in retrospect) is that the route is contrived. After the opening boulder move, there are ways to force yourself to continue making 5th class moves. But in order to do so you have to deliberately avoid easier climbing just a step to the left or right. I didn't really see the point. It just seemed silly not to scamper up the stair-like blocks past the tree to the belay ledge.

On pitch two, the main attraction is a rather large overhang. Nice moves up a corner take you directly underneath it. Then an easy move left might deceive you into thinking you've already escaped the crux. But no. You still have to move right and pull the roof. It is a big reach. I really enjoyed this crux move. And there's great pro at the lip of the overhang.

After the roof, you again have the option to force yourself to keep climbing. You can move left and up to another roof, this one smaller and dirtier (and from the looks of it easier) than the first. On the other hand, if you just continue straight up you are basically done. Some easy low angle moves will take you to the belay tree. I chose the easy way, again not seeing much point in contriving a harder path to the finish.

When I reached the top I realized that I had forgotten to look at Insuhlation! The roof on Alpine Diversions had captured my full attention. Once above the roof, I probably could have glanced over at the exact spot where it all went wrong two years ago. But as obsessed as I am, as much as Insuhlation haunts me, I still didn't think to do it.

I had already decided I didn't have the stomach for doing Insuhlation, anyway. But still I was bummed to have missed out on the chance to look over the route up close.

On rappel I attempted to scope it out. To my surprise, I couldn't spot the line at all. Maybe I was too far to the left, but I had no luck in finding it. I thought I'd immediately see the roof, the keyhole, the jug. But I saw nothing I recognized. It was baffling.

I'm pretty sure that if I ever get back to climbing Insuhlation the whole experience will seem new to me. I want to go try it. But I don't want to approach it in an unhealthy state of mind. I don't want to climb it to prove anything. I don't want to climb it all stiff and scared. I think the whole accident thing is still too much in my head, even two years later. Better to wait.


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  2. Hi Seth,
    I just found your blog; pretty awesome. The better part is that I live in Brooklyn, too, and climb in the Gunks as often as I can. Do you have a regular M-F, 9-5? I don't, and as such I work most weekends and usually only ever have irregular weekdays off-work, but I have wheels so that's my saving grace. Plus you'll travel to climb, such as to Red Rocks (my new favorite). Email me and maybe we can climb sometime, thanks.
    jaspanag @ yahoo . com