(Photo: Matt starting up the first pitch of Birdie Party (5.8+).)
After Matt and I finished climbing Anguish the other week, we rapped down to find our original objective, Birdie Party, wide open.
I've been really wanting to lead it.
I followed my friend Nani up the first part of pitch one (to a bolted anchor about 80 feet up, directly above the start) two years ago. We stopped there, but Williams describes the pitch as continuing from this first set of chains to an intimidating hand traverse over a big pointy flake, going all the way to a another set of bolts and chains atop the first pitch of MF. The face climbing up to the first set of chains is 5.8; the crux traverse is 5.8+.
In 2010 when Nani led it I was a little shocked because I'd never seen her lead something this challenging. The climbing was well within her abilities-- she is and was a better climber than I am-- but she has never gotten totally comfortable with trad leading. She prefers sport to trad; if she ever really embraced placing her own gear she'd be ripping it up in no time and I could spend the rest of my days following her up climbs I'll never be good enough to lead.
On the day she led Birdie Party she was thinking she would stop at the first set of bolts and then I would handle the scary traverse. As it turned out, the first part of the pitch, up to the initial set of chains, was challenge enough for both of us. She handled the lead with a cool head and placed plenty of gear, but this pitch has placements that are spaced far enough apart that many times a thoughtful move has to be undertaken above the last piece. By the time Nani reached the chains I was thankful I wasn't the one on the sharp end. And by the time I followed her up to the chains I wasn't so sure I wanted to lead the traverse.
It was a moot point, anyway, because Nani had already decided that the traverse scared the crap out of her. She did not want to follow it. So we were in agreement and we bailed from the first anchor.
Ever since then I've wanted to go back, and over the past year as I've improved I've been eager to lead that traverse and maybe tackle pitch two, which features a 5.10b roof, as well.
(Photo: Matt about halfway through the first pitch of Birdie Party, at the right-facing corner.)
So last Friday after my mini-disappointment on pitch one of Anguish I wanted to do this one right.
I ended up feeling pretty good about it.
The first few moves are a little hairy. You have to boulder up to a good edge right off the deck, and then you can place a small Alien or the equivalent to protect the next move. After that, you reach a little ledge and move five or six feet to the right. These moves are easy but you can't protect them. By the time you start moving across the ledge you are back in ground fall range.
Once you are through this opening bit, the pro is very good the rest of the way, straight up to the chains. But as I remembered from two years ago, the 5.8 moves are consistently thoughtful and often above the pro. The going is steep but each time you gain a good horizontal you can stick in a piece and relax/shake out a bit. The climbing is excellent, and (unsurprisingly) similar to Higher Stannard, the superb climb just to the left. Things ease off a bit as you go higher, passing a shallow right facing corner. As I passed this corner last Friday, with the first set of chains nearly in my reach, I started to eye the big scary flake.
(Photo: Matt doing the awesome traverse at the end of the first pitch of Birdie Party.)
I was a little nervous, but I soon learned there was no need for concern. The moves up to the flake are easy, and the pro for the traverse is great. I looped a double-length runner around the point of the flake (it seemed solid...) and got a #2 Camalot further to the right, underneath the flake just about where it merges with the wall. And then for the rest of the traverse a perfect horizontal crack (pictured above) takes gear anywhere you want to place it. The climbing is airy and super-fun but, I thought, very reasonable. The early part of the pitch, close to the ground, is actually more difficult, in my opinion.
What a great pitch! I may have to revise my thoughts about the best 5.8 in the Gunks. Birdie Party is certainly one of the best. So many great moves, and variety: challenging face climbing plus an exciting traverse.
As I waited for Matt to join me at the belay I kept looking up at the 5.10b roof that is the crux of pitch two. I thought maybe I could give it a go-- so long as I could get pro at the lip of the roof. I also thought maybe we could instead do pitch two of MF, which I led last November but which Matt had never done. But ultimately I was seduced by the easy opportunity to throw a toprope over Mother's Day Party, a 5.10b just to the left of the MF bolts. It was too convenient not to do it. And besides, I'd never toproped any of the 5.10's at the Mac Wall, which was another big hole I needed to fill in my climbing resume. Toproping at the Mac Wall, what could be more traditional for the Gunkie of today?
I enjoyed Mother's Day Party. I wasn't really paying attention to the potential gear placements, but the two cruxes were both pretty brief. I almost felt like leading it would be reasonable. Climbing on toprope will fool you like that; in retrospect I am pretty sure the final crux moves are rather far from the gear. I think if I tried to lead it I'd be scared silly at the finishing moves.
On toprope I got up the initial corner and face up to a little ledge without a problem. This part of the route almost touches MF. Next comes the first crux, which comes right off the little ledge. It isn't so bad. One thin move using a right-facing flake gets you to a great jug.
Then it gets steep as you work up an orange face to a little rooflet, where the leader might find his or her final gear. The pumpy finishing moves (second crux) up and right through the big corner take you to the chains. I blew the footwork at the final hard move and took a fall, then went right back up and realized to my chagrin that I would have sent the route on my first try if I'd just bothered to look around at the holds for about one second longer.
Like me, Matt took one fall when it was his turn, but his error came at a different time. He blew the first crux and then cruised through the second.
What would it really take for me to feel ready to lead a 5.10 route like Mother's Day Party?
Part of it, I'm sure, is confidence. But there's more. I'd have to be faster, so I wouldn't flame out in the cruxes. And I'd need to be prepared to commit to the 5.10 moves. The hard moves on Mother's Day Party aren't mysterious. But they require moving with dynamic pushes, with momentum. I need to get more practiced at doing those kinds of moves on lead. I'm not sure how to acquire the practice I need without walking up to a few of these 5.10 climbs and just going for it, trying them out.