(Photo: Past the pro-less start on Gaston (5.8-).)
Maryana and I were looking for something new to do on a beautiful Saturday in April, and it seemed like if we wanted something out of the ordinary our timing couldn't be better, since we might not have any choice in the matter. We arrived at the West Trapps lot in the morning to find it was already nearly full, even though the temperature was still in the low 40's. As we walked down the carriage road it seemed like all the usual suspect climbs were occupied. It was the perfect occasion for us to jump on something unpopular, something obscure.
When we passed the connector trail I looked up at the cliff and saw the expected sights. Climbers were on Arch (5.5). Climbers were on Strictly From Nowhere (5.7). But as usual no one was on the no-star climbs nearby: Calisthenic (5.7), Gorilla My Dreams (5.7), or Gaston (5.8-). And no one was on Splashtic (5.10a), a climb which gets a star from Dick Williams but which seems always unoccupied because the first pitch is 5.10 and the second is 5.9 R.
I was intrigued by Splashtic, because it seemed from the description that the crux is really one move, early in the first pitch. Looking it over on Saturday, I thought it looked doable and protectable. Maybe this was a good 5.10 candidate for me? I wasn't interested in the R-rated second pitch (although it sure looks exciting...) but I figured we could descend from the threaded anchor atop pitch one or continue with the upper pitches of another climb.
I was also interested in Gaston, because it has a reputation for being underappreciated and somewhat tricky for its 5.8- grade. I'd heard the upper pitches, which are just 5.5, were also good.
Maryana thought Gaston was a better choice for a warm-up than Splashtic so we were set.
Dick's guidebook describes the first pitch as going up a ramp and then moving right past a bulge. Then thin climbing left past two pins was supposed to be the crux.
For me the crux of pitch one was the lack of pro low on the pitch. There is nothing for at least fifteen feet or more. I went up the easy ramp and then expected to find something. But I didn't.
Then another move up and left onto a ledge. Still pretty easy climbing, but I was still looking in vain for some placements.
Finally I found gear, but it was to the left of the route. The climbing clearly went to the right through the bulge. I had two pieces but they were off-line.
After trying out a couple of different approaches I committed to the surprisingly thin holds and got through the bulge.
Then I think I got another piece, something micro, before moving up and left to an angle piton. (Dick mentions two pins but I guess one has since disappeared.) I don't remember these supposed crux face moves as tricky. There was nothing as thin as the move at the bolt on Wonderland (5.8-), for instance. All I really remember was wishing I had more confidence in the gear. But once I clipped the pin it seemed everything would be okay. The rest of the way I felt both the climbing and the gear were casual enough.
At the end of the pitch I felt like in retrospect there was JUST enough pro. And the climbing was nice; it was clean and interesting. Maryana pointed out that I'd missed the key placement. There is a place right below the bulge where a runner could be threaded. You can see it in the above photo over to the right of where I have a sling connected to the blue rope. I had pro at the same height but off to the left. It would have been better-- I would have felt better-- if I'd found this placement.
(Photo: Maryana at the final overhangs on the 5.5 pitch two of Gaston.)
The next surprise on Gaston was that the threaded anchor atop pitch one was gone. I built a gear anchor and brought Maryana up. We had been thinking we'd rap after pitch one and go do something else, but now we were forced to do at least one more pitch.
Maryana led pitch two and it turned out to be very nice. We both enjoyed it. While pitch one features interesting face climbing, pitch two is more typical Gunks terrain, with good features in a huge corner system and plentiful horizontals, leading up and left to some final overhangs with jugs.
One we reached the GT Ledge we had an easy walk over to the bolted rappel route to our left. But I thought it was a waste not to finish the climb. We'd come this far. Would we ever bother to come to this spot again? Might as well do pitch three. It looked like a short romp up to a roof. Why not do it?
(Photo: Most of the way through the 5.5 pitch three of Gaston.)
I led the pitch in about five minutes. I'm glad we did it. It reminds me of the top pitch of Minty. It is a little harder and the move out to the roof is a bit more exposed. But it is very similar, featuring a nice corner and then another juggy overhang. Good fun.
I think Gaston is definitely underrated at no stars. It has a lot of quality climbing. Each pitch is worthwhile. The rock is good. It is clean. It should have at least a star. I think if the two 5.5 pitches were not guarded by the tricky pitch one this climb would be extremely popular with new leaders.
As it is it should be more popular with moderate leaders of all levels of experience.