Friday, June 1, 2012

Gunks Routes: Splashtic (5.10a) & Nice 5.9 Climb

(Photo:  Gail about to make the crux move on pitch one of Splashtic (5.10a).)

What happened to my Spring season?

When I got out to climb with Maryana in late April I was feeling pretty good.  After warming up with Gaston, I followed her up Obstacle Delusion (5.9), then we both cleanly toproped Teeny Face (5.10a).  After that I led Directissima (5.9) from the ground to the GT Ledge in one pitch and we both one-hanged Ridiculissima (5.10d) on toprope.  Finally, Maryana redpointed Retribution (5.10b).  I wanted to try leading it too but we were out of time, so I just followed it.  It was a good day.

And then I got so busy I couldn't find time to climb.  Trials at work, plus a home renovation that required us to pack up all our belongings and move, meant I couldn't find a day on which to play.  I couldn't even find time to write a blog post about Directissima and Ridiculissima. 

The weeks flew by. 

Memorial Day was fast approaching.  I was headed to Utah with my wife and kids for a destination wedding in Park City.  I had plans to stay in Salt Lake City afterwards for four-- FOUR!!-- days of climbing with Adrian.  I was excited to climb with Adrian again, and to see him for the first time since he moved back to Vancouver in February.  The trip promised to be a climbing dream come true, but I didn't want to arrive feeling out of shape on real rock.

I was desperate to go to the Gunks.  I needed a tune-up!

As is my wont, I hatched a plan:  I would tack an extra day onto my Memorial Day vacation and go to the Gunks right before we left town. 

In many ways this wasn't a great idea.  The forecast was not good.  It had been raining for several days.  And I needed to be back early.  Plus I had no partner. 

No matter.  I decided to go for it.  I harassed Gail until she agreed to climb with me for half a day.  At first she begged off, saying some nonsense about deadlines and proposals.  When I told her this was important, that I really needed to climb to be prepared for my trip, she said that some different explanations for my behavior came to her mind.  And then she used some ugly words.  Words I hesitate to repeat, like "obsession" and "compulsion..."

Luckily she is just as fixated on climbing as I am.  She eventually agreed to meet me.  (She had work to do but brought her laptop computer to the cliff.  Talk about obsessed.  I think that woman has a problem:  she works too hard.)

In addition to the climbing, I decided to cash in a gift certificate Adrian had given me for a free weekday rental from the Classic Car Club in Manhattan.  At no cost, I got to drive to the Gunks in a 2007 Porsche Cayman S.  So even if our day turned out to be a bust, I could at least enjoy my time driving around in a real precision speed machine. 

(Photo:  My ride for the day.  Can you believe it?)

It had been a long time since I'd driven a stick shift.  I was afraid that the Classic Car Club people would immediately discover my incompetence with a manual transmission, rip up the gift certificate, and send me packing.  But even though I stalled out three times on the test drive, they nevertheless (unaccountably) let me leave the lot with this gleaming white priceless sports missile. 

"Suckers!!" I thought as I drove away, trying my best to appear as if I belonged in this car. 

I made believe I was an investment banker with a pocket full of Viagra. 

I took corners in third gear.

I passed people on the right. 

I think I got away with it.  That's what happens when you drive this kind of car.  People expect you to be an aggressive asshole and they get out of your way.  I could get used to this kind of driving.  It felt really good.

I sped up to the Gunks in a wet mist but by the time I picked up Gail in Gardiner the rain had stopped and the sun was beating down.  It was a bit hot and humid, but hey, I wasn't about to complain.  We were going to do some climbing!

I pulled my Porsche into the nearly empty West Trapps parking lot and we set off to look for something dry.

We didn't find anything dry.

There was wetness everywhere but the cliff seemed to be less soaked as it got higher.  We decided to do something with an easy start.  Strictly From Nowhere was open, so we did Strictly's to Shockley's.  We were using Gail's 70 Meter rope; I knew I could get from the bolts atop pitch one on Strictly's all the way to the top of the cliff in one pitch.  I felt great leading both pitches.  I was so comfortable, I was unfazed by the copperhead I found nestled in a crack halfway up Strictly's.  I was particularly happy with how Shockley's went; I managed the roof with much less awkwardness than in the past and got to the finish without any significant drag. 

I wasn't so out of shape after all.  Maybe it was time to try a 5.10?

We were close to Splashtic, a climb I'd glanced at a month earlier with Maryana.  It looked dry now.  Gail encouraged me to try it, saying she thought there was pro for the crux and that if I decided to bail I could escape around the corner to the right.  And the 5.10 bit appeared like it would be short.  It seemed the steep wall which began the climb was only about 30 feet high.  After one or two hard face moves between horizontals it looked like the whole thing eased off to a low-angle romp. 

I had no intention of doing the R-rated 5.9 pitch two.  I didn't know how we'd get down without doing another pitch but Gail said she thought there was some kind of fixed anchor up there to the left.

I racked up and did it.  My analysis:  I think this is a pretty good easy 5.10.  It isn't a great pitch by any stretch of the imagination.  But if you are trying to get your feet wet in 5.10, as I am, Splashtic provides a short steep face with just a couple of hard moves on it.

You can come into the middle of the face from the right or the left.  The right may be a little easier but there is no pro for the move that gets you established on the wall.  I came in this way at first but couldn't work a C3 into the only little crack that is available.  So I stepped down and tried it from the left, where there is a good slot for a cam and a hard, steep move to get up on the wall.

Then it's just a few moves of nice climbing to the jug below the crux.  I got a nice piece in the obvious slot just below the jug.  Don't block this whole slot because you might want some space available there.  I don't want to give the move away so that's all I'm saying about that. 

Also, because I'm a chicken (and a safe chicken at that), I placed two more small Aliens in another horizontal a few feet over to the right and a foot or so higher.  These cams took a little more work, because the horizontal is sort of flaring.  But I thought they were good.

With three solid pieces in, I felt ready for the crux, which is a long reach to the next horizontal. 

I stepped up and gave it a whirl.  And I almost made the reach but didn't quite have it.

So I stepped back down, not weighting the rope. 

Trying again, I made it!  Whoa, my second 5.10 onsight, just like that. 

Once up above the steep face, I moved left to the Gorilla My Dreams corner instead of right to the former Gaston belay, since I knew from my previous trip to the Gunks that the Gaston station was gone. 

As Gail had remembered, there was a rather small tree with some good-looking slings and rings in this vegetated corner to the left.  I put in a piece to back up the tree while Gail climbed the route but then she went ahead and removed the piece after she finished climbing, using the fixed station alone for lowering.  The station seemed good enough for body weight, certainly. 

With not much time left in our half day I suggested we do Nice 5.9 Climb, another 5.9 tick on my list that I hadn't led yet.  I had done this one on toprope a few years ago with Nani and I had struggled at that time with the crux move, falling several times before finally getting it.  Earlier this year I had done it in wet conditions, again on toprope, and it seemed much less mysterious.  I figured now I would lead it quickly-- it is short-- and we'd go on home.  It was on the way out right at the beginning of the cliff.

In one sense Nice 5.9 Climb resembles Splashtic as a good introduction to its grade.  The crux is just one move, an escape out of a corner with an overhang, and it is well-protected.  (There is an upper crux but it is just a little bit of 5.8 steepness, much easier than the lower crux, in my opinion.)

In another sense, however, I don't think Nice 5.9 is a great introductory 5.9, because that one crux move is really pretty tricky.  It is a stand-up move in which you have to get your weight over your high foot just right.  If my memory were erased and I had to onsight it right now I'm not sure I'd get it clean the first time. 

But last Wednesday with Gail it went fine, although as with Splashtic I had to step up, step down, think it over, and try it again.  At which time I got it, without ever weighting the rope.

And so I went home happy with my climbing, and ready (I thought) for Utah.  Little did I realize that the granite slabs and cracks of Little Cottonwood Canyon would humble me, making this day in the Gunks seem like a distant memory. 

Stay tuned.  I'll tell you all about it next time.