Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gunks Routes: Blistered Toe (Direct 5.9+) & Double Crack (5.8)

(Photo:  Gail getting started on Higher Stannard (5.9-).)

A pattern has started to develop.

I go to the Gunks.

I pick a 5.10 to try.

I struggle.

I back off of that 5.10 and do something else.

At the beginning of July this was what happened when I decided to try Simple Stuff (5.10a) with Gail. It was a super-hot, miserable day. We had planned on just doing a half day and had started early to beat the heat, doing the first pitch of Higher Stannard (5.9-) at 6:30 a.m.

I really enjoyed doing Higher Stannard again. It was one of my favorites last year and it was just as good the second time around. It was a little stiff for a warm-up but I cruised through the thin crux, feeling strong. It seemed like a good omen.

Then we trooped on down the cliff to Simple Stuff.

It is an unusual climb for the Gunks. It is no jug-haul, but rather features a sustained stemming corner. It is one of those climbs people mention as a good early 5.10, I think because there is pro available in the corner almost the whole way to the chains. Others, however, think it is a bad choice for an early 5.10 because it is sustained, and because people have gotten hurt when they have fallen in the initial moves, cracking ankles before getting established in the corner.

(Photo: The overhanging corner ascended by Simple Stuff (5.10a).)

I didn't get very far. Climbing up to the first difficult moves, I was very careful to place pro often. I got through a hard move and found the position very pumpy. I had a solid nut but I wanted to place something higher up before committing to the next bit. Unfortunately I could not get anything I had real confidence in. I tried getting another nut but I couldn't make it stick. Then I tried a small C3, eventually working it into a crack but not feeling really happy about it. By this point I had worn myself out and took a hang. The C3 creaked a bit, which was disconcerting. I did not relish the thought of taking a fall onto it.

It was suddenly so hot outside. I was drenched with sweat. This climb was just beginning and I was already struggling, climbing scared, very tentative. I wasn't at all sure I was ready for this.

I decided this wasn't my time for Simple Stuff. I left the bomber nut as insurance and downclimbed to the ground.

(Photo:  Happy to have finally cleared the bulge on Blistered Toe Direct (5.9+).)

Still hoping to wring some progress from the day, I suggested to Gail that we do the nearby Blistered Toe Direct, a climb which had defeated me last year. I had tried it with Parker, making the first hard move up to the horizontal. But I hadn't found a way to get over the bulge that completes the direct start.

This time I hoped to get it done. And eventually I did. But not without a few false starts.

Depending on your height, the direct start has either one or two hard moves. If you are short like me, it is a challenge just to step up onto the wall and reach a good crimp that will allow you to reach up to the good horizontal. If you are tall, I envy you because you can just reach the crimp or maybe even the horizontal from the ground. Whether you are tall or short, you can protect the first move with a great nut placed over your head from the ground. (Clip it short by just placing a single biner on the nut.) Then you can get a good cam once you reach the horizontal.

The next move is what still gave me trouble. A pebbly ball of rock looks good but is very hard to use effectively. I struggled with it a couple of times before a little advice from Gail on turning my body and getting my feet up got me to the breakthrough.

Finally! I could put this 5.9+ in the bank. Next time I hope it will seem easy.

This direct start is a worthwhile little puzzle, I think, and the payoff is that the rest of the first pitch of Blistered Toe is awesome. It isn't a long pitch but it is steep and fun, with some nice layback moves and reaches up a natural line to a ledge with a bolted anchor off to the left. Considered without the direct start, Blistered Toe is one of the better 5.7 climbs in the Trapps, I'd say. And the direct start makes it even better. It is an under-appreciated small gem.

After we were done with Blistered Toe, Gail suggested Double Crack, a climb I had led once back in 2009. I thought it was great back then and nothing about my experience in 2012 changed my opinion. Back in the day people would do a belay at a small ledge part of the way up the cliff but nowadays most everyone does the climb as one sustained 150 foot pitch. The hardest part comes early, in the first 20 feet, but even though the angle thereafter eases off a touch, it remains steep and consistent the whole way to the finish. Classic Gunks-style climbing, with overhanging reaches between good holds.

I wouldn't recommend Double Crack when it is nearly 100 degrees out, however. It seemed to go on and on. At one point Gail told me that I was glistening in the sun, I was sweating so much. I think I lost several pounds of water weight on this climb.

As we left the cliff I questioned whether we really should have come out at all. Climbing in the miserable heat can get you down. After just half a day I was exhausted and happy to call it quits.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gunks Routes: Unnamed (Pitch 1 5.0), Dis-Mantel (5.10b) & Dat-Mantel (5.10b)

(Photo:  Gail giving Dis-Mantel (5.10b) a try.)

Did I mention that I am on vacation?

I am at the beach. I cannot go rock climbing.

But I am going to try to catch up on my posting.

I have been on the hunt for the easy 5.10 climbs at the Gunks. The climbs on the Mantel block seemed like maybe they would be good candidates. They are short climbs up the sixty-foot block, with roof cruxes.

But those one-move cruxes can be stiff for the grade. I was also worried that these climbs might not be very good, a waste of time.

I had bugged Gail to do these climbs with me for the last few months. We finally got around to them on Friday.

I decided to start with Dis-Mantel, the climb on the right. From the ground it seemed to me that I could get pro in the flake at the first, 5.10b roof. And I thought I might have better luck on Dis-Mantel than on the climb to the left; the roof on Dat-Mantel looked incredibly large.

the early moves up to the first roof on Dis-Mantel were simple enough. But the pro in the flake at the lip was kind of iffy. I got a green Camalot to sit in there but I wasn't absolutely sure about it. I had a rock solid piece back where the roof met the wall but I wanted something higher. There was absolutely no pro up over the roof.

I can't remember if I ever really tested that green Camalot. What I do remember is that I couldn't figure out the move at all. I kept going up and climbing down, trying this and trying that. There was a good hold that was very very far away. I'd read that the climb was height-dependent but this was ridiculous. I couldn't figure out how anyone could reach it. I tried under-clinging the roof, I tried using the flake as a side pull. I tried holding on to various parts of the shallow left-facing corner above the roof. I tried using a little fingerlock seam below the jug. Eventually I decided to give up, climb down a few moves and try Dat-Mantel to the left.

(Photo:  Getting the holds above the lip of the roof on Dat-Mantel (5.10b).)

I found a few interesting moves on my way over to the Dat-Mantel roof. I was still below the roof, confronting a thin move up an orange face, when I realized that I didn't have any of my big cams. I'd left my blue # 3 in my bag and I'd somehow used both my red # 1 and my yellow # 2 below. I could see that I needed at least one bigger cam for the horizontal beneath the roof. And who knew what I might need above?

I was trying to decide what to do about this problem when it started raining.

This was the excuse I needed. Things weren't exactly going in my direction anyway. I decided to bail. I backed up my top piece and had Gail lower me, thinking when the rain stopped one of us could go up Unnamed, the climb that ascends the left side of the Mantel block at 5.0, to set up a top rope and retrieve the gear.

When I got to the ground the rain stopped before it even really began. So I led up Unnamed, a climb that has a 5.3 second pitch above the Mantel block. The first pitch, which goes up the left side of the block, is just 5.0. It isn't bad climbing for 5.0. It's better than Dirty Chimney, for sure. The pro is a little funky. There are big vertical cracks but they are flaring. At one point there are three old pitons hammered into one crack, right on top of one another. Maybe they were put in as practice placements, forty or fifty years ago?

Up atop the block is a stone with several ratty old slings and a couple of newish ones threaded. This anchor is well placed for Dat-Mantel. You don't even need a directional.

Gail took the first stab at Dat-Mantel on toprope. She looked a little shaky at the thin move up the orange face below the roof, where I had given up the lead. Then I got the benefit of watching her figure out the huge overhang, which surely helped me when it was my turn. Still, I was happy with how it went when it was my turn. I figured out an easier way to get through the orange face. And I went at the roof a little differently than she did. She crimped up to the horizontal above the roof using some holds that looked truly awful. I had a notion that it would be easier to get up there if I moved a little to the right and this turned out to be a good call. Then I threw a heel, pivoted up, and presto-- I had done it on the first try.

Dat-Mantel is a nice little climb. There are a few nice moves below the roof, and then the roof itself is a good challenge. It is well-protected, too. There is a good slot right where the underside of the roof meets the wall, and then once you get the horizontal above the roof, but before you attempt pulling over, you can get another solid placement. I wish I had been more insistent on going ahead with the lead of this climb. If I'd tried it first instead of Dis-Mantel maybe I would have done it.

I hope to go back this year and send Dat-Mantel on lead.

Dis-Mantel, on the other hand, remains a mystery, and I don't think I will be heading back to lead it. Neither Gail nor I could figure it out, even on top rope. (We set it up from the same threaded station, using a directional placement.) And I'm still not sure how I feel about that cam in the flake at the crux roof. There aren't any cracks for pro above the roof, so even if the cam in the flake holds I don't really like the thought of the fall at that roof if you blow it on lead. The second (5.8) roof also looks to have funky pro. Each of us tried it on top rope by cheating around the first roof to the right, doing the Kernmantle crux before heading left to the second Dis-Mantel roof. Gail had no problem with the second roof but I was so hot and tired by the time I got up there that I blew it once before pulling through it on the second try.

If someone would take me up Dis-Mantel and show me what I'm doing wrong, I'd appreciate it! I still feel reasonably good about the effort. I was safe about it, explored around the roof without losing control, and climbed down when I correctly decided I was out of my depth.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gunks Routes: Osteo-Path (5.6), Raunchy (5.8)

I have been remiss.

I have not been posting.

Mostly this is because I haven't been climbing much. I have been too busy, it has been much too hot, and when I have gotten out to climb the weather hasn't been terribly cooperative. One day a few weeks ago when I went climbing with Maryana we got in just two pitches before it rained all afternoon. (More on that later.)

At times I have felt like this whole year is going to be a bust. I have no time to climb, and when I do get time to climb it is 100 degrees or raining. I've been thinking I need to do something to change my circumstances, so I can climb whenever the mood strikes me. I have a great idea for a blockbuster novel I may write. This literary work will put me on easy street and give me the freedom to climb whenever I want. It will be an erotic story, about a shy young woman who gets involved with an Eskimo who opens her eyes to all sorts of bizarre sexual adventures.

The title: "50 Words For Snow."

I think it will be a big hit.

Last Friday at the start of my family's week of vacation I actually got a full day in the Gunks, with Gail, for what seemed like the first time in a long while. It was hot and humid, but not unbearable. There was a chance of rain but we got lucky as the only storm we saw all day passed us by, hitting us with only a drop or two, as we struggled with the climbs on the Mantel block. (More on that later).

As we hit the mid afternoon I was feeling kind of pooped, and I thought it might be time to pack it in. But then the sun went behind the cliff and with the cooler shady atmosphere I felt a small surge of energy. I suggested we do something easy and Gail mentioned Stop the Presses, Mr. Williams, a climb with a 5.8+ R-rated roof. Gail was thinking we'd do the 5.6 variation. This variation avoids the R-rated roof on Stop the Presses, instead moving right and following a crack over a bulge.

Although Dick Williams doesn't give this variation a name in his guidebook, the crack is described as a distinct climb called Osteo-Path in the Swain book. It looked to me like it might be interesting, so I gave it a whirl.

I thought the beginning of Stop the Presses was okay. It moves up a left-facing corner. The chief difficulty comes in avoiding sticking your shoe in the mud and pine needles at the base of the corner.

Once you reach the top of the corner, still a ways away from the roof, it is time to move to the right about 7 or 8 feet to the obvious vertical seam. After a few moves the seam widens to a finger crack and the crack heads up and to the right through a bulge and over a blank white face. Once the crack ends you find yourself joining Raunchy's final moves to the ledge and belay tree.

I was delighted with the finger crack portion of the pitch. I was reminded of Little Cottonwood Canyon for a minute there. I wish we had more climbs in the Gunks with this kind of movement: fingers locked into a vertical crack, with no real holds outside the crack and precise footwork required. Unfortunately the crack peters out in about two moves.

Despite its brevity the Osteo-Path variation is well worth doing. I think it is a little stiff for 5.6. I would be glad to do it again, but I think it would be more fun to approach it from Raunchy, doing the thin face at the beginning of that climb, moving up and around the corner, and then heading straight into the Osteo-Path crack instead of going back right to the Raunchy corner.

From the tree we decided to do the second pitch of Raunchy (5.8), which neither of us had done before. This was again Gail's suggestion but she must have read my mind, because I've been wanting to do this pitch for a while. I have been curious about several of the second pitches in this area, on climbs like Stop the Presses and High Times, none of which anyone ever seems to do.

Dick describes the second pitch of Raunchy as starting with a 5.5 move onto the face. He also grants permission for the climber to use the belay tree to get started. I didn't want to resort to using the tree but I ultimately used it because I didn't have the recommended ball nut to protect the move and I didn't want to crash right down onto the ledge.

Once I got onto the wall I found out that while the initial climbing on this pitch is easy, the pro is not PG like Dick says. I couldn't find anything at all for at least 25 feet or so, until at last I got a bomber red # 1 Camalot. Then after that one piece I had to run it out at least another twenty feet, back into ledge fall range, before I found another placement. All of this was in 5.3 territory, but still I was not happy about it. Later, on rappel, I saw that I missed a placement early in the pitch in a shallow left-facing corner just to the right of the route. But even if you get this placement, be warned that the runouts on Raunchy's pitch two are substantial.

Once I got past the runouts I had to confront the shitty rock below the crux. There is a hollow flaky thing that is like a long towel rack, attached at the ends to the cliff but seemingly not fixed into place anywhere along its length of at least twenty or so feet. I started to thread a runner behind this thing and then thought better of it.

Worse than the hollow towel rack were the loose plates just below the crux. These plates form the obvious footholds as you start the crux moves, but when I touched one and it moved, I had a terrible vision of the plate-- which was about the size of a half-sheet pan-- hurtling down towards Gail, who was helplessly tethered to the tree. I stepped down and marked this plate with a chalked "X," then went back up to the crux to discover that the next plate over was also loose. But I was committed at this point and didn't try to go back to mark the second loose plate.

After all that, the crux was actually really fun. At the roof, if you move left there is an old pin to clip and a perfect placement to back it up right next to it. Good juggy moves take you right and up through the overhang, with another great horizontal for pro about halfway though. The crux was nothing but good times and probably a bit soft for 5.8.

But just when I was starting to enjoy the pitch it went sour on me again. The last bits up to the GT Ledge are heavily overgrown. You fight to the belay tree through a jungle.

All in all I think pitch two of Raunchy isn't worth doing. The crux is nice, and might offset the weeds and the runouts, but for me the crappy rock just below the crux seals it. I don't have any intention of maneuvering through there again, and I don't think you should either.