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.

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