Another early July morning, another half day for Gail and me. Again it was supposed to be rather miserable, in the upper nineties. And this time we had an added unpleasant bonus: a huge downpour had soaked the cliff at around 5:00 a.m., making the conditions as we arrived both wet and humid.
It might have made more sense to stay in bed, but my Gunks opportunities have seemed so rare this year, I wasn't about to give one up. Gail was willing to belay me so long as I was willing to lead.
We started with the Brat, a climb right where the Trapps begins. I had never done it, somehow. It is one of those Uberfall climbs that sees a lot of traffic, I think, because it is so close to the parking lot and so easy to set up as a top rope climb.
I felt insecure leading it, mostly because the rock felt slimy. I chose the direct, 5.7 version, which goes straight up the vertical crack system that defines the beginning of the climb. This direct version has good pro for the crux move, and the move is enjoyable. It took a little thinking, and because the rock felt so icky/slippery I may have hemmed and hawed a bit longer than I would have in ideal conditions. The 5.6 version steps left and then back to the right, going around the crux move. I can't tell you about its quality but it seemed to me the direct route was better protected.
After the crux, I'd say the climbing on the Brat is only occasionally interesting and the pro leaves a lot to be desired. The climb wanders a bit right, and then back left, before going over a short headwall to the top. The second cruxy move, a slabby step up and right of the first crux, is protected by an iffy cam in an old pin scar (should've tried a Tricam?), and then the final hardish move up the head wall to the top also unavoidably risks a ledge landing if you blow it. In between these moves you are traversing at the mercy of an old pin, if I recall correctly.
I'm not sorry I did the Brat once but I don't think I will bother leading it again.
Once I got to the top I set up a rope so we could toprope the Katzenjammer variations. There are several lines you can take up the face to the left of the Brat and to the right of the obvious off-width Keyhole cracks. The original route starts just a few feet from the Brat and trends leftward up the path of least resistance but with the security and ease of the top rope you can carve out a direct line of your own choosing. I wouldn't recommend leading any of them as I think the pro is worse than the PG Dick Williams assigns the climb in his guidebook. It may be that, as on the Brat, some historical pins have disappeared since the last time Dick's book was updated in 2004.
We chose one 5.7-ish line to the right, and one 5.8-ish (for one pretty thin face move) to the left. These routes were clean and nice enough. I would never bother doing them again. I would only recommend them to someone whose only option is toproping. Since we were still waiting for the cliff to dry out these routes made sense for us.
By the time we were done with the Brat/Katzenjammer area things did seem to be drying out, and we trooped down to the High E area so I could have a look at another of my 5.10 dream climbs for 2012: Directississima aka Doubleissima (5.10b). Having recently done the neighboring Ridiculissima (5.10d) on top rope with Maryana, I think I have some idea of what the climbing on Doubleissima will be like: steep and pumpy, with good holds and the occasional bomber horizontal for a rest. I like to think I should be able to do it safely, even if I can't send it on the first try. It's okay if at some point I flame out and have to take a hang. My only real worry is the bulge off the traditional first belay, which some people say is tricky to protect. I told Maryana I wanted to jump on Doubleissima and she said "You should do that one if you want to break your ankle again." I took this as half-hearted endorsement.
When I looked at it with Gail, I decided it should wait for a cooler day. We were talking over some other nearby options when it came up that Gail had never done The Last Will Be First (5.6). I had already expressed interest in pitch two of Jim's Gem (5.8). Seemed like a nice combo so we did them.
Leading The Last Will Be First I was happy to have abandoned the thought of doing Doubleissima. The heat on the cliff was brutal. Still it was a nice pitch, long and high-quality, with consistent 5.6 moves.
Despite the heat, we continued from the GT Ledge with Jim's Gem. This pitch seemed short, so I figured why not?
It starts up over a block and into a left-facing corner. Then there are two options: (1) diagonal up right past a piton to a stance at the ceiling, then exit right, or (2) continue straight up the corner and make a thin traverse right, past a piton, to the stance and exit right. I didn't have a plan but thought if variation 1 looked reasonable I would just do that.
I ended up doing variation 1. I was expecting some kind of delicate footwork, but actually it ended up being more of a roof climb. The crux was fun; it required committing to moving right using some slightly slopey holds, then making a couple of overhanging moves upwards on jugs to the stance. I thought it was fairly graded at 5.8. Gail thought it was a little harder.
The pro is worrisome. The piton that protects the crux is really old and rust-eaten. It is pretty junky and I couldn't find a way to back it up. I made the move right and was disappointed to find no pro there either. You have to basically get through the crux before you find real gear. There is a great horizontal right at the point when you are pulling up to the stance.
If that pin were replaced I would certainly recommend Jim's Gem. It is short and fun, and the bolted rap station is just to the left of the finish. But until that pin is replaced, I don't think I'll be back, unless it is to try it by the second variation.
P.S. I want to mention that for these last several posts I have been writing on my iPad using an app called Blogsy. As of this writing it costs $4.99. I have no business connection to the makers of this app. My experience is limited-- I have just been writing text and have not been uploading photos or doing anything otherwise fancy. But it has been so easy and intuitive to use for writing posts that I felt compelled to say something nice about it here. This is an app that simply works. It is so much better than the Blogger app. Google should be ashamed. If you want to write posts on the go, get Blogsy, you won't regret it.