Friday, August 31, 2012

A Day in Boulder Canyon + Eldo's Yellow Spur (5.9+)

(Photo: A climber on Rewritten (5.7) in Eldorado Canyon. Shot from the top of pitch three of The Yellow Spur (5.9+).)

Two years ago I had my first opportunity to climb in Colorado. I did any easy route called The Bomb (5.4) in Eldorado Canyon with my old friend Greg while I was in the state for a family vacation.

While that experience was a lot of fun, I couldn't help but feel it was also a lost opportunity. Surrounded by legendary, challenging climbs, we had done something well below my ability level, in part because Greg was out of climbing shape and in part due to my own insecurities. After this first taste of Eldo I was determined to get more confident and come back to climb some of the storied classics in the canyon. I hoped that I would some day get the chance.

This year another August family vacation provided that chance. We were in Steamboat Springs for a week, and then planned to be close to Denver for several days before returning to NYC. While near Denver I would have a couple of days to go climbing. With thousands upon thousands of climbs nearby, the possibilities seemed endless.

I had a ready partner in my old mentor Vass. Vass had moved back to Boulder from New York last year. During the time when he lived in NYC, Vass had been one of my best partners. He had really taught me a lot. I admired his calm competence with climbing systems and his reliably good footwork. Although he regularly claimed to be out of good climbing form, he would nevertheless sail up anything I could climb and make it look effortless-- putting my clumsy efforts to shame. Vass always encouraged me to move forward. His support made me feel I was capable of doing more; it seemed I was usually at my best when climbing with Vass. I did my first 5.7, 5.8, and 5.9 leads with him. I was psyched to be climbing with him again, especially since our last climbing day hadn't really gone so well.

We met up on a Sunday and decided to spend our first day in Boulder Canyon getting reacquainted and shaking off the rust. Vass and I figured we could do some moderate sport and trad and then on our second day we could go tackle one of the bigger objectives I was looking to climb in Eldorado Canyon. There were so many long classics in Eldo to choose from, climbs like Rewritten (5.7), the Bastille Crack (5.7+) , Ruper (5.8), the Green Spur (5.9), or maybe even the Yellow Spur (5.9+). But first we'd take a day just to get loose and feel good.

I was excited to check out Boulder Canyon. It is a place with a storied history, but I was afraid I wouldn't really care for all the bolted climbs I'd heard about. (I prefer placing gear.) As we drove in, I found the canyon beautiful, but then all of these Front Range canyons are so beautiful. They really have it good in Colorado. Consistent with its history, Boulder Canyon's climbing is varied. You can find recently (over-) bolted sport climbs up slabs right next to sandbagged old traditional climbs that go up cracks.

Vass suggested we start on Tonnere Tower, a formation with moderate climbing that unaccountably has been overlooked until relatively recently. Vass was thinking we would warm up on bolted stuff, then once we got bored do some trad climbing. Our first climb was Los Pinos (The Pines), a multi-pitch route that rises right out of the river. I led the first two pitches in one and then we rapped off. This climb has good moves and it made for a nice warm-up. I found the situation with the bolts to be rather curious. There are numerous bolts right next to bomber gear cracks the whole way up, but then the finishing roof on pitch two requires that you place your own pro. I don't know what the route developers were thinking. I couldn't quite make sense of the difficulty ratings either. I thought nothing on the 5.9 pitch two was as hard as the opening slab moves on the 5.8 pitch one. But whatever, it was a good time.

(Photo: Vass leading pitch one of Buried Treasure (5.8+).)

We then went around the corner and did two nice single-pitch sport routes, Twilight Time (5.9+ and fun) and Bobby's Back (supposedly 5.10d). Bobby's Back features rather delicate face climbing for a few moves past the second and third bolts. Though neither of us led it perfectly clean I'm pretty sure I could get it now after doing it once.

We finished our time at Tonnere Tower with a two-pitch sport route called Buried Treasure (5.8+), electing to add to it the 5.10a final pitch of Stayin' Alive. These three pitches had good climbing but if there is a move on Stayin' Alive that is harder than 5.8 I'd like you to show it to me! Putting the difficulty rating aside, Stayin' Alive was the nicest pitch we did on the tower, with good starting face moves and a fun easy dihedral.

By now we had done seven pitches and our day was slipping away. I had enjoyed the climbing so far, but I have to say my initial apprehensions were confirmed. I'd rather do trad lines up natural features than bolted lines up faces. That's just the way I am. Vass wasn't surprised. He said he wanted me to see Castle Rock, which is filled with old-school traditional climbs. We drove over there and Vass sent me up a 5.8 called Bailey's Overhang.

I could tell I was going to like this one before I even got started. Bailey's Overhang is good stuff indeed, a natural line following cracks and a corner up to a big roof. I really enjoyed leading this. I felt solid while jamming through the steep opening moves. Then I scared myself a little at the roof when I couldn't get my right foot up where I wanted it. But my back was against the left wall and there was no way I was going to fall out. After stepping down and resetting the move I got through it just fine. Vass made it look easy using holds to the left that had eluded me.

(Photo: Vass pulling through the roof on Bailey's Overhang (5.8).)

We didn't have much time left so we threw a top rope over a route just left of Bailey's called Curving Crack (5.9). I loved this one as well, and felt very good climbing it. It follows another natural line, a crack up a corner that gets steeper as it rises. Some tense laybacking with somewhat slippery hands gets it done. I wished we'd had time for me to lead it, but it was a great finish to the day.

There is a lifetime of climbing in Boulder Canyon. I'd love to go back to see more.

After our day in Boulder Canyon I decided I was climbing pretty well. I proposed we meet up early on our second day (a Monday) and head straight for my most ambitious objective in Eldorado Canyon: the Yellow Spur (5.9+). I wanted to tackle something big, and this six-pitch classic, which some call the best 5.9 in Colorado, seemed to fit the bill. I felt I was ready to lead the crux pitches.

(Photo: View of the Flatirons from the road into Eldorado Canyon.)

When we got to Eldo I was thrilled to find that the lot was almost empty. We humped up the trail to the far end of the Redgarden Wall to find the area deserted. I was very happy not to have to worry about faster parties breathing down our necks, and psyched not to have an audience for the "problematical" 5.9 first pitch.

This pitch was, for me, the crux of the whole route. It goes up a right-facing corner to a roof. There is a piton in the roof, maybe 15-20 feet off the ground, but it doesn't appear that there is any useful pro before the piton. In his recent guidebook Steve Levin warns of the potential for ground fall if you fail to make the clip at this piton. The climbing here is also a little strange and awkward. There is a good handhold on the side wall, but stepping up to the pin puts you off-balance.

We may have set a record by placing four (!) pieces of pro before clipping the pin. First Vass placed a piece for me off to the side before I even left the ground, which he then cleaned once I got other gear. I put a blue Alien in the first finger pocket as soon as I was done using the pocket to step up. And then I placed two equalized micro nuts in a thin seam on the side of the juggy hold on the left wall. I thought the nuts were solid, but I worried that the rock quality might be a problem. I feared that if I fell, the force of the fall would rip the good jug right off the left wall. If that happened, I'd not only hit the ground and break both my legs, but I'd also be known forever as the idiot who changed the standard start of the Yellow Spur from a 5.9 to a 5.11 by destroying the crucial hold.

As luck would have it, I didn't fall. I stemmed wide and was able to reach up, blind, to clip the pin. Then I was able to commit to the slopey rail beneath the pin and make the awkward exit from the corner.

Whew! The rest of the pitch was a breeze, traversing left to an easy roof problem. At least, I thought it was easy. Here is the place where I get to be the guy who says "in the Gunks, this roof would never be a 5.9!" Well, I thought the supposed crux 5.9 roof would probably be rated a 5.7 in the Gunks. There are great holds for the hands and feet. I sailed right over it, feeling great. Being a Gunks climber does at times have its advantages.

(Photo: Vass heading into the 5.8 pitch two hanging corner on the Yellow Spur.)

Pitch two was Vass' lead. This pitch is high quality, with a committing step up into a hanging right-facing corner and a few good 5.8 face moves up the corner to a ledge. My lead of pitch three was also fun, with mostly juggy 5.7 climbing up to an interesting 5.8 V-slot.

(Photo: Sorry for the butt shot, but this is me leading into the 5.8 slot on pitch three of the Yellow Spur.)

Pitch four of the Yellow Spur is where the real business begins again. This was Vass' lead, and while he was up there I wasn't thinking much about what he was doing, because I was preoccupied with getting mentally ready for pitch five, the hardest one on the route. But when he reached the belay and I started to come up behind him, I realized that pitch four is not something to treat lightly. It is not the pitch people talk about the most but it is challenging and pretty fantastic. I was jealous that Vass had led it. The pitch climbs easily up a huge dihedral to a roof, where an exposed, rising hand traverse takes you out and up to a pedestal belay stance. It is rated 5.8+, but I think the traverse is mentally harder than that. There are footholds but they get smaller and smaller as the position gets more and more airy. And then after you commit, turn the corner and start to move up to the pedestal, there more moves to be made before you reach the belay stance.

(Photo: Vass doing the exposed rising traverse on the 5.8+ pitch four of the Yellow Spur.)

And what a belay stance. We were now standing on a tiny shelf, something like 400 feet off the ground, at the base of the final headwall beneath the pointed summit of the Redgarden Wall's Tower One. Above me was a line of pitons showing the way up a steep face at 5.9+. The atmosphere was electric.

(Photo: Looking down on Vass at the pedestal belay below the crux pitch of the Yellow Spur.)

As I stood there I felt pretty sure I was ready. I could hardly contain my excitement. This was exactly what I'd dreamed of, two years before, when I'd first gotten a taste of Eldorado Canyon. I wanted to work hard, get fitter and better, and feel comfortable going somewhere other than the Gunks and jumping on a world-class 5.9.

I was on the verge of making the dream a reality but I had to forget all that and actually climb the thing.

Vass asked me if I wanted to look at the topo but I knew what I had to do and I just wanted to get going. We had been in the shade all morning but now we had emerged into the bright sunshine and I could feel the heat building. It was now or never and I did not want to hesitate.

The pitch is insanely great. It starts out with good holds leading up a crack. After I backed up a piton with a small cam I had to start the hard stuff, making a committing step over to the right using tiny crimps for the hands and small footholds. Once established on the face, several thin, pumpy moves up a shallow corner got me past more pins to a welcome stance. I let out a huge sigh of relief when it was done. I was elated but still had to do the mentally challenging rising traverse up to the exposed arete. Known as the "Robbins Traverse," this beautiful sequence goes at a reasonable 5.7+ but is completely devoid of gear.

(Photo: Vass working through the crux 5.9+ section of pitch five of the Yellow Spur.)

About two steps into this traverse the sequence is devious. There is a 5.7 way to do it but the crucial hold is hidden. Maybe there is an easier way to find it, but I had to make a committing step up using a fragile flake for an undercling. Feeling around with the other hand, in a very tenuous position, I was fortunate to find the right way to go. Once I found the hold, the pitch was in the bag. I lingered over every move to the arete, enjoying the scenery.

(Photo: Vass partway up the 5.6 final pitch to the top of the Yellow Spur.)

My work was done. The final pitch was Vass' lead. Levin rates it at 5.6 R, and it is easy but run out for the second half. It is a beautiful pitch, which I might liken to the arete pitch of Directissima in the Gunks-- if Directissima were several hundred feet higher. It is a fitting payoff for the route, ending the climb on a high note. Vass had no trouble with it, and seemed to enjoy it all the way to the top.

(Photo: taking in the exposure on the final pitch of the Yellow Spur.)

I also enjoyed climbing the final pitch, but as I got close to the top I got very anxious about the weather. A black cloud had suddenly rolled in as Vass began leading the pitch. Both of us felt the storm was likely to just miss us as it passed overhead but I could see rain in the distance and as I climbed I could hear the rumble of thunder growing closer and closer. The top of a pointed tower was the last place I wanted to be during an electrical storm.

Once I reached the top it fell to me to traverse the pointed "roof" of Tower One to reach the Dirty Deed rappel, which was our quickest route to the ground. This rappel route, which goes down a loose chimney, isn't recommended by Levin but on a weekday I wasn't worried about knocking rocks onto climbers below and I wanted to get down as soon as possible. The roof traverse was somewhat nerve-wracking for me, as I did it accompanied by continuing thunder and a few rain drops. I stayed on belay and placed a few pieces of gear along the traverse. (I can't imagine doing it without at least staying roped up.)

(Photo: Hiking down to the car. Goodbye, Eldo.)

Once I reached the rappel station all was well. The skies cleared and we descended without incident.

Climbing the Yellow Spur was one of the most satisfying climbing experiences I've ever had. The route follows a gorgeous line and features numerous interesting cruxes. It lives up to its billing as a destination climb.

But for me it was more than just a great climb. The Yellow Spur validated what I've been doing. I don't get outside enough. I feel like my progress is slow. But climbing the Yellow Spur provided proof that the progress is there; it is real. The whole climb felt within my limits. There was never a moment that felt out of control. We made the right choices throughout the climb and approached it in as safe and reasonable a manner as possible. I could never have climbed it in this fashion this two years ago, when I first visited Eldorado Canyon.

Thank you, Eldo! I don't know when I will ever get back again, but I can't wait.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gunks Routes: V-3 (5.7), Limelight (5.7), Arrow (5.8) & Horseman (5.5)

(Photo: Starting up V-3. Right here there's this one little reachy move. This move has given me a moment's pause both of the times I've led the route.)

This past weekend I played tour guide at the Gunks.

I was climbing with Deepak and Chin, two climbers I know from Brooklyn Boulders. They had little trad experience and wanted me to show them what trad climbing in the Gunks is all about. They knew how to belay and they'd been outside to climb, even followed a few trad pitches before, but had never rappelled or done a multi-pitch route.

If you wanted to introduce someone to the Gunks, which climbs would you choose?

I wanted the climbs to be classics. I wanted them to be interesting, and unlike the gym experience.

I thought V-3 (5.7) might be a nice place to start. It has a short first pitch, with a good crux that is totally unlike any gym climb. You have to use your body to get into the v-notch at the top of the pitch, and then you have to figure out how to get out of the notch to finish the climb. I was sure Deepak and Chin would have no trouble climbing the route, and I hoped that it would convert them to the way of the tradster, forever changing their view of the outdoor experience vs. indoor pulling on plastic.

My plan was that I would lead the pitch and stay at the top, bringing them both up.  Once we were all there at the belay I could set them up to rappel, instruct them, then lower myself to the ground and give each of them a fireman's belay for their rappels. (A fireman's belay involves simply holding the rope while a person rappels. In the unlikely event that the rappeller loses control of the rap, the belayer pulls hard on the ropes, which stops them from going through the rappeller's device.)

I figured that if the climbing and rappelling on V-3 went well, we could then go do some multi-pitch climbs on the Arrow wall. But if Deepak and Chin were not into doing a multi-pitch climb after V-3, we could do any of a number of good moderate first pitches that were close by, like Alley Oop or Cakewalk.

(Photo: Getting up to the notch on V-3 (5.7).)

Everything went according to plan, at first. I led the pitch and liked it even more than I did last year. It isn't just about the v-notch. There are some good moves right at the start and just underneath the notch. The notch itself is fun, of course, and well protected.

Chin followed me up and seemed to do well with the climbing.

(Photo: Chin making the final moves out of the notch on V-3.)

But it was hot and sunny at the belay station, and as Deepak came up to join us Chin seemed to wilt in the heat. She told me she felt like she might pass out.

Oh no! This was not good. It had happened to me once before. But that time I'd been in the middle of leading a pitch when my partner Liz said she felt faint. That was a hairier situation. This time around we were both securely fastened to a bolted anchor, so there was nothing really to worry about. Still I wanted to get her to the ground where there was shade and water as soon as possible.

Luckily Deepak was just about at the anchor so when he arrived I lowered Chin to the ground. She didn't pass out and felt better almost as soon as she got down. Once I knew she was okay I set Deepak up to rappel and then we both descended. Deepak rappelled like a pro.

I thought we might be done after just one pitch but to my surprise both Chin and Deepak wanted to continue. Chin was okay with single-pitch climbing but Deepak wanted to go above one pitch if he could. I decided to take them up Limelight (5.7) and Arrow (5.8). I would have Chin follow the first pitch of each, then lower her. Then I'd bring Deepak up and continue with the upper pitches.

I had done the second pitches of both climbs as recently as last year, but I hadn't been on the first pitch of either one since 2009. I remembered the first pitches as being unremarkable. And it is true, neither climb's first pitch is as great as the second.

But Limelight's first pitch isn't bad at all. It is quite nice. It has consistent climbing at an easy 5.6- level, with some interesting moves around the flakes at the top of the pitch. It is well-protected once you get going, but it takes while for the pro to appear right after you leave the ground.

(Photo: Relaxing atop Limelight (5.7), waiting to use the rappel station.)

Limelight's second pitch is one of my favorites. There is one hazard I want to warn you about. I think this is a recent development. There is a very loose block just to your right as you get above the GT Ledge and onto the upper wall. The climbing here is quite easy-- this is a ways below the Limelight flake-- so the block is not hard to avoid. But I think I have placed gear behind this block in the past. This time, when it easily moved as soon as I touched it, I placed nothing in its vicinity, causing a bit of a runout.

Once you reach the unique Limelight flake, the awesomeness begins. It looks so thin. It is hard to believe the edges of this flake will be as positive as they are. But once you commit to the big move to get on top of the flake, the hands and feet are all there. Beautiful, delicate climbing takes you up past a pin to the rooflet, and then a few thin steps take you left to the finishing jugs. Along the way the pro is good. The flake will take small nuts pretty much anywhere, and there are downward-facing slots for cams on the traverse.

(Photo: Deepak following me up the 5.6 first pitch of Arrow.)

Arrow's first pitch is not as nice as Limelight's. There's nothing really interesting about it. The second pitch is wonderful, though. A fun easy roof leads to great face climbing on marble-like white rock past two bolts.

Arrow was my first 5.8 lead back in 2009, and when I look back I'm not quite sure how I managed it, since I still find the crux move considerably harder than 5.8, even though I've led it three times now. I've gone to the left at the top bolt every time, because going to the right seems impossible. Even now that I have my strategy set in advance I find it challenging to commit and execute it. I'm still psyched that I somehow got it onsight. I don't want to spoil it so I won't tell you about the mantel/reach-through maneuver that I do...

Oops, I let it slip out there.

I did one thing differently this time that I'd never done before: I placed pro twice between the bolts. There are some thin cracks that will take pretty solid small Aliens. As I placed the second piece, which was just a few feet below the second bolt, it suddenly occurred to me that these bolts are bullshit. They are unnecessary; the pro isn't that bad without them. I resolved to come back to do a "fair means" ascent of Arrow, without clipping the bolts. Then after my perfect, truly free ascent of this compromised route I would have license to chop the the bolts on rappel, returning the climb to its natural state for the greater good and the glory of trad climbers everywhere.

I am kidding, of course. I don't think that would go over too well.

Maybe I'm 60% kidding.

It would be kind of neat to climb it without clipping the bolts.  I might try it some time.  I'm sure I wouldn't be the first.  Heck, I'm sure someone has free soloed the route wearing sneakers, in the rain.

Chin and Deepak both had no trouble climbing Limelight and Arrow, and Chin in particular wanted to do at least one more climb.  I felt a little bad that she'd missed out on the upper pitches of the climbs.  So I proposed we finish with Horseman (5.5), a climb that is traditionally two pitches.  We could do it in one pitch (as most people do these days), but Chin could count it as two, and she'd get to top out on the cliff.

Luckily we found it open and finished up with another great classic.  I love Horseman because it introduces you to so much of what the Gunks is about.  You get thin face climbing, followed by a fun dihedral, a traverse to avoid a roof, and then steep juggy climbing to the top. 

I don't know how many times I've climbed Horseman.  On Sunday it was a joy.  As I reached the end of the climb, I thought about how lucky I was that Chin and Deepak had asked me to show them around.  The climbs we did together weren't projects of mine, and I wouldn't have chosen them if I'd been out with one of my usual partners.  But climbing them was like being reunited with old friends. 

There's something to be said for cruising up old favorites.  It is a lot of fun.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Casablanca (5.9), Art's Route (5.9), and the Problem of Tunnel Vision

In mid-July, I got the chance to climb with Maryana again, for the first time since April. I had been busy, and my available days hadn't matched up well with hers. I'd been forced to turn her down so many times it was a wonder she'd still speak to me.

In one sense we were still climbers of similar capabilities; we were both wading into Gunks 5.10 climbs. But in another sense we were different. Maryana was climbing more, and actually getting somewhere on these climbs. Since I'd last seen her Maryana had led Simple Stuff, Nosedive, and Birdcage. By contrast, I'd successfully onsighted the one-move Splashtic and backed off of every other 5.10 I tried.

I was excited to see what she could do when we got together. Unfortunately our time was short, and we both struggled with our warm-ups.

We were both interested in leading Wegetables, so we hiked on down to the far end of the Trapps. Maryana decided to start with Casablanca (5.9), a climb with a short, reachy roof crux that she'd struggled with once before.

This was a climb I had sent onsight, although I had to try reaching the jug in several different ways before I finally just popped for it and easily grabbed it. Maryana was thinking she'd probably solve it immediately this time around, since she'd improved as a climber so much over the last year or so since her last attempt.

But alas, she struggled again. She wormed around the big roof flake in several different ways, trying to reach the jug, but she just couldn't get it. One of the good things about Casablanca is that you can do this over and over again and never hang on your gear, because it is easy to step down to the stance beneath the flake. Maryana did this several times, but eventually took a hang or two on her cam in the flexy flake (it holds!).

Finally she tried something different, throwing a heel and getting over the roof, delicately reaching up until she had the good hold. Afterwards she said she felt like she'd approached the climb with tunnel vision, thinking there had to be a way she could reach the hold directly, since she'd seen others do it. If she'd considered the heel hook more quickly she surely would have sent it.

I had a few inches on Maryana and I could just pop for the hold, so I didn't give much thought to what she said, although perhaps I should have paid more attention.

Safety alert: there are still slings on the tree just over the lip on Casablanca. Please do not rap from this tree. It is DEAD. Maryana could move the tree with her hands. It is not safe. There is a larger, living tree with slings about 20-30 feet higher. We used doubles, tied together, to rap from this tree. A 70 meter would likely make it, but a single 60 probably won't. You should either do the climb with doubles or do the second pitch, so you can use the Casa Emilio raps or walk off.

After we rapped down, I suggested we try the nearby Casanova (5.9-), a no-star climb that goes through the roof at a different place. I looked the roof over on rappel and it looked pretty cool. But the climb was in the full-on sun and Maryana wisely wanted to look for shade on this hot hot day.

So I suggested Art's Route (5.9), a climb that Dick Williams upgraded to two stars in his 2004 guidebook. And on Art's Route I had a little tunnel vision episode of my own.

I got through the first crux, an awkward mantel over a low roof. It wasn't pretty and I used a knee but I will take it.

Then at the second crux, which involves getting over a bigger ceiling and into a notch, I thought I had it figured out. From underneath the roof, moving to the right for a second I could see a hold I needed to reach, and I also clipped a very useful fixed nut. Then, from back under the roof, I made the big move to reach the key hold on my first try.

I now know this is the hardest move on the pitch, but after I grabbed the key hold I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get myself over the roof and into the notch. I tried it over and over again, and every time I couldn't make it. I climbed down several times and after a while I started hanging on that fixed nut.

Finally I realized that like Maryana, I was suffering from tunnel vision. In my case it was literally true. I was looking only into the notch for holds. I was failing to try to find a hold outside the notch that I could use to pull myself up and into it. Once I realized this I got it on the first try, the climb was over, and I cursed myself for my stupidity. This could easily have been an onsight.  Maryana ran right up it as the second.

Art's Route is just a short, single pitch, but it is a very nice climb with two very different, and pretty difficult, cruxes. I highly recommend it and I will be back to send it!

(Photo:  Cowering under Wegetables, trying vainly to wait out a storm.)

Probably I will return to do it on a day in which I try Casanova and Wegetables as well. Maryana and I never got to do Wegetables. It grew overcast as we worked on Art's Route and it started pouring right as we arrived underneath Wegetables. We crouched there against the wall staying relatively dry for forty-five minutes, hoping the storm would pass without getting the climb wet. But as it continued and the rain came down harder and harder, we realized that not only was Wegetables in jeopardy, but that our whole day might be shot. Eventually the rain dripped through the roofs all over the climb and we gave up, marching out in the continuing downpour. We were thwarted after just two pitches.

While we stood there I looked over the climb and gained a renewed hunger for coming back to lead it. I remembered the tough spots and I think I still have the beta in mind to send the thing. I need to have a good autumn with lots of splitter weather so I can come back and conquer these 5.9's and 5.10's that are piling up, waiting for me.

Gunks Routes: The Brat (Direct 5.7), Katzenjammer (5.7) & Jim's Gem (5.8)

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.