(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.