Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gunks Routes: Commando Rave (5.9) & Dat-Mantel (5.10b)

(Photo: Maryana starting the crux section of Commando Rave (5.9).)
Last Sunday was a gorgeous day, with highs in the mid- to-upper sixties. In other words: sending weather. High season, baby!
I was meeting up with Maryana for the first time in a while. She had been forced to take an eight-week break from climbing because of a cycling accident in the city, which had left her with several fractures in her back. This was a heartbreaking blow for her, coming as it did right in the middle of a great climbing year. Before the accident Maryana had led some truly impressive Gunks 5.10's (like Birdcage, for example). But now she had to rebuild. I was climbing with her on only her second weekend back in the climbing game.
We started with a nice warm-up. I led both pitches of Son of Bitchy Virgin (5.6) in one, running it all the way to the GT ledge. I'd never done the first pitch before. It is okay, but after the initial 5.5 overhang there isn't really much to recommend it. I think the second pitch is quite nice, but it is better approached via the Immaculate Conception variation.
After our warm-up Maryana did an excellent job leading Dry Heaves, a challenging 5.8. Then I got down to business with one of those 5.9's I still hadn't gotten around to: Commando Rave.
Dick Williams suggests in his guide book that Commando Rave is a polarizing climb. He says some love it and some hate it. I guess the hate springs from the lack of pro before the crux. The climb begins with some nice moves up a seam. Then comes an unprotected thirty-foot (!) traverse, but really this traverse is so easy it is barely fifth class. For most of it you are basically walking on a sidewalk. And about two-thirds of the way across I actually got a big blue Camalot in the crack at my feet. After that the rest of the way was well-protected.
The crux is really fun. You angle up and right through some overhangs to a left-facing corner. The hardest bit comes as you reach the end of the roof at the corner. You have to hang in to place a bomber piece, and then it takes a balance move out right to escape the corner and reach up to the good hold.
Once through the crux the belay tree is just a couple of moves away. Commando Rave is good, featuring a solid 5.9 crux. It is a quality quick tick, and totally worth doing. It isn't amazing, and it certainly isn't bad. I really can't imagine loving or hating it.
(Photo: Heading up to the big roof on Dat-Mantel (5.10b).)
I felt pretty good about Commando Rave, and afterwards thought I might get another quick tick, this time of a 5.10. I jumped right on the nearby Dat-Mantel.
This was a climb I'd aborted leading with Gail. On that occasion I was just getting up to the roof when I realized I needed some big gear I'd already used below, and then it started raining. After abandoning the lead I sent it pretty easily on toprope on the first try. Pissed to have found it so easy, I resolved then to try to come back and get the redpoint on lead before 2012 was out.
(Photo: Getting ready to attack the roof on Dat-Mantel.)
This time, on lead, I wouldn't say it went easily, exactly. I fumbled about a bit before figuring out how to reach the bomber horizontal above the roof. Then I was psyched to place two good cams above the roof, one for each of our double ropes.
I got set to throw a heel and pivot over the roof....
And it worked out. It took a few tries. It wasn't pretty. I remember standing right up over the roof when I did it on top rope. On lead, by contrast, I ended up basically pushing my whole leg and hip into the rock before I could pull myself over the roof. But I never weighted the rope, and I made it! I'll gladly call it a victory and put it in the bank.
Dat-Mantel is a good introductory 5.10.  The crux is short and the pro is great.  You should be careful as you figure out how to reach the horizontal over the roof.  There is good pro at the back, where the roof meets the wall, but until you can plug that horizontal over your head a fall will send you down onto the slab.  It wouldn't be a dangerous fall, but it would be unpleasant.  Once you get your fingers in the horizontal, however, there are great placements left and right, and you can try the roof move over and over again without falling onto the rope. 
After Dat-Mantel my day was as good as done.  With a new 5.9 onsight to my credit plus a successful 5.10,  I was content to coast. Maryana proved herself to be the comeback kid, leading two more hard 5.8's: the wonderful first pitches of both Carbs & Caffeine and Airy Aria. I then got to end our day by combining the beautiful second and third pitches of Airy Aria into one lead, a fitting finish to a glorious day of climbing.
I love sending season.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rated R in the Gunks: The Blackout (5.9-), Ape Call (5.8) & Raubenheimer Special (5.7)

Last Monday (Labor Day) was the third consecutive half-day of climbing in the Gunks for Gail and me. We arrived at the cliffs early and without much of a plan. We had talked about maybe doing Apoplexy (5.9) or Retribution (5.10b). But we hadn't discussed a warm-up route.

As we walked into the Trapps I suddenly thought of The Blackout (5.9-), a climb that Gail had introduced me to last year. This climb sits right in the middle of a very popular part of the cliff, near Jackie (5.5), Betty (5.3), Baby (5.6), Son of Easy O (5.8), and others. But no one is ever on it. Last year I had tried the first two pitches (which are both 5.8), combining them in one lead. I got a bit befuddled at the overhang on the traditional second pitch. I stepped up and down several times before committing to the move, getting worn out and then taking a hang during the traverse that came afterwards. I knew I could go back now and do better. And I thought it might be worth looking at the third pitch, which has a G-rated 5.9- roof crux but some allegedly R-rated climbing off the belay ledge up to the roof.

This time around I combined the first two pitches again. They are both very good. The first pitch starts with a fun bulge right off the ground and then, moving a little to the right, presents lower-angled thin face moves up to a ledge beneath the second pitch overhang and traverse. On Monday I brought my red C3 with me because I remembered that last year I found a funky sideways placement for it in a seam to protect the thin face moves.

Everything went well on the first pitch. I found the seam and the funky red C3 placement and danced up to the ledge, enjoying the climbing and feeling good. But Gail insisted that I went too far to the right. She was sure that last year I'd found a different seam, a different funky red C3 placement, and different thin face moves up to the ledge.

Was she right? Who knows? Either way there is pro for the moves and fun 5.8 climbing.

I continued straight into the traditional second pitch, without any hesitation this time around. This is in my opinion the best part of the climb. Once you pull the overhang a balancy move up and right to a pin presents the crux. Then a pumpy traverse right with good holds brings you to yet more steep climbing straight up on jugs to the belay ledge. The pro is good throughout. Save your red and yellow Camalots for the traverse, you'll be glad to have them. This is a really nice sequence. It looks very intimidating from below, but it's all there.

After Gail joined me atop pitch two I walked over to have a look at the R-rated beginning to The Blackout's third pitch. I could see why it is rated R. There is a bolt just over the lip of the overhang but no obvious pro on the face beneath the roof. Any fall before clipping the bolt would send the leader straight down to the ledge. Dick Williams says this unprotected face is 5.8.

As I looked it over, though, it appeared far easier than 5.8 to me. I decided to make a few moves up to evaluate the climbing and see if I could finagle any placements. I figured I wouldn't do anything that I couldn't reverse until I was sure about continuing.

It turned out to be really easy. Maybe I've just been climbing a lot lately and my view is skewed, but I really didn't think it was harder than 5.6 getting up to the bolt. There is this one little reach to the good hold under the roof. I placed a worthless nut over to the left before making this move. The nut immediately popped out but it didn't matter. I knew there was no way I was going to fall off the move, so I wasn't worried. Once I had the good hold in hand I clipped the bolt and it was well-protected and juggy the whole rest of the way. I thought the roof was straightforward and easier than 5.9.

I like The Blackout. The first two pitches are really nice, and different from each other. I am sure I will do them again. I'd feel comfortable going back to do the third pitch as well, but I don't know that I will bother. It just isn't interesting enough. There are much better roof pitches in the Gunks.

Once we got down to the ground I decided maybe I should take a look at another R-rated climb I'd never considered before: Ape Call (5.8).

(Photo: Gail about to make the crux slab moves on the first pitch of Ape Call (5.8).)

Ape Call is just around the corner to the left of The Blackout. The first pitch begins with an R-rated slab. The second pitch ends with a huge roof. Both pitches are 5.8. I've always been attracted to the roof but scared away by the protection rating on the slab. But after my experience on The Blackout, I thought maybe I could check out Ape Call the same way. I could take it one step at a time, not doing anything irreversible, and just climb back down if I thought it was too risky.

It turns out the first moves are no big deal. You quickly find yourself at a stance just a couple of moves from the top of the slab. At just above waist level is a small horizontal seam, with two narrow pockets that take tiny gear. I fiddled with these pockets for a while and got a black Alien to the left, and a purple C3 to the right. I think I got them both well set. I gave these cams some hard tugs, and while there is only so much you can tell from this kind of gear testing, they didn't budge. I thought they were good.

(Photo: Bomber, dude! The crux gear on Ape Call (5.8).)

Then I evaluated the move. Above me was an obvious hold. I figured that if this hold was positive, I could make the one step up and over pretty easily and then place better gear above the lip of the slab. If I reached up and didn't like it, I could still step down and bail.

I stepped up and tested it once, and wasn't sure I liked it, so I stepped down.

Then I stepped up and tried it again and it felt really good. That was all I needed. One step up, plus an easy-does-it step to the right, and I was in good shape. I could reach up and place a perfect cam in the corner above the slab.

(Photo: Gail attacking the huge roof on the traditional pitch two of Ape Call (5.8).)

I really enjoyed the slab. And the rest of Ape Call is better than good-- it is awesome. I ran the two pitches together in one. The remainder of the traditional pitch one has some steep moves up the corner above the slab. Then mellow climbing takes you further up the corner system to the roof. Once beneath the overhang you have to move left to get the good handholds below the lip of the roof. Here you should be careful, because there are several loose blocks that are covered in chalk along the way. Negotiate the traverse left, and then the fun really begins. Move back right, getting fully horizontal under the big roof, grab the jugs in the notch and go!

Ape Call is a great route. It has one of the best 5.8 roofs in the Gunks. And if I am right about the gear then I don't think the start is really R-rated. I would lead it again.

Having done these two R-rated routes, I just had to check out Raubenheimer Special (5.7), another R-rated climb that is in the same area, between Ape Call and The Blackout. I had to do it. It was sitting right there. I'd never been on it before, but Gail had led it and she said it was no big deal. How could I not complete the R-rated trilogy?

Raubenheimer's turned out to be the scariest route of the three, in my opinion. It is a clean route, with good low-angled climbing up an arete and face. But the crux thin move, about 25 feet up, comes above a ledge you will hit if you fail. There really isn't anything much you can do about it. I worked a nut into a shallow placement in a seam to the right, and maybe this nut was good. But the actual climbing is a ways over to the left at the arete, and if you blow the move I don't think the nut will keep you from an ankle-tweaker of a fall. And after stepping up at the crux you need to place a piece in the horizontal over your head from a rather fragile stance. The climbing is rated just 5.7, but I felt I was in much more jeopardy on this route than on the other two. I felt the moves were less secure, less certain. I'm not sorry I did it once but I don't know if I will ever go back.

In writing this post I don't want to encourage you to do something stupid. Please don't go climb one of these routes just because of whatever I may say about them. You have to make your own judgment about the risks.

Really the key insight I gained from climbing these routes is that the decision to climb an R-rated route involves the same sort of thinking that governs every other step you take as a trad leader.

You don't protect every move when you lead, even when the opportunities are there. You need to conserve gear and slings. With every step as a leader you evaluate whether you need to place some protection, or whether you can go a little further. The distance to your last pro figures into the equation, of course, but so too does the difficulty of the terrain. If you're sure you are not going to fall you will be much more inclined to keep running it out a little longer. And so if you are climbing a route with a 5.9 crux, for example, you are going to be making sure you protect the 5.9 moves. And you will be less inclined to place pro during the stretches of 5.6 or 5.7 between the cruxes. You will enter R-rated territory frequently, by choice, when the climbing is beneath your limit. You have to, or you will run out of gear.

The analysis when negotiating an R-rated route is thus similar to any G or PG route. You have to ask yourself with every move whether you are confident you can continue without pro. The only real difference is that if the answer is no, you don't have the option to place a piece. You have to be prepared either to make the move and take a risk, or to bail. If you find yourself unable to do either one, you've made a big mistake.

After I finished Ape Call, Gail asked me how I was feeling while leading the slab. I had to say I just felt good. I wondered aloud about whether courting danger added to the experience, or even represented the heart of the experience of climbing. I'm sure for some people it does.

I have never thought that risking injury was at the core of climbing for me. But it can be hard to know for sure. I like to push my limits. And I surely feed off of the adrenaline rush I get from powering through a tough sequence. If I am, either consciously or unconsciously, flirting with danger because it gives me an even bigger rush, then I think I am in an unhealthy place and need to reevaluate what I am doing.

But I like to think I am not in such a place. I enjoyed The Blackout and Ape Call because I evaluated them carefully and continued with the climbing when I was sure it would be okay. I solved both puzzles and felt satisfied physically and intellectually. On Raubenheimer Special, by contrast, when I felt for a fleeting moment that maybe-- just maybe-- I was taking too big a risk, it didn't give me a rush or make me feel good. It actually made me feel a little sick. It was not a feeling I wanted more of.

Labor Day weekend ended my summer with a bang. I hope to get in a few more 5.10 leads before the end of 2012. The autumn, aka Gunks sending season, will soon be upon us. Even if I don't succeed on any new 5.10's, I feel like I've had some good progress this year. The 5.9's all feel pretty good and occasionally I hit a 5.10 just right. My climbing has improved a lot, I think, and I hope to stay healthy through the fall and winter so I can again take it to the next level.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gunks Routes: Yellow Belly (5.8), Birdland Direct (5.9) & Alphonse (5.8)

(Photo: Gail checking out the interesting roof problem on pitch one of Yellow Belly (5.8).)

Last Sunday Gail and I started early with a plan that we would head to the Near Trapps for a half day of climbing. I had numerous routes in mind as candidates for us. I was considering Criss Cross Direct, a 5.10a with a well-protected crux right off the ground. But first I thought we should check out one of the great 5.8 climbs in the Nears that I had never done. Specifically I was thinking of Broken Sling or Yellow Belly.

Gail wasn't too keen on doing Broken Sling. She had done it before and remembered the traverse at the beginning of pitch two as really scary. So that one was out. When we got to the cliff we decided to look at Yellow Belly, which she'd never tried, instead.

Yellow Belly gets two stars from Dick Williams, but no one seems to do it. I think this is mostly because the crux of pitch two involves getting in and out of an awkward alcove. It sounded like fun to me, or at least like something different than the usual thing.

When we got to the base I saw another reason why the climb might be unpopular. There is a tree not far off the deck that looks like it might be in the way. (It isn't.) The tree obscures the view of the climb from below, making the climb easy to pass over. I walked back and forth between Alphonse and Yellow Ridge a couple of times before deciding we were looking at the correct start for Yellow Belly.

Straightforward climbing at a low angle (sling the tree for your first pro!) leads up to the crux roof on pitch one. And this roof is a puzzler. It can be easily avoided on the right but I encourage you to tackle it directly. The difficulty is that you have to get into a hanging right-facing corner over the roof. There is a layback hold in the corner but nowhere to place your feet for the layback, since there is nothing but air below the left side of the corner. It took me a while but I finally figured something out and it was a really cool move. It was definitely not your standard jug haul.

Once above the roof, I was surprised to see a big off-width crack going up the corner. This off-width is too wide to protect with gear. I didn't recall any mention of an off-width in the guidebook so I decided that I was supposed to move left to the outside nose/arete, where I built a belay. Later I saw that Dick does say something about going up a corner/crack to the nose, so maybe I skipped a vital part of pitch. I'm still not quite clear on where the route actually goes. I enjoyed pitch one nonetheless and looked forward to pitch two.

I could see the alcove looming above. But first we had to deal with another crux early in the second pitch. A slabby low-angled face leads up from the belay stance. You have two choices: go up the face close to the nose, or move left to a right-facing corner with a tiny seam at the back. Neither option looks easy. I thought I remembered Dick saying something about staying close to the nose. So I decided to climb over to the right. But there isn't any pro over there, so first I placed a tiny nut in the seam at the left and then moved back right to do the face-climbing. One or two thin moves gained me easier blocky ground up to the alcove. Gail thought I would have been better off not placing the off-line pro to the left, but I can't really say.

And then at the alcove itself I learned why the climb is named Yellow Belly. I had to do a full-on belly flop to get into the alcove. I found myself lying totally prone on a block. The crux for me was the transition from this belly flop to something resembling a standing position. It was very squirmy and cramped but the pro was good so I think it counts as fun! Gail certainly seemed to find my situation amusing. For me the exit from the alcove was easier than getting into it. The exit is a standard Gunks roof escape, moving left with good hands and poor feet, then taking the leap of faith and swinging out and around the outside corner onto the face.

As I placed a piece in a convenient slot at the left exit to the alcove, I thought the climb was all but over.  But I was mistaken. After I climbed up another twenty feet or so, with the top of the cliff almost in reach, I was suddenly immobilized. I couldn't move because the rope was stuck somewhere down below.

I tried to shake it loose, but it wouldn't budge.

When it fully sank in that I couldn't get the rope free I started screaming obscenities. I envisioned us wasting our whole day with an epic.

Then I calmed down and took stock of the situation. I couldn't move up but I could move down. I decided to downclimb to see if I could shake the rope free from a lower position. As I moved down, the slack in the rope increased, so I built a two-piece anchor to give myself a top rope as I approached the point where the rope was stuck. This worked out pretty well. The downclimbing was easy enough and eventually I could flick the rope out of the slot where it was stuck, at the exit to the alcove. I'm not sure if my gear placement had anything to do with creating the problem, and I could never really see exactly where the rope got stuck, but beware: if your rope feeds out the left side the alcove on Yellow Belly it might get snagged.

Once I had the rope moving again I reached as far to the right as I could and placed an Alien in a horizontal over the alcove so that I could direct the rope away from feeding back into the same slot. Then I was able to finish the climb without it getting stuck again.

Yellow Belly has weird moves, route-finding issues, challenging pro, an awkward alcove, and rope-eating potential. Doesn't sound so great, does it? But I liked it a lot. I thought the three cruxes were all very different and enjoyable. I'd go back again to tackle the off-width and to try to manage the rope better at the exit to the alcove.

After we finally got done with Yellow Belly, Gail suggested Birdland, a route with no complications, just wonderful climbing. I hadn't done it this year so I was fine with it. I also thought it would be fun to check out the 5.9 variation on pitch two, a direct finish through the roof at the very top of the cliff.

I have previously argued that Birdland is the best 5.8 in the Gunks. I still feel that way. The first pitch has beautiful face climbing, although the little pebble toehold at the crux is looking pretty polished. This just ups the excitement a little bit. You must have faith in the polished toe pebble.

And then the second pitch is totally different, with some thin facey action right off the belay, and then great overhanging moves into the exit corner.

The 5.9 finish is well worth doing. It is superior to the easy traverse right that finishes the traditional 5.8 pitch two. I found this final roof to be very straightforward, with jug holds everywhere and good pro. I couldn't find any 5.9 on it; in fact I think the 5.8 moves into the corner beneath the roof are harder. If you're up there and not worn out, why not give it a try? It is a good "easy" 5.9 lead. It makes an already amazing climb just a little bit better.

When we got back to our packs our half-day of climbing was basically over. We had wasted a lot of time on Yellow Belly and we needed to head home soon. Clearly there wasn't time for me to try a 5.10.  But Gail and I were both eager to climb just a little more. Luckily Alphonse (5.8) was just sitting there, wide open, so we decided to do it. It is a decent choice if you are in a hurry because it can be done in one pitch and the 5.8 crux is just one move; the rest is delightful 5.6. I tried to do it like Hans Florine, moving very quickly but in control. I aimed to protect it only when strictly necessary.

I can't say I succeeded in my first effort at speed climbing. Once the route started traversing I still took my time and placed several pieces for the safety of both myself and Gail. I created terrible drag. The route basically makes a u-turn through the crux, so the drag is hard to avoid unless you really run it out through the traverse.

We returned to the house an hour late. I guess I am no Hans Florine.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5.10 Redemption? Bonnie's Roof Direct (5.9), Directississima aka Doubleissima (5.10b) & Retribution (5.10b)

(Photo: Eying the intimidating exit on Bonnie's Roof Direct (5.9).)
After two days of great climbing in Colorado, I was feeling in shape for the three-day Labor Day weekend. Gail invited us to stay at her house in Gardiner.
Of course Gail and I couldn't just ignore our spouses and disappear for three days. It worked out that we climbed in the morning on each of the three days, leaving the afternoons free for other activities. This worked out for both of our families and it was plenty of climbing for me. It meant that, putting the climbing days in Colorado and the Gunks together, I got to climb on five out of the nine days from August 26 to September 3. I've never had a run of climbing like that before.
I wanted to hit it pretty hard in the Gunks. I was climbing well in Colorado and I thought there must be a 5.10 I could slay over the Gunks weekend. For some reason I had my heart set on Directississima/Doubleissima (5.10b). I knew in advance that this wasn't the easiest 5.10 out there. Maryana had told me she thought it was really hard. Dana had advised me that it was one to save for later. It appeared super-sustained and steep. But ever since I'd done the neighboring Ridicullissima (5.10d) on top rope and really enjoyed it I had been dying to come back and try Doubleissima. I just love that steep face. It calls to me. And I thought the pro would be good, so why not try it? I told Gail I wanted to go for it on Saturday.
Gail suggested I try Bonnie's Direct as a warm-up, which seemed like a wonderful idea. Bonnie's is such a great classic line. The regular route, with its easyish 5.9 (historically 5.8+) first pitch and the exciting, 5.7 traversing second pitch, is one of my favorites. The first pitch was one of my first 5.9 leads in 2009, and I believe I followed it once (and then led the second pitch) in 2010, but I hadn't been back in two years, and I'd never done the direct finish.
(Photo: Leading the regular pitch two (5.7) of Bonnie's Roof back in 2010.)
On Saturday the first pitch was a joy. That opening roof is so satisfying. The hardest move for me is the little stretch to get to just underneath the overhang. Once you are there, you can throw a big blue # 3 Camalot into the space behind the point of the roof and go. The holds are awesome.
Soon enough it was time to confront the second pitch: the direct finish. People seem to think this variation is really hard. Dick Williams gives it a 5.9 rating is his book. Swain says 5.9+, and I have heard others suggest it is really a 5.10. It certainly looks challenging from below. A thin vertical crack appears to be the only means with which to surmount the big overhang.
But looks can be deceiving. It turns out to be pretty easy. There is a bomber edge out there. I don't want to spell it all out, but look around, people! I can see how it would be really hard using only the crack to jam your way out. But using my patented secret edge, the initial overhang is pretty straightforward, and then the exit to the top, left past another two-tiered roof, is all jugs. I think the direct finish is no harder than 5.9. It is exposed and thrilling but a little too short. Having finished both ways, I think I prefer the regular 5.7 exit.
After Bonnie's Direct went down so easily I was pumped up for Doubleissima. This was going to be fun.
Or so I thought.
Doubleissima kicked my ass.

(Photo: Gail almost through the crux bulge on Doubleissima (5.10b), after I bailed off to the right. Unlike me, she made it look easy.)

The first pitch was not a problem. There are two crack systems next to each other; both are 5.8. Gail said the one on the right has better pro, so I did that one. She also told me that most people combine this short pitch right into the next one, so I decided I would too. I got through the pitch without using any of my favorite pieces, and figured I might as well continue without stopping.

The real business begins early in the second pitch. The crux bulge comes pretty quickly off the ledge, and it is hard! The going is steep, and then a long reach is needed to get through the bulge to a good hold. There are intermediate holds but they aren't that great.

I wanted to protect this section well, so I placed one cam, and then another. Eventually I had three good cams in the crux. I wore myself out placing all the gear and fiddling with it. But the gear wasn't my only problem. I also didn't want to make the big move so I tried a number of different ways to get my feet up. Through all of this experimentation I did a mixture of holding on, then eventually hanging and falling. I don't even know how many times I went up and retreated or dropped down.

Finally I just went for the move and I made it. I was over the bulge at last, but the damage was done. My arms were on fire and with each step I wanted to place a piece because I was afraid I would peel off. The going was still so steep. I had expected it would ease off a bit more after the bulge. I was losing control. I had to admit I was defeated. At this point I desperately wanted to be off of that wall. I didn't even want to try the roof that is the second crux.

I saw a good horizontal handrail going all the way to the gully to the right and decided to bail. I headed directly across the gully to the High E rap bolts. We ended up doing less than half the second pitch. Gail, following the pitch, sailed right through the one hard part that I'd tackled.

I left Doubleissima feeling destroyed. I was totally drained afterwards. We tried to do another climb and I barely got through it. I was done for the day. I felt so wrecked I worried I might not be able to do much climbing for the rest of the weekend.

But after an afternoon at the pool and a good night's rest Gail and I had a great morning in the Nears on Sunday. (More on that later.) And on the holiday Monday, back in the Trapps, I felt like I was really climbing well again. (More on that later.) Gail suggested that we finish our weekend of climbing together with Retribution (5.10b).

(Photo: Gail cruising the crux moves on Retribution (5.10b).)

Now, just about everyone has toproped Retribution (and its neighbor Nosedive (5.10b)) at one time or another. It sits right there tempting you at the beginning of the cliff near the parking lot, looming directly above the carriage road. And it is so easy to set it up by running up Bunny (5.4) to the left.

For the longest time I avoided toproping or following Retribution because I was saving it for the onsight. I wanted to walk up and lead it without any rehearsal. In 2009 there were several occasions on which I nearly gave it a whirl.

But I never did, and then I broke my ankle and spent a year recovering my lead head. Along the way I gave up all that baloney about saving climbs for the onsight and ended up toproping it once with Vass, and then following both Adrian and Maryana up Retribution when they led it on separate occasions.

So when Gail suggested that I lead it on Monday I was already familiar with the demands of the climb. And I knew that even though it, like Doubleissima, is rated 5.10b, Retribution is a much much easier climb than Doubleissima. The crux is short, just moving past the little roof. The rest of the way is 5.8 or 5.9. My only real worry was that I'd get through the crux but be exhausted and then fall before getting good gear in the shallow corner directly above the roof. Or that in a spate of nervousness I'd blow the crux and never make it over the roof.

I needn't have worried. It went fine. I felt really good. My footwork was solid and the fingerlocks in the crux felt huge. I scampered past the roof and up the little corner, alarming Gail a little with how long I continued before placing gear above the roof.

This was my first 5.10b trad lead. Though I was happy about it I didn't feel like it erased my fiasco on Doubleissima, from which I stumbled off feeling like I wasn't even close to ready to lead 5.10b. But with the rosy glow of hindsight I'm starting to feel like trying Doubleissima again. Even though I failed, I was never unsafe. If I can place two of the three pieces I had last time, but put them in quickly, and then go for the move through the bulge right away-- no hesitation-- then maybe I could get it. Just maybe.