Friday, October 26, 2012

Fun Times in Lost City

(Photo:  Wriggling into a hole after I dropped my shoe in The Corridor in Lost City.)

A few Sundays ago, Maryana and I were to meet up in the Gunks. I'd been not climbing for a few weeks because everyone in my family was occupied with moving back into our renovated apartment. But I hadn't forgotten climbing, far from it! I was eager-- you might even say desperate-- to get back out there.

The forecast was iffy. Maryana was already up in the Gunks climbing the day before. She was able to climb for most of the day but around 5:00 p.m. the skies opened up. It began pouring with a vengeance. And once it started, it came on heavily, continuing into the evening without any prospect of slowing down.

Maryana sent me a text saying we might want to call it off. But I checked the forecast and it looked okay to me. The rain was supposed to stop overnight. The only question was whether it would be clear enough in the morning for the cliffs to get some sun. If the cliffs get air and light they dry off very quickly. But sometimes after a rainy night a wet fog will hang over the cliffs in the morning, making it impossible to climb until the afternoon. Often as not this doesn't happen, though, and you can get a full day in.

I was willing to take the chance if Maryana was. She was planning to stay overnight anyhow, so she agreed.

But the texts kept coming.

7:30 p.m.: "Still raining."

11:45 p.m.: "Still raining..."

As I caught the bus at Port Authority the next morning it seemed like things just might be all right. It was cloudy but there was no rain.  By the time the bus reached New Paltz, however, it seemed quite damp and foggy indeed. Maryana and I lingered over breakfast in town, hoping it might brighten up a little. But the conditions remained unchanged. We decided we might as well go up and check out the wet cliffs.

Sure enough, as we came up the hill to the steel bridge we could see that both the Trapps and the Nears were engulfed in a thick cloud. But we could also see that it seemed much clearer just a little higher over towards Minnewaska.

That settled it. We decided to head up to Lost City.

Now before you nit-pickers get all indignant over the fact that I am talking about Lost City, I wish to remind you of something: there is no rule that you can't talk about Lost City. To the contrary, Lost City is frequently talked about. Climbers have long spread the word about their exploits at Lost City on the internet. Climbing personalities as esteemed as Russ Clune and Jim Lawyer have both posted about it, as have others and yet others.

What you're NOT supposed to do is publish a guidebook about Lost City. And I won't be doing that. So no worries.

I don't think there is anything to fear in talking about the climbs at Lost City. The traffic there will never be that high, because there are only a handful of climbs that go at a grade easier than hard 5.10. And most of the climbs are more difficult than that. The place is a paradise for people who like to get a workout on single-pitch steep face climbs in the 5.11 to 5.12 range. The community of people who do this is relatively small. So never fear, the cliff will never be overrun with newbies who don't know what they are doing. It won't turn into another Uberfall or Peterskill. There just isn't that much climbing at Lost City for newbies to do.

But back to the subject.

On my first trip to Lost City last autumn, I didn't climb much of anything. I went with the dad of one of my son's friends. We brought our two boys along. The day was really for the kids. I only climbed one pitch, an easy corner that I led in order to set it up for the boys. But it was exciting just to be there and check out the possibilities. I really wanted to go back some time and do some of the climbs I looked at, like the huge 5.10 ceiling known as Stannard's Roof.

(Photo:  My son Nate climbing at Lost City in the fall of 2011.  I'm sorry to say he hasn't worn these climbing shoes a single time since then!)

Apart from that first occasion, I had been to Lost City just one other time, in early January of 2012. This was one of those bizarre, unseasonably warm days last winter when you could climb like it was October. Maryana, Adrian and I had thrown ropes over some climbs in and around a little canyon known as The Corridor. At the time I was feeling kind of out of shape and I didn't get up any of the climbs we tried cleanly. On Texas Flake (5.10+) I messed up an early move that was probably 5.9, but I did manage to salvage some pride by blundering through the crux on my first try. It took me a couple of tries before I got the low crux roof of Gold Streaks (5.11-) but the upper crux on a steep face went well. I really struggled with another 5.11+ called Red Wall and I got absolutely nowhere on a hard face climb called Caffeine and Nicotine (5.12).

When Maryana and I returned to Lost City the other week we just wanted to find something that was dry enough to climb. We didn't really care what it was. We walked along the cliff looking for climbable rock and in the process I saw a lot of Lost City for the first time. The cliff goes on for a while; it is bigger than I realized. We looked at the Wishbone roof (5.10 and soaking wet) and the famous Persistent (5.11+ and also quite wet). Maryana showed me the Lost City Crack (5.10). This is supposed to be one of the easier 5.10 climbs at Lost City, and it follows a vertical crack so the pro is good. It looks fantastic. Unfortunately it too was soaked.

(Photo:  Starting up Texas Flake (5.10+) in January 2012.)

Eventually we found that the only climbs that were dry enough to attempt were the ones we'd done before. The driest climb we found was the Texas Flake, so we did it first. This is a good 5.10, with nice moves throughout and a one-move reachy crux. We did it on top rope, like last time, but when I climbed it this time I tried to pay attention to whether there would be enough pro for me to come back and lead it some day.

This time I got through the first crux, a hardish 5.9 move, with no problems. But I couldn't immediately work out exactly how I'd solved the upper 5.10 crux the last time around and ultimately I took a hang. Then I figured out how to set my feet so I could make the reach, getting it on the second try. (Maryana got through the whole thing without a fall, I think, but she approached the crux in a way I thought must be much harder, using a terrible intermediate hold.) Now that I have the beta I feel sure I could send it on lead. The pro looks good to me. Placements seem available all along the flake down low, and it appears there are good slots protecting each of the crux moves. My only worry is that it might be a little run out during the easier climbing above the second crux.

(Photo:  Further up Texas Flake.)

After Texas Flake we went over to Gold Streaks. Now this is a pitch that I think I will never lead. The initial overhang problem is well-protected, but the steep face above appears to me to have very few protection opportunities. It is super-steep and unrelenting for a long long way, a real endurance test with good holds but some big moves.

It is a great top rope problem, made harder for Maryana and me by the one spot of wetness: a puddle of water right where we needed to slap our hands to escape the overhang. We both slipped off of this crucial shelf a few times, but eventually we were able to stick the grab despite the wetness.

(Photo:  Maryana starting up Gold Streaks (5.11-) back in January.)

I felt good about Gold Streaks because I ended up sending it bottom-to-top twice, doing it once via the left-hand start and once coming in from the right (much harder in my opinion-- Maryana and I each solved it in different ways, although she showed me a dropped knee trick that became a key part of my solution).

I enjoyed working Gold Streaks so much, it made me question my habit of coming to the Gunks and climbing new trad climbs all the time. I could see how people get really strong by working out on these hard top rope climbs. It still isn't my first choice, but I should maybe do it a little more often. It is fun.

(Photo:  About to climb through the first crux on Gold Streaks.)

By the time we finished with Gold Streaks the sun had come out, and the cliff was drying out to some degree. We took a look around and saw that a route across The Corridor from the Texas Flake called Forbidden Zone (5.11) appeared to be dry enough to climb.

This one was new for me so I was psyched to check it out. Maryana started working it first and struggled with the first crux, a super-steep bit through a bulge with big reaches. You might recall that Maryana is still coming off of a bicycle accident that broke some bones in her back, forcing her to take off more than a month from climbing. I couldn't believe how well she was climbing given all the time off.  Watching her sail up Texas Flake and figuring out Gold Streaks, I was amazed. So when she struggled with Forbidden Zone, I thought there was no way I was going to get up it.

But I surprised myself by getting through the bulge on my first try, helped no doubt by watching Maryana figure out most of the moves. There is a great rest stance after the bulge, and then another fun crux up a corner to the finishing jugs. I blew the sequence in the second crux, falling a few times. I couldn't find the hidden holds in the corner. Once I finally saw them, I figured it out.

After Maryana took another crack at Forbidden Zone, I went for the top rope send and got it! What a great pitch. Steep, sustained, with many great moves through the bulge, and then the devious corner awaits. I don't know about leading it. I didn't really suss out the pro, as the climbing is well above my leading level, for sure. And while the feeling of working it all out on top rope didn't match the thrill of, say, on-sighting CCK Direct on lead, it was still a fun climb and a really fun day.

I know I will be back.