(Photo: Mid-route, placing the most important piece of gear on the Dangler (5.10a).)
I usually try to climb on Veterans Day. My office is closed. Since many people don't get the holiday off the cliffs are usually empty.
This year I was supposed to climb with Gail but she had a very busy weekend and on Sunday night she backed out, telling me she was exhausted. She already had a solution figured out for me, however. She proposed I get together with another climber she knew named Marat. We'd never climbed together but we'd met briefly once at the cliff. From our brief conversation that day I gathered Marat was an experienced climber. He seemed fine to me, and if a person as careful as Gail was willing to climb with him then so was I.
Marat and I ended up having a great day together. We started with Grim-Ace Face, a pretty excellent 5.9+. But more on that later. I want to talk now about what we did afterwards.
I felt comfortable with Marat after our first few pitches, so I confessed to him a little dream of mine. I told him I wanted to climb the Dangler.
Now, I say that I "confessed" to Marat because I had this fear in the back of my mind that he would react to my little dream with scorn. You see, some very experienced and well-respected climbers think of the Dangler as a joke. They say it is too short, consisting of just three or four challenging moves. They claim it is contrived. They say it doesn't deserve the 5.10(a) rating Dick Williams bestowed upon it in 2004. (The rating has, no doubt, been adjusted upwards over the years. Todd Swain put it at 5.9 in his 1995 guidebook, and back in the 1980's the Dangler was listed (as a variation to Three Pines) in Richard DuMais' coffee-table book Shawangunk Rock Climbing as a "strenuous" 5.8.)
(Photo: The Dangler in the '80's. Taken from Richard DuMais' Shawangunk Rock Climbing (1985). You tell me, does that look like a 5.8?)
The elites' disdain for the Dangler is likely enhanced by the fact that the route presents such an attractive photo opportunity. The old-schoolers see groups of three or more climbers camping out on the GT Ledge, taking photos and whooping it up while everybody gets a turn on this little climb... it just doesn't fit with their idea of the trad experience.
Personally, I wasn't concerned about any of that. I wanted to try the climb because it looked exciting. Who wouldn't be excited by a perfect horizontal crack at the edge of a long roof, 150 feet above the ground?
The Dangler has been on my "easy" 5.10 list all year. For some reason I was sure I'd have no trouble climbing it. I thought that so long as I could place good pro I would be fine.
(Photo: Getting started on the Dangler.)
It turned out that Marat, like me, had never done the Dangler. And he was more than willing to follow me up it. But first we had to get up there. We decided that Marat would lead the neighboring climb Something Interesting (5.7+) up to the GT Ledge. Then we'd be perfectly positioned for the Dangler.
This was my first time on Something Interesting in a while, but I have led it twice before. It is a great route. The long first pitch follows an obvious slanting vertical crack up the face, all the way from the ground to the GT Ledge. As is typical of Gunks face climbs, the crack provides holds and pro, but no real crack climbing is required. The first time I led the pitch, back in 2009, I thought it was totally cruiser. I must have really been feeling good because I couldn't even tell where the crux was supposed to be. The second time I led the climb I remember feeling tired. On that occasion I remember the crux very clearly at a bulge about 40 feet up. But on that day the whole thing felt like the crux, with several good hard moves amid the general steepness.
This time around, following Marat, I just had fun with it. I don't have much to say about it except that it is very enjoyable, with lots of nice moves. It is a sustained, long, high quality pitch.
I should add here that the second pitch of Something Interesting, which goes from the GT Ledge to the top of the cliff, is also well worth doing. It doesn't have the sustained quality of the earlier climbing, but the opening moves up to a pin and around a corner to the right are good. The easy traverse left that follows and the jug haul up the final corner are also nice. It seems that most people skip this pitch nowadays, which I think is a shame. If you reach the GT Ledge and you're not up for the Dangler, why not continue with Something Interesting instead of going down? Or better yet, move around the corner to your left and do the awesome final pitch of Anguish (5.8).
(Photo: Moving out. You can see here where I messed up a little. The rope is caught around my right leg, but I am unaware of it.)
Once Marat and I were both on the GT Ledge, I moved the belay over to the right and took a good look at the Dangler. Stepping up to the horizontal crack, I placed two good cams. Then I tested out the pose I'd be adopting for the rest of the climb: I reached out and lifted myself off the ledge, getting fully horizontal and locking my left heel into the crack. It felt secure but strenuous, and having gotten the feel for it I stepped down again.
Marat suggested I could get up there, place another piece a little further out, and then step down again before really committing. Seemed like a great idea to me so I did it. Then I looked over my gear-- the cams seemed secure. I could see that more good gear would be available as I moved out the crack. I told Marat I thought we were in good shape.
"You have a three-piece anchor!" he said.
Okay, when you put it that way....
I realized all of a sudden that I had an audience. A party of three had done the route before us and they had paused in their descent to watch us. This made me nervous. I tried to ignore them. (Later they sent me all of the great photos you see here, for which I am eternally grateful. They were from California, visiting the Gunks for the week.)
It was time to go.
I'd never been on the route but of course I already knew what to do. It is hard to climb regularly in the Gunks without seeing some people do the Dangler. I had seen climbers moving out almost to the end of the crack and releasing their feet, pivoting to the right, then hooking their right foot around the final shelf and doing a pull up on good holds to get back into a standing position.
I'd also seen people protect the route rather poorly, which is completely unnecessary. The climb is extremely well-protected if you place the gear that is available. I think some people find it too strenuous to place the gear once they get fully horizontal, however, so they just run it out from the initial placements. It seems to me that doing this risks a swinging fall back into the face of the cliff, which is something I'd much rather avoid.
(Photo: In the final heel hook, getting ready for the pull up.)
When I got fully out there I didn't find it too hard to place the necessary gear. I got a great # 2 Camalot. The heel hooks were solid and I also found some useful holds for the right foot under the roof. You really need just one piece out there, and a number of different sizes would probably work. It took a little bit of hanging in there, but I was able to reach over my head and place the piece (see the photo at the top of this post). I felt really safe once I had that bomber yellow Camalot in place.
Then I let my feet release from the wall so I could swing into the pivot.
And something went terribly wrong. I found myself tangled in the rope. It was disorienting. For a second I thought I must have clipped the wrong strand. I told myself not to panic and to hang on!
It turned out my leg had simply caught the trailing strand of rope. Everything would be okay if I could just get disentangled without falling off. As I waited, hanging in there by my fingertips, Marat whipped the strand to get it loose and in a few moments I was free again. I was now at a disadvantage, however, because I was motionless, in a dead hang over the abyss. My feet were attached to nothing and time was ticking away. I needed to throw my right foot over my head and hook it on the shelf, without any swinging momentum to help me.
I could hear the crowd of onlookers cheering me on. (Thanks, guys!)
Somehow I managed it. I threw my foot over the lip and made the pull-up to get out. Despite the rope snafu I got the onsight. I Dangled-- and Tangled-- and emerged victorious.
(Photo: Finishing up.)
After I got through the crux I kept on going to the chains at the top of the cliff. I didn't think Marat would have any trouble following the route. If you feel your second might need coaching it would probably be wise to build a belay right after the crux or on the next ledge up instead of proceeding to the top.
In retrospect I wish I'd stayed near the crux so I could enjoy the show and take some photos of Marat on the route. He got through it just fine but I could hear some meaningful grunting going on! It would have been fun to watch.
(Photo: Looking back at Marat from just after the crux.)
Having done the Dangler I now say this to you: ignore the haters. This is a great route. The movement is unusual for the Gunks. The climb is not contrived; it follows a perfect natural line. And the pro is excellent. Yes the crux is short, but don't many Gunks classics have short cruxes?
Above all the Dangler is just an exciting good time. I had a big smile on my face for the better part of a week after doing it. I totally scraped up the back of my right leg doing the heel hook and I did not care. It was worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.