Friday, January 6, 2012

More Unfinished 2011 Business: Alpine Diversions (5.8), but not Insuhlation (5.9)

(Photo: Just over the big roof on pitch two of Alpine Diversions (5.8).)

As I've worked my way through a bunch of 5.9 routes at the Gunks this past year, a certain route has been hanging out there in the background, taunting me. It is a two-star route that is supposed to be really good. It also happens to be the route on which I broke my ankle in 2009: Insuhlation (5.9).

A part of me has really wanted to go back and climb it-- to slay the demon, as it were. To put it behind me. And to find out what I think of the route, two years later. Who knows, maybe if I climbed it now I'd find it to be no big deal.

But another part of me wants nothing to do with Insuhlation. I worry that I'd become a shivering wreck if I led it again; that I'd be so in fear of a repeat injury that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And a repeat injury on Insuhlation would be absolutely ridiculous. I can't let that happen. I'd never forgive myself.

Perhaps the thing that makes me most wary of Insuhlation is that I don't really know why I fell off of it when I did. I am also unsure of whether I could have done anything to better protect myself. I recall a little roof, and a (wet) keyhole-like hold that I tried to use briefly while reaching for a chalked-up, bigger hold above that I thought would be a jug. I remember grabbing this jug and finding it to be not so juggy. I had a green Alien below the little roof and I was looking around for more pro (but finding none) when I went flying.

Did my hand slip off? Did my foot? Was there better pro available than what I had? I'd feel better about going for it again if I had answers to these questions.

I had a brilliant idea about halfway through the season. It suddenly occurred to me that I should have one of my partners lead the route, and then I could follow it. It is such an obvious idea, I don't know why I never thought of it before. I could, for example, send my reliable guinea pig Adrian (who seems always willing to lead anything) up there and then as a second I could suss out whether I thought I could safely lead it at a later date.

But then Adrian led the route with another partner before I had a chance to suggest it to him. It didn't seem right to try to make him go right back to do it again. Adrian's impressions seemed to be that the last bits of the route were totally straightforward, and well-protected too. Hearing this only deepened the mystery for me.

As the year came to a close and the climbing season extended into an unseasonably warm December, I came up with another idea. I decided to lead the route right next to Insuhlation, a 5.8 called Alpine Diversions. Dick Williams gives the route a single star and calls it "surprisingly good." It seemed worth checking out in its own right. And it goes very close to Insuhlation. The second-pitch crux roof is only a few feet to the right of the Insuhlation crux, or so I believed. I thought I could lead Alpine Diversions and get a good look at the exact place where I fell. I might even get some ideas for some placements I missed. Maybe it would help me decide whether to lead it again, and if I felt good on Alpine Diversions I could do Insuhlation immediately thereafter.

So on December 4 when I climbed with Liz I suggested we try Alpine Diversions. Liz was game to try it.

I thought both pitches were just okay. Each pitch has one interesting crux moment and not too much else to offer.

On pitch one the interesting moment comes right off the ground. The pitch follows a thin, steep vertical crack running a few feet to the left of a little gully. One hold, a sidepull, is easy to reach. A jug sits above. If you are tall enough to reach the jug from the ground, you will probably find the opening moves to be a breeze. If, however, you are short like me, you will have to boulder up to the jug. And this boulder problem is a puzzler. I don't want to spell it all out but I will tell you to look around to either side of the crack. I found another crucial hold off to the left which made all the difference for me. This hold allowed me to get on the wall and reach up to the jug. And once I had the jug, I threw in a piece and made another step up to find that the pitch was essentially over.

Dick Williams suggests in his description that you continue directly over a blocky overhang and then up to the belay ledge past the big pine in "the steepest way." What this all means (I realize in retrospect) is that the route is contrived. After the opening boulder move, there are ways to force yourself to continue making 5th class moves. But in order to do so you have to deliberately avoid easier climbing just a step to the left or right. I didn't really see the point. It just seemed silly not to scamper up the stair-like blocks past the tree to the belay ledge.

On pitch two, the main attraction is a rather large overhang. Nice moves up a corner take you directly underneath it. Then an easy move left might deceive you into thinking you've already escaped the crux. But no. You still have to move right and pull the roof. It is a big reach. I really enjoyed this crux move. And there's great pro at the lip of the overhang.

After the roof, you again have the option to force yourself to keep climbing. You can move left and up to another roof, this one smaller and dirtier (and from the looks of it easier) than the first. On the other hand, if you just continue straight up you are basically done. Some easy low angle moves will take you to the belay tree. I chose the easy way, again not seeing much point in contriving a harder path to the finish.

When I reached the top I realized that I had forgotten to look at Insuhlation! The roof on Alpine Diversions had captured my full attention. Once above the roof, I probably could have glanced over at the exact spot where it all went wrong two years ago. But as obsessed as I am, as much as Insuhlation haunts me, I still didn't think to do it.

I had already decided I didn't have the stomach for doing Insuhlation, anyway. But still I was bummed to have missed out on the chance to look over the route up close.

On rappel I attempted to scope it out. To my surprise, I couldn't spot the line at all. Maybe I was too far to the left, but I had no luck in finding it. I thought I'd immediately see the roof, the keyhole, the jug. But I saw nothing I recognized. It was baffling.

I'm pretty sure that if I ever get back to climbing Insuhlation the whole experience will seem new to me. I want to go try it. But I don't want to approach it in an unhealthy state of mind. I don't want to climb it to prove anything. I don't want to climb it all stiff and scared. I think the whole accident thing is still too much in my head, even two years later. Better to wait.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Unfinished 2011 Business: Wegetables I've Never Seen Before (5.10a)

(Photo: Adrian past the early cruxy face climbing on Wegetables (5.10a).)

I've been saving the subject of Wegetables (5.10a) for the end of the year. I could have posted about it some time ago. I tried the climb back on November 19. But on that day it didn't work out quite like I wanted it to and I wasn't really stoked to post about my failure to lead the route. After my botched, abortive effort, I hoped that I'd get back to Wegetables before the season ended and send the thing, making for the perfect little post about a 5.10 redpoint lead.

But it never happened. We were fortunate to have some relatively warm days in December, but it was still cold enough that whenever I made it back to the Gunks I craved the warmth of the sun. The idea of trooping down to the shady nooks of swampy Sleepy Hollow to climb Wegetables in the cold was unappealing to me, so I never got down there again.

And now the year is done. The child has grown, the dream is gone. Wegetables will have to wait.

But even if I can't tack on a happy ending, I can tell you what happened on November 19.

Wegetables has a reputation as a pretty soft 5.10. As Adrian and I approached the route, I thought I recalled reading that there is some face climbing with dicey pro down low, but that this climbing is 5.8-ish. So I wasn't too concerned. I expected the real challenge to come at the well-protected three-tiered set of roofs at the top of the pitch.

But once we arrived, I looked the route over and the face climbing seemed kind of tough. I saw a big reach right off the deck leading to some interesting-looking thin moves past a vertical seam that appeared to provide some truly marginal protection opportunities.

I got racked up and stepped up to make the first move... and I blew the first reach, just missing the jug and stumbling to the ground. In the process I somehow ripped up the middle and ring fingers of my right hand. Each finger now sported its own angry red gash and flap of loose skin.

After collecting myself, I taped up the two shredded fingers to stop the bleeding. As I did so I kept looking up at that thin seam, wondering if I could get anything good in there. And I started to wonder if I'd remembered the route backwards. Was the crux climbing actually not up high, but down low? Had I actually read that it was the roofs up top that had the 5.8 climbing? And if the crux climbing is where the bad pro is, did I really want to try this climb?

I started to get really bad vibes about Wegetables. Feeling spooked, I told Adrian I was giving it up. He could lead it, or we could just do something else.

Adrian decided to give it a try.

He got started and I was instantly glad I'd turned over the lead. Well, glad isn't really the word. I was sure I'd been right to give it up, but I was also a little concerned for Adrian. He made the initial reach without a problem, but the next moves were thin and his pro, two tiny nuts in some shallow scars, did not inspire confidence. He stepped up and down a few times, looking for better gear, and eventually placed above the nuts a microcam that neither of us liked. Only two of the four lobes were engaged.

Now I was more worried than before. I told Adrian that since he had this shitty cam above him, putting more rope in the system, he was at risk of a ground fall if he slipped and the cam pulled out.

He went ahead anyway, making the next move and then placing a good cam, allowing us both to breathe a little easier.

(I learned later from my sometime partner Parker that there's a great nut that goes in sideways in the Wegetables low crux. I hope to find this bomber placement when I get back to the route in 2012.)

(Photo: Adrian in the roofs of Wegetables.)

Once Adrian was above the low crux, easy climbing led him to the overhangs. The rest of the way was straightforward, although it looked harder than 5.8 to me. Adrian found numerous placements, then got worn out and had to take a hang in the middle of the strenuous roofs. Then he finished it up, giving me the chance to try Wegetables on toprope.

I found the opening moves difficult, but I worked them out without a fall. I managed the roofs as well, sending the whole pitch on my first try after my initial stumble on the very first move, thereby salvaging a tiny bit of pride.

(Photo: Just past the low crux, posing as a toprope tough guy.)

It is a really good pitch. The low face climbing is unusual for the Gunks. It is beta-intensive and not especially hard once you work out the correct body positions. The climbing up top is completely obvious, by contrast, but much pumpier.

After I finished my first run on toprope we each took one more shot at the pitch. Adrian sent it this time around and I felt like it was significantly easier now that I'd figured out the moves. I was pretty sure I'd laid the proper foundation to come back and fire it off on the lead at some point in the near future.

I just hope I still remember my beta when I finally get back to the route. Wegetables is one of my main goals for early 2012.