(Photo: Climber on Birdland (5.8). Taken from base of Grease Gun Groove (5.6).)
I'm back, baby.
The elbow seems okay. I've been to the Gunks twice in April and, knock on wood, I've had no problems.
My first time climbing outside since November was with a new partner, David. We had not met in person but we were familiar with one another from Gunks.com. We were both looking to shake off the rust of the off-season, so our day was filled with moderate classics in the Trapps, many of which I have written about before. It was so great to be outside climbing, I felt like a puppy in the park. I put up Son of Easy O (5.8) in one pitch for my first climb of the year. Climbing in the Gunks doesn't get much better than that, and I felt good, handling the cruxy bits somewhat deliberately but with ease. I also knocked off the two-move wonder Maria Direct without too much trouble, so that was my first 5.9 of the year. We then hit the second and third pitches of Maria (5.6+), Classic (5.7 and with a new pin!), Drunkard's Delight (5.8-), and I ended the day by leading the first pitch of Bloody Mary into the second pitch of Morning After (both 5.7). This was a really great rope-stretcher pitch. Good variety and I think the link-up makes for one of the best 5.7's in the Gunks.
What a great day. I was tentative at first but as our day went on I felt more comfortable with the rock and the gear. By the end I was climbing reasonably well, moving faster and with less gear-fiddling. It was great to meet and swap leads with David. I hope to do some more climbing with him this year. He was talking up Millbrook and I have my fingers crossed that maybe he'll show me around out there.
This past Sunday I got out to the Gunks again, this time with Gail. We decided to head over to the Nears.
It was a spring weekend so of course it was crowded. The cliff already had parties on several of the classics closest to the parking lot; we found climbers on Disneyland, Te Dum, and Birdland. But we kept walking and found Grease Gun Groove (5.6) open so I suggested we get on it.
(Photo: Gail heading up Grease Gun Groove (5.6).)
Gail decided that she wanted to lead it and she did a nice job with it. Of course the climb is well within her abilities. This is a good 5.6 lead. There is plenty of gear and a lot of good climbing. It is fairly continuous. The hardest move is the first one, right off the deck, so if you are at all worried about leading it, just get on it and see if you can get started. If you can get on the wall, you should be fine for the rest of it!
While I was standing there belaying Gail I started looking over at the climb next door, Tulip Mussel Garden (5.10d). I had never had a single thought about this climb in my life but as I sized it up I got intrigued. It begins with an unprotected boulder problem but I thought I'd be fine there. And I could see the horizontal that protects the upper crux. It looked good, and from the ground it appeared that the crux was short. Why not try the route?
(Photo: Just past the opening boulder problem on Tulip Mussel Garden (5.10d).)
I wish I could say I sent it onsight but it didn't work out that way. It is a good little route, though, and a safe 5.10 lead. The opening challenge is just to get off the ground and reach the first shelf. So although there isn't any gear for the move, a fall here is just a foot or two back to the ground. I thought the start was no harder than Maria Direct, so I'd put it about 5.9. (Swain says 5.8+.) After you grab the shelf you still have to make a couple of moves to get gear but these moves are easier.
(Photo: Just past the crux on Tulip Mussel Garden (5.10d).)
After the initial moves the climbing is enjoyable up to the stance below the crux. I was a little disconcerted by a flake/feature up the middle of the route that is surprisingly hollow. The flake really rings when you knock on it, and there's no choice but to climb on it and use it for gear. I tried not to worry about it too much. It probably isn't going anywhere.
And then the crux is just as well-protected as Dick says. There is a bomber slot for a Number 2 Camalot, and a good stance from which to place it. The crux is a short sequence of moves. I felt like I'd diagnosed the start of it perfectly. I had good footwork. All my gym bouldering seemed to be paying off. But then I just couldn't get the final move to the big jug. I went up and down several times, and then fell and hung a few times.
I was about to give up, but Gail suggested I try it one more time. And then I finally figured it out. One little bump with the left hand was all I was missing.
If I weren't a little weak from my month off maybe I would have sent it first go.... In any case Gail on top rope made it look incredibly easy. I'm sure if I bother to go back I can get it next time. I would definitely recommend Tulip Mussel Garden as a great option for anyone looking for a safe 5.10 lead with a short crux.
(Photo: Gail in the opening dihedral of Boston Tree Party (5.8).)
After we were done with Tulip Mussel Garden we decided to head way down the cliff to the Easter Time Too (5.8) area. Neither Gail nor I had ever done any of the climbs in this area, and it appeared from the guidebook that Dick uncovered several nice one-pitch climbs in this general area. We found a party on Easter Time Too when we arrived so we started with the group of climbs just to its left. We ended up doing just about all of the climbs in this little crag-within-a-crag and enjoyed them all quite a bit. It is a very pleasant neighborhood in which to spend an afternoon.
From left to right, we did:
As The Cliff Turns (5.9): This climb doesn't look like much from the ground but it has two pretty neat 5.9 cruxes. Good climbing up an arching corner takes you to the first crux, an unusual high-step move up the face. Then the finishing overhang is another solid challenge. You have to unlock the surprising sequence to get up to the roof and then a few jams help get you to the finishing jugs. I really enjoyed this one, fun climbing and well-protected.
Day Tripper (5.8): The interesting thing here is the chimney above the starting corner. I wasn't sure I was psyched to lead this one but afterwards I was glad we did it. It does require you to get your body into the chimney, but then one move later you get out again. I thought it qualified as fun. Then you move up right to a typical Gunks roof escape and easy climbing up a groove to the anchor. This climb is fine, though I doubt I would give it two stars as Dick does. There is a 5.10 direct finish variation out the roof... It might be worth coming back to try that one but it looks awfully hard to me!
Boston Tree Party (5.8): This one is more challenging than Day Tripper, both mentally and physically. Dick says it is a little scary until you get pro in during the initial 5.7 climbing up the open book. I found two micronuts that I liked right off the deck (though the first one later popped out!) but it is a little hairy as you step up right to the end of the roof. There is a critical placement in a vertical seam partway up to the roof and if you were to fall there before getting the piece in, it would be an ugly swing back to the open book and perhaps the ground. Once you turn the corner, the route involves steep 5.8 face climbing with pro that I found adequate but spaced. The wall here could stand to clean up a little more. I pulled on a pebble that came off and hit me in the eye while I was leading, and Gail pulled off at least a couple more. Also if you stay to the right of Day Tripper as the angle eases, the interesting moves continue to the ledge but the face gets dirtier and a bit lichenous. Despite these imperfections I thought this was nevertheless a really fun pitch. I enjoyed the open book and the steep face climbing. Gail thought the whole thing was kind of spicy and hard for 5.8. I'd say in the final analysis that I think 5.8 is a fair grade but I would not send a new 5.8 leader up this one. You'd want to be pretty confident in the grade.
(Photo: In the early bits of Easter Time Too (5.8).)
Easter Time Too (5.8): 80 feet of pure joy. This vertical crack system is obviously the main attraction of the area. Beautiful climbing up a natural line, great holds, great gear anywhere you want it. I didn't want this to end. If this climb were closer to the Uberfall it might be the most popular route in the Gunks. I thought it was a three-star experience. If only it were a little longer.
Good Friday Climb (5.9): Another great pitch. Blissful 5.9 climbing up an unimpeachable face. I was debating whether to lead this or toprope it from the Easter Time chains, but I looked over at Good Friday while I was being lowered from Easter Time and it appeared to me that there would be just barely enough pro, so I went for it. In the end I felt okay about the gear, but be warned that if you lead Good Friday Climb, you want to be proficient with micronuts and tiny cams, and don't pass up any placements. The climbing is really nice, whether on top rope or on lead. I might like to go back and continue up the cliff on this one. Sounds from the guidebook like an exciting (though dirty) 5.9+ roof on the third pitch.
At the end of the day I felt pretty good! The eights and nines all felt casual to me. I was very comfortable on the rock. I never would have predicted that I would try to tackle a 5.10d on my second climbing day of the season. And did I get a little bold all of a sudden? The boulder problem at the base of Tulip Mussel Garden, the scary bit at the bottom of Boston Tree Party, the thin gear on Good Friday Climb-- none of it was much of an issue. I seem to be in about the same place where I was last summer, easily handling the 5.9's and struggling on the 5.10's. I hope for big things this year. Maybe soon I'll start actually sending the 5.10's instead of flailing on them.