(Photo: Past the low crux overhang and into the awkward corner of P-38 (5.10b).)
Gail and I recently got out for a little weekday fun in the Gunks.
We saw little reason to stray too far from the Uberfall. There were lots of people around, to be sure, but nothing approaching the weekend crowds.
The spring weather was delightful and my only big goal for the day was to hit at least one 5.10 from my list. After spending a few pleasant hours in the Frog's Head area we decided it was time. We headed over to P-38 (5.10b). Gail had followed it before but it was years ago. I had never tried it so it was to be an onsight attempt for me.
Sitting as it does within spitting distance of the outhouse known as the "Über Pooper," P-38 is for most climbers a familiar sight. The slanting crack that defines the climb is obvious from the road below.
I wanted to do it because of that crack. I expected it would provide good gear. About the climbing, I guess I knew very little. I thought, not unreasonably, that I was in for a crack climb. But it turned out that there isn't any crack climbing on P-38, which is cool because I'm no good at that anyway!
I was hoping that maybe, just this once, I'd onsight one of these 5.10's. I have not had much luck with getting them clean. Over and over again I've had to work the cruxes a bit, or on some occasions I've even had to back off.
The first hard move on P-38 comes right off the deck, as you attempt to surmount a little overhang that is just over your head as you stand below the climb. There is pro here, and I actually placed two pieces as I stepped up and down, several times, working out the opening move. Eventually, after several reconnaissance missions, checking the gear and making plans, I executed my little sequence and made it up over the little roof.
Success! Maybe I was on my way to victory.
I was surprised by the next few moves. I thought the climb would be sustained and awkward. And it is sort of awkward, but after the opening moves it is really pretty easy up to the crux. There are jugs outside the crack and you can actually wedge your leg into the crack as you move up, providing opportunities to place gear, rest and shake out.
Soon enough I arrived at the crux sequence. You'll know it when you arrive there. There is a delicate step left to a little dish for your toe, and then a couple of thin moves up to a tantalizing ledge, so close but yet so far.
I placed what I thought was a bomber purple Camalot and then made the step left. As I tried to move up I thought about placing more gear but the climbing was pumpy and insecure. I just wanted to move-- the rest stance was in sight-- and so I did, without dealing with any more placements. I moved up once, feeling like I was barely in balance, just holding on. I thought that if I could make one additional move, a high-step to a polished pebble, I would be through the crux.
I was just a move away, but as I tried to get my toe on the pebble I lost the grip and took a fall. It happened suddenly and caught me a little bit off guard. I meant to yell "falling!" But instead in the moment said "take!"
Of course it happened so fast that Gail couldn't take; she just caught me as I took what turned out to be a pretty good whipper. The Camalot held just fine and the fall was totally clean. It is steep there and the gear is a little to the right so there isn't much risk of the rope catching your leg. It is about the best fall you could hope for.
Still I was a little taken aback by how far I fell and as I went back up, onsight already blown, I decided to place more gear before trying the crux again. I ended up getting a higher cam from the rest stance and then, after moving left again, I placed a great red Alien from the delicate position after you step up into the crux sequence. I ended up hanging a couple of times as I placed the additional gear and then, as I got set to try the final crux move again, I took a couple more falls as I rushed it trying to get back to the crux move and then failed at the crux when I tried to repeat the same sequence I used the first time.
Hanging there, I told myself to focus. I had come closer to success on my first try than I had on my subsequent fumbling efforts. I needed to execute my beta to get to the final move, and then try something new. I visualized exactly what I planned to do and then tried to be precise and patient.
And this time it went like butter. I danced up to the final move. Then I switched feet and stepped through up to the polished pebble, and it flowed. It actually felt easy, and I found myself at the rest stance, wishing I'd thought to try the move this way the first time. I came so close to the onsight! One little pebble away from victory.
I seem to find myself saying this every time, but now that I've worked it out I think I can go back and get the redpoint. I remember the whole sequence and I think so long as I'm careful I can climb it without a problem. The only question is whether I will be able to do it while placing the extra gear mid-crux. This gear isn't strictly necessary but I'd like to have it. If I decide to place it the crux will be a little bit harder.
Once the crux is over, P-38 eases off considerably. There is an easy traverse left and then a few 5.8 moves over a bulge to the finish. Some describe this section of the pitch as run out, but I did not find it to be so. I placed a couple of Tricams along the traverse and a nut in a flake right below the sloper holds that take you over the final bulge.
Once up on the finishing ledge, I was surprised to find the traditional belay tree long gone. There is no tree, just a rotting stump, which is obviously not a suitable anchor. I arranged a belay with gear placed between the huge boulders on the ledge, but you could also go to the top and belay from a living tree. The walk-off down the Uberfall is very close if you choose to go all the way to the top. If you belay on the ledge as I did you can use the Radcliffe descent which is right there behind the climb. This was my first time down Radcliffe and it is a little more exposed at a couple of spots than the Uberfall descent.
P-38 is a really good little climb. I will go back to send it. It has two stiff cruxes, one at the opening move and then a harder, more technical crux above. It has some unusual moves for the Gunks, good gear, and it could hardly be more accessible. I am bummed out that I didn't figure it out the first time, but I shall return!