(Photo: Climbers on Cool Hand Dukes (5.8), as seen from the optional first belay on Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)
Another October weekend. It was a nice one in the Gunks.
I was climbing with Maryana, one-on-one, for the first time in a long while.
There was once a time when I felt like she and I were in the same place, working towards the same goals. But that was a long time ago. Maryana climbs much more often than I do and now she's much better than I am. Most of the 5.10's I'm trying now for the first time are old hat for her. She has done them enough times that she has them wired. She and her boyfriend Beau recently did a day in the Trapps in which they ran up ten 5.10's in a row, sticking to climbs they both felt familiar with and could knock off quickly.
I'd be thrilled if I could make a list of ten 5.10's in the Gunks that I felt so sure about.
Last Saturday she and I had a great day together. We did a bunch of climbs that I have written about before. Some of them were routes I've been meaning to lead and a couple of them were routes from which I've previously backed off.
(Photo: A leader on High Exposure (5.6+), seen from the Obstacle Delusion belay ledge.)
We started off at the Obstacle Delusion/Insuhlation buttress, just to the right of High Exposure, because Maryana wanted to lead a climb there called Teeny Face (5.10a).
I warmed us up by leading both pitches of Obstacle Delusion (5.9) in one pitch. I followed Maryana up this climb once before, in the spring of 2012. I've wanted to come back to lead it. I thought about trying it when I was at this same formation with Parker on Labor Day weekend this year, but on that day I was feeling kind of rusty so I decided to wait until I was in better shape.
(Photo: Maryana following my lead of Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)
I felt good leading it. It is a solid 5.9, with a tough roof problem and then a challenging endurance-fest through several good overhanging moves near the top. I really enjoyed it and was pleased with how I managed the moves and the gear. There is good pro everywhere you need it, so while I'd say this is by no means an easy 5.9, it is a well-protected one. It features steep Gunks-style climbing at its finest.
(Photo: A climber named Sung leading past the roof on Obstacle Delusion (5.9) after Maryana and I moved on to Teeny Face (5.10a).)
After we were both done with Obstacle Delusion we rapped to the optional belay ledge about forty feet off the ground so that Maryana could lead Teeny Face (5.10a) from there.
Teeny Face is written up in Dick Williams' guidebook as a variation to Insuhlation (5.9), but I think you can get at it from either side, by passing the first overhang on either Insuhlation or Obstacle Delusion and then moving up to the orange face that sits between the two climbs. Whichever way you approach it, the climb is quite nice and worthy of consideration on its own apart from the surrounding climbs. It isn't very long but the crux-- which is really two separate crimpy sequences with good gear in between-- is pumpy and challenging despite its brevity.
(Photo: Maryana below the Insuhlation roof, about to head up and left to Teeny Face (5.10a). Unfortunately the tree branches in this photo obscure most of the route.)
Maryana did a great job leading it. She did one thing I'm pretty confident I'll never be able to do. She climbed through the first crux sequence, placed gear, and then down-climbed back through the first crux to get a good rest! Then she climbed back up and fired through the rest of the pitch. She later said she thought this was a dumb idea, but I was pretty impressed that she pulled it off.
I felt strong following Teeny Face, much better than I did following Parker up the same climb on Labor Day weekend. I've now followed this pitch three times. I've climbed it cleanly every time but have never tried to lead it. I think I know it pretty well now and I should go back and lead it just to add it to my list of 5.10 leads. It is well-protected though the pro is spaced. The second set of crux moves comes above gear, but the gear is super good (yellow Camalot) and the fall should be clean, as the face is flat and steep.
Once we were done with Teeny Face we headed down to the far end of the cliff so I could have a go at Simple Stuff (5.10a), a stem-corner climb I tried once before but from which I backed off, never completing-- or even attempting-- any of the hard moves.
(Photo: Maryana following my lead of Simple Stuff (5.10a).)
The first time I tried Simple Stuff, the weather was terrible. It was brutally hot outside and at the first hard section I'd hesitated and lost my nerve.
This time around, in perfect fall temperatures, I hoped things would be different. But I hesitated again at the same spot. I have heard that people have been hurt when their gear has ripped out at this location. Now that I've been there I understand. Although there are vertical cracks for gear, it isn't so easy to get nuts to seat well for this first hard move.
Luckily for me, someone has fixed a nut up above the first tough bit and with a few twists and reaches I was able to clip the fixed piece before making the move. With my own gear plus the fixed nut I felt very safe. I nevertheless had to step up and down several times before I figured out a way to move up, getting rather tired in the process. And then after moving up I still had to confront what Maryana told me was the crux move, past a bulge.
I botched it at the bulge and had to take a hang. I was fatigued and off-balance, and couldn't make good use of a hold on the right wall. After hanging, I set my feet better and found the move to be not that bad. Then I got through the rest of the pitch without a hang or a fall but it wasn't exactly pretty. I'm sure I could have made it easier for myself in a few spots.
(Photo: Maryana working through the third hard bit, above the crux bulge, on Simple Stuff (5.10a).)
I was a little disappointed in my one-hang performance on Simple Stuff but I took some comfort from the fact that this time I eventually got it done and did not back off. I think that the first hard move will remain the crux for me. I'm not quite sure how I eventually got through this move and I may find it just as difficult the next time I try it. I can visualize the rest of the pitch and I think the other difficult sequences, including the part past the bulge, will be easier for me the next time around.
I don't see Simple Stuff as an "easy" 5.10 and I find it rather mystifying that people recommend it as a good early 5.10 lead. The gear is good for most of the way but it is at times tricky to get bomber pro and at other times it is strenuous to place. The climb is sustained, adding to the challenge. I can think of several 5.10's that are easier to lead. Almost every other 5.10 I've tried, actually.
When Maryana followed the pitch it appeared much more straightforward for her than it had been for me. She arranged herself into comfortable stances in places where I got pumped out. I had thought I was getting good with corner climbs, based on my success on climbs like Bird Cage (5.10b) and Slim Pickins (5.9+). But after working on Simple Stuff I can see I still have a ways to go. I think maybe I just need to stem wider. Sometimes I think I'm already stemmed out, but I'm not getting anywhere. Maryana at times commented that she thought I wasn't stemming enough, even though I felt pretty widely spread out. I should just stem more, even if it seems awkward.
After Simple Stuff it was Maryana's turn to lead and she wanted to hop on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b). But when we got to the base we found a party working on the first pitch. The second was struggling on the 5.6 moves right off the ground so we figured it was going to be a while before we could get on it.
Maryana suggested I could lead Wegetables (5.10a) and then we could come back. It sounded like a great idea to me. I previously tried for the redpoint on this climb in October of 2012 and I should have been successful. I stopped and took a hang one move from the top, mistakenly thinking I had two tiers of overhangs still to go. After resting I easily did the final move and felt like an idiot. I've been kicking myself ever since.
As I walked over to Wegetables one year later, I was pretty confident that I would send it.
(Photo: Maryana in the thick of the multi-tiered overhangs of Wegetables (5.10a).)
It ended up going very well. I protected the bottom moves the same way I did it last time. The pro here is tricky but I believe what I get there would hold. A low blue Alien in a horizontal won't do much to keep you off the ground but it does guard against the zipper effect. Then I get a tiny micro nut at the bottom of the vertical seam that runs up the low face, and a slightly larger (but still small) brass nut a little higher. Maryana has purchased a secret specialty curved nut just for this climb, which she believes provides an even better placement than the small brass nut. But I couldn't make her weirdo nut work when I tried it and I thought the brass nut was fine. I wasn't too concerned about the gear in any case. I knew I had this part of the climb all sorted out. (The thin face moves are thoughtful but not strenuous.) Falling was not on the agenda.
After the thin early going was finished, I just had to motor through the three-tiered roof. And I'm pleased to say it felt relatively easy for me. I stopped to get good gear at every tier and still had plenty of gas left to get over the top. The holds are fantastic, and they are everywhere.
We can put Wegetables at the top of my list of 5.10 climbs I feel super solid on. Now I just need to find nine more for my day of ten 5.10's...
After we knocked off Wegetables we went back over to Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b) and found it wide open. Maryana wanted to lead both pitches in one. I was happy to follow her because I had been on the route two years ago and I was interested in getting a second look at the thin climbing on pitch one. I remembered thinking pitch one was a bit of a necky lead and I wanted to see if I still felt this way now. I was also very excited to follow pitch two, which goes through a huge, improbable, multi-tiered roof. Two years ago I led up to this roof but then I chickened out and finished on an easier route to the left instead.
Maryana and I tried to scope out the Falled on Account of Strain roof from the ground. She had been on the route before but neither of us were completely certain where the final roof was to be surmounted. In the guidebook Dick Williams mentions a small, hard-to-find corner at the final roof. We thought we could see it from the base of the climb. It turned out to be easier to see from the ground than from right underneath it.
Maryana did well managing pitch one. The crux moves are pretty well protected, but it is run out for the easier climbing that comes before and after. There is one crucial placement at a spot that resembles the low crux on Red Cabbage Right (5.10b). You have to step up to a great horizontal for the hands, where you place a good piece while your feet are smearing on nothing. Place this piece carefully, because the next couple of moves are still hard and there is no other gear.
Maryana made it through this section just fine and soon she sailed past the bolted pitch one anchor and into the crazy multi-tiered roof that makes up the majority of pitch two.
(Photo: Maryana at the final overhang on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b).)
Despite her prior experience on the route, Maryana got a little confused about exactly where to go up into the roof. There is a trail of chalk to the climber's left and another path further right. It looked to me as though the left-hand path was the way to go but what did I know, standing on the ground? After some scouting around, Maryana eventually picked the left-hand way and it seemed like a good choice. It was only an instant before she moved up and found a piton at the second-to-last tier. She clipped it and backed it up, then prepared to do battle with the final overhang.
As she reached out to the little hard-to-find corner, it seemed she was right on track but struggling. She found another pin above the roof, on the main face, and managed to clip it, but the noises she was making suggested she was barely hanging in there.
I started shouting encouraging words at her.
"Come on Maryana, you've got this!"
Just then two more climbers walked up. I didn't know them. But maybe they knew Maryana? I never found out. They started yelling too.
I don't know whether Maryana even heard us, but suddenly she had a cheering section urging her over this ridiculous roof.
"Come on Maryana, you can do it!"
She threw a heel and rocked over, making it to the belay stance.
She had done it. I was proud of her; it looked hard. She always says roof climbs aren't her style, but this big roof seemed to suit her just fine.
I managed to follow her cleanly, but barely. I felt fine on pitch one and had no worries. I felt pretty good on pitch two as well. The tiers of roofs are of course very steep and the atmosphere is insane but for most of the way they aren't as hard as they appear. It's all jugs until the final overhang.
But this final overhang is the real deal. It is a tough roof problem. I thought I knew exactly where to reach out for the little corner but I missed the spot twice. You have to lean way out just to paw around out there and you get more and more pumped as you search in vain for the magic hold.
On my third try I finally found it.
I was overjoyed but now I was feeling the namesake strain and I still needed to pull the roof. I did not want to fall. I wasn't sure I could get back on if I fell. I didn't want to have to prussik up the rope to get back on the wall.
More importantly, I didn't want to fail. I wanted to send.
There was no time to waste. I heel hooked on nothing and somehow managed to haul myself up.
Wow, what a climb! Great face climbing on pitch one is followed by a phenomenal roof on pitch two. I want to come back and lead Falled on Account of Strain IMMEDIATELY.
Our day was done. The wind had picked up as Maryana led Falled on Account of Strain and the sky had grown overcast. By the time we got down from the climb it was starting to drizzle. But it was of no importance. We were both pretty happy with our day.
They say 5.10 is the premier grade at the Gunks. As I work my way further into the grade I'm really starting to see why. There are so many high-quality tens and I've just scratched the surface. It seems like every new ten I'm exposed to becomes my new favorite. Recently it was Stannard's Roof, then it was Bird Cage, and now it just might be Falled on Account of Strain.
I can't believe the season is almost over. It feels like it's just getting started.