Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Weekday Fun in the Uberfall: Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9), Nosedive (5.10b), Red Cabbage Right (5.10b) & More!
(Photo: Peak colors along the carriage road.)
September was a beautiful month.
October has been a little more spotty. Gail and I were supposed to get together to climb on October 6 but we got rained out. The next weekend I was away. Though little time had really passed it felt as though it had been ages since I visited the Adirondacks with Manny in late September. I had plans to climb with Maryana on October 19th, which was right around the corner. But as the days dragged on I was preoccupied with finding some way to go climbing sooner.
Then a weekday just dropped into my lap.
I had to work a night shift at the courthouse, which meant I didn't need to come in to my office during the day. This happens from time to time.
Ordinarily I would not have considered climbing on such a day. I would need to be in downtown Manhattan, dressed in a suit, by 5:00. This would require me to leave the cliffs at, say, 2:00 p.m. at the latest? It hardly seemed worth it.
But maybe this was no ordinary time.
We were in peak season. Sending season. If we had a truly perfect weather day, maybe it would be worth the drive up to the Gunks from NYC for just half a day.
I mentioned the possibility to Gail, not really expecting much support from her. To my surprise, she said she was on board. She was working in NYC on both the day before and the day after but she was free on the day I could take off.
So we were really going to do this? We are sick people, the two of us.
As the day approached the forecast seemed poor. I was expecting to have to cancel but then the weather suddenly improved. The chance of rain dropped to practically zero. It was going to be pretty warm. We were on again. I drove up to Gail's house in Gardiner the night before so we could start climbing on the early side.
When we left Gail's house at 7:30 a.m. it was already 60 degrees out. It was cloudy and threatening rain as we got in the car but by the time we started climbing it was already clearing up. It quickly turned into just the kind of perfect day I had dreamed of, with ideal temperatures, blue skies and peak fall colors.
Climbing-wise, we accomplished a lot given our limited time. We stayed in the Uberfall and knocked out six pitches before we had to pack it in.
It was kind of a weird day. I backed off of two 5.9's but did well on the 5.10's!
Right after we reached the cliff I asked Gail if she'd ever done Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9), a no-star climb at the very beginning of the Trapps. She had not. I've been curious about it, just as I'm always curious about climbs in the Uberfall that no one seems to do. I'm always hoping to discover some gem hiding in plain sight, right in the most crowded part of the cliff.
When I was working my way through the 5.9's I thought this could be a good one to knock out quickly and put in the bank-- it is a short route-- but I never got around to it.
Why not today?
We looked it over. It seemed like a one-move wonder, with easy climbing into an alcove and then a short roof problem crux, after which the climb would be finished. I decided to do it.
Of course I was forgetting one of the rules of Gunks climbing, which is that if a climb has a one-move 5.9 crux it is likely to be a doozy of a move.
I climbed up into the alcove with no trouble. I got gear at the roof level. But I couldn't for the life of me figure out the roof. I knew I was supposed to follow a seam that goes up from the right side of the ceiling, but I couldn't find any good holds. I kept climbing up into it, pawing around, finding nothing useful, and then stepping down. I added gear on a few of these trips up and down. Soon I had three pieces protecting the crux. I thought the gear was good but I still didn't want to fall into the blocky alcove. It seemed like a bad idea.
Eventually I gave up and climbed back down to the ground.
(Photo: Gail working at the crux on Birthday Biscuit Boy (5.9).)
I walked around left to get on top of the climb, and then I set up an anchor on a tree and lowered in so we could clean my gear and top rope the route. Gail went first and after some exploring she found a hidden hold that got her over the roof. I felt like a chump for missing this key hold.
When I went back up on top rope I still couldn't see the hold! I don't want to tell you where to look; it would spoil your dream of on-sighting Birthday Biscuit Boy without unwanted beta. I wouldn't be able to live with myself. But the hidden hold is slippery, like polished marble. It is unusual. Once I finally found it I was over the crux.
There is gear to be had after this one move, and then a bit of a run-out up slabby, dirty territory to the trees. I don't think I'll bother to go back to redpoint this one. It just isn't worth the time and effort. It is a stupid little climb.
After our inauspicious beginning we headed over to Nosedive (5.10b). Now, Nosedive is not a hidden gem. It is a very well known, popular climb. But it is a good one for a weekday since on the weekend you will usually have a large audience if you try to lead it. If that idea makes you uncomfortable then weekdays are where it's at.
I wish I could say this was an on-sight attempt but I did climb Nosedive once before, in 2011. I followed Adrian when he redpointed it. Watching him do it was inspiring to me. As usual he was solid through the crux, making sure to stop and place gear even when in the middle of the strenuous layback.
(Photo: Adrian at the crux of Nosedive (5.10b) in 2011.)
I didn't recall any tricks or secrets from my prior ascent. What I did remember was that the climb had some hard moves other then the crux layback. I remembered a sketchy mantle onto a pedestal near the ground, and then some tough moves up a corner, followed by some easier bits and then the steep layback crack to the finish.
(Photo: Looking down from halfway up Nosedive (5.10b).)
This time around with Gail I hoped to be patient and in control, just like my friend Adrian, for my own Nosedive lead.
It went very well. I am proud of this one.
I got good gear for the sketchy mantle. A lot of people place nothing through this hard part of the climb but I got a small nut, sideways but locked in, in a horizontal crack at the same level as the mantle shelf.
The next move up into the right-facing corner was the crux of the whole pitch for me. It is a tough little move, but the gear is good. Gail did it very differently than I did. After that move I relaxed a bit, and the final layback went like butter. I negotiated the footwork well and found it easy to stem out and place pro while in the midst of the finishing flake.
Another win for the good guys! All of a sudden I seem to be on a roll with the 5.10's.
(Photo: Gail getting started on Nosedive (5.10b).)
After we did Nosedive it seemed like it would be a shame not to take a quick top rope run up Retribution just to the left. So we did it. The climb went down easily for both of us. After the multi-cruxed Nosedive it seemed a bit pedestrian, with its one-move rooflet crux. Still, both routes are of very high quality, and both are well-protected leads.
What next? I decided I wanted to lead Dirty Gerdie (5.8+), the climb that goes right up the middle of the huge detached block that sits just to the left of Retribution and Nosedive. I had never led it but I'd tried it on top rope several times. In fact one of my earliest climbing memories is of the time I came to the Gunks with my friend Greg and utterly failed on top rope to get anywhere on Dirty Gerdie. Another time early in my climbing life with my friend Vass we top roped both Dirty Gerdie and Apoplexy (5.9) on the same day and I remember thinking that Dirty Gerdie was the harder climb of the two. I took a fall that day at the low, stand-up move to the first piton. This move seemed very difficult to me at the time but now that I have broader experience I know that this climb is typical of harder Gunks thin face climbs, with long reaches between good horizontals and some mantles and high steps required.
(Photo: Looking down from most of the way up Dirty Gerdie (5.8+).)
I'd always thought Dirty Gerdie looked like a heady lead, with hard moves above gear to reach questionable pitons. But Gail had led it and she said she thought it was reasonable so I gave it a whirl. And it should have been no surprise that I found Dirty Gerdie to be a great little lead. You do have to climb up above your gear several times, adding excitement to the route and creating the potential for short falls. But the falls should be clean. The gear is good. There are three pitons protecting the cruxy bits but each of these pitons can be backed up if you wish. And the moves are great. The climb packs several nice sequences into a short distance. I thought it was very worthwhile, and the stand-up move was still not a gimme for me. Gail led it with my pre-placed gear after I was done and made this move look much easier than I did. She turned the opposite way (I won't say exactly which). I'll try it her way next time.
After we were done with Dirty Gerdie, Gail suggested we try a climb around the corner on the steep side of the Gerdie Block called Red Cabbage Right (5.10b). This relatively obscure climb probably sees a lot of top rope ascents, although I have never seen anyone on it. I get the feeling it is seldom led. Gail had done it on top rope before and thought it appeared to be leadable. I was willing to check it out.
I looked in the guidebook and found that the right-hand start (which was the way Gail had done it before) is rated R. But I could see a series of tiny seams that I thought might take small nuts. If these were good placements then the climbing would be safe. So I scrambled into the gully to the right of the block and tried to reach over to test out the first two of these seams. One of them turned out to be flaring and useless. I couldn't get anything to stick in there. I got a nut to seat in the other seam but I thought it was really marginal. I wasn't sure it would hold in a fall. I decided I did not want to lead the right-hand start.
The left-hand start has a PG rating in the guidebook. It appeared to me that the crux of the route was the first step up onto a smooth face, and that I would need to reach a thin horizontal with my hands and plug gear there with no real footholds. I was concerned that a fall here might be an ankle-tweaker to the blocks at the base.
I thought the solution I came up with was pretty neat, if I do say so myself. I climbed up a couple of moves onto Red Cabbage (5.9-), which ascends a vertical crack just to the left of the start of Red Cabbage Right. Then I placed a bomber cam, clipped it, and climbed down. Using this pro on Red Cabbage I felt safe making the crux step up at the start of Red Cabbage Right. Still the stance was very tenuous after I made the step up and as I carefully placed an Alien I said to Gail "I really might fall here."
Sure enough, as soon as I clipped the Alien one of my toes popped and I did fall. The Alien caught me and kept me off the ground. I'm not sure I would have been so lucky had I fallen before making the clip. With an armload of rope pulled out I'm not certain the cam to the left would have helped me.
Anyway after I shook off the lead fall jitters I started all over again and led the whole pitch cleanly. So I'm counting it as another 5.10 win for me. It is a pretty good pitch, with the early crux, then some steep enjoyable moves with pebbly jugs up and right to a smoother face with a vertical crack, where another pumpy crux move awaits. (It is a Gunksy crux-- you think you'll have to crack climb but instead you end up finding the hidden good holds and making a big reach.) There is bomber gear for this second crux but in between the first crux and the second there are few placements. I got a tiny nut in a little right-facing corner. I thought it was a good placement but the nut was the smallest one I carry. Until I got to the horizontal just below the upper crux where I could place more gear I was pretty tense about the prospect of a sideways, swinging fall onto this nut. Despite this one issue I would probably do Red Cabbage Right again. I enjoyed it. And it felt not-so-hard for a 5.10b.
(Photo: Gail working up the last bits of Red Cabbage Right (5.10b).)
It was almost time to go, but we wanted to do one more climb. Gail pushed me to lead Trapped Like a Rat. This climb is either a tough 5.9 or, if you believe the guidebook, a (ridiculously sandbagged) 5.7. There is a steep, awkward vertical crack up a corner right at the start. Dick Williams claims the climb is easy if you use the "5.7" face holds to the left of the crack, but he concedes that if you stick to the crack it is a 5.9.
Gail recently led this climb cleanly, using just the crack and not the face holds, and I give her tons of credit because I still haven't led it at all. On one occasion several years ago I attempted the lead but as soon as I confronted the move into the crack I decided I had no desire to do it and backed off.
This time, with Gail, I thought it would be different. But it wasn't. I stepped up to the crack, placed what I thought were two good pieces, and pulled myself up, using both the crack itself and some holds to the left. I thought the next move would present itself but I got stuck. I went up and down a few times. Then I took a hang.
We were running out of time. I tried again. I climbed up again, but it still wasn't happening. I decided to hang again, but this time I dropped onto my top piece from above, and it popped! I still had another big cam right below it so I was perfectly safe. I was left hanging a few feet above the ground. But this was the last straw. I was done for the day with this annoying climb. It is no route to do in a rush anyhow. I'll have to come back and conquer it when I can be more patient and really work it out.
We ran over to Bunny (5.6 direct) and did that one instead, with Gail in the lead. It was a nice mellow way to end our short day.
As we rushed back to the parking lot I thought I had left myself enough time to make it back to NYC. But a forty minute traffic jam at the tunnel foiled my plans. I was still basically on time, but I didn't have any time to freshen up. I've never felt so tired during a night shift but my two 5.10 sends more than made up for it!
I'd do it again in a heartbeat.