Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cool November Climbing: The Nose (5.6+), Bold-ville (5.8), The Winter (5.10d) & More!

(Photo: Gail in the traversing portion of the Nose (5.6+).)

We're running out of climbing days in 2013.

The last time I got out was Sunday, November 10, with Gail. The forecast was for temperatures in the high forties, with a zero percent chance of rain. Sounded good enough for November.

We decided to head on down to the Seasons area. Gail expressed an interest in leading the 5.9 first pitch of the Spring. I was considering (maybe?) leading the second pitch of the Winter (5.10 b/c), which is directly above the Spring's first pitch. I was also thinking about the first pitch of the Winter (5.10d), just to the left, as well as several other more moderate climbs in the immediate vicinity, such as Shit Creek (5.7) or Torture Garden (5.8).

When we arrived at the Seasons area there were some other climbers looking around but everything was still open. I elected to start our day with the Nose (5.6+), a route I've often wondered about. I never see anyone on it. I had previously done the opening moves of the route, up an open book, as the direct start to Fillipina (5.9-), but I'd never continued with the real business of the Nose. After the open book, the Nose traverses left for fifteen or twenty feet above the lip of a roof out to a point (the namesake "Nose") and then face-climbs upwards to eventually meet Fillipina above its crux roof at a fixed piton belay station.

With Gail I started up the open book and found it kind of tough to get established, just as I did when I did this part of the route in 2011. There is great gear in a crack at the back but the moves are a little stiff for 5.6 in my opinion. I had hoped it would feel different this time. You know, since I'm a much better climber now and all that.

But no, it felt the same.

Up at the top of the open book, as I prepared to move left into the traverse, I felt a few drops.

Looking up, I realized that it was raining.

I thought I was the victim of some cruel hoax. It was cloudy as we walked in but I figured it would just burn off.

There was a zero percent chance of rain! Zero!!

Life is so unfair.

I waited there for a minute, trying to decide what to do. I could probably get quickly to a fixed anchor up and right, rather than finishing the Nose, if I needed to bail. But it seemed like the sprinkles in the air weren't making the rock very wet, at least for the time being, so I continued with the original plan.

I liked the Nose traverse. There are footholds at the lip of the roof and the pro is fine all the way across. The exposure on the traverse is exciting. At the nose of the Nose you are forced to wrestle with a tree in order to move up to the crux face climbing. It is an enjoyable enough sequence if you like negotiating with living but unconscious obstacles. Just above the tree there is a thin move up that I think is again a bit stiff for the grade, and the pro is not that easy to arrange. I got a small nut in a twisted placement in a little horizontal that I thought would hold, but I had to work to get it and I wasn't thrilled with it. You can also sling the tree at a small branch.

After the one sketchy move there is very nice face climbing up a crack to the anchor.

The Nose is a really cool little climb. I think it is harder than 5.6, and in the cruxy spot above the tree the gear is pretty tricky. But there is a lot of good, varied climbing on the route. I think it deserves to be more popular.

I hadn't noticed any wetness as I finished leading the pitch, but after Gail lowered me and took her turn on the climb the rain picked up. It got pretty steady as Gail traversed and then moved up out of my view. She reported that the face above the traverse was starting to get slippery. Once she was back on the ground we stashed our things under the roof where our gear would stay dry and waited a bit to see whether the rain might stop. I wasn't enthused about leading any of my projects in wet conditions.

Others around us were still climbing.

Kathy, a great climber I know from Brooklyn Boulders, was leading pitch one of the Winter. I snapped a few photos of her as she did the second half of the pitch. I was interested to watch her since I was considering leading it too. I top-roped this pitch once with Maryana a few years ago and I remembered the crux as being short and not too bad. I thought there would be good nut placements in the crease at the back of the crux corner.

(Photo: Kathy starting the crux sequence on the Winter (5.10d).)

As I watched Kathy I lost my nerve a little bit. The crux moves looked hard and different than I remembered. Kathy went a bit to the right where I recalled staying in the corner. I worried about the fall I would take into the corner if I couldn't get a secure enough stance to place a nut mid-crux, before the fixed pin that is above the hardest moves.

(Photo: Kathy almost through the crux on the Winter (5.10d).)

Kathy made it up without incident and then she and her partner Matt decided to keep on climbing even as the rain continued unabated. They were excited about Matt's project, Uphill All the Way (5.12a), a climb he'd come very close to sending before. He'd previously fallen at the final crux move, a high-step over an overhang onto a blank face.

(Photo: Matt in the lower bits of Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

Gail and I were inclined to wait for the rain to stop before continuing to climb so we watched Matt attempt Uphill All the Way.

I was deeply impressed with his performance. The climb ascends a thin little corner that turns into an arch. The gear is all tiny nuts and a few small cams. Matt made it look easy but it was obviously quite difficult all the way up to the final move. (Dick Williams says the early moves before the crux are 5.11d, which isn't much easier than the finishing 5.12a move.)

(Photo: Matt on Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

At the last challenge Matt seemed to struggle for the first time but it all worked out. He made it over the roof and onto the glassy face without falling, getting his redpoint. I was very happy for him. He was psyched, and with good reason.

(Photo: Matt getting close to the final move on Uphill All the Way (5.12a).)

Kathy and Matt kindly offered to let me try Uphill All the Way on top rope. I was taken aback. It hadn't even occurred to me that I might try this climb. But I accepted their offer. I regret to inform you that I didn't get very far on the route. I made some difficult moves but then struggled three or four times at a bulging bit several moves up, right before the route starts to move to the right. There is a big reach to a jug. I couldn't find the right body position and repeatedly fell off. Matt and Kathy encouraged me to continue but I felt that I was wasting their time. I also suspected that if I removed the next piece of gear and then fell off while moving right I wouldn't be able to get back on the route. The rain was finally stopping so I figured we were all better off if I moved on. (Gail wasn't really interested in trying Uphill All the Way.)

I walked away feeling like maybe I should have tried harder. I don't want to be dramatic, but watching Kathy and Matt was awe-inspiring for me. I know I challenge myself, and I set serious goals for myself given my limited climbing availability. But what I do is nothing compared with what Kathy and Matt were doing. These two were REALLY going after it (in the rain!), on routes beyond my comprehension.

It is one of the great things about climbing: there are no rules about how hard you have to climb. You can compete against others if you are into that. Or you can admire the achievements of others and compete against only yourself. Or you can choose not to challenge yourself, and just have fun on climbs that are well within your limits. There's nothing wrong with that either.

I wouldn't mind being good enough to climb Uphill All the Way, though this isn't my goal. What I really want is just to be super solid at 5.10. But it isn't as simple as that, since top-roping more and working 5.12's would go a long way towards making me more solid at 5.10. So I probably should be more eager to work at routes like Uphill All the Way, even if I never plan to be a 5.12 leader. I have to readjust my thinking. I have to conceive of such routes as reasonable and possible for me. And then work on them. The same goes for harder problems in the gym.

I hope that watching Kathy and Matt will inspire me to work harder over the winter.

But I digress.

Once Gail and I got back to climbing, I decided to lead the first pitch of Bold-ville (5.8) to see if the rock was feeling dry. Bold-ville is a great 5.8, with several interesting moves up an arching corner/crack system and then a small overhang at the end of the first pitch. It is not what I'd call an easy 5.8. There are some challenging moves on Bold-ville and the difficulty is fairly continuous. But there is bomber gear the whole way so I would encourage anyone breaking into 5.8 to give it a try. (The second pitch is also a really good 5.6.)

Once I reached the end of the pitch I suggested to Gail that we top-rope the Winter. The rock felt fine but the rain must have sapped my mojo as I was no longer feeling so sure about trying to lead harder stuff. I thought it would be good to preview the Winter and then maybe I'd come back and lead it later.

(Photo: Gail getting started on the Winter (5.10d).)

I set it up from the chains over the Spring. There is a manky threaded sling anchor directly above the Winter but when I arrived there was a party using it, finishing up the Winter as I led Bold-ville, so I elected not to confuse matters by sharing the fixed anchor. I thought it looked pretty junky anyway. (There is a second junk anchor a little higher up that I wish I'd removed. It is just knotted old slings stuck in a vertical crack. At least two of these slings can be easily lifted out by hand. Please don't use this anchor. It is dangerous.) Instead of using the fixed junk I set up our rope on the bolts to the right (over the Spring) and placed some solid directional pieces over the Winter. It was easy enough to arrange and the bolted anchor gave me piece of mind.

I climbed the Winter cleanly but I found it difficult. It is steep down low and there is a little alcove near the ground that you have to work your way in and out of. This part of the route isn't 5.10d but it may be 5.9++.

Then you get to the crux right-facing corner. It is pretty blank but there are some crucial finger-locks and footholds. As I worked out the moves (staying in the corner, unlike Kathy), I said to Gail that I was finding it hard and that I didn't think I was ready to lead it. But then I immediately had second thoughts and considered that I'd been able to step up into pretty good stances in the corner. I thought I would be able to stop and place gear.

I might fall if I lead the Winter. But I am pretty sure I can protect it well. So I really should come back and lead it soon.

After we were both done with the Winter (which Gail also climbed cleanly) we moved left so that Gail could lead Fillipina (5.7). The traditional second pitch goes left through a neat roof at a sandbagged 5.9- but Gail planned to stay to the right, heading to the fixed anchor that is directly above the start. Gail's path is written up in the guidebook as the first pitch of a link-up climb that combines pitch one of Fillipina and pitch two of Bold-ville. If you do Fillipina this way, going straight up rather than left, it is no harder than 5.7.

Gail led the pitch in no time. I enjoyed it, though it isn't really anything special. A couple of steep moves up a crack right off the ground lead to easier climbing up a face and left-facing corner. It is a pretty casual 5.7 (we both thought it was easier than the Nose) and the gear is good. It would make a nice link-up with Bold-ville's pitch two, although pitch one of Bold-ville is much better than pitch one of Fillipina so if you're up to leading 5.8 I would definitely do Bold-ville instead.

We had time for one more pitch so I decided to try Lady's Lament (which is 5.8 straight up to the anchor-- there is a loose 5.10 roof traverse which Dick Williams now lists as a variation). This climb is on the face between the Nose and Fillipina. I've never seen anyone on it or heard anything about it. When Gail and I looked it over we saw no chalk. Dick calls it PG. I though it might be fun to give it a try.

So I stepped up into the reachy, steep first move and got a slap in the face. It was surprisingly tough to get the horizontal and rather strenuous to hang out and place gear. And the horizontal crack was pebbly and more shallow than I expected. Still I needed to get a piece in there because the next move was another big reach. I didn't want to crater after blowing this second move. It could be an ankle-breaker.

After some urgent fiddling I got what I hoped was a bomber green Alien and then I made the rather dynamic move up.

Having made this second hard move I could exhale a bit. These opening moves felt about as difficult to me as Maria Direct (5.9). I was not in the mood for such a challenge. I thought we were cooling down with a 5.8 hidden gem, or at least that was the story line I had already written for myself before I headed upward.

(Photo: Gail making the reach to the first horizontal on Lady's Lament (5.8).)

And it wasn't over. I was back in groundfall range before I got another piece in (though the climbing was easier) and then I arrived at the supposed crux face climbing up a face with a thin crack.

I studied this face for a while, not seeing any good gear above me and unsure of the move. Stepping up and down a few times, I decided I really wasn't feeling it. I knew it would be easy to step to the left and follow the Nose up past the crux of Lady's Lament, after which I could easily move up and right to the fixed anchor. So that is what I did. I aborted Lady's Lament because it was enough already and I just wanted the pitch to be over so we could go home. Not the proudest way to end a day that was already short on accomplishments.

I'll have to go back and lead Lady's Lament another time. Gail did the crux face moves when she followed the pitch and she spotted potential gear placements and some hidden holds. She said the crux was nice.

As we packed up to leave Kathy and Matt ran by us in the fading light. They were on their way to try to knock off the Sting (5.11d). Their mojos were certainly intact! I hope I recover mine if I get another shot at the Gunks before the year is out.