Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Far Out in the Nears: The Main Line (5.8), Mac-Reppy (5.8 A0), Up In Arms (5.9) & More!

(Photo: Gail showing off a little Moxie (5.9), approaching the good moves before the crux.)

This past Saturday was a fine day in the Gunks. A little warm (high 80's), but sunny. Gail and I expected the place to be a madhouse. So we decided to avoid the crowds by heading to the far side of the Near Trapps. Back in April, Gail and I had great fun in the Easter Time Too area, but we barely scratched the surface. We knew there were a ton of good climbs out there neither of us had tried before.

I hadn't been to the Gunks in a month. Although I'd had the great fortune to climb for four days in a row at the end of May/beginning of June in Squamish, by Saturday that trip seemed like ancient history. I was afraid I'd feel rusty in the Gunks. As we trooped out to the end of the Nears I suggested we start with a route that was somewhat familiar to me: The Main Line (5.8).

Gail has been leading a lot lately and I thought the second pitch of The Main Line would be good for her. She loves roofs and the Main Line roof crux, while burly, is short. I remembered the pro as rock solid. When I led this pitch two years ago I thought the pro was great.

On that day, back in 2011, I was climbing with Vass. I'd hoped to do the whole route but the first pitch of The Main Line was wet. We did the 5.8 first pitch of Ground Control, just to the right, instead. This pitch meets pitch one of The Main Line at its end, finishing at the same set of bolts. I didn't care for the first pitch of Ground Control; I found it awkward and not that much fun. But I loved the second pitch of The Main Line. And then our day came to an abrupt halt. After rapping back to the bolts, I started the second pitch of Ground Control (which is 5.9), but took a lead fall off of some wet holds and sprained a finger, ending our day early.

So on this past Saturday I thought Gail and I could knock off both pitches of The Main Line. I'd lead pitch one, and then Gail could tackle pitch two. And then maybe I'd get back on the second pitch of Ground Control and take care of that one as well.

When we got to The Main Line its corner it was dry so we did it.

I liked pitch one. It is rated 5.7 and I think that is fair. It has several nice, tricky moves on it. It ascends a left-facing corner. When the corner ends at a roof you step right to a slab, then move up to another left-facing corner, which leads you to the belay ledge with a bolted anchor. The larger, second corner is the crux of the pitch but it isn't a corner climb. The crux is getting to the good holds to the left of the corner.

I found the pro to be a little thin on pitch one. It wasn't a crisis, but at the cruxy moments I was often a bit above the gear. I couldn't get a piece right where I wanted it. If 5.7 is your leading limit this pitch might be a bit scary for you.

As we looked up at pitch two Gail wasn't really feeling like leading it. The roof is very intimidating. I'd been there before and thought I knew what to expect so I took the lead again. And the climbing went fine. This is an amazing pitch, with a steep, pumpy stance right beneath the huge overhang, and then one reachy 5.8 move to a jug and easier but still steep climbing up and right to the finish.

Although the climbing was no problem, the pro at the crux gave me fits. I remembered this great placement for a yellow Number 2 Camalot. Two years ago I got this odd but bomber placement right in the middle of the irregular pod above the lip of the roof. But not this time. I couldn't make it work. I tried over and over again. It drove me crazy, and I started to pump out. Eventually my leg started shaking like mad as I tried to force the yellow cam to fit. But it wouldn't go and Gail suggested I step down to rest.

I needed something there. I was confident in the move but the pro below the roof is several feet down and the fall down to the slab would be ugly if you blew it with only that lower piece for protection.

Finally I gave up on the yellow Camalot and got an Alien in one of the cracks on the side of the pod. I thought the piece was okay. It was going to have to do. I did the moves and finished the pitch, which was just as awesome as I remembered. But then when it was her turn Gail struggled with the crux move and when I pulled up on the rope, she was yanked sideways because she'd removed the cam from the pod and my next piece was up and to the right. She couldn't get the angle on the jug, ended up hanging and then couldn't get back on the rock. I lowered her to the belay and had to rap to her. She never got to do the pitch! I felt terrible. Next time I'll place another piece directly above the crux move.

When I rapped down to Gail the annoyances continued. I managed to feed the rope into a notch, getting it stuck. I had to traverse to the right from the bolts until I could yank it free.

It was turning into one of those days. 

Back at the bolts, I took a look up at the second pitch of Ground Control. I wanted to do it, but I was already hot, sweaty, and dehydrated. I felt kind of worked over after what was supposed to be our warm-up climb! It seemed like we should go down, have a drink, and find something else.

We ended up doing a lot of fun climbing during the rest of our day, but after our little fiasco on The Main Line I never did feel like I was climbing my best.

We decided next to hit Mac-Reppy (5.11c), which is just left of The Main Line. I was not expecting to get the onsight. 5.11c is just a bit above my pay grade, so to speak. But the crux is one super-hard move at a huge roof, and the rest of the climb has a reputation for being a great 5.8, with a good upper crux involving stemming a corner to get around another huge roof.

I ended up aiding the 5.11 crux. There is a bunch of stiff, faded slings hanging at the crux roof and I imagine many folks bail from there when they get shut down. This station could use some new slings; I would not have felt comfortable using the stuff that is there, as it is pretty junky. But there's no need to bail, people! You can aid the hard bit and the rest of the climb is really nice.

I made a few token efforts at the move. I placed a bomber big nut in the side-pull above the roof and tried to figure out how on earth I would get my feet up into the corner. There is a jug wayyyyyy up there if you can figure out how to stand up and reach it. In retrospect I wish I had made a serious go of it and risked at least one fall. But in the moment I didn't want to waste any more of our day and so instead after a few exploratory attempts at the move I decided it wasn't happening. I pulled on the draw attached to my nut, placed another higher nut, extended a sling on it, and stepped into the sling while I pulled on the higher piece. This got me over the lip of the roof. I could then reach the jug and resume free climbing. I have no experience in this kind of French-free climbing and I found it simple enough. If I can do it then so, dear reader, can you.

The rest of the climb is very worthwhile. There are some really nice 5.8-ish face moves low, just off the ground, and then the upper 5.8 crux is great. Be aware that you have to fully commit to stemming way out at the upper crux roof and getting the first holds above the overhang before you can place gear. Once you are fully in it, though, the pro is great for the few 5.8 moves to the top. It is very exciting. If you are considering attempting the lower 5.11 crux then you shouldn't be too freaked out by the pro situation above.

After Mac-Reppy, we walked further down the cliff, considering and rejecting several candidates until we got to the very end of the Nears. There we found Up In Arms (5.9), a striking diagonal crack climb up an overhanging wall. The crack is jagged, and it widens from fingers to hands as you go up. And this being the Gunks, there are also horizontals to grab along the way. There is pro everywhere.

(Photo: Striking a pose on Up In Arms (5.9).)

This is a quality climb, really strenuous for 5.9 and very unusual for the Gunks. I admit I struggled in this steep section. I took a few hangs. I didn't jam much; mostly I threw in jams when I wanted to place gear. All I could think of was how thirsty and tired I felt, after just a few pitches. I realized that it was time to admit that the summer was really upon us. I might need to dial it back a bit on these hot days.

The diagonal crack system takes you left to a chimney, which is more of a gully, really. It is easy climbing up the gully and then the pitch gets weird again near the top of the gully as you hand traverse right using a little bit of stemming until finally you commit to the overhanging wall again for a move or two around a corner to the main face and the belay tree.

We decided to do pitch two, another very unusual, interesting pitch. This one is reputed to be 5.8. First you step across the gully to an arete below a roof. You have to figure out a way to move up and around the arete onto the face beneath the roof, and then pull over the roof to the right of a crack that runs straight out the underside. I enjoyed all of the climbing on this pitch, but it doesn't appear to get done very often. I didn't see any chalk and the holds above the roof were a little dirty. I felt supremely sandbagged at the roof. I made it over and I know I was hot and tired, but still, I believe I have enough experience to judge when a roof in the Gunks should be 5.8 and this is not such a roof! I thought it was hard 5.9, with big moves to so-so holds. (Gail employed a heel hook with a mantel, not exactly your average 5.8 maneuver.) The pro is good, though. The roof is a fitting capper to a very intriguing route. Up In Arms packs a ton of interesting challenges into two short pitches.

There is a belay tree with slings at the very top of Up In Arms but please don't use it. The slings are all old and crusty and the tree itself looks none too healthy. If I'd had a knife with me I would have cut the crappy tat off of that tree. There are other trees behind for the belay and you can walk off down Smede's Cove. The trail down a rocky drainage is easy to find and it only takes a few minutes.

(Photo: Negotiating the lower bits of Moxie (5.9).)

Once we returned to our packs we walked back the other way and decided to try Moxie (5.9). This is a short pitch but a good one. The climb follows a weakness up and right to a blank-looking corner. The crux is finding a way to move up into the corner and then around onto the face and the rap tree. I enjoyed the 5.7/5.8-ish climbing up to the crux corner and then felt stuck for a minute at the crux. It is a bit of a puzzler, as it seems there are no holds! Anyway there is good pro right there for you at your hip while you sort it all out. I don't want to reveal the solution; I'll just say that, as is typical in the Gunks, the answer to the corner isn't inside but outside. I was relieved to onsight this 5.9, after my struggles on Up In Arms.

With order thus restored to the universe, we made an attempt at another 5.9, our final route of the day: Cherokee, a single-pitch 5.9 that is afforded two stars by Dick Williams in his latest guidebook.

(Photo: Gail at the crux of Cherokee (5.9).)

Dick describes the crux, which goes up a shallow open book about 20 feet up, as being harder for shorter people. I disregarded this warning. He says that all the time, and whenever I hear someone say a climb is height-dependent I dismiss it as weak excuse-making. Real men use technique, they don't whine about reachy moves.

So I had no worries, until I went right up Cherokee and got completely shut down at the crux. It was a just reward for my hubris, but I really don't think height is the issue. It seemed to me the route requires you to use terrible footholds and a tiny two-finger undercling hold in order to reach up to the jug. I got a good brassie nut in the key hold. It did not block the hold. But the hold sucks; it is one pad deep! I kept trying to step up but then kept stepping down. I never took a fall but I just couldn't see this move working out. It felt like I was just going to slip right off. I think a tall person would have to make the same move.

Eventually I said screw it, grabbed the draw on the brassie and stepped up to the good hold. It was my second French-free lead of the day. I guess I really should have gone for it at least once and made the move or taken the fall. I knew my pro was good. Anyway, after I aided the crux the rest of the pitch was really quite nice, with lots of steep 5.8 moves up orange rock. There is some loose rock right after the crux, and a wedged block near the top that gave me the willies. And I thought it was kind of run out through the middle of the pitch. Gail, on top rope, was just as mystified by the crux move. She aided it too after deciding this was the sort of move that could make you rip a pulley or tendon.

I'd like to say that I'll go back to Cherokee on a cooler day when it feels less greasy. But I'm not sure I ever really want to go back and do that crux move. It does seem like an injury waiting to happen. Apart from that move it is a very good pitch, steep and consistent. It just keeps coming at you.

We still had hours of daylight to go but after Cherokee we were both whipped. We decided to call it a day. Another party walked up to Cherokee as we were packing up and as we left the leader was experiencing the exact same WTF mystery as we did at the crux, so I walked away feeling like at least I hadn't lost my mind.

I felt a little let down by my performance on the day. I've felt so good on every 5.9 I've tried in the Gunks for what seems like an eternity; I was surprised at how challenging I found the ones I tried on Saturday.  But I came down with a mean head cold in the last couple of days so maybe I have an excuse. Or maybe I just need to stop sucking! Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Still Hooked on Crack: A Few Days in Squamish, B.C., Part Two

(Photo: Starting up Triage Arete (5.9).)

On my third day in Squamish, I got out of bed expecting blue skies. But I pulled back the curtain to see clouds and wetness.

Oh no, not again?!

Seriously, what the H, Squamish? Rain for the third day in a row? This definitely merits a mention in my Yelp review.

Well, okay, so the streets were wet. It didn't seem to be actually raining. Maybe it would all burn off. We got up, checked out of the Howe Sound Inn, and went to have breakfast at the White Spot.

I kept looking out the window as I picked at my omelette, hoping for signs of clearing. But no. As we sat there it got worse. It actually started raining.


Day 3: Nightmare Rock (Murrin Park) and the Parking Lot Area (Smoke Bluffs)

It rained all morning. Every time we thought it might be done it would start right back up again.

We ended up climbing in the rain in Murrin Park, at a wall called Nightmare Rock. This wall has some hard 5.12 roof climbs that have anchors below the roofs so that the easier, lower portions of these routes, which stay dry in the rain, can be climbed even during a storm.

The route on the left, which climbs to an intermediate anchor on Grandaddy Overhang, is rated 5.8 up to the anchor. It looked interesting, starting with a weird chimney and then climbing a low-angled face up the left side of an arete. I had Adrian lead it. I didn't like the looks of the starting chimney but Adrian made it look very easy. The face moves above were a little harder. This isn't a bad pitch, if you have nothing else to do.

(Photo: Adrian sliding into the rainy-day version of Grandaddy Overhang (5.8).)

I took the lead back for the route on the right, Sentry Box (5.10a). This climb features a hand crack that forks into two cracks about 20 feet up the wall. I found the crux move to be relatively low, as you move up the initial crack to a stance at a thin flake that is stuck in the crack. I'd be hard-pressed to call this move 5.10a. It seemed much easier than that to me, maybe 5.8+ or 5.9- at the most. Above, when the crack splits in two, you can climb up either crack; both are easy. This is another nice enough route. We did it twice.

(Photo: At the crux move of the short version of Sentry Box (allegedly 5.10a).)

The never-ending rain was getting us down. We talked about climbing at another location but instead we said screw it and went to the climbing shop (why not?) and for an early lunch at a funky little diner called Mountain Woman. Burgers and milkshakes are the ultimate power foods.

Finally, during a break in the rain we decided to head back to the Smoke Bluffs. When we got there it seemed like the rain might hold off a bit. I walked up to the wall just above the parking lot to feel the rock and, miracle of miracles, it felt dryish. I ran back to the car to summon Adrian and get my stuff. We were in business.

(Photo: Adrian on Triage Arete (5.9). The vertical crack of Picket Line (5.9) is visible just to the left of the arete.)

We started with Picket Line (5.9), a vertical crack system on the left side of the little crag which can be clearly seen from the parking area. Although the bottom of the route was kind of grungy, I thought the crux steep hand crack through a bulge was good fun, and I enjoyed the easier climbing afterwards up to the anchor.

After Picket Line I led Cold Comfort (5.9), another obvious crack system on the right side of the crag. This one is a finger crack. Again the lower bits were pretty dirty, but by the time I reached the finger crack it was cleaner. I liked this one better than Picket Line. It has more sustained good moves. It is a worthwhile climb despite the filth at the bottom. Adrian said it used to be a consensus 5.8 and that sounded about right to me.

Next we turned to the elephant in the room, the climb right in the middle of the crag with four lonely bolts running up it. This is Triage Arete (5.9), an inviting line that is somewhat scary-looking. Adrian told me that in his opinion it has enough bolts but that it is a little bit of a heady lead. After some hemming and hawing I decided to do it. It looked fun. And I ended up liking it a lot. I too think there are just enough bolts. Maybe one more near the top would be nice. And the climbing is unusual for these parts; it's all about balance and moving from one side of the arete to the other. It doesn't appear so from below but there are good holds all the way up. I thought this one was also easy for its grade. If it were up to me I'd call it a 5.8.

By the time we finished Triage Arete it was getting late. All afternoon Adrian had been suggesting I lead Supervalue (5.10c). The Select guidebook lists it among the 100 best climbs in Squamish.

It looked hard in several places but after feeling good on climbs all day I decided to go for it.

The start, up an undercling crack and around a corner, was tough but I got through it. I placed a piece in the undercling and pretty quickly wished I had placed it further to the left. Once I committed to the sequence there was no way I could place anything else until I reached a stance around the corner. After I got around the corner and placed more gear, Adrian scrambled up and removed this first piece, because it was feeding the rope into the crack. I guess I would recommend that you do the same thing. You definitely want pro for the start, because the initial moves are hard and the landing is blocky. But once the moves are done it is a good idea to back-clean the piece to avoid drag and/or a stuck rope.

(Photo: Relieved to have passed the opening test of Supervalue (5.10c).)

Once I was through the bouldery opening of Supervalue I found it easy to get up to the second challenge, a face-climbing bit with three bolts. Really nice, delicate face moves lead through this bolted section. But I got stuck. I couldn't figure out how to step up to the third bolt. I needed to make one more move up, and I couldn't figure out how to get enough play out of the available holds so that I could make the step. It wasn't very steep but it was balancy and technical. And I failed. I tried several times, then took a hang on the bolt. Then I tried to go for it again and took more of a fall than a hang on the bolt.

I told Adrian I was thinking I might have to bail. We were discussing the logistics of this when some other climbers approached and encouraged me to continue, saying I was at the crux. Hearing this, I gave it one more try, and when I did I immediately found an obvious hold I had ignored and, feeling like an idiot, easily stepped up to the final section, a face with two vertical cracks.

These are both jam cracks. The cracks have good climbing that isn't terribly hard. The real crux of the route turns out to be making the transition between these two cracks, on thin feet and small handholds. I had already wasted plenty of time and was feeling tired so of course I rushed these moves, choosing the wrong footholds, and although I almost made it, I fell.

I had gear in the left crack, and my top piece was basically level with me, just a few feet to my left. It was my green/yellow Totem Basic Hybrid cam, an Alien clone. Although the piece was close by I still fell maybe ten to fifteen feet due to stretch and slack in the system. The fall was clean and the cam held just fine. I actually rested there a minute, my weight still on the cam, before I climbed back up to it. And then when I saw the cam I was alarmed. Two of the lobes-- the smaller pair-- had popped. Actually, they were beyond popped, and had somehow inverted. I had been held by just one pair of lobes! These two lobes now appeared to be somewhat mangled and welded together. And the stem, while intact, was kinked into a bent position.

I put in a new piece, and then managed to remove the compromised cam. I was able to get it out but even after removal it stayed stuck in roughly the same position it had been in while it held my fall.

(Photo: My messed-up Totem Basic hybrid cam.)

When I placed the cam I thought it was bomber.... And I guess it was! You never know. Anyway, after I sorted that all out I negotiated the crux just fine. All it took was patience and precise footwork. And then I finally finished the pitch.

Supervalue really does give a high value experience, with three interesting and different tough cruxes. It is a wonderful pitch and I wish I could say I did a better job leading it. I could have sent this on-sight if I'd been more disciplined about it. Must have been the milkshake...

Day 4: Finally, a Full-Length Trip Up the Chief

When we got up for day four we were finally graced with a glorious, sunny day. There was the slight chance of a thunderstorm in the forecast but Adrian and I hoped for the best and motored on up to Squamish. We wanted to do a big long route up to the summit of the Chief.

(Photo: My homemade beta photo of our route for day four. Click to enlarge.)

We ended up making it to the top, by one of the easiest and shortest routes, starting with Calculus Crack (Direct 5.9), then scrambling over to do Boomstick Crack (5.4), and finally doing the Squamish Butt Face aka Butt Lite (5.9).

Adrian had originally hoped we would do Diedre (5.8), a classic six pitch slab climb, to start our day. He even wanted to tack on a couple of optional harder slab pitches at the bottom. But when we arrived at the Chief there were still prominent wet streaks running down Diedre. So we headed over to the start of Calculus Crack, which is also traditionally done in six pitches. The climb follows a long crack system all the way up the left/north edge of the Apron, with lots of uniform jamming throughout. 

Classically the route starts up two very bushy pitches with only occasional fifth class moves, but we started instead up a recent 2010 direct variation that ups the grade to 5.9 by beginning to the left of the usual start up a slab (protected by a lone bolt off to the side) and then continuing up to an awkward short chimney and technical low-angled corner.

I agreed to take the first, crux lead but as soon as I clipped the bolt I got uncomfortable. The slab I was supposed to move onto was soaking wet and covered in fresh clumps of mud and moss. All the rains of the past week had clearly taken a toll on the condition of the route. I could see too that the awkward little chimney above was wet.

I felt certain I was going to slide right off of the slab. I didn't like it. So after some thinking I handed the lead over to Adrian.

(Photo: Adrian getting set to start a wet Calculus Crack Direct (5.9).)

As usual, Adrian was happy to bail me out. He looked it over and then did a tension traverse, having me keep the rope tight while he moved across the wet slab to the good holds. It was a smart solution, and one I never would have thought of. It's good to have people around who have alpine experience. They know things.

Adrian finished the pitch without incident, and I followed it clean, but almost the whole pitch was wet. I was really glad I gave up the lead. Luckily we didn't encounter any more pitches like this.

(Photo: Grateful to find dry rock on the 5.8 pitch two of Calculus Crack Direct.)

It was smooth sailing the rest of the way. I led pitch two, which is allegedly 5.8 but which seemed easier than that to me. I found jam cracks galore and whenever I got tired of jamming there were alternative ways to stay on the rock.

Adrian used his 70 meter rope to advantage on pitch three, blowing past the usual belay ledge and continuing up the 5.8 flakes that start the traditional fourth pitch. He built a belay in the jam crack when we got to the end of the rope.

While Adrian was leading this pitch a free soloist cruised by us, climbing with neither a rope nor protective gear. He was just moving along as casually as one would walk down the sidewalk, secure in the knowledge that he would never fall on such an easy climb, I guess. I wondered how far he was going. Would he walk off from the top of the slabs or continue all the way to the top of the Chief? He seemed very much at peace, climbing in rhythm, repeating the exact same jamming motion over and over again, wearing headphones. Adrian and I just stood there. We paused to let him pass and watched him go by. Then we looked at each other, shook our heads, and went back to our own business. We never saw him again.

(Photo: Following our pitch three (traditionally pitch four) of Calculus Crack.)

I took pitch four, yet another good hand jam pitch, all the way to the bolted anchor near the top of the slab, so that with our two long pitches we managed to cut the route down from six pitches to five. Adrian led the final short pitch, a quick slabby scramble to the ledge.

I enjoyed Calculus Crack. It features endless, consistent hand cracks at a pleasant angle. Good climbing in a scenic location at the edge of the Apron.

(Photo: Traversing the Broadway Ledge, on exposed territory above the Apron.)

From the top of Calculus Crack we went up a gully, which placed us on Broadway Ledge, an exposed scramble atop the Apron which can be followed further right to a walk-off.

We stopped partway across to continue upward with Boomstick Crack (5.4). This route has been upgraded to 5.7 in the recent Select guide but it is a 5.4 in Adrian's old guidebook and I really can't see how it is any harder than that. Regardless of the grade, the route is super fun and kind of wild.

(Photo: Walking up the freaky flake on Boomstick Crack (5.4).)

The first move is the only one that can arguably be called any harder than 5.4. You have to reach up until you can get your hands atop an improbably thin flake leaning against the cliff. Then you have to get your feet on top of it and walk up the flake, easy does it, until the flake ends and you find yourself following a seam up a slab. It starts out seeming kind of crazy, then gets easier and easier until you are basically just walking on the slab. Traditionally this route has a short second pitch but with the 70 meter rope I just took it in one pitch all the way to the woods.

Once we reached the trees another scramble was necessary to get to the base of the Squamish Buttress. The Buttress route goes to the top of the Chief at 5.10c but we planned to diverge from the route three pitches from the top to do the Squamish Butt Face aka Butt Lite variation, which brings the grade down to 5.9. As we scrambled unroped through the woods and across slabs, some 800 or so feet off the ground, I was pretty impressed with the surroundings. The views out to the bay, the town, and the surrounding mountains were excellent. We seemed to be in our own lost world, wandering through a forest in the sky.

Soon enough we reached the base of the Buttress route. We would be doing the traditional first four pitches but Adrian combined them into two pitches. These are not great pitches and Adrian wanted to stay ahead of a party that was coming up on our heels so he just ran up them in a hurry. The first long pitch had a few good 5.8 moves right at the beginning, up over a little roof and then up a slab past a bolt. Then it was easy slab climbing/walking left to a sandy stance beneath a blocky corner.

(Photo: Adrian heading up the blocky corner on the traditional third pitch (our second) of the Squamish Buttress.)

Once I joined Adrian and got anchored to a tree he took off up the next two traditional pitches, combined again in one. Like the two pitches that came before, these pitches feature mostly easy fifth class climbing with the occasional 5.6 or 5.7 move. We did them quickly but still couldn't lose the party snapping at our heels. They were even quicker than us because they 4th-classed it, soloing up these two middle pitches of the Buttress route! I was kind of unnerved when I looked back to see these two guys, keeping a safe distance, to be sure, but just walking, casually and unroped, behind me as I climbed.

(Photo: Adrian coming up to join me at the base of the Squamish Butt Face (5.9), a very long way off the ground.)

We weren't holding these two up in any meaningful way because they were planning on doing the traditional Buttress route to the finish, while we were about to veer off and do the Butt Face aka Butt Lite, a variant put up just a few years ago by famous climber Sonnie Trotter and friends. When I joined Adrian at the belay I scrambled up and left on ledges to where the route begins, below an obvious right-facing flake that is about 20 feet high.

(Photo: Just past the crux of the 5.9 pitch on the Squamish Butt Face, with the summit of the Chief in sight.)

The first pitch of the Butt Face is the technical crux. The pitch ascends the flake and at its top you move left using some small holds past a couple of bolts. After just a few thin moves the holds get bigger and then you mantel up and onto the shelf and go left to a bolted anchor. I enjoyed this pitch. Climbing up the flake is fun and there's good pro, then the bolt-protected crux moves are reasonable and brief.

Adrian took the next pitch, which if you're not accustomed to chimneys will be the mental crux. The real business of the pitch is a 5.8 chimney, and it looks intimidating but there's a good crack for gear at the back and moving up is easy if you stick your left side in. The toughest part, I reckon, is the roof move you make to exit the chimney at the top. But the holds are good; it is fine climbing.

Now we were all but done. I took the lead for the final pitch, a glorified scramble at 5.0 up a few ledges to the summit of the Chief.

In all we did fifteen guidebook pitches (it was eleven pitches for us) plus the scrambling. It was early afternoon. We lingered for a while atop the chief, eating lunch and taking in the view. Mt. Garibaldi was experiencing the thunderstorms we'd been warned about. We could see the rain in the distance but on this day we were lucky. The storms never came towards us.

(Photo: Atop the Chief we watched this paraglider guy run right off the cliff! As you know, I disapprove of these sorts of dangerous thrill sports.)

As we hiked down I suggested to Adrian that maybe we'd still have time to do a few more pitches at the base of the Grand Wall of the Chief. Or perhaps we could quickly run up Diedre before the day was over? By the time we hiked for an hour on the crowded tourist trail, down countless steps, and then walked back around the base of the cliff to the parking lot, we were both of a mind to pack it in. It had been a good day and it was enough already.

All in all I got a great introduction to what Squamish has to offer. I left very satisfied with the climbing we did, and eager to come back again for more. I do regret that I never got to do Diedre or any of the other slab climbs on the Apron. And I am really sorry that we never went up the Grand Wall to do a famous crack-in-a-corner pitch called the Split Pillar (5.10b). I think that one could have rivaled Exasperator for climb of the trip, if we'd done it. These climbs, and many others, will have to wait until the next time I find a way to come back. I am going to get to work on that.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Hooked on Crack: A Few Days in Squamish, B.C., Part One

(Photo: Most of the way through the 5.10a pitch one of Exasperator, at the base of the Grand Wall of The Chief.)

I've been waiting all year for my trip to Squamish.

The plan was hatched in the depths of winter. I plotted to meet up with my climbing buddy Adrian in late Spring on his home turf in British Columbia. An elbow injury in March threw my plans into doubt for a month, but when that issue resolved itself favorably in April we were back in business. I booked my flight for the 30th of May.

Late May/early June isn't absolutely the most dry time of year in which to go to this notoriously rainy region. I might have played the odds a little better if I'd planned on August. But it was the only time in 2013 I could see myself getting away for several days. I reasoned that over the four days I was planning to spend in Squamish we were very likely to get at least SOME good climbing done.

As the trip approached I got more and more excited. I hoped not just to have a good time but also to become a better crack climber. I asked Adrian to put me on some vertical cracks on day one and to coach me, so that maybe I'd finally get used to the vertical crack life and not feel so useless when called upon to jam and smear.

Next I hoped that, weather permitting, we could spend the following three days tackling huge routes up the Stawamus Chief. I was really looking forward to being on the big wall. I'd never been in the presence of such a huge expanse of stone and I couldn't wait to experience it.

(Photo: Rappelling in the Smoke Bluffs, with the huge Stawamus Chief in the distance.)

In the days before the trip the weather wasn't looking so good. I found myself checking the forecast constantly, hoping the conditions might take a sudden turn for the better. By the time the day of my flight arrived, it seemed I was in luck. Things were indeed looking up. Although my first day was predicted to have a significant chance of rain, the next three days were expected to be beautiful, sunny and mild.

I found out once I got to Squamish that the weather forecast didn't mean much. We experienced a lot of rain. But it wasn't a washout. We managed to climb every day, and we got a lot of classics under our belts. I left Canada feeling like we got lucky, all things considered.

(Photo: Mount Garibaldi, seen from somewhere high on The Chief.)

I absolutely loved the climbing at Squamish. There is something special about the texture of the Squamish granite. It feels grippy. The friction is fantastic. It gave me confidence in my footwork, and though we never really did any pure slab routes due to the wetness, there were plenty of opportunities for smearing on the routes we did and I felt much more confident on my feet in Squamish than I ever did at other granite climbing areas like Cannon Cliff or Little Cottonwood Canyon.

I also found myself finally getting into the crack techniques. I am still no crack master, but I seem at long last to have gotten used to the idea of relying on jams and walking my feet up cracks. It doesn't feel so awkward and insecure to me any more. Something clicked in Squamish. After just a few pitches I was no longer afraid to try a climb just because it contained a hand crack.

Another source of confidence for me was the fact that these crack climbs just eat pro. I have never felt so well-protected as I did on these climbs in Squamish. Gear goes everywhere. And not just active placements, but passive ones as well. The vertical nature of the cracks makes slotting nuts a dream. I placed so many nuts in Squamish! It seemed like every nut sank into a perfect constriction. Every nut seemed like a fantasy nut. Because the pro was so good I felt comfortable hopping on harder climbs, secure in the knowledge that I could get good pro pretty much at will.

Day 1: Classic Cracks in the Smoke Bluffs

We awoke on our first day to wetness in Vancouver. It had rained overnight and the city was soaked. Fog and clouds hung around all morning, obscuring the surrounding mountains.

Eventually we decided we might as well head out to Squamish. Taking the one-hour ride up the Sea to Sky Highway (in Adrian's powerful Nissan GT-R!), I was impressed with the beauty of Howe Sound, even though I couldn't see the tops of any of the surrounding mountains through the cloud cover.

Once we got to Squamish, we headed to the Smoke Bluffs, a collection of small single-pitch cliffs slightly north of the huge Stawamus Chief.

Adrian was thinking we could do a link-up called the Smoke Bluff Connection, a four-pitch outing that connects routes on several small cliff bands together into one superb longer adventure. But when we arrived at the base of the Connection's first pitch, Mosquito (5.8), it was wet, so we kept on walking 'round the trail to the Neat and Cool area, which has a collection of good moderate crack routes. 

(Photo: Adrian leading Flying Circus (5.10a).)

My introduction to Squamish finger cracks came with Flying Circus (5.10a), a very enjoyable climb. Adrian told me there is often a wait for it. Adrian has probably climbed it a hundred times; he usually jumps on it whenever he walks by and finds it available. It took him just a few minutes to lead it. When it was my turn I was happy to follow it clean without too much coaching. The finger locks felt solid and I got my first taste of the great Squamish texture. My feet seemed secure wedged against the crack and now and then there were other bumps and features outside the crack which could also be used. I felt good about it.

(Photo: Cat Crack (5.7).)

It was my turn to lead something. The low-angled jam crack called Cat Crack (5.7) seemed like a good starting point. I did fine on it, although I went slowly and felt a little shaky. This crack was wider and I wasn't as instantly comfortable. Still, I survived, with a minimum of whining. This was also good climbing, with consistent moves throughout.

(Photo: At the crux roof on Neat and Cool (5.10a).)

From the top of Cat Crack we traversed over to set a top rope above Neat and Cool (5.10a). The whole crux portion appeared to be soaking wet and neither of us was too keen on leading it. But Adrian thought I should try it on top rope anyway. He had experience with the route and thought I would like it because it is a roof climb and therefore somewhat Gunks-like.

I did enjoy it. It starts up a slanting finger crack, and then a pumpy, Gunksy traverse on jugs gets you to the break in the roof. There is a perfect vertical jam crack above the roof, and I think I would likely have sent the crux first try had this part been dry. But it was so wet and slimy I popped off a couple of times while trying to move off of a jam to a wet jug. Finally I got up above the roof and then enjoyed the slab variation finish past bolts to our top rope anchor. This is a great pitch and even though it isn't very long it has good variety and several challenging moments. I would love to go back and lead it some day when it's dry.

(Photo: Past most of the difficulties on Penny Lane (5.9).)

After we were done with Neat and Cool, I told Adrian I really wanted him to put me on a good pure hand crack and to make me lead it. It was time to learn something. Adrian said he had the perfect climb for me: Penny Lane (5.9).

After the quick walk to the base I stared up at Penny Lane with awe. This is a long pitch that consists almost entirely of real crack climbing, after a difficult, bouldery first move.

I think Penny Lane is where I really found my way in Squamish. The opening move was a challenge, but there is good gear and once I committed to a thin finger lock with the left hand and a pure smear with the right foot, I was able to reach gracefully to the good holds on the right and then step over to the main crack, without too much fumbling around.

Once I was established at the main crack I placed some bomber pro and confronted the steep crux. Adrian said that some people walk up the crack and some people stem out. I ended up walking up the crack with my feet rather than stemming out; I just went for it that way and it felt good. Before I knew it, I had jammed up to a good stance and could place more gear. And the rest of the pitch offered more great climbing, with interesting moves between good stances.

I still was no crack expert but Penny Lane felt like the real thing, an honest 5.9 hand crack that turned out to be well within my abilities. It felt really good.

(Photo: Almost through stumbling up the beautiful Crime of the Century (5.11c).)

After we were done with Penny Lane we scrambled left to the anchors above Crime of the Century, a hard 5.11c that ascends a very thin crack in the middle of a beautiful blank face. Adrian took the first shot at it, and it did not look easy. He struggled and fell a few times. When my turn came I fell more than a few times. I was fortunate to nail the hard opening move after watching Adrian do it, but this glory was short-lived. I fell many times after that, eventually doing all the moves but never finding it easy. This would be a tough one to lead. The gear is micro and the stances from which to place it are very tenuous. It is an amazing pitch, though, relentless and aesthetically appealing, and I imagine it would offer great rewards to anyone who put in the effort to master it.

(Photo: Getting cruxy on Quarryman (5.8).)

I felt pretty worked over after Crime of the Century, but we had time for at least one more climb before we had to head back to Vancouver for our dinner reservation. I asked Adrian if he had a 5.8 hand crack for me and he sent me around the corner to try Quarryman (5.8). It's is a cool little route, ascending an easy crack and flakes and then making some committing moves around a corner, angling left and up into a diagonal jam crack to finish. To me the difficulty seemed to build as the climb continued. It started super casual and then got a little more interesting with each move around the corner and up to he anchor. It all felt well under control and made a fitting end to our day.

As the day ended it seemed like the weather had finally cleared up, right on schedule. Though it had been threatening to rain again all day we had persevered and now things looked good for day two. Adrian had a meeting at his office in Vancouver in the morning, so we wouldn't get an early start, but assuming we had good weather we could climb until sunset after 9:00 p.m., so we had plenty of time to do whatever we wanted.

Day 2: Smoke Bluff Connection and Exasperator

(Photo: Finishing up a damp Mosquito (5.8).)

It turned out my expectations for day two were unrealistic. I awoke to cloudy skies. As I waited for Adrian to finish with his work obligations, it didn't get any better. And by the time we drove out of Vancouver it was actually sprinkling. So much for the weather forecast. We carried on to Squamish anyway, since by the time we got there it was already going to be practically noon. No point in waiting around.

Once we got up there, it wasn't raining but we could see that the Chief looked pretty wet. Disappointed, we decided to check out the Smoke Bluff Connection, hoping we could still do something multi-pitch. Upon arriving at the base of the first pitch, Mosquito (5.8), we found it a little damp but not as wet as the day before. Touching the rock, it seemed okay. The bulgy crux looked pretty dry. We decided to do it. I took the lead.

This was another good pitch, a little stiff I thought for 5.8. The bottom section is kind of awkward, up until a stance beneath the little overhang. Then the moves out and over a bulge are the crux, steep but with good jams and holds.

Pitch two of the Connection is another 5.8 called Plegmish Dance. (I thought it was "Flemish Dance" until I looked in the guidebook, which I suppose is the joke!) This pitch is good too, but not as challenging, sustained, or ultimately as entertaining as Mosquito. It has some nice moves up a groove to a short section of mandatory hand jamming at the end. I complained a bit before committing to the jamming but got through it just fine.

(Photo: Adrian following Mosquito.)

Adrian then led the third pitch of the Connection, a 5.10b called Jabberwocky. It starts with a tough move to get established on the face and then follows yet another beautiful finger crack. Squamish seems to be littered with these great finger cracks. I was relieved to get the opening move and then followed the whole pitch clean.

(Photo: Following Jabberwocky (5.10b).)

When we both reached the end of Jabberwocky I was immediately fascinated with the thin crack in a corner right in front of us. This crack is its own route, a short but steep 5.10b called White Rabbit. It seems to be the logical continuation of Jabberwocky, but the Smoke Bluff Connection traditionally concludes with a different climb off to the left called Wonderland (5.9). Adrian kept insisting I'd regret it if I didn't lead Wonderland, a wildly exposed traversing climb, but I really liked the look of White Rabbit's pure, thin crack in the nearly featureless corner.

(Photo: Testing the first hold on White Rabbit (5.10b) while waiting for the rain to stop.)

We had plenty of time to think about which climb to do next, because as soon as we finished Jabberwocky it started raining again. We waited there, hoping it would pass over, but it seemed to go on forever as we killed time. After a while we began to wonder if it was even worth waiting any longer. Surely the climbs would need time to dry out once it had rained for 45 minutes or more.

But finally the rain let up and when I touched White Rabbit's wall it felt dry. I decided to go for it.

White Rabbit is pretty tough for a few moves. It is steep and strenuous and your feet are pasted to the smooth wall as you lay back the thin crack. The finger locks are there but you have to find them. It all feels pretty insecure. But there's great gear and it isn't too long before you clear the bulge and it starts to ease. As the angle decreases the crack also widens. Adrian tried to tell me to throw a fist jam into the crack near the end but, sensing that victory was near, I stayed with the layback and just powered over the top. It was my first 5.10 onsight lead at Squamish.

(Photo: Getting over the crux flakes on Wonderland (5.9).)

After we rapped back down Adrian pushed me to lead Wonderland. I wasn't really feeling it. It looked well-protected at the start but it appeared that most of the pitch involved traversing a hand crack with nothing but smears for the feet. I couldn't tell if the later bits were wet. And I didn't think we had enough big gear with us to protect the final bits of the traverse.

Finally I let him push me into it and I'm glad he did. Wow! This is an exciting pitch. The initial traverse is a simple matter, and then the technical crux comes as you move up onto the bulging wall using very thin, rising flakes. The pro is there and after a few good moves it eases back off. But then the final traverse heads left and the crack gets wider and wider. The mental crux comes as the hands become insecure slopers and the feet disappear. For just a move or two you have to commit to the slopers, and then a little foot rail appears and everything eases off again.

I held on to my blue # 3 Camalot as long as I could. I tried not to place it before the mental crux because I wanted to put it in for Adrian right after the move. (I'm all about protecting my second.) Hoping to conserve the cam, I even found a good nut in a lone vertical crack not too far to the right of the slopers. But then I tried to commit to the move and I almost greased off. Scared, I retreated, placed the blue cam and took a hang. Then I went for it again, and almost greased off again but this time made it through. Unfortunately I had now used the blue cam so I had no more gear that was large enough for the crack until I got to the end. So I didn't protect my second very well. Served him right, I thought. Adrian wasn't concerned about it, much to my chagrin. He sailed right through the pitch.

As we walked down from the Smoke Bluff Connection it was already getting late. What with our late start and the long rain delay our day was almost over. But it had cleared up again and we were hoping to have two more beautiful days in which to do long multi-pitch routes on the Chief. We decided to head over to the base of the Grand Wall of the Chief so that before our second day ended I could take a shot at one more short climb that was on my must-do list for Squamish: 

Exasperator (5.10c)!

This is a very famous, oft-photographed climb. It looks amazing. The thin crack heads straight up a blank slab for the 5.10a pitch one, then for the 5.10c pitch two the crack abruptly diagonals up right before turning 90 degrees and heading back up left to the end. In photos it looks pure, beautiful, and challenging.

As we walked towards the Chief from the parking lot I prayed Exasperator would be dry. We trooped in through a thick woods, gigantic boulders laying about, dropped at some point from the massive Chief as casually as crumbs brushed off of a table. The closer we got to the cliff, the more overwhelmed I became at its sheer size. The Chief is even larger than it first appears-- the distance from the parking lot to the cliff is further than I realized. As we caught glimpses of the face Adrian would point out distinguishing features and routes to the top, and the length of these routes was impressive. Eight pitches to this ledge, another six to that one, then four more to link up with thus-and-so... It went on and on.

(Photo: Dude looks like a lady? This carved figure welcomes visitors to the base of the Grand Wall of the Chief, but is it male or female? Adrian and I could not agree.)

Soon enough we got to the base of the Grand Wall and we were in luck. The very bottom of Exasperator was slimy but after the first move it looked dry enough. I knew now, after climbing several thin Squamish cracks, that I could handle the 5.10a pitch one, and off I went.

(Photo: Getting started up Exasperator.)

It is a beautiful pitch. It starts with a few straightforward moves up a jagged crack to a little pod, then the finger crack becomes thinner and the crux section begins, with nothing available but the crack and a smooth wall. I maneuvered carefully through this middle portion of the route, gently placing my left toe on little indentations against the crack and trying to select the best smearing placements for my right foot. The gear, as usual in Squamish, was automatic. As I reached a shallow overlap about two-thirds of the way up, I found holds and texture outside the crack for the hands and feet, and the realization dawned on me that I nearly had this pitch in the bag.

I'd never felt so good. But I didn't want to blow the last few moves. Adrian shouted encouragement and I told him to shut up. I needed to focus. Then after a few more careful steps I reached the alcove with the chains, flopped into it and exhaled with relief. Onsight of Exasperator! Woo hoo!

(Photo: Adrian on the 5.10a pitch one of Exasperator.)

I wasn't sure I wanted to lead the harder, 5.10c pitch two. But Adrian said he didn't want the lead, I think (in retrospect) because he knew I would later regret it if I didn't suck it up and lead it. After a few minutes' negotiation, in which I was assured the pro was all there, and that the crux section wasn't that long, I agreed to take the sharp end.

(Photo: Heading up pitch two of Exasperator (5.10c).)

The crux section comes right after the beginning of the pitch. The finger crack is good but the angle is such that it is hard to use the crack for your left toe. Gravity makes you want to paste both feet on the blank wall, which is less strenuous than using the crack but also less secure. I went back and forth between using the crack and using the wall to move up my feet. It went well for several moves, but when I paused to place a green Alien, my left foot popped off the wall just as I was pulling out an armload of slack to clip the piece.

I didn't fall. I managed to hold on with one hand in a solid finger lock. But the close call sent my heart rate into the red, and after I clipped the Alien I decided to take a hang. Afterwards I saw that I was just a move away from a rest stance. I had basically completed the crux already, and could have gotten the onsight. Oh well.

The rest of the pitch is a little easier. Similar climbing continues up the right-leaning crack for its entire length, but after the initial crux there are some good rest stances in occasional pods, and then before you know it the crack turns 90 degrees and widens. After the left turn I jammed my hands and my right foot in the crack and made burly but secure moves up and left to the anchor. Adrian showed me a way he thinks is easier, laying back off the crack and walking up it. I think it would be harder to place pro if you did it this way, but the climbing would be less strenuous. If I ever go back I may try it out. But I was proud of my solution. I had truly embraced the jamming life.

Exasperator was my favorite climb in Squamish. I came down off of it thinking it was the greatest finger crack ever. Of course I still can't claim to have vast experience with finger cracks, so if you know of a better finger crack than Exasperator I'd be really interested in seeing it! I was proud to have led it and just a tiny bit disappointed that I took a rest on the second pitch. I took consolation in the knowledge that I did every move without a fall. And I felt the climb demonstrated how much I've improved. Just last year I was so much shakier on the Green Adjective, a similar, easier climb in Utah.

After we finished with Exasperator we called it a day, retiring for beers and bar food at the Howe Sound Inn. We spent the night there so we could get an early start on what we were convinced would be a gorgeous, sunny day three!

Coming up in Part Two: Rainy day doldrums, salvaged by Supervalue (5.10c). Plus a day on the Chief doing Calculus Crack Direct (5.9) and the Squamish Butt Face (5.9).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gunks Routes: P-38 (5.10b)

(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!