Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winter of Our Discontent? Early Season Climbing in the Uberfall

(Photo: Snowshoeing around the Trapps in mid-February.)

Man, it has been a long winter, hasn't it?

When I climbed in the Trapps on November 10, I didn't really believe that was going to be it for the year. Usually we get a few warm days here and there, even into December. And sometimes there are some reasonable climbing days in January and February. 

Not this winter. It has been pretty brutal.

Of course it has probably been a tremendous winter for ice climbing. But I haven't felt motivated to make it happen this year. I don't feel experienced enough to lead on ice. I could top-rope in the Catskills. I really should have done this several times. But for some reason I just haven't gotten it together.

(Photo: The Casablanca wall in the Trapps in mid-February.)

I was feeling pretty good when the 2013 climbing season ended. After missing most of the summer with various obligations and vacations I had a little run of success in the autumn, knocking off several 5.10 projects-- Bird Cage (5.10b), Feast of Fools (5.10b), Wegetables (5.10a), Red Cabbage Right (5.10b), and Nosedive (5.10b)-- leading most of them on-sight. 

All winter I've intended to put in place a real training regimen, but it never seems to get beyond the incipient stages. Usually I enforce whatever diet and exercise plan I've come up with for a week or two and then inevitably I revert to eating whatever and "just climbing" at the gym.

On President's Day weekend I was up in the Gunks for the first time since November, with my wife Robin and the kids. Gail was kind enough to host us at her house in Gardiner. We did some snowshoeing around the Trapps as well as some sledding with friends who live in the area.

The Preserve was beautiful in the winter conditions. I'd never seen it so snowy. Walking past the "S" turn on the Undercliff Road, I could see icicles hanging from the roof on Casablanca (5.9). The Boxcar boulder was half buried in snow. We had a good time trudging around. I fooled around a little bit, pretending to boulder while wearing the awkward snowshoes.

(Photo: Doing the Andrew problem (V4) in snowshoes. Or pretending to, anyway...)

Our wintry visit to the Gunks sent my already-severe feelings of climbing withdrawal into previously unseen, dangerous levels. I was more desperate than ever to get out there at the first opportunity.

Last weekend this opportunity finally came. It was due to hit fifty degrees in New Paltz on Saturday, March 8. Sunday was supposed to be colder. Unfortunately we had evening plans on Saturday, which made it difficult to climb that day. So I decided to go on Sunday with my gym pal Deepak.

But the forecast for Sunday got colder and colder. At about 9:00 on Saturday morning I checked the forecast and, seeing projected highs for Sunday in the low thirties, decided I had to call it off. But then it occurred to me that half a day on Saturday would be better than nothing at all for the whole weekend. So I asked Deepak if he'd like to go, say, RIGHT NOW???

Luckily for me he was flexible and we were in business!

We got to the Gunks just before noon and only had a few hours in which to climb. But it was great to be there at all. It was like a Gunks reunion. We ran into local celebrities Denis O'Connor and Christian Fracchia. Everyone was all smiles, grateful for any opportunity to feed our little shared obsession.

The cliff was in surprisingly good condition. There was still more than a foot of snow on the ground (and atop the cliff) but the snow was pretty consolidated and easy to walk upon. And the walls were generally dry. The melt-off hadn't really begun yet.

(Photo: At the base of Nice Crack Climb (5.7), excited to climb! The tarp was helpful.)

We had limited time so we jumped on the first thing we saw. As we rounded the Handy Andy corner and got our first glimpse of the main face of the Trapps, it appeared all of the climbs on the Black Fly wall were dry, so I decided on Nice Crack Climb (5.7) for my first lead of the year. It is an okay climb. The crux move is right off the ground and the rest is pleasant enough, if rather unremarkable.

(Photo: Deepak working out the crux move on Nice 5.9 Climb.)

Since we were right there I decided to knock off Nice 5.9 Climb for my first 5.9 lead of the year. I felt good and had no trouble. I had to think through the high-step crux-- is the foothold really THAT high? Yes it is!-- but then it was not a problem. And the second crux is more fun than I remembered. This pitch looks like a throwaway but is well worth doing.

(Photo: Leo on Apoplexy (5.9).)

Next we walked into the Uberfall area and found climbers on Retribution (5.10b) and Nosedive (5.10b). We found our gym friend Leo there too, leading my old favorite Apoplexy (5.9). Deepak and I decided to do a quick run up Rhododendron (one of my earliest 5.6 leads, and a good one) and then we hung out briefly with Leo and his friends until they were finished with Apoplexy. When they moved next door to top-rope Coronary (5.10b/c), I led Apoplexy for our final route of the day. It felt so good. I was in control, casual. I felt absolutely free. 

(Photo: Chillin' (literally!) at the base of Apoplexy (5.9) and Coronary (5.10b/c).)

It was wonderful to be out there, even if we were just doing familiar climbs in the glorified gymnasium atmosphere of the Uberfall.

This weekend turned out to be kind of a repeat of last weekend. Robin and I were hosting a party on Saturday night so I planned to meet Gail on Sunday (today) for a full day of climbing. But again the forecast was for much warmer temperatures on Saturday than Sunday so Gail and I decided to settle for a half day on Saturday rather than risk being shut out entirely for the weekend.

The conditions had deteriorated from the week before. Numerous freeze-thaw cycles had caused the snow atop the cliff to run off and then re-freeze into icicles, which during our climbing day came noisily raining down at some locations around us. The carriage road was a treacherous sheet of ice as we walked in and a slushy puddle as we walked out.

But most of the cliff was fine. We stayed in the Uberfall area again and actually managed to do a few routes I'd never done before.

We started with Eyebrow (5.6), which was new for me. I was pleasantly surprised by this pitch. As you leave the ground it seems there is no obvious line, but as you climb up it presents itself. There is a lot of climbing on this one, including some good traverse moves. I enjoyed it.

(Photo: Gail at one of the harder sections on Nosedive (5.10b).)

I'd felt so good last weekend that I couldn't resist the idea of jumping on a 5.10. Retribution and Nosedive were open so after we were done with Eyebrow I hopped right on Retribution (5.10b)

I found out pretty quickly that I'm not in prime Gunks mental shape yet. Retribution felt pretty hard to me, much harder than when I'd previously led it in the summer! I hesitated at the low move at the pin but got through it, and then at the little crux roof I got up into the undercling and only half-committed to the crux reach before taking a short fall onto my bomber gear. Angry with myself, I went right back up and committed fully to the big reach, getting the bomber pockets and moving up above the roof. Through the easier remainder of the pitch I placed good gear and made the moves, but after my little struggle at the crux I felt a bit shaky and pumped-out at the tougher bits. 

I had toyed with the notion of leading Nosedive but, recognizing that I'd been a little bit overly eager on Retribution, I was content to top-rope it. This remains a very high quality pitch, much better than Retribution, with several unusual challenges.

(Photo: Mitch on Dirty Gerdie (5.8++).)

Gail's husband Mitch came out to join us as we finished with Retribution & Nosedive. We moved over to the Gerdie Block so I could lead Dirty Gerdie (5.8+). I really enjoyed leading this one last year and yesterday I liked it just as much. It packs several great sequences into 50 feet of climbing. And I still think the 5.8+ grade is a ridiculous sandbag. This is the hardest 5.8 I've ever climbed.

I was already running out of time and Gail suggested one last lead for me, another climb I'd previously overlooked in the Uberfall: Sudoriferous (5.8 variation). It was just a short scramble up around the left side of the Gerdie block. 

(Photo: Gail negotiating the steep face on Sudoriferous (5.8 variation).)

This is a nice one, not unlike No Picnic (5.5) and Shit or Go Blind (5.8) on the same wall. It features good steep Gunks face climbing with jugs. I liked the early bits too, the easy climbing up the initial chimney and the step across to the right-facing corner beneath the bulging face. Good fun with nice variety. I would suggest caution at the step across, however: the rock quality here is questionable. 

After our long winter, I feel fortunate to have made the most of these two half days in March. I am eager to get more days on rock in late March and early April, because I have a big trip to Yosemite planned in mid/late April with my old buddy Adrian. It is a dream come true for me and I don't want to waste the opportunity. I plan to get my lead head together by leading as much as I possibly can outside, and now that the Cliffs of Long Island City is opening back up (any day now!) I hope to put as many sessions in on their jam crack as I can. I feel like I've lost every bit of crack confidence I acquired in Squamish last year and I need to do some crash prep in the gym before the big test out on real granite in California! 


  1. Next winter (when I will be East Coast living), we'll make that ice climbing happen :-)

    1. I hope so! We gotta hit Poke-O and Cathedral/Whitehorse too...