(Photo: Adrian leading Ants Line (5.9).)
Here in the USA, May 17-18 was just another weekend. But in Canada it was part of a three-day holiday. Good weather plus the extra day off brought a Canadian invasion to the Gunks unlike any I'd ever seen before.
It also brought back to the area a specific Canadian: my longtime partner Adrian, who has been away from the Gunks for two years. He recently moved back east, from Vancouver to Montreal, and though the move is temporary, for the next year or so we should be able to get together to climb frequently, just like old times.
Adrian was in the Gunks for the whole weekend but I was only able to meet up with him on Sunday. I hooked him up with my frequent partner Gail for some climbing on the other days without me. I was jealous of them both but it was nice finally to be able to introduce two of my favorite people to each other.
I wasn't sure what I could handle on my day with Adrian. Ever since my trip to California I hadn't felt quite right. I'd ended my trip to Yosemite feeling exhausted, and then I got sick with a cold that lingered on and on. After I seemingly got better I went out climbing with Maryana but felt a bit weak. I wanted to go right back to working on some tens but with Maryana I found the eights challenging enough.
On Sunday the 18th, Adrian and I were thinking about going to the Nears, but by 9:30 in the morning the West Trapps lot was already completely full. To my shock, the Stairmaster lot was also nearly full. We had to park all the way back at the Visitor Center. Did I mention that this was at 9:30 a.m.?
We knew the Trapps would be a zoo but we didn't feel like walking the extra distance back to the Nears so we decided to just live with whatever climbs we could find in the Trapps.
As we walked down the cliff we looked for any reasonable warm-up climb that was open. We got all the way down to the Bonnie's Roof area before we spotted something suitable. Sleepwalk (5.7) was open, so we jumped on that. I've done it several times. It remains a pleasant pitch, a little bit steep right at the start, as you move diagonally up some flakes and turn the corner to your left. After you move around the corner the climb features clean low-angled face climbing with several interesting moves, all the way to the chain anchor.
(Photo: Adrian following the steep and sometimes creaky flakes at the start of Sleepwalk (5.7).)
We finished Sleepwalk with great timing. Ants' Line, a three-star classic 5.9, had just become free and it was right next door, so we did it. Adrian led up it with efficiency and when my turn came to follow, I was so relieved. I felt like my normal self and cruised up to the anchor. Such a nice pitch and the vertical nature of the crack (unusual for the Gunks) is right up the alley of a western climber like Adrian.
(Photo: Following Ants' Line.)
Looking around after we finished Ants' Line, we found climbers everywhere, most of them speaking French. Some friends of mine from Brooklyn Boulders were just to the right of us, having a mini-epic on Bonnie's Roof Direct (5.9). The leader had taken it all the way to the top of the cliff in one pitch and his double ropes had become caught in the Direct crack. He could move one of the ropes but it was a struggle. They were obviously going to be there a while. I once had a similar problem there, several years ago, on rappel. I started my rap from the Bonnie's tree and after I stepped out over the edge I found that the end of one of my ropes was caught in the crack. I had a devil of a time getting it out while dangling there in the air! (It is a free hanging two-rope rap, all air until you reach the ground.) At the time I dismissed it as a freak occurrence but after seeing another party having trouble with the rope-eating crack I'll be more careful.
Once I felt satisfied they didn't need our help we moved on.
We soon found that Obstacle Delusion (5.9), just a few climbs to the left, was available, so I decided to do that one. It is a great climb so why not? I had to beat back a little anxiety before getting started. I had led this before, just last year, but it is a hard 5.9. It would be a real test of how strong I was feeling.
(Photo: Leading the upper bits of Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)
It turned out to be a test of my memory more than anything else. It can be hard to find the correct path on Obstacle Delusion. The business begins with a tough roof problem, which becomes easier when you know where the good hold is. And then the route negotiates around a couple of bulges, through several small overhangs, to the top.
(Photo: Adrian near the top of Obstacle Delusion (5.9).)
I thought I knew exactly where to reach over the initial roof from my prior experience, but I was mistaken. I struggled when I reached up and found the hold over the roof to be not nearly as positive as I thought it would be. After a few errant reaches and a brief hang (grrrrrrrrrr) I found the sweet spot again, as if for the first time. And then as I got higher on the climb I found myself puzzling over where to go-- to the left around this bulge, or to the right? There was chalk everywhere, in all directions. I was pleased to get through the upper challenges without any problems. Even though I messed up the first roof "obstacle" I felt physically strong and happy with how I handled most of the climb.
We next continued wandering back up the cliff towards the parking lot and found available another old favorite of mine, The Last Will Be First (5.6). It has numerous good moves between horizontals, a rooflet problem and a nice bulge at the finish. Adrian had never done it so I sent him on up.
(Photo: Adrian leading The last Will Be First (5.6), camouflaged by the bright green young leaves.)
After the great first pitch we abandoned the thought of doing the second, as it was soaking wet. Looking to the right, I entertained the hope that maybe we could sneak onto the crux pitch of Modern Times (5.8+), but there were several parties stacked up waiting. We reluctantly rapped down and kept on walking.
We lucked out again with another three-star classic. We arrived at the base of CCK to find a party just packing up to leave. I was itching to do CCK Direct (5.9) again. It was one of my favorite 5.9's and I had only done it once, two years ago.
(Photo: The 5.5 first pitch of CCK.)
Adrian led the 5.5 first pitch. It was a little bit wet at the bottom but the best part, as you approach the GT Ledge, was dry. This last portion of the first pitch has some good moves on it. It pales in comparison with what comes above and I would certainly never seek out this pitch as a destination in its own right but it isn't bad.
Oh but the crux pitch. So great.
What can I say about CCK Direct that I haven't said before? It remains one of my absolute favorite pitches. My second time leading it felt a lot like the first, but this time I tried to manage the gear a little better to avoid the horrible drag I created the first time around.
(Photo: Eyeing the opening 5.8 PG/R bits of CCK Direct (5.9).)
The juggy, overhanging climbing off the ledge is good. Then the climbing up the white CCK billboard is fantastic. And finally the move out, down and left, to the finishing notch/roof problem is insanely exposed and thrilling.
(Photo: Working through the overhangs on CCK Direct (5.9).)
Adrian had never been on CCK Direct before and he was pretty impressed with the finishing roof. He wasn't used to these Gunks overhangs any more, but he got through it just fine (just as he did on Obstacle Delusion). He remarked that he wasn't sure how he would have felt leading CCK Direct, but I'm sure he would have calmly dealt with it as he always does.
Having done what might be my choice for top pitch in the Gunks, we decided to walk all the way back to the Uberfall to see if we could do Adrian's favorite: Horseman (5.5). I'm very fond of this one too. It gives the fledgling leader an introduction to so many Gunks skills: thin face climbing, corners, traverses, roof escapes, and finally steep climbing on jugs.
(Photo: Adrian leading Horseman (5.5).)
It was a fitting ending to a beautiful day in the Gunks. Although it was as crowded as I've ever seen it at the cliff, we never waited for anything and got on three different three-star routes and two two-stars. Not too shabby.
More importantly, from my perspective, I felt like I was back to my normal strength. The day gave me hope that in the coming weeks I could return to trying some new, harder objectives.