Thursday, May 29, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend in the Nears: Yellow Ridge (5.7), Outer Space (5.8), Grand Central (5.9) & More!

(Photo: Gail entering the crux of Outer Space (5.8).)

My wife and I planned for a nice Memorial Day weekend in the New Paltz area with the kids. Our friends Gail and Mitch were kind enough to host us at their place in Gardiner. I expected to climb a bit with Gail, maybe just during the mornings, while the kids hung out at the pool.

One slight problem: it turned out that this year the community pool in New Paltz wasn't open for Memorial Day weekend.

Another problem: the forecast called for a lot of rain.

Oops. We'd have to find something else to do.

Saturday turned into a nice family day. We took the kids to the Walkway Over the Hudson and then went into town for ice cream. The expected rain held off until the late afternoon.

On Sunday, Gail and I got out for a full day in the Nears. There was no rain at all. It was a beautiful day but the iffy forecast kept the hordes away. We knocked off several great climbs in the near Nears, one right after the other. Many of these we have discussed in this space before.

Alphonse (5.8) in one pitch is always a great time, casual and fun. I have led this several times and I realize that I make the same choices every time. I always do the low traverse. Next time, for some variety, I think I need to do the high traverse and maybe try the 5.10 finish. There was a little black snake hanging out in the crack at the back of the dihedral about halfway up, which provided some excitement. Gail misunderstood me when I told her where it was, so as the follower she got to be just as surprised as I was on the lead!

We did Yellow Ridge (5.7) in two pitches, with Gail taking the crux first pitch and part of the second in one lead. She stopped (unintentionally) at a good ledge that was maybe thirty feet short of the usual second belay, and I took it to the top from there. We didn't plan to do it this way but it worked out very well. We basically split the climb exactly in half.

(Photo: Gail through the opening traverse around a roof on Yellow Ridge (5.7).)

As the second I got to try two different starts to Yellow Ridge: the usual right-hand start, which traverses under a low roof to an off-width crack, and also the direct start, which goes up a nose of rock straight from the ground to the off-width. Gail led up the right-hand start (which has good gear), and after she put me on belay I climbed up and cleaned the pieces under the roof and had her lower me so I could try going direct up the nose. On the direct there is basically one good move with no pro before you reach the stance beneath the off-width. It was nice, I guess, but I doubt I'll ever bother leading this version since the right-hand start is also nice and it has good protection.

(Photo: Chillin' at our unconventional belay ledge on Yellow Ridge (5.7).)

As I led the upper pitch, doing the beautiful, exposed, thin moves up the edge of the yellow face past the pins, and then moving into the great juggy overhangs at the finish, I thought to myself that it just doesn't get any better than this. So much fun. When our zombie overlords discover how much fun rock climbing can be, they will surely make it illegal. So you'd best get out there and enjoy it while you can.

After we finished with Yellow Ridge I wanted to do something more ambitious. So we got set up beneath Criss Cross Direct (5.10a). This is an early 5.10 lead for many people because the crux comes right off the deck and it is very well protected. The climbing involves a steep vertical layback crack in a slimy corner. I've been meaning to try it for a long time, but I confess that I've never done it because the crack looks difficult and very unappealing to me. Every time I walk up to it I think about how greasy it looks, and I end up moving on to something else.

On Sunday I thought I was determined to finally give it a whirl. I reached up and placed a piece, then explored stepping up into the crack, several times. But I wasn't feeling it. I never really committed. Eventually I decided I still wasn't into Criss Cross Direct and we walked away.

We moved on to the very start of the Nears. I was interested in Outer Space (5.8), which I never see anyone doing. This climb traverses a long distance to the left under the huge roofs at the beginning of the cliff.

I really liked Outer Space. It is very interesting and it has some great climbing on it. But it is a somewhat serious lead, despite its PG rating.

The initial move over a bulge is not easy. It has poor hands and tiny footholds and if you blow this move there is no way to stop yourself from going splat on the slab just below. Then after you move up again to clip an angle piton, the crux moves go diagonally up and left using a series of small miracle crimps. The climbing here is very very good but there is no gear and with each move the potential pendulum fall gets bigger and bigger.

(Photo: Gail almost finished with the crux sequence on Outer Space (5.8).)

By the time I hit the jug after the crimps I was pretty far from that angle piton. I really wanted to get a piece in so I hung out to place a nut in a little vertical seam behind the jug. I couldn't get anything great, though, and the nut I placed later popped out. It might have been worthless. I probably shouldn't have bothered but it was still another two moves up to a ceiling where good protection would become available and I was getting a little freaked out.

(Photo: Having moved up into the notch, Gail is making the final traverse to the anchor on Outer Space (5.8).)

The rest of the climb is very well protected, and it has good climbing, traversing under the big ceilings and moving up into a notch along the way. Outer Space is full of good moves, but keep a cool head! It is mentally challenging.

We rapped from the pitch one anchor, electing to skip the second 5.4 pitch to the top.

As Gail followed my lead of Outer Space I kept looking over at Topeka (5.10a), another climb at the beginning of the cliff that no one seems to do. It ascends a big corner just to the right of the popular 5.12 Kansas City and traverses under a ceiling to a nose. It appears to involve several very thin moves out under the roof. It looked hard to me. I was thinking about trying it but after Outer Space I had had enough traversing under roofs for the moment so we decided to look for something else to do.

Gail knew I had been looking to lead the crux pitches of Grand Central (5.9) so she suggested we do that. She would lead the short 5.6 pitch one, and then I'd take it the rest of the way to the top.

(Photo: Pitch one of Grand Central.)

Grand Central is a varied climb and a masterpiece of route finding. It weaves its way left around a roof, then slides back right around the point of an arete to find a crack system that goes at a reasonable grade to the top of the cliff.

All three pitches have their high points. The first pitch is only 5.6 but it has some challenging moves up the twin vertical cracks. The second pitch features an airy traverse with good gear and then steep crux 5.9 moves up, with the hardest moves above some small nut placements. And then the route finishes with a good roof problem.

(Photo: Topping out on Grand Central.)

I felt good leading the second and third pitches together. I had led the final roof problem a few years ago but not the 5.9 face below. It all went well. I placed two good nuts and then fired through the crux face climbing with no worries. I found the climb very enjoyable.

It was getting toward the end of our day so we decided to do one last easy climb, Layback (5.5). I hadn't been on this one since the very early days of my leading, probably back in 2008. I had led it cleanly back then. I assumed that it would be very easy for me now, and that I would just scamper up the 5.5 pitch one. 

(Photo: Looking down pitch one of Layback (5.5) from just past the chimney and chockstone.)

It turned out to be a little bit challenging. I thought the chimney was kind of a grunt. There's no gear (unless you are carrying some really big cams) until you reach the big chockstone. There was no way I was ever going to fall out with my back against a wall and a foot cammed in the crack, so I wasn't worried. I also don't remember being worried in 2008 when 5.5 was my leading limit, which I find surprising. I was similarly befuddled at the namesake layback flake, which goes on for fifteen feet or so. I think I actually did this as a layback in 2008, and it has no gear for its entire length unless you are carrying some really big gear. Maybe I did some research and brought up a big gray or purple Camalot back then, who knows? This time I had nothing I could place behind the flake, so I ran it out. And I didn't lay it back. Why would you do a layback when the flake provides perfect foot jams the whole way up? I was able to thread a runner at the top of the "layback" but it was my first gear in quite a while.

Pitch two is a joy, with 5.easy exposed climbing of a kind that seems to occur only in the Gunks.

(Photo: Gail leading pitch two of Layback.)

Layback is a wonderful old-school kind of climb. I wish we had more chimneys like this in the Gunks. It would be good practice for other climbing areas. Layback was the perfect warm-down for us, just interesting enough and lots of fun.

I felt great about the day we had in the Nears, doing classic after classic, and getting a little taste of something new and sketchy in Outer Space. I was a bit let down that I didn't try anything harder, but I was happy with how I handled the runouts on Outer Space and Grand Central, and I felt like my climbing was solid. I was determined to hop on a 5.10 the next morning, when Gail and I planned to get in a little more climbing before the end of the holiday.

Coming soon: Memorial Day in the Trapps, with Thin Slabs (5.7 direct start), Deep Lichen (P3 5.8), and City Streets (5.10b)!

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