Monday, July 14, 2014

A New Route in the Trapps?!? Erogenous Zone (5.10 or 5.11 or something), plus Frustration Syndrome (still 5.10c) and Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a)

(Photo: The view out from the ravens' haven at the belay stance in the cave, on Erogenous Zone.)

I was excited to climb this past Saturday with Kathy, a new partner for me.

She isn't really a "new partner." Though this was our first time roping up together, she and I have been running into each other constantly at the gym and the crag for years. We've talked about routes and shared beta many times, and the conversation inevitably ends with us resolving to climb together. It just never seemed to happen until this week.

I love running into Kathy. She's always about to go on a great climbing trip, or she's just coming back from one. She never fails to have some amazing, ambitious project in her sights. Her enthusiasm is infectious. And her skills are impossible to deny. Through her travels she has become a solid crack climber and lately she's been obsessed with attacking off-widths, so that she can be truly well-rounded.

When we decided to get together on Saturday she told me she wanted to do this new route in the Trapps which she heard about from our local Millbrook expert (and friend of the blog) Chris Fracchia. The new route starts on the GT Ledge to the left of Andrew, inside a big cave at the back of the buttress that houses Twilight Zone. Chris and his friends named it Erogenous Zone.

Chris told Kathy that the first pitch of Erogenous Zone involves a 5.10 off-width crack. This was all Kathy needed to hear, given her recent fascination with wide cracks. If it had an off-width, she was up for it.

I have almost no experience with off-widths but I was game to try the climb. I just hoped I could get up it without making a fool of myself.

First we needed to get up to the GT Ledge. We hiked on out to the Andrew area. I was going to lead our first pitch of the day up to the ledge and I was thinking about two not-so-popular climbs in the vicinity that I hadn't yet tried, Proctor Silex (5.9+) and Man's Quest For Flight (5.8). But as I scoped them out I thought Proctor Silex looked kind of hard and Man's Quest looked really dirty, so I decided to do Silhouette (5.7), a climb that I'd really enjoyed once before.

I liked it just as much the second time around. The face climbing off the pedestal at the start is good, and then the traverse under the roof is really nice. Kathy thought the traverse was kind of thin for 5.7 and I think I agree. The final climbing up a vertical crack system over a couple of crux bulges makes for a beautiful finish. Silhouette has great, varied climbing all the way from the ground to the GT Ledge. I think it is one of my favorite 5.7's.

(Photo: Kathy just over the little roof on Silhouette (5.7).)

Once we were both on the GT Ledge we could see where we needed to go. I quickly led up the start of Andrew's second pitch, moving the belay up about 40 feet to a good ledge directly beneath the big cavern behind the Twilight Zone buttress.

Then Kathy stepped up to explore Erogenous Zone.

(Photo: Figuring out how to get into the wide crack of Erogenous Zone.)

For Kathy the biggest challenge was figuring out how to get started. She had to work her way upward into this bottomless crack. She turned herself around a few times and tested various holds before committing to the wideness. But once she went for it all hesitation disappeared. She slithered into the gap and squirmed her way up inside of it in what seemed like no time at all.

(Photo: Kathy fully swallowed by Erogenous Zone.)

After she finished the hard bit Kathy moved up to a ledge near the top of the cave, where Chris had suggested belaying by an old ravens' nest.

Now it was my turn, and I had the benefit of knowing which holds Kathy had used to get on the wall beneath the wide crack. Still, it took me a little while to get myself in place and commit to hauling my body up and into the crack.

Once I did so I realized that this isn't really an off-width. Technically, I would call it a squeeze chimney, since you get your whole body into the thing. As I pulled up into it, I quickly found myself firmly wedged inside. I knew I wouldn't fall out, which was nice. But I wasn't sure that I could move any further, which was not so nice.

Eventually, with a substantial amount of thrutching and grunting, I managed to move a little bit higher. I heard Kathy laughing at the ridiculous, involuntary sounds I was producing. I'd like to say the indignity of my situation made me even more determined to get the job done, but really I needed no additional motivation. The prospect of spending the rest of my life stuck in this stone coffin was reason enough for me to give the pitch my maximum effort.

I scrunched my way up some more, but then my progress was abruptly halted because my head got stuck. I was wearing a helmet, which (in retrospect) I do NOT recommend for this pitch. I panicked for a brief moment but then I got unstuck somehow and with a move slightly to the left I was able to get my head not just unstuck, but entirely out of the squeeze. Soon my whole body had escaped the chimney, and after I stopped hyperventilating, with victory in hand, I said to Kathy:

"That was awesome.... but I'm never doing that again!"

(Photo: View of the ridiculously overhanging territory ascended by Twilight Zone (5.13b) and its variations.)

Once I joined Kathy at the belay we tried to figure out where the next pitch was supposed to go. It appeared you could traverse out an overhanging orange face on one side of the cave. There was a sloping rail for the hands (but no feet to speak of) and a thin horizontal seam containing a couple of terrible ancient pitons (perhaps a sign of an old aid pitch or an unfinished project?). Chris had said something to Kathy about a single, desperate 5.11 move on this pitch, but to me the entire face looked desperate. And the pro appeared very thin and hard to place.

On the opposite wall of the cave we could easily traverse about fifteen or twenty feet to the v-notch of a different route called Moby Dick (5.8).

Kathy got on the orange wall a few times to see how she felt about it. It seemed very challenging, and we weren't sure this was where we were supposed to go. Maybe we were supposed to do the traverse higher, or was it lower? Was this the correct route or would we be discovering our very own Erogenous Zone (so to speak)?

Eventually Kathy decided she wasn't feeling it and we escaped to finish on Moby Dick. I was relieved. The orange face seemed like it would be scary for both the leader and the follower. Later I took a look at Chris' photos and realized that we were looking in the wrong place. Chris had traversed above, out the ceiling of the cave, which we never considered. When I told Kathy that we were looking too low, she responded with her typical enthusiasm: "Now we have to go back!"

(Photo: Kathy trying to make sense of the orange face after moving to beneath the notch on Moby Dick (5.8).)

I'm not sure I'll ever go back but Erogenous Zone was something rare in the Trapps: an unknown. I was glad we did it and I was pleased Kathy didn't have to hire a crane to haul me out of the squeeze chimney. It was also a good shady choice for this hot day.

We already had four pitches down and the day was slipping away. I needed to get on with my plan. I really wanted to go knock off Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), a climb that had given me fits during the last weekend in June. I figured the Slime Wall would have shade for us and we'd find some other good stuff to do down at that end of the cliff.

We arrived there to find no one around. We had the whole area to ourselves.

I felt strangely nervous as I started up the route. I don't know why. I knew exactly what I had to do. I wanted the red point and knew I could do it. I think I was just worried I'd do something stupid and blow a sequence somewhere unexpectedly.

(Photo: Climbing Frustration Syndrome (5.10c) in June.)

Everything went fine despite my shakiness. Once I got through the initial traverse and stood up in the main corner I calmed down a bit. I got my crux gear and then the hard move up to just beneath the final roof went well. I got a little pumped placing a nest of pro at the roof but when I stepped up into the finishing sequence it was never in doubt.

I felt very satisfied and not frustrated at all this time. Frustration Syndrome is a really nice little pitch with some good technical moments. And if you take the time to place the nuts it is very safe. I have it totally worked out now and I'd lead it any time.

(Photo: Kathy at the technical crux of Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

After we were done with Frustration Syndrome, Kathy took a look at some of the 5.11 climbs to its left. The Slime Wall has a whole bunch of these short 5.11 pitches. Kathy had previously led what looks to me like the best one, The Stand (5.11a). So she and I examined the other ones: April Showers (5.11a), Golden Showers (5.11a) and Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a). I was intrigued to see what these climbs were all about.

Though we were by now totally in the shade of the mid-afternoon, both of the Showers climbs felt pretty slimy in the heat and the opening moves seemed just about impossible. Kathy tested the holds a bit but then shifted her attention to Comedy in Three Acts.

(Photo: Kathy approaching the initial rooflet on Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

Comedy in Three Acts is short. The hard bits are really hard. The opening rooflet is challenging and then the real crux comes above at a vertical cleft through a bulge in the rock. At this final crux you have to find a way to use the sloping edge of a little corner and some tiny crimps above it that face the opposite direction. Kathy didn't get it clean but I admired the way she worked at this hard lead. It is a bit heady, since the final crux is protected by a tiny nut and even assuming it holds you could hit the ledge below.

(Photo: Kathy entering the upper crux of Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

After Kathy finished the pitch I hoped there was a chance for me to send it on my first try on top rope but I wasn't even close, sadly. I struggled on Comedy, much more than Kathy did. I needed more than one go at the initial overhang and then the final balance move up the cleft was a toughie. Eventually after several tries I found a way to make the last move and we were done.

(Photo: Starting up Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a).)

I'd like to think I could lead Comedy some time but I'm not even sure I care. I didn't enjoy it all that much. I know there are some spectacular 5.11's in the Gunks. Comedy in Three Acts isn't one of them. It's no Yellow Wall, that's for sure. It is a 45-foot scramble to a ledge with two brief hard sequences on it. And the fixed anchor is pretty manky, with some okay slings tied to a bunch of very rusty fixed nuts and hexes.

Still, even if I didn't think that much of the pitch, it was good to work on some moves above my level, something I should do much more often.

It was time for us to head out. It had been a good day, not too overwhelmingly hot and not at all crowded. I don't mind these summer days when the temperatures are in the eighties and the crowds go elsewhere. If you look for shade it isn't too bad out, and by mid-afternoon, when the sun goes behind the cliff, it can be perfectly pleasant. The only downside is the chiggers, and ugh, they seem to have been out in force for us. I was wearing long pants and I'm still covered in bites.

I'm so glad Kathy and I finally climbed together. I got some good experience in wide crack climbing and we had a very nice, easygoing time. I hope it won't take years for us to do it again.

UPDATE: Check out Kathy's blog post about our day together!


  1. Have a mental image of your head stuck in between the crack.. Hmmm ;)

  2. Off-width love? Smacks of masochistic tendencies, especially in that outfit!
    Here's a quote RE: off-widths from the Indian Creek Guide:
    "Wear jeans, knee pads, helmet, take vicodin before, during and after."
    Though maybe no helmet in your case :-)

    1. Actually Kathy warned me to wear long pants but then she forgot to bring any for herself!