Saturday, July 19, 2014

Better Redpoint than Deadpoint? P-38 (5.10b), Precarious Perch (5.9+) and Fun Moderates in the Uberfall

(Photo: Nani on Classic (5.7).)

We are about to embark on the great sleepaway camp trek of 2014. My wife Robin and I are taking the kids to New Hampshire, dropping them off, and then we will take a little time off to do some hiking in the White Mountains.

I am very excited about the hiking, don't get me wrong.

But let's face it: hiking isn't climbing.

Friday was supposed to be a beautiful day in the Gunks, so I decided to start my little vacation with an extra day for climbing. I made plans to meet up with Nani so we could climb together for the first time this year.

Nani and I have been partners almost as long as I've been climbing. She's been there for some of my big climbing moments, both highs and lows. She was there for some of my first 5.9 leads, and she was there when I broke my ankle in a climbing fall in 2009. But for the last couple of years she's been in and out of the climbing habit and we've seldom been able to get together. Recently she's been getting back out there and she's decided to focus on getting used to trad leading, an aspect of the game that she's flirted with uncomfortably for a long time. I'm really psyched for her and I hope I'll have the opportunity to watch her grow into the confident leader I know she can be. I know that her climbing and gear placement skills are both very strong. She just needs to get used to handling the climbing and the pro at the same time and then she'll be ripping it up out there.

On Friday we got up to the Gunks to find it was a beautiful a day, as predicted. Since it was a weekday we had our pick of lines and we gave in to the temptation to stay close to the parking lot.

(Photo: If you follow the rope you'll see me at the end of Classic (5.7); I'm the blue dot up above the roof.)

I warmed us up with Classic (5.7). This was my first 5.7 lead back in 2008. It can be a little scary for the new leader because the hardest move is right off the ground and the pro for the first several sequences consists of fixed pitons. As of this writing the pitons seem solid. One of them was replaced just last year.

(Photo: Nani striking a cool pose during the early bits of Classic (5.7).)

Since this part of the cliff gets insanely crowded on the weekends, I generally avoid the whole area. But the first pitch of Classic is so nice. I forgot how nice it is. The moves are good throughout and consistently thoughtful. As long as the pitons are okay the pro is good too. The roof at the end is all jugs. It's probably no harder than 5.5.

After I led Classic, Nani took a turn leading Jackie (5.5). This is another quality pitch full of good moves.

(Photo: Nani at the finishing roof on Jackie (5.5).)

I always find Jackie a little confusing after the tree about 20 feet up. You can head left up a vertical seam or more easily right past a little ledge. And then you pull past an overlap, either at a right-facing corner at its left end or a few feet to the right. I've never been sure which is the "correct" route and it seems I change my mind every time. It's all good climbing. I think heading up the seam to the corner at the left end of the overlap is the path with the best gear. Nani worked it out on the lead and got through it just fine, despite my poor attempts to point her in the right direction.

A few weeks ago I decided I needed to go get the send on all of the climbs I've failed to on-sight on lead. Last week I managed to knock off one of them, Frustration Syndrome (5.10c). This was a good start but I have a bunch left to do.

So after we finished with Jackie we moved over to one of these climbs I've failed to send: P-38 (5.10b). It had been over a year since my first attempt at the route, but I thought I remembered what to do at the hardest move.

(Photo: Working my way up P-38 (5.10b).)

Well, I guess I waited too long. Turns out I didn't really remember much of anything. I couldn't for the life of me remember how I previously made the first hard move right off of the ground. It took some real thinking and experimenting but I eventually got over the initial hard bit, using a secret toe hold that I don't think I found last time.

Then, moving up the diagonal crack, I got flustered. Hadn't I been able to rest last time? I found the climbing so awkward. And then when I moved left into the crux I got very confused. I wanted to do a step-through move I remembered but I couldn't find it! Where was the pebbly toe hold I was aiming for? It turned out that the step through was still a few moves away. I discovered it again as if for the first time, after a few hangs.

Once I put it together and did the crux properly it felt straightforward. Again. I think there is some kind of lesson to be learned here about memory and expectations. I should have studied the route a little more carefully before I hopped on, and I should have approached the climb with more patience. I wasn't looking and thinking enough. I let my expectations dictate my actions and when reality didn't match my memory I got all messed up.

I know I can do this route cleanly if I go back to it THIS YEAR. I have it all worked out again.

(Photo: Doing the finishing moves on P-38 (5.10b).)

P-38 remains a nice pitch. I enjoy all of it, even the mellow traverse after the crux, and the finishing moves. There is gear everywhere. There has been a lot of run-off this year and right next to P-38 there is a filthy brown streak on the wall. But don't let that deter you, the climb itself is clean.

We decided not to do the Radcliffe walk-off which is right behind the climb. There seems to be a family of vultures inhabiting this descent route and we didn't want to bother them. Instead we scrambled up the notch to the top of the cliff and walked off the Uberfall descent.

It was Nani's turn again so she led pitch one of Dennis (5.5). This is another nice easy pitch with a (surprisingly hard!) "easy" bulge right off the ground and then some fun slabby low-angled climbing right after. The pitch steepens again towards the end. The gear is great for all of the challenging bits.

(Photo: Nani getting solid gear for the hardest moves on Dennis (5.5).)

We rapped off at the tree anchor atop pitch one and made the short journey over to another one of the demons from my past: Precarious Perch (5.9+). This one I failed to send just a few weeks ago. I knew exactly what to do, but still this was not going to be easy. The long reaches between crimps over the crux roof would be hard. I could easily mess it up.

(Photo: Starting up Precarious Perch (5.9++). Look, I can place gear while standing on one foot!)

Luckily it went very well. I cruised through the puzzling 5.8 move to get into the Jean corner and then I had no hesitation during the rightward thin traverse. I plugged in two good pieces below the Precarious Perch roof and got a good rest before firing through it.

I still think it's a 5.10. That roof move is a lunge/dead point. I was able to do it but I could easily have missed it. I can't think of another 5.9 roof like this. Jean is definitely easier, as is pitch two of MF, Keep on Struttin', Grim-Ace Face... I just can't think of any comparable 5.9's.

(Photo: Working on the roof on Precarious Perch (5.9+++). Sorry about the shadow of my arm in the shot.)

Anyway I was glad to take care of Precarious Perch. Nani, who'd danced up P-38 like it was nothing, had some trouble at the Precarious Perch roof. Once she got over it we decided we might as well try pitch two. It is rated 5.8 and someone on Mountain Project once said it was worth doing. Why not check out something new?

I thought it was actually pretty terrible. Pitch two of Precarious Perch has below-average Gunks face climbing with dirty rock that is at times loose. The first few moves up aren't bad, ascending a blocky left-facing corner. But after that it is not very nice. I couldn't find any 5.8 on it, either. I think I might have skipped the crux. I came to a spot with a long reach to a pointed horizontal hold. It looked kind of fragile to me so I touched it lightly. When I did so I thought that it creaked and flexed a bit. My last piece, below me, was a green Alien in questionable rock. I wasn't about to trust my weight to this suspect hold. So I moved to the right just a few feet and easily climbed around it. I probably should have continued traversing another five or ten feet to finish on pitch two of Sixish. It would have been more fun.

(Photo: Coming up the 5.8 pitch two of Precarious Perch.)

When Nani joined me on the GT Ledge I suggested that she could end our day with pitch three of Sixish. The pitch is only 5.4 but it is one of those special Gunks pitches, offering great exposure at a moderate grade as you traverse above the lip of one roof and below another, and then finish up a fun v-notch. The traversing nature of the pitch challenges the budding leader's rope management skills and the climb's finish at the top of the cliff, over a big overhang, can make communication difficult.

(Photo: Doing the traverse on pitch three of Sixish (5.4).)

Needless to say, Nani got it done without any trouble. Like all the other climbs she led on our day together, Sixish is well below her ability level. But of course this was by design, so she could focus on the gear and not on hard moves. These were great confidence-building pitches, I hope, and anyway it's nice every so often to romp up some of these fantastic moderate climbs at the Gunks. It's easy to forget how much fun they are.

I hope Nani and I get out again soon for some more climbing, whether easy or hard or somewhere in between.


  1. Sixish P3 looks great! We'll have to hike up that one next time I am down.