Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On-Sighting is Hard: Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), Precarious Perch (5.9+) & More!

(Photo: Starting up the crux corner on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

Last Thursday the kids finished school for the year. To celebrate, we rented a house in the New Paltz area for the weekend. I planned to climb for a few hours in the mornings and afterwards I would spend the afternoons relaxing with the family by the pool. It was going to be pretty hot in the afternoons anyway, so I was content to cram in a few pitches early each day while it was still reasonably cool outside.

Summer was officially upon us. 

I knew that soon it would be beastly hot all day in the Gunks. Prime early season was ending. And what had I done with the Spring? I had tried a few new climbs here and there but during the first half of 2014 I'd put barely a dent in my Gunks 5.10 list. I had City Streets (5.10b) in the bag, and I had attempted Try Again (5.10a), but that was about it. I did on-sight Turdland (the 5.9 way). And I red pointed Proctoscope (5.9+). 

Not exactly a hero's resume.

I wanted to try to get on something ambitious this weekend. When Gail and I met up on Saturday we decided to head out to the Slime Wall at the far end of the Trapps. We could warm up on something easy and then I would tackle something BIG. Maybe Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b)? Maybe Frustration Syndrome (5.10c)? Maybe even 10,000 Restless Virgins (5.10d)? 

We trooped down to the end of the cliff and in our enthusiasm we went too far. We passed the Slime Wall and headed up a trail to find ourselves at Almost Pure and Simple (5.8). And then instead of heading back down to the carriage road we stupidly bushwhacked our way back along the broken-up base of the cliff to WASP (5.9). We probably wasted 25 precious minutes stumbling around among loose rocks and pine needles making our way to the Slime Wall, when we could have easily walked there in a couple of minutes if we'd just gone back the way we came.

By the time we reached the base of WASP I was sweaty enough that I didn't really need a warm-up any more, so we just did WASP. 

WASP was an early 5.9 lead for me and I remember thinking it had great gear back in 2011. This time around with Gail I still felt the gear was good but it was a bit hard to find for the first few moves. I got a pink Tricam in a little pod for my first piece but it was one of those placements that doesn't seem possible. Somehow it fits. My second placement was also a challenge. Once I got to the little overlap where the right-facing corner starts, about fifteen feet up, the gear became automatic. But for the first couple of tough moves I was less sanguine about the pro than I was the last time I led the route.

Concerns about gear aside, WASP remains a great climb, with several awkward hard moves up to the rooflet about 25 feet up and then nice cruiser climbing above. We also did pitch two, which I really liked. It is allegedly 5.5 but the crux roof felt much harder than that to me. It is a long reach past some sandy/slopery intermediate holds before you find the jugs. The second pitch ends in a clean white V-notch that appears utterly blank from below, but which turns out to be easy. Nice climbing at the finish; I think when I did this with Vass three years ago we may have skipped the V-notch and climbed up dirty rock to its left. 

Watch out for loose junk above the GT Ledge in this part of the Trapps. It's a lot like Millbrook up there: seldom traveled and with lots of lichen and fragile flakes around.

(Photo: At the roof on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c).)

After we finished with WASP it was now or never. I decided to attempt Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), which is just left of WASP and which follows a shallow left-facing corner up to a little roof. 

My biggest concern was safety. I told myself not to get committed too far away from my gear. I thought the pro was supposed to be good, with nuts available all the way up the corner. I just needed to make sure to place enough of them.

I enjoyed the early going, traversing into the corner. There are some good moves and protection is available when you need it.

Once you reach the corner the first steps up are casual enough but then the hardest technical sequence on the route (in my opinion) comes as you leave a stance on a small ledge about halfway up to the roof. After I spent some effort working it out, testing holds, moving up and down and placing more gear, I made it past this move.

So far, so good, but then it all came apart. I got under the roof and the stance there was terrible. The handholds were hard to use. I wasn't willing to move up any further without more pro but I couldn't arrange myself so that I could place anything. I went up and down and then eventually took a hang, and then a fall, rather than go higher without gear. I kept moving up to just beneath the roof, failing every time to find a way to get stabilized. I wasn't even trying to make the moves over the roof, I was just trying to figure out a way to hold on with one hand and slot a piece.

After what seemed like an eternity and countless efforts I realized that I had completely missed a crucial jug hold. It was so obvious. I felt like such a moron. If only I'd bothered to look around the first time. Once I found it I stepped up easily to the roof and placed gear.

The roof too was a challenge. I didn't get the sequence right at first but eventually I figured it out. 

(Photo: Gail moving up to the corner on Frustration Syndrome (5.10c). She sent it on the first try! Of course she was helped by watching me try all the wrong ways first...)

Frustration Syndrome turned out to be aptly named. I was so frustrated by this pitch. It really brought into relief for me how many ways one can fail in on-sight leading. I got tunnel vision and ignored a crucial hold. I misdiagnosed the crux sequence over the roof. I was tentative, afraid to move above my protection. Each of these factors contributed in its own way.

I tried not to be disappointed. 5.10c is hard. I was very safe about how I approached the climb and that was the most important thing, right? There is great gear on Frustration Syndrome. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Mostly small nuts but they are bomber. I know, I tested them.

I walked out of the Trapps on Saturday wishing I could come back in the evening just to get the red point on Frustration Syndrome. I know that now I could fire the sucker off. I want to do it soon, too, before I forget all of my beta. 

(Photo: Gail making the traverse on pitch one of Maria (5.6+).) 

On Sunday, Gail and I decided to stay close to the parking lot so as not to waste any time. We were early enough to have our pick of lines so we began with all three pitches of Maria (5.6+), one of the best 5.6 climbs in the Gunks.

(Photo: Gail starting up Maria's pitch two corner.)

Every pitch is good but I especially love the roof problem on pitch three. Many have called it a sandbag but the holds are all there. It is just a little weird, moving left out of a corner and into an overhang. It is thrilling, and not just "for the grade." Great moves on beautiful white rock. 

(Photo: Gail finishing the roof problem on pitch three of Maria (5.6+).)

After we were done with Maria I wanted to hit another tough climb. I suggested we try Precarious Perch, which isn't a 5.10 but is something worse: a 5.9+. Oh, that dreaded plus sign.

It was nearby and it was sure to be open.

No one ever seems to do Precarious Perch. As with Frustration Syndrome the day before, I knew basically nothing about it. I knew that like its neighbor, my old nemesis Jean (5.9+), it was supposed to have a hard roof problem. I read Dick's entry in the guidebook and hoped for the best.

(Photo: Investigating the roof on Precarious Perch (5.9+).)

I was familiar with the starting face and corner, since it is shared with Jean. But then after a funky move into the corner, Precarious Perch does a delicate traverse right instead of heading straight up into the Jean roof. This thin traverse is very nice. I really enjoyed it.

Then there is a good stance at the roof. There is ample gear there too, and then Dick says you are supposed to move up over the roof slightly to the left. I thought I spotted the correct route upward, using a couple of improbably long reaches between crimpy holds, but when I explored it a bit it seemed too hard. I didn't really commit to it. Gail seemed to think I was looking in the wrong spot and I started to think she was right. Looking around, I could see other options in either direction.

I should have trusted my first instincts.

It turns out there are sucker holds to both the left and the right of the correct path on Precarious Perch. They seem better than the correct holds but lead nowhere. I found out through much testing and eventual falling that I couldn't get over the roof using them. It seemed like I tried a million things, taking a long long time and leaving Gail down there belaying me forever, again. Eventually I thought about giving up. 5.9+ wasn't supposed to be this hard. 

Finally I went back to the first path I had considered and rejected. I committed to the big lock-off and reach and made it over the roof, feeling like a moron for the second day in a row.  

(Photo: Gail making the delicate traverse on Precarious Perch (5.9+).)

On Precarious Perch I had fallen victim to some of the same errors as the day before. I'd been afraid to commit to a hard move above my gear. I had misread the route. Once I figured out what move I was supposed to make and really tried it everything worked out.

This is a hard roof! Much harder than Jean. I think it is the better route of the two, as it has the nice traverse before the roof. But in my opinion this is a solid 5.10. The move over the roof is quite difficult even when you know what to do. 

I was exhausted by the long effort on Precarious Perch but we still had a little time left so we ended our morning by top-roping Jean next door. 

(Photo: In the midst of the roof on Jean (5.9+).

After Precarious Perch, Jean felt pretty casual. It made me tempted to lead it again one of these days. I never did go back to get it clean on lead. 

I have to admit I was pissed off about how Precarious Perch went down. I should have gotten the on-sight but instead it was an epic siege. I hope in retrospect I've learned the right lessons and will do better on similarly hard on-sights in the future.

I need to do a red point day in the Trapps to hit all of the hard climbs I've failed to send. It is getting to be a pretty big list. We could move down the cliff, going from P-38 to Jean to Precarious Perch to Try Again to Balrog to Simple Suff (currently closed) and finally to Frustration Syndrome. 

Actually I think that would be a pretty fun day! Maybe I'll do it soon if it isn't too beastly hot out. 


  1. you are way to hard on yourself. You are a hero in my book!

  2. Hey Seth

    Been looking for some good 10s to tick off my list for this season. I have a few under my belt (wegetables, retro and nosedive) and I was hoping you could give me some input on which ones you thought had the best gear or maybe a short crux. Simple suff and tulip mussel garden are ready for the red point, and now recently was thinking of frustration syndrome for a semi-onsight. Thoughts? I know it's different strokes for different folks in climbing, but I'm mainly looking for good gear


    1. None of the ones you list is an "easy" ten, but they all have good gear. You've picked off some of the ones with short cruxes/good gear. Beatle Brow Bulge is a soft ten with a roof crux and good gear. I think Balrog is a good one! it is thought to be hard but has great gear, short crux, clean fall. City Streets, hard move but one move wonder with a pin. First pitch of Splashtic-- one hard move with good gear.

    2. I gave frustration a shot this Sunday. Slipped off right above the last roof due to a foot slip. It killed me inside. Like you said, on sighting is hard.
      I'll give the other ones you said a shot next. Thanks for the recommendations.