Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Secret Gunks Tricam Society: A Major Motion Picture (Soundtrack by Whitesnake)

(Photo: Looking up at the big dihedral ascended by Horseman (5.5). Adrian is barely visible at the outside corner after the traverse.)

The summer always seems to slip on by, doesn't it?

For the last few weeks both of our kids have been at sleepaway camp, leaving Robin and me free to do WHATEVER.

You might think this situation would lead to tons of rock climbing for me.

But for the second year in a row it hasn't worked out that way.

I'm not bitter about this. Robin and I did lots of fun things together. The only slight downside was that these things did not include rock climbing.

We did some outstanding hiking. We had several wonderful days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. First, before we dropped our daughter Leah at camp, we climbed three peaks out of Franconia Notch. We ascended the Falling Waters trail and hiked the ridge connecting Mounts Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette, then descended the Greenleaf Trail and the Old Bridle Path back to the notch.

(Photo: As you approach the top of the Falling Waters Trail you get a complete view of Cannon Cliff across the notch.)

Though she is not a huge fan of hiking, Leah made it through this rugged nine mile trip like a real trooper. She didn't even give me too much grief when I dropped our camera in a river.

(Photo: Checking out the view with Leah atop Mt. Lafayette.)

After we dropped Leah at camp, Robin and I did three more days of hiking, exploring the Presidential Range from many different angles.

(Photo: Nearing the top of Mt. Adams on a hazy day, with the summits of Mts. JQ Adams and Madison visible behind Robin.)

(Photo: View north from Mt. Jackson towards Mts. Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, and Washington, though Washington's summit is obscured by a cloud.)

(Photo: View across the Great Gulf Wilderness to Mts. Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, taken while descending from Mt. Washington.)

We also spent a fun weekend with some friends in the Adirondacks, hiking up to the top of Mount Giant on Saturday and doing a little kayaking in the Saranac Lakes region on Sunday.

(Photo: View from the Giant trail of Chapel Pond Slab across the pass.)

(Photo: Robin and I paddling in sync for a brief shining moment. Photo by Karen Froehlich.)

With all of this physical activity, I was at some risk of improving my fitness while the children were away, but fear not: the rest of our free days were filled with a never-ending parade of restaurant meals and bottles of wine. By the time I finally got back to the Gunks last Sunday (after almost a month away), I felt chubby and out of shape.

Nevertheless, before our day of climbing I sent my partner Adrian a list of about fifteen 5.10 pitches I was eager to hit. Some of them were new for me but many were climbs I needed to redpoint after failing on my first (or even second) attempt.

At the top of my list was P-38 (5.10b), a climb that defeated me just a few weeks ago. I was tempted to go right to it when we arrived at the Trapps but we decided instead to warm up on Horseman (5.5).

Adrian led Horseman and to better manage drag he did not clip the fixed pin anchor when he traversed around the corner. Since there was no gear over to the left around the corner, I decided (just for a change of pace) to try the direct route when I followed, going straight up through the overhang and skipping the usual traverse. This has always looked harder than 5.5 to me, but looks can be deceiving. You don't really climb it as a roof but instead do a few casual moves on the left wall, and then very quickly you are back on the regular route. It was perfectly nice but I think the regular traverse is more fun.

With Horseman finished we marched over to P-38. This time I hoped I would remember my beta and get the send.

(Photo: Starting up my arch-nemesis, P-38 (5.10b).)

I was surprised to find myself puzzling through the first hard move over the low overhang, once again. I thought I knew what to do, but I still had to work it out. "Here I go again," I thought.

This brought to mind a song.

A Whitesnake song.

Here I go again, on my own, I sang.

Going down the only road I've ever known!

Then I decided to change it up a little bit:

Like a drifter I was born to climb the stone!

Though I'm nobody's poet I thought this variation wasn't half bad. Adrian then threw in his own contribution:

But I've made up my mind... I ain't climbing no more nines!

Hilarious. Or we thought so. Another one Adrian came up with:

But I know what it means... to climb upon this lonesome wall of seams!

All we needed was Tawny Kitaen.

(Photo: Trying to do well on P-38 (5.10b).)

Anyway, I fought through the first move successfully and then tried to do everything well. I placed good gear and made sure to milk the rest before the crux. Then I moved up and left into the business. I knew what to do; I just had to execute.

But I couldn't make it. Despite the rest, I got pumped out. It was hot outside. The holds felt greasy. And I just felt weak. I started to high step but sensed I was about to slip. I had to hang. It took me a few more tries to get it done. Finally I did the move and it felt so much harder than before. Maybe this just wasn't going to be my day.

I felt very out of shape indeed.

Adrian managed to follow it cleanly, which he made sure to mention repeatedly.

Next we moved down to the Mac Wall. Adrian wanted to climb Higher Stannard (5.9-). He'd tried to get on it the day before but there was a slow party on it so he never got around to it. It is a favorite of mine so I was happy to follow him on it. I hoped it would give me a clue as to what I could lead next. I felt so pumped out after P-38 that I wasn't sure whether I should try to lead anything else that was challenging.

(Photo: Adrian near the start of Higher Stannard (5.9-).)

Adrian did a good job on it and I felt fine following it, to my relief. I cruised through the crux blank face and enjoyed the rest of the consistent, 5.8-ish face climbing.

(Photo: That's me following Higher Stannard (5.9-).)

Now I had a dilemma: what to do? Should I try to lead another ten? We talked a bit about Try Again (5.10b), a climb I first attempted this past April. We also talked about MF (5.9). This would theoretically be easier than Try Again, but is it really? I think MF has more sustained difficulties than Try Again. Adrian was shocked that I'd only done MF the one time, three years ago, in the rain. Adrian doesn't even live around here and he's done it several times.

I decided to do a test run on MF and see if I felt up to Try Again.

(Photo: In the early going on MF (5.9). Photo taken by Debra Beattie while climbing Something Interesting (5.7+).)

We only did the first pitch. I enjoyed it a great deal and while I wouldn't call it casual I felt it was well within my limits. The crux move around the corner takes real commitment, even though the gear is good. It requires unusual technique, and balance. This is a very high quality pitch with a hard move right off the ground, then the real crux at the corner, and another final hard bit over a bulge to the chains. 

(Photo: Adrian at the corner crux on MF (5.9).)

I felt good enough on MF to hop right on Try Again. Adrian was gracious enough to let me lead twice in a row.

Back in April I'd taken three tries to figure out the hard roof. I hoped that with the beta in my mind I would get through it on the first try this time. And I hoped I'd feel strong enough.

(Photo: Trying again on Try Again (5.10b).)

Well, I tried again to do everything right. I successfully negotiated the slightly sketchy 5.9 move off the ledge. Then I got up the two corners below the roof, clipped the pin, and managed to get into the rest position.

So far, so good, but as I tried the roof I was mystified. I couldn't get over it, and I couldn't remember how I did it the last time. I took a hang. Then I fell. I fell again and kept right on falling.

Here I go again, on my own.....

Finally I realized that I'd been missing a crucial hold, right there in front of my face. Once I spotted it, I used it and got over the roof, furious with myself and exhausted.

It just wasn't my day, I guess.

(Photo: Adrian on Try Again (5.10b).)

Adrian didn't do much better than I did on Try Again and by the time we were done with it he was feeling pretty wiped out and ready to quit. He had a long drive back to Montreal ahead of him. We decided to head back to the Uberfall area where maybe I'd lead something quick if it was open.

We found Apoplexy (5.9) available so I hopped on it.

There was a ranger behind us hanging out at his truck as we began the climb. Right before I started up, Rich Romano rode up on a mountain bike and started chatting with the ranger.

Now, I don't know Rich, though I have introduced myself to him once or twice. I see him around the Gunks all the time. It is no exaggeration to say that he is one of the boldest and most prolific route developers of his generation. He basically single-handedly developed the entire Millbrook cliff without the use of a single protection bolt. While filling in the lines at Millbrook he put up numerous R/X routes in the 5.10-5.12 range, several of which are so scary they have never seen a second ascent.

He is a giant among men.

I was conscious of him being there as I began the climb but I was able to put it out of my mind relatively quickly. I am comfortable on Apoplexy and didn't mind an audience.

Soon I passed the scary flake where it can be hard to find good gear. It can be hard, that is, unless you know about the secret pink Tricam placement. I will happily let you in on this intelligence if you like, inducting you, dear reader, into the Secret Gunks Tricam Society.

Here is the beta, free of charge:

There is a shallow pocket just up and right of the scary flake. It won't take a cam but if you pop a pink Tricam in just right, with the stinger facing down, it will catch on a little lip giving you a solid placement. Set it with a flick of the wrist and you are good to go. BOMBER!

I had heard for years about this secret placement but I gave up on it after trying once in vain to find it. Later, when I was climbing Apoplexy on another occasion with Gail, she suggested I look again and I was able to make it work. I wasn't sure how solid it was but when Gail followed the pitch she bounce-tested the piece and it held. So now when I climb Apoplexy I have no worries at the flake. I pop in the secret Tricam and I move on.

(Photo: Apoplexy (5.9), with the secret Tricam in place. I'm in the photo up at the top, almost done with the chimney finish.)

As I passed the flake the other day with Adrian, I wasn't listening to Romano or the ranger but Adrian later reported to me that Romano said something to the ranger about how difficult it is to protect Apoplexy through the middle. And the ranger then pointed up and said "I don't know about that. This guy found the secret Tricam placement!"

"This guy" was me.

When I heard this story I felt very proud. I only wished I'd heard it at the time. I could have basked in the glory of the secret Tricam placement and danced that much more lightly up the rock.

Despite this undeniable triumph, it was hard not to leave the Gunks thinking that I have a lot of work to do. I am out of shape and I need to get back in it if I want to make progress. I haven't been cycling and I've gained a few pounds.

Sending season is just around the corner. I don't have tons of time, but if I just get a little more fit in the next month I'm sure I can get back on track by the time the good weather hits. In addition, I have a big trip planned to the Red River Gorge in October and I want to be in good shape for the overhanging jug fest that the Red is known to be. I don't need to be hauling any spare tires up the steepness.

Perhaps I am hard on myself. Hot weather saps the energy and makes everything feel greasy. I should be happy that climbs like Apoplexy and MF-- routes that inspired fear in me a few years ago-- are my safety choices nowadays. If in years to come, as I get even more over-the-hill, I can still feel unfazed about attacking climbs like MF, I hope I remember to feel great about it.


  1. I had to laugh at the bit about Gail bounce-testing the pinkie. Given that Gail weighs all of a 100 lbs on a good day I figure she might have, and I'm being generous, generated 1 kn of force. For what it is worth I did find and utilize the pinky pocket the only time I have led Apoplexy. Didn't think it would hold anything but I never pass up an opportunity of making an unusual tricam placement. Especially if it is the pink! Always entertaining.

    1. Yes I suppose you have a point there. Gail weighs next to nothing! Thanks for the comment.