Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gunks Routes: Star Action (5.10b), Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a/b) & Doubleissima (5.10b)

(Photo: Headed for the roof of Son of Easy O (5.8).)

Another September weekend in the Gunks.

Temperatures have been falling and autumn is in the air. I think sending season may be soon upon us.

I met up with Adrian this past Sunday in the Trapps. As I drove up I decided I had one goal: I needed to get the redpoint on Directississima aka Doubleissima (5.10b). Just last week I'd come close, but had taken a brief hang at the hardest move. I knew if I approached it smartly I could get the send this time.

Apart from that one climb I had no ambitions.

We walked in and found the ever-popular Son of Easy O (5.8) open so we did it. I took the lead and ran it to the top in one pitch. It is still one of the best 5.8's. The traditional first pitch has so many great face moves. The overhang on the second pitch is a fun, if short, challenge. I've never cut my feet loose and campused it like Ashima, but hey, every problem has multiple valid solutions.

When Adrian and I both reached the top we rapped down over City Lights and found that it had become very crowded. We started walking in the general direction of Doubleissima, looking for an open climb for Adrian to lead along the way.

But almost everything was occupied. We walked past the Drunkard's wall and into the Arch area, seeing nothing available that we wanted to try.

Just then, as I walked downhill past the start of Ribless, I lost my footing somehow. It is a little steep and loose right there next to the cliff. I guess I got careless, and I fell.

My little slip quickly turned into a cartwheeling header. I found myself flying. I tumbled over several loose stones and landed maybe ten feet lower then my starting point.

I couldn't believe my own clumsiness. Lying there in the dirt, I felt humiliated but okay. It had all gone by in a blur but I didn't think I'd caught an ankle.

I sat up and said "I think I'm all right."

Adrian pointed out that I was bleeding through my pants.

I pulled up my pant leg and saw a gash in my knee that was kind of deep. I had a couple of band aids in my bag but I didn't think they were going to help very much.

I inspected the knee and it did not seem that I'd broken it. But I could tell it was going to bruise and swell a bit. I must have knocked it pretty hard on the way down. It was tender and puffy. The good news was that I was able to weight the leg and walk.

"Do you want to see a doctor?" Adrian asked.

It sounded reasonable.

But if I did that, we were never going to get on Doubleissima!

Besides, Adrian had driven all the way down to the Gunks from Montreal to climb with me. It seemed rude to abandon him just because I got a little cut on my knee. I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I decided I had to be a man about it and keep climbing. It was the selfless, generous thing to do.

You might disagree. You might think that continuing to climb was a short-sighted, stupid thing to do. But if you are of that opinion then I assure you, respectfully, that you are mistaken.

I put a band aid over the cut and wrapped some climbing tape around the knee, hoping the tape would stay in place and keep the bleeding at bay.

We resumed looking for a fun climb to do.

Before we knew it we were at the Mac Wall. I've been there a lot this year. But there were many climbs I needed to do there. I still needed to get the redpoint on Try Again (5.10b). And I'd considered Star Action (5.10b) before, but it was wet when I examined it in the spring. Today it was dry and it was open.

(Photo: A climber named Jill going for it on Try Again (5.10b).)

With all the wandering and tripping and falling and bandaging, we'd wasted substantial time already. Adrian wasn't too keen on leading Star Action, with its 5.10b roof. But we needed to climb something, so I decided to lead it.

As I got on the wall my knee seemed okay. Just as I got going on the route our friends Maryana and Beau happened to arrive. They offered moral support as I worked my way up the climb. The early going was comparatively easy, but I found the line to be pretty indistinct and the gear was kind of fiddly.

Once I reached the crux roof I had no confusion about where to go and there was good pro in a bomber horizontal. From this horizontal below the roof I could see a jug hold, way up there out of reach. The guidebook suggests a dyno to attain the jug but I could see some intermediate crimps. Maybe there was no need for a dyno. The guidebook also says that the move AFTER the big reach to the jug is the "mental crux" of the route, as you step left to an obvious corner.

I had two solid cams in the horizontal. It was steep but I could hang out there, shaking out each hand in turn. I kept reaching up to test the crimps, and I did not like them. I couldn't get myself to trust them. Up and down, up and down. Eventually I got tired and took a hang.

Then Beau shouted up to me that I should look to my left for a rest stance. I looked over and saw that I could have taken a real rest at an obvious little shelf just one move to the left! Tunnel vision and a refusal to commit got the best of me again.

(Photo: A climber on MF Direct (5.10a).)

Meanwhile my makeshift bandage was falling apart. The cut in my knee was still open and bleeding. I was getting some red blotches on the rock. This lead was turning into a mess. I needed to get on with it.

After I rested I finally went for it, using the crimps and reaching the jug, no dyno required. I think I could repeat this move any time. It is similar to, but in my opinion easier than, the roof move on Precarious Perch (5.9+).

But the next move-- the "mental crux" step left into a lieback-- is a real challenge. You have to transition from hanging off the jug to a tenuous lieback with no footholds. Your feet are just pasted to the wall, and they are above your last gear. It is a scary move. After I got the jug I tried to make the transition but once again I couldn't commit to it and climbed back down a step, taking a deliberate whipper so I could rest and reset. The fall was clean but I sailed down a ways, below the first crux roof.

Having now failed once at each of the cruxes, I finally got through it. It was a relief. Star Action is a gutsy lead, much more so than its neighbor Try Again. The gear for the crux sequence isn't that far away and the fall is clean, but you are definitely looking at a nice whip if you blow either of the two crux moves, and if you come off at the lieback it could be a weird fall.

(Photo: Happy to be past both cruxes on Star Action (5.10b).)

I don't know how soon I'll be going back for the send on Star Action. I know I can do it but that move into the lieback isn't a sure thing. I could easily fall there, and I'm not sure I want to.

Adrian did well with the first crux but then flew off at the lieback. He needed a little more work at that move before he completed the pitch. Watching the way he spun off of the rock, I was even less eager to get back up there on lead.

After I got down I wrapped my knee up again. I still felt I could continue to climb but I was starting to resemble a wounded soldier, with my ripped pants and blood stains all over. Physically I was feeling it too. The knee was stiffening and the effort I'd put in on Star Action had me feeling whipped.

(Photo: Adrian at the roof on Star Action (5.10b).)

Beau and Maryana were just finishing Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a/b), a squeezed-in climb to our left. I was intrigued by it. I'd never seen anyone do it. The line is not obvious from the ground and I'd always been deterred from trying it because I thought it was too close to climbers on the popular Something Interesting (5.7). But the way Beau did it, the climb was a totally independent line, moving to the right after an overhang and ending at the Higher Stannard (5.9-) bolts.

This was a route right up Adrian's alley, with thoughtful face moves rather than pumpy overhangs. After getting some specific protection beta from Beau, he decided to lead it.

(Photo: Adrian heading up Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a/b). The climber above is on Something Interesting (5.7+).)

It was an impressive on-sight for Adrian. He seemed to get gear for all of the moves up the face and then, after hesitating for a moment and testing the possible holds, he cruised through the crux move smoothly.

When I followed the pitch I was even more impressed with Adrian's lead. The climb's style resembles Higher Stannard (a route I really enjoy), but Still Crazy is more difficult and the gear is less reliable. The protection comes at spaced horizontals that are often shallow and/or pebbly. I thought some of Adrian's gear was pretty iffy and not because of any failing on his part. The cracks just aren't that great for gear. And the climbing past the questionable gear is consistently thoughtful, in the 5.8-5.9 range at least.

The brief crux sequence is really nice, and the gear here is good, though it is at your feet when you do the move.

I was happy to get Still Crazy cleanly as the second, and though my injured right knee complained a bit at the high steps it seemed like I was still able to climb.

It was now or never.

I told Adrian I wanted to lead Doubleissima.

"Really?" he said. "Okay."

We trooped on down to the High E buttress to find a party slowly working their way up the climb. This was fine with me. I wanted a good long rest before I hit Doubleissima. I relaxed and tried to think through my plan, visualizing success.

(Photo: Between the two cruxes on Doubleissima (5.10b).)

When the party ahead of us cleared the cruxes, I headed up and I'm proud to say it went down perfectly. I fired through the steep bulge off the ledge without a problem. Moving to the right and up, I could feel the fatigue coming on, but I tried not to do anything sloppy as I approached the roof, and then I managed to shake out enough to power through the overhang. After that the angle eased and I was smiling all the way to the GT Ledge.

Score one for the good guys. I could limp home with my head held high. I'd sent a hard 5.10. And such a great climb.

(Photo: Adrian finishing up the crux pitch of Doubleissima (5.10b).)

Now I was satisfied, I didn't care what else we did. We rapped back down and looked for something fun for Adrian to lead.

We settled on the 5.8 first pitch of Erect Direction. We'd both done it before. It is a juggy good time.

(Photo: Adrian starting up Erect Direction (pitch one, 5.8).)

I ended our day by leading Moonlight (5.6) from the GT Ledge to the top. This is a high quality pitch, exciting and varied, with the exposed moves around the crux corner and then beautiful, slabby climbing up white rock to the top. It is nothing but fun, so long as you're prepared for the fact that the gear stinks until after the crux-- you might as well be soloing for much of the first half of the pitch.

(Photo: At the crux of pitch two of Moonlight (5.6).)

I'd been using my injured leg all day, keeping it loose, but after the two-hour car ride back to Brooklyn the leg was pretty stiff. The next morning I found it hard to walk without a limp. The swelling in the knee had increased, making it a challenge just to bend my leg. As I struggled to navigate the subway I wondered if the previous day's climbing had been nothing but a dream. Had we really climbed three 5.10's after I busted up my knee?

I was a little worried about the injury for a few days but it seems I'm on the mend now. The swelling is mostly gone and I am walking around pretty much normally again. I think I'll get back to climbing very soon, certainly in time for my trip to the Red River Gorge in October.

And the next time I go to the Gunks I might want to hop right back on Doubleissima. I think it is my new favorite climb. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Doubling Down on Doubleissima (5.10b) & More!

(Photo: Climbers on High Exposure (5.6+), seen from where Doubleissima (5.10b) reaches the GT Ledge.)

My first trip to the Red River Gorge is just a few weeks away.

I've been trying to prepare. I'm working to get into better shape. I feel more motivated than I have in a while.

I've had a pretty good month on my bicycle, riding regularly.

I've been leading the overhanging 5.11 climbs in the gym (and occasionally sending). Maybe when I climb the overhanging 5.11 sport climbs in the Red, they won't feel too unfamiliar?

And I've changed my diet. For a little more than a week-- i.e., more than SEVEN DAYS-- I've been following a strictly vegan diet.

Yes, I said it: I'm a vegan.

The big "V."

The beast with no meat.

(Or dairy.)

It is a big change for me. I have always eaten animals and animal products. I do the cooking in our household and we are all rather enthusiastic carnivores. Chicken, beef, pork, fish, cheese, you name it-- we eat probably way too much animal protein. I also love to bake desserts, and the notion of saying goodbye to eggs and butter seems like crazy talk.

This isn't an ethical stand I'm taking. I'm not going vegan because I have a concern about the unjust subjugation of animals. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do of course care about the subjugation of animals. I care deeply about the subjugation of animals. Just not enough to stop me from eating and exploiting them.

Rather, my goal in all this is simple. I'm trying to reduce my caloric intake and decrease the amount of junk food on which I snack during the day. You see, as I decrease the number of things I can eat, it becomes easier not to eat a lot of crap. If I'm not allowed to eat anything, I won't eat at all. It's perfectly logical.

And it's working. Over the past few weeks I've lost a few pounds. I feel lighter and fitter.

A side benefit of the veganism is that it seems to drive my wife Robin utterly crazy. When she saw that I'd purchased soy milk she instantly knew what I was up to and went into a rage. "This is what you're doing now??" she said, incredulous.

I could only shrug.

Something about the vegan thing just pushes her buttons.

The other night I cooked steak for her and the kids, but I didn't eat any.

"So you're not having any of this??" she asked.

"You know I can't," I explained, patiently. "I'm a vegan."


She did have a point there.

But actually I am a vegan, at least for a while. And I'm enjoying it, so far.

It hasn't been that much of a deprivation. I've been cooking new, delicious dishes that have been a pleasure to eat. I've made gazpacho and ratatouille and chana dal. I'm sure there are tons of other tasty, nutritious meals I'll make before I get hopelessly bored with the vegan lifestyle. I know I won't be vegan forever, and anyway I'm not sure it is the best diet in the long run. But in the short term I think it may be very good for me.

I should have told my climbing partner Nani about this new vegan lifestyle before we got together to climb last Sunday. Nani often brings tasty treats to share when we go climbing. I meant to mention it to her, but I forgot, and then I was forced to decline the ham and egg sandwich she brought me for breakfast.

That one hurt. I can still smell that tasty sandwich.

But you would have been proud of me. I got through it. I persevered. I spurned the sandwich. And I think Nani forgave me for not eating it.

Sunday was a beautiful day. The scheduled high was in the seventies. I hoped the Gunks wouldn't be too crowded since Saturday had been a disaster: hot, humid, and stormy.

I had a 5.10 on my mind. It was one of my past failures: Directississima aka Doubleissima (5.10b). I felt like I'd let too much time pass (two years!) since I tried it the first time. And I really needed to improve on my past performance. When I first tried it, I got my butt kicked. I struggled so much in the crux bulge that I got exhausted and I abandoned the climb without finishing it.

It was time to try again. I knew I could do better. And I thought the steep, pumpy nature of the climb would be good prep for the Red River Gorge.

But I wasn't about to warm up with such a hard route. I thought we could do some other stuff nearby and then if I felt good I could hit Doubleissima.

We walked down to the High E area and saw that everything was basically open. I hadn't been on Bonnie's Roof (one of my favorites) this year and it occurred to me that though I'd led the route a few times I'd never led Bonnie's Direct (5.9) from the ground to the top in a single pitch before. I thought it would be a nice way to start our day with a bang. And if the Direct finish felt pretty casual I'd be well set for Doubleissima.

(Photo: Just past the namesake pitch one ceiling on Bonnie's Roof (5.9).)

It went well. I tried to conserve gear by placing nuts instead of cams during the early going. It turned out to be easy: you can protect almost the whole climb with great sinker nuts! It was a good exercise and I think I probably had the most reliable gear I've ever had on the climb. I still threw in the schweeet blue # 3 Camalot at the first roof crux. But aside from that piece I used very few of my favorites and I arrived at the perch beneath the Direct finish with a full range of cams.

(Photo: Nani at the final overhang on Bonnie's Direct (5.9).)

I needn't have worried so much about the gear. Once you place a piece at the stance beneath the final roofs you need, at most, two more cams before the climb is done. And there are several different-sized cracks available for pro; you could pop in just about anything. 

The big move that starts the Direct is very exposed and exciting, then it's all jugs to the finish. Done as one pitch, Bonnie's Direct has to be one of the very best single-pitch climbs in the Gunks. Great fun.

Nani was looking to lead some sevens, which I was excited about. She has flirted on and off with trad leading and the last time we were together she led several pitches easier than 5.7. I suggested she try Sleepwalk (5.7), which is just to the left of Bonnie's. Nani followed me up Sleepwalk five years ago but I doubt she remembers. (Not everyone is as obsessed with these details as I am.) I thought it would be a good lead for her because the angle is low and there's always gear nearby. You can stop and think whenever you need to. I knew she could handle any 5.7 but I thought this one would be nice and comfortable for her.

(Photo: Nani heading up Sleepwalk (5.7).)

In my opinion it is on the easy side of 5.7 but there are a few technical sequences. It is clean and fun and it ends at a bolted anchor, which makes setting up the belay simple for the budding leader.

Nani led it without a hitch, of course. The climb is well beneath her abilities. When I joined her at the bolts I decided it might be nice to lead the 5.7- second pitch of Lichen 40 Winks. This was a new one for me. Dick Williams describes the pitch as having clean white rock and a good roof problem.

(Photo: Nani at the crux on the 5.7- pitch two of Lichen 40 Winks.)

And Dick is right. It is a nice little pitch, with enjoyable climbing and an interesting little roof. The quality climbing is pretty brief, though, and I thought the gear was a little bit spaced out. I wouldn't necessarily put a new 5.7 leader on this pitch. It has three or four nice moves and is certainly worth doing once.

(Photo: View down the cliff from the belay stance atop pitch two of Lichen 40 Winks. A climber is visible on the GT Ledge beneath the crux pitch of High Exposure (5.6+).)

After we rapped back down it was time for Doubleissima.

We walked over and found the route open and in the shade. It was gorgeous out. Conditions were never going to be better than this.

I had a plan. As I did on Bonnie's, I wanted to conserve gear through the traditional first pitch (which is 5.8 and only 40 feet long), and then I'd keep on going right into the second, which begins with a crux bulge right off of a ledge. I would climb up into the bulge and place good pro, then I'd climb back down and rest, so that I could then fire through the bulge and still have some gas left for the steep climbing up to the roof, which is the second crux.

(Photo: Nani on Doubleissima, after both cruxes.)

I tried really hard to execute my plan perfectly. After I walked up the initial 40 feet with no worries, I found that I could go up and down into the crux bulge and place as much gear as I liked. So that part worked out well. I ended up going up and down a couple of times. I got a good rest before I decided to go for it at the crux move.

But I still blew it, getting a little befuddled by a loose hold (with chalk all over it) in the middle of the crux. I adjusted, trying to avoid this hold, but I got tired, misread the sequence and then took a hang.

It went much better after that, however. I went back up and got over the bulge easily on the next try, without using the little loose hold. And I managed to climb the rest of the pitch cleanly. I milked whatever rests I could find on my way up to the roof and got through the second crux just fine. After the roof, the angle eased off a bit and I found it less difficult the rest of the way to the GT Ledge.

Man, what a climb! It just keeps coming at you, so steep and sustained. I was disappointed that I blew the send but it went so much better than my last attempt that I'm reasonably pleased about how it all worked out. I know I can do this climb now, it's just a matter of time. And I was very safe about it. People have tweaked their ankles when they've fallen at the bulge but I think if you take the trouble to place the obvious gear this won't happen to you. The cruxes on Doubleissima are very well protected.

(Photo: Some dude up on the GT Ledge above Doubleissima.)

We had several options about what to do once we reached the GT Ledge. Should we do High E? Maybe Modern Times? Ultimately I decided to lead the pitch directly above us: the final, 5.8 pitch of Lakatakissima. It was another new pitch for me. Dick gives it two stars, a high rating. It looked juggy and steep. The initial overhang, about 15 feet up, looked steep but fun. I figured it would ease off after that. Why not try it?

I enjoyed the pitch and I'd definitely do it again, but like Doubleissima this pitch is sustained and steep. It may appear it will get easier after the rooflet but there are a few more steep bulges yet to go. It doesn't really ease up until just before the top of the cliff. It is good, juggy climbing all the way, though. I haven't checked out the last pitch of Doubleissima, twelve feet to the left, but if you've come up the first two pitches of Doubleissima then you should consider finishing on Lakatakissima. It is a worthwhile continuation of the climbing up to the GT Ledge.

When we got back to the base of the cliff we took a break, having a snack while we watched two other leaders struggle with Doubleissima. It was suddenly very crowded at the base of High E.

We'd done seven guidebook pitches and it was already late afternoon. We had time for one more climb. I suggested to Nani that we could do Modern Times (5.8+). It was sitting there open and I hadn't been on it this year. (It is another favorite of mine.) I thought Nani would enjoy leading the mellow 5.7 pitch one. I wasn't sure if she'd enjoy the amazing, scary roof on pitch two but she'd never done it and I thought she should have the experience!

(Photo: Arriving at the GT Ledge after pitch one of Modern Times.)

Nani had fun leading the first pitch. It is a pretty unremarkable stretch of Gunks face climbing. But it is rather long (maybe 160 feet?), so the leader has to be careful to conserve gear for the little roof crux which comes almost at the end, just before the GT Ledge.

Leading pitch two, I had no worries. It was my third time leading Modern Times. Nevertheless, as I got up to the stance before the big move out into the roofs, I still felt the thrill of it all. There is great gear, and I already knew what to do, but the climb requires such a big move out off of the wall, with so much air beneath you, that I got a little bit scared despite my prior experience on the route.

(Photo: That's me waving from the belay stance above the crux overhangs of Modern Times (5.8+).)

But it all went fine and soon enough I was on the ledge above the crux, which I always think of as a great park bench in the sky. I love to sit there with my feet dangling in space, relaxing and taking in the view. I put Nani on belay and hoped she would send the route and, more importantly, enjoy its airy qualities as much as I do.

I couldn't see Nani as she followed the pitch. But I heard her expressing concern about the huge flake-- really just a stack of blocks-- that the pitch ascends to get to the roof. I remember being a little troubled by this stack myself the first time I was on the route. The blocks aren't attached to anything and they are just sitting there, leaning against the main wall of the cliff. But they are pretty big. I'd bet they aren't going anywhere. At least I want to think so.

Then Nani got to the roof. It didn't sound like she was enjoying herself. It sounded like a bit of a struggle. "No way this is 5.8!" she yelled.

Then: "This is too hard! I can't do this!"

Of course, I knew that she could do it; I've seen Nani do much harder climbs, both inside and outside. She does harder climbs than I can do.

But it is pretty universal, I think: your view of what you can do changes when you're under an enormous overhang and there's two hundred feet of air beneath your feet.

I thought she was about to fall. I knew she was capable of ascending the rope if she ended up hanging out in space. But I wanted to minimize the distance so I started pulling in the rope.

"Don't pull on me!" she screamed.

Oops, my bad, I thought. I decided just to wait.

I worried that she was going to be pissed off when this pitch was over. When I proposed Modern Times, I had hoped to offer a good kind of challenge-- a very exciting climb that I knew would be safe and fun. But maybe I'd let Nani down. You traverse through the roofs, and anyone following the pitch could be a bit freaked out at the prospect of a swinging fall into space. I wouldn't want to do anything in climbing that would spook my partner. Maybe I was pushing too much?

Nothing Nani said made me think she actually felt this way. These were my own insecurities expressing themselves.

But it turned out she'd found the rest stance in the middle of the crux. She was just taking a break and when I yanked on the rope I was pulling her off the stance. She never weighted the rope, and after she made the last few moves to the ledge she was happy, much to my relief! She gushed that Modern Times was the "best climb ever!"

I was so pleased to be there to congratulate her on the send. I felt like the siblings in the old Life commercial, relieved that she liked it.

I don't know if I agree about Modern Times being the best ever. There is a lot of mediocre climbing on it. But the crux is incredibly thrilling. With its spectacular position and committing moves, and all at a moderate 5.8+ grade, Modern Times is a prime example of what makes the Gunks such a special place.

I can't wait to go back to try Doubleissima again. I want the redpoint on it, badly. It is maybe a better candidate for best climb ever, to my mind. It is definitely one of the best tens in the Gunks.