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.