(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.
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."
"YOU ARE NOT 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.
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.