Friday, October 24, 2014

Eighties Day in the Gunks: An Excellent Adventure

(Photo: Some stone age Romeo, sneaking up on Nosedive (5.10b) like a smooth criminal.)

Several months ago Gail and I hatched a most bodacious idea: we would go to the Gunks dressed as climbers from the 1980's.

Gail already had some electric blue tights, which sounded perfect. I would need to buy some tights of my own, but I didn't think it would be too hard for me to find some totally gnarly, loud leggings. Then I could throw on a tank top and a headband and we'd be all set! Hilarity would ensue.

It seemed like great fun, but we never did anything with the idea.

Until last week.We were set to meet up to climb on Saturday and on a whim I asked Gail if we should go for it and declare it to be Eighties Day in the Gunks.

With Halloween just around the corner it seemed like good timing.

And besides, the 80's are percolating up again. (Don't call it a comeback!) Current pop sensation Taylor Swift has a new album out entitled 1989 (though when I listen to the lead single I can't say I understand the 80's connection). And 80's superstars Morrissey and Billy Idol have recently published memoirs.

I figure if Billy Idol can show his face in public then so can a man in tights.

Gail was very enthusiastic about the plan so we decided to Just Do It.

I only had a few days in which to get ready. I bought some bitchin' striped tights and a tank top/headband combo that matched... or sort of matched, anyway. I was ready to go. But then I decided this wasn't enough. We needed to think bigger, to get greedy. Greed is good, they say.

If we were climbing in 80's clothing, shouldn't we also climb with 80's gear?

It didn't seem right to carry around a bunch of dyneema slings and modern cams. Thinking it over, I realized that practically every piece of climbing equipment I owned was in some way inappropriate to the 80's costume: the shoes, the carabiners, the slings, perhaps even the harness and chalk bag? Should Gail and I be using a bunch of hexes and tying in with swami belts if we were going to be true to the spirit of our little project?

It is a weird science, trying to approximate the technology of an earlier era, only to take it back to the future. And if we were really serious about authenticity it could get expensive. It could take plenty of money-- to do it right, child.

I did some internet research and found out what was in use in the 80's and what was not. As the maker of rules (dealing with fools), I declared certain guidelines for our day.

Harnesses and chalk bags, it turned out, were in use in the 80's. Sticky rubber was also okay. Nuts and Tricams were fine.

Dyneema slings and wire-gate carabiners were out. And all of the cams I usually carry were also out. Aliens and third generation Camalots were not around in the 80's.

What to do? We had to be careful. We didn't want our little lark to turn into a dead man's party. I'm only human, after all, born to make mistakes, and we all know that accidents will happen. I couldn't assume that I'd never fall, and I needed to have enough gear with which to protect whatever climbs I led.

My rack was saved by the Metolius catalog from 1988, which revealed that TCU's (then called "3-Cams") were introduced in the mid-80's. Hallelujah! I own a set of TCU's, from purple through red. If I could use them I had a pretty reasonable 80's rack, with my nuts, Tricams and TCU's. I just needed a few larger pieces. Gail was able to add a few rigid-stemmed Friends, an ancient U-stem Hugh Banner cam that appeared to match those available in the 80's, and a couple of other U-stem cams of uncertain vintage.

(Photo: One town's very like another when your head's down over your pieces, brother! Here were some of the larger pieces in my 80's rack.)

Gail's costume was spot-on. In her electric blue tights and pink top she looked like she'd stepped right out of a Jane Fonda workout tape. Of course no woman in tights could ever look quite as ridiculous as a man in tights. Gail did plan to trump me in one area: her tube socks. I was wearing tube socks too (for the hike in), but unlike me Gail planned to climb in hers! It was a very 80's thing to do but I couldn't imagine wearing thick socks inside of my climbing shoes.

(Photo: They're heeeeeeere! Gail and I are ready to rock in the Uberfall in our full 80's splendor.)

When we arrived at the cliff we headed straight for the Uberfall. This was a Saturday in high season, and we expected to find crowds. Ordinarily this would be a bad thing but today we needed an audience.

As we walked in I could feel the eyes of other climbers upon us. We didn't get any immediate comments but I could sense the occasional double-take.

We parked ourselves beneath Apoplexy (5.9), right on the carriage road, in the middle of the action. I got racked up with our 80's gear and looked up at the potential placements. It seemed like I had everything I needed. I was a little bit chilly in my tank top but I had my headband to keep me warm!

(Photo: Animals strike curious poses... I'm getting set to lead Apoplexy (5.9), 80's style.)

As I got ready to go we chatted a bit with the climber to our left, who was belaying his partner on Horseman (5.5). He spoke with us as if nothing was the slightest bit unusual, and for a while I wondered if he had even noticed our completely outrageous appearance. But then as I was about to step up onto the route he turned to me, completely deadpan, and said:

"You look fantastic, by the way."

"Thanks!" I said, and I was off.

The 80's rack proved to be perfectly adequate for Apoplexy. The nylon slings and the old oval biners were the only problem. The slings and biners felt fat; I was clumsy handling them.

(Photo: Totally tubular! Gail has her tube socks on display on Apoplexy (5.9).)

The climbing felt super casual. I might even go so far as to suggest it felt like poetry in motion... the elements in harmony. Maybe the tights deserve some credit. It is easy to be flexible in tights!

But it's more likely that my vegan diet is paying off. I've lost a dozen pounds since Labor Day. I feel light and fit. I'm still trying new recipes, attempting to keep it interesting and to eat real foods that also taste good. For now I think it is a healthy development. If I start to lapse into eating nothing but potato chips then it might be less healthy. But that is unlikely, as I am generally avoiding junk food. I don't want to buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed. I just want to stay natural. And maybe I'm coming around to the view that meat is murder...

I'll probably go back, one of these days, at least to animal products, if not to meat.

I know what you're thinking: you don't drink, you don't smoke, what do you do? But I assure you I have the same desires as everyone else. I want tasty food. I want candy. For now I am satisfied with the vegan food I eat. I am making delicious things. I'm sure eventually I will get sick of it. My wife, Morgan Fairchild, is already quite sick of my veganism even though it has nothing to do with her! So I don't know how long it will last.

After we were done with Apoplexy I saw that Nosedive (5.10b) was open so we moved over there. I led this one with the 80's rack again and I felt much more comfortable with the gear the second time around. Again the climbing felt very straightforward. Hmmmmmm, could it be...... Satan? (Or perhaps seitan?) Maybe it was all due to the tights after all.

(Photo: Gail at the crux on Nosedive (5.10b).)

Then Gail led Retribution (5.10b), which I was psyched to witness. Gail has been working hard on getting out there and leading tougher trad climbs so it was great to see her going for it on a solid 5.10. Retribution has very good gear and a short crux (which I've seen Gail cruise more than once before), but the 5.10 move is a challenge no matter how many times you've done it so leading it is very impressive.

(Photo: The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire! Gail at the ceiling on Retribution (5.10b).)

Retribution felt really casual to me too-- I guess I'll have to keep wearing tights. I was cruising.

(Photo: I'll have what she's having! Gail is psyched to have led Retribution (5.10b).)

By now we'd been in the Uberfall area for a few hours and we'd attracted a certain amount of attention. Our outfits were a constant source of amusement. Some people just stared, some pointed and laughed, and I was later told one climber ran over and took some photos of me while I was leading Apoplexy. (If you're out there, Mr. Photographer, I am happy to receive copies.)

I was surprised by the conversations I had with some of the older climbers. I was previously unaware that there are men out there who are nostalgic for tights. But such men do exist. There was more than one climber who described with fondness the multicolored tights he used to wear, proudly, back in the day. The story usually ended with the tights being mothballed and then thrown away (or burned) by the climber's wife.

Another climber asked me where I'd acquired my striped pants and when I told him the answer (American Apparel), he asked, dumbfounded, "so they sell those for ordinary people to wear, like, not as a joke?"

I suppose they do.

We ran into someone I know, the dad of one of my son's friends in elementary school. He was a big-time Gunkie back when he was younger, but he fell out of it while his kids were little, only recently returning to the climbing game. On Saturday he was in the Gunks with a group and when they first looked over at us he wondered to his friends, "Is that guy serious?" Then he realized who I was and said, "I know that guy!" He came over to make sure I was NOT serious, and then-- like all the other old-timers-- told me with pride about the climbing tights he used to wear. His had little fluorescent lizards all over them.

Just before we left the Uberfall area one climber said to me, "Okay, so the 80's, I get it... but, why?"

I could only answer his question with another question: "Why the hell not?"

It was time to move on. We decided to head on down to the Seasons area. I was considering leading The Winter (5.10d) and Gail wanted to check out Bold-Ville (5.8). We kept the costumes on but went back to our usual rack, including Camalots and Aliens and skinny slings.

(Photo: No one puts Gail in a corner-- except in the Gunks. Here she's on The Nose/Fillipina (5.9-).)

Our chosen climbs were occupied so I decided to lead The Nose/Fillipina (5.9-), a climb I'd done once before in 2011. I remembered that the roof problem at the end of the pitch was really exciting, and it did not disappoint on Saturday. Under the roof there is a very committing move to the right to a finger-sized horizontal. The feet drop away to nothing and you can't see how you're going to surmount the big overhang. It is a thriller. You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it-- and then you just suck it up and make the move and it's all there.

(Photo: Dancing on the ceiling-- Gail at the Fillipina (5.9-) roof.)

Gail then led pitch one of Bold-ville (5.8) and did a great job. (She's got legs; she knows how to use them.) Bold-ville is a favorite of mine; I've done it several times. It is very continuous, with lots of quality moves. Steep reaches past an overhang at the outset lead to some technical moves up a curving corner. There is bomber gear all the way.

(Photo: Sitting pretty in pink. Gail at the initial overhang on Bold-ville (5.8).)

As I belayed Gail on Bold-ville I'd all but forgotten Eighties Day but just then a pair of climbers walked up and one of them said, "I'd like to congratulate you on wearing the best pants I've seen at the crag today." It was nice.

Next I started up The Winter (5.10d) but I got into trouble right from the start. I had a hard time with the politics of dancing up the initial slot. It was a shock after feeling so strong for so much of the day. The route was a little bit seepy and slimy and after I placed one piece, the next move up felt awkward and insecure on lead. I wanted another gear placement before moving up again but I couldn't find one and, fearing a ground fall, I eventually decided it wasn't worth it and climbed back down.

What a mess on the ladder of success. Looking at the photos, I think I would have been fine for one more move. I guess I should go back and try it again. I may have just been caught up in a whirlwind, and my ever-changing moods.

(Photo: Should I stay or should I go? Feeling uncertain on a wet Winter (5.10d).)

After I down-climbed off of The Winter we moved over to the right a bit and did the first pitch of Shit Creek (allegedly 5.6). Many years ago I had an epic on this pitch with my friend Greg. Back then I got up to the second roof, decided there was no way it could really be 5.6, and escaped up a blocky corner to the right. I ended up getting one of my double ropes stuck in the blocky corner and spent hours sorting it all out.

(Photo: Gail at the second roof on Shit Creek (P1 5.6).)

On Saturday, with Gail, I did the route the modern way, going directly over the second roof and then climbing up steep rock to the pumpy hand traverse to the finish. It is a high quality pitch with a ton of climbing on it, and three good cruxes. But I wouldn't put a 5.6 leader on this pitch. It felt stiff for 5.6 to me and the gear is not great. The pin at the second roof is old and there is no way to back it up. There is sparse gear for the face-climbing above and then after the final (well-protected) hand traverse, there is a lot of loose rock for the final twenty feet or so. I would probably do Shit Creek again if there were nothing else available, but if I'm there on an uncrowded day I'll be tempted by the route of another. Blistered Toe (5.7+), for example, is a better nearby alternative.

By the time we were done with Shit Creek the sun was setting. But I still wanted to climb a little more. "Don't dream it's over," I said to Gail. We still had time to run up the short 5.9 first pitch of The Spring in the fading light.

(Photo: The corner climbing on The Spring (P1 5.9) requires you to put a little boogie in your butt.)

We walked out in the dark. I put on my headlamp but apparently my leggings had some florescent properties. As I crossed the parking lot to my car I heard a final call from a stranger behind me:


This was not a day on which I achieved much of anything but Gail and I had a fantastic time. I've been smiling about it all week. It was like a little party all day long. If it's true that the best climber is the one having the most fun, then Gail and I were the best climbers at the Gunks last Saturday, by far. And it was great to see Gail leading so strong too.

It sure seemed like there was a lot of nostalgia for tights around the cliffs. Maybe they'll make a comeback and we can all proudly wear tights while rock climbing again. Wouldn't that be something?

1 comment:

  1. Are we to see this ensemble again on this Halloween weekend?