Friday, October 31, 2014

Gunks Routes: Blistered Toe (5.7+/5.9+)/Torture Garden (5.8)/Yellow Crack (5.6) Link-Up, Proctor Silex (5.9+) & More!

(Photo: That's me on the traverse from Blistered Toe over to Torture Garden.)

I'm feeling good lately. Have I mentioned that I've lost some weight? It makes a big difference.

In the gym I can really tell, and on routes within my comfort zone at the Gunks I've felt noticibly lighter, free and easy.

But feeling good is just part of the climbing equation. You can lose all the weight you like, but if you are mentally unprepared to deal with the challenge of a particular climb you still won't succeed. I saw this on my Eighties Day in the Gunks with Gail, when after feeling so strong all day I didn't feel comfortable just a few moves off of the ground on pitch one of The Winter, and the awkward climbing, slimy rock, and the lack of an immediate gear placement made me back off of a move that I've previously raced up on top rope without a second thought.

This past weekend with Adrian it happened again. I wanted to go back to The Winter to give it another try. I was also interested in the second pitches of both The Winter and The Spring. They are both 5.10's but very different. The second pitch of The Spring is on the left above the first pitch of The Winter, and it features a huge 5.10d roof. The second pitch of The Winter is on the right and ascends a 5.9 corner and then finishes with a 5.10d move up a blank face.

Adrian started us off by leading the first pitch of The Spring (5.9). It was an easy onsight for him. He was clearly feeling pretty good. He'd been able to get the redpoint of Simple Suff (5.10a) the day before. Simple Suff is one of those tens I still need to go back and get the send on. It is sustained and tricky. I really should try it again before this year is out.

(Photo: Adrian on Simple Suff (5.10a). Photo by Maryana.)

I felt fine following Adrian on The Spring. I've done this first pitch several times-- I'd led it most recently one week before-- so it felt very casual for me.

(Photo: Following the 5.9 pitch one of The Spring.)

When I joined Adrian at the chains I decided to give pitch two of The Winter a try. This is the one on the right, directly above pitch one of The Spring.

(Photo: Starting up the interesting 5.9 corner on pitch two of The Winter (5.10d).)

I had no issues negotiating the leaning, left-facing corner that begins the pitch. There is a 5.9 move in there near the top of the corner but nothing too serious. But when I got up to the 5.10 part of the pitch I didn't like what I saw. I made a steep move up to a horizontal slot that would take gear, and then stopped dead and confronted a blank face above it. It looked like a tough boulder problem, requiring the use of a sloping sidepull to high-step and reach way way up to a hold above the blank face, with the gear at your feet.

I kept stepping up and down, trying and failing to commit to the move, adjusting my crux gear, and then doing it all over again. Eventually I decided I didn't feel good about it and bailed off to the right to finish on Shit Creek (5.6), another climb I did with Gail the previous week.

(Photo: Adrian waving from the crux hand traverse on Shit Creek (5.6).)

Now I had achieved the dubious distinction of backing off of both pitches of The Winter on different days. I should have looked a little more carefully at the guidebook. When I read the description later I realized that I was staring at the harder variation, which Dick Williams lists in his main entry for the route as 5.10d. I failed to consider an easier way just a couple of steps to the left, which Dick lists as a 5.10b variation, but which I think is actually the original route.

I don't know whether I would have felt any better about the variation to the left. Maybe I would have at least gone for it if I'd seriously considered it. But since I didn't try I will have to put this on the long list of climbs I need to go back to. At any rate the first part of the pitch is quite nice, and the steep traverse into the sandbag 5.6 crux of Shit Creek is a fun way to finish if you wuss out as I did.

After we got back down I told Adrian I thought it might be fun to do something new and adventurous. I proposed we do a combination of three climbs, which Dick calls a three-star link-up in his guidebook: pitch one of Blistered Toe (5.7+ or 5.9+ Direct), into pitch two of Torture Garden (5.8 PG/R), into pitch three of Yellow Crack (5.6). I'd done Blistered Toe a few times but Adrian had never been on it, and the two upper pitches were a mystery to both of us.

 (Photo: Adrian past the tough start of Blistered Toe Direct (5.9+).)

Adrian managed to sketch his way through the the direct start of Blistered Toe (5.9+), so he was really climbing well. This opening has a couple of really tough moves up a small overhang and corner and then it's all over. The difficulties are brief but I think the moves require some specific beta so it is a hard onsight. The first time I tried it, years ago, I couldn't figure it out at all.

The rest of the 5.7+ first pitch of Blistered Toe is very very good, with steep climbing up a thin crack. There is ample gear and a host of good moves. Following Dick's advice for the link-up, Adrian continued past the usual end of the Blistered Toe pitch, moving up another ten feet and then traversing to the right about twenty-five feet or so, until he found a small stance with two pins which marked the intersection with Torture Garden.

(Photo: Adrian at the belay stance on Torture Garden (5.8).)

I led Torture Garden and it was not bad, I guess. It was pretty dirty/licheny. I liked the crux moves up a little nose of rock not far off the belay and the crimpy 5.7 climbing up a headwall at the end of the pitch.

(Photo: Just under the crux on Torture Garden (5.8), looking for decent gear.)

So the climbing was okay. But I thought the pro was worse than Dick suggested, even with his PG/R rating. For the crux move there is a little crack not too far below. I couldn't get a nut to work. I managed to get a cam, but the pocket was shallow. If this placement wasn't any good then a fall at the crux would have been a pretty bad idea. Up above at the finishing headwall I couldn't find any gear for the hard moves. The last pro I had was below the action, in a hollow flake. The climbing was all pretty casual so I wasn't concerned. I wouldn't do this pitch again.

(Photo: Adrian at the crux move on Torture Garden (5.8).)

There was a huge flock of vultures hanging out on the GT Ledge between Torture Garden and Yellow Crack. I counted at least ten of them milling about. They seemed completely unconcerned about me while I belayed Adrian up to the ledge. I wondered whether we should continue with our plan. I wasn't too worried about a vulture attack but I didn't want to disturb them and it looked like we'd be tip-toeing through a substantial amount of bird shit if we wanted to move over to do the third pitch of Yellow Crack.

(Photo: Adrian past the bird poop and ready to belay the third pitch of Yellow Crack (5.6), with Skytop in the distance.)

The birds must have known of our plan because they politely decided to clear out just as we were deciding whether to go ahead with it. When they all flew away, Adrian waded through the guano and over to the pedestal beneath our pitch.

(Photo: Starting up pitch three of Yellow Crack (5.6).)

Once I joined Adrian my end of the rope was on top again so I just led the pitch. It turned out to be awesome, with beautiful 5.6 climbing up a long flake system. The going is steep and the holds and gear are great. This pitch made the whole adventure worthwhile. Next time instead of Torture Garden I might take Blistered Toe pitch two (a 5.5 pitch that isn't bad, though it has some loose rock) to get to it, or maybe the long traverse of Oblique Tweak, which I haven't tried.

(Photo: Adrian's photo of most of the excellent 5.6 third pitch of Yellow Crack.)

Adrian liked Yellow Crack even more than I did. He pronounced it equal to High E in quality. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is a good one. I should warn you that the last fifteen feet or so to the top of the cliff is a jungle of lichen. But until that point it is all clean white rock. 

We hadn't liked the looks of the rappel station (a slung boulder) on the GT Ledge so we decided to walk back to the High E area to rap down. By the time we returned to our packs I felt like our day was slipping away. I needed to lead something a little more ambitious.

(Photo: View from the top of Yellow Crack.)

We decided to head over to the Feast of Fools area. I thought maybe Adrian would like to try Feast of Fools (5.10b) and I was interested in Proctor Silex, one of the (dreaded) 5.9+ climbs I had not yet gotten around to. I'd looked at it before but rumors of runouts had kept me away. I knew that Proctor Silex's immediate neighbor, Silhouette (5.7+), is also shunned because it is thought to be less than well-protected-- but I love Silhouette. So I told myself that I might feel the same way about Proctor Silex, and that I should try it. I have looked at it from Silhouette and it has seemed to me in the past that the two climbs are close enough together that if I felt funny while on Proctor Silex I could probably bail over to Silhouette if I needed to.

(Photo: I'm just below the crux roof on Proctor Silex (5.9+). The 5.7 runout comes after the starting corner on the lower right. You don't get a piece until you're a good distance up the face.)

When we got to the area Proctor Silex was open so I led it, and it went well. The only real runout was in territory that was easier than 5.9-- though I thought the necky bit was harder than the 5.7 claimed in the guidebook. You really should be mentally prepared to run it out in 5.8 territory before leading this pitch. Proctor Silex is much more run out than Silhouette and a fall during the runout would be ugly, onto the blocks at the base.

The route is like Silhouette's big brother, with excellent, similar face climbing. But Proctor Silex is more difficult, and it throws in an interesting corner problem at the start and a great roof in the middle. I really enjoyed it. I like all of the climbs on this buttress-- Hans' Puss (5.7), Feast of Fools (5.10b), Proctoscope (5.9+), Silhouette (5.7+), and now Proctor Silex. The area is loaded with great climbs.

When we finished with Proctor Silex, we found Feast of Fools occupied and it was getting late anyway. We decided to walk back towards the parking lot. On the way there we saw that Boston (5.5) was open. Neither of us had ever done it. Adrian decided to give it a try.

(Photo: Adrian in the off-width on Boston (5.5).)

It is a short pitch, only 50 feet or so. Adrian had no trouble with it and I followed in my approach shoes. We both thought the gear was less than ideal. The big crack is too wide to take any pro most of the time, and the other little cracks along the way provide marginal microcam placements. I thought about half of Adrian's placements were pretty iffy. The climbing is fun and a bit unusual. 

We've reached the time of year when I feel the season slipping away. Adrian and I had lots of fun but I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed as we left. I aborted the one really hard climb I tried. If I could bottle the cool head I am able to maintain on runout 5.8, and transfer it to well-protected 5.10, then I'd be really happy. I'm sure I'll have a few more days this season in which to work on it. And it is always so rewarding to explore obscure pitches. Even when they're not so great I enjoy the adventure.


  1. Nice post. Boston is definitely a sketchy lead without big pro. Pretty sure someone decked and died on it years ago.

  2. Nice post. Boston is definitely a sketchy lead without big pro. Pretty sure someone decked and died on it years ago.