Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gunks Routes: The Winter (5.10d), Stubai to You (5.9), Coprophagia (5.10a) & More!

(Photo: Adam on The Spring (5.9).)

When last we spoke, I was telling you about how great I was feeling. Seemed like I was breaking through to a whole new level, and so on.

Blah, blah, blah.

Right after I clicked the "publish" button on that last post, I remembered a principle I learned during my years in cycling.

Call it "Seth's Law."

It's simple. It goes something like this:

When you feel like things are finally coming together; when it seems like everything is looking up and you are getting better and better and better....

That's when it all falls apart.

The instant you get that wonderful feeling, you have just hit your peak. Savor the moment, because you are about to head downhill, and you won't feel that good again for a while. It may appear that you are at the beginning, but you're actually at the end.

Sorry, friend: it's over.

Sounds harsh, doesn't it? Well, what can I say? Life is harsh.

I didn't make this law; I only discovered it.

After my last, very successful day in the Gunks I ran headlong into Seth's Law, for the umpteenth time in my life.

I was fooling around in the gym, doing a bit of aimless bouldering, and after throwing for a big hold I dropped to the floor and felt my left forearm go stiff. There wasn't a pop but I could tell something was strained. The forearm throbbed for days.

In my next few gym sessions I took it easy, trying not to aggravate it. But suddenly it seemed like my arm wasn't the only problem. Everything was hurting: my feet, my elbows. Nothing seemed easy any more.

My wife and I took a trip for our anniversary and I was glad to have a short rest from climbing. After several days of prodigious eating and drinking, I came home ready to get back to some serious climbing efforts, but I just didn't feel the same.

It was still only May but summer was upon us. I was meeting Adam to climb on the Sunday before Memorial Day and the temperatures were going to be in the high eighties. Was spring already over?

Adam and I expected crowds on this holiday weekend, so we walked out to the far end of the Trapps.

We didn't have any specific routes in mind but as we passed the Seasons area we could see there was no one there. Adam had never come this far down the cliff so there were plenty of new climbs in the vicinity for him to try. It occurred to me that I could maybe lead The Winter (5.10d). I'd tried to lead it last fall but it was wet and I hadn't liked the gear for the awkward low bits, so I'd backed off. I thought now maybe things would be different. The climb might be dry and I might be better.

(Photo: Adam on Bold-ville (5.8).)

Adam warmed us up with a nice lead of Bold-ville. It remains a high-quality, solid 5.8.

Then I decided to attack The Winter. Unlike the last time, the route was bone dry.

But the end result was the same: I backed off of it again. The route was different but I was not. I placed a piece and then worked my way into the awkward alcove right off of the ground. There is a wedged block that acts as the roof of the alcove, and I found it impossible to place a second piece before making the move to get out from under it. I was worried about a ground fall if I blew this move. I didn't want to commit to the move. So after stepping up and down several times I bailed again.

Giving up completely, I decided to lead The Spring and throw a rope over The Winter in order to really figure it out on top rope, so that maybe I could try one more time to lead it in the future. As I led the 5.9 first pitch of The Spring I realized this really wasn't my day. The Spring felt hard.

Blame it on the heat. Or Seth's Law.

(Photo: Working it out on The Winter (5.10d). Photo by Adam.)

I thought The Winter was tough too, even on top rope. But not at that stupid, low alcove. It's awkward there but not too difficult. I know how the move goes now and I know I can lead this section. I think I'll be fine there. But the real crux, in the corner above, is hard. It felt more difficult to me than I remembered it being two years ago, the last time I did it on top rope. And the gear during the hard climbing is tiny little nuts.

But I think I will try it again.

(Photo: Adam in the crux corner on The Winter (5.10d).)

After we were done with The Winter we trooped on down to the Slime Wall. Again we had no real agenda. I didn't care any more about pushing my limits. It was hot and sticky and it didn't seem I was climbing terribly well. I just hoped to do something new.

Adam led the first pitch of WASP-- his first 5.9 lead! I gave him my beta for the magic Tricam placement just off the ground. Soon enough he got through all the hard moves and he was cruising up to the GT Ledge.

(Photo: Adam on WASP (5.9).)

Once I joined him there on the ledge I decided to lead Stubai to You, a variation pitch which heads to the right from the second pitch of WASP. This pitch veers off to a traverse below a roof and then vaults over the ceiling just right of an obvious notch. The climb used to be a sandbag 5.8+ but it is rated 5.9 in the most recent guidebook. I have considered leading it every time I've done WASP but I've never felt comfortable with the apparent lack of gear during the early parts of the pitch, when the route moves diagonally up the face above the GT Ledge to the roof.

This time around I went ahead and did it and it was quite worthwhile. The gear is a real issue. As you head to the right from WASP the moves aren't hard but the only place for pro comes at a little overlap with a thin horizontal crack. I couldn't work any of my small cams into the crack but I managed to slide in a small nut. It might have been good. It was hard to evaluate.

It was just one more move up to the roof, and once I reached the overhang there was ample gear for the traverse and the crux ceiling. It is a great roof problem and in my opinion it is definitely 5.9! Steep and exciting. Once you're over the roof it is easy to move up and right to the rap station on the Sticky Gate Direct tree.

(Photo: Adam coming over the roof on Stubai to You (5.9).)

When Adam and I got back to the ground we started looking around for something else to do. I started to examine the climb just to the left of WASP, called Coprophagia (5.10a). It gets no stars in the guidebook and has a VERY unappealing name. (Coprophagia is the ingestion of feces.) But the climbing looked awfully good to me. After moving left out of an overhanging corner the route follows a thin traverse to the right for about 20 feet before moving up a clean face with large blank sections between horizontals.

A group was next to us, going at Frustration Syndrome (5.10c), a route I'd worked hard to redpoint last year. One of the people in the group, a guy named Jerry, told me that the pro on Coprophagia was good. So I thought we might as well try it.

I liked the pitch a lot. It has a suprising amount of good climbing on it. The opening moves are steep and there is a cool sequence to get up to the little lip, under which you do the thin traverse. The traverse itself is technical and interesting, with just enough gear-- I wormed in another magic pink Tricam right before the hardest moves.

Unfortunately I was pumped out and puzzled at the crux move at the end of the traverse. I tried going too far right, then too far left, and finally took a hang. It was turning into one of those days. Our new friend Jerry-- who seemed absolutely thrilled that anyone besides himself was climbing Coprophagia-- offered me a tip on the crux move and then I sailed through it, and the rest of the pitch, feeling like an idiot. I had forgotten to mantel.

It is worth remembering: You can work out in the gym all winter and crush 5.12 pocket-pulling (for example), but that won't get you up an off-vertical slab. You need non-gym techniques for that. And when the time comes you have to remember to try those techniques! I need to go back for the send on Coprophagia. I am pissed about this one. It was easily within my reach.

(Photo: Having finished the difficulties, I'm traversing left off of Coprophagia (5.10a). Photo by Adam.)

At any rate, Coprophagia is a fun climb and I can't believe it doesn't get any stars in the guidebook. It is a worthy neighbor to all of the other face climbs on the Slime Wall. It is not as spectacular as Falled On Account of Strain (5.10b) but it is as entertaining as WASP and is certainly better than the rather lame Comedy in Three Acts (5.11a). The line wanders, but I would argue that this is part of the fun.

(Photo: Adam working through the steep start of Coprophagia (5.10a).)

Once you get past the difficult bits on Coprophagia you have several options. The most straightforward of these is to trend up and right until you merge with WASP to the GT Ledge. But you don't have to go that far if you don't want to. Once you are about level with the big tree which is off to the right atop the mound which marks the beginning of Sticky Gate, you can either traverse right to this tree or traverse left to the bolts above Frustration Syndrome. I chose to go left to the bolted anchor and it worked out fine, but the drag was pretty bad once I was lowered off. Probably the best thing to do is to build a gear anchor once you reach the easier territory, and then you can bring your partner up and afterwards traverse off in either direction.

Once we were set up on the bolted anchor we were well-positioned to finish our day with Frustration Syndrome and The Stand (5.11a).

I was keen to try The Stand. I've recently toyed with the idea of attempting it on lead-- I'm looking for my first Gunks 5.11-- but given how my Sunday was working out I was content to give it a top rope preview. Maybe with a little luck I could achieve the coveted top rope flash.

But it was not to be. I eventually got the very tricky crux stand-up move but it took me three tries.

The route is good but it is brief. There are a few steep moves up to a hanging corner and then a single crux sequence as you move up and around the corner to a perch on the tiny ledge atop it. The face above the corner looks entirely blank from below but is it, really? I'm not saying.

(Photo: Adam is doing the thin traverse on Coprophagia and you can also see almost the entirety of The Stand (5.11a)-- the crux hanging corner is visible to Adam's left, near the top of the photo.)

I think I can lead this route. The crux is very well protected. My main worry is that it may be difficult to get meaningful gear after the crux. There is a tiny horizontal crack after you step to the left. I think I can get something in there but it will be very small gear. After one more move the route is basically over.

As we ended the day I regretted not performing better and hoped it was just a temporary lull or an off day. Maybe we'll get a little more sending weather yet this spring and I will have a chance to redeem myself on all of these climbs Adam and I attempted on our swampy Sunday. Coprophagia should be a simple one to knock off now that I've done it once, and I believe in my heart of hearts that The Winter is within my reach. The Stand is less certain but I think it is a worthy project for the near term.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No Need for Nurse's Aid (5.10c) on Insuhlation (5.9), Plus More Ridiculliss-ness (5.10d)!

(Photo: Olivier coming up Insuhlation (5.9).)

It has been an eventful few weeks for me, climbing wise. I'm not sure where to begin.

I tried a few Gunks routes that were new to me.

I returned to an old nemesis, Insuhlation (5.9).

I went back at my recent project, Ridicullissima (5.10d).

And holy frijoles, I led pitch one of Nurse's Aid (5.10c)!

It began two Sundays ago, when I got out with Adrian and Gail in a party of three. This was a last hurrah of sorts for Adrian, as he was about to move back out west to Vancouver. He'll be back 'round these parts occasionally, but he won't be driving down regularly to the Gunks from Montreal any more.

Gail and Adrian both knew that my agenda for the day started and ended with Ridicullissima, the climb I'd one-hanged a few weeks before. So the three of us walked in its general direction and looked for something new and different with which to get warmed up on the way there.

We ended up starting out on Faithful Journey (5.7). This was a new one for Adrian and me, though Gail had done it before. Adrian took the lead and made quick work of the first pitch, despite the fact that the route has rather poor gear. There are spaced placements, but they aren't always right where you want them and some of them are iffy. When I followed the pitch I felt like the climbing was a little thin and technical for 5.7. The route has nice moves on clean rock, though the line feels indistinct and a bit squeezed-in between Wonderland and Middle Earth.

(Photo: Adrian at the first hard move on Faithful Journey (5.7).)

Once Adrian reached the usual belay ledge (where the big Middle Earth tree sits), he continued straight up to the next ledge, where there is another tree with some fixed slings. From there I took it to the top of the cliff on what I believe is the last pitch of Bombs Away Dream Baby (5.7). It goes through the roof above the GT Ledge at a small, hanging, right-facing corner, directly above the higher tree with slings.

I thought the Bombs Away roof was nice enough but, again, the gear isn't exactly what you'd want. There are good pieces but they are several feet below the overhang. Falling would not be a good idea. But the climbing is straightforward. There is a good knob to grab over the ceiling and then it's all over.

Our link up of Faithful Journey into Bombs Away Dream Baby made for a pleasant, straight line of poorly protected 5.7 from the bottom of the cliff to the top.

Next we marched on down to the High E buttress. Adrian decided to lay siege to Doubleissima (5.10b). I probably should have bowed out of this one, and just let Adrian and Gail do it while I rested up for Ridicullissima. But I just couldn't turn down a lap on the best 5.10 in the world.

(Photo: Getting into the steepness on Ridicullissima (5.10d). Photo by Gail.)

Following Doubleissima made me tired.

But I didn't know it yet. I stepped up for my big project, Ridicullissima. I thought I remembered my gear beta and the crux moves from two weeks before. And it really went pretty well, for a while. I placed every piece I wanted and moved efficiently up to the crux. It was steep and pumpy, as expected, but I was managing. I sank in my key nut and got through the crux sequence. Grabbing the shelf below the small roof I moved left to the magic toehold I remembered.

(Photo: Placing gear at the crux on Ridicullissima (5.10d). Photo by Gail.)

At this point I should have been golden-- the hardest moves were over-- but I quickly realized I was screwed. I didn't have the guns. I was flaming out below the roof and there was no way to place the piece that I needed. There was a great horizontal crack right in front of my face but I knew I didn't have the strength to let go with one hand and put in a cam. I was pretty certain my crux nut was good (I'd hung on this same nut the last time) and that the fall would be clean, but I was going to cover some distance. The gear was below my feet. I was looking at bit of a whipper.

(Photo: After the crux on Ridicullissima (5.10d), about to tackle the overhang. Photo by Gail.)

I remember yelling something about coming off and then I took the fall. It was a clean fall, as I'd expected and hoped, and apparently it made for exciting viewing. Adrian told me that people were talking about it. Glad to oblige you, Gunks gawkers!

After a bit of a rest I climbed through the crux again and finished the pitch.

We dialed it back a bit for the rest of the day.

(Photo: Adrian on Bonnie's Roof (5.9).)

I was back the following Sunday with Olivier and I was determined to put Ridicullissima finally to bed.

I thought about just hopping on Ridicullissima first thing, but even though we arrived early there was a climber on it, top-rope soloing the route. We met him later; a very nice fellow named Jeremy.

Looking around for other options, I decided to lead Insuhlation (5.9) as our warm-up.

Insuhlation and I have a history together. I broke my ankle on this climb when I took a lead fall at one of the finishing roofs in 2009. After the accident I spilled a lot of ink over it and was set back in my leading for almost two years. Ever since, I have avoided the climb, fearing and dreading it. Part of me has wanted to return to it to vanquish whatever anxiety it still causes in me. But another part of me has thought it would be unwise to tempt fate by climbing it again. What if it all went wrong again and I got injured?

Seriously: what kind of idiot gets himself injured twice on the same climb??

As a great man once said, "Fool me once, shame on..... shame on you? Fool me twice...... uhm, you can't get fooled again!"

The point is that I didn't want to get fooled again by Insuhlation.

But people I respect have told me that Insuhlation is a perfectly reasonable 5.9. I have done the other climbs on this buttress (Obstacle Delusion (5.9) and Teeny Face (5.10a)) and I really like them. I've been feeling more solid than ever before lately. So why not get it over with and put Insuhlation behind me?

It turned out fine. This is a good 5.9. I couldn't make any sense of it. It didn't match my memory. The cruxy bits at the end involve straightforward, steep moves over two overhangs. There are jugs. In 2009, I experienced a wet hold that was sort of like a keyhole and then another mediocre edge that I slipped off of when I fell. In 2015, I couldn't find these bad holds-- the holds seemed great. And the pro was good.

What happened to the climb of my nightmares? Did someone secretly chip out some new juggy holds with a chisel?

(Photo: Olivier at the final roof on Insuhlation (5.9).)

I guess I'm just a different climber than the guy who hurt himself on this climb almost six years ago. I recognize now that I was in over my head back then. I am definitely a much better climber today, and I hope I'm a much better judge of my own capabilities as well.

The climb is nice, though I think I like Obstacle Delusion and Teeny Face more. Insuhlation is the most straightforward of the three, with a 5.8 overhang right above the big tree and then the one-two punch of 5.9 steepness at the end.

(Photo: Olivier scoping out the 5.8 move around the nose on the first pitch of Directissima.)

With Insuhlation finished, Olivier and I walked over to Ridicullissima to find it open. But there was a party on Doubleissima and we didn't want to be right on top of them. Olivier had a good idea. He led the first 5.8 bit of Directissima and then once he rounded the nose of the High E buttress he set up a belay on the ramp directly below the start of Ridicullissima, and I took it from there. This worked out well.

This time around I finally got the send. The third time was the charm. It still wasn't easy.

I felt fresher than the last time but I upped the difficulty level by placing more gear in the crux. Even though I knew my key nut was good I wanted higher pro so I stepped up into the crux and hung in there while I worked out an Alien placement a few feet above the nut. I was glad to have this higher piece but it came at a cost.

I was hurting as I moved left to the notch below the roof but this time I was able to keep going, placing a piece and moving up. I almost blew it at the overhang. I really wanted to get over it and I rushed it, nearly taking a fall. But I hung on and stepped down, cursing. Shaking out, I resolved to set my feet better and then powered up to the stance. With just 40 feet of 5.8 between me and the ledge I knew I could finally relax. It was a great feeling.

(Photo: Getting the send on Ridicullissima (5.10d). Photo by Jeremy, the top-rope soloist.)

By the time we got back down I was hungry for more.

I've recently been sort of fascinated with a climb called Nurse's Aid. I'd never been on it. Both pitches are supposed to be great. The first pitch has a somewhat scary 5.9 face and then a well-protected 5.10c roof. The second pitch ends with what I'm told is a spectacular traverse out a horizontal crack over big air. It is rated 5.10a but the incredible exposure almost renders the grade immaterial.

(Photo: Unknown climber on the wild traverse at the end of pitch two of Nurse's Aid. I took this photo in 2010 while I was rapping off of Limelight (5.7).)

I've been attracted to pitch one of Nurse's Aid because I have really come to enjoy thin 5.9 faces at the Gunks, on climbs such as Proctoscope and Turdland. And the 5.10c Nurse's Aid pitch one roof looked huge and exciting from below. Seemed like an awesome challenge.

When I suggested it to Olivier, he seemed worried for me. He'd followed this pitch and he felt that the pro was hard to place during the 5.9 face. He also recommended I take his purple Number 5 Camalot for the wide crack just before the business. I looked in the guidebook and saw that Dick recommends a black Camalot for this section. I thought the black cam was the old-style Number 4 so I took my new-style Number 4 instead of Olivier's Number 5.

I should have listened to Olivier and taken the Number 5. I headed on up, negotiating a lot of crapola rock in the first 50 feet of the pitch, and staying to the right of a poison ivy patch (!!) behind the big boulder sitting on a ledge. I started to wonder if this climb was really a good idea. Then I arrived at the beautiful orange and white face beneath the roof. I got my Number 4 into the wide horizontal at my feet but the cam was a little bit too small. I had to place it off to the right where the crack narrowed a bit but the cam was still kind of tipped out. A Number 5 would be perfect right beneath the moves, though even with an ideal placement at your feet, if you blew the first moves up onto the thin face you'd hit the ledgy stuff below. There's no avoiding it.

(Photo: Alex Honnold (see below) on the first pitch of Nurse's Aid (5.10c). My friend Maryana took this photo after Olivier and I left the area. Honnold is standing right where it starts to get serious, and according to Maryana he had not yet found it necessary to place any gear.)

This is where you have to be careful. Two delicate moves up, and you have an opportunity for questionable/hard to place gear. I managed to get what I thought was a good Alien in a strange pocket. It was still another easy-does-it move up before I got undeniably solid pro, and then came a really excellent thin traverse to the left with tiny crimps before the move up to the big roof.

This was great climbing, very committing. A little heady, with fun technical moves. It could have ended there beneath the overhang and I would have been happy. But there was more: a solid 5.10 roof problem. Some big reaches with outstanding gear, and then a very airy step to the right over the void and into an easier hanging corner which takes you to the GT Ledge.

This is a huge pitch up to the ledge, with a ton of climbing on it. The first fifty feet is terrible and yet the overall experience is still amazing. I was proud to on-sight this pitch. It felt pretty damn good. I'm still on a high from it.

At this point I was fried. Neither Olivier nor I wanted to tackle pitch two.

The Sunday Gunks show was going on all around us. The Arrow wall to our left was a gridlocked nightmare. A leader was standing at the first bolt on pitch two of Arrow (5.8), waiting for a follower above, who was stuck at the second bolt, taking fall after fall.

When we got back down to the ground we found that some pro climbers were hanging out next to our packs, along with an entourage. They were in the Gunks as part of the ROCK Project, offering climbing instruction, participating in a clean-up day at the crag, and getting in a little climbing to top it all off.

(Photo: Brittany Griffith headed up Feast of Fools (5.10b) with Alex Honnold offering a belay of sorts.)

Pretty cool to see Alex Honnold at the Gunks. I heard he later did Nurse's Aid and looked bored, placing almost no gear. I'm pretty sure he didn't bring a Number 5 Camalot with him, but he managed to get by without it.

We didn't stick around to watch for very long. It was such a scene there at the Arrow wall and we just wanted to do a little more, easier climbing before heading out.

(Photo: Olivier on Bloody Mary (5.7).)

I don't know what the rest of the year holds but so far 2015 has been has been very exciting and rewarding for me. Seems like all the work I put into fitness this winter is really paying off and that I'm breaking through to a new level. I feel great out there. I keep knocking on wood and pinching myself.

I can't believe it is about to get hot. I don't want the spring to end.