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.

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