Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Coexisting With Coexistence (5.10d), Lito and the Swan (5.9+) & More!

(Photo: A climber named Nina leading Easy V (5.3), in between rain storms.)

I take it all back.

Remember when I said I had Coexistence (5.10d) all worked out-- and would maybe send it on my next try?

I even said it wasn't ridiculously hard. It's pretty much like Try Again (5.10b), I said.

I must have lost my mind.

I've been back twice since then and I still haven't gotten Coex clean. I haven't come close. If anything, I feel further away from sending it now than I did before I tried it the first time!

I went back with Gail the very next weekend, on a very hot and humid Sunday. The Mac Wall was quite literally baking in the sun, but I was determined to try Coex anyway. We warmed up on Higher Stannard (5.9-), one of my longtime favorites. For a change of pace I tried the 5.9 direct start, which is thin and without gear for three or four delicate moves. I'd never tried it this way before but I liked it. Dick Williams calls it R-rated in the guidebook but it isn't so bad. You can get a piece at the first horizontal a few moves up.

Everything went well and I was feeling good.

(Photo: Gail on Higher Stannard (Direct Start 5.9).)

Then we went directly over to Coex. I tried to relax, but I was very tense again. It was so hot, and I was really sweating as I negotiated the tricky 5.9-ish moves before the roof. They felt harder than before. Once at the crux, I thought I remembered my beta but I just couldn't get it to work. I must have fallen four times. I stubbornly kept trying the moves the same way, because my beta had been effective one week before! Finally something clicked and I got over the roof, feeling very frustrated.

(Photo: Gail at the roof on Coexistence (5.10d).)

I was back again on the very next Saturday, with Olivier. It was expected to rain in the afternoon but the morning was dry and with the changing conditions it was reasonably cool at the cliff. I thought maybe this time I would sail right over that Coex roof.

(Photo: Olivier getting us warmed up on Something Interesting (5.7+).)

But the weather didn't make any difference. I still couldn't achieve the taste of victory on Coex. I fell several times, again. This time I tried to work to improve my beta, but eventually after approaching the problem from several different angles I still could just barely get over it using a very similar strategy to what worked for me the first time.

I think I have to accept that this is not a terribly high-percentage sequence for me. The crux is always going to feel desperate and I just have to try to hit it fresh and with confidence, and hope for the best.

(Photo: That's me approaching the crux overhang on Coexistence (5.10d). Photo by Olivier.)

Coex only has one really hard sequence on it-- but boy is it hard. I'm not ready to give up on it yet. I'm determined to go back again.

I've found that flailing away at Coex does have one benefit: it makes other 5.10 climbs feel a whole lot easier. Since we were right there, Olivier and I threw a top rope over Try Again (5.10b), the climb next door, and it was like a different world. I can't believe I described the cruxes as similarly difficult, just two weeks ago. I guess they are somewhat similar-- but having done both of them in one session, I'd say the Coex crux is much, much harder.

I also led Mother's Day Party (pitch one 5.10b) while I was there at the Mac Wall with Olivier and I think my experience on Coex helped me with that climb too. Mother's Day Party felt pretty reasonable to me.

This is another Mac Wall ten that I'd tried on top rope once before, but since it was three years ago I couldn't remember much of anything about the moves. I was going for the pseudo on-sight, you might say.

(Photo: Olivier getting started on Mother's Day Party (5.10b).)

I found this first pitch of Mother's Day Party to be really nice, nicer than some of the other Mac Wall tens, in that it isn't all about one roof move. But it is also more committing than some of the others. The pitch has two distinct cruxes. Both cruxes require hard moves above your gear. The first crux involves climbing up some crimpy flakes above a little overlap. The pro is at your shins as you do the move but there is a ledge not too far beneath you so it feels a little bit risky. I ended up placing three pieces in the horizontal crack at the overlap. Then I tested the move several times (until I was just about certain I had it) before firing through it.

The second crux involves steep climbing up a bulging green corner. There are two hard moves, each one leading to a juggy hold. I would have been very pleased to find a gear placement in between the two hard moves. But I couldn't find anything, so I had to carry on.

(Photo: Olivier showing off some fancy footwork in the steep green corner on Mother's Day Party (5.10b).)

After leading Mother's Day Party I remembered that three years before, when I top-roped it, I questioned whether I would ever feel confident enough to lead this climb. Yet on this day I'd just done it on a whim, without a second thought. It felt good to sort it out above the pro and to know throughout that it was all going to be fine. I tried to remind myself that this was great progress and that my constant suckage on Coex was not in vain.

It began to rain as Olivier and I finished Mother's Day Party, and though we waited it out and got in a few more pitches before our day was through, we didn't do anything really notable.

We took a jaunt up Asphodel (5.5), which I hadn't done in many years. It is a high quality, long pitch, up a giant corner. The upper third is kind of dirty and there is some junky rock up there. But before the route turns grungy it is very nice, with fun moves.

(Photo: A foggy view over to Skytop from atop Asphodel (5.5).)

Flashing back to my day with Gail one week earlier:

I was so excited to see how strong Gail is leading right now. She's been climbing a lot lately and pushing herself to take the sharp end more frequently.

Once she and I left the Mac Wall on our hot, sunny Sunday, we went looking for shady climbs, and we found several over the course of the afternoon. Gail led pitch one of Airy Aria (5.8) and I swear she reached the bolts at the end of the pitch in less than two minutes. She had no hesitation at all during the technical climbing up the polished corner. I'm sure I took longer to do the pitch than she did, and I was on top rope.

(Photo: Gail leading Airy Aria (5.8).)

Gail also led pitch one of Oblique Twique (5.8?). I tried gently to suggest that this pitch might not be the best choice. I reminded Gail that it is a one move wonder, that the move is difficult and strange, and that it is hard to protect without blocking the key hold. I did the climb way back in 2010. I had a lot of trouble with it then and have never wanted to return. But Gail shook off these warnings and got it done with nary a hiccup. She managed to place a whole nest of small nuts for the crux move, some of which might actually have held in the event of a fall.

(Photo: Gail leading Oblique Twique (5.8).)

In our hunt for shade Gail and I also found two climbs that were totally new for both of us.

We climbed Tangled Up And Blue (5.8), which goes up a chimney hidden behind a corner next to Simple Suff (5.10a). It is pretty gritty in the chimney (which comes as no surprise) and I got my knees all scratched up as I wormed my way tentatively up this pitch. I thought it was fun-- at least in retrospect! We don't have enough climbs like this in the Gunks. It is good practice for other climbing areas. There is good gear throughout.

(Photo: Gail approaching the chimney on Tangled Up and Blue (5.8). Looks good, doesn't it?)

We also did Lito and the Swan (5.9+), which was probably the highlight of the day for both of us. This climb is an overlooked gem right next to the ever-popular Double Crack (5.8). Lito and the Swan is similarly long, steep and interesting. I think this climb doesn't get done that much because of Dick's PG/R protection rating, which is a shame because there is a ton of great climbing on it.

After you start up at some blocky flakes, you will see two vertical seams heading upward. Be sure to move immediately to the one on the left-hand side. There is a great 5.9 sequence there, with good rock and some hidden holds.

Once you reach a pedestal with some loose blocks, you are at the second crux, a move up the face to the ceiling of a small alcove. There is gear here but I think the PG/R rating comes from the fact that a fall at this point risks a landing on the pedestal. I don't disagree with the rating, but I think there are many climbs in the Gunks with similar risks that are not given the PG/R rating. One example is Mother's Day Party! I don't think the PG/R rating should keep you from doing the climb. Just watch it when you step off the pedestal.

I thought Lito and the Swan had good gear overall, and maybe this was just the Coex effect coming into play again but I thought it was a reasonably straightforward 5.9. I don't know where the "plus" comes in. Gail felt the same way. Whatever its proper grade should be, Lito and the Swan is very worthwhile.

We are officially into summer now. I don't know how many good runs at Coex I might get before autumn but if we have a cool enough day in the near future I'm going to hit it again. I have to send the stupid thing so I can get on with failing to send The Stand (5.11a)!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Guest Post: Rediscovering the Joys of Any Kind of Climbing

(Photo: Elizabeth leading Horseman (5.5) in 2010.)

Editor's Note: 

What follows is a first for Climb and Punishment: a guest post! Written by Elizabeth, and published below without interference from me. It records her experience of our time climbing together this past Sunday. You can see my own impressions of the day here. The main difference between the two versions is that my account is true, while hers is full of lies. Don't believe her!

Please enjoy. I've thrown in some photos-- new and old-- just for fun.

Did you ever read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson? Do you remember when Bryson’s buddy Katz shows up to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail with him, and Bryson comments that Katz appeared to be coming from the other side of too many pancake breakfasts? So that’s me. You may remember me from Climb and Punishment fame as the pregnant and anemic belay b*tc@ of a few summers ago. I’ve climbed in the Gunks one time since then, in the fall of 2011. I’ve been to the gym twice since then. Also in the fall of 2011, I moved to an area of PA that does not have a local climbing gym and where the outdoor climbing that’s worth anything is, well, the Gunks. A few years and two kids later I am lucky to get away for a yoga class or a quick run or bike ride from the house, so climbing has regrettably been on the back burner. Meanwhile, Seth has been devoting his spare time to climbing and has become more than a respectable Gunks climber. I am jealous. 

(Photo: Elizabeth on The Last Will Be First (5.6) in 2011.)

I hope that in an act of pity he will agree to take me climbing for the birthday/Mother’s Day present I have convinced my husband to give me. Seth is the quite the sucker and he agrees.

Seth and I met at Chelsea Piers one fall when I was in law school in the City and a recent transplant from Boulder. I was missing Climbing Town, USA, and feeling isolated from my climbing buddies but decided to get out there and sit at the wall until someone noticed this lonely, lost soul haplessly trying to boulder. Enter Seth. He walked up to me sitting on the crash mat and said, “Do you want to climb with me?” It was like that Lifesavers commercial with the two little kids. My eyes went wide. “A climbing partner?"

(Photo: Elizabeth on Grand Central (5.9) in 2011.)

Over the next few years Seth and I spent many, many Gunks and gym sessions together, so even if this one-off climbing day amounted to a misadventure, I was looking forward to catching up with my old friend. So much so that I was willing to wake up at 5 a.m. to get a good start to the day. We decided to meet at the mall in Paramus as the mid-way point in my drive and also on the way for Seth. We plan to meet at 7:15 and I’m on track to arrive early. I’m never early. Seth texts me at 7:05 to say that he’s early and lets me know where to find him. I let him know I’m a few minutes away. I’m so excited! And then I get lost in a maze of highways and on-ramps and off-ramps and it takes two full circles and 10 freakin’ minutes to figure out how to get into the mall. I was expecting to see the mall from the road, or see signs for the mall from the road, but no. Clearly I need to brush up on my Jersey driving skills.

Finally I can see Seth, and I roll down my window to yell hello. I am sitting at a red light on the access road to the mall. WTF? I don’t wait for it to turn green. I jump out of the car to greet Seth. He comments that I look just the same as always, and I tell him the same, except for looking trimmer. This will be relevant later. At 7:20 we’re rolling in Seth’s car. “New?” I say. “Two years old.” We laugh and talk about our kids and old times, and Seth points out that I clearly favor my sweet, sweet baby who is eight months old over my terrible two-and-a-half year old. We also set some expectations for the day and I confess I’m not even sure I remember how to tie a figure eight. I’m not sure if Seth is psyched that he agreed to this.

We’re approaching the cliff about 8:30, and because I ate my first breakfast in the car at 6:00, I am already starving. When Seth asks if I want to stop at the deli, I say yes. I don’t think we’ve ever not stopped at the deli. I’ve never seen the parking lot so full. We already know it’s going to be crowded at the cliff, but wow! It seems crowded. As we park by the latrine Seth says, “Oh hey, there’s Gail,” my successor as his regular climbing partner. He introduces us and I try to give Gail a hug but she kicks me in the shins. She tells us to order because it’s going to take a while to get an egg sandwich. Seth doesn’t order anything. He chats with some other folks he knows at the deli and I stand around feeling like a poser for being here. I get over it. I contemplate whether I want M&Ms or a gluten-free brownie for a treat. Seth asks if I’m “gluten-free.” “No,” I reply, “I would get it so I can make fun of it.” I’m pretty sure M&Ms are gluten-free too but they are not pretentious about it so I go with those. I finally get my sandwich and as far as I can tell it’s not even hot.

We park at the bottom of the Stairmaster and Seth hands me the rope and does some more standing around as I change shoes, pull my hair back, rearrange my pack making sure not to smoosh my lunch, and take a bite of egg sandwich. I try to continue to eat my egg sandwich on the trail to the carriage road but it’s hard to hike with a heavy pack, talk and eat at the same time, so I wrap it up halfway through and toss the rest in my pack. As the day goes on it becomes clear that after wasting 30 minutes of Seth’s time waiting for my egg sandwich he will deprive me of any opportunity to eat it.

On the carriage road Seth starts pointing out places we could start and asking me if I remember such and such, or this and that, and my answer is always no. I am ordinarily pretty good at navigating and remembering where I am but it became clear early in our climbing relationship that Seth was the guide. I placed my trust in his capable hands and never thought for myself. I don’t remember the details or even the summaries of any of the routes by name, and with the exception of the time I led the money pitch of High E, I quickly forget everything about a climb the moment after topping out. (I do, however, remember that night on Moonlight. So apropos.) He worries a little that he will push me too hard and doesn’t want me to cry like I did that one time on Birdland. He made me cry climbing Birdland? Apparently the experience was more traumatic for Seth than for me because I don’t remember crying on Birdland.

(Photo: Seth leading Birdland (5.8+) in 2011.)

Seth suggests we start on Raunchy, a fun 5.8. For some this might be considered a warm-up, but for others it might be the pinnacle of the day. I am slightly scared near the bottom, which is a bit sad because of course I am following. But after getting a few moves under my belt and generally not flailing about, I remember that I love climbing. I think Seth is impressed that I just waltzed up this route as if I hadn’t off the couch’ed it. I am definitely rusty in my route-finding, but I don’t have trouble with any of the moves. Raunchy? Check! We move on to Cakewalk. I’m glad that this does feel a bit easier and that the route is a bit more obvious. True to form, I don’t remember anything else about this climb.

(Photo: Elizabeth on Raunchy (5.8) in 2015.)

At this point I can tell Seth is getting antsy to climb something harder, but he is still asking me what I want to do. I finally suggest that we do a multi-pitch classic. Madame G’s is overrun with people as we expected, so he suggests Snooky’s instead. We will take all three pitches to the top of the cliff. Sweet. We take a detour at Balrog because Seth wants to try for the redpoint. I am concerned that I haven’t caught a fall in at least as long as I haven’t been climbing, but I should have more faith. Seth gets it clean. He mentioned the grade back on the carriage road, but I forget and as I’m putting my shoes on I tell myself that it is 5.9 so as not to get psyched out by the number. Seth then ruins my strategy by telling me that it’s a 10b. I am happy to make it past the first difficult moves below the roof, but I am sad that I have to ask what a “mail slot” is. I don’t think we referred to horizontals as mail slots four years ago? Anyway, I can’t get my hands in the mail slot and also get the gear out of the mail slot, and after five or so attempts I admit that it’s futile and Seth has to top rope the route to retrieve his gear. He actually falls this time. I think he omitted that part from his post.

(Photo: Elizabeth starting up Balrog (5.10b) in 2015.)

We find Snooky’s to be relatively available, and after a short wait chatting with acquaintances of Seth’s who are finishing the first pitch, we’re on the rock again. I’ve managed to sneak a few more bites of egg sandwich at this point, but I’m not even feeling hungry. Which is annoying because if I don’t eat all of my food before the end of the day then I didn’t need to squander that time waiting for that stupid egg sandwich. Seth has not eaten a thing in my presence so now I understand why he is so thin. As I start up on Snooky’s, my fingers are already raw and I think my toenails are already turning black. I didn’t expect anything different, really, so I don’t dwell on the pain. We cruise up pitch one to the belay station and as I hook in with my PAS, I say somewhat inadvertently, “Piece-A-Shit.” I think one of the guys in the party sharing the ledge with us chortles slightly while Seth responds, “Ah, just like old times.” I don’t know how it came about that the device perhaps most important for preventing our untimely deaths should receive such a moniker. Later when I am getting punch drunk I am laughing out loud about this again. I have no idea why this is so funny. It just is.

(Photo: Elizabeth on pitch two of Snooky's Return (5.8) in 2015.)

Snooky’s is great, I think I hang on pitch two once? Maybe not. I only remember hanging quite a few times on pitch three. And first having to get lowered back to the deck, second having to use a heel-hook to pull myself back onto the wall, getting stuck on a dead tree branch with the loop of a draw—why??—and third, finally having removed the gear and being high enough to get back on the rock, still not fit enough to make it over the roof without getting pumped on the moves approaching the roof. I am worked and so frustrated I want to cry. Suddenly I remember crying on Birdland. At the top Seth asks me what happened and scoffs ever so slightly when I say that it was really hard to get the gear out in that position with my hands so far above my head. I remind him that that is a physical move for which I currently have no endurance. I remind him that he is ever so slightly being an ass for forgetting what it was like before he was killing it. We take in the breeze and the view for a few minutes before starting our rap back down. I’m ready for a little break that hopefully involves enough time to actually eat something. Seth is already planning his next climb that will be too hard for me to even attempt.

He chooses Co Ex. Again this means nothing to me. After he’s back on the ground he starts spewing beta on the crux sequence to the guys next to us and he’s looking at me too so I nod and smile encouragement but my eyes are glazing over. I don’t speak this language anymore. Sad face. At this point I am actually the one getting antsy to get back to climbing, and am rewarded by the opportunity to climb Madame G’s! On top of the first short pitch I happily comment that it feels easy. Seth rains on my parade by—gratuitously, I might add—telling me that it’s a 5.4. He cruises up the second pitch, as he should, offering commentary about what an awesome route it is. And it is. Of course it is easy for him but I am thrashed at this point and take a few hangs at the small roof where I find the handholds a bit less juggy and a tad reachy. I take another hang or two at the slightly bigger roof near the top. The phrase “power through” seems relevant. I at least get Seth to admit that Madame G’s is steep.

(Photo: Seth at the hanging belay on Madame G's (5.6) in 2009.)

After a fun rap we are back down on the dirt and ready to walk out. In an act of pity or chivalry, Seth carries the rope along with all the gear. I think I’m fine to carry my own weight but maybe I am not. Back at the car I pull out all my remaining snacks—not substantial enough to have negated the need for that egg sandwich, thank god—and Seth joins me in eating a carrot stick. After a series of whiplash-inducing experiences due to Seth’s erratic driving, I can text my husband to say that I am still alive and heading homeward.

(Photo: Elizabeth at the belay on Madame G's (5.6) in 2009.)

The ride back to Paramus is filled with more catching up and lively conversation and I wish we had more time together. He suggests that I get out to climb more than once every three and a half years. When we reach my car he helps transfer my gear and we thank each other for the awesome day. We hug goodbye like three times, then go our separate ways. I have 90 more minutes of driving and when I get home around 10:30 and creep upstairs to take a shower, a glance into my two-year-old’s room shows a small, blue glow on his face. “I found my phone, I watching videos,” he says proudly. You have got to be kidding me. (And no, he doesn’t have his own phone.) I take the phone away and tell him to go to sleep, but a few minutes later he pulls back the shower curtain and joins me in the shower. For the first time ever I let him fall asleep in our bed, at least that is what proves to be true at 3 a.m., because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before he did. Ah, 3 a.m. The only thing not sweet about the baby is his persistent night feeding. The 3 a.m. wake up call is unequivocally unwelcome tonight. He mercifully slept through the previous night and was my husband’s problem when he woke up 20 minutes after I left in the morning (that probably has nothing to do with my opening his door to take a little goodbye peek, right?), but I guess two nights in a row would be asking for too much. After he’s back in his crib I carry the toddler back to his bed so that he won’t wake us up too early with kicks to our private parts. I fall back into bed. When the morning becomes too obvious to deny, I pull myself from sleep feeling like I was run over by a truck the day before.

Same diff.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rediscovering the Joys of Multi-Pitch Climbing

(Photo: Climbers on the seldom-climbed upper pitch of Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a).)

This past week I was reminded of how much fun it can be to romp up easier multi-pitch classics in the Gunks. I got out twice with different partners.

On Thursday I took a day off from work to climb outside with several of the folks from my winter training program. Don McGrath, the leader of the program, came to New York from Colorado with his wife Sylvia, who is also a climber and who also participated in the program. I drove up to meet them in the Gunks with with another participant and fellow Brooklynite named Dave.

Dave has very little outdoor climbing experience so it was my privilege and mission to give him a pleasant introduction to trad climbing in the Gunks.

(Photo: Dave on Classic (5.7).)

Since it was a weekday we had our choice of routes.

From my perspective we had a great time on several classic moderates. We took our time and worked on things like belay commands, double-checking of systems, and rappel procedures.

(Photo: Dave on Rhododendron (5.6-).)

I hope Dave remembers the day the way that I do, and not (for example) as a never-ending death march of too many climbs.

Dave said he had fun. He also said he'd do it again, which is a good sign.

(Photo: Dave on Horseman (5.5).)

We tried to stay in the same general area as Don and Sylvia. Sometimes we all shared ropes and pitches and sometimes we did our own thing.

(Photo: Dave on Dennis (5.5).)

The only real surprise of the day for me was an obscure route called Three Pines (5.3). Perhaps you've heard of it? After you've exhausted all the other climbs in the Gunks you might get around to this hidden gem...

Dave and I ran up Three Pines on Thursday and it was only as I began the third pitch, off the GT Ledge, that I realized I'd somehow never done the route in its entirety before. I knew the first two pitches well. They are great fun, featuring super juggy climbing. They are easily combined into one long pitch. But the third pitch was new to me, and wow! Great exposure as you traverse to the right away from the main face of the cliff, above The Dangler and 150 feet of air. And then if you go directly to the top of the cliff with no wandering you will do a few nice 5.6 moves up a short bulge. Pretty cool.

(Photo: Dave on Three Pines (5.3, Direct Variation 5.6).)

Dave got a taste of the real trad experience on Three Pines, traversing out over all that air, alone and with his belayer out of sight and earshot. He performed admirably, getting through it all without stopping. By the time he reached the 5.6 face at the end of the pitch he was just about ready to quit, but he did not quit. It bodes well for his climbing future.

(Photo: Elizabeth on Cakewalk (5.7).)

Sunday was a special climbing day for me because I was getting together with my old partner Elizabeth for the first time in a long time. She used to be my go-to partner, back when I was working my way through the sixes and sevens and eights. We learned a lot about the Gunks together, having many adventures and misadventures along the way, some of which I've written about here.

Liz and I were together on what remains, for me, the best day ever. This was the day in 2009 on which we did CCK and Bonnie's Roof for the first time. Both routes were previously unknown to us. I had dreamed of attempting them some day, and then, without warning, "some day" came along and it turned out we were actually ready. On that day it seemed like a whole new world opened up to us.

The excitement of climbing, the physical and mental challenge, the tingly sensation of exposure over a great void, the realization that the Gunks is a magical place full of wonders... all of it was ours and it was brand new, as though we alone had discovered it.

The Gunks is still a magical place to me and I love it dearly, but sometimes I think every new challenge I set for myself is just a vain attempt to recapture the innocent bewilderment that I experienced on that awesome day back in 2009.

Elizabeth and I haven't climbed together recently because her life trajectory took her back to her hometown of Allentown, PA, where she settled down and had two babies. Climbing hasn't fit into her plans.

But she never lost the climbing bug, and a few weeks ago she asked me if I could meet her to climb for a day.

I was psyched.

We had a great time. Again, I hope I didn't push it too hard. We did a lot. Elizabeth struggled on some climbs but that was to be expected after her long time off. Considering it had been years since she climbed, she held up really really well.

We walked into the Trapps looking to do just about anything moderate that was open. After we knocked off Raunchy (5.8 and still a lot of fun) and Cakewalk (5.7 and great but a little run out in the initial face climbing), I saw that Balrog (5.10b) was just sitting there, available. I had attempted it in late 2012 but had to hang at the tough, burly crux moves up onto a slanting face above a roof. Ever since then I'd wanted to go back for the redpoint but whenever I came near Balrog it was either wet or occupied.

So on Sunday when I found Balrog just sitting there, dry and open, I couldn't resist it. I asked Elizabeth if she'd be cool with trying it. This was a harder route than I thought she would really be interested in doing. I hadn't planned on it. But she was okay with it so long as we followed it up with an easier multi-pitch classic.

Sounded like a great deal to me.

Balrog still wasn't easy but I got it done this time without a fall or a hang. I felt like I'd really improved in the 2.5 years since my last attempt. Reaching the holds above the roof was so much easier this time, and while I still grunted and worked hard to find a way to get my feet onto the sloped face above the roof, I was able to hang in there and eventually work it out. I still think I must be doing it wrong. It should be easier. But it is of no consequence! It is finished.

(Photo: Elizabeth battling the Balrog (5.10b).)

It was time for our muti-pitch classic. I thought immediately of Madame G's but when we got there there were several parties strewn all over it. It looked like a nightmarish situation. I thought we might as well check out Snooky's Return (5.8), which was nearby, though I had no illusions that we'd actually get to climb it. It is very popular.

When we got there it appeared that Snooky's just might be possible. Gavin and Jen, two climbers I've met at Gail's house, were about to clear out. No one was waiting. There was a group of climbers top-roping Friends and Lovers (5.9) next door. I felt we'd be within our rights to start up Snooky's without saying anything, but it seemed more considerate to ask the guys next door about their plans. If they wanted to TR Snooky's from the shared bolted anchor I didn't want to get in their way.

So I asked one of the climbers what they were going to do. I believe these were my exact words:

"Excuse me, sir, but I was wondering what your intentions are with regard to Snooky's Return?"

For some reason this gentleman thought my query was amusing.

I couldn't understand why.

Later, when the aforementioned amused person overheard me making an offhand remark about law school, he said that he "knew" Liz and I must be lawyers. I resented this. I don't know how a person can make such a cruel judgment based on something as trivial as the wording of a simple interrogatory.

Of course, it happens to be true that I am a lawyer (and so is Elizabeth). But to suggest that I sound like one? That's a horse of a color that is not dissimilar.

The next time someone says I sound like a lawyer, I just might sue.

(Photo: Elizabeth on pitch one of Snooky's Return (5.8).)

In any event, the top-ropers gave us their blessing and Elizabeth and I did Snooky's all the way to the top. It was a joy. The first pitch is the clear winner with its excellent, consistent face climbing. But pitch two is pretty darned nice as well. It has interesting face moves as you traverse left and then, a bit higher, back right. The line wanders but it presents itself as you move along.

(Photo: Elizabeth finishing pitch two of Snooky's Return (5.8).)

The top pitch too is worthwhile. From below it looks like a bushwhack up a dirty corner but there is a clean, steep traverse and roof escape hidden there. It is brief but pretty good.

After we were done with Snooky's, Liz was feeling kind of beat. She suggested maybe I should do another hard climb and she would sit it out and take a breather.

She didn't have to ask me twice. I was feeling really strong so I decided to try Coexistence (5.10d), the great Mac Wall testpiece.

The big one.

I thought maybe I could send it. I did it clean on top rope once.

As we were about to get started I got pretty nervous. People started appearing out of nowhere-- some of them known to me, some of them strangers-- saying "Ya gonna try Coex?? Good luck! Tough route!"

It was unnerving. I felt the weight of their eyeballs. I was a little bit tense about the runout 5.8 part up to the first ledge. Heck, I was a little bit tense about everything.

(Photo: Past the opening bit on Coexistence (5.10d). Here I'm just beneath the first ledge. The next move is very easy but if I blow it I'm probably hitting the ground.)

It didn't go too badly, but I didn't get the send. I worked my way upward, slowly and carefully. I placed lots of gear. It wasn't so bad getting to the first ledge. Then there were some interesting moves up the crack before the crux roof, but the protection was good and I worked these moves out without much trouble.

At the roof itself, I had a hard time committing. There is great gear; you just have to move up on some pretty crappy holds. It is hard to figure out. I did a lot of testing of holds before finally getting pumped out and taking a hang. After exploring a little more I figured out what to do and when I finally committed to going for it I got up and over the roof.

After it was over with I wished I hadn't been so tentative, but even if I'd really gone for it on my first foray above the roof I think I still would have failed. I needed to work out the beta, and this took me a few tries. I don't know what I did on top rope last year. It seemed like a different route on lead.

On the bright side, I think I have it worked out now and will, with luck, get the send next time. Coex felt easier to me than Ridicullissima, for sure. It is so much less sustained. I can't really see how it is harder than Try Again (5.10b), actually. Coex has much better climbing on it than Try Again, but the hard part is rather similar.

I made a mess out of the descent. I tried to clean the pitch on rappel, which presented a challenge since the route follows a crack with a slant. I attached myself to the side of the rope going through the gear so I wouldn't go too far from the pieces, but I found it very difficult to control the rappel and also pull myself over to the right so I could get at my gear. I should have had Elizabeth lower me while I retrieved the pro, or maybe I should have just lowered off entirely and then followed the pitch from the ground in order to clean it. Or we could have offered a burn on Coex to any of the twenty people who were around the Mac Wall at the time. That would have been better, and likely just as quick.

I ended up leaving a few of my pieces behind and the folks next to us on Try Again kindly retrieved them for me on their way down.

It was now after 5:00 and the cliff was clearing out. I wanted another good muti-pitch route for Liz and luckily we found Madame G's sitting completely empty.

It was a perfect way to end the day. I've previously described this climb as the best 5.6 in the Gunks-- now I think it might be the best climb in the Gunks, regardless of grade. It is just so great for such a long time. It offers fantastic juggy fun.

(Photo: Topping out on Madame G's (5.6) as the sun goes down behind the cliff.)

Standing atop the Madame G buttress, belaying Elizabeth up, I felt a renewed love for the Gunks, my hometown crag. Yes, the place gets crowded. But we got on some of the best moderates, on a gorgeous Sunday, without waiting for anything. You just have to be flexible and willing to climb whatever you find open at any given time. That's my secret: don't wait in line. Keep looking. You'll find something else that's good.

And do the upper pitches! Up above the first-pitch frenzy, a cool breeze is blowing. The birds are circling gracefully and Skytop cliff is visible in the distance. It is easy to get sucked into doing mostly single-pitch climbs, especially when you are looking for harder pitches to do. But there's a special pleasure to be found in getting up high off the deck. It took a couple of "easy" days for me to remember it. But this week I really felt the magic again.