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.

1 comment:

  1. She is an excellent guest !!! What a lovely write up!!