Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Get Up, Stand (5.11a) Up!

(Photo: Inspecting the crux corner on The Stand (5.11a). Photo by Gail.)

I have been remiss. I have let a more than a week slide by without reporting to you my big news:

I led a 5.11 in the Gunks.

Let me try that again:

Holy Toledo, I led a 5.11 in the Gunks!

If you know what I've been up to, this news won't come as a huge surprise. This was one of the goals I've been working up to all season.

I chose The Stand (5.11a)-- again, not a shocker. I previewed this climb back in May in preparation for my lead attempt.

I didn't expect it to happen so soon. Right now we are in our annual sleepaway camp season, during which I'm usually not able to take very many climbing days. While the kids are away, my wife and I tend to do things together on the weekends which do not involve climbing. This year, after dropping our son at his camp in New Hampshire, we spent several days hiking in the White Mountains.

But right before we left town with my son, I got a last-minute invitation from Gail to climb in the Gunks on a Thursday. I really couldn't afford to take the vacation day... but when I saw that the weather was going to be just about perfect I couldn't resist the opportunity.

When Gail and I got to the cliff we didn't waste any time. I knew that if I didn't hop on this thing early in the day, I'd likely lose my mojo and decide against trying it. So after we did a quick warm-up climb I got set up for The Stand.

The route has just one crux sequence. It is an unusual move, requiring flexibility, balance and patience. You can see it from the ground. A shallow, left-facing corner hangs on the wall about twenty feet up. The face to the right and above the corner is nearly vertical. It appears to be smooth, like glass. After you climb up to where your hands are atop the corner, you must swing over to the right onto the smooth face and get one of your feet up to where your hands are. (No problem!) Once you've accomplished that, you have to figure out how to shift your weight to your high foot and gently rise up to a standing position on the glassy slab.

I wasn't too worried about protecting the crux. There is good gear there at your hands before you start the sequence. But by the time you make the stand-up move, the gear is at the level of your feet, so it is a bit spooky.

I was a little more concerned about the gear AFTER the crux. I remembered (from my top-rope preview) finding a tiny horizontal seam when I stepped left just after the crux move. I recalled that there was another hard move above this little crack, and I worried that if I couldn't get gear in that seam when I led the pitch, I would start to freak out. Also, I knew there was another hard move at the beginning of the pitch, right off the ground. I had no idea if it was easy to protect this move or not. I would have to climb up there and find out.

When I racked up for The Stand I brought some little C3's with me (in addition to my usual small Aliens) for the tiny seam.

Heading upward, I immediately started playing the old up-and-down game, climbing into, and then out of, the initial bulge just off the ground. As I'd remembered, there is a hard move there (probably 5.10a?), pulling up through the opening bulge, and I didn't want to go splat right off the deck at this first challenge.

After several reconnaissance missions, I was able to slot a good nut over my head in the vertical handhold above the bulge, and with this pro in place I made the move, getting up and over it. From here I found easier climbing and plentiful protection up into the crux corner.

(Photo: Approaching the crux corner on The Stand. Photo by Gail.)

Now it was time for the actual 5.11 climbing. Once I'd attained three good placements (!) at the top of the corner, I got started figuring out the move. Back in May, on top rope, I eventually got over this move but it took me three tries. This time I really wanted to get it without a fall.

I'm pleased to tell you that it all worked out, though not without a tiny bit of drama.

Turns out, you can get fully into the "stand" move on The Stand and still climb back down out of it if you don't think you're going to make it. This makes the climb a pretty good lead, I think. The move is very tricky but if you are patient you can work it out before really committing all the way. I went up and down, getting a little bit higher each time, and then finally it clicked. I could feel it was just right as I shifted my weight over my toe and slowly stood up-- and it was over.

(Photo: After "The Stand" on The Stand. Photo by Gail.)

Except it really wasn't over. After feeling a great rush of joy, which lasted for about five seconds, I started getting really jittery. I still had to make a very thin move to the left and pray that I could find gear there in the little horizontal seam. I had to protect the next sequence, a hard step up the blank face to a wide horizontal. Once I slowly made the thin step over, I actually got a few pieces of pro in the little crack, much to my relief, but then I found it so hard to calm myself down for the move up.

Eventually I did make the move. But then I found the next one to be very hard too! There was another tough move up blank rock between another set of these spaced horizontals. I'm sure these moves weren't as hard as they seemed. Nobody talks about them. But I was feeling a lot of pressure. My 5.11 send was within reach but not in the bag. I did not want to fail. I kept trying different ways to reach the next horizontal and, feeling like I was about to blow it, I would step down and start over again.

Would it ever end?

Finally I remembered to breathe. I shut down the sewing-machine leg, committed to the move and made it up to where I could traverse left to the bolted anchor.

I had done it: I led The Stand without a fall or a hang. It was a clean 5.11 lead. I took more time negotiating the final two moves than I did on the whole rest of the climb, but who cares? It was in the bank; a great success.

(Photo: Gail at the big reach over the initial bulge on The Stand.)

It was worth it. But I was pretty whipped from the mental strain. Later I tried for the redpoint on Simple Suff (5.10a) and I ended up having to hang at the same move where I failed the last time I tried it, almost two years ago. I have to go back and get the send on this one, soon. It is annoying. This climb seems to have my number. I find it very sustained and tiring.

Gail and I also tried some climbs that were new to us.

(Photo: Gail leading Sticky Gate (5.5).)

Our warm-up for the day was the first pitch of Sticky Gate (5.5), at the right end of the Slime Wall. I've enjoyed nearby climbs like Wasp (5.9) and Coprophagia (5.10a), as well as the upper pitch of Sticky Gate off the GT Ledge, which the guidebook calls Sticky G Direct (5.7). But neither Gail nor I found much to like about the first pitch of Sticky Gate. The climbing is unremarkable and there are some scary stacked blocks just to your right as you go through the middle of the pitch. It's also kind of run out down low. I don't think I'll come back to it.

We also did Hooky (5.6), so you don't have to. Ugh, don't bother with this one. There's nothing really interesting about it. It is dirty and wandery, with some crapola rock.

Finally, we did an interesting link-up of Double Crack (5.8) with the second pitch of Uphill All the Way (5.8). This combination of pitches is given no stars in the guidebook but it has a lot of good climbing on it. It is the only practical way to approach the second pitch of Uphill All the Way, since Uphill's first pitch is a 5.12 testpiece which ends at a fixed anchor way off to the left. Getting to the neglected second pitch from Double Crack is much more direct and makes a lot more sense.

When you do this linkup you get to do the hardest and best part of Double Crack: the first thirty feet. Then you traverse left along the obvious horizontal to a large set of flakes. There are some cool moves up these flakes, which lead to a small belay stance at the corner. I decided to continue, doing the whole linkup as one pitch, but this was a mistake. I had horrendous drag at the top. Next time I will split it up and belay at the stance.

After the optional belay the climb follows Uphill All the Way up and left through a bulge in orange rock. This is the 5.8 crux of the second pitch and the moves are very good. The pro is spaced, however, and there are several fragile flakes and plates on the wall here. Be very careful. After the crux bulge the rock improves and an easy roof is followed by a long diagonal traverse back right to the corner again. Finally you do some steep juggy reaches to a ledge with a tree, maybe thirty feet beneath the Double Crack tree.

(Photo: Gail finishing Double Crack/Uphill All the Way (5.8).)

We both enjoyed the link-up despite the questionable rock through the crux. The climbing is very interesting, with some exciting situations. I would do it again. Bring doubles for the rap, or if you use a 70 meter rope (as we did) you will probably just barely touch down. A 60 meter single rope definitely will not make it. Watch the ends if you use a 70, and angle your rap up the hill for the landing.

I'm still kind of in disbelief about The Stand. Having knocked off my first 5.11 lead, I have to decide if I'm ready for a tougher one: Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Though Carbs has the same difficulty rating as The Stand, it is a much bigger undertaking. I've never been on it, but I understand it has a hard roof followed by a desperate, hyper-exposed crab-crawl traverse to the finish. There will be no top-rope preview of this one. I've got to just walk up to it and try to do it.

I think I am prepared for it and I there is no question in my mind that I can attack it safely. So when we see some favorable conditions in a month or so it will be high on my list. I'm excited just thinking about it.


  1. Go for Carbs! First crux is bolt-protected with a clean fall, and the gear for the second crux is bomber (though small). Just keep your head on straight during the delicate climbing between the cruxes and you'll be fine.

  2. Seth congrats on The Stand!!! Your progress this year has been inspiring. Causing me to up my goals a notch or two for the remainder of the season. Also caused me to look into Don McGrath's materials. See you at the crag. Bill

  3. Nice going Seth! As far as carbs goes, to each their own but me (and my partners) have found it to be the hardest and scariest of the 3 11s on the yellow wall. There's a bunch of hard and delicate climbing in absolute no fall zones, with really no way to back off (please clip the first bolt with a 2ft sling so a fall would only cut the sling on the flake and not your rope! I've seen cut slings and core shots from that crux). I've done all three of those climbs multiple times and I'd recommend no man's land for the enduro climbers and the yellow wall for the bouldery climbers long before I'd recommend carbs. Either way, keep on crushing and get after those super high quality 11s (also, have you taken down fat city, matinee, and ED? if those went smoothly you're probably ready for all 3 of those 11s!) Good luck!