Friday, October 16, 2015

Face to Face (5.10b) With Space Invaders (5.10d) & More!

(Photo: Adam making the finishing moves on Face to Face (5.10b).)

Hurricane Joachin wreaked havoc with many plans. In the South, it brought dangerous winds and flooding. Here in the Northeast, we were lucky. The hurricane was merely an inconvenience.

It rained.

For several days in a row.

My wife and I had travel plans that were canceled because of the storm. We found ourselves at home in NYC for the weekend with nothing on the agenda. On Saturday morning, with no expectations, I checked the weather forecast for New Paltz. This is just something I do, many times a day. It's my Twitter... or Snapchat... or Tinder (??)... or whatever you kids are looking at these days. You know how it is. Maybe you do it too, furtively, on the sly. Like me.

Anyway, I was shocked-- shocked, I say!-- to discover that it was going to be beautiful in the Gunks on Sunday.

I hadn't made any plans to climb-- in fact I'd previously rejected some offers-- but now I needed a partner, STAT.

As luck would have it, Adam was going to be in the Gunks with a friend named Brandon. Brandon is an occasional climber and he wasn't planning to stay all day. Adam wondered if I wanted to join the two of them and then after Brandon took off Adam and I could continue.

Sounded good to me.

I worried that the rock would be wet but as we walked in everything looked surprisingly dry. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to pinch myself. We headed down to the Bonnie's area. Adam was interested in setting up a top rope on a few routes for our little group.

He started us off by leading Groovy (5.8+). I led this route once, back in 2009, but I hadn't been back. The route is short but pretty good. It packs a punch. It ascends an obvious arching corner and then follows a fairly strenuous undercling traverse left under the roof to meet up with the first pitch of Ursula (5.5). In the guidebook, Dick Williams advises taping up for Groovy, but there really is no need.

(Photo: Adam on Groovy (5.8+).)

From the Groovy anchor it is easy to top-rope another route called Space Invaders (5.10d). This route has two variations. The left-hand version goes pretty much straight up the rap line, so we did it first. It starts on Groovy but pretty quickly moves to the outside arĂȘte and then it heads straight up a steep face. I was familiar with Space Invaders because I followed a new partner named Robbie up the climb in August. Robbie was happy with the gear. I liked the climbing. The crux is brief but stout, requiring overhanging, big moves between good holds.

(Photo: Robbie heading into the crux face on Space Invaders Left (5.10d).)

The other variation to Space Invaders goes further right up an obvious diagonal crack (visible in the photo above). This right-hand version is also 5.10d, but in my opinion it is a little tougher. The moves are just as steep but they are more technical and continue for a longer time. I have neither led this variation nor have I seen anyone lead it-- I've only top roped it twice. In theory it seems like there's decent gear (I placed several pieces as directionals on rappel) but I think the pro would be rather strenuous to place. Also you'd want to be wary of the big pedestal beneath you as you do the crux. Even if you are top-roping it I would suggest being careful with your directionals so as to avoid a potential swing into the pedestal.

Both versions of Space Invaders are surprisingly worthwhile.

When we were finished playing around on Groovy and Space Invaders, Brandon took off, leaving Adam and me as a twosome for the rest of the day.

It was gorgeous out but there were very few people around. The hurricane must have scared off the usual weekenders. Bonnie's Roof (5.9) and Ants' Line (5.9)-- two of the most popular routes in the Gunks-- had been sitting there empty all morning. I had it in mind to do something ambitious but I just couldn't walk away from the empty Bonnie's Roof, so I decided to lead the Direct to the top in one pitch.

(Photo: That's me leading Bonnie's Roof (5.9). I'm proud of my "look-ma-no-drag!" rope management. Photo by Adam.)

After Bonnie's, we went over to Teeny Face (5.10a), a climb which I'd followed a few times but had never led. Adam had never done any of the great climbs on this buttress (like Obstacle Delusion (5.9) and Insuhlation (5.9)), so he was eager to check it out. It was a good thing we went there when we did, because a queue of parties started to line up behind us, hoping to do Teeny Face. It was strange. Bonnie's and Ants' Line were sitting there empty while people were lining up for the relatively obscure (though quite nice) Teeny Face.

It had been a couple of years since I last followed Teeny Face. I remembered that there is a good placement for a gold Number Two Camalot, right in the middle of the hard part. Aside from that, I just remembered it as similar to (but easier than) Space Invaders Left, with some big moves on a very steep face.

(Photo: I'm leading Teeny Face (5.10a). Photo by Adam.)

It went off without a hitch. It is a very nice climb. I blasted right through the crux without hesitation. I was feeling good. Adam followed it flawlessly; he'd gotten the TRash (top rope flash) on Teeny Face, and both of the Space Invaders variations as well, so he was climbing really well.

(Photo: Adam at the end of the steepness on Teeny Face (5.10a).)

After Teeny Face was done we naturally started thinking about our next target. This day was a gift, a freebie I never expected. I didn't come to the Gunks with any big goals in mind. I expected wetness.

What to do? I started ticking off a list of possibilities in my head: Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b), Matinee (5.10d), The Winter (5.10d), 10,000 Restless Virgins (5.10d)... Then it occurred to me that we should do Face to Face (5.10b), as it was very close by.

Face to Face has been on my list for quite a while. The grade is not extreme but I've always heard that the third pitch is intimidating, with hard climbing up a thin crack right off the belay and then an exposed finger traverse to the finish. The second pitch, too, is pretty outrageous for a 5.9, with a steep traverse under a ceiling.

I proposed to Adam that I would lead pitch one. It is only 5.7 but the guidebook says it is run out at the start. I followed this pitch once before but I couldn't remember much about it. I didn't want to send Adam up something hairy-- this climb was my idea, after all-- so I volunteered for the lead. When we got to the base we found our friends Gail and Julia on No Glow (5.9). So we got to spend some time hanging out and chatting with them at the base and on the GT Ledge.

(Photo: Gail and Julia on the GT Ledge, doing No Glow (5.9).)

I liked pitch one of Face to Face much more than I expected to. There is an almost total lack of gear for the first thirty feet or so, and the face is a little bit dirty. But the climbing is consistently engaging. It is definitely not a good choice for a 5.7 leader, but if you are prepared for the harder upper pitches than the first pitch shouldn't be a big problem for you. I would do it again. I think in the future I will consider using this pitch as a way to get up to the GT Ledge for Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a) or Keep on Struttin' (5.9).

It can be hard to locate pitch two of Face to Face. You can't see the pitch's main feature-- the traverse crack-- from directly underneath it. But if you know where No Glow is, you can find Face to Face by looking for the next roof over to its left. Also, if you wander a bit left from where you end pitch one, to the big stack of blocks leaning against the face of the cliff, you can look up to your right to see the obvious traverse crack. Then move back to directly underneath it and start climbing!

(Photo: Adam confronting the 5.9 crux traverse on pitch two of Face to Face.)

Adam did a good job leading the pitch. There isn't a lot of gear on the easy face leading up to the overhang, but once you get there you'll find automatic, perfect placements for as many pieces as you can hang on to place during the crux section. Adam got some solid cams at the corner before he got going, and then I think three pieces along the traverse. Once he completed the 5.9 traverse and got out onto the main face of the cliff it wasn't long before he was building a belay for me to come on up.

I found this to be a great pitch and not as hard as it looks. If you are diligent about looking for footholds you'll find the climbing isn't so bad. It is steep but the holds are good.

When I joined Adam at the belay I could see why the third pitch is considered so intimidating. The crux comes right at the start. There is a thin crack above an inverted v-notch. You have to gain the face using small crimpy hands and no footholds to speak of. I really wanted to protect the belay so I spent some time getting what seemed like a good Alien and an excellent small nut before starting up.

Pulling up onto the face, I tested the crimps a bit, then decided to step back down to check out the footholds a little more. As I attempted to place my toe back on the ledge, my fingers slid off of the crimps and in a fraction of a second I was off, hanging in the air from the nut I placed, right next to Adam. I let out a string of expletives. So much for my on-sight of Face to Face!

I was furious.

At least I'd have an immediate opportunity for the red point. This was similar to what happened on pitch three of Erect Direction the week before, in that on both climbs after taking a fall I started the pitch again from the beginning. Except this time the fall was only about two feet long.

Beginning again, I committed to the crimps, moved my feet up and got through it.

Once you're past the first scary bit and you get established on the face, the climbing isn't so hard for a little while, as you head straight up to the base of some overhangs and then move to the right and up again until you are level with the obvious finger-crack traverse left through the tiered roofs. Here, much like the traverse on pitch two, you can see exactly where you need to go and it isn't as tough as it looks-- but boy is it committing. You are really stepping out there over the void. It is possible to get very good gear in the finger crack. I had a nut that I was pretty psyched on.

(Photo: A different angle on Adam finishing the finger-crack traverse on pitch three of Face to Face (5.10b).)

I really liked Face to Face-- all three pitches. Each pitch is mentally challenging. The upper pitches contain some spectacular moments. Overall the climb is very rewarding, one of the best multi-pitch outings in the Gunks. 

(Photo: Adam in motion attempting the first hard move of On Any Monday (5.11a). We got trashed trying this polished silliness on top rope at the very end of our day. We didn't make it very far.)

Fall is now well under way. Climbing conditions are ideal and I need to squeeze in some more time in the Gunks so I can attempt Fat City Direct (5.10d) and Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) before the year is out. But first there will be other adventures on which to report. Last weekend we were in the Adirondacks and I was able to climb for a day at the Spider's Web (post coming soon).

And next week I'm taking a short trip to Indian Creek for some crack climbing. I'm not expecting to crush anything there but I will definitely let you know how it goes, whether it is a send fest (doubtful) or a humbling siege-a-thon (more likely)!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gunks Routes: Erect Direction (5.10c) & Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a)

(Photo: Andy emerging from the crab crawl under the roof on pitch two of Erect Direction (5.10c).)

September seemed to fly by. Labor Day came late. Before we knew it we stood at the brink of October. As September hurried past us, we started to see some ideal fall days in the Gunks.

I headed up to the Gunks with Andy on one beautiful Sunday. The chief question in my mind as we drove up was which big target we should hit. The high season was here and would soon be gone. If I wanted to make any progress on my list of mega-classics I had to get cracking!

The grade was not terribly important to me. What mattered more was whether the climbs we chose would push us; whether they were climbs that I'd always wanted to try but had been too intimidated in years past to consider seriously.

My two top candidates were Fat City Direct (5.10d) and Erect Direction (5.10c). Both of them are often described as climbs that define what climbing in the Gunks is all about. Both of them ascend enormous overhangs and both routes have intimidating crux climbing that precedes the overhangs.

I was also thinking about my role as "Mr. Gunks" for Andy. Andy is a great climber who has a bunch of trad experience, but during his several moves around the country he has mostly focused on sport climbing. He came to New York City last year and after we met I decided it would be my mission to show him the best of the Gunks. We'd been up there just twice together so far and during these two visits we'd generally stuck to single-pitch climbing.

With a beautiful day ahead of us I thought it was time for Andy to experience some real multi-pitch Gunks action. This argued in favor of Erect Direction, which is typically done in three pitches with an exposed, hanging belay under the big roof after pitch two. (Fat City, by contrast, often gets done in a single long pitch.) There were also some other great multi-pitch climbs close to Erect Direction that I was game to tackle. So it seemed like our choice was clear.

Andy was cool with the plan. He even agreed to let me lead pitches two and three because he understood that this was one of these lifetime-goal climbs for me. When we got to the Trapps we marched straight over to the base of Erect Direction.

Looking up at the cliff I could see the challenges which were to come. The 5.10a roof on pitch three is really big, but it didn't concern me so much. I knew the holds had to be good. A roof that big couldn't be all that mysterious, or it wouldn't be 10a! It would be much harder.

I was more worried about the 5.10c pitch two crux, which requires you to ascend an off-width vertical crack over a small roof and into a cramped position underneath a bigger overhang. From this scrunched stance you have to worm your way to the right until you can get out from under the roof and then ascend a corner to the hanging belay beneath the big, triangular pitch three ceiling. It looked claustrophobic and intense. And I had no idea what to expect from the moves. Would I know how to ascend the off-width? Would the traverse be terribly thin?

Standing at the base, taking it all in, I had to calm my stomach a little bit. Were we really going up there?

We were.

(Photo: Andy heading up the 5.8 pitch one of Erect Direction.)

The first pitch was new to Andy, of course, though I've done it many times. It is a very nice 5.8 pitch, juggy and steep. It is one of the best of the first pitches in this part of the cliff, so it is frequently used to access the upper pitches nearby. Andy led it without a worry and soon enough-- maybe too soon!-- we were racking up for pitch two.

From the GT Ledge I had a really good look at the pitch two crux. It seemed pretty scary to me. What was I going to do up there? I would have to figure out something. I carried on, with optimism (as Dick Williams might say). I brought with me a big gray Number Four Camalot because David Stowe once told me that it would be useful in the off-width.

I got up to the business in no time. The opening bits of this pitch are shared with Moonlight (5.6), and the climbing is easy but there's very little gear.

Luckily there is good gear for the crux. I got a solid nut at the lip of the overhang, just below the off-width.

Then I had to figure out how to make further progress. Above the small overhang is a blank face and the off-width crack-- too wide for cams-- to the left. I couldn't place the Number Four yet. It appeared I might be able to place it after I made the moves, at the top where the wide crack tapered a bit.

I ventured up and down several times, testing the obvious holds, and looking vainly for purchase inside the wide crack. It seemed like you could lay back off the edge of the off-width but, frankly, there was no way I was doing that. It was too insecure for my tastes.

So I found another way. I don't want to spew too much beta, but I will say that it involved groveling in the off-width, pushing up, high-stepping, wedging my body... in combination. Eventually I got my feet to the highest holds and arrived at the ceiling. My feet were maybe four feet from the roof, and the rest of me was scrunched in between. It was simultaneously cramped and exposed, like being trapped in a cardboard box, but at the same time risking an immediate fall if my toe moved a millimeter.

Existing in the space between the tiny footholds and the ceiling, hunched over, I tried not to hyperventilate. I'd made it. Now I just had to figure out how to tiptoe to the right to escape this crawlspace. Carefully I reached to my left and placed the Number Four at the top of the off-width. (Thanks, David!) Then I told myself to breathe.

"Calm down calm down calm down," I repeated.

I examined what was to come. There were holds. It wasn't so bad. The hardest work was behind me. It looked like after just a few moves to the right I'd be out. Gingerly I tiptoed over, then again, and before I knew it I was out from under the roof, looking up the corner to the fixed anchor, and above it to the big pitch three roof.

I threw in a cam and hustled up to the fixed station, which (as of this writing) is just a single sling threaded through several rusting nuts. Clipping it, I called out "Take!" and then I relaxed onto the tat and said a silent prayer while I built a real anchor. I was wiped out.

(Photo: Another shot of Andy emerging from the crab-crawl under the ceiling on pitch two of Erect Direction (5.10c).)

I have to say I don't think I've ever been happier to reach an anchor than I was on pitch two of Erect Direction. It's not that the pitch is really so hard, or long (it's actually pretty short), or at all unsafe (there is good gear everywhere you need it). It's just stressful. I found the positions to be unnerving. I had to work not to panic.

Andy followed the pitch cleanly, as I knew he would, and then we set our sights on the big ceiling above us.

I was hoping this third pitch, at 5.10a, would seem easy by comparison, but somehow I managed to blow it.

Leading up to the gargantuan roof, I got some good cams underneath. Then I made the big reach out to the lip, cut my feet and found myself hanging at the edge of the ceiling with one heel up. I tried to place a cam immediately but I couldn't get it to work in the irregular crack. I kept fumbling.


The cam wouldn't seat correctly. It wasn't right. I wasn't willing to make another move without a good piece but I was flaming out and I couldn't get the piece I had to work. I was at an impasse. I refused to clip this worthless cam and I couldn't hang on to fix it any more.

I expressed my thoughts to Andy. "Fuck me," I said. "Fuck me, fuck me, FUCK ME!"

I'm not proud of it.

It seemed like it was safer to drop down deliberately than to attempt to make another move. Once you commit to the ceiling you are looking at a swinging fall. I reasoned that it was better to let go in a controlled fashion than to fall further out, unpredictably. I decided to make the leap. Moving back towards the wall, I dropped my feet and asked Andy to pull it in. Then I let go and took the swing.

I landed, I hope gently, on Andy's head back at the belay.

After we both gathered ourselves I went back up and sent the damn thing. Since I started the pitch over from the beginning I'm counting it as a red point.

When I went up to the roof for the second time I bumped over ONE MORE MOVE and found a much better position from which to hang. I could have played with cams in this position all day long. I felt like such an idiot. In leisurely fashion, I placed two cams and got out of there.

The roof, as large as it is, actually isn't that hard, relatively speaking. As I'd hoped, there are lots of jugs. I think the crux of the third pitch is actually after you stand up at the lip of the roof. You have to make a hard move up an open book, and then finally you'll find easy terrain as you move left and around another ceiling to the finish.

(Photo: Feeling spent atop Erect Direction. Photo by Andy.)

I'm afraid I'm making Erect Direction sound like it wasn't a lot of fun. But it was. It was terrifying, exhausting, difficult-- and lots and lots of fun. It lived up to its reputation as one of the best climbs in the Gunks. I was really proud to on-sight pitch two of this climb. I should have also on-sighted pitch three. But what are you gonna do. You win some, you lose some.

Some day I'll go back to try to run pitches two and three together without stopping at the hanging belay. It would take careful sling work to avoid horrendous drag.

By the way, if you'd like to see some fantastic photos of Erect Direction, check out this set taken by Christian Fracchia. There are great shots of the pitch three roof. And Chris' photos bring to life the cramped, insecure pitch two crux better than my words ever could. Beware; there is a lot of beta revealed, although I did both cruxes very differently!

After Erect Direction I was ready for a break. I decided to send Andy up CCK Direct (5.9), one of my favorite routes.

(Photo: That's me, leading the 5.5 pitch one of CCK. Photo by Andy.)

I took care of pitch one and then sent Andy off on pitch two, the money pitch. Andy liked it, but I think maybe it was too easy for him. I remember cowering in the alcove before the final roof when I first led this climb back in 2012. But Andy? He breezed right through it without a care.

(Photo: Andy leading CCK Direct (5.9).)

Next I wanted to find another classic for him. We started walking a bit and found Arrow (5.8) wide open. Again I took the first pitch and handed it off to Andy for the crux pitch.

(Photo: Andy setting off on pitch two of Arrow (5.8).)

Once again Andy finished the lead in no time. I was curious to hear his thoughts, as a newcomer, on a climb that for me is like holy ground.

He liked it but wished there were more bolts. "A little run out" was his verdict. What can I say, he is a sport climber! And Arrow, while bolted, is no sport climb.

Our day was winding down and I started to feel ambitious again. I decided to try Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a). We rapped to the GT Ledge and walked on over.

This is just another great 5.10 at the Gunks which I've never gotten around to.

The climb is no joke but after Erect Direction it felt almost casual, well under control. The first crux is a big multi-tiered overhang. Nothing but a juggy good time. Right at the beginning of the hard part there is a sideways pocket where you really want a good placement. I had a hard time getting a cam to fit but I eventually worked in a brown Tricam, facing down. It was seated in a strange way but it seemed very solid.

Every time I consider dropping Tricams off my rack I find that they come in handy like this.

At the end of the first crux section there is an exciting, reachy grab up to a big shelf. And then easier climbing leads to a second crux, over another roof and into a seemingly blank corner. And then to the top of the cliff. There is good gear to the right as you enter the final overhang.

I really liked Amber Waves. The pitch has a ton of good moves on it. I think the 5.10a grade is fair-- at the old rating of 5.9 this would be one heck of a sandbag.

(Photo: Andy topping out on Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a).)

With autumn officially under way, 2015 continues to be an amazing year. I feel like with every visit to the Gunks I have to fit in at least one milestone. The time is limited and there are many, many excellent projects from which to choose. I'm so fortunate to be feeling so good and I have to take advantage of every chance I get.

I'm also headed to Indian Creek in two weeks for a mini-vacation. If you read this blog then you know I'm a terrible crack climber. I've been trying to prepare on the crack climbs in the gym-- and I've made progress, for sure-- but I know I'm in for a spanking when I get to Utah. It will be a learning experience and I will let you know how it goes!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

From the Gunks to the Dolomites and Back Again

(Photo: Adam approaching the first belay on The Time Eraser (5.10-).)

It has been a while, my climbing comrades.

Although you haven't seen any posts from me, I have been climbing. I got out to the Gunks on a few of those hot days we always have in August. It was nice to be climbing, despite the oppressive temperatures and the humidity. But I wasn't going to push it on days like these, and I didn't do anything much that was new or exciting.

(Photo: My partner Andy working on To Be or Not To Be (5.12a) on a brutal Sunday in August. This wasn't much fun in the slimy heat. What on Earth were we thinking??)

The highlight of the summer was a trip I took with my family to the Dolomites in Italy, at the end of August. We had a wonderful time in this gorgeous outdoor playground. Most of our time there was spent hiking, but while we were in the area I was able to steal away for one day of rock climbing with a guide.

My hired gun, Lucas, works with the well-established Catores guide service. I knew the guide's rules would prohibit him from letting me lead any pitches, and I suspected Lucas would not be too keen on taking an untested partner up a route that was truly challenging. So I just told him I wanted a long route that would get us high in the mountains. Lucas more than delivered with the Vinatzer Route on the third Sella Tower. It was exactly the kind of adventure I was hoping for, with more than a thousand feet of fun climbing up a dramatic, steep face, ending at an exposed summit with panoramic views.

(Photo: My guide, Lucas, in the foreground, leading us to the Sella Group. The Vinatzer Route ascends the tallest pillar-- the one with the flat top-- in the middle of the formation.)

This route is a classic multi-pitch outing (established in 1935!) with maybe three crux moments in the 5.7 to 5.9 range during the early pitches. The climbing is otherwise casual and mostly very pleasant, with the pebbly, featured limestone providing lots of obvious horns and pockets to grab on to. It is a popular trade route, crowded and at times polished.

(Photo: Here I'm enjoying myself somewhere on the Vinatzer Route.)

The Dolomites have a reputation for looseness and our route certainly had its share. In the upper half there was a lot of suspect rock and towards the summit it became hard to avoid loose chunks all over the place. At one point the party ahead of us knocked a few pieces down and before I could react I was hit in the shoulder with a rock the size of a tennis ball.

(Photo: View across the pass to the Sassolungo Group from the summit of our route.)

The belay anchors were another cause for concern. They were pretty junky. The standard anchor seemed to be two rusted pitons, sometimes with a sling tied through them in a "death triangle." Usually Lucas would add a piece or two, which made me feel a bit better.

The descent, too, was a little bit sketchy for my tastes. I knew that with Lucas leading the way we'd have no trouble, but if I'd been on my own I would have liked to have had a detailed topo for the improbable "fourth-class" scrambling we had to do on loose gravel slopes and the occasional rappels from single-point anchors.

Apart from the general sketch factor, I loved the route and would gladly return to the area for more rock climbing. I felt like the climb provided a great day in the mountains and I would have been fine to lead every pitch we did. I'm sure there are many, many moderate routes in the area of similar character and quality. Maybe some day I'll plan a trip back there with a partner and I can do a bunch of them.

Once we returned to New York I planned a weekend day in the Gunks with Adam. The weather was supposed to be outstanding. The favorable forecast made my thoughts turn to Millbrook, which you could call the Dolomites of the Gunks, due to its alpine feel and occasional looseness. I've been wanting to get back to Millbrook all year. I figured time was of the essence, since the days were only going to get shorter over the remainder of the season.

We got to the West Trapps trailhead nice and early but as Adam checked over his gear in the parking lot it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn't remember putting my harness in my bag! A quick search confirmed that I had indeed left it behind in Brooklyn. Thank goodness I realized it before we embarked on the hour-long hike out to Millbrook. I would have had to improvise a swami belt.

After a quick run to Rock and Snow for a new harness we got back to the lot and headed off to the cliff.

I had several ideas for us. I figured we would stay in the central part of the cliff near Westward Ha! (5.7), since Adam had never been there before. I had done Westward Ha! and Cruise Control (5.9) two years ago, but I was happy to do them again. I also had in mind some nearby routes that would be new to both of us, such as Rib Cracker (5.9), The High Traverse with the Recollection finish (5.8), The White Corner (Regular 5.9 or Direct 5.10), and most of all The Time Eraser (5.10-).

As you probably know, I've been trying to push my limits all year. While I believed that The Time Eraser's difficulty wasn't at the top end of my current abilities, it was a new level for me at Millbrook. Knowing how far away we'd be from help at Millbrook, I saw the cliff as no place to risk a bad fall. The prospect of a complicated rescue situation was always at the back of my mind when I considered routes at this cliff. I did not want to attempt any 5.10's there unless I felt very confident that I would climb them safely and in control.

And The Time Eraser in particular has a reputation as a serious lead, with thirty to forty feet of insecure, poorly protected 5.8 climbing at its start. So it merited special caution.

I thought I was ready. But who knew how I would feel once we reached Millbrook?

(Photo: Millbrook cliff, seen from our rappel point not far from Westward Ha! and The Time Eraser. You can actually see the crux section of The Time Eraser in the photo. It is the steep, clean vertical streak of rock towards the left edge of the visible portion of the cliff.)

Despite our delayed start Adam and I were the first to arrive at Millbrook and we used Westward Ha! as our warm-up. I started us off from the Death Ledge and led a short pitch past junky rock to the tree at the bottom of the big corner. From there Adam took it to the top in one lead containing all of the good climbing. My opinion of the route remains about the same: it is a fine climb, well worth the hike. But there are other options nearby which are even better.

(Photo: Adam coming up the first bit of Westward Ha! (5.7).)

It is a good thing we hit this climb right away, since we were soon joined at the cliff by three other parties, two of which did only Westward Ha! and then went home. It was strange to see so many people out at Millbrook and I thought it was a bit of a shame that most of them hiked out for just one route. Folks, there are other good moderate routes very close by. You should check them out.

There was one other pair of climbers there at the cliff who seemed interested in doing climbs other than Westward Ha!; I struck up a conversation with the leader after I heard him giving some advice to one of the other parties. He seemed to know his way around. He gave me his opinion of all of the climbs I was thinking about attempting. His advice was not encouraging.

The White Corner? "If you fall at the wrong spot you're going to get hurt."

Strike one.

The Time Eraser? "The hard part is well-protected but the first forty feet are scary."

Strike two.

Rib Cracker? "That's a good one. Fun route!"

Well, okay then. I guessed we had a winner.

With my ambitions rapidly fading I got ready for Rib Cracker. It did indeed look like a nice climb, with two clean 5.9 pitches to the top of the cliff, passing several overhangs along the way.

It didn't go well. I got stuck at the crux of the first pitch, a move up through an overhang and into a blank corner. I couldn't figure out how to move up into the corner and reach the obvious holds, which were high above. I tried over and over again, stepping up in different ways, never taking a fall but stepping down every time after I failed to find a way to reach the holds up above the overhang. It was very frustrating. I kept thinking I must be missing something.

Eventually I decided it wasn't going to happen. I hadn't really thrown my body up there to go for the holds, but feeling cautious, I didn't want to. I decided to bail. At Adam's suggestion I down-climbed until it was possible to move left to join The High Traverse (5.5), which I then followed to its first belay.

(Photo: Adam is doing the second pitch of The High Traverse (5.5), and when he moves around the corner he'll go straight up for the Recollection (5.8) finish. The part of the route that is in the picture is supposed to be just 5.5, but I thought it was a bit harder than that.)

Adam then took us to the top via the Recollection (5.8) variation to The High Traverse. This turned out to be a high quality route. The climbing is little bit dirty but it is very interesting, with thin moves up the face. Adam protected it well, finding a few creative placements along the way.

(Photo: Adam's shot of one of his neat placements on Recollection (5.8).)

I arrived at the top of the cliff in a foul mood. What were we going to do now? I'd given up on Rib Cracker, a 5.9. Was I really willing to try a scary 5.10 like The Time Eraser?

Adam gently pushed me to at least have a look at it.

And so we rapped down again. I decided to just take it one move at a time and to be careful not to get committed way out from my gear. If I found the initial climbing too run out I would just climb back down.

It ended up working out fine. I really enjoyed The Time Eraser.

(Photo: That's me reaching the end of the crux section of The Time Eraser (5.10-). Photo by Adam.)

To my relief, I thought the early climbing was no big deal. The rock was okay and I found gear here and there. It certainly is no horror show, so long as you start well to the right of the crux face above (as the guidebooks recommend). You trend up and left to the end of a low overlap, and then the business begins. A delicate traverse further left is followed by steep climbing up the orange face. The terrain is technical and the holds are small. It reminded me of Proctoscope (5.9+) in the Trapps. The climbing is of a similar style and difficulty, but it goes on for a longer time.

Once you reach the small roof above the steep orange face you are through with the hard climbing. I was pretty psyched to get there, especially after feeling so defeated by Rib Cracker. The Time Eraser felt just as I'd hoped it would: engaging and challenging, but in control.

(Photo: Adam inspecting the crack at the start of the 5.8 pitch two of The Time Eraser. You can see our fixed rappel line on the right side of the photo.)

Pitch two is also nice, though not as nice as pitch one. It ascends several corners to the top of the cliff, with an exciting, blind step out to the right beneath the final corner. Adam dispatched it with ease and we were again atop the cliff.

We'd now topped out three times and the sun was well on its way towards the horizon. We figured we had just enough time for another quick one and Cruise Control (5.9) seemed like the obvious choice.

(Photo: Adam rappelling down to the Death Ledge one more time as the sun sinks behind the cliff.)

Doing Cruise Control again for the second time only confirmed my initial impression: this is one of the best routes in the Gunks. Both pitches are outstanding. I love the technical bit up a shallow open book on the first pitch, which is followed by a good roof problem. Then the second pitch offers exposed position on beautiful white rock and fun climbing up a crack to the finish. It's as if you took the best parts of Limelight, Arrow and Silhouette and stacked them all on top of one another.

(Photo: Adam leading the 5.8 pitch two of Cruise Control.)

We hiked out as the sun set, reaching the bridge just before it got truly dark out.

The high season is upon us and I still have many landmark climbs to hit before the year is out. I was really pleased to knock The Time Eraser off my list. For me it was a big goal and now I have to consider whether I'm ready for some of the other more serious tens out at Millbrook. I don't know what went wrong on Rib Cracker but I'll have to go back some time and give it another shot.

As for the Dolomites, I only got a taste-- but my wife Robin loved the area as much as I did, so I'm sure we'll go again. For now, as the song says: it's very nice to go traveling... but it's so much nicer to come home!