(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.
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 arête 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.
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)!