I was very excited to get back to the Gunks after my trip to Indian Creek.
Don't get me wrong. The trip was nice, but I was out of my element there, struggling on the vertical cracks. I was eager to return to my home turf, where I was comfortable on my feet and where things have been going so very well lately.
I felt like I'd been away from the Gunks for a long time, even though it had only been a few weeks.
The high season was passing me by! Or not really. But I felt the itch. You climbing psychos know what I mean.
The year would soon end. I needed to hit something big with every day at the cliff. Who knew when a given climbing day would turn out to be the last one of the year?
I made plans with Adam to go to the Nears. I had one route in my sights:
Fat City Direct (5.10d).
This was a biggie, for sure.
It had been on "the list" all year. It was a must-do for 2015 as far as I was concerned. And we didn't have too much of 2015 left to play around with. I needed to get on it, and soon.
So Adam and I drove up on a Sunday morning, ready to hit it.
And then, as we careened down the road towards our destiny... it began raining.
This hadn't been in the forecast.
As we bravely carried on, it kept on coming down. We persevered in the face of the storm, only to arrive at the West Trapps lot in the midst of a misty sprinkle. It was cold too. Our little pocket computers promised us that the rain would pass over soon, so we optimistically went ahead and gathered up our crap, hiking over to the closest part of the Near Trapps, where the routes tend to stay dry under huge roofs.
Standing at the cliff we were sheltered from the falling rain but our spirits were nevertheless slightly dampened. The rock felt cold to the touch. We took our time getting started.
We thought about warming up on Outer Space (5.8) or Le Plié (5.7), but after we looked around a bit my eye fell on a roof problem about fifteen feet off the ground. I had never noticed this line before.
Taking my phone out of my pocket, I checked the Nears App and found out that this was Crass (5.10b), a short climb which goes over the crux roof just off the ground and then does a traverse around a corner to join Le Plié. The roof appeared to be well-protected. It looked fun. Why not give it a try?
(Photo: Adam on Crass (5.10b).)
I liked Crass. There isn't any gear for the first move up onto the easy slab but there is dynamite protection as soon as it gets difficult. The roof itself is tricky. I had to take a hang to figure it out. Once I sussed out the move it wasn't so hard. Above the crux overhang you reach another roof where there is good gear for the exciting traverse out and around the corner. This part is probably 5.8. And then it's over.
Crass is no classic but it provided good fun while we waited out the rain.
By the time we were finished things were looking up. The rain had passed and the cliff didn't seem too wet. There were a few other intrepid souls around but Adam and I had our pick of lines to do.
Adam had expressed an interest in Grand Central (5.9), so we did it. I led up the easy 5.6 part and built a belay so that Adam could take it the rest of the way to the top in one pitch covering both of the route's cruxes.
Grand Central is a good 5.9 and while it isn't the hardest nine out there-- the crux climbing is just a couple of steep moves on small holds-- it tests the budding 5.9 leader because the gear is small/fiddly and you have to commit to moving above your protection through the crux moves. Adam did well, hanging in to make sure he was happy with his placements and then climbing on through. And he made quick work of the upper crux, a reachy overhang which for me always requires a little lunge off of greasy feet.
(Photo: A blanket of fall colors, seen from the top of the Near Trapps.)
After we rapped off of the Alphonse tree (with my 70 meter rope; be careful folks!), it was decision time.
Was I ready to attack Fat City Direct?
In what is becoming a tradition for us, Adam suggested we go over and "just have a look at it."
This has come to mean that we are definitely going to do whatever climb we are "looking" at.
Fat City Direct ascends a most impressive portion of the cliff, winding steeply through a kaleidoscopic series of orange roofs. Like Erect Direction (5.10c), another legendary climb which I did last month, Fat City has hard crux climbing that no one talks about, which is then followed by slightly easier but more spectacular climbing that gets all the attention.
After walking over, I tried to scope out the hardest bits. I figured the initial 5.9 roof wouldn't be too bad. I tried to spot the 5.10d crux just above but I couldn't really tell where it was. I could see a bulging section above a notch and guessed that this had to be it. Then, looking higher, it was pretty easy to find the intimidating upper crux, where a sloping diagonal rail led to the lip of a big overhang. You can't see it from the ground, but I knew that an ancient, hard-to-clip piton was sitting at the lip of this roof, providing the only pro for getting over it. Dick Williams says that this part of the climb is 5.10b R.
I racked up, taking as many slings as I could dig out of my bag. This climb is often done in one super-long pitch. There is the option to stop and belay between the cruxes but I hoped to take it all the way to the top if I still had any gear left.
(Photo: Here I'm just getting started on Fat City Direct (5.10d), heading for the 5.9 roof. Photo by Adam.)
Getting started, I felt a little bit shaky at the initial 5.9 roof. There was a lot of chalk all over the place and I initially went at it the wrong way. But eventually I changed tactics and it went fine.
Pretty soon after that I came to a shallow overhang. There were some fixed nuts. I thought this must be it: the 5.10d business. I experimented with working out the move, going this way and that. Placing more gear. Eventually I did a committing layback up over the little roof. It was a success. Thinking I'd just done the hard bit, I was feeling good.
But then I quickly found myself in a little notch under yet another overhang, with tiny crimps leading to the left.
Oops, my bad. This was obviously the real crux.
I took a long time there, checking my gear (small Aliens), testing the crimps. Every time I tried to commit to going left I felt like I didn't have it and I came back. Luckily there was a stance there, where I could chicken-wing my arm in the notch and reset.
Finally on my umpteenth foray I worked out a way to get my feet higher, and I found myself committed. My right hand was on a bad crimp; my left was on a sloping vertical feature. Standing up and reaching higher, I prayed the horizontal I was reaching for would offer a little more security.
Eureka! It was a jug. With a "woo hoo!" and an "oh yeah!" I was out of the woods.
The bolted belay station was a short distance above me and to the left but I thought I had just enough slings to keep going, so I scampered straight up to the final challenge, the famous Fat City upper roof.
I vowed to keep calm and to try to execute. I didn't want a repeat of my Erect Direction experience, where I on-sighted the hardest parts and then blew it when I got nervous in easier territory.
Also I needed to get on with it. This lead was taking forever.
(Photo: At the upper crux roof on Fat City Direct. Photo by Adam.)
It went really well. There is a fixed pin right before the difficulties. I backed this up with two cams. Then it was go time. I breathed deeply and willed myself into "the zone." I only needed to test the holds once or twice before I moved out to the overhang. I had no trouble clipping the well-known sketchy piton at the lip (which I cannot believe was placed on the lead by Gary Brown in 1968!). Then I moved up and over the roof without hesitation, knowing somehow, without a doubt, that this move was going to be fine. Standing above the roof, I put in a piece to protect the second and exhaled, secure in the knowledge that Fat City was finally in the bag.
The 5.8 climbing which followed, winding through several more overhangs, went by in a blur.
I couldn't wait for Adam to join me up top so I could thank him for patiently belaying me on the greatest on-sight of my life.
Fat City Direct is a wonderful climb, with many awesome moments. It is definitely worthy of its legendary status. Done in a single lead it is a monster pitch, nearly 200 feet long. I was psyched to do it that way but I felt compelled to run it out in between the hard parts, both to avoid drag and to conserve gear. At one point Adam was begging me to place a piece. Don't be too alarmed-- he didn't know how easy the climbing was in that section. Nevertheless, I think if I go back I will probably break it up by stopping at the bolted anchor. It is a natural stopping point and it's surely safer to do it that way.
Regarding the exposed upper crux, I think it might be easier than 5.10b. Maybe it's 5.10 minus? And I'm not sure why Dick gives it an R rating. It seems to me that it isn't R if the pin at the lip is good. On the other hand, if the pin is not good it is certainly R; blowing the roof and pulling the pin would be bad news. And who can say whether that pin is at all trustworthy? It has been there a long long time.
(Photo: Adam getting ready to rap off at the Alphonse tree.)
We still had time for more climbing. Adam wanted to lead Broken Sling (5.8) and I wanted to do whatever Adam wanted to do. After Fat City I was cool with anything.
I had only been on Broken Sling once, in 2013. I really liked it then but I thought the first pitch was awkward and in your face, and that the second pitch was hard to protect well.
Adam did a super job leading both pitches.
(Photo: Adam over the first hard moves on Broken Sling (5.8).)
My opinion of Broken Sling remains basically the same. It is sometimes awkward, and at times a bit necky. But wow, this route is really great. So varied and challenging, with tons of climbing packed into two short pitches. It is a worthy classic, and a proud lead.
With the sun going down, I decided to run up Disneyland (5.6-) for a fun, easy end to our day. Apparently I've never written about this very popular climb, but it is a favorite of mine, and just another example of how deep the 5.6 grade is in the Gunks.
Sitting atop the cliff, gazing at the leaves, I started to think about the next big target. What would it be? Would there be any more highlights I could squeeze out of 2015?