Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gobbling Up the Remains of the Season: Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) & More!

(Photo: I'm heading into the crux on Graveyard Shift (5.10d/5.11a) once again.)

After hosting the big family meal on Thanksgiving day, I was ready to collapse into a food coma. What with all of the cooking, baking and eating that came with the holiday, I felt ready for some rest and relaxation on Friday.

But duty called.

Alec asked me to go climbing. It was going to be quite nice in the Gunks, with a high approaching sixty degrees.

How could I refuse?

At this time of year, I tend to dial it back. Every November, as the days get shorter and cooler, my ambitions fade. I start cruising up old favorites instead of pushing my limits.

But 2015 has been such a great year for me. I don't want it to end. As November came to a close I couldn't bear to waste any remaining climbing days that came my way. I still had many projects I was eager to hit.

While I've been making some progress, Alec has really been on a roll in the Gunks. When I've run into him at the crag he has looked super solid to me. I knew he was more than able to handle anything I could come up with.

First on my list was Graveyard Shift (5.10d). I had failed to get the redpoint on my last attempt. I should have made it, but I messed up above the crux roof and stuck my right toe out too far, causing a fall at the final hard move! It was a silly mistake and I regretted it deeply in the days that followed. I knew that if I'd executed my beta properly I would have sent this climb.

I had to go back again. I told Alec that when we got to the Gunks on Friday, I wanted to march right up to Graveyard Shift and knock it off.

So that's what we did.

(Photo: Alec heading into the scary bulge on Graveyard Shift back in July, with his wife Liz-- also a strong climber-- handling the belay.)

Heading up, I got through the initial scary bulge in no time and danced up the face to the good hold beneath the overhang. I tried to place my crux gear quickly and then I briefly reviewed my strategy before firing it off. It was an instant success. The sequence went down easily and before I knew it Graveyard Shift was over.

It was 9:00 a.m. and my send of the year was in the bag.

Despite my numerous fumbling attempts at this route, I think Graveyard really isn't that hard. It is cryptic if you don't know where the holds are. So it's a tough on-sight. But now that I know what to do I think I really should send it every time going forward. This is in contrast to a route like Coexistence (5.10d), which I could easily fail to send tomorrow. Even if I do everything right, I might not make it.

Once we were done with Graveyard Shift, Alec and I moved just a little ways down the wall so that he could lead MF Direct (5.10a R). I was psyched to follow him up it because I wanted to check out the gear in preparation for a lead of my own.

(Photo: Alec placing gear next to the pin below the crux of MF Direct (5.10a).)

Alec made quick work of it and then decided to keep going, tackling the Birdie Party roof (5.10b) too. When I followed, I looked around to see if I could make the pro on MF Direct a little more PG than R. I managed to find a tiny vertical crack just over the roof in which I could seat a purple C3. It might hold in a fall, but I'm not sure it would be worth hanging in there to place it.

(Photo: Alec at the Birdie Party (5.10b) roof.)

I liked the Birdie Party roof. I'd never done it before. It requires a big move over the hang and then you aren't quite out of the woods once you stand up. There are a few more thin moves in steep territory before it is really over.

If you combine MF Direct with the Birdie Party roof, it makes for a great single pitch-- one of the best 5.10 pitches around, I'd say. You need a 70-meter rope to lower from the fixed anchor.

Now it was my turn to pick a route and there was something I knew we just had to do.

We needed to try Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).

I've been talking about this route all year, and with the final days of the season fading away I couldn't think of any excuse not to finally get on it. Alec had never done it-- not even the first pitch-- and he generously gave me permission to lead the crux second pitch.

(Photo: Alec setting off on the 5.8/5.9 first pitch of Carbs and Caffeine, with the insane roofs of pitch two looming above.)

Alec knocked off the first part of the route without any problems. It is a really nice face climb, with a good technical crux protected by small nuts.

Standing at the bolted anchor atop the first pitch, I couldn't see where the route went. I knew there were two bolts up there in the sea of roofs, but I couldn't spot them.

I would have to get going and see how it went.

I set myself up for a hang-fest by moving very slowly and deliberately right from the start. I found out that the crux comes after you've already weaved your way up and left through several overhangs. It went roof, roof, roof... oh here's the first bolt, how nice! And by now I was already fatigued, hanging in there, and I was faced with a very cruxy, beta-intensive sequence to get up to and past the next bolt.

(Photo: Alec following pitch two of Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).)

I had a tough time with the crux and after a few game attempts I had to hang. I kept trying to clip the second bolt from below, which was a tremendous waste of energy. Once I got the second bolt clipped (after several tries) I worked out a difficult but doable way to get through the move and I could finally get on with the rest of the climb.

The upper crux was still to come. Once I got beneath it, I was very intimidated. There is a no-feet traverse out from under a huge ceiling. Again you have to do a few roof moves just to get to the place where you start the crux. I wanted perfect pro for this sequence and I confess I took another hang at the optional belay point in order to fiddle with the gear and get my head together. I figured the send was already blown anyway.

(Photo: Alec getting into the intimidating final traverse on Carbs.)

Once I committed to heaving myself up into the space below the huge roof I was able to reach out and place a good piece further out to protect the traverse, and then I made it through the desperate moves to the fixed anchor. The hands were surprisingly good. It's really just about getting your toes on something, anything, as you move out from under the overhang.

(Photo: Alec finishing it up.)

Because we had my 70 meter rope, I could lower to the ground from the fixed anchor and watch Alec work through the entire pitch. He sent it easily. I wanted to watch him do the crux but I looked down for just a second and missed it! That's how easy it was for him.

I think Carbs is safe and it is one of the very best climbs I've ever done. It just goes and goes. The atmosphere of endless overhangs is pretty special and unique to the Gunks. It is one of those routes which you could say epitomizes what the Gunks is all about. 

I could have climbed it better, obviously. But even if I'd been perfect and confident I don't think I would have sent this thing on the first try. It's so continuous and the crux comes after so many roofs.  

I will go back for a real send attempt. This one worked out to be more of an exploratory mission. 

If you plan to hop on Carbs and Caffeine, I would advise you to extend all of your early pieces, up to and including the two bolts. There is an edge below the first bolt which could damage your rope if the rope is pulled tightly against the rock. With the pieces extended, I thought this wasn't an issue.

After we were done with Carbs I was feeling pretty worked. But Alec was still full of energy and he proposed we try a route called Three Vultures Direct (5.10c). This variation route starts up the second pitch of Three Vultures (5.9) but then busts straight over a roof instead of traversing to the right. The Direct eventually goes up and left to join Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a) at its final roof problem. This route is described in the Trapps App but it isn't in Dick's guidebook.

After I led the first pitch of Face to Face to get us to the GT Ledge, Alec sent Three Vultures Direct but it didn't exactly look easy. The roof seemed like big pull and then Alec found another tough, technical sequence up the face before he ultimately joined Amber Waves. He found good gear along the way.

(Photo: A tough shot of a tough roof. Through the branches you can see Alec at the crux roof on Three Vultures Direct (5.10c).)

When I got up there I found out that I was really wasted. The roof was very difficult for me. I made it over but I was grateful I was on top rope. It is a good challenge, and the face climbing afterwards is also fun. I thought this variation was quite worthwhile, though it isn't as spectacular as its neighbor Face to Face.

We still had a little time before it got dark and I decided to sleepwalk up Silhouette (5.7+), an old favorite, to finish the day. I was wiped out. We'd done some hard pitches.

After this day with Alec the season seemed all but over in my mind. As I organized my gear at home, I noticed some of my slings were starting to look a bit beaten up. I calculated the age of all of my stuff and I realized I was long overdue for some gear maintenance. So I decided to get it all over with at once. I packed up all my cams and sent them off to be reslung. And I pitched my slings, bought a new backpack, and washed my rope.

Of course I did all this before I checked the forecast! It seems that this will be the season that never ends.

Luckily most of my climbing friends have their own gear. And in a few weeks when I have all my stuff back I'll really be ready to hit it in 2016.