Friday, March 25, 2016

What's next?

(Photo: Gingerly exploring Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a). Photo by Andy.)

So what's next?

What do I want out of the 2016 climbing season?

I've been asking myself this question all winter.

2015 was a great year for me. I broke through to a whole new level, climbing my first trad 5.11's and knocking off a bunch of the most legendary tens in the Gunks, including Ridicullissima, Erect Direction, Fat City Direct, Coexistence and Graveyard Shift, just to name a few! The year was like a dream come to life-- every visit to the Gunks seemed to produce a new milestone.

In 2015 I also took really fun trips to Seneca Rocks and Indian Creek. At Seneca I felt instantly comfortable on my feet and on-sighted several classic tens. At Indian Creek I was much less sure of myself but I still had fun working on the amazing splitters and learning the ways of the crack climber.

My last big goal for the year was to climb Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) at the Gunks. I spent the whole year wondering if I could do it and working up the courage. I did finally attempt it in late November, though it was far from a send. I ended up hanging all over it, in both crux sections. Still, when it was over, I could see that this climb was possible. I knew what to do. I just needed to go back and execute, without a lot of dilly-dallying.

So as the winter began I knew that Carbs would remain on "the list" for 2016. But what else did I want to accomplish in the new year?

I have a list of Gunks elevens I want to tackle (i.e., virtually all of them). And there are so many great tens in the Gunks that I have plenty of them left to do as well. (Matinee (5.10d), I am looking at you.) And there are even a few twelves I am considering.

But I need more than a list of climbs. I need a plan. I want to keep my trajectory of improvement going. I don't want to plateau-- I think I have plenty of room yet to get better.

Over the past few months, the climbing days have been infrequent despite the relatively mild winter. As a consequence, When I've been able to get out I've taken it easier and not pushed it so much, although nowadays when I'm not pushing it I'm doing climbs that used to be a big deal to me.

(Photo: Adam below the intimidating Wishbone (5.10+) roof.)

In December I went to Lost City with Adam and had a great time on some climbs that I'd long wanted to attempt, and we also had a lot of fun trying to lead a few lines that were a total mystery to us. I was happy to on-sight the Wishbone (5.10+?) roof. I also made a game effort at the nearby Resistance (5.10c), but had to hang at the crux. I think Resistance is one of the nicest face climbs in the Gunks. It has consistent, beautiful thin moves up a little seam. I need to go back to lead it cleanly.

(Photo: Adam on Resistance (5.10c).)

There are so many great leads at Lost City. Just to the right of Wishbone is a technical face climb called Cars That Eat People (5.11a), which I am dying to try. Further to the right, I have stared with wonder at Persistent (5.11+) on more than one occasion. The list goes on: I have never attempted the popular Lost City Crack (5.10), and I still have to go back and get the red-point on Stannard's Roof (5.10). And there are many awe-inspiring twelves and thirteens that can be top-roped and worked into submission.

Goal No. 1 for 2016: spend more time at Lost City!

I have also been out in the Nears a few times over these past few months. On a warm day in December I went there with Anna and Robbie. I was psyched to get clean leads on both Shitface (5.10c) and Transcon (5.10b). Shitface has nice climbing up a bulging, smooth face and then a brief but stout crux at the overhang. People say it is a scary lead but I thought the pro was good throughout, even above the crux where the route has a reputation for being necky.

Transcon, by contrast, was a frightening lead for me. I was quaking in my boots as I high-stepped on the low slab even though I had three pieces in. I know people have been injured here. Even with good gear it seems perilous. And at the top, above the well-protected roof, the finishing moves are truly run out and intimidating.

(Photo: Anna following my lead of Shitface (5.10c).)

I need to get used to Transcon, so I can run up it to set up the hard climbs that surround it. This part of the Nears is known as the "Workout Wall," because it is stacked with unprotectable hard climbs that are usually top-roped. In December, Robbie and I tried to do one of these, El Kabong (5.12c), on top rope, and neither of us was able to get past the crux-- it is steep, balancy and thin. But it was fun just working out the moves to get to the crux, and I think going back would be good for me.

(Photo: Robbie confronting the scary slab on Transcontinental Nailway (5.10b).)

I have barely touched on any of the hard climbing that is available in the Nears-- and actually I've not hit many of the cliff's classic tens like Elder Cleavage (5.10b) and Criss Cross Direct (5.10a).

Goal No. 2 for 2016: spend more time in the Nears!

In February and March we had some really good days for climbing. I got out a few times with Andy and sometimes a few others as well. I've previously described Andy as a person with a sport climber's mindset. He is still pretty new to the area, and trad hasn't been his big thing, so I have been acting as his Gunks tour guide for the last year or so. But I think I've been holding him back. He has been ripping it up in the gym lately and on our last few visits to the Gunks it has become clear to me that he is poised to do great things in our little trad paradise.

(Photo: Andy past the crux on Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a).)

In February Andy and I were out at the far end of the Nears. I wanted to take a look at some of the elevens out there. We checked out Harvest Moon (5.11a but it looks harder). The starting chimney was slimy/wet so there was no chance we could do it. Moving over to the Voids, I attempted to lead the one on the right, Avoid Where Inhibited (5.11a). I hadn't been outside in a while and I felt tentative about committing to the move, even though the gear was so good that I was essentially on top rope, with two perfect red Camalots in the vertical layback crack at the crux. I made a few meek efforts at figuring it out and then decided I wasn't feeling it, and asked Andy if he wanted the lead.

(Photo: Andy trying to get started on Void Where Prohibited (5.11d).)

Andy flashed the right-hand Void in ten seconds. And he used exactly the same beta that I was experimenting with. I was mad at myself. I sent it on top rope and wished I'd been bolder.

Then Andy got greedy and decided to lead the other Void-- Void Where Prohibited (5.11d)-- but got nowhere. I couldn't do it either. There must be some very specific beta for getting your body into this blank corner right off the ground, but neither of us could find the solution.

(Photo: That's me on Last Frontier (5.10a) with Simon handling the belay. I liked this climb-- it was hard for me, but if you like jamming it will be easy for you. Photo by Gail.)

More recently, in March, Andy and I found ourselves with a group of climbers down at the Slime Wall. I was psyched to lead Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b) like it was no big deal, which was quite a change from my abortive on-sight attempt at this route a few years ago. This has to be one of my favorite tens. It combines wonderful face climbing with a truly outrageous, multi-tiered overhang. And I finally got around to red-pointing Simple Suff (5.10a/b), so I can take that one off of the list as well.

(Photo: Gail at the finishing lip of the roof on Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b).)

The real star of the day was Techno Suff (5.12a), which we top-roped from the Simple Suff anchors. This steep face has interesting climbing up an arching crack and then some big technical moves between small holds. When I tried this climb I fell several times but in the end I was pleased because I figured out every move and I could see myself sending it one day. Andy one-hanged it, which I found very impressive. He also on-sight led Frustration Syndrome with the R-rated direct 5.11b/c start. (The man is on fire.) I tried to follow him but I had to hang at the direct start and ultimately worked out a totally different solution than the way Andy did it. I don't know if I'd dare lead it. There is no gear for the hard move but a good spotter or a strategically placed backpack might suffice.

(Photo: Connie confronting the crack on Techno Suff (5.12a).)

On our most recent day out, I decided it was time to really get started with my season. Andy and I paid a visit to Carbs and Caffeine. Andy led the first pitch and then I set off on pitch two for my red-point attempt. It went pretty well. I ALMOST got it done. I led up into the roofs with some confidence and got to the 5.11 crux without wearing myself out too much. I clipped the first bolt and took a look. I basically remembered the beta from my last attempt so I didn't waste too much time before I made a big reach up to a sloper hold, matched hands, and then stepped up and left to some little crimps. It was a tough sequence but I got through it. I was crimping on to the tiny holds, and feeling a bit shaky, but I was still in the game.

Standing there, with the second bolt at my chest, I carefully grabbed a draw and clipped it. I wasn't quite done but I knew I was in good shape for the send, if only I could stop trembling.

I started talking to myself.

"Calm down," I told myself. "Breathe! One more move and you are out. Keep it together."

Andy couldn't see me but he could hear what I was saying. He called up to me. "Dude, you are scaring me!"

This snapped me out of my near-panic. I told him I was fine: I had two bolts clipped, after all. I made the move and got out of there.

I should have been home free but at the top of the pitch, right before the dreaded crab-crawl traverse, I forgot about a crucial hold from which it is easy to place gear. I wore myself out trying to place the pro from a bad hold and when I tried to step back down to shake out I got tangled in the rope and had to hang. It was disappointing. When I went back up and did the moves they felt much easier than the last time.

I will go back again. I can do this climb. I know it now.

(Photo: Andy on the 5.9 pitch one of Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a).)

After we were done with Carbs, Andy and I took a look at The Sting (5.11d). I've never really dreamed that I was capable of sending The Sting but Andy saw it and got more excited than I've ever seen him. The climb is short, perhaps just 50 feet, but it packs a punch. It has big moves between horizontals on a smooth white face. The first and last moves are both dynamic jumps. It is very unusual for the Gunks. Andy decided to lead it.

He placed a bomber blue Alien at the first horizontal and launched off on the dyno. He missed. The Alien held and Andy was caught a few feet off the ground. He tried without success a few more times, and then decided to lead up Lisa (5.9), the climb next door, so we could work The Sting on top rope.

(Photo: Andy heading up Lisa (5.9). I didn't care for this one. It is a two-move wonder with an awkward crux. But it is a very useful climb for setting up The Sting)

Andy had little trouble working out the moves on The Sting once he had the security of a rope over his head. It was much harder for me. I failed at the opening dyno over and over again. But with some helpful coaching from Andy I eventually was able to stick it-- on what was perhaps my 15th try. I couldn't get the other dyno at the top worked out but after I was done Andy went back up to work it again and I think now I can see what I was doing wrong.

(Photo: Andy getting set up for the dyno at the start of The Sting.)

I'm sure I'll get the chance to try it again. Andy left the cliff determined to come back and lead The Sting, and when he does I'm pretty sure he'll get it. And maybe I can get it too. These last few days at the Gunks have been the first occasions on which I've tried climbs in the 5.11+/5.12- range and not felt they were totally hopeless for me. If I make a concerted effort to work on these climbs I will continue to improve. Lately that sort of projecting doesn't seem so boring to me anymore.

Goal No. 3 for 2016: keep hanging out with Andy! He will push me to greater heights.

As it happens, Andy and I will be heading to the New River Gorge in two weeks for a four-day climbing trip. Gail is also coming with her son Max. The New has both sport and trad but for the first time in my life I am thinking that sport climbing should be my focus. I've never really given it a fair chance. And I want to really work at a "soft" 5.12 and see what I can do.

2016 has barely begun but I feel like great things have already happened. I'm in pretty good shape and it's still March. I am excited to see what the rest of the year will bring.