(Photo: Getting into the overhangs on Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Photo by Adrian.)
We live in an age of great environmental peril. Temperatures are climbing at an alarming rate. Ice sheets are melting. Scientists project that someday soon the oceans will rise up like giant gulper eels and swallow our coastal cities whole.
It is enough to make you feel guilty whenever the weather is nice. On days when it is warm and the sun is shining, it is hard to enjoy yourself without feeling at least a small, nagging tug of disquietude.
"What a wonderful day," you think to yourself.
"(We are all going to die.)"
So one might expect that yucky, cold days would provoke feelings of relief. Maybe if the weather is lousy, as befits the season, we are NOT going to die. Or not so soon, anyway. We ought to take comfort in any anecdotal evidence we can get that the end is not so near after all.
But it doesn't work that way. Not for me. When it is appropriately damp and cold in March, I am not grateful. I am resentful. I feel the weight of our impending doom, regardless of the present conditions. And I expect something in return. If my property is soon to be beneath the sea, the very least nature can do for me is to grant me some excellent climbing days before everything goes forever into the crapper.
Is that so much to ask?
I was supposed to take a trip to the New River Gorge at the end of this week. "This week" being practically mid-April, for crying out loud. But with snow (!!) in the West Virginia forecast for Friday, and an expected high of 37 degrees in Fayetteville on Saturday, it looks like we are calling it off. We had a contingency plan-- we were going to push it off for one week if the weather was lousy. But the forecast for next week is a solid wall of rain showers. So it looks like that ain't happening either.
I am feeling grumpy about it all. But I will make the best of it.
Maybe I'll console myself with a day in the Gunks, if it gets warm enough to melt the snow they got this week.
Since my last report, I did get out in the Gunks one time, with Adrian. The temperatures were in the low forties (just warm enough for climbing, in my opinion). Unlike my prior (sunny) day with Andy, this one was overcast and the air felt a bit damp.
My goal was to put Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a) away, once and for all. Adrian was willing to do it with me, so we trooped on down there first thing, hoping in vain that we would warm up on the walk.
It was still cold and damp as we got started. Adrian led the first pitch without delay, but as I stood there belaying him I found myself shivering. I told myself I would feel warmer once I got up on the wall. Soon enough I was climbing and I joined Adrian at the anchor, ready to see if the third time would be the charm for me on the crux pitch.
(Photo: Coming up pitch one of Carbs and Caffeine. Photo by Adrian.)
This time I knew I had the beta. It had been only a week since I'd almost sent the damned thing. I expected that the crux move would be hard but as long as I executed my sequences properly I figured I would get through it.
(Photo: Ready to go for it on Carbs and Caffeine (5.11a). Photo by Adrian.)
Heading upward through the tiers of overhanging rock, I got to the first bolt without a problem. After I clipped it, I tried to move up into the crux right away, but when I made the big reach up to the sloper hold, I didn't like it. The rock felt slippery. I needed to match on the hold but I wasn't sure I could hold on in the current conditions. I stepped back down and tried to shake out beneath the crux.
Then I went up again. Still no good. It seemed like I was about to slip off the sloper. I had to step back down again.
(Photo: Adrian at the 5.11a crux of Carbs and Caffeine.)
If I didn't get on with this move I was going to end up taking a hang. I was shaking out in an overhanging position. I couldn't really rest. I wished I'd found the knee-bar rest at the crux that people talk about. I decided I couldn't afford to wait around any more.
On the third try I forced myself to commit to the match. I thought for a fraction of a second that I was about to go flying but, luckily, I didn't. I stuck it. And then I stepped up to the crimps knowing that I had this climb in the bag if I could keep it together. I tried to stay focused as I moved up the slab to the final challenge.
(Photo: Adrian in the final crab-crawl traverse on Carbs and Caffeine.)
This time I remembered to move up to the good hold in the corner before plugging in gear for the traverse. Placing a bomber blue Alien over my shoulder, I dove out there into space, hoping I would feel as solid on the no-feet crab-crawl as I had the previous week. But in the damp air the traverse felt a little bit harder. I nearly lost it when one of my toes slid off, but again I managed to hold on and with a few more moves I got around the corner to the stance. The pitch was over.
As I stood there backing up the fixed anchor I felt very relieved. And a little bit proud. Carbs and Caffeine, baby! And it was only March!
I was quickly brought back to earth when we moved on to The Winter. This pitch, at 5.10(d), is supposed to be marginally easier than Carbs and Caffeine-- but it is a very different style of climb, so it is hard to make a meaningful comparison. The Winter is a technical corner climb, with some awkward climbing up a slot before the real business begins in the smooth, thin corner.
The route has been a nemesis of mine. I find it intimidating and scary. I've backed off of it twice before even reaching the crux corner. The early going up the slot is kind of in your face (though it is definitely easier than 5.10+), and the cracks for gear are kind of flaring. On two occasions I've made the first couple of moves, and, confronting a committing sequence with so-so cams, I've decided to step back down and walk away.
(Photo: Starting up the awkward slot on The Winter (5.10d) in October 2014. Photo by Gail. The tights were in honor of Eighties Day in the Gunks.)
I'm sure my fear of the upper portion of the pitch has played a role in the urge I've felt to abort. From the ground it appears there are placements in the crux corner, but they are tiny nuts. There is a piton at the end of the hard climbing, but the move to get to that piton isn't easy and on the lead you are going to be above whatever small gear you can arrange in the corner.
This time around I hoped to commit to the move down low and then, once I reached the main corner, I would make sure I got the best pro I could get.
As I started the pitch I managed to place three pieces before committing to the move out of the initial slot. The move went fine and soon I was standing at the base of the desperate crux corner.
So far, so good.
But then it all fell apart.
(Photo: Finessing gear at the start of the crux corner on The Winter (5.10d). Photo by Adrian.)
I placed as much gear as I could manage. I got a good Alien at my knees and then I placed four (yes, four!) nuts in the corner. I liked a few of these nut placements but they were all small.
I had a hard time getting myself psyched up to launch on up above the nuts. I worked out the move but couldn't make myself go. Eventually I took a hang. Then I made the hard move up the corner but got really nervous making the stand-up move to the piton. I fumbled desperately and then took a real whip. The fall was clean, and now that I'd really welded my top nut in place I felt a bit better about climbing above it again. I went back up, made the final hard move and finished the pitch.
(Photo: Adrian on The Winter (5.10d).)
I'm not happy about how it went. I was so tentative. But now I have The Winter all sorted out. And now I know that The Winter is quite safe. The fall is clean and the nuts are good. Adrian had to fight to get some of them out. I think I should be able to go back and fire it off. And then I'll have to try the second pitch of The Spring (5.10d), directly above, which everyone says is a great roof problem pitch. I've never been on it.
I think Carbs and Caffeine and The Winter showed both my strengths and weaknesses as a climber.
On the plus side, I think I have reached a basic level of climbing proficiency (after many years of mediocrity). And I'm persistent, which is also a plus.
On the negative side, I know I have real mental challenges. I have a fear of falling. When the moves are hard I often find it difficult to commit, even when I'm certain that the gear is good. And when I do eventually commit, my fear makes me climb poorly. I get tunnel vision and fumble around because I am scared. It happened the first time I tried Carbs. And it has happened several times now on The Winter. The fear of falling has caused me to give up, to hang, and to fall.
It is a paradox. To some degree fear is healthy and necessary. Especially when trad climbing, you should always be aware of the risks of falling. It would be foolish and dangerous to behave as if falling were not a potential problem. But when reasonable caution morphs into irrational fear, the danger increases because failure becomes much more likely. The fear makes you fall when you might not have fallen otherwise.
(Photo: Feeling fine while running it out on the first pitch of Annie Oh! (5.8). Photo by Adrian.)
I'm not sure what I can do to address the issue except to keep trying hard. I've never been a big believer in taking practice falls, and I don't think my specific fear of falling would be addressed by the type of deliberate falling one does for practice. It isn't falling in and of itself that is the problem. I'm not paralyzed on easier climbs-- it's when I'm at my limit, or when I'm climbing on a style of route with which I'm uncomfortable.
The good news is that, as I push to work on harder climbs, the grade at which I feel free and easy is also getting higher. I think I really need to push myself to trust my gear and go for it more often. If I can do that, I'll have a shot at on-sighting more of these harder climbs, and I may reach a whole new level.
We'll see how it goes when I pick the next project. What should it be? Harvest Moon (5.11a)? No Man's Land (5.11b)? Square Meal (5.11a)? So many to choose from...