Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mac Wall In-A-Day: A Non-Birthday Challenge

(Photo: I'm getting ready to fire the roof on Star Action (5.10b). Photo by Andy.)

Over the past few years I've gotten to know the Mac Wall pretty well.

The wall is stacked with classic 5.10 climbs. For a long time I was intimidated by several of the routes, but as the years went by I eventually climbed all of them (except for Water King (5.10d R), which no one ever does). I'm most familiar with the hardest ones, since I had to work to get them clean. A few of them I've only done once or twice, and one of them-- MF Direct (5.10a)-- I've only followed.

Last year, after I finally sent Coexistence (5.10d) and Graveyard Shift (5.10d), it occurred to me that I might be ready to try to lead all of the tens at the Mac Wall in a single day. The challenge would involve these climbs:

Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a)
Interstice (5.10b)
Mother's Day Party (5.10b)
MF Direct (5.10a)
Men at Arms (5.10b)
Try Again (5.10b)
Coexistence (5.10d)
Star Action (5.10b)
Graveyard Shift (5.10d) and
Tough Shift (5.10a).

Ten tens. It is quite a list! Some of them are hard for 5.10 and many of them have some serious moments.

I thought this would be a good challenge for me because while I believed it would be difficult, it didn't sound utterly crazy. I was inspired by the day on which those guys did 30 pitches of 5.10, but I needed a more realistic objective, something that seemed within the realm of the possible for ordinary humans like me.

Still, leading ten 5.10's was much more than I'd ever tried to do in a day. I didn't know if I'd be up to it. I could really be dogging it by the end. Maybe at some point I'd get exhausted and become too frightened to keep leading these hard climbs.

This wasn't a "birthday challenge," exactly. I wanted to do it when it was still cool out. My birthday is in June. But as 2016 got going I couldn't seem to find a time to do the challenge. As we got into June, I decided to call it a birthday challenge and just to go ahead and try to do it on my next day out.

Andy and I were planning to climb on one recent Sunday. The high was supposed to be around 80 degrees. This was not ideal but I figured it would have to do.

I asked Andy by email if he would be up for belaying me on my Mac Wall challenge.

Andy was an instant supporter.

"Challenge accepted," he wrote.

Here is my pitch-by-pitch account of our day:

1. Try Again (5.10b), 9:00 a.m.

It is already warm when we arrive at the cliff. I had hoped to start with MF, but we find it occupied. No big deal. We move over to Try Again (5.10b) and get ready to begin.

I decide it makes sense to start on the right side of the wall. I want to get the hardest climbs out of the way first, while I am still relatively fresh. And since Try Again and its neighbor Coex are popular, it seems like a good idea to get them done now, while they are open.

Racking up, I feel very nervous. I know I can do all of these routes individually. I worry that I will be overwhelmed by ten in a row. I have to be careful not to let myself get so tired that my judgment becomes impaired.

I'm not that concerned about sending them all. Of course I want to send as many as I can, but I know I have a good chance of falling on Coex and maybe Graveyard. They will be hard for me no matter how well I remember my beta.

I want to avoid falling to the extent possible, to avoid wasting both energy and time. The goal is to get through all ten routes.

Shaking off the jitters, I start up Try Again. It is hot in the sun but I feel good all the way up to the crux. Thinking that I remember my beta, I clip the pin and go for it.

(Photo: Andy at the crux of Try Again (5.10b).)

The crimps above the roof feel greasy in the heat. This roof is hard! I fumble trying to place my toe. I can't hang on and I fall.

I change my approach and "try again."

I fall again.

I had hoped to send this climb. But now I've fallen twice, right out of the starting gate. Maybe I'm not feeling so great today?

With new resolve I go back up and try my original beta again. Success! I am over the roof, where I find a nut placement, right in front of my face, that I've never noticed before. The thin step to the right after the roof feels much more secure with this nut in place. I'll have to file that away for future reference.

Andy cruises the pitch as the second.

2. Coexistence (5.10d), 9:50 a.m.

I've had a slow start, and I expect this second pitch to be the toughest of the day. But I think I remember what to do. I believe I can get the send on Coex. I know I can.

(Photo: I'm starting up Coexistence (5.10d). Photo by Andy.)

I'm still very anxious. Nevertheless I climb smoothly all the way up to the roof. I place my crux gear, clip one of the pins, and shake out. I think I'm in good shape. Once I feel rested, I commit to the moves.

But it just doesn't feel right. I can't make the move I've rehearsed in my mind. I step up and down, up and down. Something is off. I can't match my hands where I usually do it. Finally I take a hang. 

Failure number two. This is becoming a pattern. And I'm wasting precious time.

(Photo: I'm confronting the crux on Coex. Photo by Andy.)

What am I missing? Staring at the holds, I realize I've been grabbing the wrong feature with my left hand. I've become blinded by a faulty memory-- a slave to bad beta.

I sail over the roof. It feels easier than Try Again.

Grrrrrrrrrr. This was a missed opportunity. I really should have sent Coex.

Andy has never been on Coex before. He struggles a bit but ultimately gets the top rope on-sight.

3. Men at Arms (5.10b), 10:40 a.m.

I am expecting this one to go smoothly. It is one of the easiest tens at the Mac Wall. And this is a good thing because I do not intend to fall on Men at Arms. The gear sucks.

(Photo: Andy almost finished with Men at Arms (5.10b).)

It goes well. I really like the climbing on this route. But there are moves of 5.9-ish difficulty all over it that are above so-so placements. After the upper crux move (above a tiny nut) there is a significant runout before you can get a piece again. I am not happy to be so far above my gear. 

Whatever. It is over and done with. I finally have a send in the bank.

Andy follows the pitch with no issues.

4. Graveyard Shift (5.10d), 11:30 a.m.

This is the most tense moment of the day for me. As I prepare to start Graveyard Shift I realize that of all of the demanding climbing at Mac Wall, the thing that scares me the most is the initial 5.8/5.9 runout over a bulge on Graveyard Shift. I have never come close to falling here but I have found that my fear of this section never goes away. Staring up at it fills me with dread.

(Photo: Andy at the scary bulge on Graveyard Shift (5.10d).)

I swallow my emotions and start climbing. The bulge goes fine. But then I blow it once again at the well-protected crux. I forget about a drop-knee move that I usually do when I reach above the roof. I correct my footing mid-reach but I slip off just as my fingers are touching the hold.

I'm learning that it might be better to have no beta than to mindlessly try to execute the wrong beta.

I finish Graveyard feeling depressed. This day is not meeting my expectations. So far I am one for four. I am a bundle of nerves, sweaty, rushing, making lots of mistakes. Am I really going to soldier on through all ten climbs? I am officially sucking.

Andy follows the pitch cleanly.

5. Star Action (5.10b), 12:44 p.m.

Now that Coex and Graveyard Shift are behind me, it is like a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I FINALLY relax. Star Action goes beautifully and I really enjoy it, more than I ever have before. I sail up the face to the roof, barely have to lunge for the good hold, and make the mental-crux move to the left with no worries. It feels great, and gives me a much-needed boost of confidence.

(Photo: That's me in the early going on Star Action (5.10b). Photo by Andy.)

I am amused to see Andy struggle, for once. He's done everything cleanly so far, and has previously led Star Action when the crux was wet! But this time he can't find the holds and ends up throwing wildly for the jug above the roof. Of course (Andy being Andy) he sticks the dyno, but it ain't pretty. It's easy to climb like that when you are on top rope! I'd like to see him try it that way on lead.

6. Tough Shift (5.10a), 1:25 p.m.

I'm not worried about Tough Shift at all. It has a reputation as a dangerous climb but I know the runouts are in relatively easy territory. I've done it before and I am certain it will be fine.

It goes perfectly. I carefully negotiate the tricky starting crack and then the runout upper face feels free and easy. It is a great pitch. This is actually my first complete send of Tough Shift. Last year when I led it I struggled in the opening crack.

(Photo: Andy about to move left onto the runout face at the end of Tough Shift (5.10a).)

Andy cleans it with little effort and we head to the left side of the wall.

7. MF Direct (5.10a R), 2:24 p.m.

I am cruising now. We are past the halfway point and I feel strong. The weather has changed. Clouds are rolling through, threatening rain but also bringing a pleasant, cool breeze.

I've never led this route before. But in the past when I've followed it I have checked out the gear, and I think I know what I want to place.

It goes down easily. I believe with my special gear beta the route is safe, and not R-rated at all. Here is the beta, if you want it: I get a purple C3 in a tiny vertical seam after the first hard move, and then a bomber blue Alien at the thin horizontal a couple of moves higher. After that it's just one more move to the chains.

(Photo: Andy on MF Direct (5.10a).)

Andy follows MF Direct quickly; it is our fastest pitch of the day.

I like MF Direct. It has a couple of big moves to great holds. It is casual, and barely 5.10. I think the original 5.9 version is more fun.

8. Mother's Day Party (5.10b), 3:00 p.m.

I feel like I'm floating now, everything is clicking. I love this pitch. It goes like clockwork. I place two pieces before each of the cruxes and then I fire them off. Great moves and two very different, interesting sequences.

(Photo: I'm just past the first crux on Mother's Day Party (5.10b). Photo by Andy.)

I would climb this pitch any time but to my mind it is actually the most R-rated pitch on the wall. At the first crux you are going to go splat on a ledge if you blow it. There is no avoiding it. And there is good pro for the start of the second crux but by the time you make the last big move to a jug, your gear is ten feet below your ankles. The fall would be huge. The climbing is relatively soft for 5.10b, in my opinion, so if you're solid then all is well. But this route is not to be undertaken lightly.

(Photo: Andy at the upper crux on Mother's Day Party.)

Andy takes his first and only fall of the day on Mother's Day Party, when he gets puzzled in the flakes at the first crux. Perhaps he's getting tired? He goes right back up and, grabbing the jug, curses himself. Hey, nobody's perfect.

9. Interstice (5.10b), 3:50 p.m.

The end is in sight. We are taking our time now. We pause to support a leader named Ryan who is taking his first run up MF (the 5.9 version). He sends! We cheer.

(Photo: Ryan on MF (5.9).)

The cliff has gone into the shade and conditions could not be better. I am loving life.

Interstice, like Mother's Day Party, has perfect rock and two interesting, very different cruxes. It is as good as any other route at the wall but I never see anyone leading it. It is thought to be somewhat run out but in my opinion it has just enough gear, exactly where you need it.

(Photo: Andy at the first crux on Interstice (5.10b).)

I climb the route without a problem, standing up carefully against the blank slab at the first crux, and quickly cranking through the second crux bulge after placing bomber tiny pro in the left-facing corner. The final moments heading up and left to the Birdie Party bolts are a little bit heady, but are probably no harder than 5.8. Not a concern. Such a good pitch, from start to finish.

Andy follows cleanly but remarks that it might be a challenging lead.

10. Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a), 4:45 p.m.

We've reached our last route. I climb it joyfully, without a care in the world. I don't feel tired at all. There is one 5.8 move above the second horizontal where the pro (green Alien) is suspect. If you fall here and the piece blows, you will hit the ground. So it is important to climb with caution in the early going. Otherwise the gear on the route is great.

(Photo: I'm inspecting the holds at the start of Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a). Photo by Andy.)

The last time I led this route I hesitated at the crux crimps but this time I dance right past them. It doesn't even feel like a crux. The route as a whole is quite nice, with consistent 5.8/5.9-ish face climbing similar to Higher Stannard (5.9-) and Birdie Party (P1 5.8+). Some of the holds are a little bit sandy. It is well worth doing.

(Photo: Andy bringing it home on our last route, Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10a).)

Andy likes the route too, says it feels pretty casual.

And that's it! We are done. We call it a wrap at 5:30 p.m.

*             *              *

In retrospect, I feel reasonably good about how the day went. I started off pretty shaky, and failed on some routes I should have sent. I might have done better if I had saved the hardest routes for later in the day, when they would have been in the shade. Heat and direct sunlight make such a huge difference. But if I'd saved the hardest climbs for later, I might not have been so relaxed on the easier tens, so who knows whether things would have actually gone any more smoothly.

On the positive side, I eventually settled down and sent seven 5.10's in one day-- six of them in a row, one after another. I've never done anything like that before. And I have to try to keep in mind that the whole idea of doing something like this is a sign of my improvement as a climber. The notion of doing this challenge would have seemed completely insane to me just a short time ago. Two years ago I thought I would never have the guts to try to lead Coex. Just last summer I felt the same way about Graveyard Shift and Tough Shift. So much has happened over the last year or so. I feel like a totally different person.

I was surprised at how strong I still felt at the end of the day. Andy felt fine too. As we walked out we started talking about trying to do twenty tens in a day, with each of us leading ten of them. I think the chief obstacle would not be endurance, but time. We would need a relatively long day and we'd have to make a concerted effort to go faster than we did at the Mac Wall.

I think it is possible for us. I do think it would be far less casual than our Mac Wall day, and might become something of a deathmarch by the end.

In other words: it sounds fun!

I am grateful to Andy for supporting me in this little project and sacrificing his day for my goals. I look forward to belaying him all day on a siege of twelve 5.12's or something. It could happen. We'll have to wait and see.


  1. I've always wanted to do the Mac in a day, though I would define it as follows:
    * Both pitches of 3 Pines
    * Both pitches of Something Interesting
    * The Dangler
    * Higher Stannard
    * Both pitches of Birdie Party
    * Interstice
    * Mother's Day Party
    * Both pitches of MF
    * Try Again
    * Coex
    * Star Action
    * Graveyard Shift
    * Tough Shift

    So fewer 10s, but more pitches overall makes it more of an endurance/speed challenge.

    Either way, congrats and great climbing!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Your list is more like 19 pitches. A big day. I thought about doing my ten, but also throwing in all the 2d pitch 5.10 roofs on the left side of the wall. So you wouldn't add a pitch but you would use a 70 meter rope and continue over the roof on Interstice, MDP, and Birdie Party. You could also do the 2d pitch of MF and then tack on The Dangler. This would add considerably more climbing on to the day, with only a few more pitches.

  2. Hahah, surprised to come across that pic of me on MF. I asked my buddy, hoping that he grabbed a pic, but I wasn't in luck. I guess now I am. Thanks for the capture, and for adding it.

    Good job on your Mac wall challenge! Seriously impressive.