Monday, December 12, 2016

A Late-Season Matinee (5.10d) & More!

(Photo: Connie at the crux of pitch two of Nurse's Aid (5.10a).)

It was December in the Gunks.

Connie and I were on our way towards the West Trapps parking lot. We'd been climbing all day, thanks to temperatures above forty degrees. It was getting late in the afternoon and I had to get back to Manhattan for a dinner reservation. I figured we could knock off a quick climb like Retribution or Nosedive and then we'd hit the road.

But Connie had other ideas. She was pushing me to hop on Matinee (5.10d), one of the hardest tens in the Gunks.

This was all my fault.

Connie had been reading my blog, so she knew that Matinee was one of my must-dos for the year. I'd said so. And the year was just about over! If I didn't do it now, the route would have to wait for 2017.

I wasn't sure I was up for it. With the season winding down, my ambitions were fading. And besides, we probably didn't have enough time left in our day. It was going to be dark in less than an hour, and we needed to get going.

So we passed Matinee and walked into the Uberfall, only to find that we couldn't do Retribution or Nosedive. They were occupied by a big group.

I should have known they'd be unavailable.

What was my backup plan?

I didn't have one.

It looked like I would have to do Matinee. We walked back over to it.

I'd never been on the route. Connie had seconded it before. She mentioned in passing that the person she followed on her first visit to the route was trying to complete all of the star-worthy 5.10's in the Trapps. Matinee had been one of the last ones on his list.

As she said this, I realized that I'd basically done the same thing. I'd been working through the tens in the Trapps for years, and by now I figured I'd done almost all of them. Matinee was one of very few left on my personal hit list that I had yet to try. It was still sitting there, unclimbed by me, because of its stout reputation.

It occurred to me that Connie's remark could provide me with a new purpose: I could polish off the 5.10 grade. I could lead every star-worthy pitch of 5.10 in the Trapps-- and in the Nears too, why not? I would have to comb through the Williams books later to see what I'd missed. There couldn't be too many of them left.

I haven't worked through them in a systematic way. I just try to do new tens in the Gunks all the time.

The last couple of days I've had in the Gunks have been no exception. Though I didn't know it at the time, I was subconsciously working towards completing my new project.

The weekend before my day with Connie, for example, I was out with Gail and I ticked off a couple of tens from the list.

We did Dis-Mantel (5.10b), a short climb up a big block with two good roof cruxes.

This was a climb I'd tried in 2012, and on that occasion I'd been completely unable to do it. There is a very reachy move over the first roof. In 2012 I couldn't make the reach.

(Photo: Gail's shot of me at the second crux roof on Dis-Mantel (5.10b).)

And in 2016? It was still hard for me. I had to step up and down several times. I rearranged my feet, sucked my hip into the wall, and stretched with all of my might... and eventually barely reached the good hold over the roof.

(Photo: Gail at the first crux roof on Dis-Mantel (5.10b).)

The second, "5.8" crux on Dis-Mantel is also no gimme. It is a good climb. It is well worth doing.

Gail and I also did Co-Op Direct (5.10a), an unpopular line just to the left of Welcome to the Gunks (5.10b). The regular Co-Op wanders a lot and is rated 5.8. The direct variation goes straight up some steep flakes and through a shallow overhang instead of veering left and back right to avoid the hard stuff.

(Photo: Gail coming up Co-Op Direct (5.10a).)

I liked Co-Op Direct. It isn't spectacular but it has some good moves. I thought the 5.10a crux came at the steep flakes. There is gear at the beginning of the difficulties but by the time you reach the shallow roof you'd be in for a pretty good fall if you blew it. At the roof, it seemed natural to me to follow the holds just a foot or so to the left, where I was relieved to find good gear for the the final moves up.

The next weekend, with Connie, I attempted a few more of the last remaining pitches on my 5.10 tick list before we got around to climbing Matinee.

(Photo: Connie leading pitch two of Arrow (5.8).)

Connie had expressed an interest in doing Feast of Fools (5.10b). We warmed up on the nearby Arrow (5.8), and as Connie led pitch two of Arrow I got a good look at pitch two of Nurse's Aid (5.10a). Pitch one (5.10c) was one of my prouder on-sights in 2015, But I'd never gotten around to trying the second pitch.

(Photo: An unknown leader on pitch two of Nurse's Aid (5.10a). I took this photo in May of 2010 from the bolted anchor above Limelight (5.7).)

Pitch two is reputed to be a sandbag at 5.10a. It is also a great photo op, with a super-exposed swing out of an alcove to the side of a white block hanging in space. It looked very intimidating.

It was time to give it a try.

The early part of the pitch sucks. I found slimy wetness and loose rock. Just past a truly scary block things improved. After some nice layback moves up a vertical crack I landed in the alcove just before the crux. I took a big gulp before leaving the security of this little cave and swinging out to the crux horizontal. It helped that I was able to arrange bomber gear before making the moves. Nevertheless, once I got out there I really felt all that air beneath me!

(Photo: That's me in the thick of things on pitch two of Nurse's Aid (5.10a). This photo was taken by Mountain Project user cvanpak, from the GT Ledge.)

I wish I could say I got the on-sight cleanly, but I did not. I tried heel-hooking out the horizontal and then rocking up over my heel but I couldn't make it work and eventually I took a hang. When I went at it a second time I found another way to mantel up over the crack. Once I figured out the move it felt straightforward; the grade of 5.10a seemed fair enough.

I have to go back for the send on pitch two of Nurse's Aid. It will be easy for me the second time, I think, since I've worked it out.

(Photo: My shot of Mountain Project user cvanpak on Limelight (5.7), taken from the top of Nurse's Aid.)

After we finished with Nurse's Aid, Connie got her on-sight of pitch one of Feast of Fools (5.10b), motoring through it without a moment's doubt. I was happy for her. I'd led this first pitch a couple of times but, as with Nurse's Aid, I hadn't tried pitch two, another star-worthy pitch of 5.10a. Ever eager to knock off another new pitch of 5.10, I went ahead and led it.

(Photo: Connie on pitch one of Feast of Fools (5.10b).)

It went well, though it wasn't quite what I expected. The pitch ascends a left-facing corner. I assumed there would be some kind of weird crux move to get around the corner, sort of like MF (5.9) or Moxie (5.9). Instead it turned out to involve steep, burly climbing straight up the corner, using obvious jugs and crimps. It was a bit dirty after the crux. The gear was adequate.

Pitch two of Feast of Fools is worth doing once. It isn't nearly as good as pitch one.

But let's get back to Matinee.

It was already late. Time was of the essence. I decided to do the two pitches of Matinee in one lead. I knew there would be rope drag but I thought it probably wouldn't be too bad, since the first pitch is so short.

Setting off on pitch one, I quickly got up to the stance beneath the big roof and confronted the crux of the climb: a thin traverse left, under the ceiling, with tiny crimps and underclings for the hands and, for the toes, only some pathetic little smears on the smooth, steep wall.

I really wanted to get the send on this pitch so I resolved neither to hesitate nor to give up. I placed a nest of good gear from the stance and then it was on. 

Stepping out onto the slick face, I delicately moved from crimp to undercling, matching toe to toe as I floated to the left. I considered placing another piece of gear mid-crux but decided against it-- with just a few steps I was going to be through the hard part. Holding my breath, I matched hands on the undercling hold I was using and stretched out to the lip at the end of the overhang. Finding a positive edge, I held on tight as I swung the other hand to a jug on the wall. Just like that, I'd made it! Pitch one was in the bag.

I was very happy, and relieved. Pitch one of Matinee is tenuous and thin-- I'm not sure I can repeat exactly what I did. I could easily slip off of the same moves next time. I'm glad we tried it in cool weather.

I placed a couple of pieces for Connie at the end of the pitch one crux and then kept going instead of stepping left to the traditional belay. Moving up, I arrived at the pitch two crux, a tough layback move over a shallow rooflet in a left-facing corner. Again the gear was good. There was a fixed nut there and I placed another nest of pieces to back it up. But the move was mysterious. I couldn't figure out how to get my foot up so I could get up over the little roof.

I stepped up and down, trying everything I could think of. I was conscious of our time slipping away. Finally I decided I had to commit to something. I launched myself upwards, but it didn't work. I couldn't get established above the overlap. Giving up, I asked Connie to take and I took a hang.

Right after I weighted the rope I spotted a hold I hadn't tried. As soon as I got back on the wall, I used this hold and got through the move. 

I was glad to be done with the hard climbing but I was angry with myself for giving up and hanging. I could easily have stepped down again and not blown the on-sight of pitch two. Impatience and frustration got the better of me. It was disappointing.

All of this was soon forgotten as the real adventure of our day began. 

I had taken a while getting through both of the Matinee cruxes. I knew the sun was setting, and I wasn't finished climbing. Connie still had to follow me. I needed to get this climb done! 

I got up to the next big roof. The move to escape the overhang wasn't hard but I soon discovered that I'd used up all my slings below.  

I couldn't extend my gear the way I needed to and as I stepped around the corner and up above the roof the rope drag became horrific.

I made a few more moves but I knew I couldn't continue. It was untenable. I could see the tree at the end of the pitch, only about 20 feet above me, but there was still some traversing to be done and I could barely move the rope. I decided I had to build a belay and bring Connie up.

I should not have tried to combine the pitches. Or I should have been more careful about my slings.

Once she was on belay, Connie climbed quickly but there were issues. As light started to leave the sky, Connie struggled to remove one of my cams below the big initial roof. 

Time passed, with no movement.... She kept working at removing the cam. I shouted down that if it seemed hopeless she should just leave the piece. 

Finally she got it free and simultaneously swung out to the left. With the rope now out from under the roof, the drag situation was much improved, but Connie had to do some boinking to get back on the wall.

Once she resumed climbing she surmounted crux number two and came up to join me at my hanging belay.

(Photo: My phone captured this grainy shot of Connie as she climbed up to my hanging belay on Matinee (5.10d).)

I was in a hurry to get going with what little daylight remained, so I just flipped the rope stack over, grabbed a handful of cams and slings from Connie and took off again. Connie had wisely brought up her headlamp and I took it for the lead, but I didn't turn it on. I thought I could see well enough without it. As I climbed up to the tree I could barely make out what my toes were stepping on. But I tried to be careful and still placed a couple of pieces along the way. I made it to the ledge.

When I got to the tree I turned on the headlamp, inspected the fixed tat anchor and clipped in. Breathing a sigh of relief-- we were almost done!-- I pulled up the rope and then realized that in my haste to finish the climb, I had left my Reverso behind at the hanging belay with Connie. 

Oops. I was really making a mess of things.

I had no belay device.

It was now completely dark. 

And was I going crazy, or was it starting to snow??

It was definitely snowing. 

I hope I redeemed myself by adjusting to the situation. I put Connie on belay using the Munter hitch, which I hadn't used in years. It is a very good thing to know, for just this kind of situation. I would encourage you to learn it if you don't know it already.

I pointed the headlamp downward to illuminate the rock for Connie and she joined me in a few minutes. I was certain we were were just one rap from the ground, but we couldn't see very far in the dark. We triple-checked everything, tied knots in the ends and were mindful of the rope as we rapped on down.

Needless to say, I was late for dinner! 

I was glad we tackled Matinee, even if it did turn into kind of an epic. We faced a few surprises but kept our heads and were safe. I was proud to on-sight pitch one and kind of pissed off about not on-sighting pitch two. Now I have to go back for the complete send. It is a great climb. Best to do it in two pitches! 

When I got home I pored over the Williams books and compiled a list of every star-worthy pitch of 5.10 in the Trapps and the Nears that I have not sent on lead. Here is what I came up with. If I have been on a route before, I have indicated it in parentheses. In the Trapps, most of the climbs are routes I need to revisit for the red-point. There are only a few I haven't tried at all. In the Nears, by contrast, I still need to hit several three-star multi-pitch classics that I have never attempted.


Sonja (5.10a/b)
Stirrup Trouble (5.10b) (I've followed it once)
Matinee pitch two (5.10d) (I need the red-point)
Nemesis (5.10a)
Birdie Party pitch two roof (5.10b) (I've followed it once)
Interstice pitch two roof (5.10d)
Mother's Day Party pitch two roof (5.10a)
Reach of Faith (5.10c) (should be an adventure-- no one does this climb)
Turdland (5.10d) (I've led it the 5.9 way)
Nurse's Aid pitch two (5.10a) (I need the red-point)
Directissima Direct (pitch one 5.10b/c variation that skips the ramp and traverse)
Ent Line (5.10d or 5.11a) (I've top-roped it)
Space Invaders (5.10d) (I've followed it once)
Tweak or Freak (5.10a)
Bragg-Hatch (5.10d)
Creaky Joints and Trigger Points (5.10b)
Tennish Anyone? (5.10c) (I need the red-point)

Near Trapps:

Topeka (5.10a)
Outer Space Direct (5.10b)
Criss Cross Direct (5.10a)
Fat Stick Direct (5.10b)
Tulip Mussel Garden (5.10d) (I need the red-point)
Elder Cleavage Direct (5.10b)
Boob Job (5.10b)
Wooly Clam Taco (5.10c) (I've top-roped it)
Hang Ten (5.10a)
Whatever (5.10a)
Spinal Exam (5.10b/c)

I'm excited to get to work on this list! And to resume my attack on the 5.11 grade in the Gunks.

I hope your 2016 was as good as mine was, climbing-wise. Though I didn't see any major breakthroughs this year, I achieved a handful of 5.11 trad sends. I enjoyed successful climbing trips to Red Rocks and the New River Gorge. I also had a fun, casual day in Seneca Rocks about which I have yet to post.

If 2017 brings more of the same I'll be satisfied.

I wish everyone out there in the climbing world a happy and safe New Year!