An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The Second

Today’s Music: James Brown – I Feel Good

In a previous post, I talked about learning to climb and my first trips up the face. Here are two more climbs that show some of what I love about it.
I’m trying to convey some of the excitement, you know, like in a great travelogue.
Hope you enjoy it.

There’s a climb at the Gunks called High Exposure
It’s 2 pitches (sections of climb). The first pitch starts up a lovely section of rock to the Grand Traverse Ledge, a gap in the rock that goes a long way across the face, parallel to the earth.

You go straight up, then follow the Grand Traverse Ledge to the right, where it opens up – it’s a  beautiful spot that looks over the surrounding area.

A beautiful spot to catch some sun.

Once you get up to the Grand traverse ledge, you pause a while, check your gear, have some water, and get ready to start the 2nd pitch.
You find some great holds and shimmy up just a bit to a small roof.

Something wonderful is about to happen...

Writing this, years after I first did this climb, my heart is beating faster as I try to describe what happened next to me.
I made it up to a smaller ledge beneath the roof in the above picture. I got into position for “The Move” – the specific pattern of motion to beat the crux (hardest part) of the climb.
I made it to the edge of the ledge and stopped, facing out into space.
I held my arms over my head. I was told by everyone we’d met at the base and on the ledge that there was a massive hold – bomber, as it’s called. I was told I wouldn’t be able to see it because of the positioning, but if I just reached over my head, it would be obvious.
They were all right. It was.
So there I am, feet on a solid base of rock. Head sticking out 200 feet over nothing. My hands in a deathgrip on the rock behind me.

To complete the move, lean forward, hold on to the rock, spin around, then just start climbing.
Climbing – no problem. I’d already made it up ~200 feet. Holding on to the rock? Also no problem. Did I mention the death grip.
Here’s the problem: Spin. Around.
Because during that moment, both of your feet are in motion, and for just a fraction of a second, you just have one (deathgrip) hand on the rock. While hanging face first over 200 feet of air.
I couldn’t do it. Fred was encouraging me. The other guys on the ledge were encouraging me. It’s The Move, what High Exposure is known for. It’s also where the climb gets it’s name – for the moment of that move, you are high and exposed.
So there I am, deathgrip, leaning forward, and frozen. Can’t get myself to commit an make the damn turn.

Do what now you say?

2 guys were rappelling down a few yards over and saw me. They stopped, seeing the trouble I was having, and probably hearing me ask Fred exactly how far out of his mind he was.
“Dude” called the first. “You’ve got it”.
“C’mon” chimed in the second. “You’re halfway there. Just step out”.
I thought about this for a second, feeling the moisture starting to build on my hands. I reached for more chalk (one hand at a time) from the small bag hanging at my waist.
“Fellas” I yelled back, “You’re both out of your minds. Who the hell does this?!?”
They laughed.
“Dude” said the first (must have been a surfer). “I went through the same thing my first time out. You’ll be fine”.
I took a deep breath and looked at the guys. I looked out over the forests surrounding the cliff. I even looked straight down.
I think my last thought was that this would be a great story if I made it, and a great eulogy if I didn’t.
I took a deep breath, and looked at the rock I was standing on.
Plant my foot and pivot
Take one hand off the hold
Swing my other foot around
Grab back on and roll my other hand

That’s it. Three seconds later, I’m firmly and securely glued to the face about 7 feet above the crux. The rappellers, the guys on the ledge, Fred all cheering me on.

That’s what I love most about climbing. It’s not the harness (really, it isn’t!), not the bragging rights (well, it is a little). It’s the discovery of what this – 2 arms, 2 legs, torso and brain can do. It is the most full body sport I’ve ever tried. And every time I go, it. is. amazing. Even a half-assed day just doing easy pitches is a phenomenally well spent day.
And it’s being part of a small exclusive club that knows something that non-members won’t ever know. Until they try it.

On another trip with Fred, we did Slightly Roddy. 30 feet up, then climb out along a crack in the roof about 10 – 15 feet, hanging parallel to the earth.

Fred tries first. Gets up to the roof, starts climbing out
“You got me?” he calls.
I confirm that I’ve got almost no slack in the rope. He makes it out about 8 feet, working his way along the crack. He pauses. He curses. And off he comes.
He drops about 8 feet – length of the rope to the anchor, plus the two feet that I pop into the air catching his wieght.
We’re both laughing ourselves silly as I settle down and lower him to the ground.
Then it’s my turn.
I shoot right up the face – after all, I’ve done this a few times now.. Then I get to the roof.
There’s a crack, maybe an inch, inch and a half wide. The move is to pull your legs up, frog style, and jam in the tips of your toes. fingers are extended into the crack and “crimped”, so that the pressure on finger tips and second knuckle keeps your from swinging down head first.
A little further out, the crack widens. So in goes the whole fist.

So there I am, contorting myself like a tied up duck waiting for roasting, tensing every muscle I own to stay attached to this slab of rock, and my toes. Start. To Slip.

I’m a kid from the burbs. Sure, I’ve looked for adventures, learned to sail. I know how to ski and my roadtrips used to be legendary. But this? Never ever would have expected myself to be in this position, clinging to tons of Granite, from the bottom. At the mercy of the capricious rock.
And it’s funny.
So I start laughing. Hard. And harder. And Fred starts laughing.
Fortunately, I still had enough functioning brain to realize that if the feet went and the hands didn’t, I’d suffer an impromptu amputation.
So I managed to gasp “Fred! Coming off!”
He laughed back that he had me and down I swung, lowered gently to the ground.

We each tried it 3 more times before we were exhausted.
On the way back home, we stopped at the New Paltz distributor for a beer.
Because we earned it.

Sometimes you drink the beer, sometimes the beer drinks you...

55 responses to “An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The Second

  1. My heart started beating faster, I got a little bit dizzy and my arms hurt… it too early for that beer? Great post!!


  2. Wow, that was awesome!


  3. “A little further out, the crack widens. So in goes the whole fist.” That is some useful advice, adaptable to many situations. And like I said… Very hard to insure.


  4. Reading this made my heart race like crazy. My idea of climbing is at Circuit Gym in Portland. Well, and very, very, very moderate stuff in the real world. Great job!

    Love that you drank Dead Guy. It’s my very favorite. Being from the land of microbrews I have a great appreciation for all sorts of beer.


    • My routine wheneber possible, is after an adventure, finish up at a local eatery with a good meal and a great local beer.
      Perfect way to reward a dance on the stupid side…


  5. Absolutely fascinating! I’ve never given rock climbing much thought except that I don’t want to try it. But after reading this I can see how it could be the absolute most exhilerating thing in the world! Why don’t we ever see this on TV? Reality show climbing. I’d watch it!


    • Every so often I’ll catch something on it, and it just makes me want to get back up there. Sadly, tv just doesn’t convey the thrill of it…
      I think you should try it at least once, Linda!


  6. Hi,
    Good on you, what a terrifying moment that would of been, I don’t know how you do it. I could never do anything like that, even when I was younger. You had me on the edge the whole post, wonderful read. 🙂


  7. Oh! Rockin the Climb you are. Wow I really felt it and caught your excitement and exhilaration. I know what you mean by that feeling – of what your body and mind can do – it is better than any drug out there. And at the end of the day that contented exhaustion – yeah I want to go do something now – You presented this in a whole different perspective than I have ever looked at it from and I would actually be willing to give it a try – Now that being said – am trying to figure out – which Queen song? No don’t tell me yet – the crack by Edward Hotspur with your reply – the answer should be just right there laid out for the taking – perhaps I will widen my point of reference and go deeper in to the abyss of my mind – but don;t tell me ..yet


    • You’re right – the exhilaration high is a really big part of what I love about all these sports.
      The song is a reply to Hotspur, so just think slightly off-color.
      You’ll get it….


  8. These are great! I can’t even imagine how physically fit you’d have to be to do that. Love the pictures.


  9. 2 things:

    The song “Learning to fly” instantly comes to mind—applicable?


    I always think of that terrifying marine commercial from a few years ago when the man is just dangling over the edge of the cliff, his feet swinging hopelessly in the air. He makes it, but I’m convinced I would have died. Kudos to you for not dying.


    • edrevets –
      1 – Very applicable. I used it for part one. Now I need to find something else for the hanggliding post..
      2 – Don’t know the commercial, but if I died now (before all the other stupid things I want to try) I would be quite grumpy about it!


  10. EG, ARE YOU KIDDING!?!? sheesh man…my heart’s still beating hard up there with you. wow. that must be the quintessence of existence right there on that ledge…wow again. 2 wows and a huge gulp. continue…


  11. Pingback: Sheesh, I Go Away For 4 Days AND « Is It Possible To See It All

  12. Dang …you are more daring than I … but one question … If you are on a small ledge, does it matter which way you face if you have to fart?


  13. you are one brave person because i would never, ever be able to do that!!! and the pictures turned out awesome – you look like a pro.


    • Oh no, I didn’t take those, and they aren’t of me. I was holding on to the rock with a death grip, and my partner was way at the top out of view.

      And you should think about trying it – it is so much fun! Plus you would come back with a great set of shots, Ell.Tea.Emm!


  14. Wow. Now you have me convinced that I have never done anything worthy enough of drinking a beer. That looks totally awesome!


  15. A very well written account of those climbs! I almost felt like I was there with you.

    These are great stories, Guap. Please keep them coming.


  16. therecoveringbrit

    Jeez, that’s just crazy stuff! I’d be doing the death grip for sure….So cool that you were cheered on by the other climbers though! Nice brotherhood. You guys definitely deserved the beer afterwards too….


  17. I’ve tried the climbing and didn’t really enjoy it. And I’m no stranger to demanding and potentially costly (in terms of life) physical activity either. I’ve done my share of that stuff. You know what, though. I truly discovered what a great thing the body is and what great things it can do when I gave birth. My body made a PERSON! And my boobs, whose previous job was to fill out a sweater (and rather nicely, if I may say so) all of a sudden had a real purpose. I sustained a child exclusively for 6 months. My body did that. The body is a great thing with unbelievable potential, whether you’re clinging to a precipice using the death grip or giving birth or any of the other things we put ourselves through. Congratulations on discovering your potential. It’s a great thing.


    • Impressive, WG.
      Now if you had made a person while hanging from a cliff face, that would really be something.
      It is wonderful to discover your potential, even cooler that we all discover it in different ways.


  18. Way cool Guapo. “Death Grip” … If it were butter fingers here, I would make a Death Slip 😆


  19. wow…that sounds amazing! Great story!


  20. WOW! great piece. I could feel every moment you described and the feelings to me were… sheer fright heh. And a sincere appreciation of your brass balls to even attempt this.
    Being afraid of heights (even on step stools in the house-seriously) never scares me when staring down a double black on skies, probably because I can (usually) see the fall line.
    Climbing a sheer mountain face? yikes.
    I shall live vicariously through you though. Amazing and fabulous description of your adventure! Felt like I was there.
    You rock.


  21. Did you lead or were you in a top rope?
    I like the word deathgrip, what is a deathgrip? When you feel that your arms are pumping so hard that you are going to fall?


  22. OMG! You went climbing in the Gunks?????????? I am so FREAKIN’ jealous!!!! I have ALWAYS wanted to climb up there. You lucky lucky dog. The rock, from what I understand, is superb; the exposure like no other. And you had a nice little audience from the rappers… I LOVE the climbing community. They will all give you support and urge you on – and most of the time, will never let you quit. Because when you reach the point you think you can’t do it, then you can… the feeling is nothing less than being on top of the world. My first climb was in Dec. 1994, and when I topped that puppy out, I was immediately addicted. When I got back home, I immediately started ordering my gear and would drive four hours to the closest climbing gym twice a week. Then when the weather was warm enough, every weekend I’d go down to the Red River Gorge in KY and climb climb and then climb some more. I so miss it. But I have some wonderful memories of my trips. My best is topping out a 1,000 foot climb in Red Rocks NV. I actually looked down at Vegas on the horizon and it looked like a model city in the distance. I did the Rocky Balboa dance when I topped it out. I hope you keep going… it is such an incredible sport.


    • I haven’t been in a few years, but know exactly what you mean, She. Every so often, I play with my chalk bag and atc, and I have a collection of 1 – 5 mm line that I use everywhere in real life.
      My first climb was (I think) a 5.2 called dirty chimney that I just scrabbled up, then we did a 5.6 called Classic, and I knew I would be buying gear.
      I never got to the point where I was leading, but except for a jackass in the Judean Desert, I’ve had great climbing partners.

      For the same kind of killer view you describe, the Gunks has Middle Earth. You get up towards the top, and the old Mohonk House is off in the distance, with all the trees stretching off into the distance, and it looks like something out of Tolkien.
      You’re absolutely right about the mentality. I’ve met very few people climbing I wouldn’t grab a beer with, and I would love to climb out west one day…


      • Actually, even though I live out here in NM, most of my climbing was back east. Long story… bad marriage when I moved here, yada yada yada. The Red River Gorge in KY is my ‘home turf”… where I learned to climb. At my peak, I was leading sport 5.11b’s, but never led trad. Although I loved to second in trad, especially multi-pitches. There’s something about the technical aspect of having to clean, met the lead climber, setting up hanging belays, passing gear, etc. that just adds a whole new aspect to the world of climbing.


        • Nice thing about the Gunks is that there are plenty of multi-pitch climbs, but most of them have good ledges to anchor to, so a hanging belay isn’t necessary.
          I like seconding too, just to be able to see how the pro was placed and learn from it.
          For me, the thrill is ignoring the line, and just focusing on what the capabilities of arms, legs and brain are. I love the focus that climbing demands.


Ahem *best Ricky Ricardo voice* Babble-OOOoooo!!!

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