Tag Archives: Shawangunks

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...

An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The First

Today’s Music: Pink Floyd – Learning to Fly

Quick note – All Rock Face pictures copied from Mountain Project
Walking in for an opening shift at the restaurant one day, the conversation went like this:
Me (walking in): Hi Fred. Good weekend?
Fred (the bartender, doing his opening tasks): Real good. Went Rock Climbing.
Me (stopping): Sorry – what’s that again?
Fred: I went climbing up by New Paltz.
Me: You’re kidding.
Fred: No, It was great.
Me: You’re kidding.
Fred. No. At the Shawangunks
Me: You’re kidding
Fred (beginning to back away): We had a great time.
Me (bug-eyed): Wow!
Fred (smiling again) You want to go next time?

That’s all it took.

So two weeks later, we piled into Fred’s pickup and headed up to New Paltz. After a quick stop at Rock and Snow to rent my climbing gear, we hit the cliffs.

Conquering the cliff isn't the point. But it sure is fun.

Fred did an excellent job explaining the gear – Harness, shoes, carabiner, ATC (Air Traffic Controller – what your partner uses to prevent you from becoming jelly when you come off the cliff face).

Guys, the harness won't look good or feel good. The ATC will prevent unscheduled landings.

We get to the Gunks and hike up to the face. Fred gives me a “hi-how-ya-doin” on the basics of climbing, and then he shimmies up Dirty Chimney.

A nice simple shimmy up the chimney.

I follow. It’s like scrambling up a very steep hill, using your hands and feet. And you know what? It’s pretty damn cool.

So we move on to Classic – a 5.6.
(Climb difficulty is ranked as “5.x.” 5.0 – 5.1 is like Dirty Chimney – easy, some scrambling. 5.14 is the most difficult rank – like hanging upside down from a fingernail. Just one.)

It has all the elements of a classic climb, including the short roof by the climber.

Up we go. Fred climbs and places “pro” – protection. These are the bits that anchor our climbing rope to the cliff. I stand at the bottom, playing out the rope and making sure he has enough slack to move, but not so much that he’ll hit ground if he falls. He gets to the top and secures himself. It’s my turn.
I double and triple check that I’m tied in correctly. And off I go.

Here is the approach to climbing I’ve learned: Make sure your security is bulletproof. Make sure the rope anchors are bulletproof. Make sure your harness and atc are bulletproof.
Then climb like they aren’t there.
I put my hand on the face and find a spot for my foot. “Climbing” I yell up to Fred as I shift my weight, my other foot leaving the dirt floor. I’M CLIMBING!
I find little nubs of granite – think of pressing your hand down on a table dusted with sprinkles – that shouldn’t be big enough to hold a fly. But they’re big enough to support my weight as I lean into the cliff to lift my foot.
The tacky rubber on my shoes is enough to grab tiny outcroppings of rock, or even better, to do a “smear”.
A smear is splaying your fingers out against the rock, and pressing your upturned toes as hard as you can against it. Since climbing shoe rubber is very soft, it will grab the uneven surface of the rock.
If you’re on anything less than a 90 degree vertical, you should hold.
The problem is, the only way to test it is to put all your weight on it. Kind of a Pass/Fail thing. And I didn’t believe it would work until it did.
I make the first few moves with no problem. I’m about 6′ tall, so I can reach from hold to hold. I learn to extend my arms and support my weight by my skeleton as opposed to my muscles, which lets me last longer before getting tired.

I make it up, cleaning as I go. See, the rope is clipped into the protection, and I’m clipped into the rope. When my clip gets to the rope clip, I have to take the rope out. I also pull out the piece of protection that anchored the rope. That’s cleaning.
Don’t worry, the person on belaying (holding the rope in case you fall) is anchored in, and the rope anchors along the way aren’t necessary anymore.
So I make it up my first real pitch and as my big stupid grinning head pops over the small roof, Fred is grinning back at me just as hard.
“Fun, right?”, he asks nodding his head.
A loud belly laugh is my only answer.

That’s the what. The Why will be posted soon.