|Bruno on the first pitch of Birdland|
Today was our last day and the first day that dawned sunny and beautiful. We were packed and out of the hotel by 8 a.m. We had to stop climbing by 2:30 p.m. in order to wrestle the Sunday afternoon returning traffic, drop-off the car and make our flight home. Bruno decided I need to experience the other major climbing area at the Gunks: the Near Trapps. All of our climbing until now had been at the Trapps. Bruno had been raving about Birdland (5.8++) and while I perused the guidebook for a warm-up (a warm-up for a 5.8? Yes), I found a 5.6 called Disneyland and then a 5.9 called Roseland. All were three-out-three-star routes and I told Bruno we had to do the soon-to-be-famous-and-widely-sought Land Trilogy!
The approaches to Near Trapps are even shorter and easier than the Trapps and we soon arrived at Disneyland. A party of two were on it, but stringing the two pitches into one, so we decided to wait a bit. I geared up and we waited a bit more. The Gunks are rife with beginner and moderate climbers, with good reason. I reminisced about my early days. I led the third or fourth climb I ever did and from then on led 90% of the pitches I climbed. It kept me in the lower grades for a long time, but I gained experience. I wouldn't recommend this approach, as I was a bit lucky to survive it. I used to scare myself silly so often. Most of the time I wasn't in that dangerous of a position, but I didn't know if any of the pieces would hold. A few of times I was in real danger, usually because of stupidity, but sometimes I was a bit too bold. That isn't a problem these days.
I did run out Disneyland quite a bit in order to reduce rope drag. The leader in front of me had used a couple of 6-foot long slings. I had a couple of long ones, but they are a pain. It's easier, though more serious, to just run it out. I did this at the huge roof where the route goes hard right to skirt it and then back left. This route, especially at the start seemed more like 5.7 to me. I'm sure, like at other areas, if you have these things wired, they seem easier. That's certainly the case with a bunch of Eldo routes. In fact, a Gunks climber would have a lot more trouble climbing in Eldo than an Eldo climber would have climbing at the Gunks. Eldo is cryptic, with techie, tiny gear, and holds that always seem to be oriented in the worst possible way. The Gunks is more like a gym. In general the sequences are easy to read and the holds are mostly very good and almost always oriented like a pull-up bar. With holds like this, the difficulty arises from the steepness and the distance to the next horizontal jug.
The previous day, while hiking to our last two routes, Bruno twisted his ankle. I heard him yelp in pain and turned to watch something I'd never seen before: an irate Bruno. He threw down his pack like it was a puma that had just leapt onto this back. He staggered for a second and then screamed an obscenity like Adam Ondra falling off his 5.16a project for the 200th time. He bent over picked up a rock and hurled it down into the offending boulder like the hammer of Thor. I half expected it to cleave cleanly into two halves revealing Excalibur. For a moment I was frightened, wondering if his wrath turned on me how fast I could get up the hill behind me. Right before my eyes I'd seen the transformation from mild-manner David Banner into the green "You wouldn't like me when I'm anger" Bruno Hulk. Bruno calls himself the Honey Badger because nothing will stop him from climbing and indeed this injury did not stop him, but Honey Badgers are not supposed to give a shit. Bruno gave a shit or two about this injury. In fact, it might have been a crap ton, but I forget the conversion ratio between shit loads and crap tons. Regardless, he wrapped his ankle and soldiered on, but due to this injury I lowered him all the way back down the cliff to the bottom and then dropped the rope and walked off. This burst however lasted only 2 minutes and, within 15 minutes, we were climbing again, with a large grin on our faces.
We wanted Birdland next, but it was taken so I headed up Roseland. This route heads up a very slick dihedral and was uncharacteristically a vertical crack climb, mostly. The protection opportunities are myriad but near the roof at the top the footholds were so slick that I got more pumped than I would have preferred before starting the crux traverse on marginal crimps and glassy, near frictionless feet. A couple of pins protected this section and at one point the horizontal cracked opened wide enough for a hand jam and I took a moment to de-pump before the final hard section up to the two-bolt anchor. Most parties rappel from here, but we were having none of that. We wanted to top out. The next pitch was well worth it, sporting some heady sections and some unusual moves. The section that most got my attention was a flared, slick slot. It took me awhile to work out the sequence that wouldn't result in a fall. The last pitch was easy, but we were too high to lower Bruno and we walked down together, following a 6-7-foot black snake. This snake was cool. He didn't seem too bothered by our presence. He just kept going on his way, right down the trail in front of us. He was so stretched out that he looked so vulnerable. I could have easily picked him up by his fat tail.
Next up from Birdland and it got my full attention, right from the start. I clipped a pin fifteen or twenty feet up and then had to run it out 10-15 feet to the next placement. The only hard section was within six feet of the pin, but it was dangerously close to ground fall potential and there are no gear opportunities in between. The first pitch has a very distinct crux that is considerably more serious than the rest of the route. The protection for this more wasn't ideal. I put in a 0.5 Camalot and only two cams were solid. I decided to put in a yellow Alien as well and only two cams were solid on that piece, but together I had four solid cams. The move went like this. Far to the left was a marginal crimp. At full stretch my right hand pinched a side pull that would be better when I could get high enough to lean left on it. Next I had to smear on next-to-nothing, stay tight, and high step the right foot to a really good foothold. That was it, but was all above those marginal cams and very insecure until I got that foot up. The rest of the pitch went nicely and I got to another two-bolt anchor. Again most people rap off. We aren't most people.
An older guy at the base of the cliff, clearly a local, was giving everyone information on what routes to do. He help me locate Birdland. Bruno overheard him say that, "No one has done the second pitch of Birdland for probably forty years." Bruno scoffed at this since he'd climbed it five years ago. When Bruno arrived at the belay he said, "Okay, we have two choices." I looked up wondering where the two alternatives went. I was already thinking that I'd be picking the easier one when Bruno said, "We can go down or continue to the top." I said, "Now, Bruno, going down isn't our style." Once again the second pitch proved to be well worth it. Plus, going to the top turns a single-pitch, lower-off into a mini-adventure.
The climbing was cerebral right from the start. After clipping the pin above the belay, I was stumped on the next section. Where were my beloved horizontal jugs with the bomber cracks? All that was above me was sort of a rounded blob and I couldn't reach that. Bruno, ever patient, let me work it out and I finally got high enough to grasp it in my right hand. It was okay and allowed me to move a bit higher and reach for a horizontal, which was okay, but didn't have a crack for protection. I made another long reach to another edge and was able to get in some pro. Relatively easy climbing led me to a big, hanging dihedral where I was stumped again. I had a yellow Alien below my feet with a long sling on it. I needed to move up over the roof guarding entrance to the dihedral and my only hold was at the lip of the roof. There some footholds out to the right, but they were small, slope-y, and I just didn't have confidence in them. There was a very marginal finger hold well out to the right, but I couldn't figure out how to use it. I went up and down on this many times. Bruno finally yelled up, "Come on, Bill. You can do it!" I put in a stopper a bit higher than the Alien and put a quickdraw on it. With another piece and looking at a shorter fall, I unlocked the sequence and was able to stretch high for a decent hold and pull over the roof and onto moderate ground. I rambled up to the top and Bruno followed. Despite being a Gunks veteran Bruno repeated the same mistake on this pitch as he made on the first pitch. At each crux section he failed to go up and down numerous times, puzzling out the moves and checking the protection. He merely just reached up, grabbed the holds and pulled down. I chastised him for incorrect technique on the first pitch, but apparently he was unable or unwilling to climb "correctly."
We'd done three routes, seven pitches, and garnered nine stars in the guidebook. It was time to head for home. We marveled at the profusion of tolls on our way to the airport, so different from Colorado, but the whole trip was different and that was the point. We didn't travel to the Gunks for better climbing than we have in Colorado for surely that isn't the case. Everyone we met was astounded that we had left Colorado to come east to the Gunks. I kept having to explain that I had to use a ticket and I'm not that into Broadway musicals (I'm into them, mind you, just not that into them). I forgot to mention that it cost $17/day/climber to climb at the Gunks. That's steep, but if you lived nearby you'd buy a season pass, which cost $90.
I had a great time on this trip and lot of that was due to my great guide and friend Bruno Hache (pronounced Hash-aye, as in "Bruno's last name has a certain cachet to it"). Naturally I pronounce it "Hatchy" so that I come across as a crude, ignorant American instead of a suave, debonair French Canadian. Bruno let me lead everything and said a number of times how enjoyable it was to just follow up some fondly remembered classics. He did the driving, found the hotel, selected three great dinner restaurants and an awesome breakfast place. Bravo Bruno!
We left a lot undone here, including Modern Times, which a couple of friends told me to do. It was wet every day until today, but I looked at it a few times. I'm sure it's a good route because of the recommendations, but it is, beyond any doubt, by far the ugliest, chossiest, grossest, mossiest looking route at the Gunks. So, it was little easier to resist than all the other beautiful routes…