Friday, May 09, 2014

The Gunks!

Bruno reaches the GT ledge

The tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 eventually led to me Gunks a year later. When Danny's Harvard campus visit was cancelled, we had an unused Jet Blue ticket and they only fly to the east coast. Now what could I do back in the east?

Climbing at the Gunks was always on my bucket list. When I first started climbing in 1980 there were just three major climbing centers in the entire US: Yosemite, Eldorado Canyon, and the Shawangunks in New York. Things have changed a lot in the climbing world since then and the prestige of these last two areas has diminished a bit, somewhat because they have stuck to very traditional climbing ethics and have almost exclusively trad climbing.

The Gunks is famous for great holds and big roofs. I love the former and am very intimidated by the latter. I'd heard from a number of other climbers that the Gunk ratings tend to be sandbags. Two friends told me about routes rated 5.8+ that were solid 5.10. I decided to start very conservatively and concentrate on the classic routes in the single digits.

I drafted Bruno Hache to join me for four days and we took the red-eye flight to JFK. After three hours of fit-full semi-sleep in an airline seat we walked about a mile through the airport, took the AirTrain for another couple of miles and finally plopped into our rental car. The agent at the rental car counter informed me that my license had expired and Bruno, already my guide and rope gun, added chauffeur to his list of services.

We drove to New Paltz, had breakfast, failed to check in at our hotel and then drove to the Gunks. We started hiking around noon local time. We hiked the flat carriage road and stopped at the first multi-starred route: Bunny, 5.6. Since Bruno had already climbed all the routes we'd do on previous trips, he let me lead the easy ones. I zipped up this cool route and lowered off slings at the top. Bruno then followed and cleaned up. We repeated this procedure for Double Chin (5.5) and Horseman (5.5). The latter goes by two huge roofs and from the ground looks highly unlikely that it would be 5.5. Alas, it might be a bit harder, but it is close to that rating. The holds on these easy routes are just incredible. This is like gym climbing. The holds are just tremendously big and positive. It is so fun.

We packed up and hiked 15 or 20 minutes further, headed for maybe the most famous climb at the Gunks: High Exposure. It says quite a lot when a 5.6 route is the most well-known route in area, but this route deserves that reputation. It is just amazing. I strung the first two pitches together up to the Grand Traverse (GT) ledge. The money pitch is the last one, where you turn a huge roof by sneaking out the right side with big exposure. The holds and protection are excellent, so I wasn't too worried. It was just pure fun. Placing gear on the final headwall could be pumpy if you are slow to place gear, but the route is probably rating nearly right. I might lean toward a 5.7 rating because of the possible pump factor in placing gear.

Directissima (5.9) was next. Bruno thought I was ready. I led the first two pitches (5.8, 5.9) and Bruno couldn't contain himself any longer on the last pitch - he had to get on the sharp end. The final pitch was 5.9 as well. The crux, I think, was the traverse at the start of the second pitch. It was a very pumpy hand traverse. The rest of the climb was just very steep on incredibly good holds. So fun!

So, we did five routes and nine pitches on our first half day. On hardly any sleep. It was a good start.

We stopped at the Brau House for dinner. I was hungry, but mostly I was sleepy. Afterwards we went to the hotel and after a shower I was in bed by 9:30 p.m. after being on the go for 27 hours.

1 comment:

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