Trip Report: Gunks by Headlamp

I was searching fervently for the old piton hammered into one of the many horizontal cracks of the final stretch of rock on High Exposure.  The temperature had plummeted once the sun had set, and now my hands were beginning to feel numb against the cold stone.  My forearms were pumped, and I was hoping that the narrow beam of my headlamp would be able to catch a glint of the weathered iron before my fingers lost their grip.

103_0195The day had started off before the sun had risen.  What started originally as an excuse to get out of the house while my wife hosted a “skin care party” turned in to a reason to celebrate, as after ten months, I had finally landed a job that was starting on Monday.  I was greeted by what looked to be the first real frost of the season coating my car.  Some scraping, a quick stop at Wawa for a Sizzli, and a Starbuck’s Chai later, I was motoring on I-95 North towards New Paltz.

The trip up went quickly, and as I drove to the Bistro it was shaping up to be an excellent day.  The multi-use camp sites looked to be empty, a good sign that there weren’t many climbers there and that Scott and I would not be standing in line to hit some of the more popular routes.  While I was pleasantly surprised, I found it odd with it being such nice weather.  As I rounded the corner that brought me to the Bistro those hopes started to melt: the parking lot was packed.

Tandem bikes? Really?  All of these people were here to ride tandem bikes?  This was great for us, but I mean…come on.  Tandem bikes?  Really?

103_0210We started the day on Beginner’s Delight.  I had never climbed it before, but it came highly recommended by Wolins.  I learned here that I really need to learn my left from my right.  Todd Swain’s Book of Lies describes the route as starting at a left-facing corner system, so of course, I was eyeing up a right-facing corner (which turned out to be Overhanging Layback).  I realized the mistake before we started, and with the help of a couple of other climbers, we found the start of Beginner’s Delight and started up.

103_0200The first pitch is an easy scramble and was relatively uneventful, save for me inhaling a lungful of seeds from some plant.  I spent about 15 minutes coughing up a lung after that.  The second pitch is a solidly fun corner climb with a left traverse towards the second belay.  The third pitch is the “money pitch”, with two roofs that need to be navigated to top out.  All in all, a ton of fun for its grade (5.3), and worth repeating.

We planned to hit Frog’s Head next, but there was a group already top roping the first pitch.  As we approached the base of the cliff, there was someone on City Lights with two dogs, one of which was a black lab that was sitting, wagging his tail and doing the typical “pay attention to me” whining that all labs seem to do.  He came over and sat down in front of me, so I started to pet his neck.  He started to growl.  This was strange to me, being a lab owner and knowing that generally, they are the friendliest dogs on the planet.  I started to withdrawal my hand when he suddenly snarled and bit my arm.  Fortunately, I was wearing my soft shell and no damage was done to my arm (or my jacket).  The owner benignly called the dog over, and didn’t bother to offer an apology.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this until I saw him pull his rope and have it almost land on someone without him warning anyone or yelling, “Rope!”, so I am chalking it up to bad manners and this guy just being a douche.

Rather than stick around, we headed over to RMC, a climb that I had completed during our last trip in the spring.  It’s definitely worth climbing, with the middle section between the tree “belay” and the GT ledge having a quality sequence there.  The last pitch is nice climbing as well, and if you decide to trust all of the old pitons, you can practically climb it without using your own gear. (Not that I would recommend that.)

By this point, I was feeling pretty confident and wanted to get one more route in, so I floated the idea of hitting High Exposure to my brother.  He had never climbed it before, and being that it is one of the top 5 classics of the Gunks, I figured that it was worth a shot.

It was about 4:00 when we finally started the first, long pitch of High E.  I figured that we would probably be rapping off in the dark, so we both had our headlamps with us.  I flew up the first pitch, trying to save daylight and keep my momentum going.  The plan was to top out at just about dusk, rap off, hike out and grab some dinner.  Aside from my Sizzli earlier in the morning, all I had to eat all day was a peanut butter Powerbar, so my stomach was growling.

103_0223Things were going smoothly with Scott cruising up the easy holds…and then nothing.  No movement.  I figured he was trying to get one of the pieces of pro out and it was being stubborn.  2 minutes passed, then 5…and no movement.  The sun was inching closer to the horizon and dipping behind the mountains, and the shadows were growing longer.  Lights around the valley were twinkling on.  10 minutes.  I repositioned myself to peer over the edge of the belay ledge to check in with Scott as he wrestled with one of the cams.  Finally, it popped out and he was on his way.

Dusk had settled in solidly when I began climbing up to the roof of the top pitch.  I felt the familiar flutter in my stomach and chest as I approached the move, that scary-ass move that makes you feel like you are stepping out into nothing, the move that had turned me away 4 years ago and I finally conquered in May.  I cruised through it and began the sprint up to the top on the overhanging jugs.  At this point, dusk was a memory.  It was dark.  It was night.  And here I was, navigating the last section of High E by headlamp.   My hands were self-clenching, my fingers were beginning to feel numb with cold, my calves were burning, and I could only see about 4 feet in front of me…it was awesome.  I set the belay, and began hauling up the rope in the biting wind, enjoying the view of the valley, all lit up against the night’s chill.

103_0227Now it was Scott’s turn.  With the way High E is situated, communication between the climber and the belayer is virtually impossible, so I could only use my best guess as to his progress based on the rate the rope was moving.  At first, it was moving through my new belay device quickly.  Then…nothing.  Again.  He was at the move.  He was going to have to step out on to a tiny foothold out over (what now would appear to be) the infinite black maw.  He was going to have to reach up blindly though the crack overhead and feel for that little point of purchase.  He was going to have to trust that, once he finally stood up on that little foothold, the little bit of purchase his hand would have would turn into a great side pull.  Then, an easy jug haul to the top.

The long pause continued.  Was he going to turn back?  Was he going to turn away, as so many other had before, and so many will?  Finally, the rope started moving through the belay device again.  He had committed to the move in the dark.  He slowly made his way up the finally stretch, and as I saw his headlamp top the edge of the cliff, I asked him what he thought.

“Jesus Christ.  Fuck you.”  He was shaken and scared.  He finished up the climb, stumbled over to where I was belaying, and sat down.  After about a minute of catching his breath, he started to relax.  We found our way to the rappel chains, made our way down, collected our gear, and headed into town for a well-deserved bowl of Bacchus’ chili.  And we started planning on who should go up on High E next.

103_0231On a side note, I got to use the Mad Rock Mad Lock belay device that I got with their Fukubukuro offer a few weeks ago.  It functions basically the same as a Petzal Reverso, but is a few grams lighter.  Belaying, it worked like a pro.  Rappelling, on the other hand, was a bit jerky, as the extra bar in the device that allows for better belaying with thinner ropes (mine’s a 9.4) creates a lot of friction and makes the beginning part of rappelling, when there is already a lot of friction from the weight of the rope, much harder.  I’ll have to use it a few more times before I decide whether or not to keep on using it.


2 comments so far

  1. John on

    Great story!!

  2. Marc on

    A good way to close out your “Extended Vacation”

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