Before heading to the Adirondacks for the Canada long weekend to meet with tomb, John5, and SuperCow, I read the following passage from Selected Climbs in the Northeast, by S. Peter Lewis and Dave Horowitz:
‘Whether it is due to leaps in technology of our safety equipment, the ceaseless growth of indoor gyms, or the effect of one too many Tom Cruise movies, rock climbing has become insanely popular. With the huge number of people joining our ranks each year, it is now almost considered a normal past time.
Add to this the influence of sport climbing and hard bouldering, and we see why the levels of performance have come such a long way. It is no longer news to see a sixteen year old cranking 5.12. The boulderer’s ‘V’ scale does not even begin to rate things until something rougly equal to 5.10a.
So if everyman is “crankin’ the rad” and little Tommy knows how to drop knee before his training wheels are off, why do we consider a 5.7+ a must do? How is it that a climb of this low a number can be considered by locals to still be some sort of test piece?
Because real climbing is not about numbers. A climb that is rated 5.7+, when you are out in the woods and on your own, is real climbing. I suppose they call it “adventure climbing” these days.
It does not matter what you call it or how you rate it; this is climbing, pure and simple. Start at the base of the cliff and follow a single direct line to the top. You will encounter challenges along the way, and they will not be just of the gymnastic sort. Routefinding, protecting your second, and holding it together on spooky runouts… These are things that make climbing different from other “sports.” It is on a route like Hesitation where we are reminded that climbing is all about the “adventure”. Without that we may as well be playing golf.’
This weekend was to prove, without a shadow of a doubt that the passage put into words exactly what defines climbing for me:
Unfortunately tomb was late for our Friday morning meeting. I arrived at Chapel Pond just a short time before John5 and SuperCow strolled up. Their keenness to climb was really apparent and SuperCow looked up at the looming 700 foot slab with astonishment. I thought for a moment that he almost believed me as I told him it was a lot easier than it looked from the ground.
We sorted gear and I advised the two of them to peel down the rack as much as possible – but take what you think you might need. So with fat rack in hand and two ropes (one 60m the other 70m and both different diameters) we walked to the base to climb Regular Route, 5.5. Of course the ropes would be tricky to manage – and they were – but I was the only one who felt okay about climbing on a single 8.6m strand. So fat we went. Bags packed with food and water, this promised to be a fun climb!
I was to second all the way to the top, and John5 and SuperCow were to lead and enjoy. And so they did. Gear was perfect, anchors were perfect, rope management was terrible, weather was perfect, and the climb was about as good as you could want, the pinnicale of which was seeing SuperCow climb high and run out on the first crux, pitch 4. I had heard mostly sarcastic comments about SuperCow and his abilities on the forum, but he sucked up the job in hand and climbed easily and nimbly over the two cams that were badly placed in a flaring crack. I found a new respect for him as he stepped across the friction traverse with obvious air below him.
John scaled the second crux pitch with ease and we took refuge on the huge ledge before the final two pitches. Tomb waved from where we had parked the cars below, and shouted something that sounded like ‘get a move on you f*#%&#$rs’. We had taken some time. After the summit and two raps later, we hiked down the dried up river bed and met tomb by the cars. He was relaxed, but eager to go climb. So to Pitchoff Cliff we went.
Pete’s Farewell is a classic with some air. It goes at 5.7 and has one awkward move. The position of the awkward move is made all the more interesting by the ledge on top of which the third pitch crack starts. As you shimmy across, the ledge tightens and the exposure becomes more apparent. To be on this rock was pure joy. It’s a great route that deserves climbing again and again.
The first pitch is a nice warmup that offers a short section of comfy offwidth together with crack! A ledge belay gives a great view of the 5.6 traverse pitch to follow. Unfortunately we stood for some time as another team struggled to get to the safety of the second belay on The El, 5.8. Tomb breezed the traverse pitch and I followed. Looking back I glimpsed SuperCow, sack on back, rack full of gear, following behind me. He cruised the exposed pitch with ease and met Tomb on the belay as I headed up pitch 3.
Tomb followed me on the stunning crack pitch – jams and laybacks right up to the top. As usual he eased it with his normal style, cranking effortlessly, unlike me. John5 followed, and his height and strength allowed him to cruise up the crack without too many problems. He had a slightly crazed look in his eye and I couldn’t figure out if it was the joy of the route or the exposure and awkwardness. He climbed like a trad-master of old and joined us at the top.
SuperCow was next and hugged up the rock with a look of fear as well as satisfaction. With two raps through the cave system at the back of the rock face and finally went to pick up groceries and dinner from a local supermarket. Everyone happy, we parted our ways to head to our separate accomodations knowing that the next day was Quadrophenia day.
The classic 5.7+ on Hurricane Crag that I had been trying to lead for years – only the weather had stopped me, but the forecast looked great! I had climbed the route the previous year with Justin. He had wanted practise for his climbing certificate so I let him lead every pitch. But this time I would be able to get into the wonderful roof cracks myself. Tomb lead pitch 1 at 5.7+ with relative ease and style. I followed, collecting what little gear tomb had placed.
As I started off up pitch 2 and 3 (best climbed in one) John5 joined us – this sporto light on gear had placed near 15 pieces on the first pitch. Admiting to climbing and placing pro at his limit (which he had also said on Pete’s Farewell) made me laugh to myself, because in my eyes he always cruises everything.
Pitch 2 and 3 were sublime. Pure adventure, moving off a large ledge to bouldery hands and feet. A piton had been placed to clip and stop a ground fall on the ledge. Clip, boulder right, mantel on the ledge. Then pure crack of tri-cam and nut heaven up to the first roof. Tricky smear moves and underclings to the right. Over a small roof and under a bigger roof. Thinking that both the first and second roof had been surmounted, I discovered to my horror that the second roof was actually way up high. Appearing after yet another sublime crack. With little gear left I resorted to single biners and no slings. Thank god for double ropes to reduce the drag. After cranking the second roof and a mantel you pop out at the belay. Up high and exposed this small ledge was my home as tomb followed.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Supercow, looking like a Yorkshire climber of old – big pack, big waist, big arms, legs, and the definition of brick shit house. Tough as nails! – was leading the two 5.7 pitches. And lead he did. Admiting to being scared shitless he took on the challenge given to him. It didn’t take him long to reach the belay ledge. By which time Tomb and myself had climbed the fantastic chossy fourth pitch. Supercow reminded me of John Dunne and Don Whillans. Not built for climbing, but climbing hard none-the-less. And what a lead!
John5, I assume, greased his way up those pitches with ease. He was belaying SuperCow from the ledge below as a T-shirtless sporto, dark classes, bronzed skin, and total smooth. Funny. The Pink Panther theme came into my head as I was heading up pitch 4 behind tomb.
Two long raps down and we were at the base of Quadrophenia. A moderate hike up to the base had toasted us all in the heat and humidity, the sun-ridden climb had sucked out our energy, and the hike down had left us sweaty and tired. Pub night it was. Ribs all around (all except SuperCow who had traditional hard-Yorkshireman fish ‘n chips).
The following day was wet and slow. SuperCow, somewhat mentally challenged from the two days adventure was reluctant to climb. John5 was the perfect partner and got respect all around. Although he wanted to climb more, he listened to his partner’s needs and headed back to Canada. Tomb and I headed back up a wet greasy slab, passive gear only, praying for rain.
This whole trip had defined adventure to me – and adventure with really good guys who welcomed it with head on enthusiasm – unlikely heros in their own climbing world.