Wednesday, June 19th I looked down at my feet and realized that in my haste I had forgotten to put shoes on them. Instead I was wearing a pair of ill-fitting sandles, I consider them too loose even for the weekly stroll down my driveway to take out garbage. But it was too late. Wolfgang and I were standing in the Sleeping Giant carpark and prepping for a shortish hike to the chin.
Today was the day that Wolfgang was going to do his first serious lead and the prospect had us both jumping with nervous energy. We were going to give my German friend's mettle a real test. I handed him my rack of camalots and a rope to carry while I spilled the rest of the gear into my backpack, in moments we were striding up the white trail. Well, Wolfgang was striding ... I was shuffling along trying not to lose my Roman riding-boots. Our conversation eventually swung around to poison ivy. Something long dreaded in this area by climbers and hikers alike. On a recent weekend of windblown merriment, playing touch football on the course-grain sands of Hammonasset beach, Wolfgang had spotted a patch of poison ivy. How did he know it was poison ivy? There was a sign. It said ... "poison ivy". Unlike me he had taken careful note of what the thing looked like. However, unlike me, he was wearing shorts. So his heightened sense of excitement was further elevated by the possibility of developing a disfiguring skin condition through the course of the day.
From where the white trail and the larger (gentler) tower trail converge you can look up at the rocky escarpment known long as the Sleeping Giant's chin. Between you and the base lies a boulder field which demands some small sweat and careful negotiation. Running the length of the base is an evil jungle of trees, shrubs, poison ivy and thorny bushes ... which also demands careful negotiation. Particularly if your in shorts. We were headed for ...
Gumbies Delight 5.4
FA - Leon Islas and Keith Hoek, August 2000.
Near the far left side of the chin, starting in a gully below a large balanced stone at the top of a cliff this climb looks deceptively easy. From the center of the gully climb up and slightly right towards the balancing stone. Upon drawing level with a central arete, carefully traverse unprotected around its base to the left side and then further to an easy chimney which leads almost immediately to a steep exit path out left and up. The entire route is looser than the morals held by a woman of negotiable virtue and just as likely to give you the slip. Protection is adequate.
a. Virkki's variation 5.5 Climb the corner directly after traversing the base of the arete. Leila Virkki, September 2000.
We spent a few minutes revision with how a cordalette is used to create a three point belay anchor. Wolfgang was considering stopping somewhere halfway just to practise this. I told him that it was up to him, there was no rush. After giving him my helmet I added that he should take care.
"What's the german for Now is the moment of truth?" I asked as he tied in.
"Die Stunde der Wahrheit."
Suddenly he was on his way, there was nothing I could do but watch and hope he didn't break his neck. Wolfgang worked confidently upwards, the first blocks are an easy scramble and for 10 metres (30 feet) he didn't bother placing any pro. He reached a short left facing dihedral, the start of some real climbing, and placed a very nice #.4 camalot into the corner crack. He worked his way up the dihedral and placed what would turn out to be his worst piece. A #1 camalot in a shallow and flaring crack, only two of the cams were properly set ... but neither of us would know until I got there to inspect it. Slowly he moved higher and I kept reminding him that he would have to traverse left soon, for a while I thought he was going to forge his own path directissima to the balancing stone at the top. Something I attempted on the FA, but gave up when it became clear I would die in the attempt.
At the last moment, it seemed, Wolfgang turned left and made the traverse. It is a careful movement around an arete requiring delicate balance. Hand holds are non-existent and he was reduced to smearing a palm on the right face as he gingerly swung around to the other side. He mentioned that he was somewhat afraid, but finished the movement without mishap. Realizing I had been holding my breath I let it out with a sigh of relief. I was trying to tell him that the original line continued the traverse left towards a low chimney structure, just above which is a steep scrambling trail to the top. But Wolfgang chose Leila's variation and headed up the dihedral. This was real climbing, one-handed gear placement and stemming like mad to hang on. A tree clawed at his gear loops and for a moment he was again fearful of being tipped backwards. But with a wrench he freed himself and moved on. In a few minutes he pulled himself over the final mantle and wooped with victory.
For the next 30 minutes he struggled to set an adequate, triply redundant belay anchor. During which time neither of us could hear the other.
I sat and waited ... and waited. Fidgeting and slapping at mosquitos. Tossing small stones into the bushes behind me. Occasionally the rope would move up a little, and then it would retreat down again. At times I shouted up to him at the top of my lungs, but it was futile. I had visions of Wolfgang getting confused and then deciding to walk down the other side. Impatience exceeded my capacity. Finally after twenty five minutes of nothing much I took him off belay, mountaineer-coiled the remaining slack around my shoulders and proceded to at least head up to the first piece and have a look at it.
It was a great piece, a perfectly positioned #.4 camalot. Neither over-cammed nor undersized, the perfect size. Cool, I took it out and looked up at the dihedral, where the second piece was placed.
That looks pretty easy, I thought.
Of course I climbed up to the top of it and sat down by Wolfgang's second choice of protection. It was pretty manky. He must have really wanted to put something here, more experience would have told him to move on, to keep looking. Nevertheless I dragged it out and put it away on my harness. After that I turned around to adjust my seat a bit and have a look at the view. I almost wished I hadn't.
Shee-ite!. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. This climb looks like a real doddle from below ... but once you're up on the wall it looks very different. Oh well. I had got enough gear to set my own anchor and rappel back down if I needed to, so I decided to sit tight and wait a bit longer for signs of Wolfgang.
"WOLFGANG!" I hollared up and, finally, I heard his reply.
"What the bloody hell is going on mate?"
"Have you set an anchor?"
"I will pull the slack."
Fair enough, I muttered to myself. Wolfgang hauled and hauled until he had taken up the slack between us and then he put me on belay. So began my actual climbing. I moved up some nice blocks, removing one good alien and one poor #2 camalot (although it was only marginally poor) before turning left for the traverse. The traverse was very tricky and it must have cost him quite a bit to commit to the moves into unknown territory around the other side of the arete. A piece of very good climbing in any case. On the other side I followed his line up the dihedral and finishing blocks to the top. This was a great first lead. His final three pieces of pro, which included a magnificent tricam, were very good. Standing on top I saw Wolfgang standing some distance away from the edge having gone to quite some trouble to find three trees to form his anchor. Actually one of them was only a bush, but he'd made a strong (and successful) effort to come up with something bomb-proof.
I congratulated him on his first real lead and we proceded with discussion of gear placements and some other things as we gathered up the ropes and rack. We wanted to do something else while there was still time, but just at that moment the sky darkened considerably and it began to spit rain. Damn. I was ready to beat it back to the car, but Wolfgang suggested that maybe it wouldn't last long and we could wait it out. After a moment of indecision I thought sure why not. Our plan was to rappel down to the base before our next climb, if the weather worsened while we set that up then we could bail without too much trouble. So we hiked it over towards a better known climb that I thought Wolfgang could also lead.
Rhadamanthus Corner 5.4
FA - unknown.
The right facing corner on the left side of the Rhadamanthus face. Ascend the corner to the crack in the small overhanging wall above.
We futzed around for quite a while setting things up. The spits of rain stopped but we could hear distant thunder and the sky still looked pretty angry. After we had set up a decent doubly redundant anchor from two strong trees I explained to Wolfgang the order in which we would be rappelling down. We hurled down the two ropes, discussed which one would be pulled and then got ready for the "big jump". It would be his first big rappel so I had him hooked up before I went down first. That way, even if he slipped off the top ledge he wouldn't be able to move down until I took my weight off the lines. As I moved down I had to untangle the ropes from ledges and bushes and whatnot, I had to pendulum around a bit and Wolfgang thought it looked pretty funny as I swung left and right trying to reach a rope-snaggled tree. Eventually I got down to the ledge (about 10 metres off the deck) where I wanted to set an anchor and start the climbing.
I started putting together the anchor and had two pieces locked in good when there was an ominously loud grumbling of thunder above us. My mind was filled with images of a bright flash and a fried german sausage.
"Wolfgang! Come on down now!"
"Are you sure? Have you finished the anchor?"
"It'll be ready by the time you're here. Let's go!"
Wolfgang moved off his perch and started down. Apart from keeping a grip on the ropes and an ear out for Wolfgang, I concentrated on locking in the last piece and using a long sling to finish up the anchor. Wolfgang came down and I glanced up to tell him to check out the route I intended us to follow, see if he wanted to lead it himself. But he wasn't interested in doing another lead just now, so this one was to be mine. I sat him down beside me and locked him into the anchor. Time to pull the rappel ropes down.
The bloody things got stuck and it took some whipping and shaking to free them. It's likely that the double-fisherman's I used to join the ropes got hung up on a top edge. I am trying to get myself to use an overhand (also known as the European Death Knot or EDK), which has less trouble passing over such edges, but it's a less sure way of joining two ropes than the double-fisherman's. Besides we had recently learned of a rappel death which looked to be due to using inappropriate choice of knot (a figure eight - similar to the overhand - was used in that case, and for joining two ropes it's probably the least secure of commonly used methods) and were in no mood to try and be clever about it. Eventually the ropes came down and we sorted ourselves for my lead.
It was a nice climb, but I have to say that these Connecticut ratings for outdoor climbing bear no resemblance to ratings given in the gym. They are based on the easiest known way to climb a given route. So if you're not totally familiar with a climb then you're liable to feeling like you've been sandbagged. The protection for most of the climb seemed thin, but I managed to sneak in a tiny tiny little nut in a thin little crack about halfway up the main face. I backed this up with a larger, less secure nut just above ... this would later uselessly fall out. I reached a big ledge about 15 feet from the top and decided to bring Wolfgang up here, there was a bit of broken glass around and I had to brush some of it aside while setting my anchor and getting ready.
Wolfgang came up pretty quickly, he wasn't sure that he would have wanted to lead this one even if he wasn't tired out by the first lead. Maybe some other time though. During his climbing the thunder, while infrequent, seemed to be slowly intensifying ... as if a storm were getting closer. There was even an occasional drop of rain. Wolfgang came up beside me and sat down and I organized for the last little bit. Pretty soon I led it up the last little overhang section, not bothering to protect (it's too short) and pulling over the top amidst the sound of thunder and a sharp increase in rainfall. I quickly set up a rudimentary anchor, set my feet against some stone and proceded to belay for Wolfgang as he climbed up in the rain. Wow, we better get out of here. I kept waiting to feel that buzzing feeling you hear about just before a strike. But it never came. We packed up as quickly as we could, recovering the rappel anchors as well and then beat it back down the blue trail through the pouring rain. Great day!