We finished the climb, but I couldn’t find the cam. A guide who happened to be in the area helped me look, but with 8-10 inches of leaves covering the steep talus, I was slipping and sliding all over the place. I soon decided to give up before I pushed the whole slope down onto the carriage road. Anyway, the cam would cost $70 to replace, but a wonderful weekend climbing with my daughter in the Gunks was, as the credit card company says, priceless.
The following day, Karen stopped by the bulletin board at the Uberfall. “Dad, there’s a note here. Someone says she found a cam at the base of a climb. It might be ours. There’s an email address.” Sure enough, some extraordinarily kind woman named Jean had found a cam and was offering to return it to the person who could identify it. Wow! I copied the address and shoved it in my wallet.
I emailed this Jean person a few days later explaining that I had dropped a cam off Beginner’s and asked if the cam she found had been near the base of that climb. It had been, but Jean did not seem to be one to return cams precipitously. Or perhaps she was becoming fond of the shiny piece of rock jewelry. Who could blame her? Finders are, after all, keepers. In any event, she needed more information to be sure the cam was really mine. What size/color was the cam I had dropped? Was it a c3 or c4? Was it the old style or the new? This, from my perspective, was a revolting development. Having just resumed climbing after a brief, 35 year hiatus, I knew my chromolly from my soft iron pitons, and could describe in detail the nightmare that was climbing on a Goldline laid rope. (It came pre-tangled. Can you say rope salad?) But all I knew about that cam I had dropped was that it cost $70 at EMS. I had forgotten its color, and had no idea of the differences between c3s and c4s, or between old and new styles.
I decided my only option was to come clean. I wrote back and explained I was a refugee from climbing in the ‘60s who had just started back in the sport a couple of months before at Karen’s urging. I confessed that I had just bought the ill fated cam at the little the climbing shop right under the cliffs, but really knew nothing about it except that it was purple. (I had discovered the color by checking at the store to see which color I was missing.) Jean wrote back saying that she supposed the cam was mine and would send it to me. But she insisted that, if I were a famous Gunks climber from the 60s, she would have to get my autograph. I would love to have been able say, “Yes, I pretty much taught Jim McCarthy and Dick Williams how to climb.” But honesty compelled me to admit that I had been at best a mediocre climber of no distinction whatever.
My purple cam came home to a joyous reunion a week or two later. But it had been preceded by a most surprising email. Jean wrote to say that she and her climbing partner Annie would like to meet and climb with me and Karen sometime. I’d like to think it was my honesty, my humility or perhaps the elegance of my writing that attracted their interest. But, more likely it was the father-daughter, two generations climbing together motif.
In any event, Jean, Annie and I did meet and climb in the Gunks. Our first climb was Horseman; Jean led. We climbed Madame G’s, and I got to lead a couple of pitches of Hawk. Jean led Ken’s Crack. Annie got up it; I couldn’t. So much for my ego. Jean taught me how to build an anchor using an equallete, and checked me out on placing cams. I learned even more just watching them climb. They introduced me to their 9 inch high climbing friend Tori. I had a great time. Since then, we’ve climbed together in New Hampshire and the Gunks several times. They have this neat VW camper van and are both such great, fun people. I consider them good friends. Knowing them has enriched my climbing life.
I hope and think that Jean and Annie have also enjoyed knowing and climbing with me. Although, …… I would not be surprised to hear Jean say, perhaps with a twinkle in her eye, “I gave up a brand new Camalot and got in return what? The chance to climb with an old relic? What was I thinking when I posted that note on the Uberfall bulletin board?”
And it all began when that purple cam slipped out of my hand and bounced to the ground off Beginner’s Delight.
Photos from top - (l to r) Jean, Annie, Karen and Lois (Bill's wife) in the parking lot at the Gunks; Annie climbing Limelight; Jean leading Limelight.