Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Red Cabbage Gap

My father liked pickled red cabbage. On the rare occasions when my mother served it for dinner, he would talk about something he called the "Red Cabbage Gap." I never quite understood what the Red Cabbage Gap was, something I suppose about folks not eating enough red cabbage. But I always think fondly of my father when something reminds of red cabbage. He was the kindest human being I have ever met.

I thought of him last Tuesday. Carolyn and I spent the day top roping some climbs on the Dirty Gerdie boulder/slab near the Uberfall at the Gunks. After, Herdie Gerdie (5.8), and Dirty Gerdie (5.8+), we did Red Cabbage (an interesting crack climb that Williams rates 5.9-). I managed to get up it on my second try. It was the first 5.9 I have ever done in the Gunks. I'm glad it made me think of my father and the Red Cabbage Gap.

One thing the day showed beyond doubt is that Carolyn is a stronger climber than I. She climbed Herdie Gerdie without any observable problem and got up Dirie Gerdie with only a bit of struggle. I on the other hand took innumerable falls before I figured out how to do the cux on Herdie Gerdie, and managed to make it only about 2/3of the way up Dirty Gerdie. On the latter I did at least solve the tricky mantle move. In fact, I did it repeatedly because I kept falling off above and going back up to try the upper part again.

To my surprise, Carolyn tried a 5.11 route called Dogs in Heat. Despite repeated tries, she couldn't quite pull the crux, but I think she was close. I was proud of her. She'll get it next time.

This was the hardest climbing I have done since resuming the sport 2 years ago. I am very sore today (arms and shoulders, particularly). But, if I keep spending some of my climbing time doing similar and maybe even harder routes on top rope, I think I will actually be able to increase the difficulty of what I can climb. Kind of cool for an old man.

Ironically, of the three routes I tried, Red Cabbage, although rated the hardest, was the least difficult for me. Could it be that I have a bit of crack technique left over from Yosemite in 1972? Or was it just my dad's influence, encouraging and supportive as always? He was, after all, the one who drove me to the Gunks for my first rock climbing weekend when I was 13 or 14.

Day after tomorrow Lois and I leave for Honduras on a trip with her church. We are going to be there for about 10 days helping to finish a school the Episcopal Church has been trying for several years to open. We have a heavy suitcase full of parts for a jungle gym the group is going to assemble for the school playground. This will be a real adventure: neither of us has been to central America before.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bad News, Good News

I’m thinking I need to bring things up to date climbing-wise. First, the bad news. I cancelled the trip to the Tetons. It’s a weird story. I’ve had pain in my Achilles tendons for many years, since I was training for and competing at the mile run in high school and college. In the last few months (since January), the pain has gotten worse, but I didn’t think too much of it. I’ve been climbing a lot, so of course my ankles and feet hurt. I didn’t think it was more than an annoyance to be tolerated.

But, a few weeks ago, I read in the newspaper that the FDA had just issued a warning that the powerful antibiotic Cipro and related drugs sometimes cause tendonitis leading to ruptures, particularly of the Achilles tendon. I freaked because starting in January I have taken several courses of treatment with Cipro for an intestinal infection. All of a sudden my increased tendon pain scared me. Am I about to rupture an Achlles tendon? The FDA web site said that if someone taking Cipro develops tendon pain, he/she should stop taking the drug and cease all physical activity. It also said the ruptures can occur months after one stops the drug.

Being miles up Garnet Canyon with a heavy pack on my way to the Lower Saddle on the Grand Teton didn’t seem like a very good idea. After consulting a doctor friend I trust (not the one who prescribed the Cipro) I decided to bail on the Tetons. I reluctantly told Marc, with whom I had been planning to climb the Grand. He was a good sport, and we are now planning to climb in Red Rock in November.

Of course, I haven’t followed the FDA’s advice to avoid all physical activity. I’ve been working out at the exercise gym as much as I can without putting too much stress on my tendons. I’ve been to the climbing gym. And, best of all, I’ve been to the Gunks several times, which brings me to the good news.

With my ankles well taped (a skill I learned from the trainer at my college who used to tape my ankles before every track practice) I’ve been able to climb without much pain. Right now my tendons don’t hurt at all when I walk, which is unusual.

I’ve been working my way through the Gunks 5.7s and have recently led Classic, Thin Slabs (5.7 direct start) and Handy Andy, in addition to Limelight and Bloody Mary which I did earlier. I’ve also led Arrow twice, making it my first and only Gunks 5.8 lead.

I’ve done most of my recent climbing with a new friend, Carolyn, who lives in New Paltz and works for both EMS and the Mohonk Preserve (the outfit that owns and manages the trust land on which most of the Gunks cliffs are located). We seem quite compatible as climbing partners and have had some very good times on the rock. One of the best was about 10 days ago on Carolyn’s birthday. She wanted to celebrate by leading High Exposure for the first time. We set out on a bright sunny morning and found the climb available. There was a fellow rope-soloing Directissima, a 5.9 next door, but no one on our route.

High E is THE 5.6 Gunks climb, put in by legendary climbers Hans Kraus and Fritz Wiessner in 1941. The first pitch is pretty mellow and leads up the left side of a large buttress to a very big, flat belay ledge under a large roof. The second pitch begins with a one-of-a-king move out from under the roof, onto an incredibly exposed, slightly overhanging face. The route follows that steep face to the top. To pull the MOVE, one must crouch down under the roof, work out right over the abyss, and find hold on the face above. Exhilarating, shall we say?

After some understandable hesitation and and a bit of moving up and down to the roof, Carolyn pulled the move and led up the steep face to the top. I followed her and we celebrated a great birthday achievement with photos at the top. While on the big ledge, we had met a very nice couple who joined us that evening for Carolyn’s birthday dinner.

Carolyn’s and my latest adventure involved an attempt to climb Madame G’s, another great Gunks 5.6. Carolyn had no problem leading the first pitch to a comfy belay at an oak tree. But that is where the trouble began. Even though I have climbed the route twice before, I managed to direct Carolyn into the wrong corner at the start of the second pitch. This error put us on the second pitch of a climb called Columbia, a pitch that is rated 5.7 by Williams and 5.9- by Swain (go figure). In any event, we both managed to climb past the crux. Carolyn led it and then, not seeing where to go, came down. I went up to take my turn. Thinking I was on Madame G’s, I sought in vain for a viable traverse right to the little semi-hanging belay that I remembered as the end of the Madame’s second pitch. After trying a few traverses that petered out, I managed finally to get to the belay, but only by climbing up much of Columbia, across a sketchy traverse, and down the face about 20 feet to the belay. We agreed that it made no sense for Carolyn to try to follow that bizarre route. So I had to reverse the path to get back to Carolyn at the first pitch belay on Madame G’s. I took a harmless fall trying to down climb the crux on Columbia (those new-fangled cam thingys hold really well, and they are so much easier to place and clean than were pitons!). We ended up climbing a nearby 5.2(Southern Pillar). From a ledge part way up SP, Carolyn lowered me down Columbia so I could retrieve our gear. I then climbed Columbia for the third time (counting my down-climb adventure) so we could finish SP and rap down from the Madame G’s chains. The whole thing was actually more fun than it sounds; but I don’t want to repeat it any time soon.

Tomorrow I am going back to the Gunks for one more day of climbing. It’ll be my last for couple of weeks because my wife (Lois) and I are leaving on August 2nd for a trip with a group from her church to help finish work on a school there. No climbing, but I am really looking forward to traveling with Lois: we always have fun together on trips. And, we’ll be seeing a part of the world we have never before visited.

Photos: Top -- Carolyn at the High E belay ledge. Bottom -- Carolyn pulling THE move on High E.