"Not all those who wander are lost"

Maine!

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going

-Beverly Sills

 

After my return from New Hampshire I spent the next 10 days doing two things: fixing my car and trying to climb as much as I could.  Neither worked out quite as well as I hoped, but since it’s far more interesting I’ll write about the climbing now.

 

The first day back I got a ride at 7:30am to get pick up my car from the mechanics.  With nobody around to climb with by itching to take advantage of great sunny day I headed to Clifton anyway.  If nothing more I could at least check out the Big Chick Hill, Fletchers, and Parks Pond areas.  I made Chick Hill my first stop and after a bit of uncertainty managed to find what I thought was the trail and began the hike.  20 minutes later I arrived at the tall slabs that monopolize the climbing.  The rock was still seeping with wet moss covering more than a fair share.  I dropped my pack (70m rope, full trad rack, draws, water, and a few other things made for a hefty load) and wandered out to each end of the crag.  Although the majority was still too wet to climb there were several fun looking routes and even a few promising potential new lines (provided nothing has been put up since the guide book was published 11 years ago).

It looked to be another Wednesday full-pack hike for me.  Rumney, Big Chick…I didn’t like this trend.  Deciding I needed to stop this trend I found a climb.  A line of thin holds and awkward balance moves climbed in overhanging face as it rounded 20 feet up and became a slab which got easier as you continued.  It pulled in at 5.11d, not quite where my endurance is right now even with someone to belay me, so I climbed up the gulley and gave myself a top-rope belay.  For anyone who hasn’t belayed themselves on TR with a grigri, let me say this: it’s a pain.  As I struggled with the beginning moves I found that on a harder route I rarely had the opportunity to pull the rope through.  For the most part, it was like I was leading it…only I fell much farther due to the rope stretch.  All of a sudden I remembered and appreciated normal climbing even more; the kind on lead with a partner belaying.  After some awkward falls, harness wedgies, and a bit of cursing I made it up the first 10 feet of the climb which was certainly the crux.  The rest of the climb was significantly less eventful and, although it was still challenging, didn’t end up with me falling into anymore trees or even falling at all.  Once I cleaned my anchor I decided to call the one struggle good enough for the soaked slabs and headed out.

Of course, one route just wasn’t enough to satiate my urge to climb and it had only been fueled by the time I spent looking at the other climbs.  I made a feeble attempt to find Fletchers Bluff before giving up and going for Parks Pond.  The trail head was easy to find and even had two cars already parked at it.  Happy to see other people who were probably climbers I headed up to the crag ready to introduce myself and maybe even get a real belay.  I got there but didn’t find anyone else there climbing.  Rope soloing was what I was planning on doing anyway so I found something good and went for it.  I set up my anchor on the bottom and made sure it couldn’t pull up.  From there it was almost the same as leading…only way more hassle.  15 feet up I reached the first bolt with another bolt from a branching climb within reach too.  Still unsure of my convoluted rope solo system I anchored myself and tested it out by jumping backward into the air.  The system held before I got to the anchor as it was supposed to and I decided I probably wouldn’t die.  I continued on the climb and rope soloed my way to the top.  I had made the good decision half way through the climb to not protect the last section of very easy climbing so once at the top I only had to reach down to grab my last piece of protection and flip the rope over the tree to avoid troublesome cleaning of my gear on the traversing section.  With my first rope solo experience under my belt I decided that I didn’t want to try it again on run out climbs so I set myself up for a couple more TR self belays before it was time to head out to go watch the Bruins own game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

(Me ready to to rope solo)

 

A few days later I made it back out to Clifton.  This time I wasn’t alone and it didn’t even involve bribing a friend who had never climbed with beer to come belay me.  Jeff, Curt, and I cruised down the road looking for Fire Road 09-13-0 which would lead us in to the crag.  The first road we checked out turned out to be blocked off by small boulders and not the right road.  On our second try we found the right road, distinguished by a pair of small handmade signs, each hidden behind several years of new branches making them barely discernable from the road.  The road bumped and wound through the woods for a couple miles before coming to a fork.  Jeff took the left as he remembered doing that last time he had been to Fletchers many years before.  Just down the road we came to another line of small boulders blocking off the road.  There was no getting around them and they were far too big to move so we ventured back to the fork in the road and took the other option hoping it would lead around and back to the other.  The tree branches tightly hugged the car on both sides while long grass rubbed the bottom.  Again we got to an impassible spot.  The road ceased to be a road and became a small trail, but to our luck a game warden was sitting in his truck in a small area on the side.  We asked him how to get to the cliff.  The returning answer was a muddled monologue where he repeated the same few turns so many times we didn’t know how many times we had to take sharp left turns or bear right but we heard two road names and knew where to begin.  Almost immediately we found out that the game warden didn’t quite know the directions that well when our second turn “at the T in the road” was actually not at T at all.  We continued down several miles of washed out back roads searching for the cliff.  At one point I looked out the window at a pot-hole that had extended over a foot into the road and noticed that it didn’t really end until the bottom of an eight foot drop into the stream below.  We had a couple more bouts of confusion made it to the trail head.  I use the term “trail” loosely; there was a clear opening off the road where it began but after that the trail was nothing more than a deer path that brought us out into a swamp.  We rock-hopped our way around mud and water and even picked up some trail markers just before we got to the crag, but we made it: Sundog Wall.

It’s a large slightly overhanging wall with a spattering of good small crimps and a few horizontal cracks running through it.  Of course I had accidentally put down the book when I brushed my teeth that morning and nobody else had one so we relied on Jeff’s memory of climbing there 10 years earlier.  We started off on what we thought looked like the easiest climb there.  It followed some good small holds up the right side of the face until reaching the top where the variety of nice crimps turned in to one or two pea-sized crystals.  Next we stepped to the right and got on another.  It started off easy for the first half, but abruptly the good holds disappeared and I was left getting into awkwardly high positions at full body extension to reach the next crimp.  Over the last ~15 ft of the climb I think I did three, maybe four, movies.  I looked up the routes later and was happy to see that they were Sunnyside Up (5.11a) and Meltdown (5.11c/d) respectively.  It made me happy even though I doubted the rating on the second one.

Once we had done the two “easy” looking climbs I inspected the crag to see what other routes looked good.  The conclusion I came to was frustrating.  They all looked good.  They also all looked more difficult that I could do with no strength or endurance (damn the last 3 months!).  I ended up settling on route that climbed the slab on the far left side until it crossed a slanting overhanging and continued up the main face.  The slab was thin to say the least but with some interested hand foot matches I managed to get almost to the overhang.  With only one more bolt before the overhang I reached a tough spot.  The only holds were a small crimp and above it a gaston.  I had one good foot on a previous crimp and nothing else.  With full body extension I was able to touch what appeared to be the next hold but even with tiptoeing I couldn’t get my finger over it.  Just as I was trying to get my finger onto the hold I peeled off the face.  The fall was only about 10 feet and jerked me back to the rock.  This sequence of climb, try anything I could, fail, and fall was repeated another dozen times or so but I just couldn’t get to the next hold.  Defeated and frustrated that it didn’t seem hard, I just couldn’t do it; I switched onto Jeff’s old biner and cleaned my draws as I was lowered.  Next time.

(Trying to figure out the part that I couldn’t get past on High Noon)

I moved over to another route that looked like it had a fun and moderate beginning but past that it was hard to see enough to judge.  As it turned out, I was dead on only, the reason it was hard to see enough to judge was because there just wasn’t anything there.  It was the fourth route of the day I had done on lead on an overhanging face.  After the first 25 feet of moderate fun climbing it quickly became an unbalanced battle between my will and the combined power of the lactic acid in my arms and the sparse sloped holds of the route.  With enough hangdogging I eventually made it to the anchors.  Another route to add to the “get stronger and come back to” list.  Disappointingly it turned out to only be a 5.11d called Gold Rush.  For all the struggle I had hoped it would at least be a 5.12.  At least the one I bailed on turned out to be a 5.12b (High Noon).  After that I climbed the second route again to clean draws off the anchor and we headed back across the swamp to the car.  It was the first day of climbing since being back from my injuries that I was thoroughly exhausted and it made me happy.  Some more days like this and I’ll be back to 12s.

 

(Jeff on Gold Rush.  Everything from the big horizontal crack up that looks good…isn’t)

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