Goin' to da Gunks

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oldguy

climber
Bronx, NY
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 3, 2013 - 04:24pm PT
“Good morning. Today is history class.”

He pauses to rest his bones on a high stool and assess his charges. Some slouch in their seats and doodle on their desks, others stare vacantly out the window, a few girls pop their gum and twiddle their tresses. But telling tales of the past has its rewards, at least for the teller, in that while those who can, do, those who no longer can, can be comforted by the knowledge that once they could.

“Today’s lesson is the beginning of a quest story, although no dragons will be slain, no castles stormed, no cities razed and pillaged. Before the end, though, a fair maid will be wooed and won, albeit all too briefly.”

Noting that no one in his audience was yet asleep, he relinquishes his perch on the stool and begins leisurely pacing the head of the room, measuring his thoughts with his stride.

“September, 1960. After Royal, Chuck, Tom, and I climbed El Cap I got a job as a busboy and soda jerk at the Yosemite Lodge Coffee Shop. The plan was that Royal and I would save some money over the winter and then go to the Alps in the summer. In the spring, however, Royal confessed that he had decided not to go. But I was committed. I wanted to pace the paving stones of Paris and wander the back lanes of London, to essay a yodel or two in the Alps and take the summer sun on the Riviera. Also, a comely English girl was waiting for me. I had met her while she worked as a waitress in the coffee shop, and before she returned to England that fall I bussed her tables and she jerked my soda, if you catch my drift.”

As he looks out at the room in mid stride, it seems as if something has piqued his pupil’s interest.

“In early May I packed all I thought I might need for the journey into my Kelty pack and pinned a sign on the back that said, simply, “NY.” My mother drove me to a place beyond San Bernardino where it would be easier to catch a ride. I won’t go into the details of my journey’s first leg, but five days later and only eleven dollars poorer my last ride dropped me in downtown Manhattan at midnight. I took a cab up to Art Gran’s apartment near Columbia University, was admitted by sleepy Art, and shown the couch. Art and his two roommates were gone during the day, so I explored the city on my own, learning the subway system and eating mostly takeout from delis.

“Over the winter I had saved a finite amount of money for my adventure, so I was frugal. Twice, though, I splurged. One night I went to a concert at Carnegie Hall that featured Miles Davis and a large ensemble playing Gil Evens’ arrangements from the LP, “Miles Ahead.” Another night I found my way to Birdland to hear Gerry Mulligan’s nonet and Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet trade sets. Choirs of angels could not have been more exalting and exhilarating.

“On weekends, Art and I and a few others drove up to the Gunks (no expressway then, just a two-lane road) in his VW bug. Gary Hemming had visited the Gunks earlier, but I don’t think he climbed much, so I was essentially the first Californian to test the mettle of Eastern climbers and take the measure of New York rock.

“I won’t say I was sandbagged, but Art and Jim McCarthy were proud of having raised the standard on their local cliffs and wanted to see how I would fare on their test pieces. Not too badly as it turned out. It took me a while to get used to the steepness of the climbs, especially the overhangs that loomed over the top of many routes and that looked all but impregnable. I learned, though, that if there was a route, there was a way through, and it was best to keep moving so your arms and fingers wouldn’t flame out.

“By the time I arrived, the spirit of the Vulgarians was in full flower. They waged a running battle with the Appies ( hide-bound, staid members of the Appalachian Club) and usually won. One weekend they decided to stage a Vulgarian Grand Prix. Those taking part lined up their cars, then came on foot to the starting line to hear instructions about the route. It was also to be a Le Mans start. I jumped into the passenger seat of one car and we were off. It was night, much of the course was over dirt roads, there were few places where one could pass (although some drivers tried), and if you weren’t leading it was hard to see through the billowing dust. As I recall, a few fenders had benders, but no serious damage was done, surprising considering the wine and beer that was consumed before (and after) the race.

“Although there were over one hundred people at the Gunks each weekend, there were surprisingly few really good climbers. The first Saturday, Art had me lead “Retribution.” I think I did it all free, but I can’t be sure. Then McCarthy took me to “Birdland.” It was wet from rain, and I fell at the crux but then climbed through smoothly. Jim fell three times following. Then we went to “MF,” a climb Jim had put up the previous year. It hadn’t been repeated. I made the first hard move and then psyched out. Jim decided he wasn’t up to it that day either, so we went down.

“The following weekend, a fellow named John Turner, a hot climber from Montreal, led the first pitch, but his second fell repeatedly and unabashedly and was finally lowered to the ground. I had planned on leading the climb later, but no one wanted to follow Turner, so I tied in and floated through the first hard parts. Turner then led up to the three to four foot overhang, the crux, and then came down. I gave it a try, but John’s last piton below the overhang was driven straight up and didn’t look like it would hold much of a fall. On top of that, if you came off trying to get over the overhang, you would slam into the wall below even if the piton somehow held. Frankly, his piton selection was piss poor, and I couldn’t get in anything good. I came down, and he went up again, then traversed off before he even got to the overhang.

“The next day, someone lent him some Chouinard pitons which worked beautifully beneath the overhang, but he still didn’t make it. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to get back on the climb that year. Many years later, though, (forty-five?) John Thackray led me up the climb. I struggled on the overhang, but was surprised to see more fixed pins than you would ever need. Below the overhang you could just reach up and clip into a higher pin so that it was almost like doing the whole climb with a top rope (which I was glad to have in the autumn of my years, although John was older and bolder than I).

“On a subsequent weekend, they put me on “Apoplexy” and “Never-Never Land,” and the next day they had me lead “Double Crack,” and then McCarthy gave me the rope for “Tough Shift.” The climbing was very delicate on small holds, like a boulder problem, although I was climbing in my beat up klettershue. I made it, though, but Jim couldn’t make it, although he had made the first ascent, so I came down.

“Then Art and I did “Never Again” and “Roseland” (it was the era of the “land’ climbs), and we added a pitch to each climb since they were originally only one pitch long. We then came across a route that Jim had started. He hadn’t gotten very far, so we finished it (if you think this was bad form, hear me out). The climb was unusual for the Gunks in that the first pitch was a genuine sixth class climb, just the thing for the old Yosemite hand: sixteen pitons, two knifeblades , 6.7 (on the old system), and three hours. Art led the second pitch, 5.7. Art named it “Transcontinental Nailway.” Four years later, McCarthy returned to the line he had first aspired to and climbed it free.

“I also did some bouldering along the carriage road. Bouldering wasn’t all that fashionable then, but I did one that was harder than any of the existing problems. It involved a fingertip mantle. No one mantled in the Gunks at the time even though opportunities for the technique abounded.”

Looking out in the room, he sees heads on desks, other heads thrown back with mouths agape, hands scribbling in notebooks. Oh, ye yet to be learned. Let me quote Aunt Gertrude. “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.”

“My last weekend in the Gunks (that almost-lost-to-memory season, last because I was soon to depart for England on a Dutch liner lined mostly with students [fare: $167.50, Heinekens: 14 cents a bottle]), I consummated a liaison with a lovely and adventurous (especially in those days before the pill) Norwegian woman in an abandoned (as were we) house while the rain rained, and the night seemed it would never end, and then it did all too soon.

“The next day, several climbers and I were having lunch at the Uberfall when one mentioned that the face to the right of “Boston” had been top-roped once but never led. “Would someone give me a belay?” I asked. From the base I could see that there wouldn’t be much opportunity for protection, but I figured I would just go up, and if I felt too uncomfortable I could back off. It was a short climb, so I was soon at the crux, 5.8 they say. I found that I could surpass it by mantling. I liked mantling because it is usually a very secure move, at least until the problem of getting the foot up next to the mantling hand and then stepping on up. If the wall is steep and there is a paucity of holds to keep you in balance the last move can be delicate. Sometimes, as in the present case as I recall, you just have to balance up very carefully. A little higher I came to some cracks and thought I could get a piton in. The cracks were formed by loose blocks, however, which have since become part of the talus. I did manage to place a pin, thinking that if something happened the piton might be good enough to slow me down. Wishful thinking is not a good habit in climbing, but sometimes there isn’t a lot you can do about it. Getting past the loose blocks was a little tricky, no longer a problem for the modern climber. In any case, it wasn’t too hard from the piton up to the tree at the top of the climb, and my “protection” seemed superfluous. I anchored and then asked who wanted to follow. The answer was no one. So I guess it was a solo ascent. I rapped off, removing the pin on the way down. I was right. If I had fallen, it would have slowed me down, a bit. If you really want to take the measure of the climb you should climb it in Kronhoffers, except that they aren’t available lo these many years. Tennis shoes anyone?”

Enough history. The captive audience thought so, too, as they filed out, eager to get on with life, with living in the here and now. Someday, may they also have stories to tell.

LilaBiene

Trad climber
Feb 3, 2013 - 06:34pm PT
Joe, where the heck were you when I was a doodling nod???

"More!" the captive student cried. "Why do only precious few professors understand the power of teaching through story-telling?"

Wonderful. Really wonderful.

Thank you.
snyd

Sport climber
Lexington, KY
Feb 3, 2013 - 07:00pm PT
Yeah man! Many many many thanks!!!
happiegrrrl

Trad climber
www.climbaddictdesigns.com
Feb 3, 2013 - 07:06pm PT
I do trailwork with Dick Williams, and this past season Claude Suhl has joined us several times too. Each week we are treated to BITD stories, at least one. Stories of the races, a zipline down over the shale bank, camping over in the woods, scaring the bejesus out of the Appies, details on the FA's on some of those classic routes.

Thanks for your story!
MH2

climber
Feb 3, 2013 - 07:22pm PT
Turner then led up to the three to four foot overhang

Sounds like, like Kevin Bein, you may have mistaken Birdie Party for MF. Nevertheless, I hear the choir of angels.
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Feb 3, 2013 - 07:56pm PT
thanks for the stories. please give us a few more;) I used to spend a bit of time there BINTD...
Nick
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 3, 2013 - 09:00pm PT
Nice stories!

The last-mentioned climb, for those interested in repeating it, is Fitschen's Folly.

I don't think there are any good piton placements under the MF roof, whether or not you have Chouinard gear. There are some crappy pins fixed, but I don't think you can get in anything good. But over the roof is a 1" or maybe 1 1/4" crack which will take a bomber pin, and there has---I think unfortunately---been one there for years. There's absolutely no good reason for it, you can plug in perfectly good cams there, and it diminishes the climb.

Turner was a great great climber, and his routes at Poko-Moonshine and Cathedral Ledge were futuristic, but I don't think he ever did make it up MF free.

Transcontinental Freeway, the renamed version of Transcontinental Nailway, has become a classic Gunks pitch. When McCarthy originally freed it, it was harder, because a small wedged chockstone blocked a finger pocket that now makes it relatively easy to pull over the ceiling. For a while, the route was still used as a practice aid climb, and a piton eventually pried out the chockstone and so provided a pocket for that move.
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Feb 3, 2013 - 09:06pm PT
Annother chipped trad classic;)
jstan

climber
Feb 4, 2013 - 12:42am PT
Turner followed Joe Brown's rule of never placing pins less than 50 feet apart. On MF that would be pretty exciting.
mcreel

climber
Barcelona
Feb 4, 2013 - 06:57am PT
Thanks for the great story!
steveA

Trad climber
bedford,massachusetts
Feb 4, 2013 - 07:52am PT
That was a fun read.
I assume your climbing mate "Art", was Art Gran. I did some climbing with him
and Dave Craft BITD.
TradEddie

Trad climber
Philadelphia, PA
Feb 4, 2013 - 08:17am PT
Thank you, great to hear these stories.

TE
philo

Trad climber
Is that light the end of the tunnel or a train?
Feb 4, 2013 - 08:56am PT
Turner was a great great climber, and his routes at Poko-Moonshine and Cathedral Ledge were futuristic, but I don't think he ever did make it up MF free.
I remember back in the seventies being been duly brought to attention by a Turner route at Poko.
That man had vision.

Great read.
Hey Teach, when will class be in session again?
Alan Rubin

climber
Amherst,MA.
Feb 4, 2013 - 09:22am PT
Great story, Joe. More please. Alan
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Feb 4, 2013 - 09:36am PT
"Why do only precious few professors understand the power of teaching through story-telling?"


I imagine it must be a lot like telling a good joke.

Some folk have the knack for delivery.


nice post "oldguy"!




T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Feb 4, 2013 - 09:56am PT
Thanks Joe!
Dick Erb

climber
June Lake, CA
Feb 4, 2013 - 10:55am PT
Another great writeup Joe, just what SuperTopo needs.
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Feb 4, 2013 - 12:11pm PT
Thanks Joe.

ladyscarlett

Trad climber
SF Bay Area, California
Feb 4, 2013 - 02:13pm PT
TFPU!

I love bits like these...!

There's a very good chance I'll be heading up to the Gunks in June for the first time ever and I've always wondering how my Sierra - won skills will serve me there.

I have no head for roofs, but hell...

it's the Gunks!

Wonderful!

Cheers

LS
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 4, 2013 - 02:25pm PT
It's all about roofs and old pitons. I learned to climb there and love the place but to someone from out west it may seem kind of small and overcrowded. As a beginner, it was pretty intimidating. In general, I'd say add a full number grade onto what you're used to. New Paltz is a really great community and if you're lucky the apple trees will be in bloom. I lived on an apple farm there for a few years and it was a great place to be.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Feb 4, 2013 - 02:58pm PT
If you enjoy Joe's unique perspectives here, realize he has a full length autobiography just out and available.
Dick Erb

climber
June Lake, CA
Feb 4, 2013 - 04:35pm PT
Glad you mentioned his book Peter. It is a good book and can be found here -

http://www.joefitschen.com/

rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 4, 2013 - 04:59pm PT
There's a very good chance I'll be heading up to the Gunks in June for the first time ever and I've always wondering how my Sierra - won skills will serve me there.

I think one of the points of Joe's story is that your Sierra-won skills will serve just fine.
oldguy

climber
Bronx, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 4, 2013 - 05:42pm PT
The astute reader/critic may wonder how I was able to remember all the details in this tale. I didn't, but Royal just returned to me a slew of letters that I had written him post El Cap and through my sojourn in Europe, and for some reason I had noted all the climbs Art (Gran) and Jim and I climbed even though Royal wouldn't have known anything about them. He apparently has another batch of letters that he wrote to me, but I haven't seen them. Glad to see people are still interested in this ancient lore. I'm afraid, though, that most of my recollections are in Going Up. If I can be permitted a little advertising, other recent writings on a variety of topics can be found on my blog (along with info on the book): www.joefitschen.com. Thanks, guys and gals, for the appreciation/encouragement.
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Feb 4, 2013 - 07:24pm PT
So we have a east coast and a west coast climb named: Fitschen's Folly?

The west coast one is the first right?


ruppell

climber
Feb 4, 2013 - 07:40pm PT
Great read.

It's pretty cool that you added that second pitch to Roseland. I can't count how many Gunks climbers I've asked "Have you done the second pitch?" The answer is always no. That pitch is amazing. It felt as hard as the first pitch even though Swain claims 5.8 in his guide. The corner you step into has nothing but air under your heels. Just great climbing all the way to the top.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Feb 4, 2013 - 07:50pm PT
The west coast one is the first right?



Guy,
The west coast one was first, but it was more a rapid descent than climb. Read all about it in "Going Up"
Tad
Oldfattradguy2

Trad climber
Here and there
Feb 4, 2013 - 10:07pm PT
Awesome story, we need more of the how I found my way to gunks strories or even a thread. Opened my eyes when I got there as a 15 yo in '77.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 5, 2013 - 12:06am PT
I think my first time in the Gunks was in 1960, with a friend named (appropriately) Bud Lustenberger. He knew about the place; I had done a few climbs in the Tetons and RMNP over the previous three years, but had no idea that there was climbing anywhere near NYC.

Other than knowing where the Trapps were, Bud knew nothing else. There was no guidebook that we knew of. It being a weekday, there was no one around. We had a Goldline rope, mountain boots, a few soft-iron pitons and a few steel carabiners. We immediately ascended to the cliff base and walked along it, looking for a way up.

It was one of those oppressive humid summer days. A morning fog had shrouded the cliffs, and as we walked along the base they shot up into the clouds and out of sight. They might as well have been 3,000 feet high rather than 300 feet high, and indeed the steepness of the rock made it seem to us as if we were at the bottom of some Dolomite precipice.

We were 17, we had done quite a bit of scrambling in Colorado and Wyoming but only a touch of fifth-class climbing. We were scared silly, and secretly hoped not to find any way up that seemed like something we could try, but it was not to be.

We happened upon some corners and ledges that looked as if we could follow them to the top, and so up we went, hearts in our mouths. There was a corner ahead that looked almost vertical. After a traverse, it looked as if it might be hard to get into the next corner, and we couldn't really see through the fog to tell how or whether we could exit.

As it turned out, holds showed up when we needed them, although we had never been on rock this steep before. There was a fixed pin or two to suggest we were at least on somebody's route, which eased the mental stress a bit. We made it up, soaked in sweat from the humidity and the mental, if not physical, effort of making our way up what seemed to be a giant jungle sky-island crag, remote and forbidding and festooned with unknown challenges.

The fog cleared off as we pulled over the top, revealing a pleasant vista of farms and towns that was badly out of synch with our brooding fog-bound wall of uncertainty. We would later find out that we had boldly gone where many had already trod, up the already well-worn ledges of the less than formidable Three Pines.

I've since climbed routes ten times longer and nine grades harder, and have been to many beautiful and remote places, but that day in the fog, seemingly all alone, with such mystery about where to go and how hard it would be, stands out, in retrospect, as one of my favorite days ever in the hills.

And if an old geezer may be allowed to sob gently into his beer, I mourn for those who trod up there now, festooned with a double rack of cams, a full set of nuts, cordelettes and prussiks, chalk bags ready to dry the slightest hint of moisture, guidebooks in hand delineating every step of the way, with climbers all about shouting commands and beta, the mystery and solitude banished to a time beyond most memories, the thickest fog now reduced to impotence.

But for me all is by no means lost. I sometimes read of people who have grown up in a house and then spent their entire adult lives there, and sometimes have even died in the place they were born. An awful lot of people have visited my house since I first touched the embedded pebbles of its conglomerate mortar, but it is a very big house, and in spite of some changes, it is much the same. Some of the rooms echo with events long past, and shadows of friends now departed flicker across some of the walls, even as I tiptoe past with new friends or a superannuated buddy who, like me, has managed, against the odds, to both stick around and stay in the game.

And what is this? Nooks and crannies I had never noticed, walls and cracks and corners, entire crags untouched, a mansion indeed, beyond imagining!
MH2

climber
Feb 5, 2013 - 12:19am PT
remote and forbidding and festooned with unknown challenges


That's the way I felt, too, from about '68 to '70. Never rappelled at the Gunks; just walked back to the Uberfall.

Now we are getting a choir going.
Curt

climber
Gold Canyon, AZ
Feb 5, 2013 - 12:42am PT
I think my first time in the Gunks was in 1960...

...The fog cleared off as we pulled over the top, revealing a pleasant vista of farms and towns that was badly out of synch with our brooding fog-bound wall of uncertainty. We would later find out that we had boldly gone where many had already trod, up the already well-worn ledges of the less than formidable Three Pines.

Hah--great story, Rich. My first climb in the Gunks too, only it was twenty years later in 1980.

Curt
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