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.
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.
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!
...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.