Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old Ragged


When I started climbing 5 years ago, I liked how it brought out the best in me.  I liked how it drove me to bed early, how it inspired me to eat well, and how it stripped my focus to a crystal edge.  Climbing still focuses me, but I've become more comfortable, and have allowed my other life--real life--to encroach upon my climbing discipline more and more.  This weekend my "comfort" reached a new level.

The plan was to join Andre, one of DC's finest trad climbers, for a day on the granite of Old Rag in the Shenandoah Mountains of VA.  To prepare, I planned to get a light workout in on Friday night, have dinner with Laura, and get a solid night of sleep.  Nope.

Friday we said goodbye to someone I've worked with for the last 5 years.  He was a boss, colleague, and friend.  What started as a farewell happy hour at Matchbox gained momentum until there was no jumping off.

My alarm went off at 6:15am Saturday morning.  "Why do I have an alarm set on a Saturday?  That's ridiculous."  Then it all came back.  Andre would pick me up in 15 minutes.
"What have I done?"

In a stupor, I filled my climbing pack, and jumped into Andre's waiting car.  Part of me engaged in conversation about our coming day, and another reeled in horror.  "When did I go to sleep last night?"  "How did we get to Cleveland Park from Rockville? Right, we took the metro, but Grosvenor Station was closed, wasn't it?  We rode a shuttle bus?"

On the rolling, curved roads at the base of Old Rag I became overwhelmed by nausea.  Andre kindly stopped the car and stood aside as I retched coffee and fruit.

Thank goodness for the hour and a half approach hike.  Thank goodness for the redemptive, cleansing therapy of long slow cardio.



At the Reflector Oven crag, we spied a moderate looking route with a few bolts that neither of us knew.  We sorted our gear and Andre took the lead.  It looked like there were some big moves, but with positive holds and good stances.  Higher up Andre found a thin face/slab crux, which he pulled through on his second try.

Andre was excited by the quality of the route, so I pulled the rope and gave it a lead, inspecting and clipping Andre's draws and few pieces of gear on the way up.  I found my head too muddled for the usual cascade of adrenaline and nerves of the first lead of the day.  I simply watched from a cloud as I gripped and toed the rock.  It felt good, but I lingered between moves.  I needed to let my head catch up, and make certain my detachedness didn't get me in trouble.

Stranded in an expanse of micro holds at the crux, I knew I'd botched the best possible sequence.  Even so, I thought I could fudge my way to a flash ascent.  I found a more direct sequence on my second go.

Researching the route on RC.com, I'm pretty sure it is the B and H Route, 5.11c, which jives with the grade Andre and I were thinking at the time.  It was harder than we intended for a warm up, but, in the end, it wasn't a bad choice given the technical rather than physical nature of the difficulty.

Then I got on the unnamed mixed route to the left of the old classic, Strawberry Fields.  I'd worked the beginning of this route on top rope years ago when I'd had little more than a year of climbing experience.  It took hours, but we unlocked some of the hardest moves.  Now, 4 years later, I still found it to be extremely hard.  I whipped and hangdogged past the difficulties, then picked my way through the easier, fun second half.

Andre, who tried this route on his last trip, sent the route with but a stutter at the first crux.

Logged as Unknown on RC.com, this route gets a 5.11+ rating.  I think it could be into 12- for shorter climbers.

Next Andre led Don't Pro the Flake Bro, a stellar 5.12b I climbed with Alex on our last trip.  Andre led clean through the first half, then, just as I had, got suckered too high at the crux.  He found the right way, a traverse to the arete on the right, on his second go.  This guy knows how to read rock.
View from Old Rag from Travis Lair Photography

Chilled in the shadowy corner, I opted for the more physical, The Crackin' (5.11+), rather than follow Andre's techy pitch.  I had climbed The Crackin' twice before.  The first time I followed the wizened Yosemite hardman, Steve Curtis, who put up Don't Pro the Flake Bro and Eagle, among others.  I walked away thinking I'd learned the route's secrets.  The next time was a year or two later.  On lead, I flailed at the crux, then pulled the rope and set up a top rope.  Again I thought I walked away knowing every nuance.  This time was a dose of old medicine.  I pulled into the crazy sideways reach for the hand jam at the base of the hanging crack, shuddered, and fell.  With support from Andre below, I found new beta for crux, but eventually folded.  My sleep debt collector had arrived.

Andre, who worked the route on his last trip, sent it with impeccable style.  I followed, hung on the rope, worked the beta (put you foot over your head...yeah, over it), and topped out.

In the end, I survived the day, and even accomplished some difficult climbing, but I wasn't proud.  I've invested too much to squander a day on the rock, and with such a capable partner.  Yet, I couldn't come to regret the previous night either.  The celebration was what it should have been.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to have learned (other than Loose Cannon is a delicious, but rough session beer).  Maybe I should chalk it up to Bailure of the second order.  Regardless, I'm inspired to return to my old sense of discipline on the next trip, maybe even go back to Old Rag and send The Crackin'.

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