The Catskills are going off right now. Tuesday was one of my best days of climbing. Ever.
Last week Joe Vitti, Chris Beauchamp, and I headed into the Hellhole to scope out more steep lines on the big overhanging cliff. After a three way pow-wow we unanimously decided that the most obvious line up to the biggest icicle followed a series of corners up and right forever, finally reaching an enormous missile 60 feet up.
We have a process now. Look at the cliff from far away. Look from just below. Clean and set directionals. Try the climb. If, after all this, the climb seems worthwhile we’ll get to work trying to get protection for the route. New routes on the soft rock of the Catskills need to feel like they’ll stand the tests of time and high traffic. This means the route must be climbable even if small holds break off. Cruxes with microedges that could crumble are out of the question. Holds must be substantial so that if anything breaks (it will) you still have a climb.
I set to work cleaning and setting a toprope on the proposed line. After pulling some loose rock off, kicking down some refrigerator size icicles and getting multiple “directional-quality” pieces of gear we had ourselves a radically overhung toprope. I whined and hung my way up the route. Whew. It was climbable. Chris did much better than me; he only hung a few times on his way up. Joe sent it first try. Unbelievable. One lap more for each of us and the day was done.
Joe, who patrols at Belleayre, couldn’t make Friday’s session. Chris and I, however, tweaked our forearms and contorted our bodies on this evil line once more. By the end of the day both of us had the route dialed in. After a snowy lap on one of the ice routes below we parted ways for the weekend. I was off to guide and Chris, with little self control, continued to climb through the weekend until our next meeting on Tuesday. He reminds me of myself. Ice climbing is so good it hurts.
Tuesday arrived a bit too fast for both of us. The five full days of activity (climbing and guiding for me, just climbing for Chris) had taken it’s toll and we were both tired. Well, no rest for the weary. After adding a few bolts to keep things safe and to link the gear protected sections I racked up and readied myself for the lead. I was really nervous. This route is the hardest that both of us have ever climbed. The climbing is challenging right off the ground and the only good rest on the route comes 20′ up. After that the climbing stays sustained until you reach the ice. Even then the stemming on the ice isn’t terribly restful. I caught my breath at the rest and charged into the crux. A razor-like focus replaced the anxiety I had been feeling about sending the route, and before I knew it I was at the stem across to the ice.
The ice climbing upper portion of this route is physically demanding. It’s not the brutish slugging that takes place on a steep face though. Awkward stems, body contortion and space-restricted swings make it hard to get really good placements. There is also the fact that you’re kicking an enormous free hanging icicle. It vibrates when you kick or swing hard. Traditional protection and ice screws in the hanger make this section feel scary and committing. 20 feet later I swung my arm over the large hemlock at the top and lowered off. Chris sent the route right after me, and with little trouble, despite having climbed the prior five days. All the while I was snapping photos like a complete tourist, with reckless abandon. It’s amazing I didn’t fall over and slide into the creek below.
Just Like a Rat on Crack
Last Thursday we looked at other lines too. Chris became curious about one other route left of the Snotcicle. This guy has a nose for good new routes! He checked it out Saturday and we revisited it Tuesday. The route begins with WI4- climbing up a short pillar. The crux, above, is surmounting a body length horizontal roof. Ape hanger jugs lead to a sweet torque crack in an immaculate corner. This outstanding route, although short, has some of the best mixed climbing in the Catskills. I’m hooked on this one; I can’t get it out of my head. Contact me if you have questions about the gear or the location and by all means go get on it!