BD employee Russ Clune tackles 20-route marathon in the Gunks, a.k.a., the Gunk-a-thon
Black Diamond employee Russ Clune recently celebrated his 50 years on the planet with a marathon climbing day at New York's Shawangunk escarpment, a.k.a., the Gunks. Below is Clune's (slightly abbreviated) report and photos proving that yes, "old dudes" can still get after it.
Having turned 50 the previous January, I wanted to do something to prove to myself that I was still worthy of living. Many of my friends, having passed that half century mark, acknowledged it with some sort of antic that one would never partake of aside from trying to prove there is still an adolescent lurking under the receding hairline and hobbled knees.
Some way, some how the number 50 is to be central to the chosen feat. I'd heard an old friend, Greg Epperson of Joshua Tree, had celebrated by climbing 50 5.10s in Josh in a day. Greg's agenda took hold in my brain. But 50 Gunks 5.10s would be a lot to arrange with my friends, plus it would actually be hard.
I decided to keep the horizontal travel minimized and the vertical maximized, but not at the price of quality or difficulty. I would do classic, multi-star routes at the major cliffs, but substitute Millbrook with a route at Giant's Workshop. This is because I am lazy and Millbrook would have added another level of walking. I would also keep the difficulty high, at least by my yardstick. I quickly came up with a couple dozen routes, and weaned it down to 20.
I recruited Amy Pickering, my significant other, for belay duty. She readily agreed. Why 20 routes? It seemed a nice round number and potentially doable. More importantly for this exercise, besides the aforementioned cliffs, we'd hit the Near Trapps and Lost City, for a total of 5 crags. So, 20 climbs + 5 cliffs = 25, x 2 climbers = 50. (Hey, you don't get to be 50 without learning some fuzzy math...)
Amy and I got on our bikes at the steel bridge in the Trapps and started the 3.5-mile pedal up to Sky Top. After ditching the bikes we hiked up to the start of the day, a popular 5.11- "Land of Milk & Honey". Even though Sky Top is officially closed, and open only to guided Mohonk Mountain House guests, this route is one that still sees traffic by those who wish to take their chances with security. Being MMH guides, Amy and I were in accordance.
I racked up and started the procedure. The usual morning body kinks made themselves known but soon I was up at the top and warmed up. I rapped and cleaned the route and we walked down the cliff a short way to "Too Steep for My Lichen", 5.11-, another 3 star must-do. Over the years, the opening crimp one uses to make a long reach right to a crack in a corner has deteriorated. This not only makes the opening moves more difficult, but also makes placing the gear totally blind and reachy. I got a cam in and down-climbed to test it. Everything was good to go. Once again I was up and down in short order.
The next climb was the first test of the day. I opted to toprope "Supercrack" 5.12c to hasten the process and not bring a bigger rack than what I'd normally have for a day in the Gunks. "Supercrack" felt pretty easy which was a good sign. I had 17 more routes to go.
We went around to the front of Sky Top, where some of the other famous climbs lay. "Foops", the oft-photographed 5.11, was next on the list. That took 10 minutes. I soloed up a great 5.8, "Sound & Fury", and set a rope for "Open Cockpit". At 5.11+, it's a dicey face climb, and the pro is not fully straight forward. With the tr, it was super simple and fast. We were done with Sky Top and had 6 routes in. Four 5.11s, a 5.12 and a 5.8.
We cruised downhill to Giant's Workshop. I hadn't climbed there in quite a long while, so wasn't sure how "Projectile" 5.12c would feel. It climbs a very overhung wall on mostly big holds for 65 feet. Again, I opted for a toprope and clipped a few directional fixed pieces on the rap down. Turned out I really didn't remember this one too well. I was out of sequence for most of the climb and made it much harder than necessary, but got up it anyway, albeit pretty pumped.
Back on the bikes to the Trapps. On the far northern side is a really good 5.12b/c that Al Diamond and I put up in the mid-80s called "Bone Hard". It's popular as a toprope, or one can opt for an R-rated outing placing gear. No need to say what I did! I had always found this climb tricky and this time was no different. Again, I did a few moves wrong, but battled through and topped out.
At this point, it was late morning. The cliffs face southeast and the sun was baking the stone. I had wanted to do two ultra classics in the Trapps, "Kligfields Follies" 5.11+++ and "Yellow Wall" 5.11. The sun, however, wilted my spirit. I opted to stay in the trees at the Slime Wall (a much better hunk of stone than it sounds) and do a couple of shorter pitches that were shaded. The direct start to "Frustration Syndrome" makes for a short-lived 5.11- boulder problem, followed by excellent 5.10 moves. It's only 50 feet long, but good every inch of the way. From that anchor it's a cinch to set up a toprope on another really good 5.11-, "The Stand". Those two in the bag, we moved down a few hundred yards to "The Sting", another Gunks sandbag rated 5.11+. If you ever found this route and these moves at a sport climbing area, it would be a classic 12b clip-up. Instead, the gear is a little finicky and strenuous, so it's 5.11+ here. Go figure. In any case, I opted for another toprope on this one, and climbed the excellent "Lisa" 5.9 to set it up. Since I've done "The Sting" many dozens of times, it was fairly rote, but you still got to pull a bit. Done with that, we left the Trapps and rode over to the Near Trapps. The tally since the start now stood at one 5.8, one 5.9, seven 5.11s and three 5.12s.
Now early afternoon, we hit the "workout wall" in the Nears. "To Be or Not To Be" 5.12- has an interesting history and is certainly one of the gems in the area. It's a super ballsy lead and rarely done as such. Today would be no exception. The three-star 5.8 "Farewell to Arms" safely deposits one at the anchors to toprope "To Be..." This is another climb I've done countless times. Since that is the case, how come it always seems I do it differently each time? Sometimes it feels stupid simple, and others desperate. Today was in-between. I took advantage of another toprope set up on "Bird Brain," another scary classic of the early '80s now popular as a tr, and got another 5.11+ ticked. We chucked our bikes in the truck and drove down to the parking lot for Lost City. The score now stood at: 5.8s: 2, 5.9s: 1, 5.11s: 8, 5.12s: 4
Amy was holding up well. She hadn't dropped me and didn't have a complaint at all as we walked up the hill to the Persistence block at Lost City. This is a favorite zone for getting pumped on, what else... top ropes! This being a Saturday, there was a large crowd assembled. Our friend, Les Pollack, was there with a few hundred friends and acquaintances from NYC. This, in fact, was a bonus. There was no need to set up ropes. The cliff was festooned with cords on just about every route. Thank you, Les!
I started on "Caffeine & Nicotine" 5.12b, an excellent 80-foot vertical face climb with multiple tricky cruxes. This route was established as a toprope and to my knowledge has never been led. It would be X-rated for sure. After lowering, I tied back in the other side of the rope and climbed another three-star 5.11-, "Gold Streaks". Back at the bottom I mentioned to Amy I was becoming fatigued. "WHAT?!" she mocked "You've hardly done anything! Get going, slacker!"
With 17 pitches under my belt, I figured I'd better get on the only 5.13 on the agenda today. "Survival of the Fittest" was Scott Franklin's calling card that he had arrived, back in 1985. And arrive he did. The route was put in ground-up, as was the way then. These days, it is rarely led, but is a great workout anyway. Only 40 feet long, it gives continuous climbing on similarly sized holds a pad big on a 120-degree wall. At two-thirds height, the holds get a tad sloped and smaller for the crux. I have this route ruthlessly wired, but that didn't prove enough today. I battled through the crux only to fall while moving left to better holds. I hung for a moment and finished. There was no sense trying again. I was pretty pooped. With that, I moved over to The Corridor, home of many a popular 5.11 and 5.12 toprope, and did a lap on "Texas Flake" 5.10+. If this climb was at the McCarthy Wall in the Trapps, it would be one of the most done routes in the area.
The rope on "Persistence" was unoccupied. This 5.11+ is certainly one of the most famous in the Gunks. John Stannard spent many, many days sieging this overhung finger crack until he finally fell up it. Considering the year he did so-1971-it was quite an accomplishment in the era.
The opening moves of "Persistence" provide the crux. The crack is thin and awkward. Once past the start, it's simply hanging on for 40 more feet of good jams and holds. I started to pull on and backed off. Tried again, and stepped back again. Finally I yanked with what I had left and got up the boulder problem. The rest was easy, but my forearms were achy. Though it was only 4pm and we had plenty of daylight, I was done. Amy said she was tired of belaying anyway.
We agreed to head home for a beer.
Final score: 5.8s: 2, 5.9s: 1, 5.10s: 1, 5.11s: 10, 5.12s: 5, 5.13s: 1 with a hang.
Turning 60 should be a cruise.