A Red River Halloween Day 7: Adults at the Playground

It's all fun and games until you make it past the first bolt.

The Preacher's Daughter (5.11-): ★★★★
Guernica (5.11a): ★★★
Brief History of Climb (5.10b): ★★★★
Capture the Flag (5.11b): ★★
Monkey Bars (5.10a): ★★★★
Jungle Gym (5.10b): ★★
Balance Beam (5.11a): ★★★

I couldn't fall back asleep. I'm a light sleeper and David was snoring. Again. I'd already woken him up once already on this trip... only to realize that doing so means that two of us end up wrecked the next day. Plus, he's got a super power: he can fall back asleep. I can't. So I went into the living room and passed out on the couch.

Good morning Kentucky.

When I awoke, the world was on fire. Sunshine spilled over everything, exploding red and yellow tree leaves through window portals into our living room. The fiery sunrise lit up the cabin like magic, beckoning me outside with mystic magnetism. I exited the front door, quietly creaked along the front porch, walked to cliff edge, and just stared. Yellow, orange, and red leaves fireworked against the pearly pink sunrise. The world was alive. It was one of the most unexpectedly extraordinary, ordinary mornings I've ever had.

Trees. From the cliff, just outside our cabin.

I hadn't snuck out quietly enough. When I walked back to the cabin, Zach and Sevda were in full protein-packed pancake making form, and the rest of the crew was slowly stirring.

The rest of the crew (who had joined us two nights ago, but hadn't yet climbed with us) was:
* Jon: Jon combines a slightly intimidating stature with a hearty laugh and sly wit. He's now bigger than his lanky, lean, post Appalachian Trail weight, but he's tall too. From his consistently jovial demeanor, I inferred that his parents never exposed him to sadness. I'd been on a few trips before with Jon, and I've always enjoyed his presence.  
* Jen: Once, when Dave-O and I were discussing how lead falls on easier terrain are more dangerous than lead falls on overhanging/more difficult terrain, I mentioned that I saw a girl take an ankle-destroying fall from between the fourth and fifth bolt on She got the Bosch, I got Drilled. Dave-O replied, "Oh, so you've met Jen?" I had not. She had the exact same accident. Thankfully, that was several years ago. Today, Jen is healthy and vivacious. Unlike her boyfriend (now fiancé--and maybe by the time you are reading this, husband) Jon's personality, Jen's personality does not match her size. She is petite, but radiates with life, exuding a contagious joy. She was just getting back into lead climbing, and yesterday, for the first time since her accident, she had lead an outdoor climb. Several, actually. She was stoked.
* Rus: Rus embodies cool. Like somebody who knows how to play guitar. Like somebody who once was a punk rocker. Like somebody who used to surf. Like somebody who still writes. Like somebody who has a kid, is raising him right, and is still throwing down on some hard climbs. I don't know how he ended up stuck on this trip with us, but we were all better for it.
* Matt: Dave-O described Matt as a crusher who fell out and then just recently got back into climbing. Matt claims we first met when we were both working Narcissus (5.12a) at the New River Gorge a long time ago. Matt either has the memory of a card-shark (since I only recall working Narcissus once, deeming it scary and damn near impossible... nearly five years ago) or he was the guy working/sending the direct version (5.12d!) when I sent the Narcissus semi-recently in 2015. Maybe it's both? Regardless, he's a super low-key, friendly, and down-to-earth guy. He even managed to be in consistently good spirits despite sleeping in his car in below freezing temperatures at Miguels every night. He joined us on the last couple days of the trip.
* Molly: Molly is Matt's girlfriend. Cheerful, friendly. New to climbing. She was the victim of many a sandbag on this trip, as we repeatedly failed to find easy climbs for her. Instead of just admitting our failures, we convinced her to try them, with a well-intentioned "it's really not that bad." For some reason she stuck with us. I think she may have even enjoyed it.

Zach and Sevda continued to make pancakes, and we continued to eat them. Dave-O and I made the PB&J sandwiches for the team. And we planned our climbing destination. We had a couple constraints. It was going to rain, and we to go somewhere with easy climbs for Jen to lead and for Molly to follow. Preferably five-star classics.

We settled on the Gallery. Jon recalled that the mega-classic 5.8, 27 Years of Climbing, was slightly overhanging (and potentially dry). There would be several other dry climbs nearby. Most of the crew had never been there. It's a relatively short approach. And if we don't like it? There would be plenty of other areas nearby.

We left in three cars: the white steed of justice, Matt's sedan, and Jon's sedan. We reshuffled at the entrance to PMRP (knowing that Matt's car might not make it back up in the rain), added Matt and Molly to Highlander, and dropped into PMRP. The added weight made it even easier for Zach to smooth the rough road with the bottom of his Highlander.

We then slogged through wet leaves and mud to reach the Gallery. To me, a sector named the Gallery  invokes a picturesque, unbroken cliff-line, with five star routes on display in either direction. In actuality, the Gallery is a half mile sector of broken cliff, with interesting looking lines separated by slabs, crumbled rock, and overgrowth; the right end capped with a massive U-shaped, football-field-sized amphitheater, complete with a waterfall pouring over the middle of the roof. A rusty, old exposed oil pipeline stabs through the left jaw of this 80' tall, gaping mouth. There are no climbs in the middle of the amphitheater: the roof is too blank, the rock is too rotten, and the inclination is too steep.

27 Years of Climbing is 100' left of the impressive amphitheater. It was soaked, and it hadn't even started raining. We were not climbing this today.

I cherry-picked what I thought was the best dry line, being sure to humbly ask if anybody else wanted to lead it first. As if I would even let them.

That line was The Preacher's Daughter, a completely dry (it was protected by a roof), vertical orange face, with random black splotches, almost like a leopard print. It climbed well: big moves between flat edges, with some thought provoking side-pulls and under-clings sprinkled in. For 70'! If you want to have fun, I recommend this line. If you want to be disappointed... what are you doing at the Red again?

Jon mid-clip on A Brief History of Climb

If 27 Years of Climbing is the king line of the area (for the 5.8-5.10 grade), A Brief History of Climb, is the queen. Hueco climbing down low leads to three bolts of overhanging, mushroom-head, hero-climbing on a slightly overhanging arrete. I don't recall how we picked who was going first, but Jon got the honors.

The third, and last line, to get put up was Guernica, a dry climb just left of A Brief History. Matt recalled it being really fun the last time he was here. He grabbed a set a draws and hopped on. He figured out the low crux, cruised the slab, and started up the plated jugs to the anchors. He clipped the last bolt... only to realize that one of the giant holds had broken. This climb was now a lot harder. He gave it a few goes but didn't want to destroy himself on the first climb of the day, and then left it for another victim. Me.

Midway through our rotation, the rain arrived. Along with it came a slightly older gentlemen (maybe in his 50s?) and his son (a teenager?). David struck up a conversation with him; during which I overheard his name, and, "Wait--are you the Jeff Elison?"

He was! None other than one of the authors of The Vertical Mind! He was out with his son on some form of a sabbatical/road trip. We made small talk with him: discussing various climbing areas, his road trip, how long he was at the Red for, his teaching job, his side job (he had copies The Vertical Mind in the back of his car for sale), and his evolution as a climber. He was no longer gunning for the hardest climbs possible, but he still enjoyed climbing. Getting his old climbing crew together had gotten harder and harder over the years, as time slowly separated them. They had recently all gotten back together in Utah, climbing up to 5.10, since half of his crew hadn't put on climbing shoes in years. But right now, on this trip, the only thing he wanted was to climb the classics with his son. When we left the crag, I enviously remarked to Zach: "That's you in a couple years!"

When we finished on these routes, we realized we had climbed out the desirable dry climbs. Well, sort of. While the others were climbing, I had gone on a secret scouting trip to see what other awesome lines were worthy of a quick flash by this 5.12b on-sighting climber. I found several: Break The Scene (5.12a), a rad looking corner tailor made for me to demonstrate my flawless technique; Starry Night (5.12a), a gorgeous, massive overhanging roof, perfect for my huge forearms; and, Mosaic (5.12c), a inspiring, a beautiful pocketed face ripe for some grade grabbing. Thankfully the angel on my shoulder put my ego back in place: it was my second day on, I was being selfish (nobody else wanted to try these climbs--and I really enjoy the shared experience of climbing), and these are hard 5.12s. Plus I don't have technique (I climb in the gym too much), I have no endurance (and just regular forearms), and in retrospect, I stand no chance of climbing a 12c quickly (I've now got a couple years of experience backing that up). Honestly? I didn't intentionally scout out these climbs. I just really wanted to find a quiet place to poop.

We ended up at the playground: figuring it would be dry (it was) and there would be several "easy" 5.10s for Molly to hop on (there were not). I was stoked: I just wanted to climb. I figured a humble 5.11b would be my perfect warm-up for this short, overhanging wall, and if it went well, I'd hop on the 5.11d to the right. Zach hopped on Monkey Bars, and Matt on Jungle Gym.

A (washed out) afternoon at the Playground. Matt on Jungle Gym, Zach on Monkey Bars, Marek on Capture the Flag).

The 5.11b, Capture the Flag, was not easy. I climbed hesitantly, struggling to pick the right holds through all the chalk, and then when I finally committed, it was half-hearted. I fell. Misery loves company, and Zach and Matt were glad to oblige: I didn't end up hanging out near the top by myself. The playground was hard.

I think that's one of my favorite things about being a climber. The challenge. When you pick a climb or a climbing area, you generally pick it expecting that you will send the climb someday. On this trip, "someday" really meant "first go." But today, none us were sending first go. None of us were expecting the playground to be this hard, and most of us were solid 5.10 climbers. So what were we doing wrong?

By the time my turn had come up on Monkey Bars, I had a hunch. A long time ago, a good friend/strong-man (Gilbert) had given me advice, which I had never forgotten, because it was so wrong. He  said that the Red had a ton of lay down rests. At that point in my life, I had been to the Red exactly once, and had not found any lay down rests. He was obviously wrong.

Except, he wasn't. He was totally right. From the ground, I figured Monkey Bars had at least two lay-down rests. They'd be awkward to get into. And maybe scary to get out of. But they were rests, and if you used them, you had no excuse for pumping out at the top... the climb is only 45 feet.

Now also seems like a good time to apologize to both Zach and Dave-O, who both hopped on Monkey Bars before me, and came off swearing it was the hardest 5.10 in their life. I had assumed the climb was going to be a breeze before Zach hopped on. But it was only when Dave-O yelled take by the last bolt that I realized that in order to send this, I'm going to need to pull out my entire bag of tricks. And then, before I hopped on the wall, like Yoda to Luke, Gilbert's words came back to me.

I found three lay down rests. Not all of them were good. None of them were clean. Some of them slightly were humiliating. They were definitely scary getting out of. But man, climbing is so much more fun when you swallow your pride, stop worrying about sending, and only search for lay down rests. I think everybody except Molly sent the route after me, and she only quit (after a lay down rest!) because her skin so raw she couldn't hold onto anything anymore.

Gilbert, thank you. Zach and Dave-O, I'm sorry.

Shortly after Monkey Bars, I hopped on Jungle Gym. I didn't find any trickery on this climb, and nearly pumped out. I was spent.

But by the time the rest of the team had alternated through all of the routes, I had forgot how much Jungle Gym, hurt, and I excitedly snuck in a quick lap on Balance Beam before we left. It was really fun. Hopping on slab after two days of overhangs is so invigorating.

We left shortly after, making it back to the cabin at dark. We made pasta, played Bang!, and did our best to forget that we were heading back to DC tomorrow.


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