I’m wrapping up my 2014 season in the Gunks, possibly for a long time. I’m hoping to do more traveling out west this coming year so my last day trip upstate filled me with nostalgia as I prepared to say “goodbye” for a little while.

Despite the cold temperatures, Kevin Riley and had the best two days. We raged the Mac Wall and began with the first pitch of Birdie Party (5.8). Birdie is one of my FAVORITE 8s in the Gunks. It’s one of those climbs I will do again and again because it’s so wildly fantastic and a solid climb at the grade. Kevin’s goal was to do Mother’s Day Party (5.10b), which has one of the most fun cruxes up high. The low crux is a little heady because if you fall, there is a ledge beneath you, but Kevin styled it with no problem.

Kevin Riley making the first moves on Mother’s Day (5.10b)

We moved on to Coexistence (5.10d), and I wanted to try climbing the entire thing on passive pro this time. I tiptoe-reached the largest stopper I had with me before clipping the pin. Through this overhang is the crux of the climb, and has always felt desperate to me. Feeling tired, I was unsure of pulling the roof but the universe smiled on me and I found a perfect knee bar rest. For as many times as I’ve climbed Co-Ex, I can’t believe I’d never found that damn rest before that day!

I used to hate this photo because I think I’m making a REALLY stupid face. Now I kind of love it. Also, I had no idea that my arms were that long. Photograph by Sam Cervantes

The next day was supposed to be slightly warmer with the promise of more sun. After breakfast at the Last Bite (Kevin said, “Your friend Scott knows how to make a mean egg.”), we moseyed over to the Nears.

The first time I’d ever toproped To Be or Not To Be (5.11R/5.12?) was in the spring with Scott Albright. I lowered to the ground and he said to me, “You blew the first crux.”

I said, “Yeah, I know.”

“You blew the first crux, but you sailed through the other two.”

The seed was planted and I knew I wanted it.

I’ve been talking about leading To Be someday. I talk a lot, though. “Someday” wasn’t a goal I had in mind, it was more like a passing thought. I never actually had the intention to lead it that day, but I was happy to run a few laps and play around with the gear beta. I climbed a few laps and when the climb started feeling good, I felt ready so we pulled the rope.

Moments after I’d tied into the rope, I was suddenly questioning whether or not this was something I should try. It was a fleeting hesitation. At the end of the day, I told Kevin that I would have been okay with walking away if I didn’t think I could do it safely.

Taking toprope laps on To Be or Not To Be (5.12a). Photograph by Sam Cervantes

To Be has three cruxes all together and one nasty run out with ground fall potential. The last piece of gear before the bear hug was amazingly bomber and, with the reassurance that Kevin could run backward pretty fast if I blew it, I took a series of huge breaths. My hands reached behind me in my chalk bag and I crushed a few pebbles of chalk between my fingers.

My movement was exactly what I’d rehearsed earlier. My head was clear from any thoughts and I just kept moving upward. I didn’t think about the gear below. I didn’t think about the step up high move, I just did it. I slapped high with my right hand—and for a moment, I was unsure if it stuck or not—and crimped with my left.

I kept moving. Up and up and up. Plugged a piece, held on tightly to a rail to plug in one more for security. Then, out of nowhere, all of the thoughts came rushing back. “I AM SO PUMPED OUT OF MY MIND!” I thought. I tried to ignore it and took what little rest I could, then shot out to my right to an edge. Finally, I reached that perfect foot to stand up on. And another. And another. Then came the last crimp. And then a good crimp. When I got to the chains, I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs.

How I felt when I clipped the draws (except I didn’t bend the time and space continuum)

It’s undeniably in our nature to want to do things that we’re good at. The problem is getting too comfortable and never pushing past boundaries we create. I’ve spent so much time in my comfort zone, nesting away. As I end my season in the Gunks, what I’ve learned is that calculated risks are ok. Being willing to take certain risks, providing that they are calculated in your favor, and with the acknowledgement that sometimes, things don’t go as planned, is all a part of rock climbing. Being willing to take risks is necessary in order to try–and I think that there is more success in trying something (and possibly failing) than in any send, any day.

Cover photograph courtesy of Sam Cervantes.

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