I recently returned back to east coast and took the familiar, windy road up to the West Trapps. Being amongst old friends was for certain the highlight of this trip home, and I knew I wouldn’t be back for some time. I spent the better part of two years sharing a rope with Day Acheson and Scott Albright. Those years were so consequential to my growth, both as a climbing partner and a person. I don’t think I could be the Kathy I am today without the two of them in my life.

Day has been climbing in the Gunks since the 70s. Check out his chalk bag if you don’t believe me! (They used to use pins instead of passes.)

Coming home was a blend of bitter and sweet. I just finalized moving to an apartment in Denver and was picking up my belongings in storage. But it was hard not to feel anything but overjoyed on that late September afternoon. Shooter trotted merrily next to us, occasionally breaking into a sprint ahead, as I recalled every twist and turn on the carriage road.

Day and I dropped our packs beneath Erect Direction (5.10c), and we started up the first pitch of 5.8 perfect hand crack. Atop the GT ledge, I gazed up at the massive roof. In the last several months, I’ve seen a lot of them. I’ve stood beneath massive Obed roofs and sandstone ceilings at the T-wall. I’ve sweated and sworn my way through roof cracks in Zion. And yet, nothing is quite like a Gunks roof.

Pitch two and three of Erect Direction (5.10c)

The second pitch places you in an awkward position underneath a few underclings to a right facing corner. The difficult part (and crux of the entire route) is getting to the traverse! Using crack technique in the Gunks felt so foreign to me, but not surprisingly, was very helpful. I slammed a 4 inside the crack and used a chicken wing to scrunch my body up higher.

After belaying Day up to the corner, I then placed two pieces of gear. I reached and felt nothing, just air, and retreated back to my stance. “A little ambitious for my first climb back, eh?” I said to Day. I tried again. I got my feet as high as I could and stretched my body and–BLAM. There it was. I found the huge jug over the lip and listened to the sweet hum of my feet cutting and body swinging through the air for a moment. The moves were invigorating, the hold felt so comforting and for a brief, sweet moment, it really felt like I was flying.

Atop the final pitch of Erect Direction

Scott and I fell into our regular routine the following day: he made me an awesome breakfast at the Bite and I drank too much coffee. This time, Shooter bolted up to the CCK trail while Scott and I rambled on behind her. Scott took the first pitches of Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope or CCK (5.8). I laughed when I heard him say from about thirty feet above me, “I don’t even climb anymore.”

Scott always says that. When the restaurant isn’t busy, he spends the off-season surfing in Puerto Rico. He might not climb as often as we used to, but he will always be a climber to me. He says he’s a “skateboarder who rock climbs” but few people know the Gunks as well as him.

The traverse on pitch three was airy and beautiful, standing on those little ledges for your feet. Playing around with gear and casually conversing with Scott at his belay, I smiled. I’d missed Scott the most.

Scott Albright running it out on the first pitch of CCK (5.8)

We lay at the top and watched the sunset together. It was my birthday. We didn’t climb birthday pitches or try really hard on something. We just sat together and soaked in the last rays of light that the sky had to offer, and then rapped off into darkness. It was all I wanted.

Sean McDowell and I packed up the rest of my car with boxes from storage and started driving the next day. We dipped south and visited friends in Chattanooga, but then started heading west. Sean put the pedal to the floor and as the street lights began to soften, I held Shooter close to me in my lap. She slept peacefully and I could feel a smile spread on my face as I finally began to crash, too. The adventure that I was so worried about ending wasn’t over quite yet.

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