Actually, it started with a broken down 2005 Chevy that left me stranded in the middle of Maryland this time last fall. On my way to the NRG Cragging Classic last year, my birthday trip to the south went NOTHING like I’d planned, and yet everything somehow worked out the way that it was supposed to.
Over 100,000 miles later, I took the familiar, windy road up to the West Trapps lot after hightailing it back to the east coast from Colorado. Being amongst old friends was for certain the highlight of this birthday trip. Day Acheson and Scott Albright are two of my favorite Gunks partners. We spent the better part of two years sharing a rope, and they were a beautiful two years and 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.
Coming home to see them both was a blend of bitter and sweet. I felt overjoyed on that late September afternoon, recalling every twist and turn on the dirt road. Shooter trotted merrily next to us, occasionally breaking into a sprint ahead to gather a whiff of some passing creature. Day and I briefly discussed Erect Direction (5.10c) in the morning and then neither of us mentioned it until we were dropping our packs beneath a perfect 5.8 hand crack.
Day led up the first pitch, and we moved left to a better belay on the GT ledge. I’ve seen a lot of roofs in the past twelve months. I’ve shrunk beneath the massive Obed roofs and sandstone ceilings at the Twall. I’ve sweated and sworn my way through roof cracks in Zion. And yet, nothing is quite like a Gunks roof.
The second pitch places you in an awkward position underneath a few underclings to a right facing corner. The problem is getting to the undercling traverse! Using crack technique in the Gunks felt so foreign to me, but not surprisingly, it was very helpful.I got two pieces in before the massive roof move.
The familiar shuffle of wandering both hands and feet out as far as they could go, feeling around, and wandering back began. I tried once and thought: fuck, it’s such a long reach. And fuck my negative ape index. And fuck, I might not be able to pull this roof today.
“A little ambitious for my first climb back, eh?” I said to Day.
And then the last shuffle: feet as high as they could go and a HUGE reach to the jug over the lip—BLAM. There it was. There were jugs jugs jugs—and the sweet hum of feet cutting and my body swinging through the air. The moves were invigorating, the rock felt so comforting and for a moment, I really felt like I was flying. I was back, and it really almost felt as if I’d never left.
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, catching up on as much as you can in a 15-minute approach.
Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope or CCK (5.8) was one of those routes that got tossed onto the back burner by accident. Always with the intention of climbing it and yet, never having gotten around to it, it seemed like the best time to do it. Scott took the first pitches, finally placing gear after thirty feet or so, laughed and said something along the lines of, “I don’t even climb anymore.”
But Scott always tells me that. He gets busy with his restaurant during the year and spends his winters surfing in Puerto Rico. He definitely doesn’t get out as much as he used to, but he’s always been a climber to me. Scott disagrees. He says he’s a “skateboarder who rock climbs” but few people know the Gunks as well as Scott.
The traverse on pitch three was airy and beautiful, standing on those little ledges for your feet. Playing around with gear and casual conversing with Scott at his belay, all I could think about was our past adventures. The moment was tinged with sadness for only a brief second. I’d missed Scott the most.
Scott followed to the top and we had every intention of rapping down a pitch to try Smilin’ the Hard Way (5.12a), but instead we lay at the top and watched the sunset. We didn’t do a birthday challenge or 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 we rapped off into darkness.
I actually did lose my wallet this trip. I was running around, frantically calling my credit card companies and bank, but mostly wondering how the F was I going to drive back to Colorado without a license.
Amidst the chaos, Sean McDowell and I managed to pack up the rest of my car with boxes from storage and started driving west as crept in. After a short visit with Fayetteville and Chattanooga friends, Sean put the pedal to the floor and as the street lights began to soften, I held Shooter close to me in my lap. I could feel a smile spread on my face as I finally began to crash. The adventure that I was so worried about ending wasn’t over quite yet.
Sometimes, the best adventures call for your plans to be derailed a little bit. A good general rule of thumb is that all good recipes for adventure call for burritos, a brown dog and some desert towers, and that’s what I’m ready for.