When I tell people that I began climbing in the Gunks, a fairly typical response is, “I’ve heard that place is sandbagged!”
Some of the most sandbagged places that I have climbed in include Seneca Rocks and Vedauwoo. This is, of course, just my opinion based on my own personal experiences, and the fact of the matter is that grades, in general, are so subjective. Additionally, it often depends on when the route was first put up.
Anyway, what the hell is a “sandbagged” climb supposed to feel like, anyway? I’ve been climbing for about six years now and I still don’t have a clue (it all feels sandbagged). From the ground, everything looks reasonable until you’re halfway up the route with uncontrollable sewing machine leg. While you struggle barge the rest of the way up, take solace in the fact that the first ascent was probably done in steel-toed boots and with pitons.
Climbing, in general, can have a steep and slow learning curve, and when it comes to its distinct style, like most areas, the Gunks is no different. This can be especially true for out-of-state visitors—but if you’re paying a visit from out west, there are certainly more than a few crack climbs that nobody talks about. You’re almost guaranteed to have them all to yourself, too.
In all my time climbing in the Gunks, I have never seen another person on Disco Death March (5.10d). You don’t really need a lot of gear for this route, but you do need big gear. It’s been done with two 6s, which I tried during my first attempt. Having three pieces made me much happier on my second attempt.
I’d been considering trying an inverted move on it. I told Scott Albright this over dinner the night before. Bashfully, I said, “I know it might be dumb. It might not work.” He told me that I should absolutely do it in a style that was right for me. So what if nobody had tried climbing the crack inverted style? It didn’t mean that it wasn’t going to work, and I wouldn’t know until I tried.
I hoisted myself up and into the crack after placing my first 6. The heel-toe cams were absolutely crushing my left foot, but I often rested by getting a good chicken wing. The undercling can be done with a lie back/traverse, but I was committing to it. With a combination of butt scooting and winging, I made it out to the lip.
Maybe this classic 1977 line was not done the same way. In fact, it’s unlikely. But after spending some time climbing out west, I came back to Disco Death March and saw an entirely different route. Our perspectives are set by our own personal experiences—so don’t let people sandbag you. Or rather, don’t allow yourself to feel sandbagged by others. But in climbing, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. My beta might not be his beta; what feels sandbagged to him might not feel sandbagged to her.
Initially, I felt afraid and silly to try something in my own style, but the truth is that you don’t have to make decisions based on how things were formally done. Don’t let others tell you that things must be done in a certain way because they really don’t. Don’t let people tell you how hard or easy something is going to be—go and see for yourself.
Cover photograph courtesy of Chris Vultaggio.