My friends Jason Gebauer and Ryan Heintzelman took a cross-country road trip to the east coast from Colorado, where they’d randomly met three strangers at the American Alpine Club campground. Chelsea Lance, hailing from North Carolina, was one of them. Chelsea had been following routes in the Trapps that week and was filled with such a lively energy that it was hard not to share her excitement.
We warmed up on Laurel (5.7) and Chelsea danced her way up Apoplexy (5.9) in the Uberfall. I led up Horseman, a 5.5 just to the left of Laurel. Because it’s possibly one of the best routes at its grade in the Gunks, there is always a party on it and a party waiting below. We were lucky enough to have a weekday to ourselves and almost the entire carriage road to ourselves and took full advantage of it, sprawling everywhere from Bunny to Low E.
Before the end of the day, I’d encouraged Chelsea to try leading Horseman or perhaps Bunny (5.5). I saw something inside of her, but more so, I felt it. It was the faint flicker of excitement and fear, all wrapped into one. The curiosity of a new trad leader before ever having placed a cam on lead; it was so intense and so familiar to me. Chelsea never mentioned wanting to tie into the sharp end, at least not to me. But I felt the electricity.
Some new climbers like to take things slow, perhaps following as much as they can to become familiar with things such as gear placements and new heights. Maybe I thought that I saw something in Chelsea that reminded me of myself, some six years ago following others up those conglomerate cliffs. Alex Marks, a climbing partner from my beginner years, handed me his rack on my first two lead climbs and did so much more than encourage me. Emboldened by his genuine belief in me, he pushed me as I placed gear in the horizontal cracks on Arrow (5.8) and struggled my way to exit the exposed V-notch on V-3 (5.7).
There are times when it just takes one person to believe in you for you to feel like something is possible. Alex believed in me that day, just like I did Chelsea.
Jason Hurwitz, our friend who works for the Mohonk Preserve, was passing by and stopped for a few hugs. Jason discerningly cautioned Chelsea, who was now considering leading her first route. He passed on some advice, which I thought to be both prudent and wise, despite my prior optimism. Jason’s recommendation was that, as a new trad leader, one should not be pushing more than one of these categories at a time:
Movement, systems, and mentality.
Sheepishly, I’ll admit that this was not the case when I began leading trad. At any given time, I was probably pushing two at a time, if not all three. But, that was, of course, my experience and not Jason or Chelsea’s. Coming back to the Gunks, I am a different climber. I am no longer a new trad leader, but one with a few experiences underneath my belt (some of which I’ve had to learn the hard way). Nowadays, you won’t find me pushing too many of those categories at the same time without painstakingly considering all of the potential ramifications.
Teddy and I had to leave before we knew if Chelsea had changed her mind or not. Later, Jason told me that she led Betty (5.3) and even belayed him from the top.
Cover photograph courtesy of Prab Naththarampatha.