We sat under Disco Death March (5.10d) in the Gunks, packing up gear after a second attempt at inverting the large horizontal roof crack. To my delight, the transition from the roof to the offwidth section of 5 went clean and I had only my endurance to work on for the long section of 6s. Another day, I thought to myself as we packed up and Teddy Negouai and I prepared to head back to the city.
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 a bunch of 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. It was Teddy’s first time on a rope outdoors and I wanted him to have the best first experience I could possibly give him. (I think I was successful because a few weeks later, he tried to persuade me to do sea cliff suicide climbing with him. I’m not even sure that I know what that is.)
I led up Horseman, a 5.5 just to the left of Laurel. Possibly the best route 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.
Teddy belayed me to the top of the pitch. I haven’t climbed Horseman in years–the first time was barefoot at night by headlamp. Andrew Erwin taught me how to open a beer bottle with a carabiner and I top-belayed him, toes swinging happily off a ledge and taking swigs of beer. Many summers later, I returned and top-belayed Teddy (sans beer).
Teddy graciously offered me a belay on Disco Death March. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a long enough cordalette for the anchor this time and the rope got dragged underneath the last 6. After some silly shenanigans that involved down-aiding (as all climbing shenanigans do), we were able to retrieve all of the wide gear and nobody had to toprope to clean anything. Teddy, with a strong background in bouldering, surprised me when he told me he would have liked to have tried it.
We’d run over to Disco because we were losing afternoon light, and Teddy and I had to be back in the city early that evening. Before settling down at Jackie and friends, I’d encouraged Chelsea to try leading Horseman or perhaps Bunny (5.5).
There was something inside of her, I saw it 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. The day before, she seemed content with letting me lead up Something Interesting (5.7+) at the Mac Wall and was eager to continue on and follow me up the Dangler, a short 5.10a variation from the GT Ledge.
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 saw something within Chelsea that reminded me of myself, some six years ago following others up those beautiful 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 and strengthened me to my core 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).
Sometimes, it just takes one person to believe in you enough. Alex believed in me that day, just like I believed in 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 still 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.