Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Note on Wussing Out

This past Sunday I got out climbing with Tom, an old friend of mine from college. Tom was one of my early ice climbing partners that I learned a lot from and hauled me up some crazy hard routes. He's one of few people I know whose talents on ice are much greater than those on the rock. Our plan for the day was to get on the classic Repentance at Cathedral Ledge in North Conway, NH. Unfortunately when we arrived at the cliff there was already a party on it and a line forming in cue behind them. We opted for our backup plan of climbing Super Goofers further left along the cliff. Tom had done this route the previous weekend so was happy to lead the first easy pitch to set me up for the crux second pitch column. From the ground the column looked short and relatively straight forward, but up close was a different story.

Contemplating whether or not to go for it of Super Goofers WI 5-

I climbed up to the base of the pillar to give it a good look. The first moves were going to be a bit hairy with one foot on the column and the other on the rock face next to it. A lot of precise swings and upper body pull-ups would be required for sure. It was quite cold as well and the ice was brittle. Without having climbed any steep columns yet this season I wasn't feeling psyched to attempt this WI 5- route. So I backed off and we rapped down. Tom spent the afternoon teaching his sister and mom how to climb at the North End of Cathedral, and I headed up to Crawford Notch to solo Shoestring Gully. I felt like I needed to accomplish something else after backing off Super Goofers.

I got out of the car at Crawford notch and hiked quickly through the woods, across the stream, and up into the gully along the well trodden path. With such little snow this year I was stepping on rocks as often as I was snow. I climbed the lower sections of ice without any hesitation, but towards the top of the route there were a couple different finishes possible so I stopped to contemplate which to take. You can continue along the gully up another couple hundred feet of low angle ice, or climb up a rock chimney to the right. It looked short, fun, and easy enough so I decided to exit here. I strapped one of my tools to my backpack and kept the other handy for hooking on the iced up chock stones in the chimney. The moves were strenuous and I hesitated a bit, but the biting wind forced me to keep moving so I could finish and head to the shelter of the trees above. I was happy to pull the finish and snap a couple photos before hiking down. I was back at my car at 3pm for a round trip time of about 2 hours. Not bad for a 2,000 foot gully climb.

Looking down on the 5.5 rock exit from Shoestring Gully high on Mt. Webster

I'm glad I backed off of Super Goofers. I had some little remorse that I didn't have the confidence to nail the route, but getting on the route without that confidence would have been a much worse scenario. In ice climbing you can't just go for it like you could on a rock route. The gear is more questionable, and even if it holds the sharp objects on your feet and in your hands tend to cause serious problems when you come to a stop. The mantra "falling is not an option" means that you shouldn't put yourself in the position where you could fall. I made sure of that by not attempting Super Goofers. But it is this same sentiment that makes me confident enough to solo an easy WI 2 gully and a 5.5 section of rock. Its a weird dichotomy between not climbing something hard with a rope, and climbing something easy without a rope. But to me they make total sense and go hand in hand. So in the end, its okay to wuss out; its just a wise decision.