Greg Burns - Reader Blog 1

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Photo by Jen Thistle

Photo by Jen Thistle

The Beauty of Farley Ledge, Western Massachusetts

If I never climb again at Rumney then I'll only be a little disappointed, but I can't be bothered to deal with the shirtless crowds that set up camp under their favorite projects all day so they and their cohorts can work the moves. No, I'm not talking about Waimea Wall; I can't even climb that hard in my dreams. I'm talking about getting away from the boisterous shouts of encouragement, the cigarettes, the dogs, the whimpering, powerful grunts, and the occasional radio. I like people. I really do. But I'll head to Western Mass from now on for my sport fix when I have weekends from trad off. Shoot, I'll head there for the trad, too. Farley is about an hour-and-a-half out on Route 2 from Boston. It's about the same distance as it's more famous, and admittedly more plentiful, rival in New Hampshire. The cliffs sit on power company property and the local climbing coalition is struggling to pay the mortgage on the new parking lot. No guidebook exists, and for good reason: it simply isn't developed enough in the non-climbing world for hordes of climbers to rush to. Much needs to be hashed out regarding access, and we certainly don't want to blow that up. But it's there. And it's easy to get to, and it has good climbing without the rah-rah. Mostly, though, it has both good sport and trad. Today we'll likely clip bolts on the lower cliff and then move upstairs to plug gear when it gets crowded and hot. You'd never even know there was an upstairs. I get the sense that many people don't. Weekend mornings such as this are unusual. There was one moment last year when, after camping for climbing's sake for about a dozen straight weekends, I awoke in a complete terror. It was 8:30am, and I'm never out of bed later than 7:30. In fact, I usually leave the house for work at 8:00. I was definitely late, and I fell out of bed while I cursed my alarm clock for not going off. Or maybe I slept through it. That was unlikely. I couldn't sleep through my neighbor's toilet flushing when they left the window open. But still, that thing was set to go off Monday through Friday at 7:09, just in time for the day's weather, and early enough for two slaps of the snooze button and the next weather report in case I was too sleepy to listen the first time. I swore when I noticed I hadn't gotten my work clothes ready the night before, and that likely meant my lunch was unprepared, too. It was 8:35 now. Ten minutes to walk to the subway, 45 minutes to ride to Kenmore Square, and five minutes to my cubicle. No time for breakfast. That would have to come from the cafe downstairs. But what about lunch? I'm too poor to buy breakfast and lunch. Screw it. If I don't get there until 10:00 then that's when I'll get there.

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

My morning piss couldn't have been a more impatient event, but when I was done I ran to the kitchen and threw some sort of lunch together: apple (unwashed), grapes (unwashed), granola bar (three months old), chips (no chips? no chips. write chips on the grocery list), carrots (already washed unnecessarily from the sprayers in the store, making them slimy, yucky, and unlikely to be eaten), and an expired coupon to a local sub shop. I was sure they'd still accept it. I ran back to the living room and threw my brown paper bag into my brown canvas bag. I checked to make sure my book was there. It wasn't. Where's my book? Coffee Table? Nope. Comfy chair from Ikea? Nope. Night stand in bedroom? Nope. Book rack across from the can in the bathroom? Bingo. Time for clothes. I stripped down and threw my boxers on first, then socks, a shirt and, just as I grabbed a pair of pants and had one leg halfway in with the other leg tripping over the waistline, I fell to the floor and realized something. It was Saturday, and I work Monday through Friday. But today is different. We wanted to get there early in order to avoid the crowd at the main cliff. Once we got our warm-ups in, we'd head up and play above the soft and brown-needled floor. I had set my alarm clock this time. When I awoke I knew what the game-plan was: My partner drops her car off at my house and I drive west, away from the city, the heat, the sticky sidewalks, and the smell of garbage. The problem with Farley is that everyone who climbs there knows the same thing, that getting there early is the thing to do. The lazy crowd doesn't exist here, and I think that's due to the lack of guidebook and general knowledge of the routes themselves. There hasn't been a guidebook at Rumney in years, either, but one does exist. Even so, there's so many people at each crag at Rumney that one is bound to get accidentally sandbagged only once if one has never been there, and it's easy to get 20 routes climbed in a day. Getting sandbagged five percent of the time at an over-bolted sport destination isn't such a bad deal. Getting sandbagged at Farley is almost a guarantee if you've never been there and there's no one to tell you what the grades are. Even the 12s look like eights from the bottom. But it's OK, because we know the routes and there aren't that many people there. People are nice at Farley. They don't hog the routes. Mid-day heat is a problem here, though. The sun bears down on the main wall making it feel like an oven. We get our warm up in, our pumpy and harder-than-expected warm up, and head up to the shade. I've never led trad here. Most of the routes are well above my grade. But I'm pushing more this season than ever before and I want to test my luck. My partner points out a route that she's done already. I rack up and am ready to go.

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

The first route is a crack. Great. I'm about as solid on crack as an anvil floats. The climbing up to the roof, where there is a traverse out right to a point, looks like the crux. I'm a little nervous with the crux being so low and with potentially little gear at the start, but I'm happily surprised to gain the bottom of the roof easily. "That wasn't so bad", I think to myself. "How hard can this upper section with the low-angle face and ledges be?" A partner of mine has in the past berated me from ground to top for climbing the face holds around a crack. "It's a crack! Climb the freaking crack! Get your damn hands off the face! IT'S A CRACK YOU WIMP!" This route reaches the point on the right, pulls past the roof, and heads back up and left, following the crack and face to the top. The crack is in a corner, but there's no stemming. One has to either jam the crack or edge out left on the face. The face is too blank to climb without making it considerably harder, and at some point the edges end, requiring a full-on layback or jam session to a nice rest near the top. The crack itself, on the other hand, well, let's just say that I believe cracks are where the sisters Gorgon reside, and I'm as willing to tackle them as I am to eat snakes: it just isn't going to happen. So I lean left and edge as high as I can. I place a cam, become pumped, and rest. This was supposed to be low-angle, but it was harder than that. I move up again off the layback and edges and place another cam, feel the blood surging in my forearms, and rest. The edges have now ended and I have a decision to make. After thinking it over and trying various methods that use the crack as little as possible (to be clear, it was too wide for hand jams and too narrow for fists - LEARN TO CLIMB CRACK YOU WIMP!), I do what my partner calls "the ugliest layback I've ever seen." The layback is a struggle, but I know where I'm going. I'm shooting for a good hand ledge out left for a rest, but it turns into a sloper at the last minute. More laybacking. Grunt, grunt, jesusmotherloveof, grunt, grunt, "WATCH ME!" My partner pulls the rope tight a bit, just to let me know that she's there, and I feel better. It looks as if I'm 15 feet above my last piece and my arms are screaming. I place a #3 Camalot in a #3.5-sized crack. It's only purpose is to put me out of my misery when it rips and clocks me on the head during the fall. I finally see the top of the ledge that had turned into a sloper. Great, it's an awesome ledge to stand on, and it's at shoulder height. I wonder how easily it would be to lift my heel above my head without leaning back. The image makes me cringe and I feel my hamstring tighten as a reminder that it's still there and 34 years old. Grunt, grunt, grunt, holyosweetsackof, "OH YEAH!" I reach the ledge and rest. I'm ten feet below the top, and the final section looks easy. Breathing heavy, I look down and notice my last piece below the big cam was only five feet below when I thought it was 15. Funny.

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

Photo courtesy of Greg Burns

The final moves are solid, but the route isn't over yet. There's an off-balance smear that gains the anchor ledge that needs to be conquered. Now that I've made it this far I'm not so sure I want the #3 cam to hit me in the head. Finally, after slapping at the sloping ledge above, I top out only a few minutes after I considered tapping out. I lower and my partner cruises up the thing, in less than two minutes. Nothing like feeling strong on such a beautiful day. She gets to choose the next climb, and its our first 5.10 trad lead that goes clean, ever. Well, she did it clean. Since the 5.10 moves are at the start, and since there is a 5.11 variation at a bolt at the top, I decide to risk the clean ascent and play on the difficult slab. I might have fallen somewhere in the vicinity of nine times, but I wasn't counting. Each time I'd stand up on the faint foot holds my hands would stop finding anything to hold on to up above. I'd step up and fall. Step up and fall. Step up and...ooh...ooh...I got it, I got it, and fall. I never got the 5.11 moves and eventually finished on the easier terrain to the left. It's not a clean ascent, but there's no way I wouldn't have done it clean had I not tried the harder variant. Even though I can't log my ascent into any of the on-line route databases (Farley does not like having its routes published), I tell myself it's a clean ascent. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "but it's not." You know what, I don't care what you think. It's my climb and I'll do whatever I want. I don't climb for your standards and if you're not impressed then go find someone who will impress you. All your doing is blocking the sunshine anyway. And it's a beautiful sunshine peering through the heavy cover of leaves. It's cool upstairs, and the occasional droplet of sap onto my skin makes it feel as if it is going rain under the green tarp above. But it's not going to rain. I'm climbing and it's nice out. I'm having fun. I've been dealing with a bout of tendinitis lately, and so I declare that I'm finished. My partner wants to run another route, though, and so we follow two friends who we stumbled into a bit earlier. The guy in the other group wants to get his first clean ascent of a crack down the path. His partner and my partner agree to run second and third while I sit on a rock snapping pictures. He grunts his way up, but doesn't look nearly as uncomfortable as I thought he might. I was under the impression this route was hard, but he made it look like a gym eight except that it didn't have the green tape. The two girls make the lower section look a little harder than he did, but not by much. All three moved too quickly for my camera shutter. It was dark under the trees, so most pics came out blurry. My partner and I decide to head back. There's a place down the road for ice cream, and I'm craving food after having eaten only two English muffins and a mouthful of GORP all day. We bid our friends adieu and hop in the car. Damn it's hot in the sun, and the car smells like stale body odor when I open the door. We're sitting at the ice cream booth a few minutes later and I order a sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and jimmies. "We don't have jimmies," the clerk says. "Oh no! You should really get some." "Well, we don't. Besides, it's an insult. The ice cream is too good to require jimmies." Give me a break. I roll my eyes (OK, maybe I called her a nut job for insulting my intelligence), and we leave. Traffic isn't bad on Route 2 on this Sunday afternoon. Then again, nothing is really ever bad when you're climbing with friends and eating really good ice cream at the end of the day. I like this and wish tomorrow would never come.

Greg shares a Blog with his friend Jeremiah. Click here to see Greg and Jeremiah's Climbing Blog. Click here for Greg's Route Index