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Thirty Pitches of 5.10 in a Day at the Gunks

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After climbing ten 10’s in about 4.5 hours in June, 2008, Rufus Lusk and I thought we should up the ante a bit. Twenty 10’s, perhaps, eleven 11’s, eek, thirty 10’s. YES!

As training to climb the Nose in a day, we thought that climbing thirty 5.10’s at New York’s Shawangunks in a day would be a relatively close approximation of the amount of effort we’d have to put forth. If nothing else, the project would help our stamina.

On September 22nd, 2008, Rufus and I started at the Stairmaster parking lot at 7am and began by running to the start of Wedgetables.

The following is a route-to-route account of the epic day:

Ben Leads Wedgetables. Next Rufus takes on 10,000 Restless Virgins. We book it out of the Sleepy Hollow area to the Slime Wall. It’s 8:15am.

Ben leads Frustration Syndrome. Rufus leads P1 of Falled on Account of Strain, Ben swings through to lead P2. Two pitches of 5.10. It’s 9:15 am. We have five routes in the bag.

Rufus leads Simple Suff. Ben quickly follows and we move to The Winter. Ben leads.

We move to Space Invaders. Rufus leads route #7 onsight. It’s 11am.

Rufus leads Doubleissima, one of the best climbs in the universe, onsight. We simul-rappel. It’s 11:47am

Rufus takes the lead again on P1 of Feast of Fools. He cruises it, Ben swings through and leads P2, another pitch of 5.10. We’re 1/3 of the way to our goal. We rap down Arrow.

Ben leads Nurse’s Aid in solid form. We rap down Arrow again. 12:30pm

After a few bites of an apple, Rufus leads Never Never Land, then Ben leads J’Accuse, onsight.

Next, Ben leads Balrog, #15, 1/2 way. We’re really staring to feel it now. Rufus leads City Streets. Ben dogs it at the crux. We both agree it’s undergraded.

For a long stretch of cliff between City Streets and Welcome to the Gunks there aren’t any good routes graded 5.10. Rufus onsights Welcome to the Gunks, #17. Ben is really dragging now. Arms seizing up, fingers spontaneously curling up due to spasming forearms. It’s 2pm.

After drinking the rest of his 32 oz Vitamin Water (Power-C flavored) and his remaining water, Ben leads Star Action, takes first leader fall of the day. Rufus styles out Tough Shift, #19, onsight.

Ben, mustering strength trying to protect his ego, leads Try Again, but is feeling weak and backs up the crux pin with a #3 cam on the loose block under the hang, falls twice. Goes for the move again, falls again, the #3 cam blows as the microwave sized block releases from the cliff and comes crashing down. Rufus spots it in time and dodges it. It impacts exactly where he was standing a split second before. That was close. Ben, full of adrenaline, completes the new Try Again. Rufus then leads Coexistence. Ben’s not feeling it anymore and sucks down a Red Bull.

Rufus leads Interstice, then Mother’s Day Party, then MF Direct. Rufus is stunned just how sparse the protection is on the direct. Easily 5.10 R. Ben swings through and leads P2 of MF, #25. We leave the McCarthy Wall at 6pm.

We RUN, in the waning light, to P-38. Rufus, getting really worked, leads yet again and is getting a headache. Ben then painstakingly slowly leads Stirrup Trouble, topping out at the last of the daylight wanes. Rufus busts out the headlamps.

On top of Stirrup Trouble, we consider bailing on the project. Twenty-seven 5.10’s is pretty respectable. Ben suggests that we TR the last 3 climbs, or go for a 5 mile run. Rufus is prudently worried about staying awake for his drive back to NYC. Ben suggests we “just go have a look at the next climb”.

7:30pm Ben leads the challenging face climb Pheobe, #28, in the pitch blackness with a headlamp while some marijuana enjoying revelers look on. Rufus delcares it a ‘proud lead’.

From the top of Pheobe, Ben hikes by headlamp through the woods along the top of the cliff to rap down to the chains on Nosedive and Retribution. Rufus climbs Retribution, then Ben, then Ben again on Nosedive, and then Rufus. After whoops and hollers echo all around we’ve done it! That is thirty. It’s 8:55pm.

We climbed for 13 hours and 35mins. While we had double ropes, we used only one of them (one 8.5mm rope) for all of the climbs except Welcome to the Gunks.

We found that racking each cam on a single biner made for very fast placement and re-racking. Also, and Rufus will disagree, the fact that we did NOT have small nuts I think made us go faster, since the second didn’t have to sit there mid climb futzing with an annoying and finicky tiny nut placement. We racked off our harnesses, and did not use a gear sling.

We were really tired, and I was very afraid of leading with my arms spasming as they were. It took a lot of stamina, more than I thought I had. Our attitudes were positive for then entire day and somehow we didn’t get on each other’s nerves.

To me, the whole project was a modified vision of our regular climbing area. It was as if we were seeing the Gunks in a different light. Since every climb was a 5.10, difficulty became secondary to the project. Like the way vanilla ice cream tastes after you eat too much of it. We became numb to the experience a little. And that was alarming to me. Risk melted away, and with it so did fear, necessary for proper awareness of the activity. I found myself, in my tired state, 40 feet above my last piece, not realizing I had just climbed that far with about placing anything. Mistakes are not an option at that point, and being exhausted stacks the deck in the wrong direction.

Rufus did end up heading out to Yosemite two weeks later, and while his and Ben’s original plan for the Nose didn’t work out, Rufus used his experience gained doing thirty 10s in the Gunks to propel him (and his partner Ruben Villagran) up Astroman, DNB of Middle Cathedral, the Rostrum, Hotline, and a few other shorter routes on a 9 day stay to the Valley. Ben used his stamina to weather the legal forms required to established his new business, Ben Carlson Lighting and Photography, LLC. (