Left: Spring Valley Water Below: Susan and Steven on Yellow Ridge, Gunks
Climbing with Steven Cherry 2002 TR

The weather looked shaky, but we made plans to climb with Steven Cherry at the Gunks anyway. If it rained, at least I would get to visit my friend and escape Long Island where Susan and I were staying. Steven’s lucky, so I guessed the weather would probably clear up. My main concern was:

Don’t get sandbagged!

I’ve had great times climbing with Steven in the Valley. While I would expound about the Valley’s stupendous climbing, he patriotically enthused about the Gunks. I feared he might use his intimate local knowledge to illustrate their unique challenges. At a minimum, I worried about being suckered into being a rope gun on some problem Steven didn’t want to lead (probably for good reasons) without the familiarity on the rock to pull it off. I felt reassured by a few factors:

1. My girlfriend Susan would climb with us and her presence would shield me from too much gnashing of teeth.

2. Steven had hurt his back last year (he’s not lucky all the time) and might not be able to follow something too punishing.

Steven: What Karl didn’t factor in was reciprocity. He should have remembered that he would be getting me back at Yosemite sooner or later, and "getting me back" has two meanings. Besides, I mostly wanted Karl to see why I was happy being a Gunks local.

(The retribution, I mean, reciprocity element did cross my mind, but tt's an empty threat. The worst I could do would be to make Steven's Yosemite climbing more pleasurable in memory than in the moment. He appreciates good punishment.)

The weather turned out just fine. We met Steven at the Bakery and headed to the stone.

On the walk in, I told Steven about Susan’s climbing preferences. I figured this information would protect me from both of them!
"She doesn’t like traverses, overhangs, or cracks, particularly wide cracks" Steven took us to our first Gunks climb, Yellow Ridge. It turns out the first pitch is a wide crack, the second pitch is a traverse, and the third pitch is an overhang!

Steven: I knew Susan’s fear of traverses was Yosemite-based, they’re terrifying there, but can be sweetness itself at the Gunks. I really wanted us to do Layback or Disneyland first. They can each be done in one pitch, and they have totally moderate roofs at the end. But they were both taken, due to Karl and Susan’s "on vacation" start time. Yellow Ridge has a little of everything the Gunks has to offer, a classic Weissner off-width, wild but easy traversing with lots of exposure, and a huge but reasonable roof system. As it turned out, Karl had more trouble with the offwidth than Susan did, so it worked out even better than I thought it would!

(To save face, I'll say I puttered a bit on the OW to try and find the easiest way up to so I'd have beta from Susan)

The wide crack was thought provoking for me so I deduced that Susan would probably murder Steven or myself, so I prepared my case that it should be Steven. Fortunately, she did well and we were spared. Steven led through the easy traversing pitch and the overhang was my lead. The roof looked immense by Yosemite standards and I had to repeat the mantra "It’s only 5.7, there must be holds up there!" Indeed, just when it look like there’s going to be trouble, a handlebar jug provides great pulling satisfaction. Susan cranked it fine as well, and then ran off to meet some old friends.

Now I was left alone with Steven. I’m lucky that he wisely decided to show me how great the Gunks are rather than how burly. He sent me up the 5.8 "Birdland." Another fine climb!

Steven: Karl omits some of the best climbing of the day! From the Birdland anchor I swung over to set up Transcon (5.10b). I’ve never been on it, and it has some very PG sections, so I’ve never felt a need to "save it for the onsight." What a great climb! Definitely not a good onsight choice, but great climbing!

(How could I have forgotten Transcon! That climb was Awesome! When I look over at it from Birdland I thought it must be 5.11 but no, this is the Gunks, so there's holds!)

Back to New Paltz for Steven’s custom beer combo and dinner with Susan and her friend. We hatched a plan for me to stay with Steven an extra day while Susan returned to Long Island When I woke up the next day at Steven’s the weather looked rainy. Steven’s motto is "Go anyway, and hope for the best" We picked up his friend Mike and, indeed, the rain disappeared on the drive to the crags.

I’m told Mike’s nickname around the Gunks is "Crazy Mike." He seemed like a great guy to me, but was more intent on sandbagging me than Steven had been. Fortunately he sucked at sandbagging. He kept saying, "We should make him lead route X, Y, or Z!" I thought that was enough clue that I might not enjoy those routes much. He offered me some twisty red licorice and I was impressed when he gently rebuked me for not "playing" with the strands before devouring it.

Steven: Mike seemed to think I had promised him a visiting rope gun. He forgets there’s no such thing. Even Craig Luebben, when he visited the Gunks, stuck to 5.10s, and that guy cranks 13s at his home crags.

We started out with the classic "Shockley’s Ceiling" and continued the classic theme with "Jackie" By now I was getting the hang of the Gunks better and led Jackie in my approach shoes. Hoping to get a better burn, we top-roped a cool 5.10 which was great fun.

(Steven: The cool 5.10 was Stirrup Trouble, which again I’d never been on, and is rarely led. What a great route! For some reason it reminded me a tiny bit of Stoner’s Highway, so of course Karl did well and loved it.)

We had time for one more route and Mike offered to lead "Retribution."
It took him a while to lead as he really sewed it up. Maybe we should say he "Bar Tacked" it! Nonetheless, he pulled it off and I was surprised when Steven couldn’t manage the 10b crux moves. Then, it was my turn and I couldn’t manage them either! Finally, after dangling like a dork, I pulled on the arete and made the move much easier! I turns out that Mike is wicked strong and had pulled through without using the best hold. I’m sure it’s at least two or three letter grades harder his way.

: So for those keeping score, Karl had a 9-star 5-pitch day on Saturday, and a 12-star 7-pitch day the second. My only regret is we didn’t get on anything further down than Shockley’s (High E or Directissima, or Bonnies, or Modern Times…)

Steven gallantly drove me back to Long Island in what turned out to be a pouring rainstorm. I was more gripped riding on the crowded freeway in the wet torrent than I was on the stone. Still, it was great catching up with Steven who is always inspired about climbing and can speak like a brainiac on whatever subject comes to mind.

When I returned to Yosemite I was surprised to get an email that Steven was suddenly moderating a panel at a geek convention in California and could slip away for a couple of days of climbing before his gig. Yippie! David Emrich graciously adjusted the dates of his trip and I was lucky enough to climb with each of them in turn.

Steven: I really needed to get back to SF for the conference, and return the car at the airport before going downtown, so I would have been fine just hanging out in the a.m. and heading back. But Yosemite is so seductive! Sleep is greatly overrated anyway.

Steven and I started with Rixon’s Pinnacle. Rumors of rockfall in the area are somewhat exaggerated. It was worth the risk for us to climb classic cracks with no crowds. We had the privilege of bear watching for about 10 minutes when we came across a furry devil eating plants instead of picnic baskets. The tag on his ear indicated he'd sampled other fare in the past.

It was actually hot on the rock and I had to keep taking my shirt off at the belays. To see Steven climb, you would never guess he had broken his back so recently. I noticed his technique was just fine so it surprised me that he was huffing and puffing when he reached the belays. I guessed he just needed a day to acclimate. Steven never stops until the fat lady sings so we finished the day with a trip to Pat and Jack for "Knob Job" and "Cherries Crack"

Steven: I *wish* it had been "Cherry’s Crack." But it’s Sherie’s Crack and it kicked my lazy ass. I just plain suck at finger cracks, and after not climbing much in the last 10 months, I have to build up my tolerance for pain all over again. It didn’t help that I had brought a poor choice of shoe to Yosemite. My 5.10 Ascents, which were fine all winter in the Gunks, slid all around my feet in the Valley. Oh yeah, sweat! I forgot all about that.

A tasty dinner and fine bottle of wine later, we decided to hit Arch Rock in the morning instead of hiking to Braille Book. The weather looked shaky. In fact, after roasting the day before, it was snowing slightly on our drive to the Valley. As I noted earlier, a little bad weather doesn’t stop Steven. We went for it anyway. Steven eats up burly cracks and chimneys so I thought he would love "Gripper." The first pitch is vertical chimney to a fist crack to a roof topped by 10b hands in a flare. It was a grunt for me this early in the season but Steven cruised it! (Steven: Hey, don’t forget cleaning the nut you conveniently didn’t mention was booty!)

(I knew you'd get it!)

The second pitch was easier and deposited us at the base of a long, long splitter crack. The "amazing 5.9 hand crack." Steven had been climbing superbly so I suggested he lead it. (Steven: "How hard is it really?" "I don’t remember, everyone I put on this route gets so fed up with the burliness they bail before the third pitch!") He capped off his visit with a proud lead complicated by the need to conserve larger cams. I’m confident he’s left the broken back behind.

Steven: "Complicated!" I took forever, backclimbed and backcleaned, and still had a huge runout when I overcammed the 3.5 and had to leave it behind low in the offwidth section. Somehow when your last gear is 15 feet below you, your tolerance for pain doubles, so I just hung out on footjams whenever I needed to. At least these were the better shoes for that. But I was really glad that I led something. One of Karl’s greatest virtues is being the physical embodiment of that little voice in your head that says "You can do that, go for it!"

We had been freezing our asses off all day, but it didn’t matter much. We had a good time anyway. When the weather cleared a bit, the valley was spectacular. Good climbing, good friends, …..It just seems life is good. Hope it is for you too.



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Pitch 2 Shockleys (Yeah, biner could have been clipped better!)
Baba testing the hand jams on Pitch 3, Shockleys
Steven on Stirrup Trouble
Mike leading Retribution 10b
Crazy Mike Bar-tacking the crux of Retribution
Springtime Bridelveil Falls
Rixon's West Face 10c
I wondered if this cute omnivore might find our packs later.
Steven Finishing Pitch One Rixons
Steven, Pitch 3, Rixons
Bridelveil Falls with Leaning Tower on the Right, the Cathedral Rocks behind, and Sentinel on the far left
Steven Cranking Past the 5.9 roof sequence on Pitch 3 Rixon's