Another Seneca Adventure

A Seneca Trip Report for weekend of Sept 09-11th, 1994

Well, another fine, albeit slightly damp, weekend of Seneca climbing was had by all (all who went out, anyways!).

Warning (& disclaimer): what follows is verra boring and dull and uncolorful and long and all around sleepy-time reading. No heinous adventures or leads. No epics. Just a write-up of a Seneca weekend. Of climbing. And rain. And sun. And you have been forewarned. Save yourself! Hit delete now....

btw: it's also long. Did I mention that? Covers three days. Long. Extensive. Print it out and take it home for reading when in the bathroom. Go ahead; you can do this.

Still here? Hmmmm. Okay. Don't say I didn't warn you....

The Plan: Sandy and Steph (a couple of DC not-quite-hard-women) and Indiana 'Indy' Mark were to go out early on friday, arriving Seneca between noon and 1pm, then go climb a route or two before evening set in. Friday evening Merle, Sharleen, and Todd would show, each coming from different states (Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio respectively). Then Saturday Caver Chris would show as a day trip from Maryland for his final visit to Seneca (he leaves for Iowa in one week for a new job), returning to Baltimore that evening. Sunday the six 'die-hards' would climb much.

Well, this was the Original Plan (tm).

What really happened....

Sandy sent Indy mail, advising him that her boyfriend has friday off and she was planning on spending it with him (why? where ARE her priorities??), then come out in the evening with Steph. Indy thought hard: what would he do now? He had an entire day free to climb (or whatever), and he was already tired of running errands. What? What? What?? Then it dawned on him that he had not yet visited the High Point of Maryland (Backbone Mtn), and that was a mere few hours away. Not QUITE on the way to Seneca, but a looping trip it could be feasible still. Be only 100 miles or so out of the way. And this would knock off yet another High Point (currently the count is '3' of the 50 - yeah, a *long* way to go yet...). So Indy begins plans for visiting yet another state high point when the Pittsburgh Contingent, Sharleen, leaves him a message on his machine to let him know that she would NOT be coming out this weekend, and listed 93 excuses, er, I mean, reasons as to why. Indy pulled out his latest acquisition, the book of 'How To Shoot Holes In 91 Excuses' and attempted to convince Sharleen otherwise. But those last two reasons kept Shar safe from vertical fun and she remained in Pittsburgh (something about nephew being baptised and family ostracization if she wasn't there to attend said ceremonies; again, a priority problem, obviously ).

Indy double-checked with everyone else, to make sure they were all still planning on being there. Everyone was, so Indy packed, secured an ancient faded and torn parchment from Caver Chris as to the approximate location of the Secret Buried Treasure (and high point of Maryland), and headed off in search of fortune and glory. Fortune and glory...

3 and a half hours and a few miles of vehicular off-pavement travelling later (somehow Indy's torpedo mobile made it) he found neither, but *did* manage to locate the Maryland High Point on Backbone Mountain, and had a nice lunch in a small, quiet, and serene clearing beside the highpoint sign. Reluctant to leave, Indy finally dragged himself back to the car and decended down the arduous and treacherous pathways, back to a paved road and 'civilization' once again (did you know the only real way to reach the Maryland High Point - other than massive bushwacking - is from West Virginia?? Go figure...)

After the brief trek out from the high point back to the car and out to 'civilization', Indy, without his West By-God/Smile-When-You-Say-That Virginia map (somewhere in the apartment; mom visited a couple weekends back and cleaned up a little), managed to navigate his way (via use of The Force) to Elkins, and from there a straight shot to Seneca, arriving around 6:30p. He quickly secured a double-site camping area, paid, and set up camp. After scouting around to ascertain that indeed no one else from the expected members-to-show were in town, broke out his stove and fired it up to cook dinner. That's when he noticed that his backpacking fork and knife were....not where they were supposed to be. Hrm. Apparently more cleaning went on than he realized. Fortunately the meal was doable with a spoon (which he *did* have!) and in a few minutes Indy was feasting on a semi-soupy rice & brocoli concoction, with added bits of chicken meat for added mass.

Shortly after he finished dinner the Merle Man showed. He set up camp and then the two proceeded to wait for the remaining party members to show, conversing about Life, The Universe, and not quite Everything. An hour or two later the two DC almost-but-not-quite-hardwomen (Steph & Sandy) showed up. Steph set up her tent next to Merle (since there was more room on his pad than Indy's; Indy's tent had unexplainably shifted to take up all the space; no one could explain this), and Sandy announced she was going to sleep in her $17,000 tent: her racing red Explorer. As for midnight he hadn't shown. Indy suspected he was making yet another all-night drive out from Ohio, to arrive sometime near dawn, and so retired after everyone else did the same.

Saturday. Indy awoke to his tent shaking violently. It was quite light out, and there were no sounds of rain or thunder - was it the wind?? Another violent shaking, and then Sandy's voice sang out "Good morning! I beat you up!!". Indy looked over to his watch. Sure enough, it was WELL past when he would normally have arisen - it was almost 8:00am! He should've been up easily an hour ago. Ahh, well. Felt good to sleep in for once...

Indy grabbed a quick shower and found the Todd-meister attempting to pretend to be awake, talking with Sandy. Apparently he rolled in around 6:00/6:30a - barely an hour or two before Indy got up. Steph and Merle grabbed showers or washed their faces, or whatever ritual it is they typically do in the mornings before a long climbing day is planned, then those two, Sandy, and Indy went off to the 4-U for breakfast. Todd, fighting sleep and the onset of a cold or something, decided to pass on that and went to Yokum's General Store for a cheese and bologna sandwich (mmm!!).

Over breakfast it was decided that Merle, Steph, and Sandy would climb together, and Indy and Todd would climb with Chris, when he showed (about 10:00am was Caver Chris' planned ETA). Merle and The Women decided they wanted to grab Conn's East (5.5), as none of them (Indy included) had ever climbed the whole thing. Merle suggested that Indy sandbag the poor unsuspecting Chris and bring him up Greenwall (5.7-*), but while Indy did think about it for a moment, decided this would be a Bad Thing (tm). So Indy's plan, once Chris arrived, was to get him up to the Gunsight somehow and then do Gunsight To South Peak Direct (5.4*). This for several reasons: 1) Chris was *way* out of climbing shape, having been out and actually climbing vertically twice this year, 2) Chris and Indy planned on doing this route after Indy took him up the standard Gunsight To South Peak the previous year, and 3) Indy had only been up the Direct route once before, as a second, not on lead, and wanted to lead it. Todd, feeling as not-quite-up-to-par as normal, was pretty laid back about it all. So at the parking lot gear was sorted and the Conn's East trio went off in search of high adventure, planning on meeting Indy and Company at the Summit and going from there (weather dependent on if more climbing was to happen; it was a pleasant morning, but the forecast was...grim).

Todd, finding out he was to do no leading, repacked his rack, crawled back in his truck, and promptly fell asleep. Indy, having racked and re-rigged his gear several times over, sat by a tree and continued reading a book he'd been carrying around for a few days now. Time past. The breeze blew. The sun slowly crawled its way across the sky. A bird flittered by.

An hour later Chris showed, being an hour late, and regaled Indy with a story of slow drivers, slower drivers, and even *slower* drivers on these West (By-God) Virginian roads (and how no one would pass anyone). Indy nodded, understanding, having been there before. Indy then gently pounded on the Todd Truck, awakening him and prompting him to "get ready, we're going."

Within 15 minutes Todd was geared with basic stuff and ready (whether to go climbing or fall back asleep again was not entirely clear; his body was twitching in that way that all climbers' bodies twitch in anticipation of climbing, but his eyes were saying "night-night!" to all around). Caver Chris, ever known for his social skills, managed to talk Todd to a wakeful state as the trio hiked up; Indy was busy fending off the marauding Nazi villains that were attempting to waylay the unwary group (they had already blasted a poor innocent black snake out of existence). Fortunately for our heroes, the three made it to the base of the West Headwall below the Gunsight without undo mishap. Chris was utterly and totally convinced at this point, with no prompting from Indy or Todd, that he was about to be seriously sandbagged and dragged/hauled/winched up a climb to get to the summit.

Indy looked up above him at Banana (5.6*). Knowing nothing of this area, Chris asked what that was. "A really tall flake," replied Indy. Chris slugs Indy; Indy falls over.

Indy, after picking himself back up again, ties into the rope and begins climbing up. Something isn't altogether 'right' on this climb. It's harder than it should be. Either Indy is just tired, or he's not 'in sync' with the route, or something, but he was making it more difficult than it needs be (Indy's been up this before; sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not). Eventually he reached the final, crux escape move: a step out to nothing on the right, reach over with the right hand to grab a difficult-to-see hold, all the while pinch-gripping a flake facing the wrong direction. From there straight up to welcome buckets and large holds. Yes, not a trivial move. Indy begins to step and reach over - and nearly takes his first leader fall! Something is definitely wrong: his balance is *not* there, and....his left hand, pinch-gripping the wrong-way-facing flake, is actually *sweating*!! Indy's hands never sweat (well, very rarely do; only in gyms or on really humid days, or more rarely when Indy's extremely extremely gripped - sweat, that is; not rare that Indy gets gripped on lead). He backs off and attempts to reposition himself on the flake. No good. Everything is just 'not right'. Todd suggests going *left* instead, as this is the way *he's* always gone. Indy looks before him and to the left. Yes, there are *indeed* holds over there - but would he be able to hold them?? His hands were sweating like no tomorrow; yuck! Getting pretty wigged out from not finding a comfortable stance, and feeling his hand ever so s-l-o-w-l-y slipping from the flake he is holding, Indy decided it would be a good thing to back down a few moves - which he promptly did!

After he caught his breath, recollected his thoughts, and OPENED the chalkbag he was carrying but rarely uses, he scouted the route to the left. Probing forward with The Force, he noticed this might be a little tricky, too, but it was MUCH more straight-forward than that right-step thing he's been doing the past few (six) years (well, the few times he's been up this in those years, that is). He decided. Now or not. He went for it. Touching his fingers to his chalkball, he deftly moved back up on the flake where he was earlier, grabbed a flake in front of him, stepped off to the left (turning the currently held flake - not the earlier-mentioned one - into a layback move), and fired up to the top. In a move or two he was at welcome buckets and huge holds! Flopping onto the belay ledge not entirely unlike a beached whale, Indy tied off to a hefty tree and called for belay off. And remembered to breath once again. Bad day when a 5.6 starts kicking Indy's butt.

Chris then came up next, huffing and puffing. He decided to follow the Indy school of How To Make A Climb Harder Than It Really Is by doing his damndest to miss all the footholds except two or three. He had to rest a couple times to figure out how to NOT use a few more holds, but finally stepped up to the ledge beside Indy and said "Man, I tried, but I couldn't make it impossible; sorry."

The Toddster then came up next. Upon reaching the top he had no witty comments to make, no opinions to share. Just a really nasty hacking cough, leaving him nearly breathless, complaining about decongestants.

The trio then moved over to the Gunsight and patiently waited for a party of two to come up Tomato and traverse back into the Gunsight (and essentially being *right* on the main traverse needed to access the Gunsight To South Peak routes; the only way past them was to either climb through them and tangle lots of ropes, or wait). While the three waited, Todd and Chris exchanged musician jokes and Indy became impressed at noticing how many people were climbing all over Movie Screen Wall. Easiest route on there is 10a, with a several 10-X's and 11-X's (and a 12-X I think) on it. He watched as three parties just went up and down several of these rarely climbed routes. Yes, they were in the presence of Real Hardmen!

At that point the two on Tomato were ready to move off and Indy decided it would be a Good Thing (tm) to bolt now and get climbing before one of the Hardmen recognized him as the one who had ever so recently put on a pitiful performance on Banana. Chris put him on belay, and away Indy went.

Across the traverse ledge he moved, reaching the vertical section in a few short seconds. Then scouting around with his hands and eyes (and telling himself that it's ONLY 5.4!), he began to go up...and up....and up...placing pro as needed....up....finger lock here....bucket there to grab....step here...reach there....and in short order Indy noticed that he was by the Griffon's beak and had essentially been climbing *just* on the east side of the arete itself. Yeah, pretty much lots o'exposure! But the holds were ALL there, and Indy was feeling more like he should when climbing: 'in tune' to the rock. Looking down below him he noticed famous Seneca climber Howard Doyle doing Nip And Tuck, and cautioned his two partners that there was a party directly below when their turn came to come up. From there Indy cruised to the belay stance and set up to bring the other two up. At this point it started to sprinkle. Uh-oh. This is a Bad Thing....

Chris was coming next, moving fairly fast at first, but then slowed down considerably when the rope he was trailing for Todd managed to work itself into a constriction crack and refused to come out and *stay* out.

While belaying Chris up Indy noticed Tom Cecil, local Seneca guide and all around really friendly guy, with a client or two at the end of the third pitch of Conn's East. Exchanging greetings Tom asked what it looked like to the west. Indy looked around the buttress and saw....rain in the distance, moving closer. Turning back to Tom Indy said "Looks bleak" Tom advised if necessary there was a two-rope rap station just on the east side of the block Indy was belaying on. Really?? Goes right down to Nip And Tuck. Great, but Indy and Party were heading to the Summit, intending on rapping down the West Face somewhere, in an effort to alleviate the long hike out and around on Broadway Ledge. Tom waved and went down.

Finally Chris got to the top, as did Howard. Howard set himself up on the rap anchors while Chris tucked himself in a corner. Indy proceeded to bring Todd up, putting him on a hip-belay for a while until the rope could be freed from the crack (the drag was more than enough friction to hold a car; Indy and Chris had to give it their all to get the rope to even *move* by that point. After a while Todd got to and past the constriction crack, and Indy *quickly* whipped the running end of the rope into an ATC device (never taking his brake hand off the brake end the whole time - dexterity had returned to his fingers). From there it was pleasant again to do a normal belay (although it was raining pretty steadily at this point; Indy and Chris was fairly dry, being sheltered a little from the wind, but poor Toddster was soaked, as was Howard, who lowered his second and then rapped himself off. Todd finally got up, said "Let's get out of here", grabbed some of Indy's gear, and continued the final pitch/lead to the Summit (this made sense since he was already on belay and it made rope management SO much easier to deal with!). Chris then followed him over, as did Indy. From there they belayed themselves off the Summit, concerned that the rain would make the downclimb treacherous, but surprisingly finding the rock to be quite frictionable where they didn't expect it to be. Nonetheless...

They reached the West Pole/Conn's West rap station, trailed by two climbers who just came up Pleasant Overhangs. While waiting for the party that was ahead of them, Todd and Chris regaled everyone present with more jokes of various topics. Todd won hands-down in the tasteless department with the truly bad one about a bald....ahhh...errr....ummm....never mind. Don't ask.

Finally the now fivesome were able to rig the rappel and went down pronto (it had stopped *raining*, but it was still drizzling, and would for the better part of most of the rest of the day - when it wasn't actually raining). Todd and Chris changed shoes while Indy opted to walk partway out in his climbing shoes - his only other alternative were the K-Mart Specials flipflops he wore on the way up (not being a proud owner of Tevas, these are the next best thing). Halfway down, past the scree/boulder field, Indy finally changed, and everyone gingerly stepped down the steep climber trail to reach the road. From there, easy walk out.

At the parking lot Indy noticed that Merle's landfighter mobile and Sandy's Explorer were both gone. Obviously they had gotten down earlier and taken off, not wanting to wait around. Indy figured they'd be in town, either eating or hanging out at the Gendarme (the local climbing shop). Being hungry (no, starved!), Chris and Indy thought a pizza from the Front Porch sounded great (restaurant over Harper's General Store, next to the Gendarme). Todd waffled about joining in, not being terribly hungry, but not really admitting it, either. So Chris and Indy went over, telling the Toddster they'd meet him there. They arrived and secured the long table at the end of the porch. Indy then went In Search Of (tm) Merle, Sandy, Steph, and the errant Todd (who never really did show up for dinner). Finding them at the Gendarme, Indy let them know what The Plan was (ie, eat!!) and returned to the table. In a few minutes Merle had joined them (that hungry look in his eyes). Sandy and Steph eventually polished off their beers (or whatever they were drinking) and joined the three guys for food. By then Chris and Indy's large pizza had arrived and they were digging in. Chris and Indy had to fight off Sandy to keep their pizzas, but Sandy managed to slip a couple of slices out and wolfed them down in short order. Pizza was good; hit the spot. Chris then departed, facing a long, long drive home.

After dinner the remaining four returned to the Gendarme and sat around shooting the breeze (and the occassional redneck) whiling away the evening hours (it continued to drizzle and lightly rain). Finally Sandy and Steph left to shower and retire. Then Merle departed, leaving Todd, Indy, and a young chap named Jimmy. These three sat around for another few hours talking about almost everything. Finally Todd slipped off to crash. A while later Jimmy and Indy called it quits. It was past midnight, and Indy noticed that it had stopped drizzling. In fact, the skies had cleared - the stars were out, and the moon (not quite full) was blazing! This was a good omen. Boded well for sunday climbing. Indy returned to camp and died.

Sunday morning Indy awoke to chilly air. Not wanting to get up he finally wrenched himself out of the sleeping bag and went to take a shower. Steph, Sandy, and Merle arose right about the same time-frame. Todd....was still sleeping. The four decided on another 4-U breakfast and on the way, woke Todd up (who apparently did wake up at one point, but was sleeping again) to let him know where everyone was going. Todd said he was going to join them (forgetting that he despises the 4-U coffee).

The four went, ordered breakfast, and ate. Todd did indeed join them, choked down a few swallows of coffee, then said he was going to go and brew up some real coffee. He asked Sandy to stop by and get him at the Gendarme when she was ready, as they were going to attack The Burn (5.8*) that morning. Merle, Steph, and Indy were looking at heading for Pollux (5.10a*) to be set up as a top-rope (Indy would lead up Conn's East Direct - 5.8* - and rig it). This the plan, the group split to take down the tents (and Sandy to find Todd).

At the parking lot everyone geared up, chatted with Wynn and Anna (lawyer friends from DC who occassionally climb with the rest as their schedules allow), and then split off for their different destinations (Indy wore his major hardcore hiking boots this time as he had no intention of doing any routes that would not bring him back to his starting base, which would otherwise force him to carry these monsters up the rock with him). Indy geared up, gave Merle his rope to carry, and away they went. The day was breezy, but brilliantly sunny. Comfortably warm out of the breeze; just a shade nippy in.

Upon reaching the Castor & Pollux/Conn's East Direct area, they noticed it was a *zoo*! There were easily two parties right there, and several on the ledges above. Ugh! Looked like more waiting. Not being in any hurry, the group chilled out in the sun.

Finally Indy was able to go up Conn's East Direct; Merle belayed, Steph playing Joe (Josephine?) Photographer. In good, reasonable form Indy cruised through the crux at the bottom, then started up, feeling pretty good the whole way. Handholds were all there except in one place where he missed and got confused; but that was over quickly enough and he recovered. Working quickly he moved through the crack system to the major ledge with rap anchors bolted to the wall (many thanks to the Gendarme and crew for establishing these things!!). Once there he quickly established a traverse anchor for himself and rapidly rigged up a top-rope over Pollux. After more waiting (while climbers on Castor traversed over to Conn's East Direct and up, and more climbers rapped down beside him, and MORE climbers begging to come up Conn's East Direct!), he finally got the route rigged. Then he brought Steph up to clean, lowering her down afterwards. The Conn's East boys then started climbing, a trio of high school students and gym climbers; their leader had problems at the 5.6 crack section, having never really climbed cracks all that much. Scary, as he took an 8' leader fall trying to pull the move. Finally got back on the ledge next to Indy, looking a little sheepish. Admitted that he doesn't lead much gear stuff, but mainly does boulder problems and gym routes/bolted leads. Ummm...errr.... really? Yikes. Indy then gave the stymied boy a quick lesson or four on some ways/methods/techniques to climb crack routes. In particular, this section before them. Richard (the boy's name) then tried some of this advice, made a couple of grunting moves, and reached easier (much) ground. From there he cruised to the upper belay ledge. Indy, hoping that he wasn't going to have the young climber fall in his lap or on his head (it's a *long* way up to that belay station!), hurredly swung over and rapped down Pollux.

At this point several other parties arrived. All wanted to do Pollux or Conn's East Direct. The first party waiting for Pollux Steph and Merle (and Sandy) had met the day before (Adam and Scott - a couple of Real Life *totally* rad California-style Cliffhanger boys). They decided to hang out and lunch on tuna fish and gatorade (told you!). In the mean time....

Merle tied in. Then started the climb, *cruising* through the cruxy first moves due to his somewhat extensive height (he never even noticed the hard section, reaching up past it). Now most of Pollux is continuous 5.9, with some easy 5.10 moves tossed in to keep one honest. The start is one place, but there are a couple other spots. Merle found one of those spots, and....well, let's just say that he managed to grind down to a new layer of rubber on his shoes, but managed to NOT (for the first time) leave blood or skin on the rock. Grunting, groaning, and breathing a lot, he finally worked past the section (okay, this time around no style points; next year, however...), and to the top. Once down, he looked forlorn, arms pulsating in a pumped-up fashion he hadn't felt in a while. "Yep," he annouced, "I'm done climbing for today, thanks."

Steph then went next. Struggling on the first couple moves for a moment, she finally worked out the problem then headed up....and up...and up....straight for the top! With the exception of the couple of false start moves, she done cruised and flashed it! Woo hoo!!

Once lowered down she turned to Merle and said, "You belay Indy; my arms..." Merle nodded, and took over the belay stance.

Indy then tied in, and prepared himself to go. Merle was ready. The sun aligned itself with the Center of the Universe. The birds silenced their singing, holding their breaths in collective anticipation (either that or they had flown away; wasn't clear). Indy reached out, with the Force, with his hands, and began to climb. Pretending to stand on a couple of footholds that aren't entirely there, Indy went up, fingerlocking, hand-jamming all the way, dancing his feet up teeny nubs when they were there, and when they weren't. Breathing hard, Indy concentrated on the climb before him. Things clicked, the hands and feet moving in accord to the tune and rhythm the route set before him. Before he knew it, Indy had topped out on the climb. He'd done the route several times in the past, but the thrill of this particular one was still there (ie, it's a really nice route!).

Once he secured himself he rapidly tore down the anchors so Adam and Scott could start climbing (they wanted to do the lead). By the time he got everything set and stored for descent, Adam was hanging 2/3 of the way up the route, his arms feeling a tad tired. Indy rapped down a few feet beside him and then pulled the rope down. Merle, Steph, and Indy made ready to leave when Adam finished the final few moves. Scott then took his try at it as Indy and Crew were departing. At last look he was halfway up the route trying to figure out how Adam made it through the next section (which, coincidently, was the section that stumped Merle for a couple minutes).

Indy, Merle, and Steph worked their way back to the West Side, meeting up with Todd and Sandy at the base of Marshall's Madness (5.9*). Todd was preparing to do the lead, but needed a few of Indy's pieces: the #3, 3.5, and 4 Friends. Once Merle handed these to him, he proceeded to do a superb lead through the first pitch, cleaning it as he was lowered (ps: Todd, I'll lead the first pitch when we go back to do the whole route) (wait, what the hell am I SAYING?!?). After that Sandy then threw her testosterone-filled body at the climb, but the route was having none of that. Spit her out a few times before she finally powered through the final moves to the top. Merle made the repeat announcement that he was not climbing anymore today by saying "I'm just playing belay slave today". Thus effectively declining a run up. Indy also declined a go at the route; he was still feeling good from the Pollux run and didn't want to spoil it by struggling on Marshall's. Besides, he was in a prime spot for photo-ops and was trying to do what he could with his disposable camera (we'll see when the pics are returned). So Steph gave it a go and sent her lithe frame to pull through the route in style (though it was not trivial; old Marshall's was making her think quite a bit in places). Finally she topped off in triumph.

At this point everyone except Todd packed up. Some of the climbing school students jumped on Todd's rope (after the guides and he exchanged permission) and Todd cruised up Triple-S the guides had set as a top-rope for their students (Todd was having an exceptional day; Sandy reported that he cruised the Burn in style). After this done and the school was done with Todd's rope, he finished packing and all made ready to depart.

Once back at the cars Sandy gave Hot Toddie a beer for his fine climbing day. Everyone sat around for a while, unwinding, then finally the women departed, wanting to get back semi-early. The boys sat around a while longer, then Merle and Indy left for Baltimore, Maryland, Todd for Findlay, Ohio.

Thus endeth yet another adventure in climbing out at Seneca. Will I bore you with another Seneca Trip Report? That'll depend on the weather in the next month or so, my schedule, and if you want to read it.... ;-)

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Mk - 09/15/94