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Trip: Psychobabble, Dobie Gillis, etc.

Old Rag. October 11th, 2009
with Todd Bradley

Another inimitable Trip Report by Dave Rockwell

Thrash (?) warmup 5.5
Fern Crack 5.7
Piton Crack 5.8
Psychobabble 5.10b
Dobie Gillis 5.8

Weather: lovely. T-shirt: Pomona Piratical Sagehens. Notable animal sighting: three large ravens, reminding us inevitably of the brilliant and tragic E. A. Poe – date of death: Oct. 7 1849.

Summit, facing north

                     The leaves were turning nicely at the higher elevations, and it was sunny and mild, no wind. However, we put in a workmanlike day at the cool and shaded PATC Wall, from 11:00 to 5:00. It was a rather crowded day at Old Rag; we conversed briefly with a party of two climbers on their way down to the God Crag area, and later chatted up a pair of Harrisonburg guys who had been all the way down to Bushwhack Crack. But no one else came by the PATC. Todd led a warmup 5.5, name uncertain; I led Piton Crack, this time without any difficulty, as I had solved the peculiar walking-hands-mantle-traverse crux last time, and I was wearing jamming gloves for the start, which makes it fairly trivial. Todd then led Fern Crack, with the slightly intimidating cracked-overhang move, in good style and with good pro. I think it was here while belaying him that I discovered a large black spider attempting to attach a strand of webbing to my chin, and while I yield to no one in my admiration of the matchless mountaineering skills of the arachnid clan, I fear that my involuntary twitch of dismay may have led to the poor spider's injury and probably lingering death later on. Clearly I am not going to get my Nirvana merit badge this time around and might just be reborn as a fly or a stinkbug. An hour or so later a similar spider climbing up my shoulder caused me to slap myself all over with my headband in a fit of hysteria.

The Easy Hand Crack Near the Summit
                 I then led, for the fourth time, I believe, (over about 20 years) the lovely little 5.10b called Psychobabble. At this point I think we can agree to change the climb's name to DAVE'S BITCH, as I have never failed nor fallen on this climb. The two bolts are now almost unacceptably rusty, although apparently holding tight. Although I am not generally in favor of making any kind of improvement that might bring more climbers to Old Rag, I would favor replacing these bolts and the one on Dobie Gillis, and while we're at it, putting a nice two-bolt ring station on top of each of them, to avoid the rigmarole of traversing to the anchor above Waste Age (5.12 whatever) in the center.

                To take some air out of my boasting, Psychobabble is a very pleasant climb at its grade: the first half is essentially soloed and a small tree is slung; then a delicate 5.9 traverse move right after the first bolt is performed, and finally two short but very thin and balancey moves are done with the second bolt just under one's feet. If one falls here with one's hand mere inches from the massive exit horizontal, and the very rusty bolt snaps off, the lower bolt will also snap off and it is extremely likely that one's corpse will leave a small bloody crater at the base. With great care given to placing the fingertips on the best available rugosities (in this case I pinched an pencil-eraser-sized knob with the right) one stands up very smoothly and carefully on the small horizontal hold just below the last bolt, and then one says “Damn it all,” because the exit crack is still some distance above one's pathetically outstretched digits. One more even thinner move is required before one is permitted to emit the Baboon Bark of Triumph.

                 Finally Todd and I tag-teamed good old Dobie Gillis: he led the first half, and then, in the middle of the nasty, super-rough, flaring jam crack, abruptly ran out of steam, feeling chills and general malaise, and so I finished the lead for him, and off we went to the summit to warm up and relax in the late-afternoon sun. A few photos were taken of me re-creating a photo that I once made many years ago, of Doug Cosby soloing an easy hand crack, with our shadows printed black on the warm granite, and the orange and red autumn foliage behind, and the green and blue mountains stretching south into the horizon. Alas – though I looked casual and daring in my red T-shirt at the top of the crack, no one could mistake me for that greyhound, the young Doug, neither now nor then.

                 At the Frost Diner in Warrenton the current waitress was blond, young, moderately pretty and actually tried to put some personality into the job. My deep-fried haddock was, amazingly, rather tasty, with fries and coleslaw and assisted by gobs of Texas Pete cayenne sauce; Todd had a good-sized cheeseburger. As we were both starving, the food could easily have been assembled from industrial waste and we would not have known the difference – victims of the usual Twilight Zone perception warp. The jukebox selection, with the manual, completely non-electronic song selector at each booth, was the usual classic grab-bag of the cheesiest hits from the last six decades. I over-tipped the waitress on the theory that she couldn't possibly survive on the normal tip percentage at these prices, and we blasted off, the White Whale riding smoothly up Lee Highway, still encased entirely in the anachronistic time bubble of Twentieth Century America: a 305 c.i. V-8, a four-barrel carburetor, a large bottle of Coke, and, on the radio, the adventures of Boston Blackie, a serial from approximately the year I was born.

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