Farewell to Arms

Posted: March 14, 2012 by None Smith in Climbing, English, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Farewell with a View. Photo Credit: DmitMF on Flickr! Thanks for letting us use your photos even if the photos aren't of us!

Farewell to Arms is a 5.8 (5b) climb located in the Near Trapps of the Gunks in New Paltz, NY. Let me begin by saying, 5.8, in the wide world of climbing is not very difficult. It’s hard to compare, or even talk about such a climb when magazines and forums fill with people projecting climbs in the 5.12, 5.13 (8b) range or higher. But I haven’t been climbing for many years, only about a year and a half. I also don’t have all the equipment or climbing partners with the skill necessary to practice harder projects on real rock. Explaining your hard projects in the gym is one thing – getting out on real rock is something totally different.

But I don’t want to speak about the difficulty of the climb as compared to others. I simply want to convey my experience on this route – a route that taught me a thing or two about being on real rock. After climbing this, being in the gym seemed like a playground.

After eating our lunches (jumping off from my last post), and enjoying some time with fellow climbers, Jamie suggested we climb Farewell to Arms and set up a top rope. The rappel station for Farewell to Arms lay directly above a hard 5.12, unprotected climb that I can’t recall the name of. Wanting to try some harder climbs and offering the top rope station to the other people hanging around, Jamie decided to lead FTA and I would follow and clean the gear.

Jamie climbed the first corner no problem. Then, the first crux. The next part of the climb required a traverse of about 4.5 meters on a rock with crimpy hand holds and small foot holds. As I was belaying him I offered support and suggestions from my limited view 5 meters below him, whilst talking with other people. Paying more attention to the moves he did would have been a good idea….

After the traverse he went straight up into a corner underneath a roof. Out left from the roof, up a face and to the belay station. “5.8. No big deal,” I thought to myself.

“Okay Norm, I’m safe!” Jamie yells to me.

“Off Belay, Jamie!” I respond as I unclipped the belay device from my harness. I then feel the rope get pulled through all the protection and the slack disappears. Jamie tugs the rope that pulls on my harness.

“Alright Jamie, that’s me!” I yell over the chatting climbers in the area.

“Norm! On Belay!”


“Climb on.”

And so it begins, just like that. I climb 4 meters up the first crack and take out the two pieces of protection. No problems. Confidence is still high. Then the traverse. A long horizontal crack, currently at my waist, was my only chance for hand holds on the traverse. As I face the wall and prepare to step out into the void, my right foot is in a solid place, but there is no where for my left foot. I try one small nub of rock, but it’s too high and extremely awkward. There’s another small protrusion below it but it seems miles away and I can’t imagine how I’m going to stretch to get my foot out that far. My right hand is in a solid spot on the rock but that’s pretty much the only good place. It’s high up, behind me and slightly awkward. I try four or five times to get into a comfortable position. Nothing.

Essentially, what I had to do is find a solid place for my left foot, transfer my weight from my right foot to left, bring my hands into the horizontal crack and start shimmying across the traverse. With tiny foot holds and crimpy hand holds, it’s a committing series of movements.

By this time, I’ve brought my foot out a bunch of times, and retreated. Once or twice my left leg contracted what we call “Elvis Presley syndrome” or “sewing machine leg” – basically, your leg start shaking uncontrollably. It’s quite embarrassing.

At this point I zoom out of my situation and realize what’s happening behind me. A couple of the climbers in the area have stopped to watch. As they scream cheers of encouragement and information, this just adds to my anticipation of the next move. I begin to lose focus.

Then, through it all I hear Jamie’s voice give me two pieces of information. One that scares the hell out of me and one that was invaluable. He says, “Norm! You took out the protection in the traverse crack, you cannot fall. You’ll swing out and either hit the ground or a rock. If you don’t hit either you’ll be hanging in mid-air. Do. Not. Fall.”

No pressure, right?

“And Norm, the foot seems weird but it’s solid. Just remember when you grab those crimps; stay low!”

And that was it. The golden advice. If I stayed too high up my balance would be off and my hands would give way. By staying low, the friction between my hands and the rock would increase and I’d feel more secure.

Deep breath. Foot out (it felt so unstable). Left hand past the piton into the crack. Begin the transfer of weight from my right foot to my left. Slowly. Slowly. And before I knew it both hands were in the crack, both my feet were underneath me on solid rock and I was halfway through the traverse. I might have heard a compliment or two in the background but my mind was so focused on my body, balance, weight. It was a sensory overload that was all contained within my body. It was a sensation that does not come every day.

Up into the corner. Photo Credit: DmitMF on Flickr

As I climbed past the traverse and up into the corner, I felt calmer and more focused. I quickly assessed each hand hold before I reached for it. Going from the face to the corner (around a big arête) was a little sketchy. As I climbed into the corner under the roof, the hand holds became smaller and less secure. It seemed like the higher I went, the harder it got. Finally, I was under the roof. My hands stacked on top of each other in a crack in the rock, I wasn’t sure where to go. I looked up at the rope. There was a cam tucked away in a crack below the roof and the rope went through that and around the corner. As I looked left and right I only saw an ocean of rock on either side of me. This experience was totally different from the gym.

It was one big move to reach up into the crack under the roof. My feet weren’t secure. I was getting pumped. The climb was also getting into my head. I was getting intimidated. I reached up and with precision slid my hand into the crack. “F**k yeah” I said as I let out a deep breath; the hold was fantastic and really secure. I brought my feet up and then removed the protection. I looked to my left, following the rope, and realized there was a big horn sticking out of the top of the rock with chalk on it. That must be the hand hold to traverse out onto the face.

As I slid onto the face, I rushed and grabbed for another hand hold. Then another. Then another. I finally crossed my left arm over my right and had two fingers on a tiny little crimp when I realized what was happening. I was moving way too fast, rushing through the moves without calmly looking and thinking about what was next. The intimidation of the climb was fully in my head.

I had to tell myself to calm down, take a deep breath. I took my hand off the crimp, down climbed 2 moves and looked back up. Then up again, nice and slow. With those deep breaths and that new mentality, I finished the climb – no falls. I was elated.

Out of it, there was a lot to realize. About committing to moves, moving smoothly on the rock, taking your time and really analyzing the climb as you go to make the best possible decisions. The real game changer for me was realizing when the climb had gotten into my head and how to separate myself from that to climb better.

How about you guys out there? How did you cope with getting over the intimidation factor of real rock? How were your first climbs on harder grades? We’d love to hear your stories!

Grabbing the horn and moving onto the face. Photo credit: DmitMF from Flickr

  1. cliffmama says:

    Glad you got to take advantage of the nice weather we’ve been having at the Gunks. The grades here are supposedly stout – old schoGlad you got to take advantage of the nice weather we’ve been having at the Gunks. The grades here are supposedly stout – old school grades… from when 5.9 was as high as the ratings got because 5.10 didn’t make sense numerically. I’m glad I learned to climb outside and at the Gunks. Whenever I climb anywhere else, I usually feel like I’m climbing really well because the ratings are softer. I’ve only followed Farewell to Arms once, and only the 1st pitch… but I do remember the delicate traverse.
    Looks like this weekend will be another good weekend for Gunks climbing!

  2. cliffmama says:

    (oops, previous comment had a cut & paste error and I messed up the 2nd sentence…)
    See ya on twitter! @cliffmama and @gunksclimbers….

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