Date: Wednesday, 23 Aug 2000
Location: Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden CT
Leon and I had planned to go back to the Chin and do another climb this afternoon. The weather, however, was not being helpful. It hadn’t rained for almost a week. We had hoped it would stay away for just a few more hours, but it didn’t. It rained like hell. Most people would have bailed out.
We had been watching the radar like hawks all morning. Watching as big rain moved east from New York towards Connecticut. At lunch we conferred and decided to continue watching the radar. Just after 1pm the weather crossed the border and started dumping all over the western part of the state. At 2.30pm things got fairly heavy outside and the first few drops had started to fall. Leon and I talked it over. The conversation went something like this.
“It’s gonna rain.”
“It’s gonna pour all afternoon.”
” … “
“Screw it, let’s go anyway.”
Sure enough, the moment we stepped outside big fat heavy drops started to fall out of the sky. Neither of us wanted to talk about it too much. We walked to the car without speaking. Both of us not wanting the other one to even suggest turning around. We went to my place and picked up my gear, then dropped by Leon’s to get his stuff and his rope. It was just after 4 PM when we pulled into Sleeping Giant S.P. just outside of Hamden. The rain was only spitting, it looked pretty light … like it might even blow over soon. Our spirits lightened as we suited up in the car park, but we still put on gore-tex jackets. The walk to the chin was relaxed and the rain seemed to ease off. Everything was pretty wet though and both of us privately wondered about how slippery the rock would be.
We scoped the cliff face from the main walking trail. Familiar with the top map by now we rapidly agreed on where to start. The top map we used was a top-roper’s map, the designer of the map (Sean Whalley) probably rappelled down from the cliff top to ledges before climbing back up. We had determined by now that all of the routes on the topo started from about halfway up. So we would be making it up as we went along at the beginning. Anyway, like I said, we agreed on where (roughly) we would start the climb and proceeded to scramble up the scree-field. By this stage the rain had returned and it was a steady fall, at least it was light.
The plan was to climb “Unnamed” (5.6). But of course, without the topo in hand, we eventually missed it by a wide margin. We got to the base, looked up and tried to locate the route, and here we were probably very close to the right place. Leon won the toss and, after acquiring what he thought he could possibly need from my rack, took the lead for the first pitch. After a minor altercation with a small tree he picked his way up the rock, placing protection and clipping in as he went. The shrubbery was a bit tough, with no way around a particular clumping of what was once vegetation (now just the stiff, clawing, skeleton of an ex-bush with a death-grip on its tiny perch) Leon was forced to climb over it (cursing fluently) and continue upwards. He got about 15 meters up before he decided to set an anchor station to belay me up. In that time, the weather had worsened considerably. The rain was heavier and the wind had picked up. That big weather from New York had finally arrive
Down below I was fairly protected by tree-cover. The occasional splash would blind me momentarily but I was pretty comfortable. Leon, however, was wetter than an old hen. I couldn’t help but smile ruefully to myself that soon I would also be up there suffering alongside him. Suffering? Ha! This was great fun!
Leon had sorted things out with the anchors and then called me up. After a reasonably difficult climb (but only because it was slippery and dirty what with all the ex-bushes and stuff) and managing to get the protection out of the rock on the way, even though Leon had carried the nut-tool up with him (doh!), I was anchored beside him on a reasonable sized ledge. Bloody hell, the weather was a bit uncomfortable. We looked around for our next pitch, my turn to lead. Any thoughts of the topo were out the window by this stage. The rain was heavy, the wind gusting and we were faced with the two usual choices. Bail now (and leave a bit of gear behind on the rock) or find some safe route up the cliff. Bail? No way, not wanna-be hard-men like us! My partner had two suggestions for me, an exposed series of ledge/ramps and off-width cracks to the left (which would be more in keeping with the probable “Unnamed”, but to be honest we hadn’t the faintest bloody idea by now) or a vertical trough that was a 5 meter traverse away to our right.
I didn’t like the idea of even occasional face-climbing in these conditions, so I opted for the trough to the right. In dry conditions this would probably rate a 5.6 or 5.5 climb, or even less. With minimal difficulty we sorted out the rope, swapped a good deal of gear and off I went. The traverse was pretty cool. The cracks were plentiful and I was placing protection every three or four feet, but I was rapidly running out of my small passive stuff as I went. At the end of the traverse I had reached a comfortable ledge, I had placed two or three really bomber pieces and two pretty crap ones along the way (I pointed out this pair to Leon and we discussed their current vs. long-term merits for a bit, quickly deciding that I had better find something good while on the relative safety of this ledge). The trough stretched vertically up above me, looking a bit like a chimney with flaring walls it looked doable, even in this weather. My small-gear complement was a bit thin by now, but then I supposed that their lack would just force me to be more inventive with what I had left. I was pretty determined to top out from here.
Up I go, with only one difficult bit to mention. This was the first time leading that I considered a fall was more than an unlucky possibility. I was about halfway up the trough when I reached this bit where the hand holds were few and the footholds disappeared. I had clipped into a piece near my foot and I was looking at 2 meters of difficulty between me and the next certain holds. Rain is still pelting away; the trough is funneling a lot of it onto my head and shoulders (this is a bloody waterfall!). The rock IS slippery and I had been relying on a profusion of great hand and foot holds to this point. I scope out the situation above the hard climbing, looking for a place to put some protection. I spot a crack up there big enough to slide my hand into and I select Leon’s big Trango 4 cam from the rack and place it somewhere I can grab it quickly once I’m up there.
After shaking the water out of my eyes I layback right and plant my left foot against the trough wall and pray that Alain (our lead climb instructor) was right, wet shoes plus wet rock equals no problem. Sure enough it works, friction comes to my rescue from nowhere obvious and I’m able to execute the move without much problem. Heartbeat was pretty damn fast though. I kept imagining my foot slipping off and me tumbling down to give the protection I had placed below a real test. I haven’t taken a lead fall yet, and I really don’t want to either. I get up there and whip that big Trango into place. The crack is perfect, the 4 cam bites in beautifully, I wrench up the rope and clip it in. I hate being a gumby (i.e. beginner) at this, the adrenaline is flowing nicely though and I guess that’s part of what we’re after up here. The rest of the climb is a non-event really. I run out about four meters to the top, find a semi-decent stance, set an anchor (which took a while, I had use
d a lot of passive protection on the way, not because it was all necessary, but mostly because I felt I needed the practice). Those two crap pieces I set on the traverse popped out while I was in the trough, the rope drag on them was pretty strong I guess, but it’s still disappointing to see it happen).
Leon, the poor bugger, was wet and cold from relatively little activity while waiting for me to finish the lead. He climbed up and cleaned the protection, there was a lot to dig out, went a different way around a cliff-tree which caused some hilarity with the rope. All the while the rain tumbled down, the wind kept blowing a small waterfall back up into my face as I looked down the trough at Leon’s progress. The valley was a total whiteout too, the clouds had descended on Sleeping Giant like a blanket and we could no longer see the base.
Quickly we congratulated each other, sorted the gear and then beat it back down the blue trail to the car park. Back at the car we looked like a couple of drowned rats. Great climbing though!
Submitted by Keith Hoek
New Haven, Connecticut
Fri, 25 Aug 2000