When i was a boy, I took an amazing trip with my dad into the Adirondack Mountains and the Gunks. My dad, Bert, was a mountaineer and at the time was big into rock climbing. And I was his willing belay partner and willing participant to climb high and do all around dumb stuff. We loaded up my dad’s VW van, complete with a kitchen, pop up top for sleeping, and custom gear box on the hood and took off.
Our first stop was just north of lake Placid to do some friction slab climbing. If you have never friction climbed, I liken it to climbing up a steep incline of rock. The problem with friction climbing is the “oh (%8$” factor. Most slabs don’t have great places to put your protection in the rock and it is easy to run out 100 feet of rope before you find a good spot. As you all know it is easy to scramble up an incline, but when you turn around and look down the fear sets in. And on this trip I had plenty of fear. I would regularly scramble without laying protection and then realize getting down was near impossible. At that point, the only option is to go sideways and look for a spot to lay protection, or go up until you find a a suitable spot. The only problem with this process is that you often run into steep pitches in the rock with no where to go but up. So up I went at the peril of dropping 100′s of feet to the base of the slab with nothing holding me to the rock. My dad would follow once I found a place to belay and more than not would tell me I took the wrong route and tell me I was on a much more difficult pitch than was expected. Oops, I guess.
Nights after climbing were always a blast. Climber camp grounds would be full of super athletes showing off their skills in hacky sack, tight rope walking and beer drinking. And as a 15 year old kid, I was all eyes and ears. My fondest camp ground memory that trip was at a climbing area called the Gunks. We were all sitting around a huge camp fire kicking back in some rustic wood Adirondack chairs that looked like they had been left there about 20 years earlier. Being a climber’s camp ground the chairs were held together with rope and duct tape and barely standing, but after a long day it felt good to sit back and relax. We always traveled with sleeping mats that converted into chairs on the ground, or we were relegated to sitting on benches at the camp. Relaxing in those chairs made me feel like a king.
That night we were honored to be in the same camp as iconic climber Lynn Hill. There was a chain blocking the entrance for cars to one area of the camp strung between two posts. And Lynn spent about 30 minutes simply walking from one end of the chain to the other, like a tight rope walker 2 feet off the ground, but on a much less stable wire. Watching here fluidity made me realize climbing isn’t all about height and strength, it is also about core stability and balance. I learned this the hard way. When I attempted what Lynn did, it took me 3 nights to make it across the chain a measly one time. That chance encounter changed my climbing style completely. I slowed down and learned to study the rock during a climb and move through a climb smoothly instead of trying to muscle my way past tough moves. I shot up from leading 5.8s to 5.10s overnight.
The rest of the trip we spent top climbing and lead climbing all over the Gunks, I drank my first beer with my dad and I reveled in the vastness of the world. It was truly and epic adventure and the lessons I learned about courage and living have stayed with me as I’ve moved into my adult life. Thanks Dad for a great adventure.