I finally made it to the Gunks this past weekend, after bumping into a friend from our Stanford/Palo Alto days at one of the local climbing gyms. It is always funny to re-encounter old acquaintances a rather long distance from where you first met/knew each other, but I suppose the academic and tech scene around Stanford, CA and Cambridge, MA make the two spheres overlap with each other considerably. Dave was the house-mate of an ex-boyfriend (who taught me a lot about climbing and really nurtured my development as a climber); a really strong telemarker, and all-round mountain man. I think there is both comfort and slight discomfort in doing activities, like skiing and climbing, with people who did these things with me, and knew me, before my accident, like Dave. Comfort in that there is a shared knowledge of how I “used” to be (I hesitate to use the word “perform” as well, although that was my first instinct), what happened with my accident and its effects, and therefore an appreciation for how I am back at it and getting out. But also a slight discomfort on my part because I worry about holding old friends back, compared to how hard I used to be able to [insert activity]. I did not feel quite so bad with Dave though, because he is a full foot and almost 100 lbs heavier than I am; so he has always been much stronger and faster than me. It also made me feel less bad about asking him to carry a lot of our gear (ropes and pro) to the base of climbs. It looked like a very warm, dry weekend at the Gunks; Dave had never been, so off we went.
We had never roped up together. Most of the time, I will not climb with folks outside unless we have lead-climbed indoors together or they are a guide/pro-climber etc. But, I know Dave is an experienced trad-climber, having climbed with mutual friends before, so I was not worried. The weight difference did make for some very attentive belaying on my part though! Since it was Dave’s first time at the Gunks, we worked on knocking off the various moderate classics e.g. CCK, High E, Son of Easy O, and so on. If you are not familiar with Gunks ratings, they are pretty stiff. The fact that the grades are “old-school” (e.g. 5.9 was the highest grade at the time, so any climb 5.9 and above was given a 5.9 rating, even 10’s, maybe even 11’s!) and that the climbs are often over-hanging and exposed, makes for some great, but heady, climbing.
It took me awhile to get used to and feel comfortable on the rock. I tried not to be too harsh on myself for not leading any of the hardest pitches.
Like any climbing partnership, it took Dave and I a little while to develop a successful dynamic. I would say the first day was spent doing that, so that by the time Sunday rolled around, we were making a pretty good team. I was also feeling more confident on Sunday, so was able to swing all leads with Dave.
Despite my anxieties about climbing with an old acquaintance (I know I get even more anxious climbing with people who didn’t know me pre-accident – I know I need to work on this lose-lose situation, I was very glad we got out. It was lovely to re-connect and spend time with an old Stanford buddy; get some very enjoyable climbing in and start to build up my trad-leading abilities for the season; and re-invigorate myself by getting outside and hang off some cool rock with enjoyable company. (Photos courtesy of Dave Johnson).