Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sugarloaf Pillar Project

It's good to have a project.  A climb so intriguing that you can't help but obsess, finding yourself sequencing every move over and over, seeking the perfection of motion that will bring you to the top.  A climb that even weaves through your dreams, letting you flow weightlessly upward to a joyful topout, waking to realize it hadn't happened, and smiling because you know it will.

For the past few weeks, my obsession has been a toprope route out at Sugarloaf.  Known as the Pillar Project, it's a beautiful series of slightly overhung quartzite crimps, leading up through a final undercling to mantle onto a gentle slab.  It's not a tall climb... in fact were it not for the stone staircase directly underneath, it might be no more than a tall boulder problem.  Could it be led?  Well, there's a perfect horizontal cam placement (maybe .4 BD) just before the mantle finish.  Above the stone stairs.  And the tree.

                                                                                        Photo: Daniel Montague

Due to the potential for swinging over the stairs, thereby endangering any hikers passing up or down, it seemed best to limit this climb to weekdays when traffic would be low.  And weather being what it has been, finding free weekday afternoons with dry rock was a bit of a challenge.  With Sugarloaf being an hour drive from work, and daylight growing ever shorter, I knew there wouldn't be many opportunities.

Eventually though, Vincent Faires and I managed to make it out a few weeks ago, and made our first few hilarious attempts.  We only made it a few moves in, and our initial anchor location left us glancing off the tree after every fall before swinging out over the stairs, pulling up our legs to avoid belayer and railing, and desperately trying to spin back around in time to fend off the tree and rock as they rushed back toward us.

                                                       Photo: Daniel Montague

The second day, anchor repositioned to replace the swing with a much safer drop onto the base of the tree, we sent Daniel Montague up on a recon mission for us.  Half an hour and several falls later, Dan had unlocked all the moves.  Psyched to know it was possible, I tied in and had soon reached the top with falls in only three places.  Unfortunately daylight had faded too much to allow Vince to follow suit, but we had no doubt he would crush it on the next visit.

And he did.  Last Friday, with grey skies and finger-numbing rock, Dan warmed up with a quick solo up Darkness Imprisoning Me and then immediately tied in to dispatch the project.  Then, after an initial attempt ending two moves from the mantle, Vince realized that shirt drag had been holding him back, and soon found himself at the top as well.  I took four shots at it, running laps up and down the stairs between climbs to stay warm, but in the end had to content myself with falling two moves short of the top.

                                                        Photo: Daniel Montague
                                                      Photo: Daniel Montague
                                                      Photo: Daniel Montague
After another week of obsessively sequencing, I finally got back out yesterday, my mom having graciously volunteered to belay.  And lest anyone feel sorry for the poor woman standing in the cold belaying her son, I'll point out that she did tie in once, and made it as far as Vince and I had on our first attempts.  So, after a quick warm up of stair running and Dunkin Donuts blueberry coffee, I hopped on and blew the topout.  Second try, sent.

I have to say, as good as it feels to finish a project, it's never quite as fun as the process of figuring it out.  In the end, that's the point of climbing, right?  On the other hand, I know this is a climb I'll enjoy coming back to many times, now free to of any "can I do it" pressure.  And, there's still another way up this face...

For now, here's a video of Dan's ascent.  Hoping eventually to edit it together with the footage I got on a second camera, maybe even some music if I'm feeling extra ambitious.  But at this point, nothing fancy, just climbing.


Conrad said...

Hey Robin, any estimate on difficulty?

Robin said...

We talked about it and never did come to a decision, but maybe somewhere between mid 5.11 and mid 5.12? Mostly a question of figuring out the footwork.

Anonymous said...

Cool. Had my eye on that rock for years. It's a pretty piece of stone, good angle, good looking holds, etc.. I enjoyed the pics, thanks

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