By the mid-70s, climbing style had become much more than just a way of climbing, but a philosophical attitude toward life. Most of us were liberal, nonconformist nature types who prided ourselves on living simply and on the cheap to maximize our time on the rock. This minimalist approach to life carried through to climbing: We aspired to do the most challenging climbs with the least material aids, reducing our impact on the rock while striving for purity and adventure.
In 1983, I moved to New Paltz, New York, and joined forces with a dedicated band of Shawangunks climbers, with whom I began pushing myself on increasingly difficult traditional-style routes. We took pride in climbing in the best style possible and didn’t hangdog or pre-inspect our routes from above. Most of our new routes were fairly heady since they followed steep, poorly protected faces.
One such line rose to the right of the intimidating Yellow Crack, a line first climbed by Gunks legend Henry Barber. We’d eyed this direct variation, but it appeared even less protected and considerably harder than Yellow Crack. From below, it looked like a few small RPs in a very thin, irregular crack would protect the crux. Above this crux was a shallow, overhanging corner capped by a roof. I worried that I couldn’t see any protection possibilities in the shallow corner, but I tried it anyway. As soon as I pulled past the crux section and into the corner, my fears became reality: There was no crack in which to slot a nut. I had to decide whether to continue higher or try to climb back down. I was near my limit. In my tired, anxious state, I was afraid that if I tried to climb down I might slip off. The only way down was up.
I looked at my last piece of protection, well below my feet. My group of friends, who had inspired my progress with their enthusiasm, grew silent. I felt very alone. Time stood still. I focused on relaxing my burning forearms and waited for the right moment. When I felt a surge of energy and excitement in my gut, I knew it
was time to move.
Reaching around the corner to the face directly to my right, my fingers read a handhold like braille. I eased onto a tiny edge, then delicately shifted out and around the corner onto the adjacent face. One more move, a deep breath, and I reached for a large ledge that marked the end of the climb. “Thank God!” I uttered, thankful for the focus and control, and for the skills I’d been learning. I had no idea where they would take me.