What’s that you say? A Sunday with predicted highs of around 4C? Sunny? A south-facing local crag?
You’re ON, universe.
That there in the middle is Home Cliff. Heavily trafficked in summer, south facing, about 30 minutes out of town, and the best thing you can do with the first sunny, above-zero day of the year.
David got injured in a skiing fall a while back, so we thought today would be a good chance to get out and see how he’s doing, in advance of heading to the USA on Easter Weekend. (We had thought a four day trip to the Shawangunks: we’ve downgraded that to a day trip to the Adirondacks, since he’s still a bit stiff.)
It’s definitely still wintry out there.
But we crunched up through the corn snow toward the base of the crag, and we were both pretty warm by the time we picked our way up the collapsing wooden stairs at the top of the trail (someone should really replace them) and made the sunny base of the upper cliff.
Apart from the large frozen waterfall on its eastern edge, the crag was surprisingly dry, except for some runnels of ice leaking out from under where the bulk of the stone sits above the slope that runs down to the Ottawa Valley. Those runnels always remind me that you can see where the veins of the rock are. Water is always running and seeping through it: it’s porous, it breathes and swells and shifts. It flakes and calves and changes, sheds layers of weathered patina. Spring always reminds me of that.
It was a gorgeous day: you could feel the sun’s beams through your clothes, the rock was dry. And David offered me the first lead. Which I took, although it was a bit embarrassing. Let’s just say that the first time you get back on real rock after the winter hiatus takes a little adjusting. Also, small finger edges can feel pretty slippery when your fingertips are numb from the cold rock.
Admittedly, there were the bruises I knew I was going to get from a particularly ill-considered attempt at getting through the first move of that lead. Which I looked down tonight and discovered, blossoming happily on my upper right arm. That’ll teach me to try and use my humerus to lever through a crack move. (Oh, early season . . .)
But I was pleased. I had a moment, halfway up, where I thought I might actually fall – on a really easy climb – because I was climbing like I’d never been near a rock before, but I got it back together without wimping out and backing off (my pride usually has a lot to say about the idea of backing off) and in the end, I ended up choosing the slightly harder, slightly longer finishing moves just because I was feeling much better about myself.
And I was glad that my first outdoor climb of the year was a trad lead, and I didn’t really feel much fear on it: at times, a pervasive sense that I was probably climbing like an idiot, but not fear.
And the secure feeling will come back. Or, as I said to David, “The little tiny footholds just need to grow over the summer. By August, those same little edges will be huge!”
But after a couple of runs up the cliff, the wind started to pick up. And it was still icy. We didn’t even consider the main big corner: it was full of ice. There was glassy-looking sheet ice and dripping water on some of the more west-facing sections. But David thought one of them looked okay. As he was heading up it, little flakes and chunks of ice would get blown off by the (increasingly cold) wind and rain down on us at times. I was pretty chilly on belay.
In fact, we started bundling back up.
But you could still feel the sun, through the cold wind: in fact, I think I might have gotten a little sunburned. And the cold didn’t stop me tackling the last lead of the day. Again, I was pleased with myself: when David asked if I wanted to lead it, I thought it might be too cold, and hesitated, then looked at it again. It’s an easy climb. It looked dry. Okay, why not, I thought, and grabbed the rack.
And I had a really good time with it, though I felt like I was climbing in a spacesuit, with the hat and extra layers and down jacket on under the rack, and the jacket hitched up around my waist so I could reach my harness gear loops.
We decided to call it there, and headed home: David wants to be cautious about his injuries, and I was fine with having a short, bright, sunny, snow-glare day, complete with tea in a Thermos (the best thing you can possibly do with tea is bring it with you to a cliff and drink slugs of it between climbs, trust me on this) and hands on the rock again. This promises to be a great season.