I had an opportunity to climb on Saturday and decided that I would visit the Delaware Water Gap since it’s a shorter drive than The Gunks (in case my wife unexpectedly went into labor) and happens to be only a few miles from my best friend’s house. Unfortunately, my best friend isn’t a rock climber. Fortunately, however, my friend Dustin is. Dustin was my partner at The Narrows earlier this year and expressed a genuine interest in climbing at The Gap. There are two mountains at The Gap – Tammany on the NJ side and Minsi on the PA side. Although I’ve climbed several times on Tammany, I can’t say that I’m a big fan. The cliff is right over the highway so noise is an issue, and it receives full sun in the summer making it unbearably hot. In the cooler months, and on quieter travel days, it’s not that bad to visit. In contrast, Minsi is definitely the better side in my opinion. The road beneath it is a relatively quiet country road and the sun does not shine on the cliff directly all day. There is a seasonal falcon closure on Minsi but it was lifted a few weeks ago and the cliff reopened for climbing.
Dustin and I agreed to meet at 830am. I managed to get a decent night of sleep (sometimes before climbing I can be up for hours, restless) and arrived at the cliff a few minutes early, not long before Dustin. The forecast for the day was a high of 82 and overcast skies. Rain wasn’t predicted, and the humidity was only slight. Couldn’t ask for better weather in the middle of July!
The short but rugged approach trail up the mountain ends at the base of the Practice Face, which is commonly used as a top-rope site. Right around the corner is a short section known as the Cat Wall. My friend Larry has climbed and recommended the route Pussytoes (5.5+, PG), and we decided on this for our first climb. The route goes about 70 feet until a ledge with a bolted anchor. Up until a short section below that ledge, the climbing was straightforward and the gear decent. Just before the ledge I ran into a crux, slightly overhanging rock with a wide crack and some awkward holds. I had to rest on the rope and make a few attempts before finally figuring out the moves. The holds were there, it was more of a matter of finding the right body position and balance in order to reach them.
|Looking up Pussytoes.|
|On the belay ledge of Pussytoes.|
We continued along the cliff towards the section known as Land of the Giants to climb a route called Crackpot (5.4+. G). I climbed this route about two years ago with my friend John. Crackpot is partially bolted – there are two bolts at the start, a gear placement, and then a third bolt. From there, a short section of gear-protected rock until the fourth bolt which happens to be in a great spot. After the fourth bolt, the rock is a gorgeous marble-white color and the route ends just before a roof system with a two-bolt anchor. I’m going to submit this route as an area classic. The climbing is easy fun. The route is well protected. And the views are incredible in this area. This is a definite must do!
|The final moves before topping out.|
|Straight-up chillin' on top of Crackpot.|
|zoom in to see the two climbers at the top of this corner route.|
|the ledge on Suprise were I took the previous photo.|
We continued past Surprise and for me, this was venturing into the unknown. Surprise is in an area known as Land of the Giants, which leads into the Morning Wall, High Wall, and then the Playground. The Playground is described as being a single-pitch section, but unfortunately this area has about 30 feet of vegetated 4th and 5th class scrambling before reaching the base of the routes. I did spy a clean inside corner climb but most of the rock was obscured from view. I’m interested in this wall, but it will have to wait for the dryer colder seasons to be uncovered.
Further along the cliff we spotted the enormous roof system of the Screaming Eagle Area, which is named for the mega classic route Screaming Eagle (5.12d, R/X). Just to the left of Screaming Eagle, Dustin found a very interesting line called Full Tilt (5.5, G). Full Tilt follows an oddly angled traverse on a protruding chunk of rock and then turns a corner up a face until reaching the safety of trees to rappel from. The base of this route, and the Screaming Eagle area, is about 40 feet above the ground on a large ledge. I decided not to climb Full Tilt because I felt very uncomfortable climbing out into the open air – the traverse that seemed to walk out into the sky, and then there was the rather severe drop below. Despite being a rock climber, I’ve experienced a lot of physical discomfort with open-air climbs that lead to vertigo and, very frankly, debilitating fear. Dustin was very understanding of my desire to not want to experience any anxiety, and sent the route himself. He really enjoyed the climbing on the traverse, and noted that after turning the corner and climbing on the face he reached a belay tree with slings but that it’s best to continue past it to better trees up above.
|Dustin, leading on Full Tilt.|
An interesting note about Full Tilt, and this section, is for climbers to be very wary of the fall potential from the ledge above. My shoes ended up rolling down behind me, stopping inches before the drop. I took a few steps down, and realized that it’s not worth risking my life and decided to wait until Dustin finished his rappel and use the rope. As I stood, looking towards the ground below, I noticed a large rotted rock that looked like it could break off and crash through the undercliff trail below. I yelled out “ROCK!” gave the rock a good kick which easily broke it, and heard it crash and tumble for a very, very long time. It would have been easy for a belayer to accidently step on this rock, possibly injuring themselves or other climbers. If you do climb this area, please consider tying into a tree. Again, the belay ledge is very spacious, but the drop is extremely severe. Not only that, there’s always the risk that the leader could blow a piece of gear and due to the open-air nature of the traverse, end up pitching off of the cliff and taking their belayer with them.
|My shoes, just before a drop. Despite being a spacious ledge, use caution!|
Despite being spooked by Full Tilt, I still wanted to climb. Dustin and I headed back the way we came and eventually reached the Practice Face and then continued “climber’s right” along the cliff, past Intimidation Wall and on to the Teardrop Buttress. We climbed Tears are Falling (5.4, PG), which is another classic for its views of Tammany across the river as well as the appropriately named Intimidation Wall. I felt very much in the groove again on this route and despite its height and exposure, I took my time on rests and good footing to look around and take in the scenery. I focused on feeling safe, feeling solid, and being able to look out beyond the rock in front of me or at my feet (normally, my eyes stay focused on where I’m moving my limbs to) and appreciate where I was and what I was doing. I did this while on rappel too, and it seemed to relieve me of the negative feelings I had from before.
|Dustin and I hanging out on the top of Tears are Falling.|
The last time I climbed with Dustin, he helped me with belaying and lowering with the ATC in guidemode. We decided to go over and practice some rescue methods which included how to transfer a load off of the ATC (while in guidemode) to the anchor in the event that the seconding climber below was hurt or incapacitated. And we went over how to do this while belaying from the ground and the leader was hurt or incapacitated. The latter is much easier than the former, and I’ll need to revisit my Self-Rescue book in order to work through the finer details, but doing this in safe training environment to prepare for the real thing is definitely an important practice.
A short while later, we were off the cliff and said our goodbyes and made plans for the fall/winter to meet up again, climb, and geek-out on technical climbing tricks. I met my best friend and his girlfriend for a quick bite to eat at Kelly’s, a seasonal roadside burger and ice cream spot that is a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Riding home to see my family with a sore body, full belly and sense of accomplishment made my quiet Sunday and anticipation of the arrival of my second child, all the more sweet.