I'm submitting this report a bit late. The trip was about forty years ago. Our destination was a mysterious crag reputed to have excellent climbing.
There was no guidebook. My friend Al and I arrived on a humid July weekday, and there were no other climbers at the cliff. Nuts would not appear on the American climbing scene for another seven or eight years, cams were perhaps fifteen years off. Harnesses did not yet exist---we tied in to fifteen feet of one-inch webbing wrapped repeatedly around our waists. There were no belay or rappel devices. Belays were accomplished by passing the rope around your hips. For rappels, a sling twisted into a figure-eight made a primitive harness, and you passed the rope through a carabiner in this harness, over your left shoulder, and diagonally across your back to your right hand. We all had rappel burn scars on our shoulders. Chrome-molly pitons were just appearing; Al and I were armed with about eight of these, a few carabiners, and a couple of slings. We were shod in things that would nowadays be called approach shoes if their rubber had been a lot stickier. The decimal system, invented at Tahquitz Rock in the fifties, was just making its way across the country. Al and I climbed at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, where the decimal system had appeared, but climbs were undergraded by as much as two grades. We had top-roped 5.9's, but thought we were 5.7 climbers at best.
We had some very faded ditto sheets Al had obtained with line drawings of the cliff, route names, and grades from A to F. We couldn't match the drawings to anything, and we had no idea what A through F meant---we didn't even know whether A was the easiest grade or the hardest. Naturally, we left the sheets in the car.
We walked along the base of the cliff, starting at a low spot near the road. It seemed immense, endless, a steaming jungle with uncountable challenges rising into the midsummer haze. Our hearts were pounding with anticipation. What should we climb? We debated and passed over hundreds of opportunities. Finally, we came upon a steep face with several pitons clearly visible. This relieved some of our anxiety---clearly a route went up here. The face was capped by a large glowering roof. I had no idea what to do with such a roof, I had never climbed a roof . Nonethess, full of the optimism and stupidity of youth, I started up, finding the climbing hard but well within the levels we had been doing at Devil's Lake, and in short order I arrived at the roof.
Once I was there, it never occured to me that one might climb such a thing. It stuck out several feet and I did not even recognize the climbing possibilities afforded by the large flake at the lip. It was clear that the route must traverse either left or right under this monster, but the occasional pitons had ended and there was no hint of what to do next.
Things looked worse to the right, so I went left. It was steep. I couldn't get any pitons in (which is not the same as saying there was no place to put them). Finally, I arrived at a steep crack splitting a wall that bypassed the left edge of the roof. In went a piton, finally, and I climbed up to a stance.
Now it was Al's turn. He climbed up under the roof, removed my last pin, and looked in horror at the bulging traverse going straight left. There was no protection in this traverse until the piton at the end, thirty feet away horizontally, and the initial moves looked to be the hardest. Because of the roof, Al and I couldn't see each other and could barely communicate, but I gathered from the tones I could discern that he was not pleased with the prospect of this traverse and was finding it hard to say anything positive about my protection abilities.
After a great deal of delay, Al started off on the traverse. I heard a scratching sound, and a muffled cry that turned into a blood-curdling roar. Suddenly, Al hove into view below the roof line, plummeting earthward, limbs flapping, hair flying, eyes truly the size of those proverbial saucers. With thirty feet of rope out plus additional slack in the system, he traveled in an enormous arc, flying very near to ground level, rocketing up the other side, now making frantic running motions on the rock, and eventually coming to near the beginning of the vertical crack I had finished on.
There was a moment of silence. Birds chirped, a hawk circled, a squirrel scolded us from a tree. Everything was peaceful, just as it had been before. Nothing had changed, except that Al had rather rapidly relocated and was now engaged in a vigorous, heartfelt, and really quite accurate description of my intelligence quotient and correlated suitability to lead anything.
After getting these observations off his chest, Al set off up the crack, which he found hard but manageable, and soon we were reunited at the belay. The hour was rather late at this point, and our thirst for adventure, especially Al's, was temporarily sated. We saw that we could traverse over to a large pine tree and rappel off, and we decided to call our attempt a reconnaissance and descended, full of the excitement of the day and the realization that we could never scratch the enormous potential of this limitless cliff face.
The mystery crag is now known as the Gunks. Al and I started up Birdie Party, traversed left at the roof, crossing Higher Stannard, and finished on Something Interesting. Al climbed all but the first few feet of Something Interesting as well as Birdie Party up to the roof. We traversed over to the Three Pines belay ledge and descended.
For better or worse, it is no longer possible for anyone to have experiences like this in the Gunks.