First, long time, no post.
To the folks who don\'t know me or remember me, this is Nick Falacci, a Gunkie who transplanted himself to Los Angeles: the home of movie stars, swimming pools and rotten granite.
In between writing, hiking and a fair amount of daydreaming about free-soloing To Be Or Not To Be, I do a little socializing. Several weeks ago, we had some friends (Beth and Ben) over the house. Beth is a writer and director of indie movies and Ben is an editor. Both the nicest, sweetest people on earth.
Now, before we go any further, I must issue the caveat that I really have no inside understanding about the Skytop closure so many years ago. Back in my Gunks days, I had heard the rumors about Skytop possibly being closed in the future. There was a story about a Mountain House guest hiking at the top of the cliff and falling off, and then suing the owners.
I also heard that the owners were getting too many complaints about loud, rowdy and impolite climbers interfering with the hiking experience of the guests.
Then one day in 1993 I was hiking out to Skytop along my \"secrect\" access and encountered a Mountain House security person. He asked where I was going, where I had come from and following my answers, he informed me to be aware that the Mountain House would be closing all access to climbers in the near future. He said something about a long legal process coming to an end and that lawyers had advised the owners to close the cliff down to climbers.
I didn\'t put much stock into this encounter. I had always heard about the \"imminent\" closing of Skytop for several years. Also, later, in Los Angeles, after I heard about the closure, I ran into an old Gunkie friend and we talked about Skytop and his information was that Skytop had closed because the Mountain House had changed owners. Another Gunkie transplant here in LA told me later that yeah, the original family transferred ownership, but it was the old lawsuit that led the new owners to shut the cliff down to climbers. This old Gunkie told me it was not so much the specific lawsuit that led to the closure (because it was a guest who fell, not a climber), but more that the multi-year legal entanglement that followed gave the owners \"coverage\" to rid themselves of the pesky climbers. (I\'m sure the old regulars here remember my many posts trying to figure all this out.)
So back to Beth and Ben. While chilling with some drinks and food in my living room, Ben spotted the old Richard Dumais \"Shawangunk Rock Climbing\" book on my coffee table. He picked it up and stared at it intently. His focus was solely on the cover photo: a climber making his way up Strawberry Yogurt, the Mountain House in the distance, and his belayer sitting on the rustic wood gazebo perched on the very edge of the cliff.
I asked, \"Have you ever been to the Mountain House?\" He looked at me with wide eyes and said, \"I fell off this cliff.\"
Ben then proceeded to tell me the story about how he had visited the Mountain House with his parents when he was a little kid (around 4 years old). His family decided to go out for a hike. It was a cloudy day after some morning rain and some rocks were wet. They hiked along the top of Skytop and came to the old wood gazebo. Ben clambered up the siding and sat on the upper wood rail, his back to the cliff. His parents and siblings started to continue on. His father yelled for him. Ben jumped off the top rail. His shoes landed on the sloped, wet, lichen-y rock at the base of the gazebo and immediately slipped, his legs giving out under him. He fell face first and before he knew it, slid down the slick, sloped rock under the gazebo and went sailing right off the top, his back to the ground below.
Given the nature of the talus at the base, it was a miracle he survived. Ben was horribly injured and wound up in a hospital for a year. And then spent another year rehabilitating.
Give Ben\'s age, I believe his fall happened sometime between 1984 and 1987. His father, a prominent oncologist, sued the Mountain House. Ben told me the legal wrangling went on for years and years.
Skytop was my favorite cliff. It remains my favorite cliff. At the time of my move to LA, I was starting to tick off the 10s and 11s out there. I had led Foops. I had TRed Supercrack. I had spent way too much time on the Shake Your Booty ledge trying to crimp my way up the crux on Flashdance Arete.
While most of my climbing buddies were focused on the long routes at Millbrook, I was fully fascinated with the short, but difficult climbs at Skytop. I loved getting away from the crowds, the gorgeous scenery, the quiet days lying on a rock belaying, far far down beyond Staircliff ... only the sound of birds and the clinking of gear to be heard. And even though it\'s about 20 years since the closure, I still sometimes think about my climbing days out there and I feel a pang of anger and disappointment in my heart.
And then one day, I\'m standing in my living room, flipping through my old Dumais book with the guy/kid who fell off Skytop. And he\'s a good friend.
Life can be strange.