Here’s another two climbs next to each other where there’s an easier lead that allows you to top rope a harder classic, Triangle (5.9-) and Never Never Land (5.10a).
We had a beautiful warm early spring day at the Gunks with my friends Eric & Lisa Hörst and their amazing climbing kids Cam & Jonathan (a.k.a. the “Send Brothers”), my daughter Ariel, boyfriend Matt, and friends Kay, Kate, Sasa & Christoph.
Never Never Land is one of the classic hard face climbs of the Gunks. It’s polished, balancy and likely a hell of a lot harder than other 5.10a’s you may have done at other crags. It’s a beautiful line 100 feet straight up to bolt anchors for the 1st pitch.
For those of us not solid enough to lead this beauty, there is an alternative if you can lead 5.9-. To the left of Never Never Land, and sharing the same 1st pitch anchor is Triangle.
Triangle is rated 5.9- PG, but amongst my friends, it was a mixed reviews on the grade. Out of 4 of us, the two women thought it was easy, the two taller guys thought it was solid 5.9, more details on the grade later… There are multiple ways to start it. I started on the right side, a big offwidth flake system. Despite the looks of the offwidth, you don’t need to bring lots of huge gear, there are enough smaller horizontals that take cams, or even bring a long sling or two and sling a horn or chockstone constriction. I had no trouble finding gear, and the climbing up to the crux overhang was really easy.
The small overhang was the only crux, with the rock above it being a little sustained if you’re pumped from the overhang, but not hard. The crux itself finds you below a small overhang. You might be able to place gear to the left, but in order to reduce rope drag since you’re going way to the right afterwards, a long sling would basically put you at the same location as the last pieces of gear you placed at your feet. So at my feet I had an old piton backed up by a nut and I skipped placing gear at the overhang. Underneath it was a solid small crack I could undercling and really good feet to step up on. Once I stepped up, I could see really good handholds above and to the right, and I pulled the overhang on the right side and found good gear placements right away.
Here’s where the mixed reviews come in. My daughter and I found the crux easier than 5.9 and used the undercling. The guys who followed it found it tricky and committing. I suspect that undercling perhaps doesn’t fit adult male fingers very well, but it felt secure to us ladies. Also, one of the guys is almost 6″ taller than me – maybe his height threw him off balance. I’m 5’6″, my daughter is 5’2″. After a very short bit of face above, traverse way the hell right for a long time on easy face until you see the bolt anchors for Never Never Land. I couldn’t see them at all, and wandered around way up higher than the anchors and had to downclimb back to a small ledge and traversed over until I found them. Luckily the face is very easy climbing and it wasn’t sketchy at all to wander all over the place looking for the anchors. After the traverse, there’s a short step down onto a grassy ledge where the anchors are. Triangle arcs left, then turns way right, then a little down to the anchors. Rope drag is a real possibility here, plan your gear placements and slings carefully.
Of course, if you can lead Never Never Land, you should. There is some fixed protection and you can get some small horizontal placements, but it’s just too thin for me to try. Cameron (age 13) did a great job leading it on gear.
One other alternative to set up a top rope anchor on Never Never Land is to lead Absurdland (5.8 PG) on the right. It’s a 3 star climb, but there are tricky moves right off the ground and you’ll have to do a bit of traversing at the top to get to the Never Never Land anchor.
So for the rest of us moderate climbers, once you have your toprope set up on Never Never Land, you can enjoy the very delicate moves on this climb. I have seen people who I know are damn good climbers have to try a few times to get the crux. I’ve seen it done two ways, to the left with a high-step/mantle type move, or to the right on almost imaginary feet and pulling up on very small handholds (practically pebbles).
Height may help a bit, although if you’re a good climber, like 11 year old Jonathan (who I think is only 4’10”), it’s not impossible to get through the crux. Then again, he was the youngest person to sport lead 5.14a, when he was 10 years old.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy these climbs. I’d like to know if you thought the crux of Triangle was 5.9- or easier. If you regularly climb elsewhere, I’d like to know what you think about the grade on Never Never Land, most people I know think it should be rated harder than 5.10a.