Astroman 5.11c

  • Currently 5.0/5

Washington Column

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
A Very OT Astroman Report

by Mei
Thursday May 19, 2016 2:50pm
Update in 2019: Due to an implementation of the new photo policy on Supertopo, the TR below has become a little hard to read with the embedded images gone (replaced with links). Please visit my personal blog post for the original report.

[Click to View Linked Image]

Ever since I came back to outdoor climbing in October last year, Iíve been dreaming about returning to Astroman, one of the crown jewels of Yosemite free climbing. And now, Iím actually hiking towards it, in the dark. Iíve left the navigation to my partner S because he has done the route 10+ times in the last two decades. Yet, he still managed to go off trail (as we later found out, we turned left uphill too soon). We are just cross countrying through ankle deep leaf debris right after a wet winter and high stepping up and down big boulders. Neither of us is very concerned knowing we will hit the wall one way or another. So, I just let my mind wander.

And wander it doesÖ

Time flies, doesnít it? Last time I did this route was almost 11 years ago. Let me just call my then-partner E. We had only been climbing together for a little over a month with our first trip together being up the Rostrum. We fell into a groove nicely and had one after another great climbing outings, including two weekends in a row up Astroman. The shared love for outdoors at a grand scale brought us close together. That passion shifted into long distance bicycling in the next few years, which saw us at the fifth (last) pass on the Death Ride road century eating the celebratory ice cream together, at the finish line of the acclaimed toughest mountain biking event in the western region,Tahoe Sierra 100, and among the small handful of the finishersí of the grassroot unsupported, now defunct, Henry Coe Hard Coere 100 (100 miles and 22k ft of ascent on dirt) underground race. If it sounds like bragging, it is. Iím extremely proud of what we have achieved as a couple. More importantly, he has always been my best partner. His can do attitude (you can get a glimpse reading his Nose TR), cool headedness and big heart in front of big adversaries have earned him a lot of respect from his friends, and me, and have a profound impact on me. He is awesome!

We reach the base of Astroman. By now, itís light out and our headlamps have been off for a while. Nobody else is there. Strange. I have heard about lines at the base and was expecting at least some parties going for AstroBoy based on the recent Mountain Project ticks.

[Click to View Linked Image]

No crowd? Maybe people are still driving around looking for Ahwahnee Hotel (no more) following the approach beta in all the guidebooks? Or, maybe because it rained at night and there is a 20% chance of rain in the forecast for the day. S cautioned me it would not be good if the last pitch is wet. Let's hope it won't be. After taping and gearing up, I set off for the two approach pitches.

Our gear list:
 Rack includes double from green alien size to #3 BD C4 camelots, plus one each #.75, #1, and #4 camelots, one each blue and black alien, and one set of stoppers including RPs. Slightly thinner than what Supertopo and Mountain Project suggested, but after S assured me he and E used to take a single set up Astroman, I did not press the matter. Don't want to be chicken, you know.
 six shoulder length slings, four half length runners, each with a biner along with a few loose biners.
 One 60m rope, and no tag line. We are committed.
 One bottle each carried on our own harness. I had a .5 Liter bottle and had water left when I topped out.
 Two bars each. Okay, I had four and S forgot food, so we split.
 No helmet.
 S carried his light descent shoes on harness. I just wore my TC Pro with thick socks all day. They are the size of my street shoes.
 I have elbow and knee pads, with the latter doubled up as gaiters when we descended the loose sand later.
 I carried a light wind breaker and a Mammut wind shirt in a fanny pack. I had to put them all on up high due to the strong wind. Always prepare for wind chill.

There is running water on the first pitch. So, I tread carefully. I thought I placed gear sparingly, but still, I manage to have a horrendous rope drag through the 10a lieback and finger section after I have clipped the first anchor bolts. Every move is a squad, and squading away, I reach the next anchor. S has told me he would, as he has always done, go up the ďdangerousĒ way Ė the 10a stemming corner. Both of my prior times on the route with E, he led the Boulder Problem. I didnít get it clean both times, so I secretly hoped to follow that way to test the progress made through my recent gym practice. But rock climbing rule #1: never argue with the leader. S protects the ďdangerousĒ way safely (three pieces on the right) and leads us a short way up to the bottom of Enduro Corner. My turn.

I've been looking forward to leading it again remembering dancing up it last time. I want to put my small hands to use. When I reach the anchor above, I have led it clean again, but I will not call this time a waltz. I didnít struggle, but there were moments my forearms felt pumped and I had to pause to recover and regulate my breathing. Who knows, maybe after another 11 years, I will again remember todayís performance an easy dance up the pitch. Funny how sometimes time flushes away any unpleasant memories. I'm confident though if I return to the route a couple of more times this year, I WILL dance up the pitch effortlessly.

Oh, the funny things that time does. Now that I'm belaying, my thoughts are back to E. Even though E and I seemed to be made for each other as our friends like to say, strangely, we grew apart. No drama, and not even fights. I donít quite understand, but after all these years, being together just no longer seems exciting any more. I'm feeling low inside all the time, and I can't seem to make him laugh any more. Why am I feeling the way I feel? Am I unhappy because he is unhappy, or does my being unhappy drag him down? Why can't we just be happy when I know we still care deeply about each other? Is it him? Or is it all me? I don't want him, or anybody for that matter, to change on my account, but can I change myself, and how? There is no blaming, but there is a lot of confusion. If it is not meant to be, should we keep the status quo, or must we break our matrimony vow? Over many months, I agonized over all these questions. I went to sit in empty churches of different disciplines hoping the answers would come to me, but I didnít feel a thing.

One recent day, he received a relocation package from his company. Most of his department had moved up to another state, where most of his family live. Heís been doing frequent business trips to work alongside his colleagues, oftentimes two weeks a time. He either moves with work, or risks losing his job here in a few months up to a few years. Knowing he likes what he does at work, I will never stand in his career path. It would have been a very tough decision if nothing had happened between us because my job is here, but now, the path is clear -- we agree that he will move up to his work and be close to his family. My agony has dissolved and acceptance filled in. This, I call destiny.

It did not take long for S to follow Enduro Corner and after a short change over, he is off to the next two pitches. He always link them. After the climb, I thanked S for having led the pitches that I didn't lead (redundant?), because despite the lower ratings and having no name (in comparison to famous pitches like Enduro Corner, etc), those pitches seem in general awkward. However, only after a couple of days, I find myself having no recollection of these connection pitches in between my leads. Other than whatís written on the topo, I do not remember the characteristics of the pitches, let alone the gear placement. I guess next time I get on the climb, if I lead these pitches, they should just count as onsight!

top left corner top right corner
Harding Slot looming above. Seen from the belay.
Harding Slot looming above. Seen from the belay.
Credit: Mei
bottom left corner bottom right corner

Talk about onsight, I was hoping for an onsight of Harding Slot, which is now hanging over my head after I have reached the anchor and joined S. How can this be an onsight if I have done (followed) it 11 years ago? Well, not that long ago, I remember listening to a Training Beta interview with Climbing Sensei Justen Sjong, and he said something to the effect that if you have not been back on a climb for two years, sure, a send counts as onsight! Okay, before you jump up and down, let me just say no, I do not bear that belief. Iíll just go for my redpoint of Harding Slot. AlthoughÖ I have no recollection of the slippery bird droppings on the left wall. A slippage there almost botched my stem, but thankfully, my other three contact points were solid. And entering the slot? It was nothing like what I remembered, but my OW training at the gym paid off. With a hand jam and later chicken wing on the left, I bridge the slot with my right knee and right sole. Once in the slot, itís chicken wing and arm bar, paired with heel toe left and knee heel right. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggleÖ I arrive at the belay without much drama.

Iím just not the drama type of person. Even just after I have told E that I needed to move out to sort myself out, we remained on very good terms. Once expectations were taken out a relationship, whatís left is just caring. Itís still a lovely feeling. I still tell E everything. I tell him my difficulty in search of compatible climbing partner(s). He has a whole theory for it, even a name. He says Iím right now at a tweener stage. Iím now strong enough to face the challenge offered by hard climbs like Astroman, so naturally, I want more. For that, I need strong partners. However, I am not at the level of those elite climbers who can blast up Astroman in 4 or 5 hours. Thus, I'm a tweener. On top of that, I lack the confidence to take just about anyone up these climbs not knowing if I can get the party to the top and out of trouble if the partner has a meltdown. E knows my dilemma because heís been there. Basically, a compatible partner would be another tweener. Well, thatís probably a very narrow field by itself.

Surprisingly, S was having trouble following Harding Slot. After all, he has done the route so many times, and has even led the pitch a couple of times. But I think I know why he has trouble this time though. He must have offended offwidth gods recently when he typed out loud in one of his emails that he hated OW. By the time he finished Harding Slot and was on the lead of the next connection pitch (again one that I remember being awkward without remembering any details), the leader in the next party who started right after us reached my anchor. We are the only two parties on the wall all day. Thankfully, I have left the belay when his follower was still in the slot.

Changing Corners pitch is my lead. Again, I don't remember it being hard last time I followed it. If anything, I remember my small fingers had advantage on this pitch. Well, what did I say about the power of time? OMG, this time, on lead, this pitch feels really really hard.

Okay, maybe Iím exaggerating a little, but the moves (supposedly an 11a mantle) before clipping the bolt turned out to be a big hurdle for me. For one, trying to place gear in the horizontal crack to protect mantle is just out of my reach when I stand on the tip of the flake below tip-toe'ing. So, I had to pull on a side pull, hold myself in while standing on some edges (on the slightly overhanging wall) in order to place a couple of pieces in the pods along the horizontal crack. That pumped me out.

Ok, when I grew up, I always noticed that I had some disadvantage in my street fights.

[Click to View Linked Image]

And only a few days ago, I finally figured out why. After all these years of being curious, I had my Ape Index (arm span Ė height) measured. I was shocked and shattered to learn that I have a -2.5Ē ape index ... or shall I call it "corgi" index on me? That means as far as arm span is concerned, I might even be ďshorterĒ than Lynn Hill! And right now, who knows, I could well have a brain of a bird because apparently I am not thinking straight on lead. The moves Iím trying to execute are either too reachy or too powerful. (In hindsight, I should have tried to mantle up on the right and traverse left.) I hear S from below, ďAid through. We have long ways to go.Ē Being a singled minded free climber, the thought never occurred to me, and now I know he is right. It takes me a little while to figure out how to aid through! That was an ordeal just to get to the changing corners.

Well, at least, I am glad to have executed changing corners (the actual crux) without mishap having heard S tell me about his 30í fall from there with a piece pulled. The moves out on the face, with the last piece below on the other side of the arÍte tucked away in the corner, are a bit unnerving and involve some long reaches and high steps. What a relief to clip the next (fixed) piece right at the tip of the changing corners! The section above that is super thin. Even my small fingers are not fitting the ever smaller crack slots. 20í up, the cracks get confusing. There is a straight up crack in the middle, a hand crack behind a flake on the left, and a seam on the right in the corner. I vaguely remember reading something about the middle crack, so thatís the way I take. Gray (#4) Camelot size, for 50+í long. Yikes. The going is not fast. Only later did I find out that you were supposed to climb the hand crack on the left and protect in the middle crack. Well, right now, on my lead, that left hand crack just appears too far away ó beyond my (short) arm span.

Then the cracks get confusing again. The three cracks stop. At one point, I can continue up the corner, or transition right up a thin (red Camelot) crack that starts to the left of a platform. I step on to the platform and find a microwave sized boulder sitting there with chalk mark ďDEATHĒ written on it. I go up the thin crack until I reach a roof where I set up a belay. It only takes one pull for me to hear S say that is him. I have climbed a full rope length. Apparently, people usually set up belay while standing on that platform next to the DEATH block. But my hanging belay under the roof is not too bad. Comfortable enough for me to drift into my thoughts again.

My trouble in finding partner(s) does not stop at the narrow field of tweeners. There is a tricky situation. Most guys are either in a relationship or are looking for a relationship. Wives and girlfriends are usually not happy when their SOs' get on an exciting climbing or project with another woman. I certainly do no want to cause ANYBODY domestic dispute! The other end of the spectrum is not any easier to deal with - I personally donít want guys to waste their time climbing with me when they can impress the girls they want to impress, and they probably think the same.

Your eye brows might have been raised sky high by now as you question, ďyou are a woman, so why donít you climb with other women?Ē Well, I tried. I even put out my personal (how embarrassing is that!) specifically looking for female climbing partners on Mountain Project since thatís where some real and current climbers still visit. Well, if you know a female climber who likes to swap leads on Astroman (just an example) and is looking for a partner, please forward this quest along! But really, I don't care about the gender. Climbing partnership is about trust and compatibility.

The next one and half pitches (since I extended the CC pitch) are again Sís. He stops at the start of the traverse as you would expect from any experienced climber. But that also means I get to walk past him and continue to the bottom of the last pitch and set up belay there before bring him and rope over. What a relief! I do want to carry my end of the stick and do not want to be choosy of what I lead, but I was a little wary of this last pitch . There is a whole thread on Supertopo about the pitch.

Both times, I followed the pitch. E always protected on the left to make it safe, but I vaguely remember those moves were hard and extremely reachy for me when I cleaned his placement. I am really not sure I can pull that off on lead. S places three pieces at the bottom of the flake (with one alien piece intended to block a stopper piece) and goes straight up. That makes my follow a lot easier. We reach the top with plenty of light left. So we sit around waiting for the young party shortly behind us because they have never been down the descent before and are hoping to follow us (S to be exact) down.

With the view of Half Dome in my face, I canít help but giving out a satisfied sigh Ė life is pretty darn good.

[Click to View Linked Image]

It is good even though I donít know where my future will lead. I don't think about that when I'm on the walls. I want to get on the walls; the higher, the better. E has offered to stay around for another month to take care of our three cats before relocating, so I can take an extended vacation (two weeks in June). Oh, how I dream of the tall cliffs and the long routes! I've put out my NiaD partner search on Mountain Project. Maybe, I should give Supertopo a chance too?

Well, it has been my observation that the more offtopic a discussion thread, the more views it gets (on Supertopo at least). I think I've managed to go very offtopic on this Astroman trip report. Can I get more than 2 views?

[Click to View Linked Image]

Epilogue: I hesitated for a long time if I should post the report here. Most friends I shared with advised against it (too much personal content), but I hope some people will appreciate the share and enjoy a ride up Astroman with me. Oh, I'm not seeking relationship advice. If anything, I hope this report serve as a partner call. If judgement and slanders become too much for my weak heart, I reserve the right to delete the report. Thank you for your understanding.

  Trip Report Views: 6,314
About the Author
Dreaming big...


Trad climber
the Box
  May 19, 2016 - 03:31pm PT
Thank you, Mei, for sharing this TR, and something more and deeper.

I really enjoyed reading it like I was along the ride. I felt you regarding the "tricky situation." Too bad I am not a tweener - still have a long way to go becoming one. Wish you all the best and keep climbing!! Looking forward to more reports!!

mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  May 19, 2016 - 05:41pm PT
Truth Brutality!

I've heard of it, but didn't think it could happen HERE!


Trad climber
Upland, CA
  May 19, 2016 - 06:02pm PT
So beautifully written and authentic. Just lovely.
Thanks for being you.

  May 19, 2016 - 06:26pm PT
Thanks so much for writing that up and sharing it!

Social climber
  May 19, 2016 - 06:33pm PT
I enjoyed your story-thanks for sharing
cat t.

  May 19, 2016 - 06:35pm PT
You are brave, Mei! :)

Who knows, maybe after another 11 years, I will again remember todayís performance an easy dance up the pitch.
Might this apply equally well to climbing and relationships (of all sorts)? For survival's sake, perhaps it is best that our memories of discomfort become fuzzy, but for the sake of personal growth it can be nice to be reminded of the unpleasant difficulties that are inevitably required when one is passionate about something. If your brain tricks you into thinking the past was perfect, it may be extra painful when the present is far from that.

  May 19, 2016 - 06:51pm PT
if this is off topic, then i don't want whatever on topic is...

thanks for taking the time to lay down some of your truth... and thanks for taking a chance with that on st... :)

the actuality of life is at the same time, both more mundane and more surprising than we might have expected prior to the present's coalescing.

the subtlety of this combination can at times be disquieting in the same way that it can, at other times, be engaging...

[above = the nutshell sense i was left with after reading your tr]

thank you...

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  May 19, 2016 - 06:50pm PT
Glad to see that I'm not the only one in my own personal life/drama/concern zone whenever I step onto the rock. I think we all are, though. But I've never read it so well expressed.
Thanks Mei!
You should come to the Vedauwoo sushifest and related climbing ( Devils tower? Dingus area de jur?) it's more than rice and offwidth....

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  May 19, 2016 - 06:50pm PT
Excellent writing!

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  May 19, 2016 - 07:13pm PT
Nice. Good luck in your journey.

  May 19, 2016 - 07:21pm PT
Astroman .... the one and only.

A little Mei inside a dream just the other day
Her mind fell out of her face and the wind blew it away
A hand came out from heaven and pinned a badge on her chest
It said 'get out there, girl, and do your best' .....

Trad climber
  May 19, 2016 - 07:39pm PT
Holy Moly, I've never seen Werner channeling in verse on supertopo. A special share reaps a special reward.

For those afraid of sharing too much personal... at some point you reach a stage of life where the desire to keep it real, the desire to be authentic and have meaningful exchanges with people, well that outstrips the fear of what someone might think by knowing too much about you.

Mei, thanks for sharing. And good luck finding a partner. It's hard when you are overqualified for most of us!

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2016 - 09:49pm PT
Climbing is when I usually figure sh#t out too. Thank you for sharing the experience and the thoughts.
John M

  May 19, 2016 - 10:34pm PT
very good stuff.. thanks for being genuine. I'm always sorry when I hear that people don't like to post trip reports on the taco. It gets rowdy here at times, but I also think that there are lots of good genuine people here. thanks again for posting. Best wishes on finding a partner. both kinds..

and you got Werner to throw down some verse. sweet!

  May 20, 2016 - 12:04am PT
cool cat gifs
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2016 - 02:13am PT
[Click to View YouTube Video]
(Best cover I could find; couldn't find the original, though I have it on vinyl).

  May 20, 2016 - 01:27am PT
Excellent, interesting writing. Thanks!

That negative ape index cat gif is priceless!

Trad climber
  May 20, 2016 - 06:59am PT
Interesting note about the little boulder problem on changing corners. The first time I did it it felt easy, the next two times REAL hard. I feel like something may have changed on it? Who knows. Good work!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2016 - 07:23am PT
There used to be a detached flake near the start of the Changing Corners pitch that you could just grab and skip the mantle. Last time I was up that high (2003) I was telling my partner (same guy who just climbed it with Mei!) to grab it, but it was super loose. Probably has since fallen off.

Oakland, CA
  May 20, 2016 - 11:13am PT
The alternate to the Boulder Problem spooked me. Can it really be .10a? Even fighting to get the pro in on the right, before committing to the sequence itself, felt harder than .10a

Once expectations were taken out a relationship, whatís left is just caring.

Like this.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  May 20, 2016 - 11:41am PT
I read somewhere that it was a 10d variation. To me it felt like 5.10. Balancy, a bit insecure but not too hard. As compared to 10c on the Lower Cathedral it is a 10a haha :) Ratings are not usually in line with everything around, but as long as it feels somewhere around the grade indicated, that's fine I think. 11c climbers shouldn't be too spooked to find a 10c move instead of a 10a move.
Purple/blue offset is good there or a few nuts.

Glad you ended up posting the report Mei!

The MP ticklist you posted is funny. According to that thing it is not climbed to the top much. Although I and many friends climbed it in the last year. Some linked it with the Rostrum... I tried too, but got held up by the party aiding the 2/3rd pitches with 2 followers re aiding without jumars. We went to the top of 11c and bailed to the big ledge as it was getting dark...ended up giving those climbers a ride. They were visiting from S. America and were super nice.

Trad climber
Author's Reply  May 20, 2016 - 06:27pm PT
Thanks for reading and sharing your positive and thoughtful comments! And Holy Moly on Werner's verse as well!

NutAgain, I'm not overqualified for anyone. Hmmm... I might have painted myself into a corner sounding like I'm looking for a partner that does not exist. But really, I just love to climb trad all day. No two partners are the same, so I can be the stronger one or the weaker one, as long as we get down safe and had fun in the process. I have climbed with and will continue to climb with various partners, but it will be nice to have one or two go-to partners of similar ability, climbing taste, and most importantly, synergy.

I followed the 10 variation to the 11c Boulder Problem below Enduro Corner. My partner put in three pieces (with a nut high) in the crack to the right. Looked safe to me.

Would like to return someday to figure out the moves (for a shortie) near the start of the Changing Corners. Who'd expect that to be the crux on the entire route.

Gunnison, CO
  May 20, 2016 - 08:24pm PT
I much prefer reading about climbing when it's also about climbers. After a while, the trip reports all blend together when they're just a mix of beta and a few pix. Thanks for sharing something about you and your personal experience.

It's hard to find partners as a woman, especially for long trad days. Many of my best memories are the rare times I was lucky enough to climb with other women with similar abilities and goals to mine (especially when they led the stuff I was too scared of). I hope you find some great compatible partners!

Trad climber
  May 20, 2016 - 09:17pm PT

Trad climber
  May 23, 2016 - 09:30pm PT
Astroman has a way of bringing out the people part of climbing. Thanks for the tale.

Here's my little story of fighting with Bev Johnson up the climb, way back when. Sorry to say our last climb together.

Quite the woman. An honor to have known her.

Tom Higgins

Trad climber
Author's Reply  May 24, 2016 - 04:23pm PT
Thanks everyone. And special thanks to Tom for sharing the candid story about climbing Astroman with Bev Johnson. Following link will bring us straight to the story without scrolling:

It's not just Astroman. I think in general, multipitch climbing has a way to bring a person up, close, and personal. I've partaken in other activities with people, but nothing so far has the ability like climbing does to bring out the true color of each individual.

You reflected "In current parlance, I think one needs about a #6 to adequately protect the slot and we had nothing close. " My partner told me that a #4 was all that was required in case I needed to protect and aid the entrance to the slot. I was confident that I could get it clean, so I didn't take it. Since I didn't use it, I can't confirm, but I trust my partner's recommendation since he has, after all, done the route numerous times. In other words, #6 might be an overkill especially when there is absolutely no use for it anywhere else on the route. Mentioning it here for beta purposes.

  May 26, 2016 - 09:08pm PT
Best thing I've read since you did the twilight zone:)

Trad climber
  May 26, 2016 - 10:51pm PT
Yes, multi-pitch life has way of bringing out the core of people, if the metaphor translates.

Right. Can't say if #4 or #6 is advisable. Your call. We had neither.

Glad you enjoyed the climb. I'm quite sure as days go on, you will find it sits in your memory bank, feeding you in many, many ways.

Tom Higgins

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 26, 2016 - 11:15pm PT
Before the slot everything got to go aside from #1, .75 and a .5. Can put the #1 and .75 before entering and a purple after locking inside.
the Fet

  May 26, 2016 - 11:59pm PT
That was a great read.
Rockin' Gal

Trad climber
  May 27, 2016 - 10:24am PT
Yep. Keep the TRs coming!

Social climber
  May 27, 2016 - 10:42am PT
Wonderful, engaging writing. Well done, and thanks for posting it.

  May 29, 2016 - 11:54am PT
Great to share the route with you Mei! Excellent trip report, thanks for calling us young!

  May 30, 2016 - 07:50am PT
Washington Column - Astroman 5.11c - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Astroman takes a brilliant steep and clean line.
Photo: Chris McNamara
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