North Face 5.11c
Trip ReportRostrum - Reg North Face
So, the Rostrum...
As I sit here today, hands swollen and massively gobied, quads and calves so sore I can barely wobble down the hall for some decaf, I keep getting flashbacks of moments on the climb. They come in waves, images and snips of action, from specific fingerlocks to pitch-long sections of crack, a psyched partner shouting encouragement, and sweeping views of Reed's.
On my first trip to the Valley, long before I'd ever heard of the Rostrum or knew the reputation of the route, I remember staring at it and thinking "WOW, that thing looks killer!" And I still think the same thing every time I drive through the lower Merced. It begs to be climbed. I believe the technical term is a "striking formation". In the intervening years I've heard many friends call it "the perfect route" and "best free climb in the country" among other superlatives.
So I get the idea that I NEED to do the Rostrum this year. No more putting it off, no "saving it for the onsight", no "I need a week in the valley beforehand to get ready". You wait and wait and come up with excuses and the next thing you know you're staring down the barrel of age and can see the window of opportunity inching shut. And true to my usual Valley form, I have climbed exactly no cracks since Memorial Day weekend, in fact haven't been on a rope since then. Call it the curse of the SoCal climber...too hot for the good crack areas in summer...sure I've done summers in Josh mini traxing favorite lines in the shade early morning or late afternoon, but it's not pleasant and I'm working in Riverside so it's not even feasible. Training on plastic has me bouldering about as well as I ever have, but the Rostrum ain't plastic, nor is it a boulder problem for most. So while I'm plenty strong enough, I am not tuned into efficient crack work and I don't have time to hang around for a week to get dialed. Off-the-couch it will be.
My intended partner has work obligations he can't shake, so blind-date trolling on the internet ensues. How hard should this be? It's "the best route in the valley", right? I post on some websites and start working the phone. "I'd love to, but I'm waaay outta shape." "Injured." "Dude, I been freakin' HIKING all summer, I can barely get up a single pitch of 5.10." And then some interest.
Luke is shaking off an injury but may be game. Having done the route before, and parts of it twice, he's exactly what I'm looking for. All he asks is if I'm willing/able to lead the 5.11 pitches. "Might not onsight them all, but I'll take them" I tell him. He goes to the gym to assess the injury and declares that he can handle a little rock climbing.
Saturday morning, 7:00am we meet in the pullout to get this blind date rolling. We want to be the first party on the route, figuring on big crowds on this gorgeous late summmer weekend. After wandering down a well worn climber's trail, we stash the pack with big cams and food/water on the midway ledge and reach the first of 3 or 4 raps to the base (if you have a 70m, the first two go as one).
Luke starts up the first pitch, liebacking and cruising right along until he disappears out of sight into the chimney. The plan is, if he's feeling good he'll link the next pitch via the 10- R wide-flake bit, if not he'll stop and belay. He reappears, grabs the flake and starts frankenstein style liebacking up the R section. Soon enough he is placing gear and cruising to the belay with more liebacking. On one of his prior trips, Luke's partner had taken a big whipper after the R section narrowly avoiding hitting the ledge, so it must have been an exciting way to start the day for Luke with that image in mind. Following I was grateful for the mild intro/warmup on the first pitch, and concur with the Mtn Proj description that the exit from the chimney is pretty wild. It tapers shut at the top, forcing you to the outside where you blindly grope around for something to pull yourself out. And while the R section of the liebacking was fairly secure, the section above after you get gear is slightly weird and harder. I ended up liebacking most of it rather than deal with a funky size in a flare that would be awkward to climb straight-on.
Looking up the next pitch, I couldn't help but smile. After a little mini-roof right off the belay that was probably the crux of the pitch, a long tight-hands corner is followed by another little mini roof and a long section of hands and wide hands, to a final section of steep jugs ending on the midway ledge. This is one of the best pitches of 5.10 I've ever climbed. It felt like something that belongs in the Needles, just a loooooong amazing crack pitch that would be Five-Star mega classic if it were at a crag somewhere. Despite being long, the size is varied enough that a double set is plenty of gear.
Starting up the crux fingercrack, I placed a piece, downclimbed and got ready.
Tips opened to actual fingerlocks, and as I placed the second piece the feet got essentially non-existent. Yarding on the good lock, I stabbed into another and things began to rapidly go downhill. Missing the best lock, I placed another piece off a thin tips lock as my stemmed-out left leg began to vibrate off the ripple I was smearing...the piece, a yellow master cam, was slightly smaller on the largest end of its range compared to a yellow alien I thought I'd grabbed and I was NOT HAPPY! While in reality the cam would have almost surely held a fall, it was more tipped than I liked and just then my feet started skating. Things get a little hazy here but "take" was called. I then found a better lock, reached the funky hand jam at the end, feet still skating around, and then was able to recompose a bit on a good foothold before the lieback. Looking up, I placed the last of my finger sized gear, climbed up a move or two into the lieback and back down to the good foot, "take" again, reached down and backcleaned a finger-sized piece below me I thought I'd need, then punched through the liebacking to the ledge and optional anchor. I was not dialed and not climbing well, very stiff and hesitant, but with my laundry list of ready-made excuses...onsighting, off-the-couch, old, sleep-deprived, low-T, no sack, locusts! Plague!!....I didn't really care too much, just gives me an excuse to come back.
The rest of the pitch would be cruiser from here, except for one thing...I was wickedly pumped. It took me a very long time to lead the last 40' or so of 5.9 to the anchor as I waited for recovery that didn't seem to be coming. Luke methodically cruised it, climbing with a pack on in an impressive display, and began racking up for the next.
This next pitch is the gorgeous dihedral to roof that you've all probably seen pictures of. Luke quickly climbed to just below the roof commenting that it was a little pumpy with some steepish wide hands. Now I'd heard stories from multiple friends that this is the sleeper hard pitch on the climb, with the roof at the very end being pretty stiff for 10d. After placing a couple pieces, Luke pulled into a lieback at the roof, got about halfway around it and started shopping for a good hold/lock. I think a "watch me" came out right about here and like flipping a switch you could see the decisiveness take hold. He pasted a foot high and wide and then bang-bang-bang made a couple rapid fire lieback moves to the finishing jug. I was able to conserve energy pretty well on the lower portion, and with the benefit of a TR and knowing there was at least one good lock lurking above the roof, moved on through.
Ahh, now the OW. But first...what's this? The 10c traverse to get to the wide is FUNKY. There are plenty of holds...but they all face the wrong way, you need to stem pretty wide and there appear to be about 4 or 5 options of sequences, all chalked. I try the high version, downclimb, try the middle version, downclimb, try the low version, downclimb, go back to the low version and finally just suck it up and make it happen.
Having done plenty of wide crack climbing (though none recently), I still had a total sh#t-show leading this pitch. The first half went easily enough since you're sort of stemming with one leg and there are lots of helper holds.
But once you lose the stem it becomes pushing a purple camalot and knee locks with either stacking or arm-barring. The geometry of this pitch is a little awkward since it's sort of a wide flare and I was not having success getting into good stacks because I couldn't rotate my shoulders/torso enough. So I resorted to armbarring and knee locking and about halfway up just got too gassed from the arm bar. "Take" again. Even after saying beforehand that I'd probably clip the piece to a sling directly to my harness to avoid dealing with pushing the rope and having two stands of rope in the way of my knee, I didn't. I clipped the rope to the cam and pushed...big mistake, and the I knew it was mistake when I did it. After the hang I groveled the rest of the way up, switching sides-in a couple of times and generally making the section feel way harder than 10a. Reaching the belay my mouth felt like sandpaper.
At this point, I need to give props to the YOSAR fella behind us. This cat was rope-soloing the route with a silent partner, and when he first showed up I thought "well that sucks for the rest of the people behind him", but he was cruising. We let him pass while I was just finishing this pitch and it was pretty impressive to watch him link the wide with the next 11b pitch then do a hanging jug WAAAYY out there.
In another impressive display, Luke stacked his way up this pitch, WEARING A PACK, in short order. He was cruising, so I asked him if he wanted the next pitch. He declined, so I started racking. "Tight hands right?" I asked. "Not really, mostly blue camalots". While I rarely tape, and didn't for this route, I paid the price for sure. If I'd known how much wide-hands were on it I'd have taped and definitely will in the future.
As an aside: The fourth co-worker today who asked "what happened to your hands", when I told him I'd been climbing in Yosemite, his reply was "so that happened because you're not very good or what?". It was all I could do to restrain the "f*#k you, fatboy" that was on the tip of my tongue.
So back to our story. The bottom of this 11b pitch goes pretty easily via chimneying and stemming and then some steep wide hands to the bottom of the fin. More steep wide hands lead to a thank-god stem rest and a slight bulge where it tapers to tight hands and then the crack essentially closes off. A single fingerlock and face hold allow a long reach to the finishing jug.
Everything goes ok, I climb fast in the steep sections and find a no-hands
thigh-bar/lock thing partway up. I make the thank-god stem in pretty good shape...pumped, but not badly. Getting into the final fingerlock it's actually better than I expect, but the reach to the jug is also longer. I'm looking up and see what look like three different holds, the actual finishing jug (didn't know this at the time) and two other things that look like edges from below. So I load up, foot high, crank and slap for the closer one on the right...and IT'S NOT A HOLD! At all! Not even a ripple, just sloping texture. "WARNING! WARNING! EJECTION IN 3,2,1..."As I'm sliding off it my fingerlock, now at about my stomach, is also sliding straight outward. "Take!" I yell, which should have been "falling", because I was. Luke reacted quickly and my "fall" was all of about two feet. A quick shake and I slap to the correct hold and reach the anchor.
Luke makes me feel a little better by at least making the exit-sequence I'd just fallen off look non-trivial while following it. People say this pitch is soft for 11b, and it is, but it felt hard enough at the time!
The final pitch is Luke's lead and I'm laughing at him as he does the super scrunched-up traverse out right. After looking around a bit, deciphering the entrance move, his feet disappear over the lip and he's in the wide. Now at this point, there is a party who were on Blind Faith that were just below us. Christina and David IIRC. She is leading the 11b pitch we just finished and although I can't see her yet, I've heard her take one fall somewhere lower on the pitch. Soon I hear her right below me at the final sequence where I'd just fallen. I see the hand come over and latch the finishing jug..."Nice job!" I say, and as her head peaks above the edge her eyes are about as big as saucers..."Can you help me?"..."Whuh?" "I'm scared". So I lean out, lock off Luke with one hand and offer her my other hand. Yard her into the alcove and she points to her tape glove that had disintegrated and was hanging halfway off. She was about to take the big ripper because this flapping tape glove meant she couldn't jam but was still on enough that she couldn't shake the tape off.
I got my payback for laughing at Luke as I crabbed across the traverse, repeadly hitting the pack and my helmet on the roof and almost knocking myself off. The entrance into the wide is slightly baffling. You look around a bit, and finally just settle on a lieback and high-step. Once in it, it is quite moderate/secure and has plentiful face holds on the upper half.
We topped out around 3:00 to sunny and 70s bluebird weather. Stoked!
A nice end to a fantastic crack climb. Many thanks to Luke, a great partner who climbed the route in perfect style, no hangs no falls. And while I knew I'd be sore, I had no idea it would be like this...my upper body is in good shape, but my quads and calves are completely ruined.
Best route ever? Only one way to find out...go get some!
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