Trip ReportValley generations unite on Astroman
Here we go again,
Back in the valley once again, but this time under a completely new context, and along with that a completely new goal. To climb Astroman. To preface this trip report I will give a little background on how the partnership that brought me back to the sacred valley began.
After working in the valley (2013) and climbing my first couple walls with Mickey (whitemeat) I returned to my homeland of New York City to resume my schooling. After a few months of penetrating the daily grind, I met a peculiar character at a gear swap the climbing gym I work at put on. He was interested in an old german spring plate I had scavenged at the base of el cap and we discovered that we had the mutual experience of having worked for the dreaded Delaware North Company, though, about a decade apart. If there is anything that can bring two people together, its having worked in yosemite national park for a season (or 6). We began climbing and surfing together and so began a solid friendship, founded on the grounds of the mutual experience of yosemite climbing. It became that time of year and we talked about climbing in yosemite together, though, this time was different. Living in NYC most of the climbing you get to do is in a gym, which results in being pretty fit, though, the crack technique and mental strength wanes. Dirk proposed an ascent of Astroman, a route I have respected since I started trad climbing when I was 15. We were not going to yosemite to aid climb this time. No, we were going to use our hands and feet and bridge a generation of yosemite kids by climbing the raddest route I could mentally comprehend. Tickets purchased, haulbags packed, here we go.
We arrived in the valley beginning our 10 day trip and did what you do when you first get into the valley, climb serenity sons. This was really this first time I had ever climbed with dirk. I was observant of how he was climbing and placing gear like any new partner would, and after a few hours we were rapping down the wall in the golden sunlight. We both needed a refresher on valley crack technique so we did a few days at cookie cliff and played around on el cap doin a dolt run. After a rest day we arrived at the Astroday.
Woke up at 6am, got coffee from the lodge (thanks to the cashier who HOOKED it up day after day). Shuttled it to backpackers camp and hiked to the base of the route.
What we took up the route (bd and alien sizes)
Singles from black Alien to #4
doubles from green alien to #3 + 1 #3.5
triples from .75 to #2
1 blue/ black + 1 green/blue hybrid aliens
set of offset nuts
set of offset rp's
4 shoulder runners
60m tagline w/stuffbag
5 liters water
Dirk lead up the blocky wet approach pitch and linked into the 10c lb to the base of the boulder problem pitch (the 5.10 var on right side). long pitch but I think this is they way to do it if you plan on doing the 5.10 variation.
The boulder problem pitch was protectable with a few rp's and blue and black alien, though, I still would not want to fall. Good pro after a few face moves brings you to the base of the enduro corner.
We brought a small metolius haul bag and used the tagline to haul it, PRICELESS. There were many pitches on this route I would not have been able to do with a backpack on. Also, it allowed us to bring extra big gear and layers for up top when you go in the shade.
Dirk had the enduro corner, I put up a fight but he had some unfinished business with it from his previous attempt some 4 or 5 years prior. When following this pitch it was a serious reminder that I had not been climbing in the valley for the previous couple months. Valley climbing is so specific, and being fit does not always do the job. Battling up to the stem rest was long and pleasantly brutal. After the stem rest I began liebacking with intermittent okay stems. I got pumped and fell. After a few more moves we were both standing at the base of the only easy pitch on the route.
An observation I knew but always ignore is that on any route in yosemite, irregardless of the grade, a 100+ foot pitch is alot of climbing and is not what i consider a "rest". With a route that was such a giant to me, climbing with someone I trusted and could share the burden with was absolutely paramount. We both knew it would be hard, but all you had to do was handle your pitches, and send good vibes when you are belaying.
Pretty cruiser. It was really nice to have extra hand size pieces as to not have to walk them up the crack. Establishing that rhythm I hadn't felt in years really reeled me back in, I knew how to climb, I just needed to relax and attempt to enjoy it. 5.8 as stated.
This pitch looks ferocious from the ground. I have always been wary of wide/flare climbing because of my lack of experience with it. Luckily its something Dirk actually enjoys so made for a good partnership. Dirk would handle the wide stuff and I would handle the technical faces/corners, I also agreed to "take care" of the last pitch. This ended up being one of my favorite pitches actually, Starts off with some well protected flair chimney moves into some cool flake liebacking and of course, some hand cracks to romp up at the end. Dirk made quick work of it and got us to the base of the harding slot at around 1pm.
Dirk had agreed to take the slot back to back if I took the next two pitches. Part of me wanted to be a hero, but the part of me that knew I had NO idea how to slot climb was bigger. We stuck to our personal strengths for the sake of the climb. Dirk set off up the staircase flake with some hand and tight hand size pieces. I knew that he had struggled on the slot before and could tell he was going into "survival mode". This is one of those moments where as a partner you are equally responsible for fostering a positive vibration. The slot looks like a giant vagina thats going to eat you and if you are having good feeling about that you have some problems. Dirk placed a high piece in the crack in the back of the slot and after some subtile motivation from me he did something I cant explain. Jamming the back of the slot with his left side and doing this weird bridging technique with his foot and knee on his right side he entered the slot pretty quickly. I was taking notes as I had NO idea what I was going to do. 15 mins later after some wiggling and shameless pauses, he escaped the slot. I could FEEL the psyche, this pitch was a little bit of a benchmark for him and it was SUPER rad to see him do what he does. I set the bag up to haul (thank god) and climbed up into the slot. The climbing up to the slot was not too bad if you use your feet, a good stance places you at the base of the slot. Surprised at how calm I was I barreled into it. Dirks motivational speaking was reverberating down the slot to me and after a few moves I got the jug, but then proceeded to slip out. Cant explain that one. Got back in it and BATTLED. The entry moves seem like that could be easily dialed, but the last 8 feet of the slot really got to me. It was soo tight that I actually bruised my breast bone from a necklace I had on. Regardless, I surfaced and without words, smoked a consolation cigarette and entered "survival mode". I knew that the next two pitches were doing to be a battle and I would have to summon some kind of toughness that I hadn't yet acquired. This marked the point of no return, It was about 3 pm and the shade was setting in, after a bar I racked up and went up.
When dirk was in the harding slot the set of rp's unclipped off his harness, I watched them fall in horror as I had all the pitches that required them. I refrained from telling him until he began searching for them on his harness. This certainly made me a little nervous about the changing corners pitch and the last pitch.
After entering "survival mode" I took on something of a new persona. I have this thing I do when I feel like I am getting in over my head, which is basically to pretend I am someone I am not. I tuned in to some Journey greatest hits and embodied the state of the trad climber, that climbs Astroman for breakfast. This pitch was a little balancy off the belay but lead to a cool lieback move with good pro (11a seems accurate), and some rad liebacking to a MEGA ledge. This was pleasantly casual. Making the ledge felt good, allowing me to prepare for the changing corners. I switched out to some soft shell pants and put another layer on as we were now fully in the shade and my lycra tights weren't gonna cut it anymore.
Changing corners was all manageable, but I really started getting hit by the fatigue of having climbed up to it. The mantle move was the ONLY time I felt like being strong in the gym helped AT ALL. Astroman is a f*#king crack climb, I honestly think I did less than a dozen moves in 1200 feet on downward pulling face holds. The gear before entering the corner is good, luckily I had 2 of the gold #9 offset nuts on the set we still had so I had something to work with. After pulling around the corner on the face moves which were pretty fun, the fatigue really set in and I knew to finish the route I would have to climb strategically. I began taking every so often for a minute of rest then through the next section and so on. This dropped me at the base of the 5.9 flake. note= the changing corners pitch would be a CLASSIC if it were on the valley floor, its a shame I was in the state I was, really fun stemming with good rests and technical thin finger locks. This section was really fun, I took the 5.9 hands on the left and at the top of the crack I began traversing right to the roof and while stemming between the two cracks I had a foot slip and took a 30 footer. Completely surprised, I didn't really have any feelings about having fallen, I just got back on immediately and romped up to the ledge. Once I finished this pitch I was feeling pretty confident about the remainder of the route, I really had NO idea what I was getting into with the last pitch, and that was certainly a good thing.
This was the moment when I really knew I trusted dirk. As he got up to the belay he made a few comments about how the pitch had felt harder this time around (shameless consolation) and got right to heading up the next 170 foot pitch. Getting a beatdown and seeing your partner take the rack and push the rope higher is what a partnership is all about, a joint battle. Growing up in situations where I was usually the more experienced climber, this was a moment that I really cherished. We did not use each other as a crutch, but rather, coexisted in a force that was capable of doing a MEGA RAD route like Astroman. Few times in my life have I really felt the brotherhood of the rope with a partner, but this was it. This pitch would have been hard for me, the sizes were fist and off fist, so for dirk, hands an fist. Dirk made a comment about how psyched he was that we had brought the 3.5 and 4, this pitch would be scary without them.
This pitch is annoying but I still would have pitched it out like we did, linking around the corner would have been wayyy too much drag.
Here we are, the base of the 10dR pitch at the top of Astroman, soooooo f*#king close. I downplayed this pitch alot since I grew up in the Adirondacks doing lots of poorly protected routes, but it came to my attention afterwards that it had been 4 years since I was in that mode HAH! It was 7pm and I knew I was climbing in the dark so I took my time. The air did kind of thicken with (man I really hope he doesn't hand this off to me) vibes. I racked up and set off without a word. We later came to the best description of that moment as a vision quest. At night you really do feel alone, especially when you are clipping copper heads and pins hanging half out the wall. I SHAMELESSLY did this pitch in sections. As a former aid climber I was happy to have that mindset of comfort with bodyweight placement gear. I slowly climbed up and traversed over to the flake where I could get 2 pieces, one on each side, which I tied off with a runner. From here it was obvious there was no more gear, not to say that the flake would hold anyway. I sat there for a few minutes and waited until I felt relaxed. Liebacked up the flake and committed to a few faces moves up to a good crimp on another flake. Shitty feet and another shitty pinch out left, I just assumed there would be more holds above, so i got a high foot and reached up to feel nothing. Internally horrified I paused. I was 20 feet above sh#t gear and 40 feet above a pillar that I would hit when my gear ripped. I took a breath and moved my weight over to the slopey pinch and hand foot matched on the flake to do one of those palm your way up the wall and pray there isn't a gust of wind moves. I was way more committed than I had anticipated I would be, but the allure of finishing Astroman was too great to give up. I made a few more face moves to the roof and when I got that hand jam I knew it was done. WWWWWWWEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Dirk observed my screams as ones not of mortality but of success and reciprocated. Belayed dirk to the top.
We spent the better part of an hour on the top. I had never topped out the column and it was really something special. We sat and ate spicy thai tasty bites with nut tools and watched the stars. Those are the moments you remember. I knew that this would be a benchmark for me not just in climbing but in my chaotic life at the time. We did something I thought only badasses do. We climbed Astroman.
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