Monday, May 25, 2009

Rocking to the Classics

I feel really lucky in that I haven't been climbing for too long, and so there're are still a TON of mega-classic climbs out there for me to try. One of the most "classic" routes of all time is Astroman, here in Yosemite valley. When it was first free climbed, it sort of revolutionized the way climbers thought of "Big Wall" climbs, and the goal shifted from simply getting up the walls, to doing them in the best style possible.

On Saturday, my friend Brad and I got our chance to test our skills on this masterpiece of a climb, and it didn't dissapoint. The rock is the gorgeous white and orange granite that makes Yosemite what it is, and it's split by some of the cleanest cracks in the valley. Pitch after pitch deliver steep, exposed, physical climbing.

We had a great experience on it. We decided to go light, which was pretty essential to making the climbing enjoyable, but led to a long, hungry, thirsty descent in my climbing shoes. The frist standout pitch was the Enduro corner, which Brad led. It's a perfect thin-hands corner that starts out overhanging, and once the angle eases back, the crack gets thinner and harder. The Harding Slot, my lead, was the definite crux of the day. You start up climbing this steep thin-hands corner, with a massive roof looming above you. The slot itself splits the roof, just waiting to devour you and then spit you back out. The moves to get to the bottom of the slot aren't too bad, but then the thrutching begins as you have to find a way to wedge your body into the flared fissure. Once you're in, though, it doesn't get any easier, as the slot greadually narrows down. About halfway through (its about 30' long) I go to the point where I could barely turn my head, and I couldn't fully catch my breath since my chest was so constricted. This pitch is the stuff of nightmares, and I left behing my mark in the form of blood, sweat, and skin. We unfortunately didn't take a camera, but here's a picture I found online to give you an idea of the horror.

After the awful slot, and vowing to myself that I'd never do that again, we had four more super fun pitches above, and I got to lead the "changing corners" (11b), which was awesome, and the last pitch (10d R), which was exciting!




Surveying the damage two days after Astroman and the burly Harding Slot

Like I said, the descent, the dreaded North Dome gully, was not too enjoyable, and Brad tried to get us killed by leading us down some steep, dirty, loose ledges. We got back on track, though, and the only problem the rest of the way was the million and a half tiny rocks stuck in my climbing slippers.


So, after a two easy days of rest and cragging, I decided to try out another Yosemite classic: the DNB (the Direct North Buttress) on Middle Cathedral. Middle Cathedral is a HUGE rock, close to 2000' tall, but it is dwarfed by it's neighbor across the valley, El Cap. The DNB is a notoriusly tricky route, often giving expereinced and strong parties a run for their money, and benighting more than a few. Here's an enticing description copied from Mountainproject.com:

"The crux 5.10b pitch, which is quite difficult, is one of the easiest pitches on the route. It has a runout section, but it doesn't take long to lead and it is easy to get past the mantle on aid. As for the rest, You can count the fixed pro on one hand. The belays are marginal. Every pitch is runout, some grossly. Route finding is difficult on a number of pitches and especially the start of the descent. There are offwidths or squeeze chimneys on the 1st, 10th, 11th, and 14th thru 17th pitches. The 17th pitch is the crux, then either the devious 12th pitch or super sandbag 10th pitch."

Sounds like a great day! We tried to start early, but I love sleep, so we probably got on the rock around 9 or 10am. The first few pitches went well, including the 5.10 R crux, but then we found ourselves horribly and intractably off-route. Our topo wasn't much help, with only a few spare lines to describe each pitch, which is pretty hard to match up to the reality of a giant, heavily-featured granite face. We knew we were off the line when I was leading and had to start aiding up a desperatly thin seam, digging out dirt and lichen so that I could fit in RPs and TCUs. Still, the face was fairly low angle, so we carried on upwards, hoping to merge with something recognizable higher up. Somewhere around our tenth pitch (I stopped counting after 2) we spotted the actual route, and were able to do a pendulum over to it. Our luck in finding it, though, was cancelled out by the sudden turn in the weather, which turned from a typically gorgeous California day to a threatening mass of grey and black clouds. It rained lightly on and off for the next few hours, but thankfully the rock didn't become too wet to climb. We knew we were near the end, so I ran a few rope-stretching pitches up the long chimney system.

The problem is, though, that the route doesn't quite end on top, but rather at a complex ledge system called the "Kat walk". Since it was wet and very exposed, we stayed roped up on this section. Three or four traversing pitches finally led us to easy walking terrain, and the weather mirrored our good mood by clearing up and provided a spectacular sunset. A bit more walking took us to an unexpectedly steep gully (we didn't read the guide very well), but a quick call to my friend Scott (who had done this descent before) explained that there were a few bolted rappel stations. All told, we didn't get back to the car until 9:30, making it a 12+ hour trip, and I was fully exhausted.

The last four days have been great: two Yosemite classics, two gnarly descents, and tons of amazing climbing! As I mentioned, my friend Scott (from Canon City) just arrived in the Valley, so we'll be getting ready for our big goal: the Nose in a day!

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