Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Rostrum, 5.11c

We knocked off three big routes in a row this weekend. We started with The Prow on Washington's Column, an 11-pitch aid route just to the right of the actual prow of the rock. With Alex's commitment to speed climbing, we made some dicey hook moves in old pin scars resulting in a number of three-foot falls.

Alex took a big whipper while shuffling blue and purple TCU's, each on an aider, up a micro crack. He had just taken out the blue to move it up when his purple failed. A yellow TCU caught his fall. The continuous aid isn't really our thing. We did the route mostly as training for the upper half of The Nose. But the line is pretty stunning. We finished in eight hours.

On Saturday, we slept in a little and went to the Rostrum to climb the eight-pitch North Face. It has some of the most amazing cracks in the Valley and is of the same grade as (but easier than) Astroman. Seven hard pitches, including three 5.11's, lead to a roof where the 12b "Alien" or a 5.9 off-width leads to the summit.

I followed the crux 11c finger crack without falling but failed miserably when seconding the awful 10a off-width higher up. The highlight of the climb was the overhanging 11b hands pitch near the top, which I led. The most excitement came lower, on the 10d fifth pitch. I was still hoping for an onsight of the route when I started into this pitch but was feeling drained as I moved into a lie-back around a roof near the top. My last piece was a long sling through an old piton ten feet below me and I went for a small cam while I was in the crux of the 10d. My fingers, wedged in the crack under the roof, entered another world of pain. My arms were fully extended and my head made big, full rotations under the roof to look for smear placements for my left and right foot below.

Seeing me struggle for protection, Alex shouted up, "Just go for it!" The fall would be clean, so I closed my eyes, forced in a breath, and went for the anchor, about seven moves up. By move three, I was belching out roars of exhaustion. On move four, I almost wrenched my shoulder out of socket. Then it eased up and I managed to throw my left foot onto the belay ledge and roll onto it, about 20 feet above the piton.

On Sunday, we climbed Steck-Salathe on Sentinel Dome, the long, wide-crack Valley standard. The mental crux, if not the hardest, is called "the Narrows," which involves going into a cave, working yourself into a 5.9 squeeze chimney and squirming for fifty feet. There's no way to cheat up it and very little you can do if granite walls 15 inches apart gives you claustrophobia. For Alex to lead it, we stripped him down to nothing but a harness, a #4 cam, and a couple carabiners for the anchor.

We went off route on pitch 12 but got summit fever and decided to just climb for the top. We joined the Chouinard-Herbert for the final pitches to the top.

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