Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Astroman, 5.11c

Astroman was the highlight of our three day trip to Yosemite. Supposedly no one climbs it in winter because it's wet - the heinous "chicken wing dyno" into the Harding slot is reportedly impossible and the 10d R slab on the last pitch runs with water - but we eyeballed it from the approach and thought it looked okay.

In exchange for Alex leading the potentially wet pitches, I got the lead on the 11c enduro corner, a 50 degree open book with awkward lie backing or the most strenuous thin hand jamming of your life. For extra security on lead, I opted for jamming, but my wrist and lower hand muscles are still attempting to reconnect.

Alex avoided the chicken wing into the slot with some of the most impressive climbing I've ever seen, not because it was wet but because he's Alex. I pulled on the rope to get through that squeeze to, uh, save time. . . The pitch above that started off with a long, steep hand crack up around a lip. I jammed up and around the lip only to find that there was another 100 feet of 10c hand jamming in a similar sized hand crack. Standing on the lip, I looked back and forth between my last number 2 Camalot, about 12 feet below me, and a bolt on the face about 20 feet above me.

Down climbing would have been hard. I cussed out Alex, he cussed me out, and I went for it. In a cold sweat I thrashed my way up to the bolt in a matter of seconds and clipped it with some more yelling. I set off again, not knowing where I would protect, but without a stance to ponder it. I was even further run out that time when I finally found a hairline crack outside the main crack. I threw out my left leg to catch a small foothold by it and got a big spread eagle stance from which to clip.

With legs agape and rope swaying in the breeze, I stuffed three micro nuts in the 20-inch-long crack. I told myself that one of them would hold if I fell and launched back into the climb, hoping for relief. From there, the crack slipped back behind a big, detached, thin flake that made for exposed but easy lie backing. In one crashing wave, the stress transformed into excitement and I howled out across the east face as I rambled up the last 40 feet to the anchor.

I started to fade into delirium by the end of the climb, but Alex continued strong with his onsight. The last pitch was wet but lots of old copperheads made for decent protection and he timidly put the moves together to the top.

We did another route called Free Blast, the first ten pitches of the Salathe on El Capitan. It wasn't as fun as its fame suggests but we had some excitement on the final pitches. Alex had made a mess of chicken scratches for a topo and it looked like the last four pitches were 5.9 or under, so we decided to simul-climb. I was runout and Alex was below me being anything but cautious when I found myself slipping out of a wet bulge below a chimney. I yelled "Falling" but managed to lock some knuckles into a pin scar as my feet slid loose. Alex down climbed to put my fall factor somewhere back on the charts and I pulled it back together. Later, we looked in the book and found that Alex had failed to notice the 10b section.

The last day in the Valley we did another one of the easy aid lines up Washington Column, called Skull Queen. Nothing crazy. One good pendulum on lead for an emergency bathroom break, but nothing else.

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