Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Astroman Dreamin

For the last several months I have been obsessing over Astroman. So hard, I could not go a day without talking to someone about it. I tried to put extra hours in training, eat fewer burritos and thought about the logistics a little too much. The plan was to train hard and attempt it in the late September. Fortunately, my mind did not let me. I could not stop thinking about the damn thing. It seemed like the perfect challenge that haunted me since December 8th 2012. According to mountainproject that was the day my friend Tom dragged me up the Enduro Corner. Back than it seemed like an impossible pitch. Watching him go for it and send it was one of the most incredible things I have witnessed. 5.11c crack, I was stunned. When it was my turn to follow, I had trouble getting to the rest stance third of the way up. From there I hung every five feet or so. That pitch is just one of the many cruxes that make up Astroman. I thought it will be beyond my reach for eternity – a dream. It was for people like Tom, crushers that been climbing for years. I thought if I get stronger, someone could drag me up it one day, if I am lucky. Maybe. Maybe not.
Washington Column. Overhanging Enduro corner and the line of ascent is just right of center
Me leading the Enduro Corner
Cristiano on the pitch prior to Enduro Corner
Time trickled by. Days spent cragging at the Cookie Cliff gave birth to improved crack climbing skills and decreased fear of falling. Climbing big walls made me realize that if I am unable to do a crux, in the worst case I can French-free it. That led to an attempt of The Rostrum. Hamik and I climbed it in October 2013. I surprised myself and had only two hangs. In January 2014, I came back with Gleb and did it clean, without falls, leading my first 5.11c in the process. Maybe it is a soft 11c, but whatever, no one gave me extra credit for sand-bags I ticked.
Cristiano following the 5th pitch
Cristiano on top of the Enduro Corner. An awesome ledge.
My friend Shane soloing Ten Days After (V 5.8 A2+)
Cristiano leading the 6th pitch

Astroman seemed like a big step up. Compared to the Rostrum’s eight pitches, Astroman has twelve. Rostrum involves no commitment, it can be rapelled from any point. After the first seven pitches one would have to leave gear if they decided to bail from Astroman. The difficulties are more sustained and as a nice kick in the balls the last pitch is a “5.10d R.” Since routes on Middle Cathedral, Arch Rock and The Rostrum were closed for peregrine nesting, Gleb and I decided to get our feet wet and try the bottom half in the late winter. “Astro-boy” worked the hell out of us. We hung more than I would want to admit. On that day my muscles cramped by pitch five. Getting my ass kicked was a great motivation to get in a better shape and work harder. In addition to training, I took two week-long trips to Red Rocks which helped my confidence and fitness. Before attempting Astroman I wanted to believe I could lead the last pitch (5.10d/b R). For me, it was probably the most intimidating pitch of the route. I knew by the time I am there I would be tired, and would not be able to pull through the crux, since it is about 20feet above your pro. Many of my stronger partners told me it is scary and not at all trivial. Some even slipped or fell following it. I was told many teams hike to the top to top rope it, hang a fixed rope with loops they can clip for pro while leading, or ask the stronger team ahead to fix their tag line. Part of me thought it was a good idea. But I knew it would not be the same perfect challenge and experience would be changed if I took the required fear out of it. When Cristiano and I decided to attempt the route, both of us were nervous about this pitch and decided to rock, paper, scissors for it when we get there. Neither of us wanted to endure a sleep-less night, even though both of us did anyway.
Cristiano on the Harding Slot
Shane having a good day
Guy named Chase climbing up the 6th pitch while Cris is leading the Harding slot

Cris leading the 7th

Aside from length of the experience and the crowds, anticipation before attempting the Astroman to the top reminded me of losing virginity. You are way too nervous prior and feel like a changed person when you are done. We started the hike early enough to be the first in line. I linked the first two pitches, a 5.8 and a 5.10 lay-back. Since it was our first trip up the route we decided to skip the “boulder problem” and Cristiano led the 5.10 variation that seems like a natural way to approach the Enduro Corner. This pitch was my lead, and I was not psyched about it being all in the sun. I was able to surprise myself and lead it without hangs or falls! I led the following 5.9 pitch and Cristiano took the block of next three pitches (5.10, the mega classic Harding Slot 11c and another 5.10). First up was an awesome hand crack with a crux getting into the wide pod. Cool stemming and crack climbing took us below the Harding slot – an overhanging squeeze chimney with a difficult entrance. Cristiano had some trouble getting into it but made relatively fast progress moving up to the belay. On the other hand, I almost got the entrance clean, but hung on the rope once after messing up my footwork after I got to the “jugs.” I got back to the stance and climbed the entrance clean without much trouble. However, moving up through the slot seemed like a Chinese torture. In comparison, the Narrows (Steck Salathe) feel like a stemming corner. By the time I was mid way up the monster the team behind us caught up and was enjoying a good day on their belay ledge. Every time they laughed I wanted to cut someone’s throat. Moving 0.05 inchest per 500 calories worth of effort was a frustrating. 

Yay, we got a smile!
Incredible views
Marc and Brett, two crushers from Canada. Loking down at brad while she onsights the harding slot
Cris following the changing corners pitch
After what seemed like an eternity I got to the belay ledge. Cristiano led the following 5.10 pitch, which seemed fairly hard. I had terrible cramps in my fingers and forearms while following it. The little coward in me thought of giving up the “Changing Corners” (5.11b) pitch. Glad I did not. It turned out to be one of the best pitches on the route and despite intermittent cramping I was lucky to lead it clean. Part way up there is a spot when climbing in the corner gets too difficult to continue. I tried to figure out the move, but than realized I step over the arĂȘte onto crimpy face instead. Incredible edging led up to another finger crack in the corner. At times I get blown away by the pitches nature (or pin scars) creates. Cristiano led the next 5.10 pitch and a short 5.8 traverse to a big ledge at the base of the final obstacle. Since it was technically my turn to lead I didn’t let myself think much and racked up. 

Marc pulling hard on Changing Corners
Cris stopped to pose while leading the short traverse (pitch 11)
Looking down at another perfect crack (Pitch 10)
Bratt crushing pitch 10
The 10d R climbing wasn’t too scary but at one point your upper piece of protection is a head. If you fall, and it blows, you will land on the ledge. I heard people use the piton as a nice foothold, but avoided the temptation. I was able to find adequate protection in a crack to the left. Yellow and Orange metolious cams seemed solid. I got to the big dagger and was able to get a few cams in it also. People advertise it as an expando flake, but it seemed like one of those cams would hold a fall. In any case when I attempted the next set of runout moves I got to a good crimp but my hand started to cramp. I shook it off but wasted too much energy to feel solid for the 10b crux 20ft up from my pro. Carefully I down-climbed back to the stance below my pro and ask Cristiano for a take. I wanted to massage the cramping out and since I hung on the Harding Slot I did not feel too bad about it. On the next attempt I was able to commit and do the moves to a roof where I placed some Thank God pro. I took a step left and climbed straight over the roof. Another 40 feet and I tied the large Pine tree from which we unroped and scrambled to the summit. 

Awesome ledge before the last pitch of the climb
Me starting up the 5.10d R pitch
"We feel on top of the world" pose
"We are super serious" pose
We laughed, enjoyed the warm rays of sun and took in the breath taking views from the top. It honestly felt like a special moment. Team that climbed behind us joined us for glory shots and the descent. This was my favorite free climb of my life, and one of my favorite days on the rock. Greatest thing about it was that I worked my ass off, kicked ass, got my ass kicked, overcame my fear and received a lot more motivation to come back stronger. Even though I can’t claim a true send  of the Astroman, I feel like I send the fight against my fears and insecurities, which is probably more important than a “RP” tick for the record. The ascent was not ideal. While both of us did the route clean, neither of us did it all without hangs. Personally, I had two. There are harder variations that we skipped, like the boulder problem on pitch three. All these things will motivate me to eat less burritos, make fewer trips to Yogurtland, skip a few more birthday parties, do less spraying on the internet and as a substitute do more training before I come back for another round. 
View of Half Dome from the top
North Dome. Next time we are linking Astroman to Crest Jewel.....not!
We took a lot of silly shots!!
PS: Totally joking about less spraying and fewer trips to Yogurtland! : )



  1. Pretty lame. Can't believe you hung, wonderboy. I heard you're gonna go aid climbing again this weekend because Astroman is too hard? =)

  2. Can't wait for the Astroman-Crest Jewel link-up! ;) Great job, Almostman! See you at Yogurtland!