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Gear : 1 # 00 TCU 2 # 1 TCU < protects 1/2 inc> 2 # 1 size friends or equiv. < protects up to 3/4 inch> 1 # 1.5 size friend or equivalent 3 # 1 camelot 3 # 2 camelot 3 # 3 camelot 1 # 4 camelot * small wires,brass down to tiny * medium wires * 8 quick draws * 8 biners * 6 slings * 200 ft. rope allows you to link some pitches Notes : As of Sunday 28 Apr 96, Harding slot was wet right inside the crux 11B thin hands section but should be Ok in a week or 2. If you do the pitch above the harding slot, retreat becomes harder as there are not any good rap stations without leaving gear ( I would not trust the old bolts in place)
By Bill Wright
English Bob has made various trips to Yosemite Valley from his adopted home of Logan, Utah. He came to conquer the big walls and found them to be a bit more of a challenge than he expected. Being a superb climber, he didn't expected to have much trouble but found the commitment level intimidating. His first trips ended without a major wall victory but included ascents of numerous short classics including Separate Reality. On this trip he was determined to get up something substantial.
English Bob had now come out to Yosemite to do some of the super classics. He was without a steady partner of his own despite traveling with a bevy of bodacious beauties (four to be exact), all of which climbed 5.12. Hence, he gave me a ring and I agreed to meet him for three days of climbing. Heck, this way I could get my sorry ass dragged up some of the stiffer routes. English Bob himself has gunned down 5.12, so I definitely felt a bit out of place around such talent. The one area in which I had an advantage was experience. I had climbed more years and done more long routes (especially in Yosemite) than any of them...yet I was still by far the worst climber. My utter lack of ability or training was setting me apart from my peers once again.
Actually, the climbing babes were the reason I was in Yosemite climbing with Bob. No, it wasn't in pursuit of them (I'm married now), but it was because their trip was officially a "girl's climbing trip" and, surprisingly, Bob was the odd climber out. Hence, I rushed to the Valley to rescue him. I mean, if I wasn't there he might be forced to climb with the 5.12 babes instead of the 5.9 fat guy from San Jose. An easy choice to make and of course English Bob climbed with me.
The girls were named Kathy, Carol, Kim and Mary. Lots of hard "K" sounds in those names, and it was difficult to keep their names straight until they emerged as quite distinct personalities. Carol and Mary were the self-proclaimed "rad trad girls from Salt Lake" and were interested in doing big walls. Mary was the only blonde of the group (except for English Bob) and both her and Carol had long hair. Their first big wall in Yosemite was the Chounaird-Herbert route on Sentinel which they completed in a single day - doing the dangerous descent in the dark without headlamps! Wow! These are two tough ass climbers. Their next objective was the Prow.
Kathy was Bob's "sort of" girlfriend and the youngest, most inexperienced but fiercely driven climber in the group. She desperately wanted to compete with and be seen as an equal amongst her more accomplished companions. She had the not uncommon trouble of adapting to Yosemite climbing where the cracks are viciously continuous and the rock very smooth. She had her troubles on the lowly 5.10 climbs, and I felt close to her ability on cracks.
Kim was the most impressive physical specimen of the group. I didn't meet her until the second morning out there. She appeared smallish and wore a big sweatshirt to ward off the morning chill and tights on her legs. In this attire, the most distinctive feature about her, and the one I recognized immediately, was her hamstrings. While her legs were very trim, she had bulging hamstrings like I had never seen on a woman before. She was a former national caliber XC skier, and Bob had referred to her as a "cardiovascular monster!" She had a quiet confidence about her. Later that day while climbing at the Cookie I saw her in a tank top. With her short height and hair she looked a lot like Lynn Hill...only more muscular! Her upper body was amazing. The muscular development of her biceps, triceps, shoulders and back was extensive and ripped. When she reached up behind her head to stretch she looked like a body builder striking a pose. In such a position her small, round breasts looked more like pectoral muscles than fatty tissues. I am always amazed to see the awesome potential of the human body, and for a brief moment I thought I would start training and maybe even give up HoHos...nah. The day before I arrived in the Valley, Kim had flashed the DNB in a day with someone she just met in the campground the day before. That day at the Cookie Cliff she nearly flashed Butterballs (11c).
I arrived late on Thursday night having driven the four hours from
San Jose solo. I found Bob's site in Camp IV and threw down my
bag. Bob emerged from his tent and we made plans to get up at
4:30 the next morning. Our goal: ASTROMAN! I was very excited
and a bit frightened. I knew I would be leaning heavily on Bob to get us up this route, but it was still intimidating to me. I had my aiders and jumars packed since the 5.11 climbing on this route was way over my head. You might say I was going more for a tour of the route than an actual climbing ascent, but it was adventure and that's what I was after.
The next morning Bob seemed a bit indecisive, and I knew it was just pre-route jitters. I figured we should at least go up and have a look at it. Once up there, I knew he wouldn't be deterred. He did say something that inspired confidence in me. He mentioned that he wouldn't be too concerned about free climbing every pitch, and he just wanted to climb the route. I smiled. This was my attitude about climbing. I wanted to get up great routes in the best style possible, but if the style dipped, I didn't want to go down. I still wanted to top out. I guess I am an old fashioned climber, but summits still mean a lot to me.
We hiked up to the base of the wall and found a Japanese climber bivying at the base. He was planning on soloing the Prow over the next couple of days. We wished him good luck and moved further up to the base of our route. I knew the first two pitches were some of the few pitches I could lead, so I talked Bob into giving me these. I quickly dispensed with the unprotected and unaestetic 5.7 first pitch and Bob swarmed up behind. The next is a real arm blowing 5.10a layback with no place to comfortably place protection. I had led this pitch once before and so ran out sections of the layback to the infrequent rest spots to place pro. It still had me very near my limits. Bob followed the pitch wearing the pack and didn't have any trouble. Now it was his turn.
It seems everyone who climbs Astroman has a different pitch that they consider the crux. Probably the commonly quoted pitch is the Harding Slot pitch, but the third pitch of the route, the so-called "Boulder Pitch" receives a lot of votes. The pitch is 11c and a vicious overhanging struggle up pin scars for fifteen feet. Bob took one fall on it before realizing that this section would take quite a bit of working to figure out. He resorted to a couple aid moves and arrived at the belay less than forty feet above me. I followed in a similar manner while he hauled the pack.
The fourth pitch, the aptly named "Enduro Pitch", is the most photographed pitch of the route. This is a very long tight hand crack in a slightly overhanging corner. At 5.11c, it is also a candidate for the hardest pitch on the route. The Alien has experience with brutal cracks as he climbs frequently at Indian Creek in Utah, but Yosemite cracks take a bit of adjusting for even him. This pitch is so continuous that his arms gave out fifty feet out from the belay, and he hung. A bit further and he was due for another rest. Regrouping, he fired off the rest of the pitch to the 5.7 chimney finish and the belay ledge. It would have been insane for me to try and free this pitch with eight more pitches to go, so I jugged. Even this tired me out quite a bit as I wore the pack and the wall overhung. I struggled with my ill-adjusted jumars and vowed to fix them before I jugged another pitch.
The next pitch was mine, and it was a 5.9 crack up to a wide overhanging section. I backed off once here and then finally struggled up to a small ledge at the start of a flare. I should have led the next pitch, but it looked hard and by now we had spotted a couple climbers behind us. In an effort to keep things moving, Bob led off. This pitch took Bob quite awhile and while I was waiting Sergi, a Slovenian who was 20 years old and looked 15, joined me on the ledge. His English wasn't very good although much better than his French partner who couldn't really speak it at all.
The Frenchman, Bernard, was the prototypical mountain guide. A chiseled, honed body with large, strong hands. He had rugged good looks with a mop of curly locks and was always smiling. He claimed he wasn't a very good crack climber but was learning during his stay in the Valley. The neophyte flashed every pitch of Astroman with incredible ease. I learned later that he has apparently redpointed 5.14, so obviously this guy was a player. Certainly the best I have ever climbed with. Laughing and smiling all the way up, these two were quite a delight although they did have the European tendency to just invade your belay.
The seventh pitch on the route is the dreaded, infamous, hideously awful, improbable Harding Slot. Anyone who doubts Warren Harding's climbing ability and vision are welcome to climb this pitch and re-evaluate. From the belay, you look up at this thirty foot roof cleaved by a yawning squeeze chimney. Instead of turning the roof, you burrow right through it via this slot. This pitch is rated 5.11b due to the overhanging hand crack that leads into the maw, but the most dreaded section is the squeeze itself. "How hard is the squeeze?" I would ask people who had climbed through it. Their answer was always the same. That it couldn't be rated. It was just a bitch, and there is a section that will take you ten minutes to move six inches. I was so anxious to see what it was like.
Bob full on aided the severely overhanging crack into the gloom. He was aiding up into this big slot with no bottom. In freeing this pitch, you have to stay with the small crack in the back until the walls are close enough to permit chimney moves. From there, you are supposed to take an "S" path through the slot. It took quite awhile, but Bob eventually made the belay, and now it was my turn. Yikes! Getting into the slot was strenuous aid but straight forward. The initial chimney moves were tight and awkward, but I had climbed stuff like this before, and things were progressing nicely. You can't really protect the Harding Slot, but there are a couple of places you could place big cams. Unfortunately, this is hard to do because to fit through this slot, both the leader and the follower must remove any gear from around his shoulders and hang it on a sling beneath him. Otherwise you won't fit through.
I worked my way up to the very tightest section of the crack. Here you need to dive even deeper into the crack to fit through a section that is slightly wider than it is anywhere else. Unfortunately, it still wasn't wide enough for me. I was stuck! I pushed and scraped but couldn't move a millimeter. This isn't just a squeeze chimney; it is a vise that squeezes your chest tight with perfectly smooth walls. There isn't any play to move. How did Bob fit through? Sure, I was the biggest of our group of four but a pip-squeak compared to John Long. He supposedly fit through this thing. My problem was that the knot in my tie-in, being pulled up by Bob, rested against my chest and made me even thicker. I was jammed.
Bernard had been climbing up right after me on this pitch. I was amazed to see him hanging out on the overhanging jamming section as if he had a foothold to stand on and a jug to steady himself. His endurance was amazing. At one point I was going so slow that he did have to downclimb to a better rest, but it was an amazing performance on a pitch that pushes many great climbers to their limits. Anyway, now Bernard was right below me in the slot and starts pushing on my feet. Bob is above pulling on the rope for all he is worth, and I am trying to help but not contributing much. I felt like a cow being pushed and pulled to slaughter. It was comically ridiculous. After wasting too much time trying to stuff me through that hideous slot, we decided on a new strategy. Bob would lower me down a ways until the slot got wide enough for me to swing completely out of it. I was now hanging on a vertical wall with the outside of the slot as the only feature. It was about eight inches wide here and completely smooth. At least a 5.11 offwidth and not feasible. Bob lowered me down a loop of rope. In a series of short bursts, I batmanned and he pulled. Twenty tiring feet later, I was on the belay stance. Damn! I didn't even get to go through the slot. This was my biggest disappointment of the climb.
The eighth pitch is a full rope length and finishes on a great ledge. Most of the pitch is rated 5.10 (although it is supposedly quite hard 5.10) but has an 11b crux over a small roof. Bob freed most of the pitch and aided by the roof. He suggested that I jug the pitch and I did. I was thrilled at the big ledge. A simply incredible position. You could bivy on this ledge.
The next pitch is known as the "Changing Corners Pitch." The first crux on this pitch is a devious mantle next to a bolt. Bob and I aided this easily. The next hard section was changing corners and was quite tricky as you used tiny face holds out on the left face and hoped you didn't fall off because you would fall back into the other corner. Neither of us did, and we progressed to the final section of the pitch which was very thin, 5.11b liebacking. Bob aided some of this, and I did also. Bob led of course, but at least I didn't need to use the jumars on this pitch. In fact, I only jugged two pitches, the fourth and the eighth, but I certainly didn't free climb many of the other pitches. It was an "anything goes" style that I am known and looked down on for.
This pitch ended in a hideous tangle known by others as a hanging belay. For some reason, we had quite a bit of trouble getting organized here. It would have been much easier if I just led the next pitch, only 5.10a, but for some reason I pussed out. Bob led the next pitch and didn't find it particularly easy. I followed and led the next 5.10a pitch up to another big ledge. We were getting close. Only one hard pitch to go.
The final pitch is very runout 5.10d face climbing or dicey aiding on ancient bashies. Bob did a combination of the two, and I managed to follow by pulling on gear and free climbing. A final 4th class pitch put us on the summit! We shook hands and, despite our style, were very pleased to have climbed the route. Our foreign friends joined us on top, and in true Yosemite style we descended as an international team: a young Slovenian, a tireless Frenchman, an alien Englishman, and a totally wasted American.
Back at camp, the glow of success felt great and news of our ascent spread like wild fire. The whole valley was buzzing with talk of our feat...Wait a sec. Maybe they were talking about Lynn Hill freeing the Nose...Oh, well, one of two. We felt no desire to get up early the next day, and Bob took this to extremes. I finally ran into Sir Dennis Eaton Hogg, a friend I knew from Brisbane, and we took off towards the Cookie for some climbing with plans to meet Bob later. I struggled my way up Anathema but got my ass kicked pretty solidly on the awkward, slanting, wide crack. I made the top and brought up Dennis and Bob before rapping back to the ground.
That was enough for the Duke as he didn't believe in climbing much more than a pitch a day. Bob and I headed over to try Meat Grinder. I had done the first pitch before, but the fist/offwidth 10c horror had scared me away from any thoughts of the second pitch. Bob wasn't so easily deterred and launched into it after I had led the first pitch. He left the belay with two #3 Camalots, a #3.5 friend, two #4 friends, three #4 Camalots, and a #6 Big Dude, all of which he used in the 120 foot pitch.
The crack arcs up and left in the corner of this dihedral that is dead vertical. To begin with, Bob did some very wide stemming to a small crack and bypassed some nasty offwidth climbing this way. When I followed this section, I came off trying to get into this stem as it stretched me over my limit. Although I have longer legs than Bob, I am not nearly as flexible, and it is essential to do this section. The climb was relentless but Bob looked very strong and flashed the pitch. I came off a couple of times further up due to fatigue. What an ass kicker! You don't see people climb this route very often. In fact, I have never seen anyone climb this route. But then again, I try to avoid the Cookie whenever possible.
Our final climb of the day was to be Wheat Thin. This is also rated 10c and known as a real puker. The guidebook calls the section above the rest alcove a "burning 1 1/4 lieback/jam." Once again Bob calmly dispatched this climb, and all too soon it was my turn. I found the lower section hard but reasonable. I came close to flashing the upper lieback but slipped off a small hold and weighted the rope. Of course, I realize that following this pitch isn't remotely close to the effort involved in leading it. I couldn't have hung on and protected this pitch.
The next day, my final day, we decided to try another classic
testpiece: New Dimensions on Arch Rock. We were pretty beat up
still from the previous two days but didn't expect the difficulties we found on this four-pitch route.
The first pitch of New Dimensions is an awkward, shallow crack that you ascend via flared, precarious jams. It is rated 5.10b, and I volunteered to lead it. Despite being only half a rope length long, it had me in a full on sweat by the time I reached the ledge.
Bob's turn! and it would remain his turn until the summit as the climb was very difficult. Ah, the advantages of climbing with a stronger partner. Actually, I don't like having someone to bail me out whenever I don't feel up to leading a pitch. I like doing hard routes, but I have to start carrying my load of the leading no matter who my partner is. I think this will be my philosophy in the future.
The guidebook describes the next two pitches as having awkward, burly sections. The worst of these was the second pitch. Two thirds the way up the pitch, it had Bob cussing like a sailor. He finally said "Screw it! Take me!" I held him while he sorted things out in the awkward, tight chimney. Exiting the chimney was a task unfit for description. Very frustrating climbing here. At the top of this pitch, you traverse fifteen feet to the right into a corner to belay. Straight above is something called the Klemen's Escape. It is a one pitch 5.9 variation and was extremely tempting, but we resisted it.
The third pitch traverses back out past the top of the second pitch to a fist crack that turns an overhang. This is supposedly a 10a pitch, but Bob had to hang here. You pull on a fist jam and a sidepull to get you over the bulge and into a classic Yosemite flare. I passed the overhang with a judicious pull on a big cam. The flare was a struggle but nothing unusual. Slow, tiring motions made steady progress up to the small belay stance.
The final pitch is the real famous one where the photo of Bacher free soloing the route was taken. It is rated 5.11a, but this is a "Lower Merced" rating. The pitch is incredibly continuous without a single decent rest and only a couple of dicey knobs to stem out on. The guidebook implies that the pitch isn't that bad but has a 5.11 section near the top. Both Bob and I didn't feel that was the case. The pitch doesn't have a defined crux. Every move is hard with the bottom section probably being the toughest, the middle and upper section being the most tiring, and the final part the easiest. But it was more than either of us could handle.
Bob started up the pitch working for the tight hand jams. This was going well, but very tiring. We didn't have many friends in the #1.5 to #2.5 range and this presented major protection problems. I don't know why we didn't have more of these. I guess we didn't know the size of the final crack and that it was so uniform. Finally Bob decided to hang from one piece so that he could lower down and remove a couple of lower pieces. Having done this his attitude changed from free climbing the pitch to just getting up it as quickly as possible. With a couple of pulls on gear he was quickly at the top and it was my turn.
Seeing the trouble that Bob had I found myself wishing that I had brought the jumars. I wondered if Bob could even haul me up this. I actually did okay, climbing as fast as I could before the inevitable burnout. I had to hang a couple of times before pulling over the top. The climb was way over my head though as I don't think I could have place a single piece of protection had I been leading.
We put our tails between our legs and headed down to the car. The descent off the top of Arch Rock involves an extremely exposed 4th class traverse. I mentioned this to Bob and I don't think it fazed him much until he actually saw the traverse. "Exposed?" He exclaimed, "Bloody Right!"
I drove Bob back into the valley before turning westward for the long drive home. I reflected on the weekend. It had been grueling. We did twenty pitches in three days of which six were 5.11 and twelve were 5.10. And these were hard 5.10 and 5.11 pitches. It was by far the most continuously hard stretch of climbing I had ever done. It even taxed Bob over his limits.
I hear frequently about people who think Yosemite's climbs are overrated. This sort of talk is common. The unique thing about Bob is that he feels the ratings in Yosemite are frequently sandbags. Of course, this makes me feel great. Bob thinks Outer Limits would be 5.11 at Indian Creek. I smile. Certainly some routes are sandbags, but Bob doesn't climb in Yosemite often. If he did, I am sure his thoughts would change.
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