Let me make it clear: That was Erik's idea; I had nothing to do with it. I was too normal to come up with such a crazy idea — "Me, up Astroman? This weekend? You must be kidding." But he was serious, so after wiping my wet palms on my pants a million times, the time finally came. The alarm went off at 4am on Saturday morning in an Upper Pines campsite. I had read many trip reports and were always amazed that people could get ready to go in half an hour. Not me. When I finished changing clothes, packing, coffee, breakfast, and bathroom visit, it was 5:15am. Erik was patiently waiting. We arrived at the base of the climb after hiking in the dark for about 50 minutes. Nobody was in front of us. (Actually, we had the whole route to ourselves the entire day.) 6:50 am, I started leading the first two pitches. It was bright enough to leave the headlamp in the pack.
I've heard so much about Astroman (you can get the free SuperTopo for this route here ). I knew it was supposed to be a hard route, but I was still surprised. It was REALY hard. Let me put it this way, the pitches with high ratings such as 5.11a-c are hard by definition. But even the low grade pitches (5.9-10d) are either physical (e.g. the infamous Harding Slot on P7, and 5.9 on P10 that features fifty feet of handstack crack for me), awkward (e.g. 5.10c on P6), or hard to protect (e.g. 5.10d on P12). Compared to Astroman, the Rostrum is a hike. I had trouble only at the 5.11c section on the Rostrum when I followed it last time, but today, let me see if I can even count it: I fell once at the Boulder Problem; fell twice at the overhanging crack before entering Harding Slot and eventually french-freed the move; then french-freed the 5.11b awkward move on P8 (it was so awkward that even after pulling through I still couldn't see what the move was supposed to be); and grabbed a draw shamelessly on P12 where a fixed pin was almost out of reach. They say if you only climb up to Pitch 6, it's called Astroboy. Erik says if you didn't climb Astroman in a good style, it's called Astrodog. We climbed Astrodog today.
However, I believe being fairly small gave me a great advantage on the Enduro Corner (P4), Harding Slot (P7), and Changing Corners (P9) pitches. They were still hard, but I was able to get very good hand jams in the thin crack in the Enduro Corner, and the thin edges and finger pockets on the Changing Corners pitch were also quite friendly for me. For the life of me, I cannot imagine how big guys (like Warren Harding) squeezed through Harding Slot. I had to exhale to move from time to time (and no, I don't have big bosoms if that's what you are thinking).
We topped out after 10 hours and 10 minutes, and had enough day light to make it back down to our packs at the base, which was the biggest triumph of the day for me (I'm terrible at descents). Bravo to Erik that he got me (imagine, ME!) up to the top and then brought me down safe (I get lost even on well marked streets).
We stayed at the Rock Rendezvous campsite on Saturday night and as usual, there were ample interesting conversations around the campfire.
On Sunday, we slept in and had a wonderful breakfast (Ramen noodles and eggs). After the hard work yesterday, we decided to treat ourselves with the Rostrum. But when we arrived at the base after 10am, there were three parties on the route. One party was high up. The second party was moving at a slow pace on the 4th pitch. The third team had just left the ground and they did not move fast either. After waiting on the ground for a while, I started the 1st pitch. Chatted with Rob from Utah at the 1st belay when Chris (also from Utah) was leading the 2nd pitch. Then Erik caught up with them again at the 2nd belay. I led the 3rd pitch (long and super fun) and reached Chris and Rob on the big ledge. Since the party in front were just finishing the 5th pitch, the four of us decided to set up top ropes on the 5.11c pitch of the Rostrum and the 1st pitch of Blind Faith (5.11d?), both starting from the big ledge. This time, I managed to follow that 5.11c pitch clean on my first try . And the Blind Faith pitch fits my hand size so well that it felt much easier than the Rostrum pitch (I knew the guys had a different opinion). Between Erik and I, we ran about 10 laps on these two cracks. In the mean time, that party in front bailed off of Pitch 6 (the 5.10a OW pitch). Seeing them bail, the guys got excited — the leader must have abandoned a 4.5 camelot up there when he bailed. Chris and Rob offered their rope to us (since we were the faster party) to go up and score that cam (it was already too late in the day to finish the entire route). But after they came down, we learned that the leader bailed off of the single bolt on that pitch. What a bunch of day dreamers!
We then drove over to El Cap Meadow to pick up Angele who would ride in our car back to the Bay Area. Her husband Justin Sjong was there along with Adam Steck. I couldn't help but notice Adam's phenomenal eye lashes.
As usual, on Monday at work, I tried to reduce the times going to the bathroom — there is a heavy fire door on the way, and my body hurt when I open the door. After all, how many hard 5.11s can one handle in a weekend?
P.S. We got back on Astroman one week later. Big improvements (8- hours and one hang or two). Click here for the trip report and beta.
Photos: You can find the trip photos from both of our cameras here. See for yourself what Astroman looks like. I have the pics of Erik on Enduro Corner, Changing Corners, and Harding Slot pitches, all taken from below though.