Rocktober in Yosemite

My 2022 fall season in Yosemite was stacked with great friends, big adventures, and rad climbing! Here are a few trip reports and stories, along with lots of fun photos and gratuitous amounts of beta — for the Rostrum, Astroman, and some other ultraclassic routes!

The Rostrum

Julie and I kicked off our fall climbing season by getting on the Rostrum with Milde! We were originally planning to climb Positive Vibrations and some other routes on The Hulk, but the forecast for the area shaped up to be a quad-fecta of 30mph winds, below-freezing daytime temps, snow, and wildfire smoke. We figured that maybe mother nature didn’t want us to climb The Hulk that weekend, and decided to bail to Yosemite instead.

We’d been tossing around the idea of climbing the Rostrum — but I was intimidated by the finger cracks, while Julie was intimidated by the offwidths. We decided to combine our strengths to get on this legendary route. Since Julie and I wanted to swing leads, but Milde also wanted to join in the fun, we tagged a line for Milde to toprope solo behind us — an unusual but efficient setup! (The party ahead of us was confused about our setup, and asked Julie “did you just pick him up in the parking lot?”)

Milde showcasing his toprope solo setup on pitch 5 — he used two microtraxes, and tied knots in the rope at regular intervals below him as a back-up. The follower would tag his line up, to reduce weight for the leader.
Packing beta: I was a huge fan of going light and ditching the follower
pack on this route! We each brought a fanny pack (with snacks, the topo,
and a headlamp), a water bottle, and light shoes (eg Xeros, Toms - since
the approach and descent are so chill).

Julie battled the finger cracks on pitches 2 and 4 with strength, bravery, and some goat noises. It was then my turn to dust off my offwidth skills on pitch 6, which turned out to be quite fun because I could get secure knee-jams for most of the way!

Julie cranking through the slippery finger jams on the crux of pitch 2

While climbing through the pile of bloody bird shit on pitch 7, we joked that we’d turned into falcons, and made falcon noises for the rest of the route. (There were very excited falcon screeches when Milde brought out his bag of sour gummy worms — a falcon’s favorite snack!) We topped out a bit before sunset, made falcon calls which reverberated off the canyon walls, and took an elated summit selfie.

A flock of very happy falcons on top of the Rostrum, at the summit tree!
Pitch 8 beta: Mountain Project says to remove your big cam (#5) so it
doesn't get dragged into the crack, and "gun for the top - do not fall".
However, we're team "safety first" and didn't love this suggestion.
You can actually leave the #5 cam in the crack, and then get some small
pieces in a small horizontal crack on the face (.1, .2, .1/.2 offset, or
all of the above for a nest of power), which will keep the rope out of
the crack and also provide some protection. Alternately, you can also
extend the belay from the tree (making a long rope-tree anchor) to keep
the rope out of the crack as you're belaying.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast of champions at camp with Maia and Jean — blueberry and banana pancakes, courtesy of Milde! Once we were stuffed, we all headed to New Diversions for some chill cragging. From New Diversions, we had an amazing view of the Rostrum so we had to take a Rostrum selfie!

“We climbed that!!!” A perfect view of the Rostrum, from New Diversions Cliff.

We got rained out in the afternoon, so Julie and I drove back to San Francisco. On the way back, she mentioned that she had tickets to an Acid Pauli set… so of course, we did a wardrobe change and went out to party! We’re never too tired to dance!

Arula performing “Drippin in Gold” before Acid Pauli came on
Goofing around in the photo booth

Ben had been engaged in a multi-year battle to get the ground-up send of the Rostrum. He had climbed and sent every pitch separately, but had been deterred from a bottom-to-top ascent multiple times by weather, smoke, or running out of daylight. A few weeks after I climbed the Rostrum with Julie and Milde, Ben was traveling to San Francisco for a conference, so we decided that we’d get him out to Yosemite and finally find him the closure he needed.

We drove out from the Bay Area on Saturday morning (which in retrospect was a mistake), finally arriving at the base of the route around noon. A guy in the party ahead of us was an ecologist in Yosemite, and taught us many fun falcon and bear facts (he said the best place to spot bears in the fall is in the oak grove by the Yosemite elementary school, since they love fattening up for the winter on acorns!).

I usually don’t climb routes multiple times in succession, but I really enjoyed getting on the Rostrum again because every pitch felt way more secure and fluid the second time around — I felt like I got the movements dialed! I also appreciated Ben’s precise beta for the finger crack sections, which helped a lot. He’s a great teacher, and actually taught me a lot of my offwidth and finger crack techniques when climbed the cracks at PGSF together four years ago — it’s very fitting that he’s a professor now!

Ben following my lead on pitch 5, cruising the thin hands section

Ben led the crux (pitch 4), which he had projected and sent in the past. This time, his foot blew unexpectedly — he had placed his .75 cam in a spot that blocked a better foot placement! He lowered back to the start of the crack and got the send the second time around, placing the .75 a bit higher so the good foot placement was free. I also fell at the crux, but lowered back to the start of the crack and got the “toprope send” on my second try. So maybe we didn’t get a ground-up send, but we’ll count this as “good enough” to give Ben the closure with the Rostrum that he needed!

Due to our late start and a slower party ahead of us, we ended up climbing the last two pitches in the dark. I led pitch 8 by headlamp, and semi-joked that it didn’t really matter if I had light because you don’t need to see anything to climb offwidth anyway. We summited, celebrated our successful outing, and stumbled back to camp.

Astroman

To round out our weekend, the next day Ben and I decided to climb Astroboy, which is the name for the first few pitches of Astroman. Ben wanted to take a crack at the Boulder Problem (pitch 2), and I was really excited for the Enduro Corner (pitch 3).

From the Sloan guidebook — the “Boulder Problem” is the lower section, not the upper!

On pitch 2, we made a poor route-reading error, which was obvious in retrospect. We thought the Boulder Problem was the top half of the left crack, so Ben climbed the 5.10b stem start and traversed left to the piton, following the chalked holds. (Little did he know that the chalked holds are usually from people traversing right…) He climbed up the thin left crack and flailed desperately, to the dawning realization that it was way harder than 5.11c and he was off route. I gave him a crash course in aid climbing, and he aided his way to the anchor. Whoops!

I led the Enduro Corner, and it was epic!!! The climbing off the deck was great hand jams for me, and felt amazing — I wished it would never end. Unfortunately, it soon thinned down to .75s, and also got steeper. I tried to make the thin hand jams work for a bit, but tired myself out and had to rest. Once I resigned myself to full-commit laybacking, though, I was able to power through some burly but secure moves. I pulled over the bulge desperately, and found a thank-god stem rest. One more section of laybacking led to the most glorious chimney ever — easy climbing, with multiple hand cracks to choose from! I belayed Ben up, and we decided to call it a day and rappel from there. All in all, we had a pretty epic Yosemite weekend, and quite an adventure packed “work trip” to California for Ben!

A few weeks later, my buddy Jon visited me from Salt Lake City. We’d climbed together a bunch in his neck of the woods (Moab, Indian Creek, Little Cottonwood Canyon, City of Rocks) but he’d never been to Yosemite, so we had to make the pilgrimage! And since he doesn’t believe in warming up or doing things in moderation, he decided that he wanted his first ever climb in Yosemite to be Astroman. I was game :)

Pack beta: we brought a small haul bag, since it was going to be a long
day with a non-trivial descent. The leader trailed a tag line, and set up
the haul with a microtrax. They hauled the bag up while belaying the
follower (with the bag a little ahead of the follower, so the follower
could un-stick the bag if it got caught). The pack had our approach shoes,
food, water, jackets, and headlamps. Bring grippy shoes for the descent,
there are some slab sections!

We got an early start, and were hiking to Washington Column when I heard Jon say “Cathie… is that a bear?” I had been so focused on finding the climber’s trail, that I had completely missed the bear behind a boulder, maybe 15 feet away from me. The bear munched on acorns and watched curiously, as I made a hasty retreat.

The bear that I almost stumbled upon, while looking for the climber’s trail
Approach beta - Gaia track:
https://www.gaiagps.com/public/Qinj6MT4umn19iThe8wOjcyq
The spot where I backtrack is the correct approach trail - follow that!
We backtracked and took a long way around, because the bear was blocking
the trail...

After that fun wake-up, we made it to the base of Astroman without any more mishaps. I led pitch 2 this time, and went the correct way instead of going off-route above the Boulder Problem. Jon led the Enduro Corner, though the #1 hand crack was a bit more of a struggle for him on account of his giant meat-paws. He took a whip at the bulge, rested, then powered through to the chains.

Jon flashes a peace sign (or victory V?) from his great stem rest on the Enduro Corner

After two chill pitches, we arrived at the Harding Slot, and I was on the sharp end. I had read up on other people’s beta on how to climb the Harding Slot, and had ended up more confused than before. People talk about the Harding Slot like they talk about a psychedelic trip — their description mostly sounds like gibberish (“dyno chicken wing”???) and ends with “I don’t know man, I can’t really describe it, it’s a whole experience… you just gotta do it yourself to understand, yaknow?”. Armed with a bunch of useless beta, I headed up into the unknown.

The Harding Slot, in all its intimidating glory. That sliver of sky is where you climb through!

Before imparting my own useless, unhinged-sounding ramblings on beta for the Harding Slot, I’ll just say — that was the wildest and weirdest thing I’ve ever climbed, and it was so cool!!! Getting into the slot was the hardest part for me, since everything was so slick. I got a great hand jam with my left hand, while palming down with my right hand and trying to make the most of some very slippery feet. I could then bump my left hand to the jugs in the back of the slot — no dyno chicken wing required.

Once I was in the slot, I pulled out my chimney and offwidth bag of tricks: frog scooting while pushing down with my palms, and some heel-toe cams. I really appreciated being small, as I fit pretty comfortably but never felt like I was going to get stuck. If I wanted a rest, I simply put my arms in front of my chest and inhaled, and I was securely and cozily lodged. I got good gear in the back of the slot the whole way up (.75–2"), which made me happy, although I couldn’t fall out of the slot even if I tried.

However, Jon, being more than 50% larger than me, had a very different experience. He pulled into the slot without too much difficulty, but shortly ceased to make upward progress. It turned out that he was simply stuck.

Jon is stuck.

Jon wanted to swing to the outside of the slot to climb the 5.11X layback. However, I had not been a very considerate leader, and the gear I’d placed in the back of the slot made that difficult. He laybacked a short section to get around the narrowest part of the slot, and then swung back into the crack to retrieve the gear.

Harding Slot gear beta: If you have doubts of your follower's ability to
fit in the Harding Slot, be a considerate leader and don't place gear once
you're in the slot, so they can toprope the 5.11X layback variation. The
smaller human should lead this pitch ;)

There were rappel rings on top of the Harding Slot, so we checked in to see if we wanted to keep going up or rappel. Jon was pretty exhausted from his battle with the slot, but since it was “only four more pitches” to the top, we decided to keep on going.

Learn from my mistakes and struggles on the Changing Corners pitch!

I was on the sharp end for the “Changing Corners” pitch. However, my tank was running low — especially since I’d stupidly forgotten our sandwiches at home, so we had been subsisting off of bars all day (and any of my climbing partners can tell you, that you don’t want a hungry Cathie!) I quested upward, but got pretty rattled by the high-commitment mantle move and the face climbing. By the time I arrived at the corner with “thin tiny nuts”, I was running on fumes and hung on some marginal gear. Through sheer willpower, I powered through the wider crack section while battling killer rope drag, toward what looked like a thank-god belay ledge. When I arrived at the plush ledge, before building my anchor, I checked the topo. I realized I had gone off-route and had to downclimb and traverse right to the actual anchors, and I almost broke down and cried from sheer exhaustion and frustration. I held it together (barely) and did the wild traverse to the actual anchor out right.

Kate, from the party behind us, stylin’ up the wide crack on the Changing Corners pitch. You can see the beautiful and misleading hand crack continuing up and to the (climber’s) left. Kate and Jackson were very supportive and patient while I had a near-meltdown leading this pitch.

Jon bravely led the last pitch, the “scary face pitch” which goes at 5.10d R, as the sun was setting. This pitch has not one, but two R sections, because the gear is so marginal! The rock quality is pretty questionable here, and the rock sometimes crumbles into skrittle underfoot. At the 5.10d R section, Jon’s foot slipped unexpectedly as he was placing gear. A fixed nut caught him, but he landed on the “menacing spike” before the rope came taut. He collected himself, called down that he was fine, and soldiered upward again. He belayed me up, as I marveled at how sparse and questionable the gear on the pitch was. It doesn’t go at “R” for nothing! (Jon ended up with a pretty dramatic butt bruise, but no serious damage).

We topped out in the dark, and wolfed down half a burrito from Taqueria Cancún and some snacks which had been buried at the bottom of the bag. I was so grateful to get some calories — we needed it for the long descent!

Summit selfie from the top of Washington Column, with the last bit of sunlight!

We made friends with a party that had climbed the South Face of Washington Column, and did the descent with them. They had amazing gear beta — instead of heavy and bulky approach shoes, they had packed Chacos and hiking socks! It seemed to work great for them. It took us 1.5 hours to get from the summit to the base of Astroman, and another 30 minutes to get from the base back to the car.

Descent beta - Gaia track:
https://www.gaiagps.com/public/Ch3lwf3dSqUX9reOJsGTJofb
Once you finish the 4th class ledgy downclimbing and enter the forest,
you could follow the descent trail downhill which leads you back to the
main hiking/biking/horse trail. However, we had left a backpack at the
base of Astroman, so instead we bushwhacked west to get back to the base
without losing as much elevation.

We both had work the next day, so we slogged to the car and drove back to San Francisco, stopping by In-N-Out for a late dinner. We arrived home around 2am and collapsed into an exhausted slumber.

A gear side note — partway up Astroman, Jon told me that the trigger wires on my #4 had broken. This was really annoying, since we still needed the #4 for several wide sections! I MacGyver’ed some trigger wires out of extra hairbands, and vowed to more closely inspect my trigger wires for signs of wear in the future. Once I got home, Harry replaced the trigger wires for me, using a trigger wire repair kit we ordered from Black Diamond.

A demo of my MacGyver’ed hairband trigger wires — it wasn’t great, but it worked well enough to get us to the top!

In non-climbing-related adventures, Jon had never been to the SF bay area before so I showed him my favorite outdoor spots — the tide pools at Pillar Point, and the redwood forest. He made little friends in both places!

Jon catching crabs at the tide pools, and becoming acquainted with a very luscious banana slug

Fifi Buttress

When I climbed the Rostrum with Ben, completely by coincidence, Miles was actually higher on the route and recognized my helmet when he looked down! We hung out around his campfire when we got back to camp, and he and I discussed roping up the following weekend. He suggested Fifi Buttress — he had already climbed Voyager and Center of the Universe, but was down to climb them again so I could experience them!

Approach beta - Gaia track:
https://www.gaiagps.com/public/PPeMf4WkKqmJNWqU4Kd3ZvW0
This track takes you to the base of Voyager! To get to the base of Center
of the Universe, see my descent track.

Voyager was such a fun romp! I loved the variety of climbing it offered, and how safe it felt (there are bolts whenever the protection is even mildly questionable). We basically giggled our way all the way up the route. The cruxes both felt very feasible — the Incinerator is exhausting but well protected, while the Boulder Problem is just one big move (with slippery feet) with a bolt at your waist!

Miles getting an impressive stem rest on pitch 1.

We had so much fun on Voyager, that we wanted to keep going. We ate lunch at the base of Voyager, then walked on the ledge over to the top of pitch 4 of Center of the Universe. We climbed pitches 5, 6, and 7 on Center of the Universe, which Miles said are the best pitches on the route.

I made the silly mistake of linking pitches 6 and 7 together, which resulted in terrible rope drag by the time I got to the crux of pitch 7. I pulled through the crux, got a hand jam, plugged a #2, and was pulling up rope and trying to clip my piece when my hand jam slipped out and I took a huge whip! Miles said I fell about 15 feet, but it felt like an eternity falling through free space — at least the fall was clean! I collected myself, and then battled the rope drag to the anchors. Despite being rattled by the fall, I still really enjoyed the climbing on Center of the Universe — another high-quality route by Dan McDevitt!

Descent beta - Gaia track:
https://www.gaiagps.com/public/xRw1DihRRPgyKFULbKNjMtrO
This is the descent from the base of Center of the Universe.

Mr. Natural [Cathie + Julie + Cheryl + Foster]

Dan and Shannon got married in Yosemite Valley (with the most gorgeous wedding ceremony ever), and a bunch of our climbing friends were in attendance! The ceremony was at sunrise and the reception was in the afternoon, so we had a few hours to sneak away and climb. We decided to get on Mr. Natural since it was walking distance from our campsite at Upper Pines — perfect for a quick getaway!

Approach beta: If you climb Apron Jam as an approach pitch, bring some
big gear! I was happy to have a #5 and #4 for the wide crack at the start.
There’s a slightly heady traverse right from the top of Apron Jam, to the
start ledge for Mr. Natural.

Julie was an MC for the wedding reception, so she climbed Mr. Natural first in order to have time to change and do preparations for the reception. She headed up and marveled at how good the finger locks were, confidently placing gear and moving smoothly. She made a few goat noises at the crux, but pulled through the hard moves by entering the witness position and giving herself words of affirmation.

Next, Foster toproped the route clean — all aboard the send train! He also brought his fancy camera and ascending setup, so he could fix a line and play photographer for Cheryl. Cheryl took the sharp end, all smiles and nervous excitement.

A huge smile for bomber totem placements!

I headed up last, and squeaked by with a send — though it wasn’t an onsight, since Foster gave me helpful and much appreciated gear beta from his photographer’s position on the fixed line. I’ve never gotten the professional photography treatment while climbing before, and it was pretty neat!

Cranking through the thin fingers crack at the crux

We rappelled and walked back to camp, to clean up and get dressed for the wedding reception that afternoon — which Julie and Marty did an amazing job MC’ing, of course!

I considered the fall climbing season in Yosemite to be officially over when it started snowing in early November. I had a ton of fun getting on some harder and higher-commitment routes this season, but was also ready to take a break after running my body into the ground weekend after weekend. I celebrated the end of the season by spending time with friends and family in the bay area, carrying on our yearly tradition of going chestnut harvesting at Skyline Chestnuts. The plan is to hibernate until the start of ski season… which is actually pretty soon!

We’re NUTS for NUTS!!! Julie and Marty harvested the most chestnuts, by a long stretch :)

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Cryptographer, climber, explorer. Previously working on ZK proofs at Chain/Interstellar, now on Google’s cryptography security team.

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Cathie Yun

Cryptographer, climber, explorer. Previously working on ZK proofs at Chain/Interstellar, now on Google’s cryptography security team.