When you drive into the Yosemite Valley on Hwy-120, the view is unmistakable. El Capitan and Half Dome dominate the horizon. As you wind down towards the valley floor you can catch glimpses of a black and gold pillar off to your right, perched above the Merced.
This overhanging rock spire is the Rostrum. The North Face is home to a continuous line of cracks that allow passage up the steep wall. Climbers are rewarded with a luxurious ledge at the end of nearly every pitch. This is a burly multi-pitch with only one pitch out of eight easier than 5.10.
For me, the Rostrum is the first step towards its big brother, Astroman. Keith and I set off two weeks ago to give the Rostrum our best effort. We had worked on our hand stacking in the gym and picked out pitches to fit our strengths. Keith would tackle the crux finger crack and I would have the pleasure of grunting up the off widths.
With a late start and a thunderstorm in the forecast our day was likely doomed from the beginning. Despite these obstacles we swapped leads up the first three pitches with no falls and Keith onsighted, in his words, “the longest crack I have ever led”.
On the midway ledge I had a perfect view up towards the Valley. Dark clouds were moving our way and we started hearing distant thunder. Luckily there were bolted anchors for the next three pitches, so bailing would be easy. A breeze picked up as Keith lead the finger crack, taking a single fall. Our friends two pitches higher started yelling to us about bailing. The thunder had moved closer and we needed to make it to the 5.6 downclimb before the rain. Rappelling in the strong wind, we reveled in the power of nature.
The rain came in sheets and we were all soaked in no time. Despite having to bail, the rain and hail storm felt like big party. Nature was providing the music as we danced up the hill. (Perhaps it was more of a frenzied run to escape the torrents of water.)
Fast forward two weeks. Keith and I are exhausted from a series of gym sessions and evenings spent socializing. These late nights put extra fatigue in our step. After much debate, we head to the Valley. Keith’s friend Jeb needs to be retrieved and I offer to split the drive in exchange for a second chance on the Rostrum. Keith will be traveling in November and we don’t know when another chance will come up.
The day starts out earlier and we are the first ones hiking down to the base. Two parties are right on our heels. A party of three stops at the midway ledge and manages to barely stay ahead of us the whole day. The other party, Ben and Amber, climb right behind us for most of the day. I applaud their patience and willingness to wait – passing us would have been futile since they would have quickly caught up with the other party.
In an attempt to be speedy, Keith links pitch 1 and 2 via a 5.10 R laybacking variation. Once through the crux he gets some gear but a foot slip sends him flying. His twenty plus foot fall is arrested by only one of our double ropes stopping him just shy of a ledge. Adrenaline rushes through the veins of all four of us at the base. I am relieved when Keith gets up and finishes the pitch.
I lead the glorious next pitch while Keith shakes off nerves and inspects his rope burns. Jeb is loving life and in no time we are at the midway ledge where I stashed our shoes and packs. Keith fires off the crux pitch, despite a rattled lead head, and we are soon in new territory. Eager to finish his block of leading, Keith onsights the next pitch in excellent style and I really enjoy the jams while following.
Back on the sharp end, I hesitate and finally commit to the cruxy traverse on Pitch 6 (our 5th pitch). This gives me access to some funky cracks and the start of the crux OFFWIDTH!! Stemming allows easy passage on the first section with plentiful small gear. My #5 camalot goes in and I alternate handstacks, knee locks and random inspiration. I clip a bolt, the crack widens, and my butterflies (stacks) have turned into hand fist stacks. The feet are good and I calmly finish the pitch. The gym training paid off!
The boys do a great job following with packs, a task I do not envy, and the final 5.11 pitch looms over head (literally). A STEEP hand crack is the easiest way to a small cave below the final roof. Midway through the pitch, doubt stepping in, I accept the fall potential and punch it to the end. Hand latching a final jug, I get the onsight! This was a very strenuous lead for me and I was very happy to only have one pitch left. I manage to blindly throw down the rope so I could haul up the packs, a plus for the followers!
The final offwidth was not as hard as the first, but the entry move had me baffled for many minutes. More flexibility would have helped me and as recommended, I pushed a cam the whole way and then took it out at the end. There are many cams stuck inside the crack due to its unique geometry. (A new #4 followed by a new #5 works well. If you are really worried an old #5 will protect the end since my new #5 became quite tipped out)
This was an amazing day of crack climbing and rivals the best granite routes I have done. The Rostrum is continuously steep yet varied with cracks of all sizes. I hope to climb it again in the following years since each pitch has excellent jamming.
Feel free to leave a comment for more tips/beta.