My body slide down 3 inches. I pushed it back up 3 inches. Then I slid again. I ate too many pies that summer and the infamous squeezing of the Harding Slot on Yosemite’s Astroman made it difficult to make upward progress.
Yosemite guidebook author Chris Macnmara describes Astroman saying, “Astroman is one of the best long free routes in the United States. When first established this climb was the domain of only the most honed climbers in the world. Today, still considered a Valley test piece, Astroman has lost little of its stature or mystique. Climbers who have the skill and nerve to attempt Astroman will find tremendous exposure, flawless rock quality and mostly solid protection. The climbing involves every technique imaginable from balancey face moves and boulder problems to sustained hand jamming and a squeeze chimney.”
The squeeze chimney, the Harding Slot proved to be the crux for me. The famous British hardman Jerry Moffat cried on this pitch. My last time on the route, I laybacked the outside. This time, I vowed to stay inside longer. I kept squirming, desperate to move up inside the mountain.
Wide climbing can be terrifying. Cracks bigger than 4 inches require an arsenal of cams, Big Bros and wide gear that would weigh down too heavily on the harnesses of most climbers. Technically easy, wide climbing often involves shoving your body inside the mountain and squirming your way up.
A few weeks before, Ethan Pringle onsighted Astroman leading every pitch. He gave me this advice for Squeezing through the Harding Slot. “Remind yourself that you CAN do it and then progress to the understanding that you WILL do it. Remind yourself to try to stay calm and keep breathing. Also that you can continue up by exhaling completely. That worked for me…pretty much.”
Despite Pringle’s advice, I squirmed out of the Slot and tried to layback the smooth edge at 5.11x. I made it almost to the top but failed to pull in. I climbed down and hung out inside the slot then tried again and again. Eventually, I got too gassed. I made one more effort and fell, abraiding the edge of my rope. Bad Idea.
I returned to the belay and relaxed. My partner climbed to my high point and squirmed through. I climbed the pitch successfully on toprope. Though I sent the rest of the route without falling, I had a lot to learn about squeeze chimeneying.
“It’s all the same,” Pringle said when I asked how I could apply his advice on the slot to my trad climbing. “It all takes confidence and a level of relaxation. You have to be confident in your climbing ability, to feel secure on the moves, to know your gear is safe, and to go for it over your gear. Just BREATHE. Every time I even think that word, I feel more relaxed.”
I’ll definitely be thinking of Pringle’s advice the next time I get stuck in a tight spot.
By James Lucas