Unfinished Business


Middle Cathedral Rock (with Upper Cathedral behind it).  The
East Buttress route ascends the left edge of Middle Cathedral.

I spent the last weekend climbing with PaulT in Yosemite.  Here’s what we did:

Friday – The Warmup
We decided to start with Nutcracker, Yosemite’s most popular climb.  Nutcracker has an interesting history — the first ascent was done by Royal Robbins and his wife, Liz, in 1967 using only nuts for production (a breakthrough in Valley free climbing).  I did this route about 5 years ago and felt like it was near my lead limit.  This time it felt easy.

After lunch at Yosemite Lodge, we did Commitment, a 3 pitch 5.9.  This may be my favorite Yosemite route — 3 pitches of stellar climbing and a great intro to 5.9 climbing.

Saturday – The Business
We hadn’t intended to do any big climbs on this trip, but on Friday a local suggested that we look at the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, which is listed in 50 Classic Climbs of North America.  At 11 pitches, the East Butt would be a big day (Supertopo lists the car-to-car time at 10-11 hours).  Paul and I discussed it over dinner and decided to go for it.

We woke up early and were on the rock by 7am.  We got off to a fast start by linking the first 4 pitches into 2.  At this point there are three ways you can finish the route.  We didn’t have any beta, so we decided to do the “Original Route” established by Warren Harding in 1955.  BIG MISTAKE.

After aiding through a bolt ladder, we entered two pitches of chimneys, rated 5.7 and 5.8.  Chimney climbing is a special technique that I don’t get to practice much, but given the ratings I wasn’t too concerned.  Boy was I wrong.  PaulT said it best:  “Horrible doesn’t even begin to describe these chimneys”.  They were tight, flaring, and really slick.  In short, they completely shut us down.  It took everything we had — both mentally and physically — to “french free” through this section.  I may have even cursed once or twice (or a few hundred times).

In retrospect, it would have been smarter to do what the Spaniards behind us did:  back off the chimneys and do the “50 Classics” variation, which (unbeknownst to us) has been the standard route since 1961.  But we persevered and finished the route in a little over 7 hours of climbing (10 hours car to car).  This is unfinished business and I’ll be back to do the route the standard way.

Sunday — Licking our Wounds
The East Buttress left us feeling pretty beat up, so we decided to take it easy on the last day.  We climbed After Seven linked to After Six.  We finished the six pitches in about two hours, took showers, and were on the road by noon.

Overall, it was a great weekend.  PaulT and I worked well together and achieved our primary objective, which was simply to climb a lot (we did 25 pitches total).  Yosemite is my favorite place on Earth — I’ll be back soon (to finish the business).

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6 thoughts on “Unfinished Business

  1. I did the same thing my first time. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the Fifty Classics is the standard route.

    That said, if you’ve got a bit of experience with chimneys, I really like the original route in some ways. It’s more like a journey and makes the route feel bigger. I’ve done every version at least twice at this point and still have a soft spot for the original route.

    If this is already going to be a big route for you, though, I think the 50 Classics version is best. The “Fifty Crowded” version is a little runout and the chimneys on the original route will slow you down and wear you down.

    By the way, the next step up on the Yosemite Progression would, in my opinion, but the East Butt of El Cap. It’s a noticeable step up from the EB of Middle (more endurance, longer day). I would say, in general, add about 30% to your EB of Middle time and that give syou a rough idea of how long EB of El Cap will take.

    Have fun!

  2. nicely done.

    and the fall I referred to had everything to do with my brother’s deck chair collapsing (leaving me with an injured tailbone) and absolutely nothing to do with climbing, but hey, it makes for good blogging.

  3. Thanks for the beta, Tom. The East Butt of El Cap is definitely on my list, but I want to do Middle again another way first. The 50 Crowded variation appeals to me because it all goes free, but I have heard that it’s a little “spicy”.

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