Monday, May 20, 2013

Middle Cathedral - North Buttress (V 5.10a)

Ever since I saw a trip report  about an attempt at North Buttress of Middle Cathedral I was interested in going for it myself - it appeared like a burly challenge. Lack of information about this climb elevated my desire to explore this rarely done climb for myself. Tales of broken bones, huge whippers, sandbagged pitches, rock fall, sketchy belays and multi-day epics did not motivate me to make a pre-mature attempt. In addition, DNB is a V 5.10b (5.11a in Supertopo guidebook) in Reed's guide, North Buttress does not look much easier at V 5.10a.  After spending more time on Yosemite granite this Spring, I decided it was time to sack up.
Middle Cathedral
Gleb and I left our car sometime after it got light and made it to the base without too much trouble. I led first block of 3 pitches which we simul climbed. Gleb took the second block to the top of pitch 5, which we also simul climbed. This is where the real fun begins - a notorious 5.9 lie back.
This is where the route starts
Gleb starting 4th pitch
View of El Capitan
I re-racked, and left our spacious belay ledge. After stepping out and doing a bolt protected face move I moved into a corner. I saw an easy crack that you could kind of lie back, which was followed by a chimney. "Hey Gleb, this lie-back is a hike! Not hard at all." After getting through the initial chimney I got to THE lie-back, which did not look at all easy. At the bottom of it there was an old fixed nut which I clipped and requested for Gleb to not give me much extra slack. Beginning of it seemed secure, but all of a sudden it got more difficult. On my first attempt to do a dynamic move to a jug, I slipped. That is how I learned about why the old nut is fixed. On my second try I was able to free climb this section and avoid testing that old stopper. Chimney after this lie back was clean and enjoyable.
5.9 lie back pitch is just around the corner from this bush
Gleb following a chimney past the lie back
Gleb starting up pitch 7

Monkeys are sendin
Cool roof ahead
Pitch 7 starts with another 5.9 lie back which we both agreed was easier than prior lie back, but not at all trivial. I felt proud about following this one clean with a pack. :) Remainder of this pitch had some enjoyable climbing including a cool roof, but finished with tree wrestling and a battle versus ants that were crawling all over me by the time I got off for my next lead. Next pitch was probably the hardest 5.7 I have done in Yosemite so far, which also has a short lie back in the end. Crux of this pitch however is short and we both got it clean. I climbed a little ways up past the big ledge that was above the 5.7, and made a belay.
Lower Cathedral
Me on pitch 8 (5.7)
View of El Cap
Gleb starting up (long) pitch 9
Gleb took next 5.8 pitch which he did a great job on. After a pretty long run-out he had to do some committing face moves, which would have serious consequences if he blew it. Next belay ledge had a funny belay anchor which was spread more than 10 feet apart. Pitch 10 is also rated as a 5.9 in the guide book but we thought it was the crux of this climb. You start up a corner-looking thing with some kind of a crack that you use for gear. Half way up there is a thin knob with an old gray sling around it. It provides some pro in this section. Majority of pro I placed on this pitch did not feel bomber but I thought something would hold. I was especially bummed that a bolt I saw from the bellow was rusted and old. New generation of climbers are not used to these rivet-looking things. Somehow I got past the crux without falling, and was rewarded with 25 ft+ of unprotected climbing till I reached a belay ledge.
Pitch 10 (5.9) (white sling can barely be seen half way up)
Done with pitch 10
Middle Cathedral
Gleb following pitch 10
Belay anchor wasn't bad here- old piton and a bolt which I backed up by a BD#3 cam. It wasn't obvious where this pitch was going at first. It traversed past a pin to a corner for a few moves, than moved back up to face, and into a thin crack with a fixed cam. This pitch was rated 5.10a but we both felt it wasn't as cruxy as any of the 5.9s we climbed lower. It had super fun face moves and just enough protection to make it through without panicking. In the end Gleb traversed right to a good belay ledge with good gear for an anchor.
Finally a bomber anchor
Gleb at a belay station (after leading pitch 11 - 5.10a)
Looking across
I linked next two pitches (12 and 13), which were short. People may want to split them up due to rope drag. On pitch 12 you go up a dihedral and traverse right to a chimney. Wrestle a tree (crux) and make it out to another corner with a small roof (5.8). Above the roof you traverse left over some loose blocks that can take your partner's head off if you knock em down. Belay ledge is just above with a bunch of bushes, trees, and more loose blocks on it.  Gleb took pitch 14 (5.6) and was calling off belay int a few minutes. This pitch is really short and simple.
1st bolt on pitch 15
1st is a bolt. What is that 2nd thing?
Me on pitch 15 (5.9)
15th pitch is another 5.9. By this time I was not excited about anything with this particular rating. Gleb offered to lead it, but I refused from giving it up. When I saw first protection that was available on this pitch I felt regret over that decision. It was an old rusted bolt, sticking half way out. Above it was another rusted bolt, which was at least all the way in. It was followed by another rusty object I have not seen before, but it looked as solid as a second bolt. For me crux of this pitch was a face move at the second bolt, but I was able to get it clean without too much whining (there was a good bolt at my waste level, so very well protected move). 5.9 finger-crack/lie back above was brief and simple.
Creative anchor at top of pitch 15
16th pitch traverses straight. 17th and 18th take path of least resistance up (Gleb on 17th)

Views from top are awesome! As usual.
Never tired of looking at El Capitan!
16th pitch is a 4th class traverse, which we simul climbed to the top of pitch 17 (5.6). For last two pitches (17th and 18th) we followed path of least resistance to the top of north buttress. It ends up right by Kat walk. We ate last of our food and begun heading down. Both of us liked this route, and enjoyed adventurous side to it. It kept us cautious, but never got hard enough that we considered bailing. We were able follow Kat walk and hike out without needing to use a headlamp. With modern gear this climb feels like a solid grade IV rather than V. It felt longer and harder than NE Buttress of Higher or East Buttress of El Capitan. As far as ratings, if you think Reed's Direct, Phobos or Deimos are classic Yosemite sandbags, try North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. ;)
Stay thirsty my friends

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