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By Nathaniel Beckwith
I brought up to #3 camalot. Thin rack because easy climbing. 10c pitch is sustained but can be frenched easily; don't french the roof, it is too good to miss. With 200' rope, 1&2, 3&4 can be combined. Don't do the left (original) variation, it is wide and uneasthetic. We down climbed the entire descent, with a few tricky spots. 2-3 raps from obvious slings can be done. From the top of the route follow the well worn path to the Cathedral chimney. From the chimney, you can't get lost. The route took us about 4-5 hours. Most spend less than 8 hours (unless there is a traffic jam). This is a good first grade IV route; the easiest I have done.
This is a trip report of a climb I did in late July, 1995. It is touted as "perhaps the best grade four in the valley". I thought I would have a go at confirming this for myself.
I first got the route in my mind when I received a reply for a partner request I posted on rec.climbing in late May. The prospective partner listed the climb as a tick he wanted to do. I never ended up meeting the guy. In fact, I never met any of the people who replied to my post. So much for the Net.
After about 4-5 days in the Valley, I had met quite a few people by responding to every partner request on the bulletin board. A little family was forming. I ended up spending most of my time with these new friends. Meeting people in the Valley is NOT a problem. There were several oth- ers out there alone like me.
One evening another climber mentioned that he was interested in the N.E.route. "Tomorrow morning??" was my reply. The climb was on. We immediately went to my van to rack up. The route is 5.10, 12 pitches. We would need an early start. His name was Mark.
So, you may be wondering... why not do a shorter climb to check each other out? What a waste of time! In my days, I have only run into 1 bad partner. I was on the 12th pitch of the Shield, and I get this: " O.K. Nate, here is the system. I clip this figure-eight knot on the lead line into this light D on my harness....you jug......" Needless to say, we bailed, but that is another story. I'll never regret the experience.
We left the parking lot at about 6-6:30 am. We were at the base by about 8-8:30. There was another party already there. My partner knew them from the Needles about a month before. He thought they were pretty fast, so they would probably not hold us up too much. The only thing left to worry about were the obvious slot pitches above the 1/2way on the route. I had really come to hate cracks that I couldn't lock a single hand into. I was on Steck-Salathe (the worst climb in the Valley) about 2 days before, and had vowed never to return....ever. I was looking over the topo trying to figure out who was going to get the worst of it. "So Mark, do you want to take the first lead...?" My little problem seemed to have been solved.
Mark took off on the first lead. The first two pitches are pretty moderate, so we simul-climbed them. I arrived at the belay and started scoping the 5.9 pitch above. It was quite nice; perhaps the best on the route. I cranked through. Mark led the next leading us to the base of the traverse pitch. The first traverse is very nice. The exposure is fantastic. Tiny holds and no pro, yet secure at 5.6 or so. We took about a half hour break here as the party above scraped and grovelled through the slot pitches. The belay at the top of the first slot pitch was too small for two parties.
Mark led off up the first slot. It sounded ugly. I couldn't bear to watch. It is a funky chimney- stem-tight hand thing. I seconded and found it was not as bad as I had thought. At least it started with a nice finger crack. When I arrived at the belay, I caught a glimpse of the next pitch. It didn't look too bad. Off I went. I cranked through the remainder of the slot and through a 5.9 roof. Now I could see that I had made a serious logistical mistake. I should have taken the first lead. Before me was a tapered squeeze chimney. It looked pretty tight toward the top. Well, in I went. I scraped, thrashed, cussed and squirmed for about 50 feet. Now it was time to try to get out of the thing. I really wanted some pro first. I couldn't reach it. My rack was stuck behind my back. I couldn't turn my head. I couldn't even chalk my now very sweaty hands. After scraping my nose off and losing about 1 cm of skin off my knee, I managed a #1 camalot in back of the chimney. Out, and up I went. I laughed cynically as my partner seconded.
The next pitch has 2 options. 5.8 no pro face friction, or a 5.10 option with good gear. We opted for the later. Hence the rating I gave the route. It is only 1-2 moves of 5.10. Mark made the belay. This left me with the next traverse pitch. I love traverses. Have you ever seen a traversing squeeze chimney or offwidth? You are catching on. There is a trick to this pitch. The topo seems to direct you straight sideways. Actually, you want to tend diagonally up and left. There is one rather bold 5.7 move (I wonder if there will be anything at the end of this dyno...) about 1/2 way out. I would tell you about the move, but that would ruin the adventure. The exposure on this pitch is way good. The entire face was visible. I could still barely see the packs at the base. Mark continued the traverse and belayed beneath......another chimney. I climbed up this and took the arching left variation which left Mark with an offwidth pitch to fin- ish. I thought the arching left crack above the chimney was difficult to protect. It also has a very awkward mantle above questionable pro. The offwidth pitch above is a bit loose. I would recom- mend another variation. I would recommend going right after the chimney toward the bush, (not straight up variation) finishing on cleaner rock.
Mark and I both agreed that the route was a bit physical. The best grade IV in the valley?, perhaps not. I think East Buttress-Middle is a much better route. The NE route is classic Yosemite climbing, though. It is definitely a must-do for all Valley wannabe hardmen/hardwomen. There is a wide variety of difficult, sustained climbing. The route took us about 7-8 hours, including about 1 hour of waiting for the party above. Expect about 9-12 hours car-car. There were plenty of bivy spots at the top for slower climbers.
We went to the north end of the formation and took a look at El Cap. We were about level with Camp 6. It is quite a sight. The descent is beautiful. The Cathedral Spires blended in quietly with the pines. This is quite a contrast from how they appear from the floor of the Valley.
The purpose of this hopefully is not to spray about my climbing, but to provide useful information to those interested. A few of my friends and family suggested, also, that I should record some of my climbs for the future. So... here it is.
My partner, Matt, and I set out from my van in the Yosemite Lodge parking area at 7:15am to catch a bus to the Awahnee hotel. We followed a well worn path from the back of the hotel parking to the base of the route. Matt was to lead, and we would simul-climb as far as he could go. I figured I was the less likely to fall, so I followed. Matt took off at about 8:00 am.
Matt is a classmate from both U of St. Thomas and here at the U of M. He had just started climbing 5 months before. Never had I seen so much natural talent for climbing. He heard me talking about the Tetons in class one day. He wanted to do the Grand this summer. He wanted to know what one had to know to climb the Grand. Well, I told him he could start by getting a membership at the local gym till spring, and we could go from there. Go like hell he did! During spring break he was a great second in the Eldorado Canyon. A day before in Yosemite he led the direct first, third, and last pitches of the Nutcracker (5.9) quickly, and competently, after 5 months of climbing!
I cranked through the awkward first pitch of the RA to see Matt was ahead taking too easy of a route. One must step right 2X to catch the "crack on face" pitches instead of scrambling a wet chimney. I took the lead and did the remainder of the traversing pitches. Fantastic cracks on face. I had a 200 foot rope to combine pitches. I looked up from here and saw that many, many options were available. I managed to eye the actual route from here to the pendulum. What I really had my eye on was some really aesthetic cracks slightly left of the actual line. Off I went. I led in 200 foot runs from here to the ledge below the pendulum. Since I only had 4-5 cams and about 7 nuts, I needed my gear back every 200 feet. The pendulum was wet. No free climbing here. I did the pendulum and the following ledge pitch in 1 ropelength and belayed at a large tree. Matt seconded simply by unclipping the tats at the pendulum and holding the tats while traversing to the ledge. No problem.
The next lead was the only lead where I had to yell "watch me!" The route runs up a crack right of a dihedral to a tree. From here, a few awkward mantles and steps left lead to easy slabs. I had to run it out far to avoid rope drag. Matt lead the next pitch up easy an easy high and left traversing slab. I led the final pitch. It was very wet. The actual pitch goes low from the first rappel anchor. I did not feel up to jumping wet streams while frictioning 5.4 no-pro slab. Instead I went high where lower angle climbing is found. I ended up lowering to the belay off some tats. Matt rapped from the same tats to the belay. It was now about 11:00. If it is wet, you may still want the rope, or at least climbing shoes, for the exit from the jungle. Very interesting wet in running shoes... not recommended.
We were now off to Crest Jewel (NOT Crested Jewel). We arrived at a very nice shady ledge at the start of the route at about 12:30-1:00. A very nice spot for lunch; a few pop-tarts, a power bar and some water. The first pitch is a good primer for the route. I had intended to run the first two together, but the moves off the belay were harder than I expected for 5.9. The second pitch was the crux pitch for me. I had a hard time above the first bolt. Perhaps I wasn't used to the climbing yet. The next pitches went very fast. It is not hard to re-rack 4-6 QD's and reflake the rope. I led every pitch. I had a hard time finding the bolts. They come at rest stances, and were often hid behind the stance from my view. I missed several. None of the belays appeared until I was right on them. On the 150' 5.8 pitch I only found 3 bolts! They are sure easy to find looking down after you passed them. No sport route here pals. This thing was lead bolted for sure! Not a trace of gear placements the whole route.
High on the route I was getting pretty run out and desperately searching for the next bolt. There was a roof looming overhead. I looked down at my belay and beyond. The start of the route had fallen behind the crest. The granite was a featureless expanse gently and quietly dropping to the Washington Column, and off to the valley below like the crest one sees while approaching a waterfall in a canoe. I was lost in a calm sea. ( El Cap is a frozen stormy sea.. Sentinel is a swamp ) The roof started to loom larger at the thought of trying to avoid it. I finally found the next bolt. It was about 10 feet above the roof! This is pretty sick, I thought. I cranked over the roof on slopers, and was quite happy to clip that bolt.
I was plenty warmed up now for the 10a lead. It is well bolted. It felt easier than the 5.9 section on the second pitch. So, if you can make it past the second pitch, you will probably have the route, technically. We topped out at about 4:30pm.
We were quite a ways above the valley now. The thought of scrambling down the gullies after such a beautiful day made me cringe. The map in the back of the guidebook was missing the trail to Tioga road. I had heard this is a good way to access North Dome. I figured there would be signs at the trail intersections, and we could hitch a ride back to the Valley. Someone at camp 4 said they did it a week ago. We were sandbagged. As I recall now, the damn road was not even open a week before!
The hiking was fine for about 3 miles. Soon came the snow and more difficult route finding. Things were getting wet, cold and a bit adventurous as daylight faded behind the mountains. Then came the river. Surely there would be a crossing! We had long left the trail desperately looking for a crossing. We could deny it no more. We were going to have get wet. I found a spot where the river was wide. The current was not as strong here. I left my shoes on and trodded in... The water got up past my knees and was approaching..., well.., I bailed. We found another spot where there were some scattered boulders. The current was dangerously fast, and daylight was fading. No time for mistakes. I stood on a boulder looking at the current. The mission was clear. Reach the next boulder. A jump was out of the question. I stepped onto a rock about 1-2 feet below the surface. The water splashed all over my body. Four more scary steps before I leaned over and fell into a bridge with my body to the next boulder. I jumped into a desperate belly flop. I was there. I gripped a hold and stuck out my leg for my partner. 3/4 mile further and we were at the road.
We hadn't taken a break since the summit of North Dome. I was tired. I sat dripping and cold on the warm pavement. We finished the last of our food and stuck out our thumbs. The first car was full. The next vehicle was a huge camper. It stopped! Inside was a dutch family of 5 touring the US. They had climbed in the Alps. We ate, drank, and had great climbing conversations on the way back to the valley.
Crest Jewel is the best slab in the Valley, if not the entire world. Quit your boring computer job now and go do the route. It lacks crowds. It is not one of the well known cattle-line classics.
There are worse things than the North Dome gully (like the Kat walk) This is a feasible access to North Dome. I think most complaints come from newbies on their way down from the RA route. Although I did not use the gully this trip, I did use it in 1993 with a haulbag. I estimate (very roughly) about 2-4 hours to the base of Crest Jewel from Awahnee and about 3-5 hours back. The route takes 2-6 hours to climb. 5.10a, 10 pitches, three star.
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