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Southwest Face of Liberty Cap (VI, 5.10, A3) May 11 - 13, 2000

by Madeleine Schultz

I filed my dissertation on Wednesday ("call me a doctor! call me a doctor!) and alan and i headed up to the valley on thursday afternoon. we were thinking of liberty cap. there are two trip reports on tuan's web page, one makes it sound like a cake walk (eric and dave, who i know) and the other makes it sound ok, not too hard.

We stopped by the mountain store to replace the daisy and cam hook that alan had dropped off the nose, then started up the falls trail with those heavy packs. it took about an hour to the point where we left the trail and started trying to get to the base of the climb. this was the wrong thing to do - much better to stay on the trail until right by Nevada falls, then follow the base of the rock to the traverse. The traverse is quite tricky with full packs, involving delicate manzanita laybacks and crawls under dripping rock. It was 7 pm by the time we got to the base of the climb so alan started soloing the first pitch while i went down to fill the water bottles at the creek. The Merced river is quite exciting at this time of year but luckily there is a small side-creek where i was able to filter without being washed away.

On my way back up to the base i was startled to hear alan call out what i thought to be "fall!". I looked up and assumed the worst - he wasn't moving and there was a long red stain on the rock below him. i almost threw up immediately but called out to find out if i should go for help or go up and get him down. he didn't reply and so i started up, and he started climbing again. evidently i mis-heard his call and he was fine! next time we are taking some "talk-abouts" - the audibility on this whole climb sucks as Nevada falls is right beside it. Note that the first pitch is extremely hard for A1, or even A2. We thought it was A2+, although it was dark for the upper part.

We slept in what Dave had described as a coffin in his trip report, and it was wet too, so at 5:40 we were up and moving. after jugging the first pitch i realised that the bag was too heavy for me to haul, and alan had to help. i had a case of "no more unscariness" (Candace;s term for being scared) and decided that i didn't want to lead P2 as it was wet. Alan took it and 3, which are nice cracks, and I started leading P4, which is very small (#1 tcu) for a ways. I was terrified and came back to the belay, forcing him to lead 4 and 5. P6 is a bolt ladder so i was sure i'd be ok with that, but 8 moves out there is a missing bolt before a rivet, so i couldn't use the cheater stick and couldn't reach the rivet, even high stepping. so i again returned to the belay (in tears) which was difficult as the pitch traverses at 45 degrees. Alan took it and finally we got to a belay with a decent ledge. Seconding that pitch is difficult as it traverses a long way off small gear. Top of P6, it was 4 pm, 4 hours until dark and 3 pitches to the bivy ledge. clearly i was in no shape to lead any but he took it on like a champion and got us up 7 and 8, both nice cracks, and set off on the first A3 pitch at 7 pm.

Many people classify aid climbs as old wave and new wave, with the grades of the old wave tending to be soft due to the advent of new gear (aliens, offset aliens which we don't have, etc). However, this climb is very rarely done, and as we don't take a hammer the A3 was extremely difficult. Where previous parties had nailed, alan had to use cam hooks upside down and there were some very blank areas for us shorties. He made it to the bivy ledge with some effort and i was able to jug and help the bag up, just on dark.

The ledge is great. Firstly, there are no really nice ledges for the first 6 pitches, so as they get progressively bigger on top of 6, 7, 8 and 9 it is more and more relaxing. There is a tree, amazing views, and the chimney above for the next day's climbing. We slept without our harnesses, wedged behind the tree after a delicious dinner of Chef Boyardee.

In the morning I made alan lead P10 as he hadn't let me bring my climbing shoes. It is really quite awkward but not too long. P11 is the second A3 pitch, and it was very difficult to do clean. Alan fell once as a cam hook popped out, then made it around the corner only to discover that the climbing does not let up - tenuous moves up a thin and dirty crack lead finally to the safety of a tree. P12 is free again so he led it to the short aid to the manzanita ledge. P13 I finally felt up to leading as we were near the top and it was really A1. I fought my way through the manzanita, pulled myself up through a tree that seemed determined to catch on every single item on my rack, and made it to the crack. i then had to go back and remove the pro i had used to get there as the rope drag was horrendous. the crack was nice and fun! i was finally not scared to lead, and the only bad part was getting caught in th tree again. By the top my rope drag was pretty bad but i made it to the pine tree and tried to haul. unfortunately the bag was stuck in the manzanita and wouldn't move, but alan helped it up and we were ready for the last pitch.

P14 is a 5.9 slab, poorly protected with bolts and some cams. Alan took a short fall when he tried to downclimb, being sure he was offroute due to the huge amount of lichen. He was in fact on route, and for those who plan to lead this one, there is a #3 camalot placement above the second mantle. Then it is run-out to heaven and the almost-top. I took us up the last little bit to flat ground where we celebrated with a can of V8. I know we are getting old, no beer for us.

Overall: an adventure climb. It could use about 10 bolts distributed over the first 6 belays and P6. I think all the bolts are original, and they are really old and scary, some of them wiggle in your fingers. The upper pitches have natural gear anchors which are fine. Don't take a portaledge unless you plan to be very slow.

The climbing is mostly fun and nice but the A3 is real A3 even if it is old. If you want to practice nailing, this is the route for you.

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