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Liberty Cap, SW Face (VI,5.10,A3)

by: Paul A. Brunner (pbrunner@infolink.net)

Liberty Cap, SW Face (VI,5.10,A3) Report - June, 1996

The customs agent squinted when I approached. "Whatcha got in that manky, white, vinyl bag?" "Climbing gear, M'am." "Hmmm, seems like allota stuff, where ya goin?" "Yosemite." "Well, ok, as long as your not bringing in fruits/vegetables and you've paid your taxes, you can enter. Welcome back to the U.S." Yee-haw, good times instantly returned when the lovely, charming, and extremely feisty Candra "Tricks" Canning greeted me. Of course she was triple parked, but in no time we were roller blading through downtown San Francisco shopping for final supplies. The gang was back. Stevo, The Tricks and I met E-man at the Denny's parking lot in Pleasanton. All E-man could say between sips of Pale Ale were, "Man, you're one sick dude for flying halfway around the world to do a wall."

Come to think of it, maybe he was right since the last time I was in the U.S. we did The Shield as my farewell to Yosemite. But, this was different. I missed the clear, crisp atmosphere and the stunning variety of California. I also missed the outgoing personalities of the folks I used to hang with. During the last 9 months of 16 hour work days, breathing smog, and fighting the sharks of Hong Kong I would stare at Yosemite Climbs, Big Walls and wish I were back to the Camp 4 life. Now, rolling past the windmills on Hwy 580 and seeing a 'pink-light' sunset, sipping a Pale Ale, listening to another E-man twisted CD, it was pure bliss.

The Southwest Face of Liberty Cap had caught my attention two years ago while walking down the Falls trail after doing Half Dome. I instantly liked it since it was remote, had a nice feature, and good views of Nevada Falls. E-man and I had already done a couple of walls and wanted something different, but a little more laid back than a long "El Cap" route. We had an excellent plan for such an outing: Drag the junk up to Little Yosemite, climb Snake Dike (Half Dome) with The Tricks and Stevo, then do the wall.

Well, anyone who has ever walked more than to the base of El Cap with a stuffed haul bag, knows they're in for a grunt-O-ramma. Yup. By the time we sorted gear and began the approach, it was 11:45 PM. Luckily, the Tricks and Stevo took our lead and haul lines (ahhh, bless their hearts) so we were a bit lighter. We knew the short-cut up the Falls Trail so we made it to Little Yosemite before 2 A.M.

The next morning, no one was going anywhere until we had our coffee, and this took some time since Stevo's stove sputtered non-stop. Regardless, after everyone became jived and listened to a zillion Trick's antics we marched off to do Snake Dike. What a climb, but that's another report. We made it back to Little Yo for cocktails, dinner and chat with the other "campers" who thought it was totally illegal to climb walls without consulting the United States National Park Service for approval, blah, blah, blah.

Unfortunately, good times ended too soon. The Tricks and Stevo journeyed down-valley and E-man and I slugged down the last sip's of java before shouldering ol Bobo and the rack-O-plenty. We filled 5 gallons of water at the top of Nevada Falls and plunged down the trail, cutting off at the base of Liberty Cap. After skirting the bottom, the fun began when we did the traverse to the base of the climb. Ahhh, no true wall adventure can be complete without a manzanita hack, and man-O-live, did we live it! It took 3 carries each to get the stuff to the base, each carry about 200' of bush-whack fun. On our approach, I saw what looked like two fixed lines hanging down. "Dammit, I can't believe someone else is doing this wall." But, I knew that something was different since during my manzanita hack I had to clear a lot of spider webs. The fixed lines turned out to be someone's "bail" lines and looked like they were at least 5 years old.

E-man and I were, at first, thrown off by the fixed line as to the true start of the route. A clean crack looked good but did not have the features indicated in the topo. After more whacking along the ledge, we came to another crack that looked harder than A1, but had the features on the topo. E-man wanted the odd pitches so up he went, using a FISH hook on his second move. Gardening soon followed along with an LA. Farmer E-man muttered something about the definition of A1 and was beginning to doubt the project. But, persistence paid off, and after 70' he was at the belay, a tree on a blocky ledge with slings. "Arghh, there's ants." Ahh, the fun continues.... The second pitch was more tame: 30' of mixed corner placements followed with 100' of #2 Camalot leap-frogging up a crack on the ramp. I had three #2's so it wasn't that bad and was able to back-up the run-outs with a #3 Camalot. We originally discussed doing three pitches, running two together, but the climb veered right making it difficult to do so. With two pitches fixed, we journeyed back to the ledge to sort things out and rest for the next day push. "Push" is a good way to put it: Crank to the bivy ledge on 9, then top out the next day.

E-man and I had been through the wall routine many times and I found that my pre-wall nerves were more subdued than normal. It also helped having those oil can "Elephant" brewski's. Also, the sardines in cajun sauce with crackers helped. E-man even had an "oriental" mix of nuts for my benefit. While we munched away, I tugged on the old, manky fixed line wondering what/why someone had bailed and half expected it attached to a leg that would come whipping down. "Ah, it's just someone else's epic," was E-man's response while slurping down chocolate pudding. We were pooped and crashed at 9 PM, sleeping under the overhang on the ledge close to the start of the route.

The push was on. We jugged/hauled the lines at 7 AM and Farmer E-man went about his hoeing chores on pitch 3, claiming his nut tool was the most useful item on the rack. Clumps of weeds and dirt would waft by and after awhile the haul bag had enough dirt on top to blend in with the surroundings. I was seriously beginning to doubt the project: it was taking the Farmer longer than normal to do a pitch, it was dirty, and I didn't like the sounds of his uncertainty. I was already checking out bailing options. After I cleaned the pitch I said, "You know, at this rate we will be doing the last pitches in the dark." The Farmer was so happy with his pitch that I think climbing naked in a snowstorm, in the dark, wouldn't even stop him. Hell, if my partner's in, then I'm in.

The Farmer was still yacking it up about his pitch while I checked my lead: a choice of going up the corner or take the right, outer crack. The right side looked better so off I went, enjoying good mixed placements in a clean right facing crack that arched around to the belay, more like A1+. At this point a trend was beginning to take shape: the odd pitches were dirty and required some nailing while the even pitches were cleaner and took good gear. Pitch 5 looked like it blanked out after 10', but a horizontal crack going left, connected things. As soon as the Farmer got to the other crack, he was surprised to see another 100' #2 Camalot walk.

While E-man worked with the three #2 Camalot's, I hung my fat butt in our stellar belay seat, checking out Nevada Falls. "Man, that thing's big, and here comes the mule train with the extra lard-ass tourista's." Actually, I was jealous. I imagined the Farmer and I hiring a mule train to lug our garbage up to a Half Dome or Watkins project. Yeah, that sounds good, sitting on some poor beast named "Betty" sipping a Gin & Tonic from a wall bottle with an umbrella shading the sun. "Off belay! Lead is fixed." Grrrr, back to reality.

The Farmer was hanging from a sling belay on the headwall. The headwall: point of no return. E-man said, "This is the psychological barrier pitch, after this, were committed." "Ha, committed? We've never bailed off a wall!" It was steep, secure, and fun. Lot's of manky bolts, rivets, with a marginal blue Alien half-placed in a rotten crack that was no longer A1. The last 15' was a true A0/A1 ramp past a small pine tree to the belay, a quick but long pitch. The Farmer was ready for the next pitch, nut tool in hand. Weeding and digging his way up the next pitch, he place one or two LA's. This pitch also marked another transition: using natural pro for the belay anchor. His pitch required two .75 Camalot Jr's in a horizontal crack with a nut and TCU to back em up in the corner.

I wanted to hustle up pitch 8 so the Farmer/E-man wouldn't have to do his pitch in the dark. Eight was a nutting frenzy, saving the #3 and #4 Camalot's for the top, arching flake. The 5.7 squeeze was cake, and even by-passed a fixed pin for the belay, opting to do 30' of the next pitch so I could belay the Farmer below the A3 section. Yeah, good idea, but since I didn't flip the haul line over BOTH corners, ol Bobo got snagged out of reach. "Dammit, and things were going oh, so smooth." Half an hour to sunset and I had to rap back down and free the beast. By the time we got the pig up to the ledge and E-man sorted the rack, it was dark, no moon.

We were antsy to get to the ledge. Yeah, ants, they were on the tree that I hauled from. Anyway, I helped E-man light-up the expanding A3 flake (going left) with my head lamp after he did the short chimney section. He equalized some TCU's and moaned as he traversed across, placing more creaky options. Instead of going up and right, he followed two fixed heads up, then traversed left to an A1 ramp that led back right to Elephant ledge, the top of nine. We were able to keep the haul line out of the tree's and by the time I cleaned the pitch and staggered across 'ol Elephant, it was 11 PM. My head-lamp was still on and I instinctively scanned the chimney. "Hmmmm, doesn't look like a 5.8 chimney." "Ah, Dog, it will look better in the morning light." I could barely make out the Farmer, his head lamp died 10 minutes after he got on the ledge. He was digging through Bobo pulling out the goodies and the brewski's. While he set-up "happy hour," I checked out the bivy spots and a huge rat waddled across the back of the chimney. "Jesus Christ, hmmmm, you get the nice, smooth spot back here." E-man didn't take notice, he was busy christening the ledge as "Elephant ledge" with our Elephant brewski's.

The big feed. I made E-man save the smoked oysters for tonight, along with crackers, the "oriental" mix, ravioli, tortilla's, and chocolate pudding. Calamity almost struck when the sole Elephant beer came to a near roll plunge - luckily it was saved with no spillage. That night we chatted about why the hell we were treating a Grade VI like a Grade V, and swore that we would do a more caj approach to our next wall. Well, at least we didn't have to drag along the portaledge. Conversation of south routes on Denali, Nameless Tower (Pakistan), Tis-sa-ack (Half Dome), Tenaya's Terror (Watkin's), and Baffin flowed, but the current project was far from over and I pondered the free climbing that was required for the next day.

We slept in since we were up late, and I wasn't in too big of a hurry to rack up and take on the chimney. It still looked harder than 5.8, but with my foo-foo shoes on and a light rack I stemmed up the initial 30', slapped in a #2 Camalot and pondered the next section which was tight. Unfortunately, it kept spitting me out, I couldn't get anywhere. Maybe it was the jet lag, the non-stop agenda, or dragging all our crap around upper Yosemite, but I was getting pooped. To keep the project moving, I put in a Camalot Jr. and gave it a good tug to get higher. A couple more chimney slithering moves got me to the top of a blocky section where I traversed right to some blocks to haul.

The Farmer was back in action, using Cam's/TCU's on the initial section, then clipping mystery spinners to get to the A3 section. Two bomber LA's led to more gardening with pins, a couple 5.7 moves to the A1 section. While tuffs of weeds floated past and I stared at Nevada Falls, my mind drifted to future climbs. Hmmm, maybe another El Cap route. Hmmmm.... take two weeks.... do about 2 pitches a day. Hmmmm... take a couple haul bags, one filled with beer, yeah sounds good. I pictured E-man and I hanging from the portaledge on the Captain, sipping a cold one, the haul bag dripping with condensation with all the ice that we packed. Hmmm, maybe one of the big wall manufacturers could make a fridge haul bag. I visioned a long extension cord running from the pig all the way back to Camp 4 and some of the jokers unplugging it. A dirt clod that exploded brought me back to reality.

I had my foo-foo shoes on for pitch 12 along with another light rack. It was relatively long and had some variety: an exploration pitch. The Farmer was still yucking it up about his pitch as I scrambled up and to the right for 140', climbing through two 5.8 sections, arriving at the short, overhanging A1 section. About three aid moves got me to the manzanita gardens, and with the final rope drag, I reached a stout pine for hauling. The Farmer helped with ol Bobo through one section, but otherwise the oinker made it up before he did. "So, are you all warmed up for the 5.9 slab? Hee, hee, hee." "Ha! You think that's funny, well your ol nut tool is no challenge for the next pitch."

We both stared at the manzanita gardens and visioned hell. It looked like quite a whack just to get to the A1 ramp and we both questioned whether we could get the pig through the gnarly stuff and if the rope would reach the little pine tree at the top which marked the end of the pitch. After a little Bobo adjustment (moving it up higher), the Farmer was in his element: swimming through the manzanita, full-on, cussing, trying to fight back as the rack snagged on every little twig. A chain saw would have been an asset to the rack at this point. But, persistence pays, and he made good time up the ramp, but not before going through another set of bushes. The hauling proved to be easier than I thought. E-man practically had the pig airborne over the manzanita, and in no time, up the slab.

He was smirking at the belay, and why not? His job was over, the bum. While straddling the pine, I put back on my foo-foo shoes and tried to study the slabs, but I could only see 15' to the mantle section and a spinner bolt. "Brune-dog, doin' the Brune thing, Mr. Slab, Slab-O-Ramma..." With another light rack, I made quick time up the diagonal crack, mantled onto the pillar, clipped the bolt, mantled and stared ahead. 5.9 slab. This is it. Make it to the home-made bolt 20' away or cheese grade over the edge. But, there was an option. I skirted up and to the left and equalized two small Aliens in a crumbly crack. "Hmmm, maybe that will reduce the fall to 3rd degree burns..." I then went back right, trying to smear the best I could, but my leg was doing the hokey-pokey. "Arrr, dammit, I haven't had sewing machine legs in years!" E-man and I had smoked Crest Jewel (North Dome) in fine form, but I hated slab routes. I mean, there's nothing to grab onto. I like a crack or knob, something to at least give me a fighting chance. Regardless, a couple smears later, and I was at the home-made bolt, clipped it and did some more 5.9 to another mantle. After the second mantle, I wanted more pro, so I traversed left along a gutter for 20', placing a #3 Camalot and then proceeded up the cleanest line I could find. The climbing had eased to 5.6/5.7 at this point and there were a couple more pro options. Thank God we had a 60 meter rope, because I ran it all the way to the top, passing a tree in a "V" corner which was the usual belay. We were both doing the back-slap, hoo-haa, cut-the-rug jig before 6 PM.

But, we knew the closing times in the valley and besides, we had always made it back before dark on our wall adventures. So, with the gear sorted, we journeyed to the top and back down the other side, following the natural gully. The descent was cake and we kept plodding all the way to the valley. We couldn't believe it: start our walk-off at 7 PM, hit the valley at 9 PM, and were showered and sitting in the Mountain Broiler Room at 9:40 with a glass of Cabernet. "Why, yes sir, I'll take the New York, medium rare." We were so stunned to be back, that we remained speechless through half the dinner. But the conversation flowed again: I wanted to buy more Aliens and the Farmer thought about buying a weed-whacker or chain-saw for our next adventure. Yup, the rat was fed again. Damn, I don't understand, why does it always have to get so hungry?

Liberty Cap, SW Face (VI,5.10,A3) Beta & Gear List

  1. A2, 70'. The start of the route is about 50' before the ledge ends. There is a bolt on the lower ledge below the start. Also, look for the tree that marks the top of the first pitch, about 70'. Climb an arching corner which can be done free (5.11) or takes a hook move (FISH) and a LA. Some gardening. The rest of the pitch takes medium stoppers and cams. Belay from the tree with slings and ants.
  2. A1, 130'. Traverse down and right, clipping a fixed pin with a long runner then using small friends/medium nuts for 30'. #2 Camalot leap-frog for 100' on the ramp/face or 5.10c free climb. A #3 Camalot can be placed higher up. Belay (s.b.) from a ring that is equalized with two bolts and a block.
  3. A2, 100'. Can free the initial section up a jagged corner (5.9) or aid using nuts/cam's for 25', then gardening and KB/LA placement(s) and other mixed gear for 75'. Belay (s.b.) from a ring that is equalized with two bolts.
  4. A1+, 100'. Take the right, outer facing crack which takes a variety of TCU's and Camalot's + Jr's. No nailing, mostly clean. The crack arches out right and heads back left at the top for a s.b. from a ring equalized by a nut and bolt.
  5. A2, 130'. Up the (right) outer corner for 15', then horizontal left along a crack for 10', to the beginning of a #2 Camalot walk for 100'. Two bolts lead to a s.b. on the face of the headwall. TCU's and small cam's/nuts for the lower sections.
  6. A1+. 160'. The headwall, point of no return. Bolt/rivet ladder leads to a rotten pocket where you can either half-place a TCU/alien or a head to get to the next bolt/rivet. More bolts/rivets continue up and left to the A1 ramp which goes back right past a small pine tree to a multi-bolt belay. The upper ramp takes Camalot Jr's and TCU's. Bring rivet hangers.
  7. A2, 100'. Some gardening. KB/LA placements with some cams/TCU's. This is the start of natural belays. Belay in the corner using .75 Camalot Jr's in the horizontal crack and nuts in the corner.
  8. A1, 130 to 160' (depending on belay location). A nutting frenzy! Takes mostly nuts, and #3 & #4 Camalot's higher up. Either belay from a fixed pin on top of the 5.7 squeeze blocks or continue up for 30' of 5.3 climbing to the tree below the A3 section (of the next pitch). If belaying from higher up, make sure to flip the haul line over BOTH notches.
  9. A3, 120'. (After the initial 5.3 section) Go 15' up the chimney to the expanding flake (A3, crater potential) going left for 10' using TCU's and Camalot Jr's. After the expanding flake go up (by-passing the right ramp) to some placements and 2 fixed heads. Then, traverse left for 15' placing mixed gear to you get to the A1 ramp leading up (past bushes) to the bivy ledge. Take all gear including the heads. Belay from the tree on the ledge, flipping the haul line past the trees for a clean haul right of the belay. The bivy ledge is comfortable for two, but 4 people can squeeze in.
  10. 5.8+, 90'. Chimney. Proceed up the back ramp of the chimney for 30' and place a #2 Camaolot in the horizontal flake. Squeeze past the crux section for more chimney adventure to the top of the blocks and down (right) for 20' and belay on a blocky ledge, sling through a block and use Camalot's (#1, etc). A set of Cam's/nuts and slings is enough. Lower out the haul bag.
  11. A2, 130'. Starts at a dog-leg left crack which widens to 2" higher up (Cam Jr's to #2 Cam). After 35', traverse left on rivets/bolts and place some LA's (take both #4 LA's). Around the corner and higher up, do some 5.7 moves which leads to the A1 steep ramp. Some gardening and a variety of gear placements (Cam's, LA's, nuts). Belay from the tree at the top.
  12. 5.8/A1, 160'. Up and then right for 50', going around a bulge (5.8), below some bushes, then right and up to the ledge for another 70' (some 5.8 moves) leading to the short (15') of A1 roof which arches left. The A1 takes TCU's and Camalot Jr's. Free again around the bushes and belay from the pine tree (flipping the haul/lead lines over the bush/A1 roof). One set of TCU's, nuts and Cam's.
  13. A1, 165'. Up and left through the manzanita gardens (super thrash), then right up the A1 ramp. A0 for the first part of the ramp, getting steeper. Go through a bush section to (hanging) belay from a pine tree. Takes a variety of gear, may have to do some gardening. Make sure you "flip" the haul line over the ramp ledge and bushes. The person cleaning should aid the bag through the manzanita garden until it is on the wall. No need to move the haul bag higher up. There are a variety of bivy options in the "garden."
  14. 5.9, 165 to 200' (depending on belay location at top). The topo's skewed in proportion. From the hanging tree, go up and right for 15' along the diagonal crack, mantle on top the pillar, and clip a bolt - 5.7. Then do another mantle onto the slab, traverse up and left to place small TCU's or Alien's in a rotten flake, then go up and right to clip another bolt, 25' of 5.9. 15' of more 5.9 face, up, leads to another ledge mantle. Traverse left along a gutter (can place a #3 Camalot in the groove), then up for 100' of 5.7 to a tree in a corner for belay (if you have a 50 meter rope). Otherwise, better to continue to the top for another 40' and belay from an old tree (backup with camalots in crack). If you only have a 50 meter rope, you may have to do another haul to the top. Take one set of TCU's, Camalot's to #3 and Jr's. There are plenty of bivy spots on the top. For the descent, go to the top and head towards Lost lake and little Yosemite, a gully will lead down (walk off).

Gear List

Liberty Cap, SW Face (VI,5.10,A3) Useful Tips

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