East Buttress of Lower Cathedral Rock
Saturday of Memorial Day in Yosemite. A fifteen minute approach to a 12-pitch 5.10 route - we didn't see another climber all day...
Lower Cathedral Rock doesn't get the attention that it's neighbors, Middle and Higher Cathedral Rocks, do. This is probably due to loose rock, harder climbing, past perigrine closures, and a lack of Supertopo coverage. This year, Lower Cathedral rock is not closed to allow Perigrine nesting ( according the NPS . The Access Fund's California Closures and Restrictions page incorrectly reports Lower Cathedral Rock as closed (as of this posting). Most climbers are probably not aware of this, hence an all day route with no crowds.
We camped outside the Valley on a USFS road. Left the car at 7:30. Twenty mintues to the base. Ten minutes of racking up and we were ready to to. Micah and I had attempted this route before. We got started in the loose/dirty 5.8 chimney down and right from the East Buttress Route two years earlier. That mis-adventure turned into two pitches and a rappel off. Make sure you start the East Buttress in a relatively clean chimney, with the Gunsight wash visible.
We had four liters of water (one liter too few!) and a couple cliff bars. Gear went into a small North Face pack (carried by second). Both of us had pants on (chimney/ow pitches). I had knee pads. We left our shoes at the base, opting to descent the Gunsight in rock shoes. We used double 9mm ropes.
Rack: nuts, 8 draws, 6 slings, two smaller tcu's (blue, green), double tcu's from yellow up to double #3, one #4, one #5, big bro's #2, #3. I would have left the #2 big bro at home and instead brought one more #3. The #5 and big bros are optional - I was still getting over a cold, and being the off-width/chimney leader, I decided it was worth having along. A strong ow/chim climber could ditch the #5 and big-bro's.
Pitch one is a chimney, much like the Reid guild describes. I led this up, grunting my way up 150' of classic Yosemite wide crack up to the belay. The big bro's and #5 came in handy - I tend to lead faster when there's more gear. Your milage may vary - I was snotty and coughing as I went.
Pitch two is a little ramp up to a fist section. Save your #3/fist cams for higher if you can. The crux is an odd/insecure bit with a loose chock stone down low. Pull down, not up/out on the stone and you'll be fine. Micah led this up to the belay by a tree. He belayed low to reduce rope drag - recommended. We moved the belay up and left for the start of pitch 3. The topo is a bit vague here - pitch three wanders up and left, then cuts back for the Fissure Beck. This belay is a good break spot - the next three pitches were in the sun and had relatively tiny belay spots.
Three is the "Fissure Beck" - steep 5.9 wide crack. This is one intimidating looking monster. However, it's bark is worse than it's bite. As far as 5.9 OW goes, it's one of the better pitches in the Valley. I climbed up and left from the belay to some flakes, and then traversed back into the wide section. We had double ropes, making this a relatively painless task. A single rope would have significant drag here - consider back cleaning. You could go straight up, but the pro doesn't look so great. The wide section looks gnarly, but you can stem all over the place. With a #4, #5 and two big bro's, this turned out to be pretty chill. Again, the smaller (#2) big bro was definitely overkill, and a stronger leader could ditch the #3 bro and possibly even the #5. I moved all the way up to the tree to belay. A better option would be to belay at the ledge 30' down from the tree (4 is short anyway). Micah seconded the Fissure Beck with the pack on(!). I'm not sure if he lay-backed, but he definitely did more stemming than grunting. A second or a really committed leader could probably lay back the pitch.
Four is really closer to a 5.9 - runs up to a 1 foot tiny ledge below the 10c stem crux. Micah led both four and five. He though four was a bit on the stout side of things.
Five is a great pitch, especially if you have a rope gun like Micah. He just chugged most of the way up the pitch, had to hang once, found some holds on the right face and ran it the rest of the way to the belay with a poorly placed #0 TCU for pro. Micah is a born again Valley hard man. I cruised part way up and then got Micah to pull the pack up. It would be pretty hard to get the stems going with a pack on. So this pitch has some fixed pro. It felt hard for a Valley 10c, but again I'd been in the sun all morning. And I wasn't in good shape to begin with. It's a lot of stemming and some finger locks. Micah found a pod for a bomber #4 part way up. The 10c section is short, but the pitch goes about as far as the Reid guide book shows. There are some rap 3/4 the way up the pitch; belay higher up. Micah belayed just above the slings, and below the 5.7 roof. A big ledge is just above. The roof bit is wild, but mellow. At this point (3PM) the route went back into the shade.
Six: I led out the roof (really fun!), up a couple 5.7 sections, a full rope length to a ledge with trees. There's a lot of boulder hopping here. Go through the trees to the big ledge where the wall steepens above. The top ledge is a great wide lunch spot. We didn't get here till 3PM - late lunch. We were also running low on water by this point. Chugging an extra liter at the base really would have helped. The Valley had a high of about 78 degrees, and we were feeling it.
Seven: As other people have pointed out, the topo gets confusing here. You'll probably move the belay over and right. There are two options, a 5.8 crack or a 10a crack. In hind site, the 10a on the right is probably cleaner and more enjoyable. Micah opted for the 5.8. The pitch led up past a couple of fixed cams. The trick is to cut right and up to the belay at a tree. Do NOT wander up into the loose stuff. There's a huge block the size of a refrigerator door, ready to go. Micah climbed over this. If you get to the block, you've gone too high - do not touch the thing. Seriously, you'll probably kill yourself and quite possibly your belayer as well if the thing falls.
Eight: A 5.6 ramp into confusion. Roll up the ramp to the obvious bush. Then wall steepens and widens above. There are a lot of options - don't freak out. Just continue up and left to the next bushes and belay somewhere there (there are a few options).
Nine: The Reid guide really could have done better. Move up and right to an orange flake. To the right of the orange flake is a ultra-chossy corner with some slings - these were left by people who made the mistake of going up there. Look up the corner - do you see a way to get from there to the tree? No. Hence the abandoned slings. Do not go up the corner. Instead, layback the right side (1 1/2" pro) of the big orange flake. (There are some slings in a corner to the right - someone's mistake.) Continue up the corner above the orange flake, belay at the tree out right. The rock was really loose here - both Micah and I slowed down.
Ten: Short pitch on lose rock. I belayed on a ledge below a tree on the left (topo shows right). Rope was draggy. Rock was lose. It was 8PM, getting dark, I was dehydrated. Could have run this to 11.
Eleven: Easy 5.6 back up the corner to a tree.
Twelve: Easy 5.5 to almost the top. Watch the loose rock. It was almost dark. We were amost out of water.
A quick hike to the top and we were done! There's a cool bulk of rock at the top you can stand on. We enjoyed the last 1/10th of a liter of water here. Wish we'd brought just a little more. From the top, we could see the swarm of headlamps on El Cap. The Nose looked to be a traffic jam.
Descent: Be careful of the drop-offs. Gunsight isn't a good place to be in the dark. Downclimbing in rock shoes wasn't too bad. We took 2 hours. My headlamp was this crappy micro BD mini headlamp - good for hiking, bad for climbing. There are three single rope raps. We found a knotted fixed line at the top one. An hour and a half of downclimbing brought us to the base. A quick trip to the valley floor got us to the Awahnee in time for last call - no booze here sadly, just five liters of water and soda - dehydration had taken it's toll.
This is our topo. I included the mistake chimney (not in the Reid Guide, not really worth climbing either). Hopefully this clarifies the upper pitches.