|Climbing Alongside The Flying Master
East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock (IV, 5.10a, 11 pitches)
November 1st 2001
Its 8:30 and as planned, Karl Baba arrives in Camp 4 in order to climb with me today. We head to Middle Cathedral Rock, a huge formation on the opposite side of the valley from El Capitan. The climb we planned to do, Central Pillar of Frenzy, is a beautiful line up the north face of the mountain. Karl warned me that it would be chilly and that maybe we should change our plans and go somewhere else. "Nah I think it will not be that bad Lets just go see how it feels."
The approach is short and straightforward and we soon are at the base of the route. And sure enough, its cold. As if it wasnt enough, it rained a few days before and the crack doesnt seem all dry. "Oh. Huh Im sorry Karl "
"Why dont we go climb the East Buttress instead? It even gets sun in the morning." is his friendly reply.
The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral is on my tick list but were supposed to wake up early tomorrow in order to tackle that classic 11 pitch route. Its already 8:50 and days are very short in November. Do we really have time, or should we wait until tomorrow? I really dont know; Ive never attempted such a big route.
"I think we can do it Marc. And its almost full moon, so no worries if we go down in the dark!"
Hell Why not? So off we go and 15 minutes later we are at the base of one of the Fifty Crowded Climbs, probably one of the best climbs in North America. It looks great, and there is nobody on the route!
We sort gear, rack up and prepare what well carry on the climb. A few minutes later Karl is ready, having done about five times more tasks than me. He gives me a few advices and instructions, and off he goes.
This is the very moment he started flying. He stopped only hours later once at the top of the route. The start is low fifth class and he seems to be hiking it, and he links the second pitch without slowing down. A few seconds later hes at the belay and ready to bring me up. Hum I guess it was all easy and straightforward climbing
Wrong. There is a very tricky move up an overhang that makes me pause for a while. My right foot almost slips but Im able to stick the move and continue my ascent. Minutes later Im at the belay, happy to be climbing what appears to be bomber, perfect granite all the way to the top.
I just reached the belay when Karl launches up, planning to link the next two pitches. This is dream climbing for me: fast and smooth changes at the belays followed by fast, smooth climbing up stellar pitches. Protections are few and far between and Karl never seems to be making any effort to progress upwards. Actually, he looks like hes taking a walk in the park!
Soon comes my turn to climb what turn out to be 200 feet of perfect easy to moderate liebacking. The rock is warm and we enjoy magnificent views of El Capitan and the Cathedral Spires. We made pretty good time on the first four pitches, but now comes the 5.10a crux, the Fifty Crowded Variation which bypasses the original 5.10c crux. I rarely ever succeeded climbing 5.10 clean, much less on-sighting it. I look absent-mindedly at Karl as he once again levitates up the rock, wondering how Ill be able to climb the next few feet without losing 60 minutes and 1000 calories while doing so.
"Ok its now my turn. Lets see I have to go up there and then traverse to the right. Damn the next hold is wayyyyy to the right. Stretch, stretch, stretch. Whoa! Got it! Transfer weight slowwwly. Now up and then back left. Huh!? How can I reach a hold so high above me? Foot, dont slip. No. Smear, smear! Stick baby. Phew. Done."
I can then continue up the nice face using good edges for my hands and feet. Note: Ten days later, Im still wondering how Karl, who is roughly 2 or 3 feet smaller than me (well, anybody is roughly 2-3 feet smaller than me), did the crux with so little trouble without using some levitation tricks
We climb the next three pitches in two very long ones, following more beautiful cracks, corners and grooves. They are so long that even with the 60m rope I have to take Karl off-belay when he reaches the end of the rope, climb up a few feet and hug the rock hoping he will have enough rope to reach the belay ledge. He later offers me to lead a 5.6 pitch. "Do you really think well have enough daylight if I lose some time on it?" "Sure" is his answer, so I cant decline the offer. Some easy climbing leads to a 5.6 layback with polished feet. I look for any less committing variation without much success, so after a few minutes of uncertainty I have no choice but to give it a go. All goes pretty well and I am soon cruising up to the belay.
The next pitch follows a perfect crack offering great 5.8 jamming 1000 feet off the ground. Talk about a great location to practice hand jams! We eat a bit and relax on the belay ledge before continuing up the last rope-length. It offers still more jamming followed by easier climbing, and soon we are on top, about 4 hours after leaving the ground.
The exposed but easy Kat Walk brings us to Cathedral Chimney, our descent route. A few rappels and some talus hiking allow us to regain the base of our route where we pack our gear before heading down to the car. We reach it at 2:35, almost 6 hours after leaving it. Not too bad for a first Grade IV!
"Why dont we try Serenity Crack tomorrow?" asks Karl before leaving. "You'll have to suffer a bit". Thats what we did, and I sure did suffer But thats another story
November 12th, 2001
|Marc Traversing on the East Buttress|
|Marc Low on the Route|
|Marc high on the route|
|Marc Managing Ropes on the Descent|
|Marc Rapping in Cathedral Chimney|
|Karl leading 5.7 face. Higher Spire in Background|