|Atop pitch 8 of My Favorite Things|
Suffer-fest #4: My Favorite Things
Rain drops on roses? Nope. I want sunshine. Whiskers on kittens? I'm a dog lover. Warm woolen mittens? Yeah, I do like those..., but even more big granite faces, fun climbing, and long, hard days.
Pop quiz: what’s the biggest wall in Yosemite? El Cap? Bzzt! Wrong. The north face of Cloud’s Rest is 6000 feet high. Granted most of this is low-angle slab climbing, but it’s twice as tall as the Captain.
I’ve been on a quest to climb all the major structures in Yosemite. Starting at the northwest end of the Valley and going clockwise, I’ve climbed Golden Bough at Ribbon Falls, four routes on El Cap, Manure Pile Buttress, Lost Arrow Spire, Yosemite Point Buttress, Royal Arches, two routes on Washington Column, North Dome, Yasoo Dome, two routes on Half Dome, Mt. Broderick, Liberty Cap, Mt. Starr King, two routes on Sentinel Rock, both Cathedral Spires, multiple routes on all three Cathedral Rocks, two routes on the Leaning Tower, and the Rostrum, etc. But there were two glaring holes in my CV: Mt. Watkins and Cloud’s Rest. It was time to punch up the resumé.
I’d been interested in climbing Cloud’s Rest for decades, but before 2003 there wasn’t much documented information on routes there. I read in an old guidebook about a supposed runout 5.8 slab route, but this face is more than a mile wide. Then heard about My Favorite Things. This 15-pitch 10a route had bolted belays and started two thousand feet up by traversing in on slabs from Tenaya Lake. It has been on my list ever since. I’m just finally getting around to doing it.
I got up at 4:30 a.m. and made some coffee. I rousted Derek about 15 minutes later and he ate some breakfast before hopping in the car. We drove to the Sunrise Trailhead on the eastern end of Tenaya Lake and were hiking a little before 6 a.m. We didn’t have a map, which would have been handy, and the description just said to walk about a mile down "the trail” before breaking off into Tenaya canyon. Turns out there are two trails that leave from this parking area. One is the Snow Creek Trail that heads over Yasoo Dome and Mt. Watkins before descending into the Valley from the north. The other is the Cloud’s Rest trail and traverses on the south side of the Canyon. the latter is the trail we wanted, but it wasn’t the one we followed. When I saw the signs indicating that we were on the Snow Creek Trail, I thought we’d have to turn around, but we were headed in the right general direction and I found a way to leave the trail and head down a drainage towards our route, so I took it. It was probably 1.3 miles down the trail, so we figured we had something wrong, but we went onward nonetheless. We don't like backtracking much, so we resolved to correct our error when the opportunity arose.
We traversed slabs, did some minor bushwacking, clambered down boulders and followed the small stream in the bottom of the canyon, crossing it many times in search of the easiest passage. We found a few measly cairns along the way that appealed to our optimistic notion that we were on the right track. The approach was supposed to be six miles and the real slab walking was supposed to start, just past Pywiak Falls, where we were to climb up and left over a granite ridge to avoid the steep slabs that rolled over to form the falls. I was thinking that the wimpy creek that we were following wouldn’t make much of a fall but we climbed up slabs on the left. As we rounded the corner above the drop-off we spotted the falls to our left, coming out of another side canyon, the main canyon. We’d hiked down the wrong canyon, but we were now just separated by a ridge of granite. We traversed over the top of the ridge and wondered if we’d find an impassable, cliffed-out descent to Pywiak Creek.
|Not the right approach, but it worked out fine|
Luckily the descent was just steep slab walking and we made our way down and then through the worst bushwhacking of the day to get to the creek itself, which was a bit to wide to cross with dry feet. We scouted the banks a bit. I found a section that involved a big leap across the deepest and narrowest section. You’d plunge one foot maybe 5 or 6 inches into the water on the far ledge, but if you slipped backwards, you’d be in fast water over waist deep. Just before making the leap, I balked. I decided to scout further up stream and shortly found a very wide section that was never more than 7 or 8 inches deep across perfectly smooth granite. I took off my shoes and socks and walked across easily. Derek thought removing his shoes was too much of a nuisance and walked back to a leap near where I had scoped. He didn’t even pause here. In fact, he accelerated, picking up speed over the two approach rocks and then making the big leap. One foot went into the water and then he was cleanly across. He was wearing La Sportiva Gortex high-top Explorers and didn’t even get his foot wet.
|The approach alone is super cool. Just hiking down to Pywiak Falls and back would be a great day in Yosemite.|
On the correct route, we now started the massive slab traverse in earnest. This went very smoothly and after some confusion of where the route started (we ended up roping up one pitch before the start as the slab walking became thinner, steeper, and more exposed) we found the cairn at the start and I spotted the bolts at the top of the first pitch.
Having already geared up, we immediately started up the first pitch, which at 5.5, only took a few minutes. We were still in our approach shoes, but now transferred into our rock shoes as the next pitch was rated 5.8. This pitch was a bit heads up, since it involved climbing up rock running with water. I could mostly avoid it, but had to step into the running water for a few steps. Well above gear, this was a bit concerning, but, much like two days before, I was pleasantly surprised how well my shoes stuck to the rock.
Each pitch on this route ended at a two-bolt belay and while some pitches had a protection bolt or two on them, most did not. It is very much a gear route and not a clip-up. Also, nearly every pitch is 190+ feet. This came in handy more than once in identifying the next belay, as the bolts weren’t that visible to me. I climbed by some bolts on the early pitches, much like I did on Snake Dike.
The third pitch had a bolt nearly directly left of the belay in the middle of running water. Instead I climbed straight up, got in some gear and made a delicate traverse across the slab and the water. This pitch was rated 5.9, but like most pitches on this route, the rating seemed very soft. If you are comfortable on low-angle friction slabs (and what Minion isn’t?) this route will seem very easy, with one exception. After six or so pitches, I was envisioning soloing this route. It didn’t seem any harder than the First Flatiron. I don’t mean this as criticism in any way. I loved this route and would even repeat it. I’m thankful for the first ascensionists who put in such hard work establishing this route. It is a great contribution to Yosemite climbing. But you can't compare these ratings to the Valley ratings. Well, you can, by knocking two number grades off each pitch.
We continued up, enjoying each pitch and dispatching them quickly. My mentor Chris Weidner will be happy to know that my feet were hurting enough to remove my climbing shoes at the belays, but disappointed that the pain was coming from my same over-sized shoes and my enhanced wimpy-ness and not from down-sizing. Derek was experiencing some shoe pain as well, as he had a blister from Wheeler on his heel, but it was all manageable. Because of this I broke up the seventh pitch to enjoy the huge ledge in the middle of it.
The eighth pitch is by far the crux of the route. It is rated 5.9 and probably there is no move this hard, but it was by far the steepest pitch on the route, nearly vertical, running with water, and so runout that I was looking at a ledge fall from forty feet up. It was very serious climbing, but not sustained and I took my time getting things right and staying 100% solid, as a mistake here would have been extremely serious. Stressed, I slowly worked out a solution, dumbfounded with the drastic change in character from the rest of the route. Eventually I got in some solid gear and then more gear and my stress level returned to normal. Derek wasn’t nearly as stressed following, as the climbing wasn’t particularly hard and he wasn’t risking injury.
|One pitch from the top of the roped climbing|
We moved the belay fifty feet to the left, per the topo, and I was quite confused where to go next. Many options are climbable here, but none protect very well. The top said to take the second break to the left but what constituted a break? At Derek’s suggestion, I headed up the easiest left-facing dihedral that was the second or third over. This turned out to be right, though it was still a stressful lead in that I wasn’t sure I was on the route until I found a rusted pin and then finally spotted the anchor.
The tenth pitch is rated 5.7 and got us to the brushy knoll. When Derek topped this pitch he asked with some incredulity, “That was 5.7?” He walked up half of this pitch without his hands and felt the other half was 5.5, so inline with my earlier estimation on grades.
|Derek apparently on the edge of the world - a world of granite|
At the top of the knoll we took a short break to eat and rest our feet. Above us was the crux 10a pitch, which liebacked and underclung around a clean flake. The angle was steeper than most of the route, but still very gentle. If I hadn’t known the rating, I’d have called it 5.8+ and that was with the flake being wet and hanging out to place more gear because I was expecting 10a climbing. The climbing is really fun and the friction for the feet is great. The handholds are mostly good but occasionally seam up and I had to reach a ways to get a good lock.
The next pitch was was 5.9 and more liebacking up a nice crack in a shallow, low-angle corner. Most of the time when I lieback, I have to keep at least one hand in the lieback, of course, walking one hand over the other, but here the angle was such that I could just palm my right hand on the wall, smear my feet, and shuffle up my left hand in the lieback. This is not what I expect for 5.9 climbing.
|Final ridge walk to the summit of Cloud's Rest|
The next two pitches of 5.7 and 5.8 were so low angle that I’d have done it unroped if it wasn’t for the drop below us and the climbing still to go. I did half of each pitch without using my hands and just walking up the slab. The final 5.9 pitch was circuitous as it wound up a serious of steep steps to the unroping spot. There are probably a few options here, but I turned the last steep section with an honest-to-goodness 5.9 rock-over to clear an overhang. I could get both hands on a big hold, but had to step my left foot just ten inches below this hold at the lip of the roof.
We stripped off our harnesses, coiled the rope and packed our gear. We still had 1200 vertical feet of beautiful, steep slab walking to go and this would sap us a bit, but we did it in a continuous push. Near the top I got a signal on my phone and we chatted with Sheri as we scrambled the last hundred vertical feet to the summit of Cloud’s Rest.
|On the summit!|
We rested for twenty minutes or so, eating and drinking a bit. We both had just twenty ounces of water to last the 7.5-mile hike back to the car. We started down at 5 p.m. in high spirits from our successful ascent. Derek’s spirits sagged in inverse proportion to the angle of the trail and we were disappointed to be forced over two climbs on our descent. Derek’s joints started hurting him pretty badly and we sat down to take a couple of breaks. Each time I was being devoured by mosquitos (the only time they were a problem for us) and urged him onwards.
The signage around the Sunrise Trailhead, either leaving there or arriving, is just awful. It hardly seems worth the bother to erect these. Nevertheless, we arrived back at the car a little past 7 p.m. taking about 13 hours and 15 minutes for the roundtrip. We immediately drove to the west side of Tenaya Lake where Derek performed his new post-climb ritual of standing in the freezing water to sooth his aching muscles and joints. I joined him, despite the pain to my very cold-sensitive toes.
After ten minutes we drove back to our campsite for a final night. Derek was so tired he didn’t even get out of car. Or eat dinner. I cooked and ate some soup and had some cereal. Derek drank a Coke and ate a few chips, not moving from the car until he crawled into his sleeping bag. I went to bed wondering if he’d have the energy for Boundary Peak the next day.