About the TR...I don't normally write Trip Reports, but there was enough interest generated by/in this climb that I thought it warranted this time. It's nothing special, as I really haven't had a lot of time to spend on it. My company is going through a system upgrade and being the IT Manager, well, it's kept me quite busy the past 2 weeks.
I did manage to go through the pics a couple of days after the ascent and thought I'd add some of them to the TR so that people could check them out. Sorry about the blown out skies, but I wasn't willing to take my gear up there with all the potential for pulling flakes/breaking holds and going on a big ride. So, we shot the photos with Blaine's POS (point-and-shoot) Canon. All in all, I think they came out OK.
Becoming more than a thought...I was standing in the Mountain Shop in Yosemite one afternoon, talking with friend Austin Archer when I mentioned having looked across at the rest of the diagonal ramp which makes up the approach for the routes on Leaning Tower. Austin told me there was a route over there that "goes at 5.6 or 5.7. It's in the `Green Book'" He spoke of this book like it was a holy book... "I don't have a "Green Book", Austin." He went and got his and we went over the entry for the Leaning Tower Traverse:
"Leaning Tower Traverse II, 5.5
The first ascent of this route, the most obvious in the Valley, was made September 1957 by Chuck Wilts, Ellen Wilts, and G.B. Harr. Seen from the valley floor, this is the intermittent line which diagonally traverses the west face of the Tower. Needless to say, the problems of routefinding are negligible. The loose flakes and great exposure combine to make this a very adventurous climb. Descend either the Gunsight or the climbing route."
Someone on SuperTopo summed this up pretty well when I posted (a number of years after talking with Austin) to see if anyone else had done the route - "Word of caution. When Roper says “loose flakes” and “very adventurous climb,” beware. A modern translation might be "kitty litter death.""
When I talked to my climbing partner Blaine Harmon the next day, he asked me "So, when we were going to do the Leaning Tower Traverse?" Hinting that he'd read my post on SuperTopo. Right at that moment, it became more than thinking, "Hey, someday I'm gonna do that thing over there..." I knew Blaine liked the idea of this adventure, as did I. And with Blaine looking more towards moderates this year, rather than getting all Rambo on hard routes, after a tendon injury late last year, I knew we were on our way.
The Climb....We'd both been watching the weather pretty intensely, throughout the week, as weather forecasts varied greatly. WeatherChannel.com even suggested it would be sunny and 76* on Sat, a sunny 80* on Sunday. We decided that since all the other sites suggested things more along the lines of snow/rain on Friday, partly cloudy with a 20% chance of precip early Saturday, with showers in the afternoon/evening, followed by a storm on Sunday, that this was probably closer to the truth. With only a hint of rain in the Central Valley on Friday night we'd both gotten it into our heads that this was the weekend to give it a go. When we arrived in Yosemite Saturday morning, the weather seemed doable so we racked up and headed up the talus towards Leaning Tower. We would later discover that our timing was perfect as the first drops of rain hit when we hit the flat ground behind the Bridalveil restrooms...
Not having done much approach work during the winter and me not having done much for more than a year, due to a knee injury, we were both surprised at how easy the approach went for us. We went a different route than I normally do, which actually ended up being a lot more pleasant than the "normal" approach to LT. It certainly cut down on the slog through the talus field. I made the base of the route in about 40 minutes. Blaine, who'd been a couple hundred feet ahead of me was racking up his harness and putting on his shoes when I got to the start of the climb.
The route kicks in pretty quick on the loose flakes. When you leave the first belay, which is the start of WFLT/WDD, you walk along a dirt ramp/ledge for about 5 feet and then immediately start out onto the looseness that comprises the route.
The view from the start of the route...
As I approached the end of the first pitch, I came upon this HUGE, menacing 500lbs+ potato chip looking flake. Sharp as hell! Much of the route is loose and sharp.
From the end of the first pitch, you traverse across a block with shitty footholds and down climb into the start of a chimney made up of loose blocks, all resting against the wall and each other. It's really quite the jigsaw puzzle the way this route is put together. You're left with the feeling that accidentally removing a piece of it could bring the whole place down on top of, or out from under you. Regardless, the chimney section was my favorite part of the climb.
Check the big block at the top, on the outside, just waiting to be trundled! It's right above Blaine's head in the last pic of this section....
Check out the block here! It was SO hard to not push that guy off. Will power! MUST.... NOT..... PUSH.........
The start of pitch 3...
This was a really nice ledge. Big and comfy. A couple of folks could bivy on it. The anchor for pitch 3 was comprised of a loop of rope I threw around a big block sitting on the ledge. There was just nowhere to get any pro in... The block was big enough to hold a fall should it happen.
Looking back to where we came from...
Pitch 3. Not as easy as it looks, actually... The bulging headwall really wants to push you off the wall in places. Very balancey moves are needed to keep you from plunging off. You constantly look over at your rope draped across sharp edges and flakes and remind yourself that a fall would be really bad. You climb this route as if you are soloing; falling is not an option. There is also a section on this pitch that forces you into a kind of slither for a short section if you have anything on your back.
The belay at the start of pitch 4. We *finally* get a cam placement in! Woo! From here, the route really eases up. Well, kind of....
This pitch does hold the technical crux move, which involved a heel hook, with no way around it. It also involved MUCH shrub swimming! You start off into the shrubbery immediately and then to get through the next piece of shrubbery, you get forced either onto your stomach (Blaine's technique) or kinda sliding along with one leg hang off into space, the other folded, between the rock you are and the headwall. After about 6 feet of this you can finally stand up. After a short down climb, you are then greeted with the heel hook move. At this point, you realize you are getting high on the route as the climbing eases up into more of a hike and there are now full on trees and shrubbery everywhere...
Blaine in the shrubbery - you can kinda make him out in the greenery. Think snake! =)
Looking back again
The next belay.... This pitch (5) just trudges through greenery until you top out of the diagonal traverse.
Blaine on belay at the start of the 6th pitch. At this point, the traverse is behind and you either climb to the summit or traverse around the back side towards the chimney raps. The view, of course, is beautiful with Bridalveil falls below. The sound of the falls, the many pools in the creek leading to the falls that would make for great swimming... Standing there taking it all in is awesome.
Me, summit bound...
and being stupid while Blaine tries to figure out his own camera... He got me.
Taking a break as we head up and around. Having a snack, hydrating and relaxing a bit... Looking at routes on the backside of Cathedral.
Our view looking out across the valley... Nice!
The day ended with the chimney raps that most are familiar with...
I've always loved this view... Looking out into the void that makes the chimney, between Fifi and Leaning Tower
It was an awesome day. The climbing wasn't as hard as we thought it was going to be in some aspects, moreso in others (the heel hook caught us by surprise).
We both plan to do the climb again taking a lot less gear. However, I think this will be the most fun ascent of the route we'll do as the mystery was SO much a part of the adventure. I'd read of 30 foot loops with overhang beneath and above you so that if you fell, you'd suddenly be 50 feet down, needing to jug back up (the jugs and screamers will stay home next time). I'd envisioned death flakes hanging out, looking like the rotted teeth of some big monster, waiting to fall out as soon as you weighted them. It's amazing how different something looks when you stand there ready to climb it versus standing at the base of WFLT/WDD thinking, that looks interesting.
Next time, no screamers (we didn't use them), no cams, the ice floss will remain on my back only to come out for the raps. A small rack of nuts is plenty to protect the climb (what little protection there is). I think we can do the route in about an hour, hour and a half. The route took us three hours this time around. I'd highly recommend the route to others. It's awesome!
I've been asked about the rating a few times... I'm no ratings master, by any means but after discussing this with Blaine and offering what I thought it might be rated he agreed. I'd place it at 5.8 R/X. There are a few tricky moves, lots of balancey sections that could easily send you on a ride you don't want to go on, little to no pro and ropes running over sharp edges and flakes with 30 foot loops between them.