Preparation and anxiety
One of the 50 classics for a reason. Not crowded at all early season, but the descent can be sucky with snow.
Rich and I got to Yosemite late on Friday (after stopping for amazing fajitas in Oakdale), and packed our climbing gear in the back of a gas station, hooligan-style, before settling into a camp spot just outside the park, dirtbag-style. We chatted to some folks there (doing El Cap the next day) that told us the descent may be very sketchy due to the large amounts of snow. We knew that already (I had researched this a lot online), and we were a bit nervous - in fact we were considering rapping the route as a backup plan. We hadn't heard of anyone doing the climb this year yet, but I figured it had to have been done. We had plenty of gear though and most of the anchors were bolted, so we could rap the route if we had to - so we decided to go for it anyways, and deal.
The real deal
Fast forward to 6:30am, we're in the parking spot. We found out from some other folks that the descent gully has been done this year, mentioning something about 7 rappels (must have had a single rope) - ugh. At least we know it's doable, so we happily head on our way after having breakfast. We're the only party, and we lazily pack up and get ready, probably starting up the climb around 8am, or a bit later. Rich scrambled up low 5th class on pitch 1, and joined it with pitch 2. The 5.8 roof move is surprisingly strenuous, but well protected - good wake-up in preparation of what's about to come.
On pitch 4
I joined Rich at the belay and quickly exchanged gear, heading off for the next pitch. I traversed right onto the straight 5.6 hand crack, pausing for a bit, as I didn't want to put gear for fear of rope drag. The crack has awesome climbing. I placed a 3" piece in the end of the crack and ran for the ledge above. I decided to join pitches 3 &at; 4 and continued up a slick 5.7 dihedral, finding some tenuous liebacking and stemming. It quickly eased off and I was euphoric, going for a nearly full rope length until I reached the bolts and brought Rich up. I couldn't believe how warm it was - the sun was gorgeous, and the view of El Cap on the other side of the valley was spectacular. We were warmed up, made good time, and were now at the base of the crux - pitch 5.
Rich led off right on the "50 crowded" 5.10a variation (an alternative to the 5.10c bolt ladder). The crux slabby/face move was very well protected by a nice new bolt - then a corner comes where some TCUs can be placed. There were still some delicate moves (5.9?) that were needed to gain a small ledge underneath the 5.8 roof. This is a nice comfy place to place gear underneath the roof. Afterwards, there are a couple of bolts that lead to a bolted belay. Now that we were past the crux we were more comfortable, but there was a fierce wind trying to blow us off the cliff - you can see Rich's hair in the wind in one of the pictures. Some of the cracks were choked full of ice, we had the screaming barfies and were glad to have brought our long johns and fleeces. (actually, we were just feeling homesick for Canada)
From the belay, I traversed hard left (runout, but easy) and reached a fixed piton. From there, a 5.8 move right (easy for tall folks) leads to an easy traverse right, and to the top of a ledge with a bolt belay. Rich followed in no time and scampered up the next pitch, a beautiful looking corner. I joined him and we were both starting to feel exhausted. The earlier fierce winds had died down, but were now picking up again.
The next pitch (5.8) is a beautiful clean corner crack, and my feet were really hurting now (after 6 months with no rock shoes). I didn't trust stemming so I stuffed myself in the crack the whole way, and it felt hard! I grunted up it nevertheless and soon it eased off, thankfully. I tried to figure out where to belay, and unlocked the left traverse that gains a large ledge. Rich ran up the pitch in fine style and we exchanged gear again - both smiling, wow what a nice long climb! This pitch (8) is apparently the "V-slot" pitch, and is noted to be entertaining, with many different climbing techniques.
The last 3 pitches were uneventful, although we were both complaining about our toes. Pitch 10 had a nice hand crack in the middle, and the last (11th) pitch had a grovel chimney/groove which was interesting. The left variation (5.10a) might be a better finish...
Time to get out of here...
While we ate lunch at the top and packed up, the party behind us (Dianne and Doug) joined us. They were very friendly and Doug had done the Kat Walk descent before, so we waited for them and hiked together, chatting and having a great time. This turned out to be great and we really appreciated it. The top of the gully did not have any snow, thankfully, so getting to the first rap station was easy. However, a huge boulder was sitting on top of it, smashed against one of the bolts! We delicately stepped around it and rappeled off the intact bolt... down the running waterfall, whohoo! Two more rappels (double rope) with some careful snow slope navigation got us down, and then a slog put us down at the car. The end of an amazing day!
The first rap station
Full pictures set
My full story + pictures are also at http://sightly.net/peter/trips/middlecathedral2008/