Penguin Cafe, 5.11a****
There are two single pitch crag areas featured in Chris McNamara’s guide “Tuolumne Free Climbs”
as of 2017: Olmsted Canyon and Murphy Creek
. Olmsted is the more popular of the two as it requires a much shorter approach. Murphy Creek however features a tremendous 5.11 trad pitch by the name of Penguin Café, more than worthy of the hike.
The 2 mile hike to the base of the wall is scenic albeit plagued by mosquitoes in season
as most of it is through a marshy area following, you guessed it, Murphy Creek. We had the crag to ourselves for the entire day in prime season.
Most of the routes here, if not all of them, are trad routes
. Ten of them are published in the Supertopo guide. These routes are somewhat newer and thus a bit softly graded compared to most areas in Yosemite.
Penguin Café (5.11a****)
is an outstanding pitch starting with fingers and ring locks that lead to an awkward and physical pull through a roof with hands, fists and knee. The finish is inconsequential. In mid-August, quite a few of the routes were wet,
including Gortlough RA (5.9**). However, the easier leads on the right side including Pac Man (5.8***) and X-Wing (5.9***)
were completely dry.
Park at the Murphy Creek trail head directly across from the large picnic area at the center of the north shore of Tenaya Lake. Hike the trail north which follows Murphy Creek on its right bank. You come to a large clearing of slick rock. Shortly after this clearing, cross the creek to the west side via a marsh and head up the hill to the obvious wall (photo).
Route Description(s)East Face, Routes Listed Left to Right
Auto Bond- 45’-5.11b***/
Mandric Direct- 55’-5.11b***/
Getting in the Groove- 65’-5.11d**/
Penguin Cafe- 70’-5.11a****/ This route was established in the mid 80’s and thus this is not your typical Yosemite 5.11. Although the crux move is damn physical, it was not overly technical. Climb the splitter corner with several solid ring locks (guide calls this section 5.10c but it felt more 5.10- for sure) placing gear are will. No lay back necessary. Before pulling the roof, you get a great rest with your back against the “tooth” of the roof. Position a left hand jam and squeeze your head out and under the roof (easier for taller climbers). Then make the crux move (burly and physical) dramatically kicking your right foot up on steep slab and your left knee up into the roof crack. Make sweet love to the rock as you shuffle your left knee up higher for leverage and get a right hand jam. Move your right foot up to a nubbin and you are finished with the crux. From there, 5.9 off width leads to the top. Fixed anchor out left. The best line on the wall. Typical rack to 3”, some wide gear for the OW if you are not use to 5.9 OW. If you are an OW veteran, C4#3’s would protect the upper section adequately. Dow
Gortlough RA- 70’-5.9**/ This is a dirty route and was wet in August, but worthwhile if you are already here to do the Penguin Café. Just meters to the right. Climb twin cracks up staying in the right one to finish. Fun climbing for 5.9 and you can place your gear to the outside edge of the cracks avoiding the moss. Weird two bolt rap at top, maybe a meter apart from one another. Standard rack. Dow
Pac Man- 60’-5.8***/ Both of these moderate routes (X Wing) are worth doing and make for good warm ups for Penguin Café. This one has some fun stemming mid-way up. Medium gear belay right below the top. Can walk off or go rap Penguin Café. Standard single rack to 3”. Dow
X-Wing-60’-5.9***/ Despite the higher grade, I did not find this route any more challenging than Pac Man. Both seem closer to 5.8 leads for the area. Climb the easy (and obvious) wide dike up to a horizontal. Make a balance move left above the horizontal and climb the flaring cracks to the top with a single bolt and C4#2 anchor. Standard rack to 3”. Save a #2 for the anchor. Dow