North Face variation

Page Type
California, United States, North America
Route Type:
Trad Climbing
Spring, Summer, Fall
Time Required:
Half a day
Number of Pitches:

Route Quality: 1 Votes

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North Face variation
Created On: Sep 28, 2006
Last Edited On: Jan 2, 2007


The climb described here is a variation to the original North Face climb first done by Anton Nelson, David Hammack, John Salathe, & Alice Ann Dayton, in June 1951. It consists of 4 roped pitches (or 5, if optional belay used between Ps 2 & 3 described below) on the Obelisk's N face, followed by a few hundred ft of enjoyable 3rd & 4th class over phatty chickenheads on the W face to the summit.

Getting There

See the 'Approach' section on the main Obelisk page. Leave all belongings you don't plan to climb with at the gap between the Obelisk & the hill to its NE, where a large pine indicates the National Park boundary. From here scramble S down talus & scree to the base of the route, where an enormous ridge/buttress shoots upwards toward an obvious tower. The ridge itself is reddish orange, while the starting point begins at whitish talus.

Route Description

Pitch 1: Climb up the face to the L of the prominent buttress/ridge of the north face (5.5), & set up a belay on the top of it, below a large pinnacle.
Pitch 2: Traverse R across the exposed ledge system. Set up a belay at the base of a large flake.
Pitch 3 Climb this flake- this leads to another ledge maybe 20’ above. Follow this ledge to the obvious, splitter dihedral. (optional belay stance here). If for some strange reason you are uncertain about which dihedral at this pt., look for the small pine at the edge of the platform at the top of the open book. Now climb the approximately 30’ dihedral- splitter thin hands (for the avg. 6’ male), stiff 5.7. Belay on the large platform above (small pine perched at the edge here as of autumn 2006).
Pitch 4 This is where I the variation we did splits with the description given in the guides.

At this point (if indeed we were at the same point as described in the guides, following the dihedral), the other route descriptions suggest following a 5.4 chimney. The closest thing I saw was a lichen-covered, left-leaning constriction that narrowed to an off-width before continuing. This was accessed by an approximately 1.5’ X 3’ X 4’ (standing on end) block that seemed like it would tip over if you slid off/out of the chimney & landed on it. This seemed undesirable & insecure.

Instead of going up the chimney-off-width, go up the obvious finger crack behind the belay. A 2-rope system is extremely helpful here, as there is much wandering, & the rope drag can be atrocious. Get to the obvious 2’ roof above. Traverse R along the roof, to a crack. The next move is the crux of the climb. There are 2 good placements here- a nut (use a longer sling), & .5(?) Camalot-sized cam. Lieback up this- poor L-foothold on munge. Once past this obstacle, continue up the obvious crack then dihedral to a fairly spacious sloping ledge. As there are virtually no places to place pro’ at this ledge & seemingly few above, traverse R here (ledge above you). Use creative face climbing here to head for the obvious easier ground to the R. Large cams are extremely helpful here (i.e. a #3, 3.5 (grey), & 4 (purple) Camalot)- as it is, this is probably the sketchiest part of the climb- a fall here would result in a large, nasty pendulum fall, & a more minor one even if the pro’ holds. As of 9.24.2006, a fixed #3 (blue) Camalot will guide your way. Once reaching easier ground, go to an obvious short dihedral. Follow this up (5.5) to the last belay, in a nice spacious alcove (where there is sun! Nice, since you’ll have been in the shade all day up until now).

From here it is mostly class 3 with a few solid chickenheaded 4th class steps to the summit block. If you’ve made it this far, it should only take you another 5 or 10 minutes to the summit.

Getting Down

The standard descent from the Obelisk requires 2 50-m ropes & goes like this:
• Scramble down to the obvious first rappel station NE from the summit- slings wrapped around a huge boulder, & reinforced with a bolt.
• A relatively short rappel from here brings one to a substantial ledge. Slings are tied around some monstrous chickenheads here & also reinforced with a bolt.
• Here comes the fun part! This rappel is approximately 160 ft long. The first 50 – 60 ft are steep but standard operating procedure. At a certain point, you will get to an obvious roof, & see the remainder of your rope swaying in the breeze, not touching anything until it reaches the notch between the subpeak & the Obelisk, approximately 100’ below. This free rappel is mad fun, especially in the dark when you can’t see the ground below!
• Downclimb exposed 3rd class to terra firma, or 1 more rappel takes you down in questionable conditions.

Ropes have gotten stuck & become entangled in the chickenheads between rappel stations during the years. Be careful while pulling yours so they don’t meet a similar fate (esp. while pulling them during the first rappel when you still have another one to go!). A suggestion (once the notch has been attained) is to scramble up towards the summit of the subpeak a ways before pulling, thus pulling the rope(s) outward, & not just straight down, into the waiting jaws of the chickenheads.

Essential Gear

Take many slings for this climb, both doubles & singles. A dual rope system is recommended, a)for the 160-ft rappel req'd to get down, & b) to reduce the awful drag encountered on P4. A single set of nuts, cams from .2 Camalot through a #4 Camalot are recommended, with doubles of medium pieces (.75 - 2").

North Face variation

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