American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Contiguous United States, California, Yosemite Valley, Lower Cathedral Rock, The New North Face, Previously Unreported

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Lower Cathedral Rock, The New North Face, Previously Unreported. The north face of Lower Cathedral Rock has arguably the shortest approach of any wall in the Valley. It is blissfully cool in the summer and overhangs ominously over South Side Drive, yet it hadn’t had a new route in almost 40 years! Indeed, the original route—done by Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Joe Fitschen in 1963—was rendered unclimbable when a three-pitch feature known as the Gong Flake fell off in 1981.

After establishing many fine free climbs along the base of the wall, Steve Gerberding and I recruited Mark Bowling in August, 1998, to probe the black hole of the upper north face in the hopes of once again finding a passage through this dark puzzle. The first three pitches, known as Pilgrimage (5.11b), are a nice free outing in their own right. They lead to the Crow’s Nest, a lofty perch below white roofs. Two serious aid pitches provide the key to the final bulging headwall. Steep and loose mixed climbing leads to the very summit, where a piton dropped from the summit lands 1,400 feet later, ten feet out from the base of the wall. The New North Face (V+ 5.11b A3+) has fixed rappel stations. Take lots of beaks and draws; the fifth pitch must be left fixed in order to rap the route.

Al Swanson

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