American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Middle Cathedral Rock, Border Country

United States, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Mike Schaefer
  • Climb Year: 2009
  • Publication Year: 2010

On a rainy day in early spring 2005, I walked below Lower Cathedral Rock and Middle Cathedral Rock. As I came to the base of the Gunsight, the gully that splits Lower and Middle, I gazed at the sweeping north-northwest face of Middle. A hasty check of the guidebook revealed that this part of the wall was almost untouched. I was instantly enticed, though other projects kept me from returning to it for four years.

Finally I enlisted Jeremy Collins, of Kansas City, and Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond, of New Hampshire. In early May we started up, moving slowly due to wet rock and the difficult ground-up climbing. After a week we reached the North Face Traverse, a ledge system cutting across the wall at midheight. Using both bolts and traditional gear, we had to here established a fine line that was going free at 5.10+. Jeremy had obligations back home, leaving Dana and me to finish the upper half.

While the lower half had low-angle incipient cracks and small flakes connecting larger features; the upper half was going to be different. The angle steepened to near-vertical, and the features diminished. We would be connecting golden knobs and flat edges, devoid of cracks for natural protection, forcing us to use the drill more. Four steep, beautiful, hard pitches led us to the northwest shoulder, where our route ended, but one could continue on class 3 terrain to the summit. Mid-June had come, and my season in the Valley was over. We left with the route completed but without a free ascent.

In mid-September, under cooler temps, I returned. Before we could go for the redpoint, though, we wanted to get the route into perfect shape. On our initial foray we had placed ¼? bolts and needed to replace them with ¼?. After doing that tedious work, Dana and I cruised the initial first half, enjoying climbing without hammer and drill. Above, the crux 5.12- and 5.12 pitches slowed us, but we redpointed both first try. With aching feet we continued up the sting-in-the-tail 5.11+ pitches above. Dana got the final hard lead and dispatched it as usual, with me just eking-out the pitch on toprope. Thankfully, the final, run-out 60m was only 5.9, as the sun had dipped well below the horizon. Quickly we started headlamp-less rappels down the face.

Within the next two months the route had seen over five attempts but no one has yet grabbed the second free ascent.

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