Thin Air (5.6) - Two or Four Pitches - Trad - Varied Anchors - Greg Led
Pitch One / Two (5.5 / 5.6) - 50 / 100 feet - Fixed anchors - Greg led
We arrived Friday night amid surprisingly light traffic for the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, and camped at my super-secret camp spot that I shall never reveal on this site. Knowing that I had never finished Thin Air (because I had only done the first two pitches in order to rap down to the bolts used for a couple of 5.10s below), and that KITT had never done a multi-pitch climb at Cathedral, we were up early and on the rock at 7am. Of course, I always try to lighten my load first thing in the morning, but this morning I couldn't even start the job, despite the fact that "KITT" vigorously urged me to at least try. This inability was rather serendipitous and not so much at the same time, as we were the first party on the rock, but only by just a couple of minutes. As soon as we were tied in, two parties came up the path and started the congo-line queue that is Thin Air at Cathedral Ledge on a busy, sunny weekend. By the time "KITT" made it to the top of the second pitch, there was at least one other party waiting at the bottom. We timed our arrival perfectly, but it did have its consequences (see monologue below).
To get to Thin Air, find the "Thin Air" trail at the bottom and follow the path that leads directly straight ahead and away from the road (not the left or right). The path will seem broken in a dirty gully as one nears the cliff. Don't worry, though. Just keep going toward the cliff to the bottom of a blank, towering face, turn left, and head up the staircase. Thin Air is the route that is very nearly at the top of the hill (maybe 100 feet from the top), and it has what appears to be a run-out, blocky start that leads to some webbing anchors. This first pitch is almost always run-out to these anchors. In fact, most people combine the first two pitches, and that is what we did.
Pitch Three / Four (5.5 / 5.6) - 60 / 180 feet - Varied - Greg led
Pitch three goes straight up above the anchor and into the wide crack below the tree. One can probably belay here, but I figured I'd just go for the top. I'm pretty sure that you can do Thin Air in two pitches, and that is what I was going to do. However, "KITT" had some rope issues below, and so I had to set an anchor in a horizontal crack about 20 feet above the tree.
The last pitch, which I'm not listing separately because I'm not sure exactly where it starts, was fun until the dirty last section. Either climb the slab to the tree at the top, or stay left in the awkward corner. Because the slab was wet from the previous evening's rain, I stayed in the corner and topped out from there. There are large trees close to the edge that one can use to belay.
Descent: I'm not really sure if there is a rap opportunity off Thin Air. In any case, rapping directly over Thin Air is not recommended because it is such a popular route that you are bound to get in someone's way. The easiest way down is to follow the path to the road and walk off.
Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8+) - One Pitch - 120 feet - Trad - Tree Anchor - Greg Led
However, we did not walk off. Because I'm going to Yosemite in two weeks for the first time, and because I let "Jello" take all the crack leads last year while I played on the faces, I figured that I needed to get some tough crack in my system at least just once before I flew out west.
PTE is the widest of the cracks that are at the last belay ledge above Thin Air. In fact, it is the right-most crack. It eats gear like a dog eats scraps at a drunken family BBQ, and it is one stiff climb. I nearly emptied my rack on the first 30 feet. Thankfully, there's an "OH GOD YES" hold just above the the second bulge, and that is where the route eases considerably. I told "KITT" before I started climbing that two things were a guarantee: that I was going to take or fall, and that I was definitely going to drop stinky bombs all the way up. He asked if I wanted a belay. I said yes, but that didn't change anything that I had just said.
To be honest, this really is a 5.8+, despite it's reputation as a stiff climb. I took on nearly every piece that I placed, but it wasn't because the moves were hard. I took because I wanted to scope out each sequence before committing myself (just how I learn things - bit by bit, piece by piece). I think that I can get that clean this year, because each move was a solid 5.8 move. The only difficulty is managing the pump while placing gear. In fact, I don't think this climbs like a crack. It eats gear like a crack, and it certainly looks like a crack, but it climbs like a face climb. Seriously, there are only a few hand jams on the entire thing. The route has solid jugs or crimpers inside the crack itself most of the way up. I definitely recommend this climb, even to those who don't climb 5.8 cracks. It is a G-rated climb, so there is really no danger in trying, unless one is carrying more "baggage" than one should be carrying on such a stiff climb. By the time I got to the top, I was ready to pop (kudos to "KITT" for not fainting - such a good second he is. Definitely recommended to anyone), but I was able to hang on for a little longer just so I could get to the top. Once "KITT" made it all the way up, I looked at him cross-eyed and said, "I'm off to find an outhouse." The following was my stream of thought soon after I said that:
- Walk fast, walk fast...oohh, gotta stop, gotta stop, ease the pain, ease the pain.
- OK, breathe, breathe. Good, move fast again.
- I hope there's a porta at the top. There has to be one. Oh God, gotta move faster, faster...STOP! Let the pain stop. Ease the pain, ease the pain. OK, go!
- Walk fast, walk fast. Where the hell am I walking? There's so many paths here. Crap! That means that I can't just stop anywhere. Shit, shit, shit. There had better be a porta at the top. Move fast. Faster. FASTER! STOP!!! OH GOD, that hurts! Breathe, breathe, breathe.
- OK, at the top. Hum dee dum. Outhouse over there? Nooo. Over here? Nooo. Over there? Noooo. Hmmm... Lots of cars though, and no people. Oh no, here it comes. Move fast, cross the road, find shelter. Shit! There's only paths on this side too. Crap man, where am I going to go? Man I have to go NOW! Breathe, breathe, breathe annnd...walk fast - no STOP! Ease the pain, ease the pain. Gone? Yes. Walk. NO! STOP! Breathe. Wait...wait...wait...RUN!
- OK, so now I'm on the other side of the street. Looking, looking. Argh! Only paths and no portapotty! What the hell man? What do you want from me? I'm only asking for a simple solution here. I have to take a crap. All you have to do is provide cover. Come on! Ooh! Found an off-the-trail set of bushes. Walk fast, walk fast. Dammit. People are getting out their car. Shit, it's a family. Any cute girls? Nope, just kids. Move on and don't worry about them, just walk - no STOP! Ease the pain. Breathe. Is this what being in labor feels like?
- OK, walk again. Niiice, found a baby maple with large leaves. Sorry fella, but those leaves are coming with me. Am I clear? Not yet. Stop. Breathe. Let the pain pass. Slowly...slowly...slowly, slowly, slowly - OK run to the large tree.
- Finally, a place where I can crap in peace. But I only have two leaves. Hmmm...OOH! There's another baby tree with even more leaves just five steps away.
- One step, OW! Two steps, OH GEESH. THREEOWOWOWOWOW!!! Fourrrr, fiv - fuck it I'm going now.
- Drawers down, oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh God yeah. Oh that feels good. Oh yea - what the fuck?!?! Jesus! It's aiming the wrong way! I can't believe I just pissed on the back of my shoe!!! Holy cow! Oh no! No way. Nuh-uh. I don't even want to think the next - did I just shit on myself, too?!?!? Looking, looking, looking, contorting my body into fifteen different positions to see if I did, in fact, crap on myself. Don't see any damage. Stupid idiot. I can't believe you just did that. What a moron. Now my shoe is all wet!
- OK, leaves #1 and 2. Now for #4 and 5, 6 and 7, 8 and 9, two more for good measure (poor tree - he's never going to see puberty, well, who would after seeing what I just did in front of them?)...
- Hmmm...I should cover that up. A few leaves here and there. Wow, looks like nothing's there. Remember that cairn that's not a cairn on Whitney-Gilman? Well, that brush pile isn't a brush pile off the beaten path at the top of Cathedral. Pants up. Look around to make sure no one saw me. In the clear.
- Me (aloud to myself as I walk back to "KITT"): Hey I feel like a brand new man.
Descent: The descent off PTE is the same at Thin Air; it is best to walk off if you're going to the bottom.
Upper Refuse (5.5) - Two or Three Pitches - Trad - Varied Anchors - "KITT" Led
Pitch One (5.3) - 90 feet - Fixed anchors - "KITT" led
Upper Refuse probably would get climbed more than Thin Air if it wasn't half-way up the cliff to begin with. There are several ways to get to the bottom of Upper Refuse: climb one of the lower climbs such as Funhouse (5.7) or Pooh (5.8) and walk to the ledge, walk down the path from the top of the cliff (I only learned this option existed on Saturday, so I don't know where it is), or rap off the top of Book of Solemnity (5.10a). We rapped off "Book."
This rap is a somewhat dangerous station to get to, and to rap off of. First things first, a double rope will get one to the Upper Refuse ledge in one shot. A single, 60m rope will get one down in two raps, and there are rap bolts at the top of the first pitch of "Book." To get to the rap station, one must walk to the right-most edge of the viewing fence (if one is at the top and facing toward the ski area - Mt. Cranmore) and walk down a steep, dirt path until there is a small ledge and dirty gully. Carefully down climb the dirty gully and there is another ledge below that (the second ledge is marble-white). Much-more-carefully down climb this section to the rap bolts. The rap bolts can barely be seen from the bottom of the dirty gully. It is a spicy down-climb, so be careful. Finally, the rap itself is somewhat dangerous and annoying. If there is no one on "Book," then it is a very clean rap down the book-end to the ledge. When going down, keep the belay ledge at the top of "Book" on your right. If it is busy, then you're going to have to wait for the route to clear. The reason for this is because if one raps straight down, thus avoiding the climbers, then one gets to a dangerously casual ledge that is the same height as the Upper Refuse ledge. This is dangerous because these two ledges are not connected (I learned this last year in this post), and the method of getting from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge is just plain nuts (relying on weak vegetation, long legs, and not slipping and falling 200 feet to the bottom). Trust me, you want to rap down Book of Solemnity and not the face to the right of it. Thankfully for us, there was only one party on the route and we were able to rap through them (though not without one of the climbers agitating "KITT" at the top, but that's another story).
Upper Refuse is the left-most climb on the ledge, and is the obvious, low-angle ramp-face to the right of the large right-facing corner. Climb the middle of the face straight up (it will be run-out at first), and keep the smaller, central right-facing corner to your left. Just as you get to an awkward chimney / corner / dihedral, there are two fixed pitons to belay from. We backed these up, but they make for a good belay regardless.
Pitch Two (5.6) - 50 feet - Tree anchor - "KITT" led
This is a very awkward-looking chimney / corner. If you climb it like a crack, then it is harder than advertised. If you climb it like a chimney, keeping the face in front of you and the corner against your back or left-palm as you stem with both your hands and feet, then you'll find this easier. The crux is pulling through the very last section of this large, awkward feature. However, it is protected by a fixed piton on the corner itself (look for the ring on the end), and it should protect well with a large cam, too (we didn't use one here, so I can't say the size - maybe #3 Camalot if I think off the top of my head?).
From there, either stay left in the corner and head to the tree, or climb the crack that leads to the right of the tree. The left looks easier, but I'm not so sure it is. Certainly, the right would require greater technique and / or route-reading skills, but the moves themselves should be the same grade. Belay from the tree if the ledge is empty. Otherwise, set up an anchor in the left corner.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 70 feet - Varied anchors - "KITT" led
From this ledge, either head to the left of the trees, between the trees, or to the right. My preference is to the right, and then staying on the right face all the way up. "KITT" took the middle, and then finished in the crack on the left. I think the left is stiffer than the face, but it certainly looks less intimidating. By the way, I think that is a theme on this route. The right looks harder, but is almost always easier than staying in the corner on the left.
And if one sets the anchor properly, the lead-belayor can belay the leader by sitting on the large root of the tree with one's back against the tree and legs spread out toward the climb. A very comfy belay position that allows the belayor to see clearly the entire route up.
As I noted, "KITT" led this entire route. It was his first ever trad lead climb, and I'm really happy for him. When I got to the top, he was all smiles and happy to have accomplished a pretty scary and technical feat. I can't wait to get him out more now that he's progressing so well. Hopefully his trip home to Germany doesn't diminish his skills, because he seems to be improving in strength, technique, and knowledge by the week. Well done "KITT"!
Descent: The descent is pretty much the same as every other route I've mentioned in this post: walking off is the best method. There are rap opportunities ("Book" to the ledge and then to other rap stations), but I've never used them and can't say for sure what the quality is.
Two more weeks until Yosemite, and only three gym days available due to rain this weekend. Boooo. But hey, I'm not complaining about Yosemite. I hear Tuolemne is open for business. I can't wait!
Click Here For Pics