I rode up with "Ratherbe", "Cracklover", and "KITT" Friday evening for what was assumed to be a one-day turnaround Saturday afternoon. We initially were going to camp at the MITOC cabin just outside of town, but then we realized that there was a slog up a hill before a quarter-mile hike in to the cabin. This was on top of the cabin being about 20 minutes away from the cliff. When we realized the effort it was going to take just get to the site, we opted for my super-secret camp spot near the base of Cathedral instead. I guess we were lucky the next day because, despite the apparent moisture in the air, the rock was pretty well dry and climbable. "Ratherbe" and "Cracklover" met up with "Ambler" and headed off to tackle Bombardment (a crack "Ratherbe" has been hoping to get on for a while) before hitting up the Barber Wall later in the day. "KITT" and I headed off toward the Siagons (5.8), which were on my list, and then off to do Pooh (5.7) for "KITT"'s second trad lead ever. I also wanted to get on Book of Solemnity (5.10a), as I was feeling strong and confident but also leery of the potential for wet rock.
Still in Saigon / Miss Saigon (5.8) - Two pitches - Mixed (mostly sport) - bolted anchors - Greg led
Approach: These two climbs are odd because they are literally the first and second pitch of each other, and not really two separate climbs despite their separate names. The approach to each is easy, but there are two different methods. The climbs are just up the hill from the ultra-classic Thin Air (5.6), so the trail leading to Thin Air is an obvious path to take. To take this path, find the Thin Air sign off the main road and head straight ahead toward the cliff. The path will look a little mungy, but that's OK. Once you get through the dirty gully, and you're standing at the bottom of the imposing, blank face, head left up the staircase path to the top. There is a tree that is at the top of the hill, just below and to the right of The Prow.
The other option is to take the Recompense trail. The portapotties are normally located in this parking lot. Go past them and up the hill to the small talus field. Head left at the sign that warns of protecting the ecosystem where the path seems to lose its way. Keep following the path until you get an intersection of going right or left. Head right and up the two wooden ladders to the base of the Thin Air face. The route starts just at the tree. You should see a bolt about 15 feet off the deck.
Pitch One - Still in Saigon (5.8) - 155 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors
This entire route is essentially a sport route. There are bolts and pitons throughout the climb to the point that one probably doesn't need gear if one is a competent 5.8 climber. In fact, between the two pitches, I think I used only two pieces of gear (one on each pitch). One of the pieces was a #2 Camalot on the second pitch that protected the crux, so I'm not saying that this is entirely a sport pitch. Despite it's healthy coverage of bolts, I still recommend bringing a few cams just in case.
Climb from the tree up the white streak and follow the bolts / pitons on the path of least resistance. The crux is the mantle about two-thirds of the way up, but it is not so difficult if you get your feet right. From the mantle, fade left up into the shallow flakes and then right up to the large belay ledge and anchors.
This route was fairly dry despite the wet feel to the atmosphere. I have to say that I did enjoy this climb (mostly large finger ledges that aren't quite small enough to be crimpers), but there wasn't anything exciting on it that thrilled me. It was definitely 5.8 because of how well-spaced the holds are, but none of them were overly challenging. This is a good option if Thin Air has a congo line on it (which it most definitely will regardless of weather).
Pitch Two - Miss Saigon (5.8) - 75 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors
Supposedly this is the better of the two climbs, and based on the few moves that make up the crux near the top, I'd agree. But it's also so short that it leaves one longing for something just a bit more. From the anchors, head up on the ledges to the right and straight up to the horizontal crack just below the far left edge of the Thin Air ledge. Moving through the horizontal crack is the crux, as all the holds are solid and comfortable but angled in the wrong direction. A series of underclings and side pulls gets you to the anchors at the top.
Descent: One can traverse right across the awkward slab to the main ledge, and that is what we were going to do in order to walk off the top (to walk off, just continue to follow the path to the main road, and head right to the seemingly endless walk downhill). But after I put "KITT" on belay so that he could walk across, we realized that it was too slick to continue. We also realized that the start of the climbs were pretty close to Pooh (5.7), our next climb. With no one below us, we rapped down instead. With two 60m ropes, one can rap all the way to the bottom. Anything less than that will require two raps, but that is OK as both stations had rap rings on the bolts.
Pooh (5.7) - two pitches - Trad - Make your own anchors - "KITT" led
Approach: Head up the Recompense trail from the portapotties and fade left at the sign where the trail seems to disappear. Follow the path to the intersection and take a left. Stop when you come to a couple of shallow right-facing corners with the left-hand corner having roots from one of the several trees above filling it. Carefully scramble up the roots and step right onto the small ledge about 25 feet above the path. Pooh is the right-hand route with the blocky notch in the roof, while Funhouse (5.7) is the stem-corner on the left.
Pitch One (5.6) - 80 feet - Trad - Make your own anchor
The Webster guide notes this as a 5.6, and while I've always heard that this really is 5.6 if done right, I've never seen the 5.6 version. Unless you're lucky, smart, or have really good beta, assume this is closer to 5.9 than it is 5.6. The notch section is not to be overlooked. In fact, a fall of the upper part of the notch could result in a dangerous fall onto a ledge below and / or into the right-facing wall in the notch itself.
Head up the blocky section to the left of the slab that is directly below the notch (the blocks separate the belay stances of Pooh and Funhouse). Protect the upper crack below the tree with a #3 Camalot (or larger if you can) and use long slings even if climbing with two ropes to avoid drag going through the notch. Walk right across the slab and protect the initial moves in the crack on the bottom of the left side of the notch. Be aware that this crack widens on both ends, so either use opposing nuts or use a cam (.75 Camalot works fine - I definitely feel that a cam would work best and that opposing nuts would require solid, nut-placing experience). Use the jugs just to the left of the inside of the notch and rock up onto the central boulder. Then find the crimps on the left face and fight the swing. Once your feet are settled, head up to the next ledge and walk right to a belay tree that is below an obvious 10-foot crack.
This was "KITT"'s first bold lead. He had already led all of Upper Refuse (5.5), including the runout first pitch. He claims that he was far more confident in his gear placement in what was his second trad lead ever, but the notch was anything but obvious and / or basic. As I noted above, once in the notch, a fall is potentially very dangerous. I strongly recommend a helmet and a good belayor who understands the difference between the need for a soft catch and a painful decking potential. Also, if your gear isn't solid in the lower crack, it'll definitely rip out and that would send you back into the left-hand corner and blocks that make up the initial 30 feet of the climb. Not only that, but the lower boulder in the notch is steep and slick without good feet, especially when wet. To top it off, the left-hand holds higher up are in such a location that one feels the need to barn-door off said slick holds. To do this well, one must commit to uncomfortably unsteady feet, and then stem through the upper part of the notch.
"KITT" managed to rock up onto the lower block several times only to realize that there was no place to go once he was up there. He backed down three times much to my dismay. I wasn't disappointed in the fact that he down-climbed. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, one of my slogans is "Trad Climber's Credo - Downclimb." What I was worried about was the potential fall that I was trying to catch without taking away his freedom of movement. Each time he lowered himself off the block was a moment that I felt that if he slipped then he was going to swing dangerously down to the slab with me having little room to keep him from either swinging into the upper notch and hitting his head or twisting an ankle on the slab below. Each time he went back up was a struggle to find both gear placements and hand holds. Once he swung up to the lower block, he always had the urge to sit on it because it is too slick to stand on comfortably. But that only made it more difficult to swing back left to the upper part of the notch. After about 30 minutes of climbing up, down-climbing, scouting the holds, and lots of heavy breathing and swearing, he finally was able to place a C3 Cam that gave him enough confidence to swing and stem into the upper part of the notch. Once he was up there, he was happy to be on easier terrain. I still think that this is much more difficult that 5.6, but I'm a firm believer that just because something feels sandbagged, it doesn't mean that it is. It just means that I haven't found the sequence yet. Maybe someday I'll figure out the moves, but until then I'll stress that this could be a 5.9 climb if not done properly, and it is easier to not do it properly than it is to find the sequence.
Pitch Two (5.7) - 110 feet - trad - Make your own anchor
This pitch may confuse people because it the Webster guide both says that it is the same as Funhouse (actually, the Pooh description doesn't say this, but the Funhouse description lists the Funhouse second pitch as the same Pooh, but the photo in the book shows the two as being separate all the way up) and shows it as two separate climbs. In any case, this belay ledge should be just above the belay ledge for Funhouse, and both will use the same crack at this point. And while Funhouse will fade left after the crack, Pooh will stay right. Both will finish at the weird offwidth at the top just below the Upper Refuse ledge.
Climb the crack to the trees, and climb up keeping the lichen just to your right to the offwidth. Either climb the offwidth (two to three awkward moves) or walk left to skip this final crux. Despite the difficulties of the previous pitch (or maybe as a result of said difficulties), "KITT" didn't like this section as much as the first section. Still, I remember leading this when "Jello" and I did Funhouse in 2007. I enjoyed the lower crack, but I admit it just didn't have the same excitement as the first pitch.
Descent: The best way to descend from either Pooh or Funhouse is to head up right to the Upper Refuse ledge. From there, either climb Upper Refuse (5.5), or find the path to the left that allows for a walk-off to the top. Beware, however, of the walk up to the Upper Refuse ledge. There is a class five scramble that many people rope up for. It is only about three moves, but one slip could send you all the way to the base of the cliff, otherwise known as about a 200 feet down a bumpy ride to the bottom.
Black Lung (5.8) - Essentially two to three pitches - 90 feet for the main, first pitch - Trad - Make your own anchors
Approach: There are several methods to get to the base of Black Lung: either rap off Book of Solemnity (only recommended for those who know this rap and how to avoid climbers on the Book), walk down from the top of Cathedral (not sure where this is, so you're on your own), or climb up the many climbs that lead to the Upper Refuse ledge (including but not all inclusive: Bombardment, Pleasant Street, Pooh, Funhouse, etc). Black Lung is the diagonal crack between Upper Refuse (the obvious, low-angle slab that is to the far left of the ledge and just right of the large, obvious right-facing corner) and Book of Solemnity (the slick and seemingly featureless stem-slab and roof to the far right).
Black Lung itself is only one pitch, but it finishes on the final two pitches of Upper Refuse. Essentially climb the diagonal crack up the top and step left onto the face that is the top of the first pitch of Upper Refuse. There are two pins in the corner just below the awkward dihedral for belay. Alternatively, one can continue and climb to the ledge that is above the two pins. However, this may not be recommended due to rope drag (despite the fact that it is OK to do this on Upper Refuse itself). From the two pins, either climb to the ledge and belay there before continuing to the top, or simply climb all the way to the top (it is advised to climb the right-hand cracks if you do this in order to avoid rope drag).
This is my second time sending this route. The first time was last year with "Jello" and we were trying to beat oncoming rain and a crowd of newbies working their way up Upper Refuse. Naturally, this was felt much the same. While we weren't waiting for other climbers to clear Upper Refuse, we were thinking about the possibility of oncoming rain. My memory of the climb was that there was a definite crux, but once in it, the crux is far easier than it initially feels. I had the same experience this time around, too, except it felt easier this time than last time. All one has to do is get one's hands in the proper sequence for the pull-through. It's the getting the hands in the proper place that is scary, but I did OK. The fact that the rock was supposed to feel wet but wasn't (note: I'm talking about a mental block here, not a physical one) didn't help matters, and yet I still actually felt kind of strong (though later "Ambler" and "Ratherbe" later told me that they thought they were watching a soon-to-be death climb, but they weren't really paying attention).
I guess the only disappointment is that I really felt as if I had the head to finally get on Book of Solemnity. I felt strong enough to do it, but as it is time and again, I let barriers keep me from jumping on it: the rain was coming and I didn't want to get stuck on it, the climb was probably above my limit, the party I was climbing with was already on the route and half-way up so they would have had to have waited for me, etc. I'm disappointed in myself, but I'll get over it. Big changes could be just around the corner for me, so we'll see what kind of courage I really have. Still, it is nice to know that I'm getting on 5.8 now and not feeling a thing these days. Maybe it's time to start moving into the 5.9 range. I'd love to be able to climb 5.9 comfortably by the time later September rolls around.
For Pics of Cathedral, Click Here - newest photos are first.