East Butt of Middle Cathedral

June 6th, 2005.  11 pitches, 5.10a. With Karl.

The evening of the day before….  Glacier Point Apron.  Cold Fusion (5.10b/c).  Point Beyond Direct (5.8, led p 2-4).  Bed early.  To quote my diary: “Feeling some internal discomfort.  Hope rest will fix”

5.00 am  Get up having slept uneasily.
5.30 Breakfast
6.00 On the road
7.00 At the base of the climb.  One party (Liam and Dan) are there already.  Hang out, talk, drink water, etc.
8.30 Start (at last).

Pitch 1 easy (5.4) but loose and scary.  Scramble up through trees and a ramp to a belay under a roof.  I don’t feel that I make a good job of leading this easy pitch!

Pitch 2 A short pitch which begins by turning the roof uisng an undercling and hand jam slot on its right side.  One has to move directly from this powerful, off-balance pull to smeary face holds off and right.  Scary, but I find the sequence and pull it okay.  Said to be 5.8, but maybe harder.

Pitch 3 A long pitch (perhaps we ran some together).  Straight above the belay you stand on a little pedestal, then layback a corner for a couple of moves and head left on thin flakes.  The first time I try this I stay in the corner too long, the holds give out, and I fall, landing on my butt on the pedestal.  (Later, I discover that my fall trapped Dan behind our rope at the belay station up above!)  The second time I get it right, only to discover that the pitch sustains the same level for 150ft, culminating in a layback corner with both walls rather blank and ten feet before things widen enough for good hand jams.

Pitch 4 I have no memory of this pitch at all.  Wait, I do!  It starts with another corner/flake system.  Karl tries to persuade me to lead it but I am still too shaken by the impact to my rear end.  Maybe that’s also the reason that I really remember nothing else.

Pitch 5 The 50 Crowded Variation (5.10a, the crux) Up from the belay and onto a right-trending ramp.  When that gives out, a couple of difficult face moves right lead to a bold.  From the bolt up right, then left (long reach from a fingerlock to a jug here) to just under a small roof.  Through the roof (balancy) and then fantastic face climbing on orange rock past 3 more bolts to a stance. Beautiful!

Pitch 6 Diagonals left, to a fixed pin, then up right to a stance.  At this point another party is pressing on our heels.  After some negotiation, we let them pass.

Pitch 7 By this point our party, the Liam-and-Dan party ahead of us, and the Brandon-and-Melinda (?) party behind us, are thoroughly entangled, so the pitches may well bear even less relation than usual to the guide book.  Anyhow, for us this is 40ft of 5.6 which I lead without major incident.  I still place too much gear including a thoroughly useless brass micronut…

Pitch 8  Brandon and Melinda pass us at the corner where I set the belay, Melinda scrabbling a little just above me – worrying – but I manage.  Higher up the pitch evolves into a 5.8 corner which requires a mixture of stems, jams and laybacks to surmount.  Adding to the excitement, Brandon and Melinda have set up their belay right in the corner and I have to stem around and over both of them.  As I remove a nut, Melinda asks me to check that it is not one of their belay pieces.  Fortunately, it isn’t.  On to the top of the corner.

Pitch 9 (not much of a pitch) I lead an exposed hand traverse 10 feet to the left.  There is a beautiful view of El Cap from here.  It would be a great photo opportunity, but we both forgot our cameras.

Pitch 10 Starts off with the feeling that things must be getting easier, but Middle Cathedral does not give up so easily.  A ramp to a groove from which one escapes left on face moves to a layback flake leading to a comfy tree ledge.  Comfy, that is, except that about five people are on it already.  There is a huge block behind the belay tree which rocks when you tread on it.  After a while the ledge is clear but I am not alone for long… Nico from Belgium pops his head up and politely asks whether he may share the ledge.  There is certainly room for two.

Pitch 11 and last….   Two powerful juggy moves lead back into the groove.  Scrabble up this for a few feet then head left to an upward-diagonaling crack.  After some off-balance moves one gets established with both feet and hands laybacking the crack, which leads to a ramp and the top of the climb.  “Congratulations” says Karl. “Now the descent”.

The descent is … unpleasant. (My diary says, “horrendous”).  It begins with some scruffy traversing through slippery talus above alarming drop-offs.  After one such section, Karl cheerfully informs me, “Your chances of survival are now much increased.” Halfway through this scary work I start having stomach cramps – the “internal discomfort” of the night before has returned.  It becomes near impossible to bend in the middle, and I have to wait until the worst cramps pass.  Eventually we find ourselves in Cathedral Gully, a heap of talus set at an angle where the slightest touch will start things rolling.  I am uncomfortable and nervous.  There are at least five climbers below and I don’t want to kill any of them.

A couple of awkward, low angle rappels are needed and then and endless trudge downward.  No, not a trudge.  Every step has to be considered with care.  Eventually, though, as darkness falls, the road and celebration.

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