Trip Report: Higher Cathedral Spire, Regular Route


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the Fet

Knackered climber
A bivy sack in the secret campground
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 30, 2006 - 11:57am PT
Wow, this climb is fantastic. I’ve wanted to do this classic climb for years and I wasn’t disappointed when we finally got on it. I couldn’t find any trip reports on the web prior to our trip, other than the first ascent in 1934, so here’s a modern report, with some beta. I expected a lot, due to reading the history, it’s reputation as the tallest freestanding pinnacle in North America, etc. What I didn’t expect was a lot of quality climbing and views even more sublime than I could imagine.

We parked on the road heading south from Northside drive, and as we were getting ready, another car with another party of 4 (like us) starts unloading. We ask their objective… same as ours. Time for a little race…

We started hoofing it up the approach, and about 10 minutes in I ask: “you got the 2nd rope?” Rich: “yes”, “you got half the rack”, Jason: “yup”. “you got the other half of the rack?”, Steve: “Uh-oh”. Steve gives Jason his pack and runs back to the car. The rest of us press on, Rich and I stay just ahead of the other party the whole way, Steve and Jason catch up. It takes us just over an hour to do the approach. But then I was stupid and didn’t check the topo as we got to the base. We went around to the right, towards the South face where I though the route started, but the topo states “the trail cuts left to a cleft at the start of the route”. By the time we figured out where the start was, we got passed, doh! We waited for them to clear the first pitch, an easy 5.5 romp.

The route starts on the Southwest side, the 2nd through 4th pitch are on the West side, then the 5th pitch traverses to the North Face and up the arête.

The cross at the start of the route

Jason starting up pitch 1

Then at first base (top of 1st pitch) we waited another hour or so for them to clear the second pitch. The view of Higher Cathedral Rock from the spire was a nice backdrop. After that they stayed ahead of use, so no worries.

We watched as their followers had some trouble on the 2nd pitch traverse noted as “move left” on the Supertopo just before the “powerful bulge”. 3 of the 4 of us in our party thought these moves were harder than the bulge, about 5.9. You have to smear your feet, with not great handholds, with long slings on the pro to reduce rope drag. Then the bulge spit their followers off for a while too. I started up with some fun puzzle solving to find the easiest way through. The bulge wasn’t bad at all, but it’s reach dependent. There’s a pretty good right hand up high, if you can reach it. After I pulled the bulge, I place a #2 camalot to the right, reached down and unclipped the #3 cam under the bulge, so the rope drag wasn’t too bad. The bathtubs just above the bulge were a lot of fun.

I forgot to give my camera to someone else to take some photos of me on the crux, oh well.
Here’s Rich at the crux “powerful bulge” from above.

The 5.7 falling “step left” after the bolt was fun. At the top of the second pitch behind the belay tree, there is a large block that looks like a solid flake and good handhold, but it’s just sitting there perched on a small shelf, don’t pull it off.

My brother, Rich, took the 3rd pitch and opted for the 5.9 face variation. It looked a little spicy in terms of pro. Good sustained moves up the face. Cool.

Rich leading the “Rotten Chimney” on pitch 3. He moved right from here up the 5.9 face variation. I think the original route moves left just below this point at the "wild and airy 5.9"

At the top of 3 we ro-sham-boed for the next lead. Winner got the next lead, Rich threw scissors on my paper.

The 5.7 move left and back right was a little awkward/fun and the 5.9 airy traverse seemed easy. Be careful coming into the top of the 4th belay as well. There’s more loose rock that looks like solid flakes. It’s best to tunnel up through the tree to the climber’s right of the trunk, instead of trying to climb the loose stuff to the left of the trunk.

Jason took the last pitch. He opted for the 5.8 “big reach” variation.

Jason going around the corner to the North face on the last pitch.

Once onto the North Face there was a fun move above a ledge, you reach high for two pretty good holds and smear your feet up, stand up then get some pro in.

Rich on the face move.

The route then moves onto the arête and it’s super fun. Super exposure and view. At points you are perched right on the arête.

Steve pulling onto the summit with lower spire in the background.

Pulling onto the summit was gorgeous. It’s bigger than I expected. The upper level is very flat and it would be a fun spot to spend the night. We hung out on top for a while, just soaking it all in.

View to the East.

The lower part of the summit.

A nice view of El Cap.

Parties on El Cap towers, and top of Boot Flake.

The first rap is more than the 90’ shown on the Supertopo. On a 60M you end up just above the tree that’s the next rap station, but there’s no problem to tie in direct to the tree and scramble down.

The 1st rap.

The rest of the raps are less and you can give the next guy a fireman’s belay.

Looking back up at the North Face of Higher Spire after a fun climb.

Back at the car with Higher Spire in the distance.

Definitely one of the most classic climbs I’ve ever done. My hats off to the first ascensionists, they were way ahead of their time.

Here's a quick video of pulling onto the summit. Quality is not great, since it's from the still camera and on youtube.
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Oct 30, 2006 - 12:36pm PT
Good job man!

Oct 30, 2006 - 01:19pm PT
It's a great climb, isn't it. What a grand location. That's why it's an all time classic.

Nice photos, and glad you enjoyed your outing up there.
scuffy b

The town that Nature forgot to hate
Oct 30, 2006 - 02:12pm PT
A long-ago conversation about this climb (or was it Lower?)
led to a classic phrase, repeated to this day, admittedly within
a pretty small circle.
Back then, it was commonly said that the 5.8 section was really
5.9. I wasn't sure which of the two climbs was being discussed,
so I said "is that the one where the 5.8 is 5.9?"
Strongest Man in the World immediately elevated to Full Froth
Mode and replied (for History)
"The 5.8 is 5.8!!! Straightforward!!! Totally Fixed!!! PISS
Oh. Sorry. Was that the right climb?

PS I loved your report.
August West

Trad climber
Where the wind blows strange
Oct 30, 2006 - 07:29pm PT
Funny, I did this route for the first time just last week.

On the first rap, our "60m" rope just made it to the slings on the tree. However, the party who had rapped just before us, came up ten feet or so short on their "60m." The downclimb is pretty easy, but the party in front of us had a relative beginner and spent a lot of time dealing with it (not that we were in a hurry). A 70m rope would prevent this.

If you do the orginal route on pitch 4, after the wild and airy traverse, there is a rectangle flake (coffee table sized) that I nearly pulled off. I left it in a "cocked" position, so hopefully it will be apparent to future climbers. It can be bypassed by grabbing a limb and pulling up on the tree. Hope no one is on the trail below when that sucker goes.

This route was a bit more adventure than I expected and the views are great. Supertopo's light rack is plenty but bring extra slings.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Oct 30, 2006 - 09:31pm PT
Fantastic TR. Those peak bagging climbs are real adventures that play out like classical dramas. Ever notice how you sort of bridge the ages during those ascents and share the rope with the old dudes that once trod that path. Time changes us but the original adventure, and largely the experience,remains the same.
We time travel when we cast on those classics.

susan peplow

Desperately Seeking Climbing Related Topic!!
Oct 30, 2006 - 09:58pm PT
How actual TR of climbing of all things!

Fun to read about your day including the hump up the trail, too bad you guys got scooped.

You didn't say what your car to car time was. The days are getting shorter. Looks like you made it back before dusk, what time did you start?

Keep 'em coming and more video!

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 30, 2006 - 11:20pm PT
this is a great trip report... I did this last year for the first time.. wonderful.

This is my favorite shot from that ascent (sorry, no climbing pix handy)

this pine has been there since the first ascent... and probably longer...
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 30, 2006 - 11:23pm PT
Thanks for this original, wonderful sharing of your ascent and friendship. You characters are great! And what a fantastic choice for a day climbing. Largo and Werner are right, thanks.

Peter Haan
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Oct 31, 2006 - 12:28am PT
That's got to be the best summit in the valley. I remember getting off route into some nastiness on the fourth pitch, but otherwise your trip report brought back some great memories. I even pulled out the old guide book.

Besides that I'm always thinking about the old guys climbing this stuff every time I go out. If you get off the beaten path a bit the routes haven't changed much.

Trad climber
Someplace F*#ked!
Oct 31, 2006 - 12:30am PT
Nice TR & pics - Thanks Steve

Trad climber
Salt Lake
Oct 31, 2006 - 04:47am PT
Great TR!

Social climber
Oct 31, 2006 - 11:58am PT
Great TR, Great photos too...
another one for the tic list,
the Fet

Knackered climber
A bivy sack in the secret campground
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2006 - 11:59am PT
You didn't say what your car to car time was. The days are getting shorter. Looks like you made it back before dusk, what time did you start?

We gave up on making good time once we got stuck behind the other party. We left the car around 7. We planned to get back by 3, but I think we got back somewhere between 5 and 6. So adding a couple hours for waiting, and another hour or so we spent just chillin on top we were right on schedule :-)

Social climber
No Ut
Oct 31, 2006 - 12:11pm PT
Classic climb, classic TR, and good photos. Thanks, Fet.
Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
Oct 31, 2006 - 04:00pm PT
Great trip report! Had a mini epic on that one! to think we weren't even wearing helmets...Climb and location are spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

right here, right now
Oct 31, 2006 - 08:19pm PT
Right on Man!
Excellent route choice and snappy TR.

My first guiding day in the Valley: I had a bad knee and drew this route.
'Tried to talk the guy into Central Pillar and he was having none of it, he was smartly accepting no substitutes.

'Ate about 20 aspirin over the day and did the whole approach/descent with a cane.

Trad climber
Nov 1, 2006 - 12:21am PT
The Fet,
Thanks for the TR and the great pics. I've looked at the topo for soo long. Reality, as usual, is way better. Gotta go there.
Wild Bill

Feb 28, 2007 - 01:02am PT
Another bump, for great photos.

Trad climber
Falls Church, VA
Feb 28, 2007 - 08:46am PT
Excellent all round - the real stuff. Thanks!

I first attempted this climb in 1986. My partner balked on following the middle of the second pitch; he was totally sure that when he fell the rope would cut on that sharp-looking overhang edge, and nothing I could yell down would convince him, so we left. I was extremely annoyed, but we climbed well together later.

Eight or nine years later I went back with a different guy. I really wanted to finish this climb, so I equipped us with cheap VOX belt radios,and sure enough, this guy also balked, but this time I talked him through it very explicitly and then led the rest of the climb. I had a weak shoulder from a crushed nerve in my neck (bike crash the previous month) but as I finished the last pitch I was laughing like a maniac, saying, "Nothing is gonna stop me now!" Euphoria!

As I am a slow leader darkness caught up to us halfway down the rappels, and our flashlights died, of course, less than halfway down the trail, and we got to the road around midnight as seemed to be par for the course on that trip.

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