Bridalveil East - Aqua var. Trip Report 10/25/08


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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 31, 2008 - 05:10am PT
Bridalveil East - Aqua var. - 10/25/08 , with Ken Duncan

I'd been wanting to try this climb, ever since Peter Haan described it as a cool old 5.8 to do in low/no water.

The climb is pretty committing, and is only in the old Roper guidebooks. Retreat after the traverses would involve climbing back across the traverses, leaving gear and rappelling back to Bridalveil East and down it.

Bridalveil Falls - don't try the climbs here when the falls are running this much, unless you want to get very wet and cold.
Try in August/September/October.

Verbal descriptions from the 1964 Roper guide.

view from the paved Bridalveil trail

view from near base of the falls, after approaching up the creek bed
The "prominent and terrifying chimney system" is obvious to the left, just right of the brown buttress.
Bridalveil East climbs this chimney system, except for the first pitch, which takes cracks 20' to the right.
The chimney system is 200' NE of the falls.

pool at the base

We roped up for the "3rd class" approach pitch, which was exposed at first, but then eased quickly.

top of the 3rd class approach pitch

Ken leading p1

crack system 20' right of main chimney system

rated 5.5 on the topo, but it's more like 5.7

Ken ran short on gear, so he built an anchor and I finished the 140' p1

Ken follows the second half of p1

belaying p2 at ledge with rap slings.
p2 starts up a short chimney on the left with a slung chockstone,
face climbs its left wall on jugs, then diagonals left to the main chimney system
It is rated "5.9 fist" on the topo, but is really only 5.7

into the chimney on p2 - I'm dangling my pack

Ken follows the p2 chimney.

reaching the belay stance below the "appalling chockstones".
Unfortunately the belay anchor cams and nuts are not very good, with some loose rock on the right side.
It would be better to continue another 30' to belay on top of the chockstones, or belay 40' lower.

Ken's shoes on the belay stance

There was a little water coming over the falls

p3: hauling packs past the "appalling chockstones" (5.8).
There is an old fixed pin below the chockstones, then good cams.

Ken follows after cranking past the chockstones

View of Aqua variation pitches above.
p4 goes up 20', then traverses right 20' on the brown slab to a
lieback crack in the slab. 10' up the lieback, then right to the bushy "gully".
p5 goes up a steep 5.8 corner handcrack for 50' above the highest tree, then
diagonals up right 20' to a crack, down a little, then right and up a corner to the left end of a big ledge.

p6 walks to the right end of the big ledge, then an easy high hand traverse to the big corner.
A descending 5.6 traverse on the right wall reaches a 1" crack,
then a further descending traverse reaches the lowest big tree, 40' left of the falls.

p4: Starting the 5.8 traverse. There is a long reach to the first positive hold.

The lieback flake is just behind me

Looking back after doing the lieback and traverse to the gully on a sloping rail

Ken on the big handhold at the start of the traverse

p5 squeezes past the highest tree and up a steep 5.8 hand crack corner

Ken follows the corner; there is a lower angle fist move next

Ken about to leave the corner; I made a short lunge for the positive black hold under the red rope

I stopped halfway up p5 to belay Ken as he led some descending moves to the corner on the right.

Ken leads up the corner to the left end of a big ledge;
Rattlesnake Buttress and Leaning Tower behind.
Daylight is fading for us.

p6 - the long traverse. Ken is following left of center, with a slight reflection off his helmet.
He is about to start the high hand traverse to the big corner.
Visible in the flash on the right side is the protection for the downward traverse.
We only had one headlamp, so I passed it back to Ken on the red rope.

At the end of p6, I belayed off some cams in a flake, at a half-dead tree.
There was a blank wall to reach the next tree, so I threw a rope over a half-dead branch and batmanned up.
I put some knots/loops in the rope so Ken could follow more easily.
There might be a higher hand traverse up left which accesses the tree,
but in the darkness, it looked like it might have a blank section.

Shortly we reached a really cool grassy ledge with a big healthy tree, 40' left of the falls.
p7 went up a big 5.7 corner above with big flakes and handjams.
We belayed halfway up, on a ledge where it turns into a chimney - this made it possible to share the headlamp.

In the 5.4 chimney on the second half of p7, dangling my pack

View back to the belay.
Higher there is a crack for pro in the left wall, and then some easy moves past a loose flake to belay just below some bushes and trees.

p8: the final pitch squeezed through the bushes and up a 5.3 slab to trees on a brushy slope.

Ken and Clint on top of the climb.

"Look what I got us into!"

Due to our lack of speed, it was now nearly 11pm, and we still had to get up to and down the Gunsight.
After gaining several hundred feet and escaping some manzanita,
we ran into some steep slabs with no obvious way around in the dark, so we decided to bivy there.
We each had a few sips of water left, and some extra clothes, and the night temperature was fairly friendly.

Ken's bivy spot in the morning.

The slabs didn't seem so bad in the daylight, and we skirted them to the left,
finding an easy gully there with some traffic from Overhang Bypass.

view down to the pools in Bridalveil Creek

and Leaning Tower beyond

Ken on top of Lower Cathedral Rock

The Brothers, Sentinel, and Thirsty Spire on the DNB

Flakey Middle Cathedral Rock above the Gunsight

view to the pool at the brink of Bridalveil Falls

The Gunsight (from El Cap Meadow); Lower Cathedral Rock on the right

Looking down the Gunsight from its top

We elected to rap past a small step in the upper gully, via a tree on the west wall

I belayed Ken down some slabby moves to the bolted anchor atop a 40' step

Ken rapped the 40' step; next anchor is slings on the tree at upper left

View back up the 40' step.
 Apparently the left side can be climbed on hidden holds in the dike at moderate class 5.
 The chockstone in the center looks impassable
 The fixed rope on the bolted anchor on the right is the easiest way up, but the rope is getting old/stiff and is a bit short

The next rappel was about 150' down the gully/chimney on skier's left.
There is a midway anchor, so it can also be done with one rope.

Next anchor is this tree, on the central buttress with chimneys on either side.

Ken rappelled the chimney/gully on skier's right; it was roughly 120'.
It could also be downclimbed a bit more slowly.

View back up, with me below the final rappel

Ken heading down the easy talus

Related trip reports:

le bruce and nutjob's "Let's Charge the Midget Chimney!" report (April 2008 - too wet)

Baba's Bridalveil Choss semi-epic (August 2004)
 Karl's adventure and possible first ascent, in a corner system right of Bridalveil East
 Werner and Merry's last pitch variation to Bridalveil East
 John Morton's story of the FFA of Bridalveil East, with Frank Sacherer, 1964
 Jaybro's story of doing Bridalveil East with Walt Shipley, in the 80s

prelim version of this trip report, cast as a "name that route" challenge; includes a few comments

[edit to add:]
Peter Haan provides in his post below the written description from the 1971 Roper guidebook.
I found the description in the 1964 Roper guidebook to be even better,
and since this book is much harder to find, I'm adding it here.
The description is rather colorful; perhaps he edited it for the 1971 edition to look more objective?
But something was lost in the process, including some helpful details.

Bridalveil Fall - East Side
IV, 5.8, A1. First ascent on August 30, 1957 by Mark Powell and
Warren Harding. Walk up the bed of Bridalveil Creek until it is
possible to climb up third class rock to the base of a prominent, terrifying
chimney system, some 200 feet northeast of the Fall. A very
steep, round buttress lies just a few feet left of the main chimney.
The first 200 feet of the climb, very steep and continuous, go up
cracks about 20 feet right of the main chimney. Near the top of the
second pitch traverse left into this chimney. Two appalling chockstones
are passed, surprisingly fifth class (5.7). Fifty feet above these
chockstones is a blocky belay ledge. Stay left and ascend a very steep
wall (5.7) to a tree. Move up and right into a difficult (5.7) chimney
that leads upward to a point where further progress becomes somewhat
doubtful. Three to four direct-aid pitons lead up and left to a
short friction slab. Above, class-4 climbing leads up 200 feet to the
brush slopes just above Bridalveil Creek. Carry a few 1-inch angle
pitons to supplement ten additional ordinary ones.

In September 1961 Royal Robbins and Rich Calderwood made a
major variation which turned out to be all fifth class. From the blocky
ledge above the two chockstones, traverse right (5.8) for 15 feet to
a prominent lieback crack. Follow this for a few feet, then traverse
right into a gully. Follow this to a point about 40 feet above a tree.
Traverse right and climb onto an obvious ledge. At its south terminus
descend a few feet to a spectacular, exposed hand-traverse (5.6)
which leads to a large tree only 40 feet away from Bridalveil Fall. A
steep corner containing several large flakes leads to an easy chimney
which ends in brush slopes above Bridalveil Creek. A few bong-bongs
should be included in the hardware assortment.

Sport climber
Oct 31, 2008 - 09:51am PT
Cool trip report!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 31, 2008 - 09:56am PT
Great Clint! As usual a massive and detailed post. Here is the original Roper description for everybody interested.

Bridalveil Fall-- East Side III 5.8 A1 or 5.10B

Mark Powell and Warren Harding 8/1957

This route lies in a very steep chimney system just left of Bridalveil Fall. Ascend a polished crack system 20 ft to the right of the main chimney for about 140 feet to a small belay ledge. Pitch 2: climb a slot for 30 feet, then traverse left into the main chimney and ascend it 50 feet to a belay ledge. Next two chockstones must be passed (5.7)) to reach a belay ledge 130 feet above the belayer. Pitch 4: move left and climb a very steep 40-foot wall to a tree. Step right around a corner and climb a wide slot, then exit left from it and belay 40 feet higher. A bit of easy climbing leads to the base of an overhanging jamcrack. Several aid pins up and left lead to a short friction slab; above this, 200 ft of class 4 climbing leads to the top. Iron: 12 pitons up to a 1-1/2 angle.

In 1964 Frank Sacherer and John Morton climbed the overhanging jamcrack to avoid the short aid section. This is 5.10 and makes it possible to complete the route without aid. .

In 1961 Royal Robbins and Rich Calderwood made a significant variation, which is also totally free. From the belay ledge above the chockstones, traverse right (5.8) for 15 feet to a prominent lieback crack. Climb this , then traverse right into a gully. Ascend this until 40 feet above a tree , then traverse right and climb onto an obvious ledge. From its far end, descend a few feet to a spectacular hand-traverse which leads to a tree only 40 feet from the waterfall. A steep corner containing an easy chimney leads to brush slopes. A few bongs (up to 2-1/2) should be included in the hardware selection.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Oct 31, 2008 - 09:57am PT
The route looks real interesting and steep. The rock looks excellent. Way to go off the beaten path!

Don't you wish those orange dots and arrows were still in the Gunsight?

Thanks for the TR, Clint. Always wanted to check that zone out.


Big Wall climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
Oct 31, 2008 - 10:03am PT

That is a great report. Thanks.


Trad climber
Oct 31, 2008 - 10:54am PT
Great report clint,
I've been wanting to do Bridalveil East for a long time. It looks cool up there.

Oct 31, 2008 - 10:54am PT
Great adventure TR and pics. Thanks!
Good call on the bivi - that descent looks to be heinous in the dark.

Trad climber
The Great North these days......
Oct 31, 2008 - 01:24pm PT
Clint, I love the pics! Never did this route.

Social climber
wuz real!
Oct 31, 2008 - 01:40pm PT
Now that's an adventure!

Social climber
A prison of my own creation
Oct 31, 2008 - 02:08pm PT
Thanks for the story and the pics Clint. Sounds like a real adventure!

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Oct 31, 2008 - 02:20pm PT
Damn, that looks like a fun adventure. Thanks for the details.

Oakland: what's not to love?
Oct 31, 2008 - 03:29pm PT

Excellent TR - sounds like a great voyage up a seldom-climbed corner of the park. I also think it was a good call to bivy - me and Scott had a hell of a time coming down the Gunsight in the dark.

Do you think if you were to do it again you'd be down in daylight? I guess what I'm asking is if it was the routefinding that made the climb slow?

The pics with the lines superimposed are gold - thanks for those.

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Oct 31, 2008 - 03:38pm PT
awesome trip report! i will add this route to the route database
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2008 - 05:19pm PT
le bruce,

Yes, I could definitely top out in the daylight on this!
I'd like to go back sometime in the daylight when it's dry and see if there is a free route at the end of the long traverse pitch to the big tree 40' from the falls.
I'd also like to belay lower or higher on the chockstone pitch.
Doing the original Bridalveil East would be fun, too.

Next time I'll get an earlier start.

I have topped out on Beggar's Buttress in daylight, then rapped down by Overhang Bypass and reversed its approach.
scuffy b

On the dock in the dark
Oct 31, 2008 - 07:11pm PT
Great report, Clint.
Incredible adventure.
Thanks for posting the links to the other threads, as well.

bay area
Oct 31, 2008 - 07:28pm PT

clint, that was you guys up there! polly and i were cragging at the base of leaning tower that day, and as we were walking out in the evening we saw some dudes about 3/4 of the way up what looked to be bridalveil east. we were like, hope those guys have something warm!

thanks for the tr - looks like a cool route.. glad you guys made it off okay.

Social climber
san joser
Oct 31, 2008 - 07:32pm PT
One headlamp!

A lot better than no headlamp.

Great TR!

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2008 - 07:34pm PT

Cool. Somebody also put a searchlight on us briefly when we were on the last pitch in the dark. Probably some tourist called the rangers, or maybe our lone car in the parking lot was checked. Natalie and Linnea also checked on us in the morning, since we didn't didn't show up at the site on Saturday night - Ken ran into them on the paved trail near the parking lot.

Good thing there was a mini heat wave! If it had looked like a colder night, we would have gotten an earlier start, tried to climb faster, and checked before we left the car that we had 2 headlamps. Maybe even brought matches (but 2 headlamps are usually better than matches; I don't like making a mess). As it was, there wasn't much pressure to avoid a bivouac.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 31, 2008 - 07:42pm PT
A good adventure, and TR - thanks!

Those interested in the orange dots in the Gunsight descent, to which Warbler refers, and their fate, should see

Stoked OW climber
San Jose, CA
Nov 1, 2008 - 03:22pm PT
Sweet report! And pics!

The last pics of the gunsight raps past the huge chockstones gave me flashbacks... hanging just below it in a cold waterfall, dark, waiting my turn... shudder.

Thanks for doing the research to cross-link other threads and superimpose the lines on the pictures... this is a great reference thread.
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