West Face of El Cap


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Truckee, CA
May 21, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
Dustin my friend, I am not sure but I think that might be REALLY BAD BETA!! People sometimes go past, that is West, of Ribbon Falls and come down the long long talus slope that Sean Jones used to access his fantastic climbs at the top of Ribbon, but between El Cap and Ribbon Falls is a much trickier gully/chimney and rumor has it that this is NOT a good descent.

Did the 3rd free ascent of the West Face with Steve Hong about 5 days after the brilliant FFA of Bill Price and Ray Jardine. We were psyched to go for the 2nd, but Mark Hudon kind of pulled rank on me when he heard of our plans insisting that they were going up first, so I did Astroman with Leonard Coyne, rested a day, then went up there with Steve. Steve was really good then, but not the crack master that he would become a short time later. That spring he was in the Valley to get jamming down, which he did, in spades, and many of the unclimbed thin fissures of Indian Creek, became history.

At the time, (remember we had barely begun using cams) word was the 2nd pitch required a couple of pins, and the first few ascents were done by free climbing the first two pitches, fixing them, rapping down and sleeping at the base then firing it the next day.

Steve and I climbed it no falls. I think Max had discovered the easier way around the thin corner on the 5th or 6th by face climbing to the right. Which we were able to follow easily since it had very fresh chalk on it. We topped out at 2:00pm, totally blown away to be standing on the summit of El Cap after a mere 8 hours of really fine climbing.

I need to add this to my 30th anniversary ascent list I am trying for this year, along with Astroman, Tales, etc.

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
May 21, 2009 - 01:16pm PT
Why do I remember Ron Fawcett making a really ascent of this? I although he did the second or third but I'm probably totally pulling that out of my a#@.

Anything to beat a dead horse about the 5.10 face: I don't remember it being bad. Don't ask me how, but I remember a good yellow tcu placement, and just some step up and reach right kind of moves. Maybe earning my face chops at Suicide prepared me better than I thought. It's only about 5.10a/b, right?

BTW TimN, if you send the second pitch, apart from the 5/6th pitch (which you can french free pretty easily-I ended up having to at the very end), I don't really think you're going to find anything higher up that's going to stump you.

May 21, 2009 - 01:29pm PT
Hey Peter,

Yeah, not really recommending it to a visiting climber, but I am curious about this gully. The old Roper guide and the Meyers guide list it as class 3-4. This is the gully LEFT of the El Cap chimney, which is supposed to be more technical with steep sections around chockstones etc.

Anyway, just curious... walking back up over the top of El Cap from the west face and down the east ledges kinda sucks.

Hey, Petey--got a mtn biking question for ya. Call or email ya later....

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
May 21, 2009 - 05:13pm PT
A little tidbit on this fine route. If you do it when Ribbon Falls is still going, it can be a bit chilly in the morning since it doesn't get sun until later in the day and Ribbon Falls becomes this nearby swamp cooler.

At least seemed that way one of the times I was up there.

Mike Corbett and I did it in a long day long ago. I just got off work at midnight and we borrowed some gear and headed straight to the crag. Started in the dark and the first two pitches weren't at all fixed so there was actually some hardish aid in the dark. When Corbett jugged the second pitch, a bunch of my pieces pulled and I saw his headlamp (and him) swinging across the face! Next pitch, Corbett puts two cams behind a block. the block (20 in TV size) comes off in my hands when I'm cleaning. Holy shi...!

Did it in half the time with a 17 year old kid 15 years later.

Both good times



bay area
May 21, 2009 - 06:08pm PT

stephens, you're prolific on the topo these days..

question: how does this badboy compare in general length/ difficulty to doing NWFHD in a day?

May 22, 2009 - 01:59am PT
West Face is harder and feels longer. Now stop ridiculing me.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 22, 2009 - 12:47pm PT
If you can lead the first two free, you can do the whole thing.

Trickiest single bit is on the 2nd pitch. You used to have to run it to the 2nd belay off fixed bashies and old frayed wires but the climbing wasn't too hard there.

The upper hard bits are mainly 2-3 body-length sections of cranking between good holds, typically with good pro. Most of this route is 5.8 and 5.9 and a lot of easy 10a type styling.

For experienced Yoz climbers, soon as you finish the last corner, extend the day packs on a sling on your waist, so they hang below, and solo off the chimneys to the top. Takes about 15 minutes.

For fit climbers, approaching and descending will take almost as much time as the route.

This thing always felt like a kind of alpine route to me, unique to Yoz. All in all, solid rock as well. I'm sort of surprised others haven't worked out more free climbs over there.

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
May 22, 2009 - 01:00pm PT
We pulled rank on you, Peter? Sounds like something I'd do although I don't remember doing it.

May 22, 2009 - 01:17pm PT
Anyway, anyone ever descend off the west side of el cap?

I have, but you do have to make one short rappel. You could down climb but it's easier to make a rappel.

The hike down the gully is not sweet ....

Trad climber
Mountain View
Oct 10, 2011 - 12:09pm PT

Social climber
long beach ca
Oct 10, 2011 - 12:38pm PT
im so sick right now and reading all the different posts about el cap is pretty entertaining, myles did that climb with pauly, they would know. im just a lowly beginner

Trad climber
Oct 27, 2011 - 07:51pm PT
Just went up recently to check out this route; it looks beautiful!

But what is up with the original bolts? The West Face of El Cap has supertopo grade trade route written all over it, but the pro is sketchy! (many other posts say "all cruxes are well protected" but I consider rusty 1/4" bolts from the early 70s to be something less than bomber...)

The first anchor is a super old bolt, a very rusty angle, and a purple C3 that I needed to lead the second pitch. The second anchor has one new bolt and several drilled pins.... The spainards topo on ST mentions some "bad bolts" higher up too..

What would it take to update the hardware on this obviously classic line? Can I sign up to help? I would love to learn how to toil on the wall in a new fashion! Roger? Clint?

Btw, we bailed from the top of two to head for more travelled terrain... lately most routes take me a recon run b4 the send anyway, so its on the list!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 02:57am PT
Hmmm, I've done the route twice ('91 and '99) and didn't note any bad belay bolts or pro bolts in those trip reports.

There is that silly rats nest of slings / sling belay in the middle of the crux moves, but you weren't up that high, and people shouldn't be belaying there.
There is a weird bolt up high on the last 5.10 pitch which is hard to reach free, but it sticks out, so I just threw the lead line over it.
These sorts of things would just be removed on a cleanup mission.
In the meantime, if it's a bad bolt, too scary to use, don't use it.

There was only one original bolt (see Peter Haan's post).
Although of course there many pins placed on the FA, and we don't use those much anymore, so having a few fixed pins or bolts makes sense.
I don't think it should have 2 ring bolts at every anchor.
It's a gear route. I think if the existing bolts were scary for you, you probably haven't seen an actual rusty 1/4" bolt before. It may have some rusty 3/8" bolts at this point, but those are usually pretty good.
I could be wrong of course, if someone has removed bolts that were there in '91 and '99. But I don't think any 1/4" bolts would appear on it in the meantime. You would not be the only person to mislabel a rusty bolt as 1/4". The real 1/4" bolts are getting harder to find, so I think people have a tendency to call anything that has some rust a 1/4".

Sorry if this feels a bit negative; I am just trying to reconcile my observations with yours. If you have photos of the bolts in question, please post them and we can try to ID them.

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Oct 28, 2011 - 10:21am PT
Well Clint, I did the route on the 13 October 1995. I'm sure there was one belay, somewhere in the middle of the route, maybe before or after a 5.11 pitch that was two 1/4" bolts. It stuck in my mind as it struck me how little there was between us and oblivion. I can't be any more specific than that.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 03:13pm PT

I believe that anchor with two 1/4" bolts is the one I was vaguely referring to as the "rats nest of slings in the middle of the crux".
This was marked as anchor (6) in the 1987 topo.
The 1994 topo was modified to show (6) lower, with 5.11c at the 2 bolts.
It's still an "easy belay to end up at" as long as those bolts are there, as we tend to just continue leading up if we see reachable slings above.

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Oct 28, 2011 - 04:17pm PT
Hmmm, my topo is Yosemite Select, Don Reid, 1993. I see the belay you are referring to. It's half way up a L facing flake/corner and labelled s.b. and the 5.11c shown above it and 10c below. This is definitely not the one I was thinking of. No, the belay that remains in my mind was in the middle of a wall on a ledge with no way of backing it up. Could be belay 8, after another 11c? Maybe after this?
W Face El Cap 13 Oct 95.
W Face El Cap 13 Oct 95.
Credit: jaaan
My apologies if it's not where I thought it was... but it's not the one you mention.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 04:58pm PT
OK, I see. Yes, that is belay (8), 2x shown on the topo.
I remember it's a ledge with no crack above it.
Could definitely be 1/4" there.
I didn't note anything in my TR about it, but the 1/4" don't really bother me that much when there are two. I'm happy to haul a haulbag off two 1/4" bolts, for example.
Would be worthy of an upgrade by most standards, though!

Trad climber
Oct 28, 2011 - 05:18pm PT
Thanks Clint for your response. Maybe I am mis-identifing the diameter of bolt, but I do know what the warm and fuzzy feeling of reading ASCA on a hanger is! Is there any way to get this route on the list for the future? Can I get involved in the project in a formal way?

And you have no problem hauling off two 1/4"ers? maybe I need to sac up, but that just sounds like tempting disaster...
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
May 1, 2013 - 05:42pm PT
I saw some comments about this route being wet. Is it too early in the season for an ascent? Or are the cruxes dry? I'm an experienced climber, just not an experienced Yosemite climber, so I don't know about how long snow runoff lasts and things like that.

Also, anyone have approach beta for this sucker? Or do I just head toward the Nose, take a left, and head up hill for an hour till I see that huge arch around pitch 4?

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 1, 2013 - 06:14pm PT
It should be fairly dry at present - it has been a pretty dry winter.
Be careful on the approach - people have died on it.

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