East Buttress, El Capitan 5.10b
Avg time to climb route: 6-10 hours
Approach time: 45 minutes
Descent time: 2.5 hours
Number of pitches: 11
Height of route: 1500'
OverviewEl Capitan itself conjures up fear, adrenaline, and excitement. The East Buttress of El Capitan has the potential to spawn all these emotions with far less commitment. The route is definitely a step up from the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, but just the right size step. Not terrifically physical, the East Buttress of El Cap is long, somewhat wandering and of beautiful quality. For an especially long and challenging day, combine the East Buttress of El Cap with the Moratorium. Together they are one of the best quality link-ups in Yosemite!
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HistoryOn one side of the earth Hillary and Tenzing approached the summit of Everest. In London a princess approached the historic throne where shortly she would walk away a queen. In Yosemite three men approached a rounded non-summit, an event garnering no banner headlines, unlike the other two. But in climbing the East Buttress they would be the first ever to climb El Capitan. That week—the last days of May 1953 and the first days of June—was indeed a memorable time.
One can argue that the East Buttress is not really an El Cap climb. It’s certainly not a “big wall” El Cap climb. The first ascensionists, in fact, never regarded their line as “climbing El Cap,” knowing that the real challenge began just a few yards left of their route. But most climbers feel it certainly merits an El Cap designation, though few bragging rights adhere.
Exhilarated by his Sentinel and Yosemite Point Buttress first ascents, Berkeley climber Allen Steck soon turned to yet another project, this one in the El Cap area. The main face of the monolith was out of the question—too enormous and steep. But the beautiful black-and-gold buttress on the far eastern flank showed distinct cracks and chimneys on its lower section. Higher, the prospective route blended smoothly into the wall, but here also the rock looked broken and perhaps climbable. In late October 1952, Steck teamed up with three old buddies, Bill Dunmire and the two Long brothers, Bill and Dick. Dunmire led off on mixed free and aid, but about 50 feet up an aid pin popped and Dunmire plunged. To everyone’s horror, the next few pitons popped: it was Yosemite’s first “zipper” fall. The lowest pin held, however, and this saved Dunmire’s life, for he had fallen upside down, stopping just as he lightly hit the ground, which was covered with big blocks. Covered with blood and unconscious, he came to a few minutes later. Steck recalls the scene: “He had no idea where he was or what he was doing. Lost a good bit of blood, too.” Dunmire soon descended with the help of his friends and spent the night in the Valley hospital, suffering only from a bad concussion and bruised shoulder.
On the next attempt, Steck and Willi Unsoeld (of later Everest fame) got much higher but a nearby waterfall began to spray them in the afternoon and Willi, in the lead, decided to come down. Steck vividly remembers what happened next: “He was about 60 feet above me, at a pi... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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