Northeast Buttress, Higher Cathedral 5.9
Avg time to climb route: 7-9 hours
Approach time: 1 hour
Descent time: 1.5 hours
Number of pitches: 11
Height of route: 900'
OverviewWith pitch after pitch of amazing climbing in a spectacular location, this is possibly the best long 5.9 in the Valley. Though not as technically hard as a route like Serenity Crack or Sons of Yesterday, this climb is much more committing and requires route finding as well as wide crack skills. From sustained and steep jams to mandatory offwidth and chimneys, this route requires a good amount of experience on and 5.9 cracks.
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HistoryMost of the significant Valley first ascents up until the early 1960s were made by a select few. Six men—Dave Brower, John Salathé, Allen Steck, Mark Powell, Warren Harding, and Royal Robbins—account for the vast majority of the best routes. The Northeast Buttress of HCR is a remarkable exception: three climbers, hardly possessing household names, did the first ascent, and in impeccable style.
One day in early 1959 while climbing the Higher Cathedral Spire, 24-year-old Dick Long looked west across the talus and scanned the Higher Rock’s gray-and-gold buttress. Hundreds of climbers had seen this exact same view, but Long was the first to spy a possible route. Long had a small side-business making pitons and by 1959 was a rival of Chouinard’s. A superb climber—daring, talented, and inventive—Long once said, with no hint of bragging, that he could have been as good as Robbins if only he’d climbed full time.
One weekend in June, Long grabbed two climbers even more unknown than himself, Ray D’Arcy and Terry Tarver. D’Arcy, an Ivy League physicist who talked so fast that spittle spewed constantly from his lips, was known for his far north adventures (in 1955 he had been on the first expedition to the Cirque of the Unclimbables), but he was mainly a snow-and-ice specialist. Tarver had been climbing in the Bay Area for a few years but had never done even a Grade IV. It was an unlikely team for such an imposing buttress.
Yet two days later the trio topped out, having used no bolts and having done much of the route free. Long, a modest fellow, wrote up the climb for the Sierra Club Bulletin, summarizing the route in a single sentence: “This climb can be well-protected and offers a variety of difficult climbing.” No kidding! What Long neglected to say was that they had encountered wild flared chimneys, complex routefinding and strenuous jamcracks. It was a job well done.
For this ascent Long had brought along some of his prototype giant angle pitons, nearly 3 inches wide, the larges... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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