Central Pillar of Frenzy, Middle Cathedral 5.9


Yosemite Valley, California USA

  • Currently 5.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 4-6 hours
Approach time: 15 minutes
Descent time: 1-1.5 hours
Number of pitches: 5
Height of route: 550'
Rising from the heart of Middle Cathedral Rock, Central Pillar of Frenzy is one of most popular 5.9 crack climbs in Yosemite. The route offers five pitches of excellent jamming with everything from fingers and stems to fist cracks and chimneys. The views of El Capitan (climbers are often visible) and the gentle emerald oxbows of the Merced River are spectacular. The protection is solid and straightforward.
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Although Frenzy is a great name in itself, this route can be even better appreciated if one knows a little alpine history. On the Italian side of Mont Blanc lie some huge and intimidating buttresses, one of which is called the Central Pillar of Frêney—for a short while the hardest climb in the Alps. It’s admittedly a bit of a jump from Frêney to Frenzy, and from the Alps to the Valley, but that’s the way the name came about, courtesy of Jim Bridwell, a fellow with a consuming passion for the history of climbing.

Middle Cathedral Rock’s beautiful northeast face has many fine routes, but if you want to learn crack climbing, Frenzy is the place to go. Bridwell is responsible for this classic, and in 1973 he, Roger Breedlove, and Ed Barry did the first eight pitches. Two years later Bridwell returned with John Long and Billy Westbay to finish the route.
The route is famous now for its first five pitches, all of which involve 5.8 and 5.9 cracks. Liebacks, fist cracks, hand cracks, squeeze chimneys—you name it, you’ve got it.

– Steve Roper

Prepare to wait in line unless you begin extremely early in the morning. Be ready for uncomfortable belay stances and hanging belays. Do not leave food at the base as squirrels lurk in the talus waiting to scavenge through backpacks.

The first pitch is slippery and awkward but protects well. The sustained wide section on Pitch 3 can be challenging, but a few extra 3.5-4” cams will enable those unaccustomed to wide cracks to protect it perfectly. Although most people rappel after Pitch 5, the route continues for another four pitches of less enjoyable 5.9 and hard 5.10. From Pitch 5, use the noted rappel route marked by Metolius hangers. Rappelling the climbing route is not recommended as it creates a danger for climbers below. In addition, ropes often get stuck on Pitch 3.

The route gets morning sun from late May through July, otherwise it is mostly shaded. In the summer, the route is less crowded and can have pleasant temperatures in the afternoon.

Carry two 50m or 60m ropes for retreating from the route. Rappel from any point. From Pitch 5, follow the rap route shown on the topo.
If driving from Camp 4: take Northside Drive to El Capitan Meadow. Turn left at the triangle and drive east until just before you meet Southside Drive (the one way road.) Park on the side of the road and walk 300 feet west on Southside drive to the pullout on the left (south). If driving into Yosemite Valley: on Southside Drive, park 300 feet before the turnoff to El Capitan Meadow on the paved pullout on the right.

From the middle of the east most pullout, locate a trail and walk 300 feet, passing a climbers’ information sign, to the Valley Loop Trail. (Don’t start from the pullout to the west or all the following distances will be wrong.)

From here, follow different trails depending on which route you are climbing: GET Yosemite Valley Free Climbs and read the rest this approach as well beta for over 200 other classic Yosemite routes.

Rappel the route with two ropes.
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff Last update: March 17, 2015
Middle Cathedral - Central Pillar of Frenzy 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Central Pillar is considered one of the best climbs on Middle Cathedral.
Photo: Chris McNamara
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