East Buttress, Middle Cathedral 5.10c or 5.9 A0
Avg time to climb route: 8-9 hours
Approach time: 30-40 minutes
Descent time: 1.5 hours
Number of pitches: 11
Height of route: 1100'
OverviewIncluded in ?50 Classic Climbs of North America,? the East Buttress clearly stands out as a Yosemite gem. Pitch after pitch of moderate Yosemite cracks are occasionally interrupted with short, well-protected crux sections. The view of El Capitan is astounding and only surpassed by the dreamy climbing moves. Solid protection and very few awkward wide sections make the East Buttress a great entry climb to long Yosemite 5.9s and 5.10s.
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HistoryMiddle Cathedral Rock rivals El Cap in an odd sort of way. It isn’t as high or as monolithic or as majestic, but it certainly has more “character” than its cross-Valley neighbor. If El Cap is gray and forbidding, much of Middle Cathedral is colorful and inviting. If El Cap defines Big Wall Climbing, then Middle Cathedral stands for Medium Wall Climbing. What can be more intriguing than Yosemite’s neglected orphan?
Warren Harding craved Middle long before he became fixated on the Big Stone. In May 1954 he had pioneered, with three others, the 2,000-foot north buttress of Middle, by far the longest roped climb yet done in North America. Three months later he shifted his eyes left to the shorter but much more compact east buttress. A few hundred feet above the ground, Harding, Bob Swift, and John Whitmer twisted their way through an ant-infested tree (one of the little-known hazards of Valley climbing) and later arrived on a narrow platform below a crackless wall 40 feet high. This 65-degree slab was featureless, the biggest holds a mere quarter-inch wide. Any first ascensionist who wanted the east buttress would have to deal with this smooth wall, and no climber of the time (and very few today) could have done this unknown section free with zero protection. Artificial aid was needed and so out came the bolt kit. But down went the sun.
Bob Swift remembers the next events: “It was pitch dark when we heard voices below, in the forest. Some friends of ours were worried about us and had hiked up to check. They yelled up, ‘How’s the bivouac?’ ‘Bivouac? Hell, we’re still climbing’, was Warren’s reply. The monotonous tink-tink of the hammer on the drill began again as work was started on the next bolt hole. Beside me on the belay ledge John rasped away furiously at sharpening a spare drill.” Harding, later famous for his all-night drilling session on the first ascent of The Nose in 1958, had learned this nocturnal trick in 1954!
With the bolt ladder almost completed, they bivouacked and resumed climbing at dawn. The 50-foot section above the bolt ladder proved spectacular and thrilling. A long, serrated flake shot up the 70-degree wall, and the orange-colored granite was dotted liberally with knobs. It wasn’t hard, yet it wasn't trifling either. One could rest on certain knobs and the protection was excellent. The exposure was sensational. But several pitches higher the trio ran out of steam and rappelled rather than face another bivouac.
The buttress now sported the longest continuous bolt ladder in the country—about nine. Bolts were not controversial back in 1954 and this ladder occasioned little comment at the time. In retrospect, however, this attempt can be seen as a radical Valley event. The old-timers had first sought out climbs w... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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