I have some thoughts on the route. All in all an amazing line, I would say significantly harder than ZM or Shortest Straw, with the hard pitches being much more serious as well.
The first two pitches are pretty classic, amazingly steep, be prepared for more of that to come.
I would disagree with C-Mac about the Coral Sea. I found it to be difficult, definitely A4, both in climbing and the very serious fall potential. You really have to link it and the short pitch before, as there are only 2 crummy 1/4" bolts on top of the 5.9 squeeze thing. There is definitely a loose block, like he mentioned, only a few pins on the pitch, I think I placed 2 beaks (one should have been a KB) and maybe I placed 1 arrow. There was not an overabundance of fixed heads, just what was needed, nothing more, I don't think. Its an awesome pitch, intricate and makes you think.
The 5.7 or A3 free climbing at the top is more like 5.8R. You walk past a bunch of really bad heads, I reached down to clip one and it was wiggly, I skipped it and the next bunch because they become too low to clip really. But when the free climbing ends, you get back onto heads, to take it to the belay, you don't climb all the way to the belay (at least I didn't think that was possible).
The wing and the pitch before it are crazy. Watch those jugs! I popped one off while cleaning, transitioning to the rivets between 'wings.'
The next bunch of pitches are what I would describe as 'Sustained A3.' You get some rest for 1 pitch, The Equator, but then you have the 5.9 Squeeze on the GFF. I did the most work I have ever done to place a cam 12" above my previous piece.
The final A4 pitch, The Golden Nipple, is pretty full on. The start section and the nipple are tricky hooking and lots of getting high in the aiders. The final section is where it becomes real serious. My partner taped a hook to his hammer to reach a ledge that was just out of reach. "Reachy Hook Moves" is no joke!
All in all an amazing route. Probably my favorite harder route I have done so far. It still had a fairly fresh feel, not yet overly scarred or hook scratched.
The Coral Sea pitch (Pitch 4) is not as hard as listed in the SuperTopo. Definitely A4 at the hardest. Maybe only A3+. There is one scary loose block. But otherwise pretty straight-forward. I only placed one knifeblade. Otherwise pitch went clean because there are so many fixed heads. Hooks and offset aliens are nice. Free climbing the last 40 feet (mostly 5.7) is much less scary than standing on all the fixed heads.
Iron Son Trip Report: 11/21-25/2009
Justin Brockman and Peyton Hassinger (both from North Carolina originally)
We spent 5 days/ 4 nights on this route in beautiful weather. Short days made for long and relaxing nights in the ledge. We topped out on the 5th day, spent the night on top, and woke up on Thanksgiving morning for the hike down. The KB traverse and the Golden Nipple were the cruxes for sure. Definitely bring double offset aliens and the two smallest c3 cams. Also, doubles of the 3 smallest baby angles, sawed, would have made the KB traverse a lot more comfortable.
Pitches 1-5: This is a very quick way up to El Cap Tree. After pitch 1, we shortfixed the rest of the way in about an hour at a comfortable pace. The free climbing is easier than indicated in the supertopo. We hauled from pitch 5, which is definitely the easiest way to go.
Pitch 6: Scary only because there are so many loose flakes that you have to hook on. I did not nail on this pitch. The second bolt/rivet of the pitch indicated on the supertopo (to the left of the expanding flake near the top) has been removed; it was unnecessary. Offset aliens and the smallest black diamond C3 were great for the top part of the pitch.
Pitch 7: Fixed pins and bolts will get you all the way through the roof. Fun! Backcleaning will make this much more pleasant for your 2nd, but be careful doing it since some of the pins look like they’ve basically just been pounded into moss. Above the roof, there are a few fixed heads, but you could probably do this whole section with just hybrid aliens. (jsb)
Pitch 8: Bring cams! I don’t know why supertopo says no cams on pitch; I placed about 10 small cams, especially offset aliens. Yes the flake is hollow and expanding but not terribly so.
Pitch 9: There’s a bolt just above a 5.7/5.8 ramp below the start of the KB traverse… maybe 15 ft to the right of the belay. You can clip this and then step up into the crack. Once in the crack, there are a ton of scary fixed heads… half of them with broken cables. You can occasionally back these up with aliens and sawed baby angles. Doubles of the 3 smallest should be plenty. Don’t fall… and make sure the 2nd has a lot of lower out slings. (jsb)
Pitch 10: The C1 part of the pitch is a long 0.5 to 0.75 inch crack that is traversing enough to require leaving gear; I would recommend triples in this size range.
Pitch 11: Nothing to add. (jsb)
Pitch 12: A small hook is useful for the middle A3 section.
Pitch 13: Nothing to add. (jsb)
Pitch 14: Keep right on fixed gear in the middle to avoid the 4 inch crack.
Pitch 15: Fixed heads and hybrid aliens will take you out right to a couple knifeblade placements. After that, wide cams (3”-4.5”) will be useful. The final rivet before the iron son belay is missing, but you can bathook the hole.
Pitch 12: Starting from the intermediate belay, you can do a long reach to the rivet ladder to the right.
Pitch 13: Yes the hook is the only piece on the pitch.
Pitch 14: The first section of A3 is almost entirely fixed heads. After that, the horizontal hooking is mostly in ridiculously drilled placements. After that, the 2nd “A3” section is super easy and more like C2. At this point, I was feeling kind of disappointed with the pitch, but beware of the thin, slanting right crack at the top! The supertopo note of 0.5”-1.5” is completely wrong here, and the crack takes micronuts, microcams, cam hooks, and lost arrows. It’s tricky and frightening because the flake the crack is in is super hollow, and not visibly attached to the wall. I took a long fall here in this section when I was on a lost arrow that pulled. As I fell, 2 microcams in the thin crack ripped out and I was caught by a hybrid alien I placed at the top of the 2nd A3 section. It was a 3F fall as I had time to yell “F!@#”, then “Falling!”, then “Falling!” again. We left a few pins on this pitch because our funkness broke and we couldn’t get them out with a sling. (jsb)
Pitch 15: Climbing shoes would make the initial 30 foot traverse more pleasant. The first section with 3 rivets requires some reachy hook moves and a very reach head placement. The first pendo is short; it is a diving hook placement, after which you get another rivet and then continue on fixed heads and hooks until reaching an intermediate fixed head anchor. Do a long pendo off of this into the very expanding golden nipple. The final ‘A3’ section was the scariest for me because of the long fall potential into a sloping corner. To avoid bad rope drag, I backcleaned all the fixed heads for the first 20 feet or so until eventually reaching some decent small cam placements.
Pitches 16-17: A welcome relief.
I really enjoyed my solo of Native Son in '98. The traversing pitch above Coral Sea will use up just about your entire rack, and the Wing is wicked steep. You'll find the hardest "A1" pitch you'll ever climb on the left side of the Golden Finger of Fate. I've got detailed beta if you want any.
Cheyne Lempe and I climbed this fully awesome route over five days (with no pitches fixed) in the middle of October, 2012.
I would agree with everything Dave wrote below including the difficulty and seriousness of "The Coral Sea" pitch A4r.
No other "A4" pitch I've climbed in my last seven El Cap routes (South Seas, ZM, Lost in America, Iron Hawk, Shortest Straw, Tribal Rite) could even be considered anywhere near as difficult. To include them in the same grade rating would be proving the aid rating system is truly broken and useless. If the rating does not accurately reflect the techniques and skill to required to safely climb a pitch, what then is its purpose?
A suggestion for the 5.9 squeeze on pitch 11 would be to go up there with a plan! Decide where you want to strip off your aid gear and get into a serious free climbing mind set. Otherwise, welcome to the club of one of the best thrutches of your life on some of the best rock anywhere in one of the best positions on El Cap!
The rack seemed fine, no need for RURPS and a couple each of the KBs and LAs. I'm always too scared to use the real micro nuts and never take any although you should have at least three full set of small to medium nuts for p5 and both pitches aside the Golden Finger Of Fate (easily some of the best nutting on easily some of the best rock on all of El Cap).
The ST rack shows 3 ea cams .33 to 2" and then offsets. We had two sets of offsets and two sets of regular cams and had no problems.
Cheyne and I removed what tat their was on the route although it amounted to only half a dozen pieces or so.
When you started your climb in the spring of '98 was someone soloing it 4-5 pitches ahead of you? If so, that was me. A wild ride no doubt. Nearly 20 years later it's interesting to read the comments on the pitches. I have forgotten so many of the details.
I do recall a small waterfall as I traversed over to the "Golden Finger of Fate." To get passed it I remember connecting 10 to 12 ft of slings to a number 10 or 11 hex and throwing at the finger (well, the crack that is.) First throw, it rattled down to a spot and held. I lowered myself down under it and began the ascent of the finger.
I barley got wet.
Native Son is route number 23.
Photo: Galen Rowell
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