Southwest Face C2 5.8
Trip ReportA summer day on Liberty Cap
Every time Iíve hiked past Liberty Cap on the way to Half Dome Iíve had an urge to climb it. Its relatively secluded location and perfect view of Nevada Falls, combined with the picturesque line that the Southwest Face route takes, put the route at the top of my to-do list.
The weather report for the weekend of 8/6-7 looked absolutely perfect in Yosemite, so George and I made plans to do the climb. I spent the week scouring the internet for information and previous reports about climbing the route. I was intrigued by the SuperTopo line about Nose-in-a-day training, ďto do The Nose in less than 18 hours, you should be able to do Liberty Cap in fewer than ten.Ē By comparing the topos side-by-side it looked like the Nose is 3x as long and roughly the same difficulty, so I donít know why the timing is so generous for Liberty Cap. Nonetheless it seemed like a good goal to shoot for since we didnít want to haul a bunch of gear all the way up that long approach!
We headed out on the trail by headlamp at 5am. By the time we hit the bridge below Vernal Falls, filled up the 8L of water we planned to take on the route, and used the restrooms there, we could travel by natural light. The rest of the hike was a slog up the trail with a few tantalizing views of our objective.
The climbersí trail skirting the base of Liberty Cap is very well established. The traverse on the bushy ledge to get to the base of the route is indeed quite bushy and exposed in a couple of places, but generally straightforward.
When we got to the base we realized we had two cameras but only one camera battery. Since our plan was for me to lead the whole route (to practice big block leads and short-fixing) that meant we could either get a bunch of butt shots or a bunch of jugging shots. We decided to go with the former...enjoy.
During the "5.9 incredible hands" we both starting whooping and hollering. It really is incredible. A perfect splitter hand crack in the middle of the face, with instant exposure due to the traverse in on the ledge.
On pitch 4 I took the right-hand variation that ends up doing a pendulum off a hangerless (and nutless) machinehead bolt. The left-hand variation going straight up the grassy crack looked similarly good. This pitch ends in another splitter hand crack of goodness.
Pitch 5 started with fun thin hands to a difficult lieback/rattly fingers dihedral before moving out onto the steep headwall. I drank as much as I could before heading out on this pitch to help lighten the pack before the steep jugging commenced.
The headwall has been fixed up to be straightforward--bomber ASCA bolts separated by 2-4 solid rivets each. Each bolt even has pre-rigged lower out tat on it already. No trickery needed though I had to get in my second steps a couple times which was strenuous on the overhanging terrain.
On the next pitch the sun finally crested the face and started bearing down on us. This was a fun, long C1 pitch.
The pitch ends with a 5.7 squeeze. There is a gigantic flake (roughly 4'x12'x6") within the squeeze that I thought provided a nice handjam, but when I pressed my thumb down, the entire flake rocked a few inches! I went back to chimneying mode.
I decided to take the same method for p7 that others have previously recommended: chimney up, clip some fixed gear, then tension traverse to the crack. This avoids the other options of either runout 5.10 face climbing or C3 up an incipient seam. There's now a fat ASCA-stamped bolt to tension off of that hasn't been reported elsewhere. Both the rope drag and communication ability are horrendous on this pitch. It might be worth it to do a mini pitch to set up directly below the chimney to mitigate both issues.
I thought that pitch 8 was the crux of the route. The squeeze to begin was physical with another loose block in it.
Above the mid-pitch bolts was the aid crux. I placed a decent/undercammed red C3, moved onto a solid cam hook, then an inverted cam hook in marginal rock. As I clipped my lower aider onto the inverted cam hook, part of the rock exploded, leaving me cammed on half of the hook with the other half now visible where the rock had been. I frantically looked for a different placement but the good part of the crack was still a few feet out of reach. The only placement looked to be another bad cam hook. I poked at it for a little while before noticing that there were a few small edges out on the face to the left. I committed to stepping out onto the edges, causing the aiders to immediately fall out of the crack, and crimped a couple moves to a nice fingerlock and gear placements and breathed a sigh of relief.
The last three pitches are mostly wandering fun free climbing with a couple aid moves thrown in. You also get to wrestle with a giant bush in the crack you want to climb.
The 5.8 finishing slab has one more bolt than indicated on the SuperTopo and the crack below the crux can take a few small cams. The lichen and moss does keep it interesting though.
We topped out just after 3pm for a route time of 7:30. I was psyched! And very thirsty, since we hadn't done a good enough job of rationing liquids during the climb.
We lounged on top for a while, enjoying the 2 liters of gatorade we had left and the unique perspective of Half Dome's south face. Eventually we bushwhacked back down to the trail and to Curry Village to stuff our faces with pizza.
Route beta and general impressions:
P1 - a good black alien can be used to french free through the crux
P4 - going straight up the grassy crack is probably faster than the pendulum
P5 - no gear placements needed on the bolt ladder, everything is fixed and bomber
P6 - fixed pins and nuts down low make this straightforward. Watch out for the giant loose flake in the chimney
P7 - rope drag and communication is awful, but tension traverse method is good
P8 - having 2 cam hooks helped here
The route has cleaned up a lot from what some previous reports have indicated. There are a few grassy cracks and some loose rocks but generally the climbing is really good, and the position is great. With all the free climbing available, this is a good choice to do in a day to avoid having a heavy bag on the long approach and hauling (looks like it would be unpleasant). I felt it was slightly harder than the South Face of Washington Column but definitely easier than either Skull Queen or the Prow. And it's fun to be in a totally different area of the park!
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