Regular Route 5.9

  • Currently 4.0/5

Higher Cathedral Spire

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Existential Moment on HCS
Tuesday April 28, 2009 7:12pm
At 8 am on Sunday April 26, 2009, Bill McConachie & I embarked on the 0.8 mile/1,500 foot elevation gain, 2 hour hike to the start of the regular route on Higher Cathedral Spire in Yosemite Valley. The approach was a bit tiring but pleasant and uneventful in the warm morning sun, with the exception that we passed a bear that was headed downhill and didn't seem to have any interest in us. After some boulder hopping and bushwacking, we arrived at the base of the route which is marked on the granite by a shield with a cross in it. We dumped our packs and began preparing for our ascent. Bill took the 1st pitch, a 5.5 mixed crack and lie back up to a ledge with a tree. I followed the 1st pitch and then took the sharp end on the 2nd. The crux of pitch 2 is the so-called 5.9 "powerful bulge." You do a hand traverse along a horizontal crack that leads over to the bulge after clipping a couple of pins in the crack on the right with very long runners to minimize rope drag. Although the valley below was enjoying 70+ degree weather, at our elevation there was a cold wind blowing and my fingertips were almost completely numb by the time I arrived at the hand traverse after clipping the rope to the 2 pins. I began looking for a pin scar in the horizontal crack to place a TCU to prevent a pendulum into the corner in the event that the coefficient of friction on the C4 rubber of my newly resoled MadRock slippers is exceeded during the traverse. I opted for the upper of two parallel horizontal cracks leading left to the bulge as a Pat Metheney riff kept playing in the background of my mind. My eyes scanned the rock for any micro-edges or smearing opportunities for my feet. As I smeared and shifted my center-of-gravity left and reached for the next available pin scar finger jam, the laws of physics took over and I began to pendulum, sweeping a counter-clockwise arc from 9 to 6 o'clock as a blur of granite passed before my eyes. Fortunately the strategically-placed TCU prevented me from swinging past 6 o'clock and slamming into the corner. I shook myself off mentally and physically and decided to try the lower of the horizontal cracks. This seemed to work nicely because I was lower than the TCU now and it was practically a tension traverse. Again I shifted my center-of-gravity left and stepped across to a decent mini-stance beneath the bulge, where I clipped a pin right below the bulge with another long runner. As I contemplated the move over the bulge and sensed the vertical relief behind me, my inner voice started asking "How long has that pin been there?" "How many falls has it caught?" "Was it capable of stopping me, if I fell?" I reached for some backup insurance and placed a TCU next to the decades-old pin, dipped my numb fingertips into the powder, and began looking for foot holds on the featureless granite below the bulge. I inched my feet up on questionable smears after reaching left and placing 3 numb 1/2 fingertips on a brittle, flaky edge. I elongated up and right reaching for a solid arc-shaped hold with my right hand but, damn it, I was still 10 inches short. An adrenaline spike surged through my body and I quickly backed my feet off the smears and lowered back down to the mini-stance. Again my inner voice queried "At 57, is it possible that you're too old for this?" So I recalled my survival credo "When in doubt, chicken out." I donated a couple of carabiners to the route as Bill lowered me back down to the ledge. We both rapped down. When I arrived at the base and looked over at my my pack, I could see that the outside pocket was unzipped and a sandwich wrapper was on the ground next to the pack. Apparently a marmot had paid us a visit, unzipped my pack, and made off with my sandwich for lunch.

Looking up at HCS
Start of the traverse on p2 (photo Bill McConachie)
This is where I bailed. (photo Bill McConachie)

  Trip Report Views: 2,912
About the Author
tuolumne_tradster is a trad climber from concord, california.


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Apr 28, 2009 - 07:16pm PT
great location!

try again later, no big deal.

bring a sling shot for the marmot next time. ;)

Just kidding rangers.
Greg Barnes

  Apr 28, 2009 - 07:22pm PT
If the critter nicely unzipped your pack before making off with your food, it might be ravens - they used to do that at Owens. Marmots will just tear right through the pack. One time at Owens a raven unzipped one pack top, took out a roll of tape, took out a tube of sunscreen, neatly placed each next to the pack, then grabbed a power bar and flew off with that.

Funny thing on your temps - we did it a few months ago in mid-November and it was FREEZING at the car, and super warm & sunny on the route. It was amusing seeing some pad people down in the forest in big down jackets when we zoomed by in shorts & T-shirts on the way back to the car!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Apr 28, 2009 - 07:24pm PT
Oh, man, you almost had it. I was right there in late November. Maybe I'm a little taller (6'0); I could reach good holds up there.

Random Nobody
  Apr 28, 2009 - 07:29pm PT
@ 57 years old... you are peak for this...

Better luck next time....

tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
  Apr 28, 2009 - 07:30pm PT
Isn't this the climb with the "improbable step left."

I remembered that beta when I did it, it really helped, I think.


Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Author's Reply  Apr 28, 2009 - 08:07pm PT
I was on the left variant of the Regular Route where it says "5.9 powerful bulge" on the SuperTopo Yosemite Guide, p. 167.

RE the stolen sandwich, a friend, Will Sicke, was on LCS the weekend before and the same thing happened to him, only in his case the marmot? raven? unzipped his pack and stole an apple. My headlamp is missing too.

Gym climber
  Apr 28, 2009 - 10:10pm PT
great shots, good tale, and good judgment given what you knew. what you didn't know, was once you get a hand up there, you're in.

i found that traverse the crux of the route--certainly harder than the bulge; my partner was all, what do you mean? he must have found some feet that i just couldn't see.

Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Author's Reply  Apr 29, 2009 - 01:42am PT
thanks murcy...I just might go back and give it another go later in the season when the feet are more solid and the confidence is trending upward
Higher Cathedral Spire - Regular Route 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route winds up the left skyline to the summit. The traditional start is lower on the left.
Photo: Randy Spurrier