It had been a while since my buddy Stewart and I had a chance to head out and get on a route, but now that I moved back to the west coast and was close to Yosemite, we figured it was a good chance to climb something up in the valley. We wanted to climb on Memorial Day weekend and we figured the normal walls would be a zoo, so we planned on climbing the less traveled Southwest face of Liberty Cap (V 5.8 C2+).
Stewart flew in on Thursday and after arranging the gear and a few quick stops we headed out to the valley. We bivied on the side of the road about an hour outside of the park and drove in on Friday to Curry village. We packed up, caught the shuttle, and started hiking around 10 AM. The approach goes up the mist trail, which refers to the spray from Vernal falls that “mists” you as you hike up the long series of stone stairs. Most of the tourists had brought rain jackets and shells, we took it as the closest thing we would get to a shower for the next several days. Stewart took all of the metal gear and I was stuck with the pig. It seemed very heavy, but of course we had packed lots of creature comforts for the climb including a few beers, hard cider, port, and baileys. The funniest part of the hike was all of the comments from tourists that ranged from beautiful women telling us how cool we were (because big walls are glamorous?) as well as a nice lady asking why I was bringing up such a large trash can.
We arrived at the base and scrambled to the base of the route up the third class ramp, dropped our gear, and headed back down to the river to fill up our water. Luckily, someone had tried the route a few days earlier and left several gallons of water at the base of the route which made this a lot easier.
As we were both going to be pretty slow, Stewart headed up to fix the first two pitches (70 feet and 130 feet). The first section was supposed to be a crux (C2+), but with offset cams it felt fairly straight forward. The rest of the link up was a mix of free and C1 climbing that trended up and right to a bolt anchor. Stewart fixed the lines and returned to the ledge to bivy in one of the two caves. We cooked up food, enjoyed some beer, and watched the stars appear in the night sky.
Stewart launched up the fixed lines the next morning with me following behind. However we had made a mistake; not leaving in a directional for the second person to jug. After about 5-10 feet of jugging, the rope slide on the edge sending me ~30 feet to the right straight into a tree giving me several nice cuts and bruises on my legs. The rope was now going over an overhanging face and I was stuck wrapped around the middle of two trees. Stewart yelled down to check on me, but of course the nearby Nevada falls made it nearly impossible to hear. I wrestled with the trees for a while, but made little progress, rather I managed to just add a lot of additional cuts to my legs and arms. I finally gave up, lowered to the ledge and traversed back over to the start. Stewart lowered and added a few fixed pieces and I was off jugging again. Unfortunately, we had wasted a lot of time dealing with this so we were unlikely to make it to the big ledge that night at the top of pitch 7.
I launched out on pitch 3 which again had an interesting mix of aid (C1+) and free climbing. Sometimes it would just be an extra move or two, and other times you had to free 10-15 feet pulling the heavy aid rack along for the ride. Stewart cleaned the pitch faster than I could get the pig up to the base, and was soon off leading again. Pitch 4 was a longer section of both free and C1 aid that led up a nice dihedral to a small stance. The whole time we had great views of the valley below and a great look at Nevada falls.
Pitch 5 was another one of the crux pitches of the route; a crack corner that leads to a long rivet/bolt ladder with a few extra fun sections thrown in. The first involves bat hooking through between two of the rivets which was fairly straight forward, the second was supposed to be an upside-down cam hook between two rivets which I could never find (instead I top stepped and reached up to the next placement), and the third was a hook move between two of the rivets. When nearing the top of the pitch, the clouds had grown dark and the thunder started to rumble. I climbed the final 5.7 ramp in the rain and started bringing up the pig. Stewart jugged up and we had the “go / no-go” discussion. It would be fairly easy to bail from there, but since it was the last bolt anchor, bailing after that would be expensive. We waited out the rain for the while and after checking the weather again and seeing some of the clouds start to break, we decided to go on knowing that there was a chance for a thunderstorm the next day and that the last pitch had mandatory 5.8 R climbing that would suck if it was wet.
Stewart headed up pitch 6 with it still lightly raining and made it to a ledge where we would bivy for the night. By the time I started jugging, it was dark, I was dehydrated, and hadn’t eaten enough food that day. I got my new headlamp stuck on the “red” setting making the cleaning more interesting. I was completely destroyed by the time I got to the ledge. Stewart got everything setup while I stared into space like a zombie.
We were both sore the next morning so we gulped down some ibuprofen and I started leading pitch 7. This pitch had a little bit of everything: some easy free climbing, traversing around trees, a chimney, some reachy aid climbing, a tension traverse, and finally crack jugging with horrible rope drag. This topped us out on a big ledge that we hoped to get up the day before. Pitch 8 started by offering a squeeze chimney which Stewart cruised on lead. I thrashed my way through the chimney on second nearly getting stuck a few times. Stewart headed out on pitch 9 as well which was mostly free with only a few C1 placements. This pitch ends with what was described as a “hauling nightmare” in the guidebook due to the patches of manzanita bushes. With the optional higher belay site, I wouldn’t say it was all that bad, but the bag did have to be freed a couple of times before reaching the ledge. At this point it started lightly raining again making the runout slab at the finish the route a bit unknown. We hoped we wouldn’t have to bivy right below the summit due to wet slabs.
Once the rain had slowed down again, I led off on pitch 10 up a nice clean and slightly flared corner to a series of manzanita bushes. As that offered the only protection, I headed up straight through them; grunting and thrashing all while adding more cuts to my legs. It looked like I had fought a cheese grater and lost horribly. The pitch ended with a nice hanging belay and Stewart came up to take the infamous last pitch of 5.8 R. It hadn’t rained enough to be too concerned with the water which had been our major concern, the bigger issue is that the route hadn’t been done enough to clearly find the bolts that were up there, and there were multiple sections of mossy smearing. Stewart pulled it off with style and we were at the top right at sunset.
We bived on the top, eating as much of our excess food as we could, drinking our remaining hard cider, Baileys, and port while puffing on some old cigars. The stars were out in full force making it a great end to the route. In the morning, we were both pretty sore, but got the pig packed up and stumbled our way back to Curry village. The comments on the way out were much less flattering. Perhaps it’s because we hadn’t showered in three days and smelled like dirt, sunblock, and dried blood? Since we had all of our empty crushed water bottles on the top of the haul bag, multiple people commented that it sure was a big trash can I was carrying. Several other people noticed my heavily scraped legs in horror, and one lady kindly asked if I needed first aid and medicine. I just kept my head down hiking commenting, “Hodor”.
All together it was a nice trip, in a fantastic setting, with crowds, and a good friend. Looking forward to the next one…