Trip Report
Middle Cathedral - North Buttress (V 5.10a)
Monday May 20, 2013 4:06am
Ever since I saw Nutjob's trip report about an attempt at North Buttress of Middle Cathedral I was interested in going for it myself - it appeared like a burly challenge. Lack of information about this climb elevated my desire to explore this rarely done climb for myself. Tales of broken bones, huge whippers, sandbagged pitches, rock fall, sketchy belays and multi-day epics did not motivate me to make a pre-mature attempt. In addition, DNB is a V 5.10b (5.11a in Supertopo guidebook) in Reed's guide, North Buttress does not look much easier at V 5.10a. After spending more time on Yosemite granite this Spring, I decided it was time to sack up.
Middle Cathedral. North Buttress goes up just right of DNB
Middle Cathedral. North Buttress goes up just right of DNB
Credit: Vitaliy M.

(For more photos click on my blog entry: )

Gleb and I left our car sometime after it got light and made it to the base without too much trouble. I led first block of 3 pitches which we simul climbed. Gleb took the second block to the top of pitch 5, which we also simul climbed. This is where the real fun begins - a notorious 5.9 lie back.

Gleb Starting pitch 4

First rays hitting El Capitan in the morning

I re-racked, and left our spacious belay ledge. After stepping out and doing a bolt protected face move I moved into a corner. I saw an easy crack that you could kind of lie back, which was followed by a chimney. "Hey Gleb, this lieback is a hike! Not hard at all." After getting through the initial chimney I got to THE lie-back, which did not look at all easy. At the bottom of it there was an old fixed nut which I clipped and requested for Gleb to not give me much extra slack. Beginning of it seemed secure, but all of a sudden it got more difficult. On my first attempt to do a dynamic move to a jug, I slipped. That is how I learned about why the old nut is fixed. On my second try I was able to free climb this section and avoid testing that old stopper. Chimney after this lieback was clean and enjoyable.

5.9 lieback (pitch 6) is around the corner from big bush

Gleb following a chimney (just after 5.9 lieback)

Pitch 7 starts with another 5.9 lie back which we both agreed was easier than prior lie back, but not at all trivial. I felt proud about following this one clean with a pack. :) Remainder of this pitch had some enjoyable climbing including a cool roof, but finished with tree wrestling and a battle versus ants that were crawling all over me by the time I got off for my next lead. Next pitch was probably the hardest 5.7 I have done in Yosemite so far, which also has a short lie back in the end. Crux of this pitch however is short and we both got it clean. I climbed a little ways up past the big ledge that was above the 5.7, and made a belay.

Gleb starting up lieback on pitch 7

Gleb starting up pitch 9 (5.8)

Gleb took next 5.8 pitch which he did a great job on. After a pretty long run-out he had to do some committing face moves, which would have serious consequences if he blew it. Next belay ledge had a funny belay anchor which was spread more than 10 feet apart. Pitch 10 is also rated as a 5.9 in the guide book but we thought it was the crux of this climb. You start up a corner-looking thing with some kind of a crack that you use for gear. Half way up there is a thin knob with an old gray sling around it. It provides some pro in this section. Majority of pro I placed on this pitch did not feel bomber but I thought something would hold. I was especially bummed that a bolt I saw from the bellow was rusted and old. New generation of climbers are not used to these rivet-looking things. Somehow I got past the crux without falling, and was rewarded with 25 ft+ of unprotected climbing till I reached a belay ledge.

Pitch 10 (we thought this 5.9 was a crux of this route)

Looking down after leading 10th pitch.

Gleb following pitch 10

Belay anchor wasn't bad here- old piton and a bolt which I backed up by a BD#3 cam. It wasn't obvious where this pitch was going at first. It traversed past a pin to a corner for a few moves, than moved back up to face, and into a thin crack with a fixed cam. This pitch was rated 5.10a but we both felt it wasn't as cruxy as any of the 5.9s we climbed lower. It had super fun face moves and just enough protection to make it through without panicking. In the end Gleb traversed right to a good belay ledge with good gear for an anchor.

Lower Cathedral

Anchor at the top of pitch 10

I linked next two pitches (12 and 13), which were short. People may want to split them up due to rope drag. On pitch 12 you go up a dihedral and traverse right to a chimney. Wrestle a tree (crux) and make it out to another corner with a small roof (5.8). Above the roof you traverse left over some loose blocks that can take your partner's head off if you knock em down. Belay ledge is just above with a bunch of bushes, trees, and more loose blocks on it. Gleb took pitch 14 (5.6) and was calling off belay int a few minutes. This pitch is really short and simple.

Gleb bellow pitch 12, after leading 11th (5.10a)

First pro on pitch 15 is entertaining

Me on pitch 15 (5.9)

15th pitch is another 5.9. By this time I was not excited about anything with this particular rating. Gleb offered to lead it, but I refused from giving it up. When I saw first protection that was available on this pitch I felt regret over that decision. It was an old rusted bolt, sticking half way out. Above it was another rusted bolt, which was at least all the way in. It was followed by another rusty object I have not seen before, but it looked as solid as second bolt. For me crux of this pitch was a face move at the second bolt (there was a good bolt at my waste level, so very well protected move), but I was able to get it clean without too much whining. 5.9 finger-crack/lie back above was brief and simple.

Creative anchor - work of art

Looking east from top of North Buttress

View of El Cap does not get old

16th pitch is a 4th class traverse, which we simul climbed to the top of pitch 17 (5.6). For last two pitches (17th and 18th) we followed path of least resistance to the top of north buttress. It ends up right by Kat walk. We ate last of our food and begun heading down. Both of us liked this route, and enjoyed adventurous side to it. It kept us cautious, but never got hard enough that we considered bailing. We were able follow Kat walk and hike out without any need to use a headlamp. With modern gear this climb feels like a solid grade IV, rather than V. However, it felt longer and harder than NE Buttress of Higher or East Buttress of El Cap. As far as ratings, if you think Reed's Direct, Phobos or Deimos are classic Yosemite sandbags, try North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. ;)

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Vitaliy M.
About the Author
Vitaliy M. is annoying gym climber from San Francisco.

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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2013 - 06:51am PT
Nice photos and interesting climb.

photo of p11 from nutjob's TR
Your p10 looks like what the topo, nutjob's TR, and my overlay below call p11. You mention the slung horn shown in nutjob's photo. My notes have a pin and bolt at that belay. Your description mentions a protection bolt on this pitch, too.

Here's an overlay based on my topo notes and memory:

Does this line match up to the pitches you climbed above Tree Ledge?

I'd like to do the route again and see if it's still about the same as the last time (many years back).
The topo needs corrections in this area.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  May 20, 2013 - 08:59am PT
Good job--again. I did this route many years ago. My first attempt ended above the chimney featured in the yellow-lined route photo when my partner took a screamer, landed ON me, and bounced into space. Split my head open, much blood, many rappels, my most dramatic retreat in the mountains. Went back a year or so later with a better partner and had a grand time. The 10b corner featured in the pic with the yellow line is, to my memory, the crux of the route. With the recent rock fall on Middle, I'd have been a bit sketched climbing N. Butt!

Way to get after it.


Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  May 20, 2013 - 09:01am PT
Love the texture and feel of Middle Cathedral's stone.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  May 20, 2013 - 11:19am PT
Your p10 looks like what the topo, nutjob's TR, and my overlay below call p11. You mention the slung horn shown in nutjob's photo. My notes have a pin and bolt at that belay. Your description mentions a protection bolt on this pitch, too.

Yes, that is exactly how we climbed it. That was pitch 10 for us, and seemed like pitch 10 from topo we used (got to check again). Seemed like a 5.10b not a 5.9 haha. Do you have more to this overlay? This is fantastic! Thanks for posting Clint.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  May 20, 2013 - 12:02pm PT
Getting after it as usual I see. Well done.


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  May 20, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
Vitya, slow down, yer gonna run out of climbs to do! ;-)
Good pics!

There does seem to be a lot of loose-looking stuff up there,
especially in that corner in Clint's pic.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  May 20, 2013 - 01:34pm PT
V is on the send train!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2013 - 03:12pm PT
Thanks, Vitaliy.
Do you have more to this overlay?
Not yet - I just drew that at 2am.
I have matching photos from the Left Rabbit Ear to Tree Ledge,
and most of the upper part, but p15 (5.9) is out of the frame, bummer.
These were taken with my point-and-shoot from Lower Cathedral and have a good perspective.
I need to check my other photos to see if I have some which show all the upper part or maybe the whole thing.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  May 20, 2013 - 03:30pm PT
After reading all the tragic news from this weekend, it was wonderful to read this TR of one of my favorite old-school (or maybe just plain old) climbs. Thank you for spreading some sunshine on an otherwise very somber day.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 20, 2013 - 04:14pm PT
Nice TR Vitaliy

This was the first major route done on Middle rock way back in 1954 and a pretty bold endeavor for the era.

Sacherer and I did the first one day ascent in 1962. It seems so ludicrous in modern times to talk about a one day ascent but I guess it all had to start somewhere.

Here is a short blurb from another posting on our climb:

"Funny, I didn't recognize this. But 46 years is a long time and there are some gray areas, whereas other memories are still vivid. The summer of 1962 was a busy one. Lots of climbing with Sacherer and Kamps. Sacherer and I had an agreement to climb all the classic Grade 5 routes. In between we would work on shorter first ascents that we both had our eyes on. Ribbon Falls area always had an attraction, especially the Hourglass. After several attempts on the right side we reached the tree.

Time for a break so we headed off to climb the first one-day ascent of the North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. I had done lots of climbing with Sacherer, but on this occasion all hell broke loose in our relationship. At one point, he was out 60 ft on a blank wall, off route, zero protection, flagellating and screaming at me some of his famous epithets. I threatened to keep belaying but detach myself from the rope; I would have my own anchor. Near the top, on some fairly dicey third class he asked me to throw him a rope. I let loose with some fairly abusive language myself and quickly headed down to the Valley. Needless to say we climbed together little from then on. We remained good friends, but our climbing relationship suffered."

Trad climber
  May 20, 2013 - 04:15pm PT
Nice report! And look at those bolts Clint.....

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  May 20, 2013 - 04:28pm PT
Don't downplay your one-day ascent, Guido. Chris Fredericks told me in the early 1970's that he'd climbed the route twice, and bivvied both times.


Oakland, CA
  May 20, 2013 - 04:47pm PT
By this time I was not excited about anything with this particular rating.

Love that line.

So sussing out the descent wasn't too bad then?

Beautiful photos in there. What a great TR. Thank you!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  May 20, 2013 - 05:54pm PT
Stellar TR V, thanks for letting me live vicariously through you!!!!
You are on a roll!!!!!!

Social climber
San Francisco
  May 20, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
Nice job, Vitaliy! You should do East Butt of Lower Cathedral as your next somewhat-obscure-but-pretty-damn-good route. That's a really fun route with tricky route finding in the upper half.

Big Wall climber
  May 20, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
This route is kind of an overlooked classic IMHO. I did this route 5 or 6 years ago with Steve "Lucky" Smith, and we got to the base and saw a party ahead of us by some 6 or 7 pitches. Normally I would choose another route due to the plentiful rockfall in the Cathedrals but because this route moves laterally all over the place we went for it. Having a party high above us made for much easier routefinding & we zipped up the thing in 5 hrs 20 minutes. I had never been on the upper part of the Katwalk in the daylight & it was super exposed & kind of scary. You could easily slip & die here.

Nice job & thanks for the photos. We went super light & took no camera. :(
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  May 20, 2013 - 07:22pm PT
Coz, thanks, I felt good when we topped out and got down in daylight. On my sales pitch to my climbing partner I said something like “Majority of hard pitches are 5.9, with only one 5.10a pitch, and some guy ‘Coz’ from the internet said he soloed it onsight. Can’t be that bad! ” haha

Guido, thank you for posting that story. Climbing this route in a day in 60s would be a major accomplishment. Cams really make our life today much easier and safer. Makes me think about how different climbers’ attitudes were towards climbing as a lifestyle/activity…but that’s a whole different subject.

Clint, on pitch 12 we stayed in that chimney only for a few moves and traversed right to the face/crack (with a fixed old cam) to the right of it. Which had some beautiful moves on it. Sustained pitch with fun climbing. Just enough pro to keep going.

BAd, that's quite a story.

Levy, I also thought this route deserves more traffic, I found it to be a cooler outing than East Buttress (too bad there is so much 4th class though in the beginning). But maybe it is a good thing that it wasn't included in supertopo. Seems like rockfall in that area is frequent. There was a huge rock fall a few years ago too there.

Santa Cruz
  May 20, 2013 - 08:42pm PT
I climbed this route a few summers ago. It's a cool undertaking to say the least. I pulled a pin out with my hands at what Vitaly calls the 10th belay.

climber a single wide......
  May 20, 2013 - 08:49pm PT
Congrats!! Real life rock-aneering.

And ya what Levy said... 5 hours 20 min... whoa...reminds me of the Sunday morning at the Ahwahnee Hotel buffet (would have been '81) when Tarbuster said let's grab the rack and go do it. As in noon start??

Maybe Tarbuster coulda done it that fast with a partner the likes of Levy, but I demurred. As Clint Eastwood says, "a man's gotta know his limits".

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  May 20, 2013 - 09:46pm PT

Although it's kinda cheating when you are just about a badass NIAD climber. Maybe you should be going for Crucifix or Hotline by now.

  May 20, 2013 - 10:03pm PT
Yeah Vitaliy, keep em comin dude. Never can have too many TRs here, especially ones like these. Looks like a fun route!
Stewart Johnson

Mountain climber
lake forest
  May 20, 2013 - 10:55pm PT
Exellent! did this route with Jay Smith in 1983? Thanks for bringing
those memories back. Cheers!

Social climber
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  May 20, 2013 - 11:31pm PT
I've always wanted to do that route. I once explored around the base on that section of Middle. I think it's kind of spooky over there. Great job!
PSP also PP

Trad climber
  May 20, 2013 - 11:41pm PT
BAd I did this climb a few years after you did it. But my partner told me about your epic of having to rappel in the dark two pitches from the top, without glasses and seriously messed up. He said the next day you guys caused a traffic jam because it took you ten minutes to cross the street. I was real careful in that awkward 5.7 where you /or your partner fell and bounced out into space.

Trad climber
Novato, CA
  May 21, 2013 - 12:47am PT
Great TR, you really are getting after it this spring! Also, I like the comparison to other climbs to place it in the spectrum, definitely something to add to the list. This seems like something Ed Hartouni would have posted up.

Trad climber
Claremont, CA
  May 21, 2013 - 01:16am PT
Great TR and photos are awesome! Brings back memories, did NB 25 years ago, planned for a long day w/ bivy on top, but only made it to top of p7, bivied there w/ 11 pitches on second day, made it to top of 18 night of 2nd day, bivied again, ran out of food and water! Walked off morning of 3rd day! So, made it into a grade 6! I felt like bailing off of NB would have been harder (due to traversing nature of route) than continuing up, so just kept going.

Makes me feel better that you (and others) feel it's reasonably hard or comparable to NEB or EB of El Cap. Great send!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  May 22, 2013 - 04:13pm PT
Impaler, that route on Lower Cathedral is also on my list. Hope to get to it later this year or next year.

chalkfree, were cams invented when you did it? 2 nights on it is a long time, did you guys bring bivy gear and food for that long? That's a crazy story!

Trad climber
Claremont, CA
  May 22, 2013 - 04:28pm PT
We had a couple rigid-stem Friends w/ normal hex/stopper rack and sleeping bags and planned to bivy on top of p18, so we had 1 day of food and water, but 2nd couldn't follow with heavy pack, so he resorted to jugging the lead line, while I hauled the pack by hand with a second rope (lead w/ haul line).

We ran out of water the first nite, but miraculously, someone had left 3 quarts of water on tree ledge (p7). That ran out by 2nd nite. We didn't know kat walk, so continued to top via easy pitches and over HCR, then down Spires gulley on 3rd day.

It was surreal...I felt like I was never getting off this thing! Tree ledge had a bunch of silverfish and ants that crawled all over us in the nite.
G Murphy

Trad climber
Oakland CA
  May 22, 2013 - 06:47pm PT
I soloed this many years ago and thought it was an excellent route and deserved more traffic. Great TR!

Trad climber
  May 22, 2013 - 09:32pm PT
I skied the route in 2005 and thought it should be more traffic too.

  Nov 11, 2013 - 07:39pm PT

(As a reminder = BBST = donini for Bump for a Better SuperTopo)
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