South Face C2 5.8

 
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Mt. Watkins


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
Mt Watkins near onsite free by Tommy Caldwell
Thursday May 6, 2010 4:07pm
Credit: Nabeel Atique

Tommy Caldwell texted me that he was in the Valley and psyched to climb. He had just finished his work for the season on Free Mescalito (he'll be back in the fall with Kevin Jorgeson for the send attempt). So we thought about what would be a big fun adventure. Neither of us had climbed Mt. Watkins so that was it. We started hiking at 5:15 and after 45 minutes came to the first crux: crossing Snow Creek. I was worried that the water would be too high to cross and even brought a topo for Washington Column's South Central route. Fortunately, if you walk up a few hundred yards, a tree fell over the river. The log was wet making it a little scary to cross over the rushing creek - maybe rate 5.0 X.

Tommy Caldwell starting up the first fixed rope at the base of Mt. Wat...
Tommy Caldwell starting up the first fixed rope at the base of Mt. Watkins, South Face route
Credit: Chris McNamara

We more or less stayed on course and were at the base of the route around 8. All the 4th class for the first 1000' had fixed ropes which made it go super fast. By the way, there are some 5.8 sections in that "4th class". Be prepared.

Looking up at the base of the South Face route from the bivy on top of...
Looking up at the base of the South Face route from the bivy on top of the 4th class.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The deluxe bivy on top of the 4th class section.
The deluxe bivy on top of the 4th class section.
Credit: Chris McNamara

We showed up at the base of the first pitch ready to go around 8:15. Right then the sun hit us and I went digging for the sunscreen. Ooops, that didn't quite make it in. "Well," I said to Tommy "It's not like we are some of the two whiter people around, and at least we are not on the most sunny and south facing wall in Yosemite." Luckily Tommy had his boating hat and I decided to where a hooded fleece as much as possible… better to sweat than fry.

"Chris, seriously, where is the sunscreen."
"Chris, seriously, where is the sunscreen."
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy Caldwell starting up the first pitch free variation of Mt. Watki...
Tommy Caldwell starting up the first pitch free variation of Mt. Watkins.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy Caldwell on the first pitch free variation.
Tommy Caldwell on the first pitch free variation.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy cruised the free variation on the first pitch, a very slick and very polished 5.12a slab. Then, fortunately the climbing was in the shade for the next 6 pitches. Tommy kept cruising until we got to Sheraton Watkins. This is a big ledge, but most of it is very sloping. Probably only two people can sleep super comfortably on it.

Sheratin Watkins, BIG but sloping.
Sheratin Watkins, BIG but sloping.
Credit: Chris McNamara

At this point, it was probably my turn to take over the lead. However, a year of not climbing anything taller than 30' had left me pretty soft. I was going to slow us down a lot. Also, I realized that if Tommy kept leading, he had the chance to onsight free climb the whole route on lead. Something I didn't think had been done yet. So he kept leading.

Double Figure Eight Knot - The speed climbers anchor of choice.
Double Figure Eight Knot - The speed climbers anchor of choice.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Ultra light jugging set up: spectra daisy chains and Petzl Quickstep.
Ultra light jugging set up: spectra daisy chains and Petzl Quickstep.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Crux aid pitch of Sheraton Watkins. Note the fixed mank. You may need ...
Crux aid pitch of Sheraton Watkins. Note the fixed mank. You may need a hammer here if this crap blows. At the very least, i would bring some hooks and some thin cord to thread the fixed RURPS.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy on the big traversing 5.3 pitch after Sheraton Watkins.
Tommy on the big traversing 5.3 pitch after Sheraton Watkins.
Credit: Chris McNamara

We finally got to the crux pitch. a sustained traversing hard 5.12 pitch. When I jugged and belayed on his one day link of The Nose and Freerider. I had been quiet when he struggled on the crux pitch up high. I didn't know if he wanted me shouting encouragement or if he just wanted to concentrate on the balancy technical granite. But after that climb, he said the encouragement was always appreciated. So on the Watkins crux, I cheered him on. It was cool that the pitch was so traversing because it meant I could watch him figure out each of the three tricky cruxes (and not just stare at his butt way above me). Each time he got to a hard section he would start breathing a little harder, chalk up a lot, feel out the moves, and then send. When he fired the last crux on the pitch we were both super psyched. I figured he now had the onsight of the route in the bag.

Tommy Caldwell starting up the crux endurance pitch of the South Face ...
Tommy Caldwell starting up the crux endurance pitch of the South Face of Mt. Watkins.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy midway through the crux pitch. About to onsite!!
Tommy midway through the crux pitch. About to onsite!!
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy starting up the dyno pitch on the South Face of Mt. Watkins, Yos...
Tommy starting up the dyno pitch on the South Face of Mt. Watkins, Yosemite Valley. Clouds Rest in the background. Very very snowy for May.
Credit: Chris McNamara


Then, 5 pitches from the top, on the last hard move of the climb Tommy broke a hold and fell. Turns out, even if he had not broke the hold, it still was a really hard move. If you are taller than 6 feet. it is probably hard 5.11. But if you are shorter, Tommy rekons it is a V9 all points off dyno (see video below). It took him about 20 tries but he finally stuck it.


Tommy Caldwell about 4 pitches from the top. Snowy Half Dome in the ba...
Tommy Caldwell about 4 pitches from the top. Snowy Half Dome in the background.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The finish of the route was awesome. Steep and sustained 5.10 cracks to one of the best top outs out there. Very similar to Wall of Early Morning Light top out where you pull a big roof and BAM, time to unrope.

Self portrait. Looking down the South Face.
Self portrait. Looking down the South Face.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy Caldwell on the splitter 5.10c second to last pitch. Awesome han...
Tommy Caldwell on the splitter 5.10c second to last pitch. Awesome hand crack then dramatic finish out the big roof on the next and last pitch.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The summit was awesome. Great weather, great views, winter wonderland in all directions.

Me and Tommy on the summit of Watkins with Half Dome in the background...
Me and Tommy on the summit of Watkins with Half Dome in the background.
Credit: Chris McNamara

But after a 15 minutes of the descent, we realized that we had way underestimated the snow pack. It was DEEP and everywhere. I was worried we would miss the snow creek bridge, so I had us walk way too far north before cutting west. The result was a post holing adventure!! You can see more photos of how much snow was in the High Sierra here

Tommy Caldwell starts the descent from Mt. Watkins. Oops, forgot the s...
Tommy Caldwell starts the descent from Mt. Watkins. Oops, forgot the snow shoes.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Tommy Caldwell post holing on the descent from Mt. Watkins. May 2010
Tommy Caldwell post holing on the descent from Mt. Watkins. May 2010
Credit: Chris McNamara

Bear prints near Snow Creek (a mile West of summit of Mt Watkins&#...
Bear prints near Snow Creek (a mile West of summit of Mt Watkins). I think it was headed to Manure Pile Buttress - http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1159715
Credit: Chris McNamara

Deep snow for May.
Deep snow for May.
Credit: Chris McNamara

I never thought I would depend on these things to descend a Yosemite B...
I never thought I would depend on these things to descend a Yosemite Big Wall.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Finally!!!! The snow Creek Bridge.
Finally!!!! The snow Creek Bridge.
Credit: Chris McNamara

But, we eventually got back to camp just as it was getting dark. Daylight ascents are the best!! Especially when beer and hot food are awaiting (thanks Becca, Katie and Patrick)

The red line is the decent we took. The blue line is what we should ha...
The red line is the decent we took. The blue line is what we should have done. Oops, whats and extra 3+ miles of post holing in approach shoes?!
Credit: Chris McNamara


Some overall thoughts on the route:

We thought it was just going to be an ok climb with great views in an adventurous spot. But Tommy found the climbing WAY better than he expected. It's a really classic route with a lot of good pitches. And 95% of the climbing is 5.10d or easier.

This is a really fun climb to do in a day. It looks like it would be really not fun to haul. Not only is there a big approach, and 1000+ feet of 4th class just to get to the start of the route, there are a bunch of traversing pitches up high that are not fun to haul. And then there is the descent.

So how hard is it to do in a day? It's a little harder than climbing Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and easier than climbing the Nose. However, I feel like I can climb The Nose fast if I am in solid 5.10c Yosemite leading shape. I think I would want to be in solid 5.11b Yosemite leading shape before doing Watkins just because many of the 5.10d pitches are at the end of the route and really sustained and steep. Overall, if the Tioga Road is open, I highly recommend finishing the descent in Tuolumne if you can just because it makes it such a more cool adventure (and saves your knees).


Tommy's Rack
2 sets Black Diamond Camalot C3
2 sets Black Diamond Camalot C4 to 4"
1 set Black Diamond Stopper
1 set NEW Black Diamond Offset Nuts (not released yet]]
9.4 mm x 60mm Blue Water Dominator
10 Black Diamond Oz Quickdraws
30 Black Diamond Oz extra biners
10 Black Diamond Dynex Runner

Black Diamond Padded Gear Sling
Black Diamond Chaos Harness
La Sportiva TC Pro
La Sportiva Ganda Approach Shoe
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Black Diamond Speed 40
Patagonia Surf Brim
Patagonia Capilene T-Shirt

My Set Up
CAMP Quartz CR3
Petzl Ascension Ascender
Petzl GriGri
PMI Fingerless Glove
Spectra Daisy Chains
Petzl Quickstep Aiders
Mad Rock Hustler Approach Shoes
Patagonia R1 Hoody
Patagonia Traverse Pant
Wild Country Alpine Shield Helmet

I also brought offset aliens, cam hooks and aiders for me if i was going to aid climb (but never used them)

What I would also bring next time and what i would recommend for all people not free climbing that 5.11 and harder sections
1 Black Diamond Talon
1 Black Diamond Grappling Hook
2 Moses Tomahawks for hand placements just in case

  Trip Report Views: 13,183
Chris McNamara
About the Author

Comments
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Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  May 6, 2010 - 12:46pm PT
Pimp - boss- Bump!
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  May 6, 2010 - 12:49pm PT
At this point, it was probably my turn to take over the lead. However, a year of not climbing anything taller than 30' had left me pretty soft. It was going to slow us down a lot. Also, I realized that if tommy kept leading he had the chance to onsight free climb the whole route on lead. Something i don't had been done yet. So he kept leading.



Hooo Ho Ha!!
Yer a sneaky bastard Chris. I've heard that from so many pards over the years.
"Hey Bruce, blah blah wah wah mumble mumble blah"

Translation: Hey how about I give you a good belay and in exchange you keep me from getting scared and give me a free ride up this cliff here. Sound good?


HA HA HA!! Nice job guys.
I loved that route, but I didn't free anything past about 10c, 'cause I'm a p*ssy.....
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
  May 6, 2010 - 12:56pm PT
Thanks, Chris - looks like a good adventure. Maybe we'll make mountaineers out of you guys yet! I was at the Snow Creek bridge at the end of April last year, and there was less snow there then.
Chinchen

climber
Way out there....
  May 6, 2010 - 01:00pm PT
Rad!
ct

climber
CO
  May 6, 2010 - 01:03pm PT
So awesome... thanks for posting up Cmac.

The rock quality, especially on that second to last pitch splitter, looks incredible.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  May 6, 2010 - 01:09pm PT
nice Chris and Tommy - thanks for the TR!
peterbeal

Boulder climber
Colorado
  May 6, 2010 - 01:30pm PT
Very cool, lots of photos! thanks Chris
bmacd

Trad climber
100% Canadian
  May 6, 2010 - 01:44pm PT
inspirational !
bob

climber
  May 6, 2010 - 01:54pm PT
Awsome!!!!!!!!!! Dream day.

Bob J.
MisterE

climber
  May 6, 2010 - 01:59pm PT
Great TR, Chris! Nice work!
nutjob

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  May 6, 2010 - 02:41pm PT
Wonderful stuff! Y'all have a way of making serious stuff seem like a casual romp :)

It's refreshing to see Yosemite from a different perspective.
Fletcher

Gym climber
A very quiet place
  May 6, 2010 - 02:45pm PT
Good on ya! Postholing in the rim above the valley in May. I feel for you... Did that trying to get across Bridalveil Creek quite a few years ago trying to find the bridge over it. Had to turn around when I couldn't... after a good cry first, of course. :-)

Eric
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 6, 2010 - 02:48pm PT
Nice TR, Chris.

There is something mildly funny about Tommy on-sight free climbing such a long, hard route, until a hold broke and he then was reduced to twenty tries to lunge for the next hold.
Pate

Trad climber
  May 6, 2010 - 03:17pm PT
Wow Chris- great job. Way to keep the camera going. That little detour is pretty darn long, especially in that snow.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
www.alohashirtrescue.com
  May 6, 2010 - 03:29pm PT
excellent. thanks
HighGravity

Trad climber
Southern California
  May 6, 2010 - 03:39pm PT
AWESOME!

Thanks for posting.
aldude

climber
Monument Manor
  May 6, 2010 - 04:17pm PT
So....the obvious question....how hard? 13a? or ^
the Fet

climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
  May 6, 2010 - 04:21pm PT
GREAT TR!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  May 6, 2010 - 04:48pm PT
Not sure what rating to give it. 12d if you are 6' or taller... 12d with a V9 dyno if you are shorter. I think the FFA called it 5.13a so it should probably stay that until there is some consensus.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  May 6, 2010 - 05:31pm PT
Whoa!

Congrats Tommy & Chris.
Just AWESOME!
Buju

Big Wall climber
the range of light
  May 6, 2010 - 05:52pm PT
best tr in a long time...thanks so much!
horst

climber
Lancaster, PA
  May 6, 2010 - 06:54pm PT
Awesome guys! In my dreams....
Send

Trad climber
Central Sierra
  May 6, 2010 - 08:28pm PT
very thorough and excellent....

thank you much!
Brian More

climber
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
  May 6, 2010 - 10:37pm PT
Rad!
Footloose

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  May 6, 2010 - 10:42pm PT
That was awesome!
aspendougy

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  May 6, 2010 - 10:59pm PT
Great trip report, especially the shots of the wintery spring in the area!!
smith curry

climber
nashville,TN
  May 6, 2010 - 11:32pm PT
So much more snow than when we did it this time of year 2007!
Mike.

climber
  May 6, 2010 - 11:39pm PT
Badass send! Looks like good conditions on the route. Some fun hiking, hehe. Right on.
Jingy

climber
Somewhere out there
  May 6, 2010 - 11:55pm PT
Chris - Great Trip Report!!!


Looks like some great climbing. Too bad about that descent.... next time (if there is a next time) take the blue line!!!


Cheers, proud send Tommy and Chris
10b4me

climber
  May 7, 2010 - 12:19am PT
thanks for the tr Chris.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 7, 2010 - 04:44am PT
super!
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  May 7, 2010 - 11:46am PT
Something tells me the blue line is a lot easier on the map than in reality...
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  May 7, 2010 - 12:45pm PT
Wow!!!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  May 7, 2010 - 03:07pm PT
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Great TR on a great route.

John
Floridaputz

Trad climber
Oakland Park Florida
  May 7, 2010 - 08:11pm PT
Thanks Chris for that excellent trip report.
ochotona

Social climber
The Portal, CA
  May 8, 2010 - 03:18pm PT
Nice work guys! I really like how I can faintly see my ski tracks from this past weekend next to Tommy in that first descent picture. You shoulda brought skis... wait... that wouldn't have worked so well with the whole climbing part.
rodermck

Social climber
san jose ca.
  May 9, 2010 - 12:46am PT
fun to watch this classic route that is seldom done with many fantasic pictures to make me feel like i was there trip out i have postholed it is horrendous and worst havter that climb
Bill Sherman

Mountain climber
Culver City, CA
  May 9, 2010 - 01:29pm PT
Chris, can you show any pics of those BD offset nuts? Curious to see how similar they are to their copper-steels or to the DMM offsets.

Bill
Zander

climber
  May 9, 2010 - 07:19pm PT
Sweet!!!
Thanks,
Z
TripL7

Trad climber
san diego
  May 13, 2010 - 03:01pm PT
Wow!

Great TR and pics.

Such a beautiful route/wall.

The pic. of those r.u.r.p.s. is just classic.

Wish i woulda done this route back in da day...with the pig and all!

Times have certainly changed...

damage

Social climber
olympia, wa
  May 15, 2010 - 05:42pm PT
nice. good read.
generated some envy.
T Bone

Gym climber
Telluride
  May 17, 2010 - 11:36pm PT
Wher'r the chicks?
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  May 17, 2010 - 11:50pm PT
Sounds like a great wall, um, except the start. Blech. Maybe some day, but not soon!
Danholio

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  Jun 30, 2010 - 08:10pm PT

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the TR. Inspiring as always. I'm interested in learning more about the way you tie into the anchor with a double figure 8 knot. Do mind posting some more info on this?

http://www.supertopo.com/photos/3/49/156376_820_L.jpg


cultureshock

Trad climber
Mountain View
  Feb 8, 2011 - 04:26pm PT
Watkins Bump!
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jun 18, 2011 - 03:14am PT
Sweet! Thanks for the great report, I'll put it on my short list, with a little aid of course.
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Mt. Watkins - South Face C2 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Nabeel Atique