Regular Route 5.9
Trip ReportTrip Report: Higher Cathedral Spire, Regular Route
Wow, this climb is fantastic. I’ve wanted to do this classic climb for years and I wasn’t disappointed when we finally got on it. I couldn’t find any trip reports on the web prior to our trip, other than the first ascent in 1934, so here’s a modern report, with some beta. I expected a lot, due to reading the history, it’s reputation as the tallest freestanding pinnacle in North America, etc. What I didn’t expect was a lot of quality climbing and views even more sublime than I could imagine.
We parked on the road heading south from Northside drive, and as we were getting ready, another car with another party of 4 (like us) starts unloading. We ask their objective… same as ours. Time for a little race…
We started hoofing it up the approach, and about 10 minutes in I ask: “you got the 2nd rope?” Rich: “yes”, “you got half the rack”, Jason: “yup”. “you got the other half of the rack?”, Steve: “Uh-oh”. Steve gives Jason his pack and runs back to the car. The rest of us press on, Rich and I stay just ahead of the other party the whole way, Steve and Jason catch up. It takes us just over an hour to do the approach. But then I was stupid and didn’t check the topo as we got to the base. We went around to the right, towards the South face where I though the route started, but the topo states “the trail cuts left to a cleft at the start of the route”. By the time we figured out where the start was, we got passed, doh! We waited for them to clear the first pitch, an easy 5.5 romp.
The route starts on the Southwest side, the 2nd through 4th pitch are on the West side, then the 5th pitch traverses to the North Face and up the arête.
The cross at the start of the route
Jason starting up pitch 1
Then at first base (top of 1st pitch) we waited another hour or so for them to clear the second pitch. The view of Higher Cathedral Rock from the spire was a nice backdrop. After that they stayed ahead of use, so no worries.
We watched as their followers had some trouble on the 2nd pitch traverse noted as “move left” on the Supertopo just before the “powerful bulge”. 3 of the 4 of us in our party thought these moves were harder than the bulge, about 5.9. You have to smear your feet, with not great handholds, with long slings on the pro to reduce rope drag. Then the bulge spit their followers off for a while too. I started up with some fun puzzle solving to find the easiest way through. The bulge wasn’t bad at all, but it’s reach dependent. There’s a pretty good right hand up high, if you can reach it. After I pulled the bulge, I place a #2 camalot to the right, reached down and unclipped the #3 cam under the bulge, so the rope drag wasn’t too bad. The bathtubs just above the bulge were a lot of fun.
I forgot to give my camera to someone else to take some photos of me on the crux, oh well.
Here’s Rich at the crux “powerful bulge” from above.
The 5.7 falling “step left” after the bolt was fun. At the top of the second pitch behind the belay tree, there is a large block that looks like a solid flake and good handhold, but it’s just sitting there perched on a small shelf, don’t pull it off.
My brother, Rich, took the 3rd pitch and opted for the 5.9 face variation. It looked a little spicy in terms of pro. Good sustained moves up the face. Cool.
Rich leading the “Rotten Chimney” on pitch 3. He moved right from here up the 5.9 face variation. I think the original route moves left just below this point at the "wild and airy 5.9"
At the top of 3 we ro-sham-boed for the next lead. Winner got the next lead, Rich threw scissors on my paper.
The 5.7 move left and back right was a little awkward/fun and the 5.9 airy traverse seemed easy. Be careful coming into the top of the 4th belay as well. There’s more loose rock that looks like solid flakes. It’s best to tunnel up through the tree to the climber’s right of the trunk, instead of trying to climb the loose stuff to the left of the trunk.
Jason took the last pitch. He opted for the 5.8 “big reach” variation.
Jason going around the corner to the North face on the last pitch.
Once onto the North Face there was a fun move above a ledge, you reach high for two pretty good holds and smear your feet up, stand up then get some pro in.
Rich on the face move.
The route then moves onto the arête and it’s super fun. Super exposure and view. At points you are perched right on the arête.
Steve pulling onto the summit with lower spire in the background.
Pulling onto the summit was gorgeous. It’s bigger than I expected. The upper level is very flat and it would be a fun spot to spend the night. We hung out on top for a while, just soaking it all in.
View to the East.
The lower part of the summit.
A nice view of El Cap.
Parties on El Cap towers, and top of Boot Flake.
The first rap is more than the 90’ shown on the Supertopo. On a 60M you end up just above the tree that’s the next rap station, but there’s no problem to tie in direct to the tree and scramble down.
The 1st rap.
The rest of the raps are less and you can give the next guy a fireman’s belay.
Looking back up at the North Face of Higher Spire after a fun climb.
Back at the car with Higher Spire in the distance.
Definitely one of the most classic climbs I’ve ever done. My hats off to the first ascensionists, they were way ahead of their time.
Here's a quick video of pulling onto the summit. Quality is not great, since it's from the still camera and on youtube.
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