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Legacy Restoration Project begets another high-end route: Yosemite's Misty Wall (5.13)

Posted on: June 1, 2017


With Yosemite Falls rumbling to his left, Jon Cardwell face climbs into the final 5.12 splitter crack on Pitch 13 of the Misty Wall (5.13, 1,700') during a free ascent with Sasha DiGiulian on May 27. Cardwell had previously freed the individual pitches with Marcus Garcia last autumn, but the recent ascent is the first time the route has been free climbed in a continuous push, which took about 14.5 hours. [Photo] Marcus GarciaWith Yosemite Falls rumbling to his left, Jon Cardwell face climbs into the final 5.12 splitter crack on Pitch 13 of the Misty Wall (5.13, 1,700') during a free ascent with Sasha DiGiulian on May 27. Cardwell had previously freed the individual pitches with Marcus Garcia last autumn, but the recent ascent is the first time the route has been free climbed in a continuous push, which took about 14.5 hours. [Photo] Marcus Garcia

There are some old aid lines in Yosemite Valley that have potential to become some of the best free climbs around. These projects have been neglected for 20 years or more, but John Long hasn't forgotten about them.

Long is a well-known climbing author who is also famous for his list of Yosemite firsts, such as the first one-day ascent of the Nose (VI 3,000') on El Capitan with Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay in 1975, and the first free ascent of Astroman (IV 5.11c) on Washington Column with Ron Kauk and John Bachar that same year. As an elder of this group, Bridwell was a mentor to Long and his peers, who called themselves the Stonemasters, and "the Bird" would sometimes point the band of young hotshots toward routes that were destined to become classics. Now, Long is giving the new generation of top climbers a nudge up the walls through the Legacy Restoration Project.

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"A number of the recent new free big wall ascents lately in Yosemite have been the brainchild of John Long," said Jon Cardwell, who made the first continuous free ascent of the Misty Wall (5.13, 1,700'), which follows a crack system parallel to Yosemite Falls, with Sasha DiGiulian and Markus Garcia on May 27. "Utilizing his knowledge of the valley, he has suggested many climbs to those on the team who are capable and or interested in such projects. It's pretty cool to see the ideas unfold into classic climbs. I hope that the contribution is inspiring, and that in the future others will come to enjoy the climbs."

The Legacy Restoration Project has resulted in four new high-end free climbs since last year: the West Face of the Sentinel (5.12+, 1,200'), the Central Pillar of Frenzy Direct (5.12+, 1,200'), the Chouinard-Pratt, with a finish that has been dubbed "Cosmic Girl" (5.12+, 1,200') and most recently, the Misty Wall, which was completed in a 14.5-hour push after bivying at the base. All the routes were done as team free ascents in a single push, with the climbers alternating leads and free climbing every pitch as a leader or second.

DiGiulian works the moves of the 5.13 roof crux on the Misty Wall before her free ascent with Cardwell, who is at the belay. [Photo] John EvansDiGiulian works the moves of the 5.13 roof crux on the Misty Wall before her free ascent with Cardwell, who is at the belay. [Photo] John Evans

"This was John Long's vision," DiGiulian said. "He is a legend and inspirational figure that I have always looked up to, so to have him directing my experience in Yosemite is a dream come true."

The Misty Wall was first climbed by Royal Robbins and Dick McCracken in 1964. Long said it was a free-climbing objective in the 1980 and '90s, and then fell into obscurity sometime after Walt Shipley and Kevin Fosburg managed to free most of the route at 5.11d A0.

"The focus has been on El Cap for so long but there are these great routes on other formations," Long said. "These are four of the better climbs in Yosemite.... We spent weeks cleaning and re-bolting."

Garcia put in a lot of the effort to make the routes happen.

"I climbed nearly 14,000 feet during these projects and put in nearly 20 hand-drilled bolts for lead [protection] and/or [belay] anchors," he said.

He also did a lot of the cleaning and route-finding for the free variations (freeing many of the pitches himself), completed the first free ascent of Cosmic Girl with Rita Shin, did rigging and photography throughout the project in addition to teaching some of the other climbers on the team—who were high-end sport climbers and boulderers—a great deal about trad and big wall climbing.

Garcia leads a runout 5.10 flare on Pitch 9 of the Misty Wall during a reconnaissance mission. Garcia led two pitches on the May 27 free ascent with DiGiulian and Cardwell, and is credited for doing much of the cleaning and route-finding on the Legacy Restoration Project routes. He also helped some of the other climbers learn the skills for big wall climbing. [Photo] John EvansGarcia leads a runout 5.10 flare on Pitch 9 of the Misty Wall during a reconnaissance mission. Garcia led two pitches on the May 27 free ascent with DiGiulian and Cardwell, and is credited for doing much of the cleaning and route-finding on the Legacy Restoration Project routes. He also helped some of the other climbers involved learn the skills for big wall climbing. [Photo] John Evans

"Doing a big wall first ascent is a huge undertaking and kind of a lost art," said Garcia, who was profiled in Rock and Ice last year for his bold first ascents.

"Marcus helped me keep my head together," said Chelsea Rude, who recently made the first continuous free ascent of Central Pillar Direct with Ron Funderburke. Twice, on the same pitch, Rude waited out a rainstorm from a stance in the middle of a 5.12 pitch to hang on for the send. "It was heinous, and I was so scared," she said.

About the Legacy Restoration Project

Long said that the Legacy Restoration Project got started in September 2016 when Kevin Jorgeson, Ben Rueck, Cardwell, and Garcia traveled to Yosemite with a goal of free climbing the Sentinel's West Face and the Misty Wall on Yosemite Falls Wall. Those efforts were successful and the American Alpine Club joined Adidas as a partner early this spring.

"The idea is from a public good and conservation point of view," said Funderburke, who is AAC's director of education. "A problem at pretty much every crag is that people queue up for the five-star classics."

Funderburke said the thinking is that cleaning and upgrading the hardware on less-traveled routes will disperse the traffic.

"Of course, if you want to spread out the masses, you need to look at something easier than 5.12c," he said.

Long wrote in a Supertopo.com post that these routes have been a "pilot program," and he shared a long, detailed outline for the program's aim, which began:

Legacy involves the ongoing restoration of the world's iconic rock climbs: cleaning and sanitizing, removing loose rock and tat (old, fixed gear = trash), judicious replacement of bad bolds and unsafe anchors, and eliminating aid, resulting in the sustainable, ethical modernization of historically classic routes....

Legacy involves able teams of climbers, documentarians, and technical experts (including riggers and support crew) who select, restore, ascend and publicize neglected climbs and venues, unearthing new classics from obscurity. In Yosemite, for example, climbers flock to a few dozen coveted trade routes, while the rest of America's granite throne-room remains mostly untouched, unheralded, and forgotten. Legacy focuses the efforts of a worthy free climbing party on climbs that deserve a fresh look, as well as restoring local crags to the modern standard.

Different types of proposed legacy projects include "grant projects, grassroots projects and Restore-a-Crag projects" but Funderburke said the funding and exact details of how these projects will be carried out has yet to be finalized.

Cardwell leads a 5.10d splitter on Pitch 2 of the Misty Wall during the continuous free ascent on May 27. [Photo] John EvansCardwell leads a 5.10d splitter on Pitch 2 of the Misty Wall during the continuous free ascent on May 27. [Photo] John Evans

Long's statement says the publicity around these routes adds value because:

A restored route enlivens the history of climbing, on all of its majestic features. The establishment of new free-climbing classics helps distribute climbing parties across less-frequented, and more adventurous areas, easing overcrowding on popular classics. Also, the popularity of the program depends largely on momentum created by successive years of restoration. As generations of climbs are restored and celebrated, the collective imagination of all climbers will turn to first free ascents, restoration, and legacy of classic climbs for the enrichment of present and future climbers, domestically, and worldwide, for all posterity.

The same values and significance hold for regional crags. Most of us learned the ropes at local cliffs, outcrops and quarries, and their value as training grounds and cultural depots are immeasurable. Without maintenance, even the most frequented bluff will fall into disrepair, with rusting anchors, weathered trails, and so forth. Properly organized and promoted, Restore-A-Crag events, and a few dozen qualified volunteers, can restore a local venue to museum quality over a long weekend.

Long said the project has been carried out on a "shoestring budget" that relied on a great deal of volunteers who were paid in "T-shirts and swag."

Selecting the projects

Long wrote some more history about the effort in an email:

For going on twenty years, the focus of many modern free climbers has largely been on free climbing routes on El Cap. I always enjoyed and climbed on all the big Yosemite formations and was certain that if other top-drawer free climbs were opened up on other iconic formations, the Valley would open back up in a new way. But I had to be very selective on the routes we chose to restore. It made no sense to put a lot of work into one-off routes that were merely hard. The idea was to find and restore mega classic Golden Age routes, the iconic lines that were first aid climbed by the Yosemite pioneers in the 1960s. Those are the end-all lines up the great formations. The challenge is that there are not that many such lines left to free climb, you have to have serious inside information to know what they are, and you have to have serious time and commitment from a whole cast of grassroots climbers to restore what in most cases are once-classic lines that have been largely forgotten for going on 30 years. Many of these lost masterpieces have fallen into sad condition, are overgrown, mossy, featuring shitty, 50-year-old bolts, are full of ancient tat and fixed garbage, and in some cases need to be re-engineered to accommodate free climbing, preferably in mega pitches of 50 and 60 meters—which I consider to be the new Yosemite ethic. String the lead out all the way, which brings serious endurance into play, not just hard cruxes.

Anyhow, Jorgeson and Rueck's first free ascent of Sentinel West Face showed us what was possible in terms of restoration, and resulted in a modern classic. [In 1960, when Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard made the first ascent of the West Face, it was the third big wall climbed in the Valley, after the Northwest Face of Half Dome and the Nose. Rueck and Jorgeson completed the West Face all-free in a one-day push on September 30, 2016—see a video here.]

Once the protocols are worked out, the Legacy Project can be taken up by any and all who hear the call. It's only sustainable as a grassroots project, and we're simply lighting the fuse.

DiGiulian leads the 5.12 headwall after turning the lip of the crux roof on the Misty Wall. [Photo] John EvansDiGiulian leads the 5.12 headwall after turning the lip of the crux roof on the Misty Wall. [Photo] John Evans

Drama on the Misty Wall

Cardwell and Garcia had already freed the individual pitches of the Misty Wall last season but DiGiulian didn't arrive in the Valley this year until May 20.

"I had essentially one week to figure out the climb and climb it," she said.

Long said that at first she didn't appear to be close to linking the crux pitch, having climbed all the moves in different sections, "but she had a sequence in her mind, and went up there and did it."

The 5.13 roof crux is near the top of the route, and reaching it required several pitches of wide crack climbing that were sometimes wet (Garcia led two of the wet pitches to help move the team along, then resumed filming duties). Early on, DiGiulian confronted an unprotected 5.10 squeeze chimney first led by Royal Robbins 53 years ago.

As an inexperienced trad climber and typical sport climber, I had never done offwidths before, DiGiulian wrote in an email. I had never tried this one, neither! So, the technique was so new to me. Were it not for Marcus Garcia coaching me along the way, I honestly think I would have just let go. I felt so claustrophobic at times and in so much pain, from my legs (which the next day were purple) to my forearms that were just being eaten down by the abrasive rock, I didn't know if I could do it. But I knew I had to, and I knew if I fell I would have to start again. So, after what felt like two hours and a crux move at the final part of the squeeze crack, I emerged out of it, and arrived at the anchor!

When it was her turn to lead the roof, DiGiulian knew she had only one chance.

The move requires me to jump off of a slopey left hand hold under the roof, out to a stalactite-like three dimensional pinch, then swing both my feet up above me and lock my right foot into a kneebar, off of a soaking wet hold, she wrote. I knew that when we got to this pitch, I would need to execute this move. I did not know if I could do it. I had worked out the moves of the crux...but I had not yet sent it. I was worried.... There is something remarkable about the power of adrenaline, and when we really want something, how strong of a force our mind can have physiologically. This move, this pitch, were it to be on the ground, may not be as all consuming. Though, I am dangling foot-less over 2,000 feet up off the valley floor with a raging waterfall to my left, cannot hear nor see my belayer, and have a rack of trad gear on me. It felt committing!

DiGiulian hangs on to send the 5.12 splitter on Pitch 13 on the Misty Wall as Yosemite Falls roars in the background. [Photo] Marcus GarciaDiGiulian hangs on to send the 5.12 splitter on Pitch 13 on the Misty Wall as Yosemite Falls roars in the background. [Photo] Marcus Garcia

Then, on the next pitch—a steep 5.12 crack—both climbers struggled as their endurance waned. Cardwell led it and had to fight through muscle cramps in his hands, just barely reaching the belay without a fall.

"That was epic!" he said. "I haven't really experienced anything like that before."

DiGiulian fell twice and lowered back down to the beginning of the pitch before following it cleanly.

I was just so physically exhausted! she wrote. I am also not a great crack climber. Truly, I am a beginner. So, often on cracks, I am liebacking them, which burns a lot of excessive energy and can create tricky positions to place and take out gear.... I was coming from a hanging belay and exhausted past a point of awareness. I slipped my first try, just emerging past the hardest section of the pitch. Then, I didn't even take a break, just started right back at the beginning and blew off, still out of breath from my first try. Then, I said, okay. Lower me. [I] took a 3-4 minute break. Closed my eyes and breathed, thinking to myself, you can do this...and I gave it all I had, placing my feet against the granite and saying to myself with each placement, "Stick. Stick. Move."

"There's no quit in her," Long said. "She put it on the line. A willingness to risk failure takes a lot of guts."

Cardwell fondly recalled the early process of finding the free variation.

"We were climbing through bushes, dirt, loose rock, getting lost, and overall, having a great time," he said. "Those were the days when I really learned a lot about climbing on the wall from Marcus. It was a total adventure. I was destroyed for a whole week afterwards.... This time around, I knew that I could climb the route as I had already freed all the pitches."

Long said he expects these climbers will do more big wall free climbing now that they've had a taste for the adventure.

"Most definitely!" Cardwell said.

"Oh, hell yeah!" said DiGiulian.

"They are rare people who can get on a climb like that without much of that kind of experience," Long said.

Rita Shin fires Cosmic Girl (5.12+, 1,200') on Yosemite's Middle Cathedral. The route starts on the Chouinard-Pratt route—which is the same start as the modern version of the extremely popular Central Pillar of Frenzy (5.9)—but Cosmic Girl continues straight up where the Central Pillar traverses left into another crack system. [Photo] John EvansRita Shin fires Cosmic Girl (5.12+, 1,200') on Yosemite's Middle Cathedral. The route starts on the Chouinard-Pratt route—which is the same start as the modern version of the extremely popular Central Pillar of Frenzy (5.9)—but Cosmic Girl continues straight up where the Central Pillar traverses left into another crack system. [Photo] John Evans

New routes on Middle Cathedral

Long wrote the following account:

Several weeks before the Misty Wall send, on the North Face of Middle Cathedral, the...crew completed routes two and three of the Legacy Project.

The first project was the first complete ascent of Central Pillar Direct, which combined the efforts of various teams climbing on the route over the past 53 years. The history is something of a rambling saga, and runs like this:

The first route established on the Northeast Face of Middle Cathedral was the Chouinard-Pratt route, bagged in 1964 by Yvon Chouinard and Chuck Pratt. This line follows the prominent right-facing corner running 1,200 feet up the wall to the U-Shaped Bowl and the Powell-Reed ledges. The first 500 feet of ascends the right side of the Pillar of Frenzy. This section was first free climbed in 1978 by John Long and Pete Minks at 5.12. Five years prior, in 1973, Jim Bridwell, Roger Breedlove, and Ed Barry climbed the first pitch of the Chouinard-Pratt (5.9+), then exited left onto splitter cracks for four more pitches to a big ledge atop the Pillar of Frenzy, 600 feet up the wall. They carried on another pitch and a half and traversed off left and into the Kor-Beck route, and finished up to the U-Shaped Bowl. Tobin Sorenson and Gib Lewis returned in 1977 and pushed the Central Pillar line directly up for another three pitches, using some aid. Bridwell returned with John Long and Billy Westbay in 1978, and free climbed the Sorenson-Lewis direct finish at 5.11. Later that year, Dale Bard and Kevin Worrall added a new first pitch, left of the Chouinard/Pratt , directly up the face of the Central Pillar. This was the last piece of a composite route that was totally independent of the Chouinard-Pratt. At 5.12d, Bard and Worral's 60-meter lead-off pitch was at the time one of the most difficult free pitches in the world.

Over the years, the first five pitches of the Central Pillar (minus the direct start) became one of the most well-traveled multipitch free climbs on earth, with a conga line of teams swarming over it every single day from early May to the end of October. The direct finish and direct start were rarely, if ever done.

Throughout April and early May of 2017, the entire eight pitches of the Central Pillar, including the direct start and direct finish, were fully restored: brushed and groomed, anchors re-bolted, and some of the leads re-engineered into 50- and 60-meter monster leads, with each pitch individually freed by Marcus Garcia, who headed up the restoration effort with Ryan Sheridan and his "Strawberita" crew. (Strawberita is a go-to intoxicant for many Valley locals, described as "24 ounces of sugar love, with three shots of bathtub rum and real artificial strawberry flavoring—all for two dollah.")

In early May, Chelsea Rude and Ron Funderburke made the first continuous ascent of the entire Central Pillar Direct, with Chelsea leading the crux first pitch (12d), a superb 60-meter face and thin-crack pitch (the crux is led on gear) that joins the standard Central pillar route atop the 2nd pitch. Pitches 6-9 involve marvelous 5.10 and 5.11 climbing up flakes and shallow corners on the open face, including the iconic Fissure Largo on pitch 7, a laser-cut 5.11 splitter up flawless granite. From the top of pitch 9, the route traverses right into an easy crack leading to the U-Shaped Bowl.

Several weeks later, Marcus Garcia and Rita Shin teamed up for the first ascent of Cosmic Girl, which links the first four pitches up the Chouinard-Pratt, with the upper pitches of the Central Pillar Direct. The second pitch involves a 100-foot, 5.12 fingertip lieback that rates among the best free leads in the valley. Garcia added a direct finish above the Fissure Largo, a "sting in the tail" of steep and runout 5.11 face, ending on a ledge we named, Planet Garcia. Garcia is a longtime Yosemite veteran who has climbed scores of walls and top-drawer free routes and says that Cosmic Girl is the best free climb he's ever done in the valley, featuring a full smorgasbord of Yosemite techniques, from thin to wide to open face. Remarkably, the entire route is protected on gear save for one bolt on the 60-meter 5.11 pitch below the Fissure Largo.

Garcia leads a pitch on Cosmic Girl. [Photo] John EvansGarcia leads a pitch on Cosmic Girl. [Photo] John Evans

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