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Golden Bough has most of the characteristics of a route that climbers typically try to avoid. Itís got difficult offwidths and chimneys on almost every pitch, many of which are shallow and flared making them difficult to protect. The pitch 5 traverse is runout for both leader and follower. And itís got dirt, lots and lots of dirt. You will be scraping munge out of cracks to place gear, pawing up hummocks as they crumble away, fighting your way past bay trees as they tangle themselves in your rack, and of course pull yourself up the iconic Manzanita branch for which the route is named. Itís got a couple of redeeming qualities though, most notably, the rock is high quality throughout. Itís also quite steep and exposed for the grade and has a few really standout sections of climbing. If youíre looking for a topo the Reid guide is pretty much spot on (aside from some serious sandbagging on the difficulty grades). Overall this is a route which will appeal to almost no one. But if itís adventure you want, itís adventure you will find up on Golden Bough.
Approach: Park at the wood yard on the right side of North Side Drive, just past El Cap Meadow. Walk up the road and after the final switchback follow cairns into the woods on a climber trail. The trail follows the west bank of Ribbon Creek for a ways and then climbs the steep hillside to the base of Gold Wall and Silent Line. From here walk west along the base of the wall dropping down and around a large terrace. At the left end of the terrace scramble up 4th class ledges to near the top of the terrace. Good route-finding is needed to keep the scrambling 3rd and 4th class. Just below the high point of the terrace start working right until you reach the far right end of the terrace near a big drop-off. This is where pitch 1 begins. Expect around 1.5 hrs for the approach.
Pitch 1 (5.10a) Climb up a dirty thin crack to start, then a dirty wide crack/chimney up and over a small roof. Pass a tree with rap slings on it then climb more cracks and corners heading up. The upper half of the pitch is much cleaner and has some of the best climbing on the route. Pass another tricky roof above a chimney and then follow a nice corner. A splitter finger crack will head off to the right from the corner. Take it and belay to the right of the corner at a big flake with a small stance. Save 2-3Ē pro for the belay.
Pitch 2 (5.9+) Climb up the flakes, carefully passing a detached block then a pumpy finger crack up the right side of a leaning flake. From the top of this traverse left into a dirty, steep corner. The corner is difficult and hard to protect due to loose rock. Wrestle your way through the bay tree at the top of the corner and make an airy traverse up and left across a juggy dike. Belay at a small stance below a large block with a bunch of bushes growing out of the left side.
Pitch 3 (5.10+?) I thought this pitch was the crux, and itís the only pitch I wasnít able to free. The left side of the block is an offwidth crack filled with bushes and dirt which makes it nearly impossible to climb. If you have a #6 Camalot you might be able to stick it in there amongst the bushes and then pull through on that, or maybe an ice axe would work... If youíve somehow managed to stay clean thus far, you and your belayer are now in for a real dirt shower. The right side of the block is cleaner but has a tricky thin hand/finger crack with difficult to place pro and probably goes at 5.10+ or maybe 11-. I stood in slings to get up the right side of the block.
Above the block climb up the crack past more trees, offwidths, and the occasional section of enjoyable hand jams. Higher on the pitch the difficulty increases again to 5.10 and the crack becomes more of a flared groove with lots of lichen and dirt. Traverse left to another crack/groove about 40ft from the top and follow this difficult and dirty crack to a ledge. It is also possible to climb higher up in the original crack system and then pendulum left near the end, which is what I did.
Pitch 4 (5.8) From the belay ledge go straight up (not right along the top of the giant flakes). Climb featured, Middle Cathedral-style, rock heading up and trending to the right below an overhanging corner. The corner ends at a 4í roof. Climb over this and then climb up a dirty corner. The corner is choked with bay trees at the top of it so traverse left on good footholds and belay at a big dead tree on a blocky ledge.
Pitch 5 (5.9+) Climb a short way up the flakes and then traverse right to the left-facing corner. Climb up a couple moves then traverse right again around the arÍte of the corner. Climb up and set a directional for your follower and then keep traversing along the dike past another corner to the base of another chimney/offwidth. Take advantage of a hidden sidepull on the inside of the crack and then make some difficult handjaming moves past a constriction. Above is the ďGolden BoughĒ which is a Manzanita branch which has thoughfuly grown down from the belay ledge to give climbers an unlikely passage over a blank section of rock. If this branch ever rips out (which it very well may!) this section will likely require 5.11 face climbing to pass. Hand-over-hand (as gently as possible) up the bough to a nicely exposed belay ledge.
Pitch 6 (5.9+) A straightforward, but not easy, pitch straight up the crack system. Lots more offwidth and a scary pull on a small bush to pass one section. Above is a flared groove leading up to double cracks over a bulge. Climb up and over onto a large, forested ledge.
Pitch 7 (5.9) From the left side of the ledge climb up a short offwidth and then go right onto a ramp. At the top of the ramp is a heinous looking bulge, which is avoided by traversing around the corner to the right and going up a slab. Work back left and then up to a handcrack above a corner. More wandering climbing leads past a short but burly flake and then a traverse left to another ledge.
Pitch 8 (5.6) Climb up another ramp angling right and then step over onto another ledge. Climb up the low-angle gully to the top of the cliff where you can un-rope.
Descent: There are two descent options. We topped out rather late in the day and didnít want to risk getting benighted on an unfamiliar descent, so we opted to start rapping straight down off of trees and meet up with the top of Silent Line which I had previously climbed and rapped. It took us two raps plus a 30 foot pitch to gain the top of Silent Line. From there we had to make/leave 3 extra rap stations along the route because we only had one 70m rope.
The other descent option is to work left (west) from the top of the route along brush covered ledges and then make several rappels from trees at some point. I do not know if you need two ropes or one for the rappels. I have never done this descent and have heard ugly things about it from the people who have. I would wager it is quite involved and would be difficult to do by headlamp. There might also be 3rd class ledges to scramble down at the end after you have made the rappels.
About 300 meters to the left of Silent Line.
We brought pro to 4.5" which was sufficient. Having doubles from 1-3" would be handy since many of the pitches are long and sustained. Bring some wires to compliment your smaller cams. A nut tool for the leader is useful for digging out cracks.