A local climber once told me, "If the South Face of Moro Rock was positioned so that it was close to the road, people would be taking ticker tapes and waiting in line.....it's a real classic climb." For gentlemen of the Sierra Club like Carl Jensen, bagging the first ascent of South Face in the infancy of rock climbing was a plucked gem long cherished and rarely shared. For those who want to experience the beauty of such a gem, there's a little work to be done. And I'm sure back in 1939, patience and a bunch of bushwacking was part of that work load. Today, a fairly well marked climbers trail descends the East Gully to reach the base of the South Face and many other routes established on the east face. Adventure is the theme and the payoff......Moro oro!
From the Moro Rock parking lot, locate a trail to the left of the stairs that begins to descend a steep wooded gully. This is the East Gully. The first part of the climbers trail descends down the western side of the gully, through cedars, black oaks, and mazanita. Use caution when taking this trail, there are many loose sections composed of pine needles, chapparal leaves and broken root systems. One good trip could lead to the end of a trip! About 1/2 way down the gully, begin to hug the base of the east face. The trail tends to stay close to the rock but does switchback down into the gully about 2/3's the way down but will turn back toward the rock and hug it most of the way. You'll know when you are at the bottom when the toe of the south face comes to a low point. Directly above this low point, one can see the start for South Cracks (5.9), a 3-pitch variation start to the South Face. Travel 75 yards to the left and uphill along the base. Locate a tree filled mini-gully that heads to around the corner to the right. Climb this gully (3rd class plus!), passing under a few tree and dirty corners and blocks. As the foliage clears, locate a ledge that appears to the right. Near the end of this ledge and slightly upward, is a small tree. This is the start of the South Face. Belay on the ledge.
Some feel the first pitch is the crux pitch. It is one of the highlight pitches of South Face. Start by leaving the belay by following a slanting crack up and to the right, passing a tree that is in the same crack. Once past the tree, move out right and then up onto the face. Climb past a detached flake and up to a small footledge with good pro nearby (small to medium nuts or cams). Continue up and slightly left to an obvious hand crack (pro to #2 Camelot). Climb this crack (5.8-) for 40 feet, which eventually eases up and ends at a triangle shaped corner with a nice flat ledge. Belay here.
From the triangle ledge. head straight up a left facing corner. The first gear placement is 15 feet off the belay but the climbing is superb (5.6). It may appear harder at first but the holds show up when you need them. A combination of stemming, friction and crack climbing is the right combination to lead to the top of the corner, which has a flat ledge. Continue above this ledge on open slab. Although runout, the climbing gets no harder than 5.6. Trend up and right toward a large boulder. Belay at the boulder (large gear...#1 and bigger).
This is truly a thankless pitch but a short one, which tops out on Big Ledge (be extra careful there....many pointed cactus!). From the boulder, move out right for 30 feet and then around the corner and up left. Locate clear ledges and rock outcroppings. Traverse back left and head toward a clearing on the left. Belay in the clearing to reduce rope drag.
One may opt to move the belay higher or belay here. The recommendation and better choice to prevent rope drag, unrope here and locate boulder with a roof over it's top. Climb this boulder (a few V0- moves) to its top and pass underneath the roof. If wearing a pack, it presents an awkward and ungraceful top out. Once on top, locate a 10 foot chimney. Scramble the chimney (low 5th) to another small clearing. Rope up again to finsih the remaining 70 feet, by climbing a series of slabs and ledges. Head toward the base of a green lichen streaked wall. Belay at a slanting ledge.
The Glory Pitch!! Certainly another highlight to the South Face route. From the slanting ledge, climb out to the left for 10 feet and then slightly up and right on knobs (some tieoffs) but easy and enjoyable climbing (5.6). Head upward to where the roof on the face above comes to a point above the knobs (good gear, pro to 1/2"). As the climbing steeps, climb just past the "point" and move out left. Exposed and exhilirating climbing on knobs (5.7+)!! A finger crack provides ample protection. Continue up and above to the left until the crack peters out. Make an exposed move out toward two large crack/chimney systems. Upon reaching the crack/chimney system, move to the left most crack and up into the crack 25 feet further. Locate a one person ledge on the right and belay from here. ([u]Caution[/u]: this is a full rope length pitch...200 feet plus! Take care in protecting those that follow with an adequate supply of slings.)
This is a short pitch (90'). Continue up the crack/chimney system, passing a chockstone along the way. Upon surmounting the chockstone (5.6), move up and right to a nice ledge. Locate the only 2 bolts of the route on this ledge. Belay here.
Get ready to have fun! This ia a runout slab section but provides amazing views of the great Western Divide and the Castle Rock area. Climb directly above the bolts and sniff out the path of least resistance on sustained 5.6/5.7 slab. The first piece of pro is located 40 to 50 feet off the belay (3/8" Alien) in a thin left slanting crack. Above the slab are two possible ways to go. One may opt to move up right onto a wild and exposed knob covered face (5.9) and head straight up. Or head up and left, climbing a left facing corner. The pro is small but the holds are there. Climb this left slanting corner up for 60 feet to where a crack appears on the right, which continues up and right. Belay here at the intersetion of the corner and the crack.
Climb the crack that leads right and continues till in becomes a slanting ledge that ends at chimney. Climb the holds on the outside of chimney to a larger ledge up and to the right. Low 5th class. Once at the ledge, the remaining section of the South Face become 3rd class (600 ft). Top out on the tourist observation deck on top of Moro Rock.
Take the stair back to the parking lot.
A standard rack, emphasis on Aliens and nuts. Larger gear helpful at belays and on Pitches #1 and #5. Slings and pro to #3. A single 60 meter rope is sufficent.
By J. Albers
Sep 11, 2010
Great description. Thanks for taking the time Dave. Cheers.
By Rene' Ardesch
Apr 13, 2013
A Great and Classic Multi-pitch Trad route. A heads up for a fledgling 5.7+ leader. This is full Trad! Only 2 bolts on all the 7 pitches and they are both at one belay. Be prepared and you will be rewarded with great views and great climbing! Note: April 18th through August 1st is the Peregrine Falcon Closure of the whole East Side, including the South Face Routes....
By Ryan Abman
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Oct 28, 2013
I just climbed this on Saturday with a buddy and had a great adventure. The route description here was invaluable! We just thought of a couple things that could be helpful to future parties.
Overall: While most of the climbing is straight-forward, there are definitely moves above the 5.8 grade. Particularly on pitches 1 and 5.
Pitch 5: The protection, while there and relatively abundant, on the fifth pitch is not entirely straight forward as rope drag may become a big problem, particularly when you turn past the 'point'. The suggested belay spot can be easily missed, so keep an eye out while climbing. Be sure to keep your follower in mind when choosing your protection.
Pitch 8: We finished the 8th pitch to the left of the chimney and belayed from a tree that begins a manzanita-filled gully. This may be further left than the route description intends for climbers to follow. I say this because getting out from where we were took extraordinary effort in battling the bushes. Does anyone know of a better route out of there?
Top-out: While the description mentions the 600ft of class 3 between the top of the 8th pitch and the observation deck, we found this to be a bigger deal than the description would imply. After getting to the top of the manzanita filled gully we opted to rope-up and play it safe. While the climbing is not at all difficult, the consequences of slipping seemed pretty severe to us. (This should be qualified by two facts (a) we may have been slightly off route at this point and (b) it was dark by then). We felt this was a bit more than 3rd class.
All in all, a great adventure. The stars from the observation deck were unbelievable (even though we hadn't planned on seeing them).
From: Visalia, CA
Oct 28, 2013
"We finished the 8th pitch to the left of the chimney and belayed from a tree that begins a manzanita-filled gully.....Does anyone know of a better route out of there?"
Ya. On the 8th (last) pitch only follow the crack out right for a few meters, then head up/left to a large left facing corner. Follow the corner, past a small tree, as far as you want until you feel like walking. Much more aesthetic, well protected and straightforward way to finish in my opinion.
From: San Diego, CA
Nov 28, 2013
Climbed it 2 days ago, thanks for the route description!
Approach: Took us 1.5-2 hours
P7: Left facing corner above slab was full of dirt and some vegetation. Looks questionable but it's the way to go.
P8: Followed limpingcrab's suggestion and recommend it. Scramble to the top was casual from there.
Overall: You definitely want to be solid at the grade.
By Richard Shore
6 days ago
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
The description here is excellent. No topo needed. The approach pitch is 4th class, and if you value your skin you will encounter easy 5th class face/slab to avoid heinous vertical bushwhacking. P1 is all of 5.8, with shallow, flaring, and somewhat insecure crack climbing. P2 & 3 are easily combined with a 60M rope, just make sure not to place any gear under the huge block/boulder at the top of the P2 belay so rope drag doesnt kill you on the final 30 feet. As noted by others, the easy 5th class pitch 8 and "final 600' of 3rd class" is a much bigger deal than expected. Quality climbing and rock, nearly every pitch is good. A 4-star climb with a 0-star approach.