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There are many big wall grade V trade routes in the valley, from the West Face of Leaning Tower to the Prow to the South Face of Washington Column. Each of these has one thing in common: the Valley. If you'd like an experience just slightly off the beaten path, consider the Southwest Face of Liberty Cap. You'll be accompanied by views of the Merced River and Nevada Falls more so than people in cars looking up at you while you're looking down at them.
Although the SW Face is slightly harder than any of the aforementioned climbs, the cruxes are short and the climbing is fantastic.
P1: Surmount the first C3 crux with small gear such as lowe balls, offset brassies, and hybrid aliens. This pitch goes free at .11a (which I hear isn't too bad) but the gear would be intimidating unless you're comfortable at the grade. The moves did look like fun!
P2: Enjoy great 5.9 fingers and hands to .10c thin hands.
P3: Another short pitch. Again, good free climbing in the mid 5.10 range for 40 feet before it backs off to 5.8.
P4: Easy C1 to perfect hands.
P5: Great .10b layback using .75 camalots to a bolt ladder out to the left. One of the bolts is missing in the bolt ladder. We only had a Talon to try to make this move, which didn't work (a Bat Hook would). Instead, we had to thread a couple nuts together to make a cheater stick to lasso the next bolt. It worked, but we lost some time trying to finesse it. A couple tricky C2+ placements above this move as well.
P6: A good long C1 pitch straight up.
P7: A tad bit tricky; I got off route going up and to the left, lured by a fixed pin. Go up only a move or so, then immediately start going left on low angle, slopey 5.7. Another C3 crux awaits, which we solved using small aliens. This pitch was challenging for the follower.
P8: Kind of an awkward, thrutchy, fun pitch. Nothing too hard (C2), just thoughtful and interesting.
P9: Begin with 5.8 in a crack and move to 5.8 slab through some bushes. The rock here is sandy and not super high quality, although I don't remember anything loose. Not a whole lot of pro through the bushes. Then work your way into a C1 crack out to the left before getting to a natural belay.
P10: Good wide .10b through a stout manzanita to a ledge.
P11: Just when you're close to the top you have to muster a 30-foot run out on 5.8 slab. Not that bad...there are only a couple 5.8 moves with a lot of 5.6 and 5.7.
Approach: Hike for one mile up the John Muir Trail to the Mist trail. Hike 1.5 miles up the mist trail. Take a gander up at the route from the bridge that crosses the Merced River. When you get to the south buttress of Liberty Cap, right next to the trail, take a left (leaving the Mist trail) on a climbers trail along the base of Liberty Cap. Traverse the entire face until you can access the prominent ledge system. Traverse out this ledge, ducking through some trees, until you get to a 2-bolt belay. The route starts here.
Bivy Sites: There are some really nice bivy platforms in the trees at the base of Liberty Cap. You'll see them on the approach.
Water: Bring a filter or iodine and get water from the Merced.
Retreat: Could be expensive. Only about half of the belays are bolted.
This is what we used:
1 set offset stoppers
1 set stoppers
1 set aliens from black to red
1 set hybrid aliens from blue/black to red/yellow
2 sets camalots from .75 to 4.
1 #5 (C4) camalot
1 extra .75 and #1 camalots
1 mid-size cam hooks
Talon (would have preferred Bat Hook)
Somewhere on high...
Nevada Falls from Liberty Cap
Another great butt shot...
Doug Leading the 1st pitch
Ryan leading the 2nd pitch
Looking down from the middle of Pitch 6
Start of pitch 8
View from the Plush belay/bivy ledge after pitch 7
Panorama at the Pitch 8 Ledge. Left is Nevada Fall...
|Comments on Southwest Face
|By Travis Hibbard|
Dec 19, 2007
Great Description. I did this route summer 07 as a party of 3. Definitely an adventure
|By Doug Hemken|
Feb 28, 2008
Doing this route with Travis & Ryan was one of the high points of 2007 for me.
The initial moves on P1 protect well with #2 & #3 Ball-nutz, making that pitch more like C1+ 5.9.
The hook move in the middle of P5 looks to me like it is deteriorating. Be gentle. The headwall is a mix of rivets and bolts, updated in the last couple of years.
P7 we used a tension traverse. Splitting p7 into two short pitches would be a good idea. I found some of the gear on the upper part of p8 to be insecure, but I was getting tired at that point, and I maybe should have tried to free more there.
Camping at the bivy platforms at the base would be illegal, and the wildlife punished us severely for leaving packs there during the day.
from Galen Rowell's AAJ article:
"By noon of the first day Warren was beginning to lead the overhang. He drilled shallow holes in which to place ground-down cliff hangers, which he christened “bat hooks.” He demonstrated their holding power by placing seven in a row on the overhang before placing a real bolt in a fully drilled hole. He then placed seven more bat hooks interspersed with pitons in a nebulous crack before placing another bolt. A final row including nine bat hooks finally put him on a ramp at the top of the overhang. For a normal party of climbers to bolt the overhang would have taken a couple of days. Warren had done it alone in six hours with his new technique. Only two expansion bolts were placed in the entire overhang."
|By Ryan Huetter|
From: Mammoth Lakes, CA
Apr 2, 2010
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI HVS 5a
I am 5'10", and some of those rivets in the ladder were reachy! Having a couple of those extra-long rivet hangers were the ticket.
|By trying hard|
From: East side Sierra
May 17, 2013
Hiked to the base of the route the night before. Only found one pre existing bivy spot at the base right under the 4th class ramp to hike up to the actual route. Climbed it the next day. 14 hours to the top, then semi long hike back, about 4 miles if you miss the bus back to curry village, counting the hike off the dome back to the base and then out the mist trail to your car. The happy isles parking was closed when we did it, so you may just park there as well.
Crux of the route for me was following up the squeeze chimney on the big ledge off 8. It was a tight little hole and I am a smaller guy. The last belay to the top was the scariest and the most exposed. Make sure you save your 2 and 3 for the belay, which is no problem as you really don't need them on pitch 10 itself.
The granite was less traveled and had more of an alpine feel as the cracks were not so polished like other valley routes. Felt like being out at the hulk or something. Be ready for an adventure between finding the tension traverse on 6, aiding on cam hooks, climbing an over handing rivet/ bolt ladder, climbing through bushes and getting through the squeeze.