Out of the blue Jim Curl sent me a link to a route description on the internet that described a route on Clouds Rest and asked me if I was interested. It was smack in the middle of all that granite and would take a determined effort to get to the route start. Furthermore, it was fifteen pitches long, all of them 200 feet long. If this route were to be climbed it was going to have to be done quickly! We made plans for an attempt on Sunday, September 12, 2004.
At 5:30 AM Jim and I headed out on the Clouds Rest trail from Sunrise on the Tioga Road. After approximately 1 mile or about 20 minutes we headed west cross country through the trees. In a short period of time we broke out of the trees and were on the huge slabs that mark the end of Tenaya Canyon as it approaches Lake Tenaya. There is water coming down the far left or south end of these slabs. This was the last water that was easy to get to that was in this part of Tenaya Canyon. The slabs end in a brushy forested area. This is not very dense and is traversed easily. Coming out of this brushy area put us on the slabs forming the north face of Clouds Rest. We traversed these slabs fairly high above another smallish bench of grass and brush below us. We kept this up until we had to start angling down. This essentially dropped us right at the start of the route. These slabs are pretty easy, however, the last 100 yards or so are fourth class and a little disconcerting. The route starts at a small ledge with brush on it and is marked with a super duck and, unfortunately, some trash. It was now about 9:10 AM and we were climbing by about 9:30 AM.
We blasted this route off in 7 hours including a half hour stop for lunch. That is about 26 minutes per pitch. The lower pitches are mostly slab climbing and the top pitches are a lot of lay-backing on vertical dihedrals. None of the pitches are particularly sustained. On the other hand, there isn't a lot of places for pro on this route either. Some pitches are enormously run out. There is one 5.5 pitch, five 5.7 pitches, four 5.8 pitches, four 5.9 pitches, and one 5.10- pitch, probably about 10a. The ratings are a little soft with the exception of the 10a pitch which is about right in there.
Some notes on the pitches. Pitch 1 is the easiest, about 5.5. Jim lead this out without any pro and I couldn't tell if there was any on it I was moving so fast. The topo indicates a dihedral is there and maybe there is pro there but I don't remember it. Pitches 2 through 6 are mostly slabs and sparse pro. Pitch 5 has a bolt (I think) that is not indicated on the topo. Pitch 7 has a weird section with a nice crack for pro and maybe some stemming between the crack and the face next to it. Pitch 8 requires going past a small water pool to a block and then climbing a 5.9 crack. It is more like a 5.8 move through a bunch of shrubbery. At the end of this it is indicated to move the belay. It doesn't say how far. It is about 35 to 40 feet. Pitch 11 that starts above the brushy knoll is the crux pitch. This requires undercling liebacking around an arch and the crux move is a fingertip layback move to finish this off. The fixed pin is missing but it isn't needed. After that it is a cruise to the top up to the last move which requires some stemming or some gorilla work to get up a corner to the belay.
Above this it is third class for about 1200 feet to the summit ridge on Clouds Rest and a short stroll to the top. We left the summit at 6 PM and headed own the trail to Sunrise arriving a little after 9 PM. Total trip time was about 15 hours 30 minutes.
This is a very nice route in a spectacular location and is highly recommended for solid 5.9 climbers with enough experience to deal with the lack of pro and typical Tuolumne run out. The views and continuous fun, clean, climbing are hard to beat.
A 60 meter rope system is mandatory. The suggested gear list is a little conservative. We would not double up on the smallest (black) alien or triple the mid sizes but go with a single black alien, double sizes up to red alien, two .75 camalots, and single #1, #2, #3 camalot. There are bomber double bolt belay anchors at the end of every pitch. Rappelling can be done all the way down, however, only the bottom five pitches have rappelling style bolts. The other belay bolts had rap slings but some of them looked pretty tatty. A double rope system would be needed for this and some more rap (poot) slings.
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