Day 3: Hermaphrodite Flake (5.8) on Stately Pleasure Dome

It was a Saturday and not only had our own group grown from two to four, the number of other climbers had likely increased by roughly the same percentage.  So we contemplated what we should climb.  Trying to balance difficulty, quality, escape routes and climbing traffic, somehow we ended up choosing Hermaphrodite Flake.

The lower half of Hermaphrodite Flake is rated as a 5.4 with a lot of 3rd and 4th class climbing to get to the start (I’d say a solid 300′ of it).  We thought this would give us some good opportunities to split up and do some top roping if we so desired.  But the idea of that much unroped down climbing wasn’t appealing to anyone so we found ourselves somewhat committed before even getting tied in.

There were a couple groups ahead of us and being a party of four we decided to let one party of two start before us as well.  So we had plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the view of Stately Pleasure running right down into Tenaya Lake.  During that time we decided that I’d lead the first pitch, have Ben follow behind me trailing two ropes for Tyndall and Linda.  Once Ben got to the belay we’d each take one of the ropes he was trailing and bring the others up.

The first pitch of the climb is what gives Hermaphrodite Flake its name.  About half way up the pitch you’re confronted with three options to get around the flake.  You can take the easy route walking along the topside, the moderate route by tunneling under the flake or get the most exposure along the bottom.  Yes, you read that right, the flake is so large and separated from the main wall enough where you can climb underneath it.  When you look at this huge rock that’s about 50′ wide and 110′ tall somehow clinging to the side of this dome you have to wonder how it is actually staying put.  One would think that as you get closer up you’d be able to solve this mystery but as it turns out, the closer you get, the more mysterious it is!

I’d never seen anything that big that you could climb through the middle of so I was leaning towards taking the tunnel route.  But we had two backpacks with us and we were worried about how difficult it could be with them on.  So I was talked into leading the 5.4 layback route on the bottom of the flake.  According to the topo, there was a 15′ section right at the bottom of the flake that couldn’t be protected.  As the leader, I was kind of curious to see how that section was going to work.  With a layback climb, you get purchase with your feet by applying an outward pull using your hands.  But if there isn’t any room for protection, there wasn’t going to be any room for hands either.

Thankfully the climb flattens out enough where you can pretty much friction climb through this section and right in the middle of it I actually found a very nice hand hold along the bottom of the flake that might be able to fit a #1 or .75 cam, not sure.  After this 15′ section the flake separates from the face again and the last 15′ feet up to the anchor is a real pleasure.

When I was getting up to the anchor (two bolts) the party that was above us decided that they had enough and were rappelling back down to the ground.  This is all well and good but they were using my anchor so I couldn’t clip into it until they were finished.  This wasn’t too big of a deal because I was comfortable clipped into a piton just to the left but it would have been nice to be able to share the anchor, at least enough so I could get myself clipped into it.

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

I brought up Ben and then Linda and Tyndall, all of them making the climb look very easy.  Tyndall was excited to lead the next pitch and the rest of us were happy to let him go for it.  The first 40′ is more layback climbing along the right side of the flake and then 150′ feet of 5.6 and 5.7 face climbing.  The face section is bolted pretty well but could use a visit from the ASCA pretty badly.

I followed Tyndall up the pitch and trailed the two ropes for Ben and Linda.  Ben had complained about how hard it was to trail the ropes on the last pitch and while I believed him, it was difficult to get a sense of it until it was my turn to do the same.  What a workout that was.  The ropes themselves don’t weigh all that much but the friction that the carabiners generate as well as the rope running over the rock is huge.  By the time I got to the top, it was requiring a solid 40-50 pounds to pull the ropes up, thankfully I didn’t find the climbing itself very challenging.

For the last pitch we had another decision to make.  We could continue straight up and make the route a 5.10b, traverse over to the left for 30′ along a 5.8R face section to an easy crack or rappel back down to the ground.  The 5.10b route seemed a bit out of the question and rappelling when you’re one pitch from the top isn’t a ton of fun so the runout 5.8 section was the way to go.

Above The 5.8 Runout Section

The gold areas are slick as glass glacial polish, avoid.

Tyndall took a good look at it and was comfortable leading it so we let him go for two in a row.  There was a healthy amount of glacial polish on the rock but it was fractured in enough places so there was actually a pretty healthy amount of foot holds.  Tyndall had no issues getting over to the crack and throwing in some pro.  At the top of the crack the topo said that there would be two bolts before a two bolt anchor.

Tyndall was getting close to running out of rope and could only find one of the two bolts and no anchor was in sight.  The wind was picking up a bit so we couldn’t hear each other and because he was on the top, we couldn’t see him either.  In these situations we use tugs on the rope to signal each other, but with all of the rope drag, we couldn’t actually feel them.  So after about 10 minutes of no activity, we decided that Ben would put me on belay and although Tyndall probably had me on as well, I’d climb with the mentality of a leader.  After about 15′ of the traverse it was obvious that Tyndall did have me on belay, but it was good to take the extra precaution.

Once we all got to the top we basked in the sun and our accomplishment.  Almost 600′ of climbing in three pitches with a party of four and it took us under four hours, far from being speedy but not too bad either.  It was also pretty cool to be 900′ above the the gorgeous Tenaya Lake.  From this height we could almost see all the way from the Western side of Yosemite to the Eastern.  You can even make out Half Dome in the distance. (Thanks for taking photos Linda :)

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake with Half Dome in the distance

With another day of spectacular climbing under our belt, we hiked down the backside of the dome back to the lake.  We had one more day left in Tuolumne before heading back and we planned on getting another multi-pitch climb in on Medlicott Dome, Left but ended up getting horribly lost not once, or twice, but three times.  We ended up at the base of Medlicott Dome, Right and did some sport climbs but were kind of bummed that our plans didn’t quite work out.  But I guess that’s the way it goes, it will just have to wait for another trip.

The day after we got home Ben asked me if I was hooked on trad climbing.  I was.  So we decided to plan another trip a few weeks later to Yosemite Valley.  That turned out to be quite an adventure so expect this series of posts to continue.

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