Yosemite Climbing: Manure Pile Buttress

November 1, 2009

Even a name like Manure Pile Buttress doesn’t deter the crowds from this crag and for good reason, it’s a fantastic place to climb.  Not only is it a fantastic place to climb, it features one of the most historic and ground breaking routes in climbing history.

Manure Pile got its name not because the rock is crap or because it looked like crap but because people used to dump crap at its base.  More specifically, in the mid 1960’s the stable owners in the valley would dump their horseshit here which actually did deter some climbers.  It wasn’t until 1965 that the first known route was completed and by none other than Yvon Chouinard (founder of Black Diamond and Patagonia).  That route was called After 6 and it was given that name because he and his partner started the climb at 6 o’clock… in the evening.  With an impressive 6 pitches in length, starting this first ascent at 6pm shows how skillful of a climber Chouinard was.

Being that After 6 (5.7) was the first established climb at this crag, it’s coincidentally appropriate that it was our first climb on it as well.  If it was June maybe we could have started it at 6pm but seeing that it gets dark around 7pm in October, we set out for a 10am start.  After a very short walk from the car to the base of the climb we found that there was one party in front of us.  The leader was already about a third of the way through the first pitch so we hustled to get ready to go.  Turns out our hustling wasn’t really needed.

The party in front of us was comprised of a guy and his girlfriend.  He managed to complete the first pitch (which is the hardest of them all) without too much trouble and at a fairly good pace, however she was not feeling so comfortable following and it took her quite a while to complete the pitch.  We gave them a bit to get started on their next pitch before Ben took off on lead.

Apparently when Ben reached the top of the pitch the couple was still there and having a bit of an argument.  He seemed upset at her for not being comfortable and moving slowly.  On top of that he was demanding that if they were to continue that she lead at least one of the pitches.  Ben suggested to her that she should lead the second pitch because it’s just 3rd and 4th class walking.  Apparently that wouldn’t do, it needed to be “a real pitch”.  This just baffles me.  If you’re on a climb and your partner is sketched out the last thing you should do is demand that they do some leading, especially when it’s your significant other.  Thankfully the coupled bailed and rappelled down the route before getting themselves into real trouble.

The first pitch is without a doubt the physical crux of the climb.  With a good amount of 5.7 layback moves it’s a fairly sustained 130′.  One section about a third of the way up even features about 10′ of polished granite which can be a bit tricky to get through if you aren’t a confident 5.7 leader.  I had planed on leading the second pitch but when we got there we discovered that it really was very easy 4th class climbing and not worth putting me on belay for.

At the base of our second pitch it was now my turn to take the lead.  Wouldn’t you know it, the first section of the pitch featured a small chimney.  Higher up the chimney turned into a wide crack with nice foot holds on the left side but was a little difficult to protect.  At the top of the crack is the next official belay station before a section of face climbing.

I had forgotten that this pitch was so short and continued up and past the easy face climbing section.  Above this there was a nice ledge to belay from and I contemplated stopping there but the next 40′ of climbing featured a wonderful hand crack and I really wanted to lead it.  So I shouted down to Ben for an estimate of how much rope I had left.  He couldn’t give me a very accurate answer so I took that as enough to get to the next ledge.

At 200′ of climbing rope drag can get to be a real issue.  I had just reached the ledge that I wanted to get to but I was feeling so much drag that I thought I had run out of rope.  Wanting to build an anchor about three feet away from my fingertips I debated what I should do.  I decided to give the rope a good pull and see if I could get any slack.  I managed to get just enough to throw some pro in the wall and bring Ben up, a perfect rope stretching pitch.

Our third pitch (traditionally the fifth) was back in Ben’s hands.  Physically it was pretty easy but route finding was fairly challenging.  There were trees galore mixed in with many different route options.  The trees made it hard to look ahead to see where you should be and created some rope management issues as well.  But after finishing this pitch we only had another 100′ of climbing left and we’d be at the top.

At 600′ above the valley floor it was starting to get a bit windy.  I knocked out the last pitch without any troubles but at the top there wasn’t anything close to the ledge to setup an anchor on.  Closest thing I could find was a couple cracks 30′ off of the lip.  When I setup the anchor and tied myself into it I could no longer see down to Ben and the wind made vocal communications impossible.  The rope drag was also making it hard to communicate via the rope as well.  But eventually we got it sorted out and finished off the climb.

Once back down at the base we realized that we had enough time and energy to do some more climbing.  We pondered a couple sport(ish) routes but neither one of us really wanted to lead them.  So we went searching for the start of Nutcracker (5.8).

Nutcracker is the climb that really changed everything.  In 1966 Royal Robbins (also a maker of excellent outdoor clothing) had done a couple climbs in the UK and found that they were starting to jam machine nuts into constrictions in the rock and use them for protection.  Recognizing the long term effects of placing and removing pitons, Royal was conscious enough to realize that using nuts was a more sustainable style of climbing.

So when he came back to Yosemite he decided to put up a first ascent using noting but removable nuts.  He called this route Nutcracker Sweet, a wonderful pun that was lost on some climbers and the name was eventually shortened to just Nutcracker.  As others started to see how viable removable nuts were, this new style of climbing swept through the valley very rapidly and forever changing the climbing world.

I’m not sure if it was conscious or not, but on the first pitch of the climb Ben managed to set nothing but nuts for every placement except one.  Along the way he even found a small Buddha statue resting on a shelf that looked like it was once fastened to a climbers harness.  I followed him up on the first pitch and when reaching the belay we discovered that we had taken an alternate route, oops.

This wasn’t too big of a deal but it did mean that my pitch would have to start with a 20′ long 5.8 runout traverse.  The first part of the traverse was a piece of cake, walking along the top of a flake.  But the second part was pure face and I very gingerly took my time finding the best foot holds that I could and getting the sequence of my feet just right.  With a few minutes of time and a moment of talking myself out of just jumping for a huge hold off to my right I made it.  The rest of the pitch involved moving along this huge shelf and was so easy that it’s not worth mentioning.

Two Pitches up Nutcracker

Getting ready to rappel down Nutcracker

It was getting fairly late in the day and we hadn’t intended on doing the entire climb, but I think if there wasn’t a party in front of us we would have considered it.  Seeing that they were taking their time (and dropping some gear) we decided to stick to plan and rappel back to the ground.  Finishing this climb off will have to wait for another day, one that I look forward to.

That Friday night we enjoyed some spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce and once again pondered what the adventure for the next day should be.  After hearing about some good climbing over on the Glacier Point Apron, we settled on Goodrich Pinnacle.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: