November 7, 2009
Prior to starting this trip Ben had gone through the guide book and marked the areas that he thought would be fun to check out. Given the level of climbing that we were interested/capable of, there were a few must hit areas. But with six days of climbing we didn’t want to chew through all of our best climbs right away so we went searching for climbs that we glossed over before.
Some of our campmates had done some climbing on the Glacier Point Apron the day before and spoke pretty highly of the experience. So we checked out what the area had to offer and it turns out that there were a number of options that looked interesting. The Grack, Center (5.6) is touted as the best 5.6 climb in Yosemite but we were looking for something a bit longer than three pitches. What we found was Goodrich Pinnacle.
Goodrich Pinnacle (5.9R) was first climbed by Royal Robins, Liz Robins and TM Herbert in 1964. They put up the route in honor of Don Goodrich who died while attempting the first ascent of the west face of Mount Conness. The guide book described the route as one of the better climbs of its length in the Valley and gave it a five star rating. Featuring some cracks, a lot of face climbing and even a 5.6 chimney section, we were pretty excited to give it a go.
It was a Saturday and the perfect temperatures were not ignored by the climbing community so we were expecting to deal with some crowds. To our surprise what we found was complete and total solitude. On the approach to the climb we didn’t see a single person, on the route itself we didn’t see any parties, we seemed to have the entire crag to ourselves. Perhaps folks were sleeping in or perhaps the relatively recent (1998) and deadly rockfall in the area was still a deterrent. I’m not sure about the reason but I was thankful.
At the base of the climb the guide book shows about 60′ of 4th class climbing and in order to link together some pitches we decided to belay from the top of the 4th class. While getting to the top of the “4th” class was fairly easy, it was much closer to 5.0 climbing so I’d suggest roping up if you aren’t comfortable free soloing easy stuff.
When I studied the route beta I decided that I wanted to lead the first pitch. Doing so would allow me to follow on the crux as well as avoid leading the 5.6 chimney at the top. After Ben’s quick ascent of the 5.6 chimney a couple days earlier I had decided that he should lead them from now on. Plus with only 5.4 and 5.5 moves, the first pitch was quite easy and a good warmup.
We were already 200′ off the ground when Ben started the second pitch of 5.7 hand jams. Above this pitch the cracks run out and the route transitions into face climbing until last pitch. The beginning of the third pitch features this very cool arching crack that goes up and left towards a bolt at the end. Above this crack lies the psychological crux of the climb, 30′ of 5.8 climbing without any protection. Psychological crux eh? With a little reluctance I decided that I would lead it.
I used the arched crack as footholds and really zippered it up with a lot of cams and nuts because I knew that I wouldn’t need them above. At the end of the crack there is a very nice resting place and a solid bolt. With all of the runout 5.8 above this point, I took my time and got a feel for what was ahead. Royal Robbins worked the first ascent on this section and said, “for half an hour I made repeated starts here, carefully backing down each time until I had the combination worked out.” So I don’t feel too bad about taking my time either and it paid off because I climbed the pitch cleanly.
The next pitch was back in the hands of Ben and it featured the crux of the climb. At a piton 30′ above the belay the climb has “a traverse as delicate as any I have seen” (Royal Robins) for 30′ over to a small flake. Once at the flake you climb up for another 30′ on very smooth 5.9 glacial polish. You can fit at best two creative pieces of protection into the flake on the right (a small nut and a .5 cam). While I was climbing towards him, just before reaching the crux, Ben tells me that right above me he had to palm the rock with both hands and could feel himself sliding down while trying to move up. Even as a follower, that pitch really kept my attention.
The guide book made the next pitch look rather innocent. It had three very closely spaced bolts early on and a 5.7 runout section at the end of the pitch. Thinking that Ben got us through the crux of the climb I was feeling like the worst was behind us. Incorrect. I got to the first bolt with relative ease and the second bolt was just a few feet above with the third bolt just a few feet further, it’s like we were at the gym. But alas, it was not the gym and these bolts were there for a reason, the climbing is tough.
Above the second bolt there is not a single hand or foot hold in sight for 10′. Climbing shoes are made with a very sticky rubber that is able to flow into the rock for more friction and in general is really amazing stuff. In this case it wasn’t amazing enough. The rock was smooth as glass and when I would step up and apply pressure my foot would not only slide down, it would make squeaking sounds in the process! I didn’t think that was possible with climbing shoes and after a bunch of experimentation I decided to be lowered back to the belay and have Ben give it a try.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ben was able to figure out a way to make it up this section, but he wasn’t having much better luck than I was. Perhaps this is why Royal claims that Glacier Point has some of the “severest friction climbing in the country”. Wanting to complete the climb, we spied a section of rock over to the left that was much more featured but would be a sketchy traverse. So with a bit of shame we decided to weight the rope and pendulum over to it. The rock in this section was much nicer but with 60′ of runout Ben stayed focused and got us through the section.
We were down to the last pitch and because I was suppose to lead the last one that meant that I would get to finish the climb. But like I mentioned earlier, the top of the route features a 5.6 chimney and my last experience with a chimney of that rating was pretty slow going. So while I had confidence in being able to do the moves, I wasn’t really looking forward to them. At least there was plenty of protection in this section so I really didn’t have anything to complain about.
To my surprise and joy the chimney was extremely easy. I’m quite aware of the subjective nature of rating climbs but there is absolutely no way that I can see calling this chimney and Church Bowl Chimney a 5.6, there is no comparison. But after six pitches and 800′ of climbing we were now over 1000′ off of the valley floor and quite proud of our accomplishment. This was the longest climb that I had completed and our first experience with 5.9 face climbing in Yosemite.
But all good things must come to an end and while rappelling down the route they did exactly that. We decided to rappel down the right side of the pinnacle and on the way down Ben noticed that there was no way our ropes wouldn’t get stuck. When we started pulling them they did exactly that and we needed to figure out a way to get them unstuck. We decided that Ben would climb back up the route to where the knot got stuck. I had remembered there being a piton somewhere up there and was hoping that it was close to the trouble spot. Turns out that the rope was stuck about 10′ above the piton so Ben climbed up, got it unstuck, down climbed back to the piton and then rappelled off of it. Just in case the piton blew, I kept him on belay.
After getting that unstuck we thought the rest of the rappel would be pretty straightforward but it wasn’t. Below our third rappel the ropes ran over an area with a bunch of cracks. We tie knots into the end of our ropes just to make sure we don’t rappel off of the ends. As we started to pull the rope through the anchor, one of these knots got stuck in a crack below us. So I tied the longer end off to an anchor and single rope rappelled down to where it was stuck.
After two stuck ropes it was taking us between one and two hours to get off of the route. The guide book claimed that from the second belay station it’s 200′ to the ground so we figured we’d be able to get down from there, but the ground looked pretty far away. I was the guinea pig and went first. With two generous 60m ropes and rope stretch it still wasn’t quite enough. I found myself about 10′ off of the ground but close enough to get onto the 4th class and get myself off rappel.
Even with the problem prone rappel, I’d highly recommend the climb. The views are amazing and the climbing has a good amount of variety on a clean route. However, I would suggest being a rather confident 5.9 leader with some experience on Yosemite slabs. I’d also keep my mind open about using some aid on the 5.9 sections of the climb. If you finish the route, it sounds like rappelling off the left side of the pinnacle is less painful and on the lower pitches consider relying on a backup prusik knot when rappelling and skip the knots at the ends.