Bishop's Terrace (I 5.8), Church Bowl, Yosemite National Park, California
Splitter hands with a tourist approach
There's no shortage of splitter climbs in the granite crucible. Exhaustingly long, deadly committing, or outrageously difficult — you’ll find them all. But not all the lines are epic; some appeal more for their friendly flavor and grand aesthetics. One such route lies on the Valley’s northeast end, in the accessible Church Bowl: Bishop’s Terrace, a long (175-foot) pitch of 5.8 splitters that goes comfortably as two rope lengths. The climb has been a perennial favorite since the Valley patriarch Steve Roper first laid eyes on it a half-century ago. Chris McNamara refers to it as “one of the best 5.8 hand cracks in the Valley” in his book Yosemite Valley Free Climbs.
The route begins with small ledges and broken terrain, but quickly sorts itself into striking twin finger cracks and a steep-hands splitter through a headwall. While 5.8 might sound casual, this climb is no gimmie, even though the gear is good throughout. In his book Yosemite Free Climbs, Don Reid calls it a “classic test piece of 5.8 jamming.” Be prepared with a working knowledge of cracks of all sizes — from fingers to wide fists. The zone takes its name from the regular church services held here beginning in 1920. In 1942, the Yosemite Community Church donated the facilities to the National Park Service. Since then, many climbers have experienced spiritual renewal on the pitch, while those who headed up lacking proper crack skills found religion of a different sort.
Roper recalls “shamelessly” resorting to a couple points of aid during his December 1959 FA, but also notes that few climbers then had the skills for a “serious jamcrack.” A scant few months later, the indomitable Chuck Pratt elegantly jammed the first free ascent. Since then, thousands of climbers have sunk their mitts. The accomplished big-wall architect and climbing-equipment innovator John Middendorf recalls how during his four-year stint in Yosemite decades ago, his mornings often included a free solo of Bishop’s Terrace before morning coffee at the café.
Bishop’s Terrace is mostly done as a single 60-meter pitch. At the route’s top, a spacious belay ledge provides the perfect perch to reflect on Yosemite’s grandeur. Stretching across the Valley are towering Ponderosa and Sugar pines, the expansive Awhanee Meadow, Illilouette Canyon, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. Once you’re sated, a quick double-rope rappel puts you a short stroll from more classics.
Guidebook: Rock Climbing Yosemite Free Climbs, by Don Reid (Falcon
Guides, 1998, falcon.com); Yosemite Valley Free Climbs, by Chris McNamara
(Super Topo Guides, 2003, supertopo.com)Guide Service: Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service — (209)
Equipment Shop (Yosemite Valley): The Mountain Shop, Curry
Village — (209) 372-8396Season:Spring and autumn are bestCamping: The storied Camp 4 is the only non-reservation camping — first
come, first served; $5 per night. For more info on Camp 4 and other options,
call (877) 444-6777 or visit nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/campground.htm or
yosemitepark.com.Rack: Double cams from small fingers through 4”, set of nuts, 60m rope