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9/18/14 – Cheyne Lempe and Ethan Pringle found a new line up the overhanging 1,000-foot north face of Higher Cathedral Rock in Yosemite Valley. The route begins with a scramble up the descent gully from Middle Cathedral, and then, after two approach pitches, shoots for the top in six long pitches of “full adventure.”
After scoping the route through binoculars, the two onsighted the line in two long days of climbing. “We left Camp 4 on September 12 at 7 a.m. with all of our gear and supplies, no pitches fixed, and no pre-stashed gear,” said Lempe, a member of the YOSAR rescue team. “That evening we got to a nice ledge where we hung our portaledge on two mostly bomber equalized beaks, after two approach pitches and two aid pitches on the steep wall. The next day we topped out at 10 p.m.”
Lempe and Pringle had hoped the new route might go free, but the north face of Higher Cathedral turned out to be much more complicated—and lichen covered—than expected. “When I scoped the route with binoculars, the crack systems looked totally free climbable. It wasn’t until we actually started climbing that we found some of those beautiful finger cracks were moss- and lichen-filled beak seams!” Lempe explained. “At one point on the first day it had just gotten dark and I was swinging around on the wall trying to find a weakness to keep making upward progress without drilling a rivet ladder. There were just enough edges to free climb and hook on.”
In the end, Lempe said, he used aid on the majority of the pitches but placed only one bolt, protecting the first moves on the route. Pringle led free up to 5.11+ R.
They called the route The Constant Gardener(5.11+ R A3) because of all the moss and dirt they found in the north-facing cracks. But with more cleaning and some additional fixed pro, the route could be a “stellar free climb,” Lempe said.
The new line ascends the overhanging wall to the left of the 1960 first-ascent route (5.9 A4, Chouinard-Kamps-Pratt). Pratt returned eight years later with Dennis Hennek to force a more direct and difficult finish. The Constant Gardener joined the 1960 route for its final pitches.
Update: Here’s a trailer for the upcoming video about the climb.
Dates of ascent: September 12-13, 2014
Sources: Cheyne Lempe, Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley (Roper)