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Killer Pillar, a looming gendarme above Yosemite’s lower Merced Canyon, houses some of the Valley’s finest sport climbing. The four routes—including Fun Terminal (5.12a), the star of this Weekend Whipper—were bolted in the late 1980s and some of the original hardware can still be found on the steep and featured granite.
“Quite a few of the bolts seem to be leftover from the first ascent period,” the filmer, Andrew Pittman, told Climbing. “But a hodgepodge of slightly newer hardware dots the cliff; a marker of all the old bolts that have ripped and needed replacement over the years.” Pittman said the majority of the bolts are rusted 3/8-inch bolts, of unknown depths, with spinning SMC hangers. “These hangers, popular and cheap in the ’70s and ’80s, are known for being quite brittle. Especially after a couple decades of oxidation,” he said.
“The climbing on Fun Terminal is very dynamic and airy with spaced bolts and big fall potential over a knife edge arête,” Pittman described. “It starts up the arête’s left side for 30 feet, clipping bolts around the corner. After making your way fully onto the adjacent face, a short roof-boulder crux leads to a rest…. The rest of the climbing careens up the final 20 feet [of the] knobby headwall and is protected by a single—rusty—spinning bolt.”
Unknowing of all of this beta, Reed Herbison, Jack Nugent, and Pittman made a “big-wall cragging mission” of the route. “We rapped off the pillar to the base of the looming overhang, set up a portaledge camp and spent the day swapping lead goes on Fun Terminal,” Pittman said.
Herbison achieved the team’s highpoint, up to the final headwall, before “smashing his ankle into the crux roof.” The spinning bolt held, thankfully, but Nugent, belaying, was shaken. “At least he knew he was safe, attached to the our bomb-proof mega anchor,” Pittman said. Their anchor consisted of “a few bad bolts, a newer glue-in that stuck out half an inch, a retched spinning torque bolt, a boulder, and two rusty old quarter-inch button heads from the late ’80s.”
Back at the belay, Herbison’s ankle began to swell and the group called it a day. Pittman reports that Herbison had a limp for several days following the whip but began climbing shortly after. “We’ve judged that his injury was somewhere between a ‘slight sprain’ and just ‘being a baby,’” he joked.
“Upon hitchhiking home a member of our team was picked up by a visiting climber and mentioned they were just at the Killer Pillar. The driver was shocked, warning: ‘You know why they call it the Killer Pillar? Because all the bolts are choss!'”
Happy Friday, and be safe out there this weekend. To watch the full library of Weekend Whippers, click here.