Royal Arches (5.7 A0)

The majestic Royal Arches, North Dome and Washington Columb


There is a bit of backstory before we started on this climb which I have discussed on the bottom of this page. This was our day 5 in the valley and since day 4 was a rest day, we were itching to get started. I was also nervous about this one because last year’s East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, which was also a moderate, turned out to be much more difficult than we expected in the sun. So, I was not sure what to expect for this one. However, after this climb I realized the significance of leading over 65 pitches between 5.9 to 5.11- over 8 months of climbing at Smith Rock.

Since we were doing this climb on a weekday (and it was supposed to be 84), I was not too worried about the traffic, but because we were well rested, we got up at 5am and were at the base of the climb by 7am. Rick said he will lead the first 4 pitches so that we get the easiest part of the route done as fast as possible. I didn’t understand the slick chimney comments on mountain project until I got into this one. It’s so slick that even when you use oppositional forces with your knee, it can slide. Later I found out that it’s because water runs down this chimney, polishing the surface. Getting in and getting out of the chimney is the crux.

Now that’s a chimney
Must pull over the chockstone without failing as there is no pro
2nd crux of the chimney

From the top of the chimney, the climb turns into a scramble for a bit. Walk over and pass a water stream to get to this lump of slab. On this picture, there is a low angle 5.6 finger crack on the left from Rick which takes you up.

Pitch 2 just before the finger crack

Pitch 3 and 4 were uneventful with not much crack climbing. We simul-climbed from the top of pitch 1 to the beginning of pitch 5 with a few micro traxions and some terrain belays. I took the sharp end for pitch 5 which resulted in leading a pin scar crack again. I vastly prefer finger cracks over pin scar cracks.

Pitch 5, why do I get to lead pin scar cracks?

I belayed at the dead tree. From here Rick took over all the leads since we were racing against the sun. Rick linked pitch 6 and 7 which were also super easy low angle hand cracks.

Rick linking pitch 6 and 7
At the base of pitch 8

Pitch 9 was a 5.5 OW which was effortless with calf and knee jams.

No pro no problem even in an offwidth
Upper pitch 9

Pitch 10 was the pengy: I dont know how someone can free that without bolts on the face. This was the only pitch which made me a bit scared coz the idea of running/swinging a vertical slab was just not fathomable at all. You can clip into the rope for pro, so you don’t swing back into the corner when following. It took me couple attempts but I made it :).

My first Pengy.
So relieved!

Pitch 11 was a hand crack followed by a lie back, which felt a bit physical but nothing hard or scary. Rick chose to belay at the tree to be in line with the crack system. We waited about 35 minutes under the trees to let the party behind us pass as they were simul-climbing and because they politely asked for it.

Pitch 11, before the lie back crack

Pitch 12 is a choice between a 5.7 or 5.8 crack to easy climbing on pitch 13. Pitch 14 is a easy traverse and some slab climbing that take you to a tree. From the tree go left and further up to find the bolted rap line.

Yay! Pitch 14, after the traverse

It took us 6 hrs to climb 14 pitches with 8 belayed pitches. I was not counting the rappels in a hope that they would end fast but when I did ask, it was 9 out of 16 :(. I guess I need to be more patient. We simul-rappelled with a 70m rope and after the long rappel ordeal, I feel quite comfortable about simul-rapping. The belays were mostly in the shade under trees, and it was windy during the rappels, which made it very manageable despite the heat. Overall Royal Arches felt like a mellow brother of East Buttress of Middle Cathedral.

After the climb was over we went over to the Awahnee Hotel Bar for margaritas and delicious panna cotta to celebrate Rick’s birthday in style. The next morning, we had lattes at Degnan’s Deli followed by walk to mirror lake to check out NW face of Half Dome.

Half Dome from Mirror Lake
Mt. Watkins (looks headless to me)

Backstory: After day 1 and 2 of climbing we should have taken a rest day but because Rick bites more than we can chew, we decided to do Braille Book on day 3. The hike felt slightly difficult on our sore legs, and by the time we got up, we saw that Braille Book was in the sun on an 81-degree day so we continued up to do the regular route of Higher Cathedral Spire. The first pitch is a low angle wide crack which I led.

The picture below is the first crux of the second pitch where there is barely a hand jam for a slabby traverse. It’s harder than it looks from below and felt scarier than a 5.9+.

Pitch 2 super scary traverse with almost no hands

The second crux of pitch 2 is an overhang move with a remarkably high step. I have done many roofs and overhangs, but this still felt quite bouldery and challenging.

Pitch 2 overhang that requires a big step up

Pitch 3 is also an exposed traverse. In the picture below, Rick secured the left side, used single runner slings and started moving right.

Pitch 3 start of the traverse

Once I got to the base of pitch 4, both Rick and I were shivering because we had been in shade all morning, and it was way too windy. Since it was going to be a 81-degree day and we had originally planned to climb in the sun we did not even bring soft shells. Rick was unmotivated to lead the next pitch and I realized the fear I had felt on the traverses, so I was not too inclined to lead either. We decided to bail and get warm by descending but as we got warm, we regretted bailing. Once we were at our packs, we could see that the top of pitch 3 was in the sun so we just needed to bear the cold for a few more hours. I also thought that I should have given a stress break to Rick and offered to lead. Oh well! We will have to come back to finish this route.

Because of this failure I decided to re-plan our itinerary and take a break on day 4, then catch the low hanging fruit i.e. Royal Arches to put us back on winning streak.

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