Royal Robbins said that Corrugation Corner (5.7) was the best climb of its grade anywhere. 5.7 is a moderate grade, and with a little bit of patience and instruction anyone can likely climb it. Maybe not clean, but climbing clean (without falls) isn’t as big of a deal on top rope–at least not on a climb like this. The route takes up a striking and improbable corner system up the center of the Main Wall of Lovers Leap. It’s an aesthetic line that is not as meandering as I had anticipated to remain on such moderate terrain. Often moderate trad climbs wander all over the wall, zigzagging between easier features and avoiding hard ones.
On Thursday evening I told him that we were going to want to be at the wall an hour earlier because we didn’t just have our eyes set on Corrugation Corner, but a super classic link up by first climbing Surrealistic Pillar (5.7) on the Lower Buttress (just the name alone warrants climbing this route) up to the main ledge, and then doing the short approach to the East to the start of Corrugation Corner. On Thursday evening we had also talked and set a baseline grade, and instead of pushing into the next level had decided to just keep ticking down the classic lower grade moderates (sub 5.9).
It was a five minute approach to the Lower Buttress, and we arrived at the base of Surrealistic Pillar at 7am. It was one of those mornings where I just needed to rack up, tie in, and start climbing, and that’s exactly what I did. The first pitch was excellent, and it seemed to have unlimited potential for variations ranging from 5.6 to 5.10+. I opted to take the natural line and just followed the path of chalked holds into a beautiful textbook hand jam crack. Within minutes I was on a decent ledge belaying Dave up the first pitch. I could hear some grunting, and in the system I could notice some slight delay as I brought him up. Dave was worked–he told me so when he got up to the belay. I stayed optimistic, having a feeling once we topped out and he got a look at the Corner he would be reinvigorated.
The second pitch was defined by a short 5.7 section off the belay into a traverse over an arete, and then I just sprinted to the top until I ran out of rope and built a bealy. I placed one cam for the entire pitch. At the top Dave was doubtful about continuing the day, but I talked him into just walking up to the base of the climb, especially since we were already up this far onto the main ledge.
When it came in sight there was a party on route, our neighbors at the campground, and the woman leading the first pitch seemed to be having some complications–she was frozen in panic switching between spells of hyperventilated, comatose silence, and sobbing. Her fiance and belayer apologized without need, and said that this happens sometimes. Dave didn’t join me on my venture to the start of the climb, but instead found a nice sitting rock to rest and eat some food at about two-hundred yards west. While I was talking to the belayer, he said you know you guys can go ahead and just pass us once she gets up to the belay ledge. That was all the convincing I needed, and I started calling out and waving for Dave to come over.
Thirty minutes later I ran up the pitch so excited that I only placed a single cam. We had the entire route to ourselves. The stemming corner on the first pitch is fun, and a nice warm up if it’s your first climb of the day. With the popularity of this route it may be a good idea to make this the first climb of the day. The second pitch you climb out on this amazingly steep and exposed arete for the grade, and do this excellent face climbing protected by old pitons. It’s nice, because you just clip alpine draws and keep pushing–it goes by too quick. The final move up to the belay is up this awkward corner offwidth (wide) crack, which forced me to do this really goofy beached whale move to gain the ledge. Good thing I was all alone, because style was not an option–I missed some old fixed ring bolt right before the move and did that beached whale move on like a 20-30ft run out (large span without protection)!
Those first two pitches really got Dave back in his groove, and he was all smiles and his arms were nice and shaken out and he was loving life. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t loving life. I live for this shit. It never gets old.
The third pitch is just as classic as the second with this hand traverse over to a weakness, and then follow the jug ladder to this amazing roof with a splitter hand crack in it. After pulling the roof it’s a dike hike up to the top out. I got really excited on this pitch too, so I only placed one cam. On that final pitch we were both howling in gratitude. I screamed down to him, “We’re not out of the woods yet–we still have the summit, BECAUSE SUMMITS DO MATTER!” And from the top some fun loving soul screamed back, “BECAUSE SUMMITS DO MATTER!”
Within minutes Dave was at the top of the climb with me, and we were both beaming like children eating Cliff Bars and talking about how awesome life is. We both agree’d that that was one of the best climbs we’d ever done, and I’ve done a lot of climbs! We navigated to the summit and met our flute playing like-minded summit admiring friends, who shared some epic chewy ginger candies with us.
And then we figured that there is no reason to put a cap on a so far excellent day, so we made our way back to camp for lunch and to hide from the heat for a while, but we left the door open for later on in the day–you know, just in case we felt like running back for some more world class granite action–but that’s for next time!