I couldn’t really believe it. On only the second trip of the season I had climbed half of the route clean. Sure I hadn’t lead all of those pitches yet, but I knew that I could. Getting over the mental barrier is the most important part of doing a First Ascent or First Free Ascent.
After the first day on this project I almost gave up. The 5th pitch was going to be too hard, too leaning, and not fun. I’m usually not one to give up so I simply delayed hiking up to the route the following day and enjoyed good company and bacon for breakfast. I got up to Liberty Cap by noon and mini-traxioned up the first three pitches. I’ve found that roped self-belay is a great way to work on routes and allows you climb partner-free. I managed to send each of the first three pitches, cleaning out dirt and moss as I went up. My “dirty direct” variation would be climbable, but I wondered if it would ever really be clean. At least the route was less dirty the higher you went and soon I was on Scarface proper.
I kept going up my fixed lines through the “crumbling empire” which had the worst rock on the route. Cool moves still existed and the vertical climbing was a nice relief after the endless laybacking on the bottom of the route. I made it to the pitch four belay, having climbed without falls and looked upon the leaning tips crack. I wasn’t even sure how to get established in the crack, but made progress by standing on the piton I had hammered in the previous day.
I saw a line of crimps on the face and figured the the climbing should be possible. A bolt would be needed so I pulled through and worked on the tips crack. A crazy idea had dawned on me the night before and I was excited to try out some magic beta. I laybacked up the offset crack for a few moves and then slotted a thin finger lock. From here I was able to mantel the offset crack and start laybacking it, walking on the two inch rail. This took me 20 feet higher and set me up for the crux off finger section. I was shocked that I was doing so well, having fallen only a few times so far on a pitch I knew to be 5.12. When the corner switched back around, I struggled with the nearly footless moves. The edge of the crack was sharp, which helped with the pseudo campusing and lead me to an awkward rest at a wide pod. I hung many more times in this upper section, desperately trying to work out where to put my feet. After I reached the anchor, I knew the pitch would go! I had found the perfect project and I had to keep trying.
Depending on how many consecutive weekends I could spend in the valley I would leave and strip my fixed lines, trying to keep my impact as low as possible. February and March are great months to spend in Yosemite and it was nice to enjoy the solitude.
After my first foray I came back with Steve, Jonathan and Casey on different weekends to push the high point further. I kept going ground up, but used fixed ropes to help mitigate the fact that I only had weekends to work with. By the end of March I had red-pointed the second through the seven pitches and had aided up the eighth pitch, which would be another 5.12 pitch. It was an incredible feeling to lead the crux tips crack on my first lead attempt. Lots of try hard effort went into the send and I almost fell off at the very end, pumped to the max.
The second half of March was booked but it was very exciting to have so much of the route figured out. I took time off, to go climb in Utah, and planned on finishing the route up in April when I returned.
Some final prep work still needed to be done to protect a few sections where pitons had be used for pro. I was in constant contact with Josh, on of the FAists, about any changes I wanted to make to the route. I wanted it to go free, but didn’t want to drastically alter the route. Even though it had been over 7 year since the first ascent, the route had not been repeated. I got everything in order the best I could and planned for a final weekend of work. The following weekend I would put in the last bolts and then go for the first free ascent. Look for a trip report soon!
For the most part the climbing on Scarface is straightforward and strenuous. After a slab and cerebral opening pitch you have to climb about 70 meters of right facing dihedral. The crack is all sorts of sizes and angles and you are occasionally just laybacking a rounded edge.
The crux 5th pitch is a laser cut leaning finger crack that goes through all sizes from tips to rattly fingers and then back down. I replaced a 1/4″ rivet on the bottom of the pitch with a new 3/8″ bolt, and added on bolt up and to the left of the crack, due to hollow rock on the right. This also should not change the aid route at all. The rightwards lean requires a good amount of power and trickery to capitalize on the infrequent rests. There is a nice 5.10 offwidth on the sixth pitch with better rock on the second half of the pitch. One new bolt was added on this pitch, early on, to protect moves getting past a few loose blocks. The aid line follows a parallel crack in this section, so this bolt doesn’t change the original route.
On the seventh pitch I bolted a new variation to the left of the original bolt latter. 5.10 slab climbing past four new bolts leads back to the original bolt later and the rest of the pitch. I removed the last “bolt” from original ladder, a 1/4″ rivet, and put in a new bomber 3/8″ bolt. The first three bolts, on the free climbing variation, are closely spaced but there is mandatory 5.10 climbing to reach the forth bolt and to regain the final bolt on aid line. Aid climbers can stick with the original rivet ladder, or climb the new variation at 5.10 C0 or 5.8 C2 with some hooking between bolts.
The eight pitch is 5.12 with killer fingers and off fingers laybacking for about 75 feet before a boulder problem when the crack pinches out. Originally you would have placed peckers & tomahawks in the corner but I added two bolts to protect the free climbing. This was approved by the first ascentionists and allows the whole route to go clean on aid which is a plus! This section still might be one of the aid cruxes since you will need to do some hooking or trickery to get from the second bolt back to bomber gear in the corner.
The next pitch, the ninth, is pretty low angle and there are very few holds, which makes it challenging. One bolt was added on this pitch, above a fixed rurp. The climbing is very technical with fun stemming and slab climbing. Aiding this pitch requires lots of thin cams, nuts and maybe some cam hooks. The following pitch, the 10th, has the final bolt of the route which was added where the first ascentionist used more beaks for pro. The climbing is mellow but cams and nuts would not protect this section. The final two pitches are lower angle and follow discontinuous cracks to the summit. I followed a slightly different line than the first ascentionists in the last three pitches, but there is much overlap.
Pitch by Pitch Beta:
Pitch 1 – 5.11a – 90 feet – 2 bolts
Full rack to #3 camalot
From the ground climb up a series of dirty ledges until you can get established on a good foot rail. Step left to a right leaning crack, get in some gear, and stem up until the crack starts to pinch out. Make a move left with your hands on a dike feature to get to the base of a thin crack. Layback up the thin crack, passing a bolt to get established in the slabby corner. Continue laybacking past occasional pods for gear. A few hard moves getting to, and working past another bolt lead to an exciting stemming sequence and an belay at a tree on the left.
This pitch is often dirty and can be wet in the early spring. Having a nut tool to clean out the crack is a plus. The stances are pretty good, so you could still climb this even if it is a little dirty.
Pitch 2 – 5.10c/d – 175 feet
From the belay work up the varied corner to a wide section of crack. Layback up until progress becomes very difficult, a finger sized piece goes in here. Techy moves will allow you to move right to a finger lock or wide edge that seem just out of reach. Once established on this edge you will need to go another body length before getting any more gear. It is possible to sling a big horn on the left in the middle of this runout. Good holds on the left wall, and some more laybacking, allow passage through this run-out. Keep on laybacking past a slopey section and mantel up onto a dirty ledge. There is a pink rope here for rappelling, but you should keep climbing. Fight through the tree to the best corner so far.
This rock on this second corner has good friction and you get nice finger sized slots at the start. The corner crack has some interesting geometry, which makes placing gear harder, and it helps to have many finger sized pieces. The corner gets steeper as you go higher until a short chimney section that can be avoided by stepping right. A few face moves lead to another hand sized crack. Jam and layback with feet on the right passing some sweet knobs. In a continuing trend, the layback turns slopey and harder moves lead to a good stance right below a tree.
Belay at the tree with a green rappel sling.
Pitch 3 – 5.10d – 85 feet
Full rack minus all the green alien and smaller pieces
This is the cleanest of the first three pitches. Start off with a few tricky layback moves or stem up using the large dead tree as a foot hold. Crisp finger locks lead you out right to yet another section of slopey layback (hopefully you’ve got it dialed by now). Punch it until the edge of the crack gets better and figure out how to get your self standing on the chalkstone. A couple more tricky moves, with some stemming get you to a grove of trees. Sling something for pro and keep going. Do some easy (5.7/5.8) but unprotected face climbing on the wall to the right of the trees to get established on a big sunny ledge. Belay at two bolts.
Pitch 4 – 5.10b R – 110 feet
Full rack with including a small cam for the start.
The climbing is never particularly run out, but there are occasional places where there is loose rock and one spot with bad fall potential, thus the R rating. The climbing on the “R” section is not much harder than 5.8/5.9, just be careful with rock quality.
Start just to the right of the bolted belay with thin gear and a few mantels. Some tricky stemming gets you established on a wide ledge. Go right and up through some chossy rock to get established in a awesome left leaning hand crack. When the crack ends avoid the ledge covered in loose rock by stepping to the right. Some thin gear protects tricky moves to get into another hand crack. Fun crack and face moves get you up an over a series of ledges to a two bolt belay on a nice 3′ x 5′ ledge.
Pitch 5 – 5.12 – 110 feet – 3 bolts
My rack: 2 Red C3, 2 Green Alien, 3 Yellow Alien, 2 Grey Alien, 1 Red Alien, 2 #.5 camalot, Single Green C3, #1. camalot More thin gear if aiding (000 and 00 C3 useful).
The first of many stellar pitches. From the belay you can either face climb straight up past two bolts or use the ide crack out left. In both cases be careful to avoid the precarious stacked blocks above the wide crack. Traverse across the grainy rail until you reach a no-hands stance. Thin fingers gear (green alien/Red C3) goes in the crack to your left to protect the next hard section. Face climb/layback up an semi-expando flake, 5.11, up until you get established at a good stance on a small ledge to the left of the flake. Clip a bolt and check out the tricky traverse to the leaning tips and finger crack.
Bust out a short crimpy boulder problem, 5.11+, and make a few hard moves up the crack to get established on a huge foot rail. Recovery is key since the next ten feet are tips! Red C3/Blue Metolius seem to fit best since green aliens are too big. The crack is quite off-set so heel hooks and tricky foot work are possible. Once you pass the small bush, the crack changes corners again and gets steeper. It quickly goes to rattly fingers (.5 camalots) and the feet disappear. Luckily the crack is pretty sharp and you can get opposition with your thumb. Fight you way up the leaning crack until a hand jam pod, where you can catch a rest.
The crack thins back down to fingers, but by now you should be quite pumped and wishing a good foot would magically appear. After a few moves your prayer is answered in the way of a thin hand jam and the notion that you have almost done it. Grr your way up a few more fingerlocks and until you can reach a hand crack that takes you the rest of the way to the anchor. Belay at two bolts on a small ledge.
Pitch 6 – 5.10c/d – 165 feet – 1 bolt.
Full Rack with two each #3, #4 camalots (Very confident leaders can get away with a single #3 and #4)
Start off with enjoyable thin hands off the belay until you must switch to the left crack. The higher you go in the right crack, the longer of a reach you must make. A few steep moves lead to another thin hands to hands crack in grainy rock. Climb up until you are below some scary stacked blocks and clip a bolt on the left. Carefully mantel over the blocks, which seem pretty solid, and you will be greeted with a splitter wide crack. Fist jam up clean granite making sure to bump along your #4 camalot. Eventually you can get your right foot in the leaning crack and the difficulty eases and I leave the #4 behind. Continue up the wide crack, past a short slab. Another #4 camalot can go in here or you can run it out until you can place a finger sized piece in a thin crack on the left. Dual cracks lead up with plentiful gear options until you pass another wide section of crack. Laybacking seems to be the best option here and eventually the crack thins to nothing. Make a hero reach from the last finger lock to a perfect jug. A few easy moves leads to a two bolt anchor on a reasonable ledge.
Pitch 7 – 5.10d – 90 feet – 6 bolts
Bring the nuts, Purple and Green C3, and doubles of Green Alien to #1. Single #2,#3,#4 camalots.
Start climbing up the wide crack until you can see a line of three bolts with black hangers. The original line continues further up the wide crack before cutting left on a ladder with mix of rivets and 1/4 inch bolts. The free line joins the aid ladder at the last bolt (which was upgraded to 3/8″).
Climb a series of small ledges angling up and to the left past the three bolts. A combination of mantels and trickery will get you to the highest foot rail. Make a long reach to clip a bolt (the 4th) and get established on the slab. The holds get progressively better and you work back to the right to another bolt (which is the end of the aid ladder). From here follow the bottom of a flake to the left via underclings. Gear in a crack to the right can protect a hard reach to thin seams/crimps on the face. The flake you are climbing gets steeper and eventually a series of good fingerlocks leads to a two bolt belay at an ok stance.
Pitch 8 – 5.12 – 90 feet – 2 bolts
Triples of fingers sized gear are essential for this pitch. Make sure to bring a single #.75, #2 and #3 camalot.
Steep fingerlocks off the belay lead to a tricky bulge and a good stance. Continue layabacking up the stellar corner passing an occasional wider section. Make sure to milk the rests before the crack runs out and there is a bolt. Make a hard move to good hold on the face, or do some ninza stemming. Clip a second bolt, move the good hold and reach to the left for some more face holds. Once you get your feet situated you can reach left to a flake system which will take you back into the main corner. When the corner crack pinches out make use of the thin finger crack on the left and execute a final tricky sequence. Move carefully past a loose tooth and traverse right to a nice sloping ledge with two bolts.
Pitch 9 – 5.11a – 70 feet – 1 bolt
Bring the nuts and all the small cams. Nothing bigger than a .75 camalot is needed.
From the belay work up the thin corner until you can clip a bolt on the left wall. Balance/slab climb with difficulty, until you can make use of a thin crack on the left wall. Follow this as it becomes a finger crack and then pinches out. A few tricky moves are requires until the crack becomes usable again. Keep stemming up the golden rock until you can move left to ledgy terrain. Belay on a sloping ledge with two bolts.
Pitch 10 – 5.10a/b – 120 feet – 1 bolt
From the belay climb the dirty wide hands crack until you get to a lose block. Step left and climb up to the obvious left leaning roof. Climb this, extending all your pieces, and pull around past a small stump. Layback and jam up an easy crack until you can reach a dirty ledge. Reach high for a small flake and make a committing move on to the face. Follow the seam to an obvious wide pod, which takes a #3 camalot. Continue up the seam at 5.10, nuts useful, until you reach a ledge covered in manzanita. Continue straight up various low angle cracks and aim for a shiny bolt. Climb on the right side of the bolt via fun easy stemming up to a good rail. A few more easy moves lead to a ledge.
Belay to the right of a tree with red bark on a ledge with hand sized gear in a flake. This is about 20′ above the bolt and below a chimney like feature.
Pitch 11 – 5.10a/b – 100 feet
Climb up past a few loose rocks until you can step left towards a “chimney”. From the ledge, next to the short chimney, you can see a thin flake on the right . Follow this, which becomes a fun hand crack until the flake pinches out. Step left to an obvious crack in a corner. Climb this crack until it too runs out past a tricky section of laybacking. Face climb up, past occasional cracks towards a clump of manzanita bushes. Climb past these on the right side, on a series of rails and edges until you can reach a large tree on the right. This pitch is pretty wandering so make sure to extend your gear!
Belay at the tree.
Pitch 12 – 5.10a – 200+ feet
From the belay trend left along a nice low angle crack system. After about 40 feet the crack pitches out and you will need to step left to a hidden flake, follow this up passing a short roof and head towards some small trees. Follow the past of least resistance as you head towards the summit. It seems best to follow the left leaning gulley/crack system towards a fairly large trees. This pitch is low angle and has some moss. Tread carefully.
Belay at a nice tree, that may or may not have tons of ants…
There is still about 200-300 feet of easy scrambling to the summit. Its best to un-rope at the big tree and work your way up the manzanita and slabs.