Royal Arches

15 May 2004 - by Ron Karpel

We got to the base of the route at 7:30 trying to beat the crowd - there wasn't any. In fact, we saw only one other group the whole way (more about that later.) After some undisclosed delay we got started.

It is worth noting that the Supper Topo Guide is very helpful on this route. Kelly was carrying a copied page from the regular Yosemite Guide Book and was often commenting on how inadequate it seemed. Supper Topo had enough details to keep us generally on route.

I climbed the first 6 pitches with Arun a week earlier, so now I generously offered Kelly to lead all the pitches I had lead then. I took the pitches Arun led. So Kelly took the first pitch with its slippery move off the ground and a narrow chimney to follow. This time was much harder since we were carrying climbing packs - 5.6.

After some walking the second pitch starts with a 4th class face following a thin finger crack - 5.5. More walking and the third pitch is a fun stemming - 5.4 following with a perfect hand jam crack 4th pitch - 5.7.

After some more walking the 5th pitch started in a thin crack with pin scars - 5.7 and some 4th class to a large ledge. I was surprised to find the 2 bolts that Arun and I used just a week earlier to rappel the climbing rout gone.

Now Kelly started pitch 6 which is a long and tiring - 5.7. He is leading and along came this middle aged climber with a slight belly in front and a rope behind. He moved comfortably up and to the side, and didn't place a single pro for what looked like 120 feet, at least. Finally he stopped to set an anchor. Putting the rope through a Grigri, he put a lot of tension on the rope and yelled down "Jack, on belay!" Note there was no "Off belay!" first. Good I thought, exactly what we need right now is a local guide to help us stay on route.

I led pitch 7 - 4th class, and Kelly led pitch 8 - 5.6? Next was my turn, and lucky me, it was the pendulum pitch. I went too high on the pendulum which was obvious once I started to swing over. I had to correct my position on the pendulum rope a couple of times and get lower to get it right. Using a quick draw clipped on the pendulum rope I finally got far enough across to grab the other side, a bomber jug, and stuck a came in it. I was across. Overall, this is not a difficult move, but it is exciting. Kelly had a bit of trouble, because he started too low on the pendulum, one step higher would have been better. He was too lazy to go back and start again, and it wasn't too bad anyway -5.6?

Kelly took pitch 10 - 4th class traverse

And it was my turn to lead pitch 11, the crux - a hand jam section leading to layback section and finally a weird hand jam/stemming/layback against a dead tree branch - 5.7.

Kelly led pitch 12 took starting with a traverse and then out on the face. I led pitch 13 mostly in a system of cracks, but then with beta from the guide, who was still close behind us, I finished with a traverse left to some oak trees instead of finishing straight up by a big pine tree. This meant that we were now half way in pitch 14.

Kelly led next now pitch 14-15 - 5.2, and I led what left of pitch 15 past the first set of bolts of the rappel route, and a bit higher to a large, but peculiarly hanging pine tree. This turned out to be wrong, since the following pitch went low and we were forced to start pitch 16 by descending back almost to the bolts. There is a large free standing flat rock a bout 20 feet left of the bolts which would have been a better belay spot.

So Kelly took the lead on the last pitch, 16, and did a marvelous job on the slab. This was by far the scariest pitch of the climb. There is only one bolt here and being a level traverse it is just as bad for the follower as it is for the leader. We now were in the safety of the forest.

As we set down finishing what little left of our lunches, the guide came rappelling from the Roof above. To our question he explained that in order to give his client the experience of the full route, he climbed pitch 16 and then hikes to the rim above to start the rappel route off some trees. Had he started from the set of bolts at the end of pitch 15, his client would have missed the experience of pitch 16.

We packed up and headed for the rim. Following a faint use trail for about an hour got us to the top of Washington Column. From here the trail is a bit more obvious, but also a bit more excite. There was a section of steep slab with a bad runout which we took our rope out for. Finally after 2 hours we were at the North Dome Gully. Another hour and a bit of scrambling down rock bands got us to the trail below, and 1/2 hour more to the parking lot. I think the key for the North Dome Gully route is to use the guide, to keep traversing until one is really in the gully, and not to do it in the dark.

Gear used:

Participants: Kelly Maas, and scribe - Ron Karpel.

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