First Ascent: Layton Kor and Chris Fredericks, June of 1964
Notes on the route:
It seems the "Column" as it is called, is everyones first wall. This will be evidenced by the line of would-be wall-masters jockeying for position at the base. The Column is far and away the Valleys most overworked wall. Retreat is easy, the approach is short, and even the dicey North Dome Gully descent can't keep the masses from eating this one up. The best bet is to go early, go midweek, go at night or go in the winter. Still interested? You might just be sick enough to be a wall-master after all.
Let's pretend you have nobody in front of you on the trail,
a haul bag on your back, and fire in your belly. From the Ahwahnee
parking lot take the path from the back parking area that eventually
merges with the bike path. A dirt horse trail will show up on
your left. Take this path and where the two paths split, you should
see cairns and well worn tracks labeling the approach path. Follow
this up to the base of the Column. 4th class moss covered dirt
ledges should appear. Mosey up and left on these ledges, through
some trees and toward the base of the climb. The start is a corner
so well worn it looks like 5 million years of mammoth rubbings
happened right there. Hauling on this first pitch is a bitch and
the second must be able to keep freeing the bag when needed. Now
that you are under way, things will get easier on the hauling,
and harder on your mind. Most parties will blast off in the morning,
and then fix whatever they can off of Dinner Ledge to make the
second day short. Dinner Ledge is a supreme bivy and much liquor
should be consumed during your first ever "night out".
On day two, you will find some challenging route finding and your
first Jumar-follow of a traverse. Keep thinking happy thoughts
and all will be well. Near the summit is a very loose and horrible
gully. Try not to rain projectiles down onto your partner while
leading this mess. Numerous people have been belted in the melon
with falling objects right there on the last pitch. Use some caution.
The descent is via the North Dome Gully, another atrocity. The
hard and fast rules for the NDG: Don't do it at night; don't try
rapping over the death slabs; always stay high, and go further
than you think; and be careful. The Gully is not that bad if you
do it right.
Go high and wander east through the manzanita. A short slabby section is the crux of this part. Cross with caution. Continue heading east until you enter a brushy gully that will lead down toward a drainage. This drainage has a pink tinge to it and some parties will do a small rap to get into the gully proper. If the rap is bigger than about 30', keep traversing. Follow this gully over some slabs and scree leading back west toward the face of the Column. Continue working your way down and look for some cairns indicating the trail that will lead you back to the bike path. Most of the trail is marked by cairns and stumble marks. Remember, do not descend too early, and keep traversing until it is very obvious and safe to descend. Confused? Me too.... use your best judgement.
Did this route over the July 4th holiday in 2003. Last time I was up there was in 1979, so things have changed a little. Anyway, here are some additional notes on the route.
Started late with 3 gallons of water and 25lbs of excess fat. Actually started climbing at 5:15pm. Had two Fish Atom Smasher mini haul bags (blatant plug), and for the most part no food. A couple of cans of Tuna, some wacky Turkey Chili and a small can of smoked salmon. Note: take more food.
1st pitch: Easy start on very polished rock. The bolts at the top of the slab are good to anchor the rope to, but I set a haul higher and in a crack with some medium cams. I also pulled up the rope to be able to anchor at the start of the next pitch which is about 30 feet left of these anchor bolts. Hand carry the haul bags over to the start of this pitch. Watch out for the rope getting hooked on flakes and trees below.
2nd pitch: Small cams and nuts up the obvious crack. This was kind of awkward but easy. Bolt anchor at top of pitch.
3rd pitch: Short and easy. Avoid the tree and stay left until you hit the bolts on the far edge of dinner ledge. There was a hand line there leading to Dinner Ledge proper. Hand carry the haul bags over to the bivy area.
4th pitch: Easy free climbing leads to the roof bolts. The first few bolts are new fatties... the last two are old somethings. Over the lip is a semi blind .5" cam placement.... from there it is standard fare, small cams up to the belay. There is a bolted belay about 100' from Dinner Ledge and then another bolted belay about 50' higher. I stopped at the first belay and with a 60m rope rapped back down to Dinner ledge on the free end. This brought it right up to nearly dark.
Next morning: I jugged the free end back up to the belay and then continued on to the bolted belay about 50' above. Medium cams in this section and easy aid.
5th pitch: Over the roof on bolts and up to a blind 1.5" cam placement in a slot. Could be a problem if you are a midget. The arch has some fixed pins and maybe even a bolt on the way across. Do a baby pendulum. Pretty good small cams that eventually lead to odd wide parts for a 3" or larger cam. Back clean or leapfrog stuff to keep the ropedrag down when you do the 5.7 "move right" stuff at the very end of the pitch.
6th pitch: Break out all your wired stoppers... mostly thin. This pitch eats them up. Straight up, straight in. Mix in a few tiny cams for speed. Bring up to a 3" cam for the odd slot.
7th pitch: Mixed free and aid on cams. Gets hand size near the base of the chimney and 4" when you exit to the right to the belay. Lieback the super slick ramp leading to the bolted belay out right of the chimney. Short pitch.
8th pitch: Quasi ball buster. Tension back down the ramp to get into the chimney. Run it out until the rope drag will no loner be a problem or you think you might die. Chances are you are at the squeeze portion of the chimney. With the rack on I did *not* fit into this thing and I ended up moving some rack to the opposite side and tossing myself into the maw. Seemed pretty strenuous in the mid day sun. There is a chopped bolt stud inside the chimney that you can sling and then tension out onto the slab with... sorta sketch but better than staying in the slot. A few thin cams and couple of fixed pins will lead to a belay at a tree. I set a high anchor to haul from with medium cams.
9th pitch: Easy aid up the corner on cams. Free out on the slab and look for a fixed pin tension traverse thing. Move left and up to the juggy roof. Book says 5.8, probably more like 5.5, but really cool moves just the same. Belay up by a tree. Fixed pin? Once again I set an anchor up high to haul from. Medium cams, up and left. This will also help to keep your bags out of the tree/chimney problem.
10th pitch: The famous Headbanger Gulley..... Easy free climbing to the point of almost being 4th class. I was placing pro (med/large cams) along the right wall and high to keep the rope from dredging the gulley as I climbed. Seemed to work. Continue up to a tree with fixed 11mm rope as an anchor. This tree is virtually on the summit and the lower and smaller tree with slings can be bypassed or tied off to minimize the rock fall. I then moved to the left and onto the cleaner summit slabs to set up a haul. Go to the large crack and block system about 40 left of the final belay tree and plug in some 2.5" to 4" cams and haul from these. This worked pretty well and kept incidental rock fall to a minimum. The follower can monitor the bags in the gulley for hangups.
Topped out around an hour before dark and decided to bivy on top. Flat spots are hard to find without hiking a bit to the summit of the Prow area. YMMV. We had 1/2 gallon of water left for the evening, but was more or less parched to one level above death all day. Finding the NDG trail was pretty easy once you hike to the actual summit. Walk the rim and it will appear. Follow this to the bitter end and then scramble down some 3rd class for about 30 feet. Follow the trail down and back toward the start of the route. It took about an hour to get to the NDG, and with numerous rests and bitching and moaning stops another 1.5+ hours to get to the car.
Info provided by: Russ Walling, Susan Peplow, Kevin Calder, Karl Runde and others.