North Face (Regular Route) (5.9, IV)

June 18, 2003

back to Sierras

Text by Aidan Haley

Still off the natural high from the Matthes Crest…(see the day before)… Michael and I set off to climb another of the areas most famous features. The Fairview Dome is the largest wall in Toulumne Meadows rising nearly 1000ft. from base to summit. The rock is of course stellar, and although polished on the first pitch, the route delivers pitch after pitch of unforgettable crack climbing.

Our strategy for the route was to wake up late and hopefully the “crowds” would be far enough in front of us that they would pose little problem in our attempts of finishing the route. So we had a leisurely morning waking up around 9 to the lovely California sun drenching or sleeping bags. We read and talked to two nice guys who had climbed the route the day before and had been troubled by the “hordes.” They thought our approach was a good one to wait out the morning in hopes our speed would see us off the wall before the afternoon thunderclouds rolled. So around 10 we drove into the park and stopped at the Toulumne grill for breakfast/lunch and to buy some snacks for the climb. They sure do cook up a mean chicken sandwich! We got to the parking lot around 10:30 and started hiking to the base eager to get a look at the route to see about the crowds (you can’t get the best view from the road…the trees block most of the route from view. To get the best view of the face, hike up the opposite side of the road a ways and you will be rewarded with awesome views).

To our pleasant surprise as we reached the edge of the forest we saw one party three pitches up and thats it! “Wow we really lucked out!” So we hurried to the moat to secure our spot. The moat was a grungy, uncomfortable spot. We ended up placing two nuts to hang on in our harnesses while we switched shoes and geared up for the first pitch. The first pitch had been on both our minds for some time now. I had told Michael earlier in the day he should take it. I thought it was a generous thing to do and I was…well…kind of intimidated by the sustained 200 ft. of 5.9 climbing. As it turned out I wasn’t alone on this one. Michael started up the pitch and two moves up he put in a piece and hung. “Man this is hard Aidan!” He didn’t want to give up so he gave it another gallant effort but alas nerves got the best of him. He climbed down to our little stance frustrated at himself. “I am sorry Aidan I just feel really uncomfortable up there.” I totally understood and told him not to worry about it. So it was up to me if we wanted to continue or find something else to climb that day. I wanted Fairview. So, I took the rack and started up the pitch, a little bit nervous and scared but excited all the same. Finger lock after finger lock I became more and more comfortable and after a couple meters I was loving every minute of it. The finger locks were all there and although is was polished it made the climbing that much more exciting. After awhile I came to the crux section where the crack thins and the feet disappear and on top of that 10-foot section of crack was wet. I plunged in a blue Metolious cam and finger locked my way up. Having a long reach is beneficial because you can get above the crux in fewer moves.

My first effort was thwarted by the slimey crack but I sneaked by it on my second try but almost slipped out of the crack at one point. After that, 5.8 crack climbing brought me to a nice ledge with a tree. Our 60m rope just barely made it to the ledge, I think I had about 3 or 4 feet left. I put Michael on belay and brought him up. He struggled on this pitch and just wasn’t feeling himself. He told me he couldn’t lead the next pitch and that I would have to do it. I was more than happy to take the lead. I thought that if we got past this next pitch Michael would begin to feel better having the difficulties behind us. The cool thing about this route is that the first two pitches are the hardest and they get progressively easier the higher you get. So I was feeling optimistic. I took off past the 5.9 bulge and into the sustained 5.8 corner that led me past a small roof to a really cool hanging belay. I brought Michael up and saw the smile on his face as he climbed past the roof. He was loving it. He regained his confidence and after some water headed off to tackle the 5.8 block pitch that led us up to Cresent Ledge. From there we relaxed a bit and ate some food.

Since Michael had his confidence back and was feeling great I told him he could lead the next couple of pitches since I was pretty satisfied with the first two. So off he went up this beautiful 5.6 corner to another great ledge belay. He brought me up and instantly took off on the next pitch which consisted of a cool corner ramp that led to an easy but intimidating roof (5.7). Michael, as he always does, styled up the pitch. I was greeted by a man from Portland, OR at my ledge while I was belaying Michael and we commented on the lack of people on the wall. The next pitch was a long 4th class/5th class rightward traverse to gain a 4th class gully. Michael brought me up to the belay and I headed off on the upper 4th class section of the wall. Every so often we encountered a low 5th class step but for the most part it was easy going. I popped over the edge and took up the rope as Michael made the same moves to the top. We shook hands and we were on top. It was 3:30, only 4 and a half-hours after we left the base. We were stoked at what great speed we made and that we only encountered one other party on the wall! Man we lucked out. The party from Portland took our picture and we took theirs and off we went done the back slabs of the dome toward the forest. The climbers’ trail done to the car was beautiful and we looked up at climbers on a different route. We reached the car thoroughly satisfied with our accomplishment.

What made this climb even more memorable was the real sense of camaraderie I felt with Michael. Early in the trip he had helped me get through a tough time and I was really glad to return the favor. When he was really hating it on the wall and not having fun I took the leads and got him through the low he was feeling. It was great to see and experience the mental battles we fight with the sport we love. Thanks Michael for a great day in the hills…your friendship is priceless.

(Michael) This day started very difficult for me. On the first pitch I was very concious of a long fall I’d taken a few weeks before on a similar pitch in Leavenworth. Everything was so polished, and I wanted to sew the pitch up through those sections. But our rack was really a “5.6 mountain rack” - I’d have to run it out a lot. In that strange mental calculus, I added that fact to my gut feeling that I’d fall, and had to abandon the lead. Then when I followed Aidan’s remarkable lead of the pitch, I was astonished to realize it was even harder than I’d expected! Somehow, this whole thing made me angry with myself, and I arrived at the belay frazzled, ready to quit climbing for the day. It’s kind of like playing something on the guitar just great, then a few days later you can’t do it? That used to really chap my hide. But as Aidan related, following another more moderate pitch restored my equilibrium. There is nothing like a great climbing partner and friend to get you back on track, and realize there is nothing else you’d rather be doing.

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Fairview Dome, all bow before her!

Michael on the first pitch

Michael didn't like the first pitch much :-(

Aidan starting the second pitch

Looking down on pitch 4

Climbing on the fourth pitch

Aidan on pitch five

The final pitches

On the summit

Fairview Dome is on the lower right

The route drawn in red