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History and Strategy
This was the first major route done on Middle Cathedral. These days it is sort of a poor-man's DNB, less classic but considerably easier and better protected. Despite the similar names and ratings, the NB and the DNB are not even close together and are quite different. The North Buttress route is much less sustained and follows the greatest weaknesses of the face, most pitches involve some scrambling with short crux sections. However the climb is still 18 pitches long, with a lengthy descent, so you need to be reasonably fast on 5.6-5.9 pitches.
The NB appeals to a different sort of climber from the DNB. If 5.10a is your leading limit, you enjoy wandering up tree covered ledges sniffing out a route (like WH in 1954), and you want to look up the next day and say "I climbed that giant hunk of granite!", this route is for you. If you never climb anything under 10a, head for the DNB.
This route has a reputation as being one of the easiest Grade V's in the Valley, and perhaps the grade is traditional. Fast parties will down-Grade this to a IV. Still, I would not recommend getting a late start. You do not want to be doing the Cat Walk in the dark. When we did this climb we gave ourselves every advantage by starting at first light.
The topo in Don Reid's guide is excellent, and I could not match it with a pitch-by-pitch description. This topo changed significantly from the previous Meyers version and a number of errors or misratings were corrected. When I did the route we had the original Meyers topo.
The climb begins quite a distance west from the toe of the actual north buttress and DNB. Begin right of a fallen slab. The first 5 pitches go quickly, as there is much 3rd-4th class. At this point you traverse right into an unseen crack to face the first 5.9 crack. This pitch is burly and exposed, probably the second hardest on the route. However the 5.9 section is not that long. The next pitch also has a short 5.9 move and leads to a large forested ledge.
The crux of the route is undoubtably pitch 11. This pitch was only rated 5.9 in the old topo but we thought it significantly harder than pitch 15 (originally rated 10a). Pitch 11 is a relatively steep, sustained face, and one problem is that its not clear where the easiest passage lies. There are a number of possible thin cracks to follow, only about 5 feet apart. Take heart, for after this pitch the difficulties ease and you are nearing the top. A mere 7 pitches remain!
On pitch 15 we were dog tired and anticipating the crux of the route. We were relieved to find the bolt protected face climbing no problem at all (it has now been reduced to 5.9, and it is one of the easier 5.9 pitches). With luck you will reach the end of the technical climbing before dark. Traverse the Cat Walk to safety, and eventually, beers. We were concerned about identifying the Cat Walk, or that we would have to put the rope back on, but we had no problems in this section.
According to the guide, it is also possible to climb all the way to the summit of Middle Cathedral, a spot that surprisingly few climbers have visited. Most of us are happy to escape down the ledge before darkness.
It is likely that many of these pitches can be combined with a 60m or 70m rope. This may not be such a good idea because the route wanders so much.
Standard rack to #3 Camalot.
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