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Middle Cathedral Rock
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North Buttress T 
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Walk of Life T 

North Buttress 

YDS: 5.10a French: 6a Ewbanks: 18 UIAA: VI+ ZA: 18 British: E1 5a

Type:  Trad, 18 pitches, 2000', Grade V
Original:  YDS: 5.10a French: 6a Ewbanks: 18 UIAA: VI+ ZA: 18 British: E1 5a [details]
FA: W. Harding, F. Tarver, C. Holden and J. Whitmer, 1954, FFA: F. Sacherer and E Beck, 1964
Page Views: 3,544
Submitted By: George Bell on Feb 4, 2007

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BETA PHOTO: Topo (part 1). Source:

Closures for Peregrine Falcon Protection MORE INFO >>>

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.

Photos of North Buttress Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Topo (part 2).
BETA PHOTO: Topo (part 2).
Rock Climbing Photo: Bivvy among ant trees, 1975.
Bivvy among ant trees, 1975.
Rock Climbing Photo: Starting into the P5 'chimney' ...
Starting into the P5 'chimney' ...
Rock Climbing Photo: I recall this being fairly ledgy and fun . . .
I recall this being fairly ledgy and fun . . .
Rock Climbing Photo: Scott Senjo scoping the route
Scott Senjo scoping the route
Rock Climbing Photo: I recall this being  a great climb...
I recall this being a great climb...

Comments on North Buttress Add Comment
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By Mark Dalen
From: Albuquerque, NM
Dec 22, 2013

'Burly' is the right word for P5 ... is it just me or is that 'chimney' following the finger crack not one of the most sandbag 5.8s the Valley has to offer ... ?
By the professor
Feb 8, 2014

Totally agree with docsavage: the P5 chimney has a hard, exposed entry move and the chimney itself is bombay, rotten, damp, and full of moss/lichen.

Climbed to Tree Ledge in the 80s as a party of three. Our bivi on Tree Ledge was first spoiled by numerous red ants, then a massive thunderstorm lasting all night. We bailed at first light. Strike one.

A couple years later, me and a buddy planned to do it in a day. Got the crack-o-dawn start and I led P5 by 11am. My buddy got absolutely freaked following P5 and insisted we bail. Strike two.
By Rob Dillon
Feb 27, 2014

Fun route, more in the rockaneering vein with a few cruxes here and there. Probably the best way to scope the DNB walk-off if you're concerned about 'on sighting' it in the dark. You are unlikely to wait in line for this one.

Me and another non-superhero got an 11am start in October and managed to get to the descent chimney by nightfall, so I think Grade V is a little much.
By Bryan G
From: Yosemite
Oct 13, 2014

If by modern standards this is a Grade IV, then I think also by modern standards the Steck-Salathe would have to be a Grade III, and the Rostrum a Grade II. Just for the sake of consistency.

This took us a little longer to climb than DNB, mainly because the route finding is more difficult and there's more loose rock you have to be careful with.
By Tony L
May 25, 2017

Trip write up from freaky cold weather in July 2016.

(Note will not open correctly on iOS devices.)

And since everyone seems to be chiming in: it felt like a grade V, on par w/ the DNB. Route finding can slow you down.

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