|My greedy plan for second rate glory spun into action the moment I heard the news: Dan Dingle and Steve Swann had just added a 5 pitch direct start to the North Dome classic, Crest Jewel. Dan emailed me the route information after returning from putting up the route during June of 2002. I don't know why there should be any glory in a second ascent, but in my mind, being the second party up a potentially classic Yosemite route would be a tasty challenge and justify spewing the news across the Internet in a long trip report.
At the end of April 2001, I had received a surprise email from Dan Dingle. He had done the first ascent of Crest Jewel on North Dome in 1981 and then Dakshina in 1983. It turned out we both had an academic background in Asian Studies. He was looking for a partner to add a direct start to Dakshina. I was flattered that he asked, but made up a list of excuses. I'm just too lazy to go in for so much drilling. The fact that Dakshina has a 5.11 move protected by a knob that you lasso from below figured in my decision as well. (Dan says it's not as bad as it sounds) Did I mention there is also a 5.11 crack pitch on Dakshina that calls for three #4 friends?
The Dashina Direct Project, however, evolved into Crest Jewel Direct. Here's how Dan explained it: " I had originally thought about doing a direct start to Dakshina, but after Steve and I actually got to the base of North Dome, we decided against the sparse features of that way in favor of an easier line that would form a direct start to Crest Jewel. In 1980 when Mike Lucero and I first scouted where to start Crest Jewel, we had wanted to begin somewhere along the true base of North Dome but gave up on the idea because of the improbable looking overhangs and steep looking friction moves necessary to reach the more moderate slabs up higher. Another thing that prevented us from seriously looking for a direct start at the base was my footwear. For some reason, I didnít have EBs that summer. Perhaps it was because I was disenchanted with their torturing of my toes; whatever it was, my tennis shoes had limits when the climbing became too steep or thin."
For Crest Jewel Direct they hand-drilled, on lead, 3/8 by 2 1/2 inch rawl blue tips with Fixe hangers. They equipped the route to be climbed, not feared. I relished the knowledge that the new route was an easy 10 minute hike, almost brush-free, from the top of Washington Column. The original Crest Jewel is guarded by a wide field of Manzanita that punishes those who err in route-finding with vicious pokes and prods.
Mark Albosta aka: The Great and Powerful Lummox, was game to be my henchman. He was spending the summer building his own house and, for some reason, needed to sweat and grunt in the scorching sun for both work and play. The plan was to maximize climbing, fun and laziness, while hiking as little as possible. We would solo the 15 pitches of the Royal Arches to approach North Dome, walk over and climb the 14 pitches of Crest Jewel Direct, and then simul-rappel the whole damn thing! (Thanks to Larry Scritchfield for rebolting all of Crest Jewel)
We started up Royal Arches just after 6:30 am. Maybe it was the freshly ground Hawaiian coffee we drank at 5 am at my place, but we sweat like pigs on the Royal Arches. I climbed in my approach shoes to save my feet the agony of thousands of feet in climbing shoes. I hoped they wouldn't come apart since I glued and duct-taped them together for this event. Lummox dropped his sunglasses and had to down-climb 5.6 to retrieve them. It seemed like we were destined for a high-gravity day!
We refreshed ourselves at the spring on top of the Arches and headed over to North Dome. It was easy to find the base of the route using Dan's beta. Even though we congratulated ourselves on the shortcuts we took, it had still taken us 3 hours to approach Crest Jewel Direct from the valley.
Lummox took the first lead which was a short enjoyable 5.8. I should warn you that there is a lead-out to the belay which could result in a deck fall should you slip before clipping the anchors. The second should be prepared to dash down the slope in case of a leader goof. Dan is going to consult his partner Steve about authorizing one more bolt on this pitch to protect the final moves.
I led through into a lovely dike traverse (10a), which was doubly sweet since it set Lummox up to lead the 10d! Checkmate! We had both hoped to onsight this pitch but the odds were stacking up against us. We were climbing with packs in the now blazing sun. The face was thinner than a super model! Lummox slipped a couple times on an otherwise fine lead, so it was up to me to try to get the route clean.
There was a lot going against me. My feet were swimming in a bath of sweat pooling in my black shoes in the summer sun. I was wearing a pack and, worst of all, trailing a 200 foot 10.5mm rope. The fat trail-line was supposed to make our thousands of feet of simul-rapping psychologically comfortable but dragging it up low angle stone was making us physically miserable. The face got steeper and thinner as I passed each bolt. I was clinging mightily to tiny edges as my calves approached a temperature nearing spontaneous combustion. I couldn't believe I hadn't slipped off yet as I breathlessly pawed for holds that I expected would end the crux sequence. Instead, I found myself screwed in glassy sloper land! Time expired! Checkmate! I fell. Freed from tunnel vision born of desperation, I spied the final moves and reached the roof.
The roof looks cruxy from below but it's really the only respite from calf roasting on the whole pitch. I expected a mellower face above the roof but it was back into a 10c frying pan until the anchors.
We danced on dikes and fine rock for two more pitches until the route ended at Crest Jewel's first pitch anchors. I had only climbed Crest Jewel once before and remembered it being fairly easy and well protected. I had fantasies of us simul-climbing much of the route and topping out ridiculously early in the day. Oh noooo!! We were having a high gravity day and Crest Jewel seemed pretty continuous! We opted to belay all the pitches and save our skin. I got to take more photos in the bargain.
Once a breeze started to blow, life seemed more fun and easy. We even had to discuss the relative dangers of the dramatic clouds rolling in over Half Dome. My attitude at this point was: DO or DIE! I could afford to think that way since I really didn't think the shaky weather would reach us. It didn't, although we were amazed that we got chilled near the top after roasting down below. We topped out a little after 5 pm. Yahoo!! A fine day with a great friend!
We finally got to cash in on bringing two fat ropes. We rapped side by side using gri-gris. We stayed tethered to each other with a cordalette in case one of us unclipped before the other was properly anchored. We got to jive at each other the whole way down! The first rappels traverse quite a bit so you have to be mindful to find the anchors. After a while we got into a snappy system of rappel execution. It took us less than 1.5 hours to rap 14 pitches after which we hiked back over to the Royal Arches and simul-rapped to the ground. We rapped from the rim but it would have probably been faster to just hike down to the spring and solo back over to the first rappel bolts. It got dark the instant we hit the talus. It seemed like the perfect timing to an awesome day out in paradise.
Thanks to Dan and Steve for putting up a sweet direct start to a fine route on stunning rock. The view is breathtaking the whole way. Have an awesome climb!
Crest Jewel Direct Topo and Beta
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