Bishop's Terrace - February 13, 2005
Depending on how you do it, Bishop's Terrace is a one, two, or three pitch 5.8 at Church Bowl in the Valley. Don Reid, in his book Yosemite Free Climbs, calls the route a "classic test piece of 5.8 jamming." Chris MacNamara, in the Yosemite Valley Free Climbs Supertopo calls it "one of the best 5.8 hand cracks in the Valley".
I wouldn't have agreed the first time I climbed it. My then-soon-to-be girlfriend Robin and I climbed it the first day we met. It had been a few months since I had last been on rock, and she was living in the Valley at the time, so she led the route. Unfortunately, neither of us had any offwidth skills to speak of, and the route does have a short offwidth section. That, coupled with the late hour, made for a "mini-epic" (as we called it), and we just didn't have a good time. It must have been a bonding experience for us, though, because we've been together since.
I'd been feeling the urge to push my climbing limits for a while when it occurred to me that I ought to go to the Valley and give the route another go. Robin said that was fine - as long as I led the route. In the meantime, I had noticed that both Reid and Roper show a third pitch that leads up the the actual Bishop's Terrace. I decided that I wanted to see this place that Reid calls "a novel location".
Conditions were right for us to climb the route in mid February. As it happened, that was the weekend before Valentine's Day, and what better way for us to celebrate than by climbing a route that we did the day we met?
The weather was a little chilly and unsure whether to be overcast or to let the sun through as we headed over to Church Bowl. When we arrived at the route, there was already a party on it; a testament to its immense popularity. So we puttered around for a little while, checking out other routes and just enjoying being there.
The route was finally free and we headed to its base. I was loaded down with my cams, hexes, and stoppers, and she was loaded down with our ropes and some water. I tied in and headed up the start. The bottom of the route was a little wet, but thanks to the other climbers, the opening holds were dry enough, so I quickly got up into the initial finger crack. I had just purchased a grey Alien and was rearing to place it, so I plugged it in, even though it wasn't really necessary (hey, I like gear, what can I say?). I climbed into the initial corner, placed a good stopper, and traversed left over some nice face holds into the main corner. I climbed this easy corner for a ways, stopping once or twice to throw in a cam, until I reached the bottom of a mini-roof. At this point, it almost seemed easier to bypass the roof on the right side, but I recalled Robin pulling it on the left side when she led it many moons before, so that's the way I went. After, of course, I placed another cam.
Above, I climbed for a ways, put in a cam, and then climbed some more until I found a spot that looked like it would make for a good anchor setup. It seemed that all of my pieces were the wrong size for the area, which might convince a lesser (errr, smarter) mortal to move on, but I had plenty of gear and I'm creative, so I did eventually rig a decent anchor.
Robin, gracefully as always, climbed up to my perch. She handed off all the gear to me, gave me some water from her bottle and a kiss, and sent me on my way into the business of this climb.
Pitch two, if that's the way you're doing it, is the reason climbers flock to Bishop's Terrace. It starts out with a mellow crack to a good stance, and then launches into a short, but fierce (for one not used to such things) offwidth. Above that is an amazing double crack system that leads to a beautiful perfect hands crack, and finally into an easy handcrack to the anchors. This is where most climbers stop and rappel.
Robin and I were going on to do the third pitch of the climb, but first we had to make it through the second.
I easily cruised the moves to the stance, and unsteadily stood up, almost falling in the process (it would be too much of a stretch to even remotely imply that I have the balance and grace of a cat). I was finally face to face with the offwidth. Before the climb when I was racking up, I had thought that my #11 hex just might come in handy. Well, as it turned out, it fit absolutely perfectly sideways as high as I in the offwidth as I could reach.
With this mind-mellowing piece in place, I threw myself into this wide crack. Hmm, left side in. Bicep jam. Thigh jam. Scoot up a bit. Move arm up. Paw uselessly with other leg. Move leg up. Move arm around hex (carefully!). Move leg up. Aaah! My arm's stuck! Scoot down. Move arm waaaay up. OK. Move leg up. Shift body up. Hey, I think I can reach a fist jam with my right arm from here. Got it - bomber!. Aaah! Starting to slide down! Oh - still have fist jam, life is good. Wiggle up. Kick legs fruitlessly. Aha! Smear toes on outside, stand up, and ease into an amazing hand jam. Yes! The offwidth is past me. Life is good indeed.
Having made it through the wide section with minimal skin lossage, I quickly moved up into the double crack system. The left crack was perfect hands for me, and the right was a little smaller, so I stuck with the left.
In my excitement at having grunted past the wide section, I didn't think of placing any pro at all until I got to the top of the double cracks. No problem, I was at a good stance. I tried a #1 Camalot. It was a little too small, so I swapped it for a #2. That was perfect. For good measure and since my last pro was the hex, I stuck in another #2 just above. Then I moved up the perfect hands crack and into the final slanting crack to the anchors where I let fly a quiet whoop of triumph.
I quickly set up an anchor and called to Robin that she was on belay. I couldn't see her from where I was, but I could tell when she got to the offwidth. The rope stopped moving for a minute or so. It started again, slowly at first. I heard a very feminine grunt from down below, and the rope moved up some more. She called that she was just past the wide section and she was just going to rest there a bit. No problem. In short order, she started moving again, stemming between the double cracks and then jamming her way up to me.
Once she was at the belay we swapped gear and traded war stories about the previous pitch. After that interlude, I set off into the "adventurous" final pitch. I call it adventurous because, as far as I know, it isn't done all that often, neither of us had been on it before, and we had only scoped out photos to get beta.
The initial traverse right onto a grassy hummock was easy, but I set ample gear since it was a little exposed, and when I was learning to lead, I was admonished to always protect the follower. At the end of the traverse, I walked across the hummock to have a look at what I'd be up against.
I knew there were two small corners with cracks in them that led up to the left side of the Bishop's Terrace. They both looked pretty easy, but the one on the right seemed to be a bit wider and have fewer opportunities to place pro, so I chose the one on the left.
As I plugged my hand into the left crack, I felt all kinds of oozing slime. Gotta love those not so popular pitches. Fortunately for me, the slime ran out after about ten feet and the crack straightened out enough that I was able to get some pro in. I climbed another ten or fifteen feet, placed a cam, and then decided that that would be a good time to traverse over to the right crack for the final few feet to the terrace.
I stepped across on good holds into the right crack and almost lost my balance when the handhold I was using turned out to be covered in greenish goo. Having recovered, I climbed up the last few feet of the right corner until I was even with the Terrace and I got my first view of it.
The Bishop's Terrace is indeed a novel place. It's maybe 100 feet wide and 25 feet deep. The floor slopes at about 30 degrees toward the outside and the entire Terrace slopes down from West to East. There's a large roof overhead that has about the same dimensions as the floor. An A3 crack goes out the center of the roof and there are a few climbs that start on the Terrace.
Since I wasn't expecting the floor to slope quite as dramatically, I was taken aback at first. In a classic case of exaggeration, I turned back to Robin, whom I could still see, and shouted, "This must be the slab from hell!" She gave me the "so why don't you come down then?" look. My second glance convinced me that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought so I hopped over the rim and onto the Terrace.
I placed a small cam at the lip and carefully started making my way down. I looked at the Reid topo later and it showed a fixed piece around there. I never did see one, so maybe I just wasn't looking in the right place. I half walked, half downclimbed farther down the Terrace, looking for some anchors that I'd heard were there, placing a cam or two as I went. I found the anchors and clipped in. There was also a random bolt about 10 feet to the left of the anchors in the middle of the wall. I still have no idea what that's for. It isn't in a place where it could be of any use to anyone climbing one of the routes there. Maybe it's for protecting the traverse I had just done. Who knows?
I set up an anchor and hollered to Robin that she could climb over now. It was pretty difficult to hear around the left rim of the Terrace, but eventually things got moving. She wisely stopped on the hummock to bring up and flake out the rope she was trailing.
Encouraged by my earlier warnings of doom, her face fell as she got her first look at the Terrace. I explained to her that it really wasn't that bad, so she saw the light, brightened up, and made her way over to where I was.
We pulled up the other rope and set up the rappel. Because that's just the kind of girl she is, Robin volunteered to go first. She rapped down, untangling the rope as she went. Fortunately for us, it was just under 60 meters to the ground from there. She went off rappel and I went on.
The rappel started slowly for me, what with the gentle angle and the full weight of both 60 meter lines below me. Once I cleared the edge, though, things speeded up. The remaining distance was covered in a flash, and before I knew it, I was once again on Terra Firma. The climb was over, and it was time to head to Degnan's for some well-deserved sandwiches.