The Leaning Tower rises ominously next to Yosemite’s Bridalveil Falls. Described by Royal Robbins as “The steepest wall in North America,” the West Face of the Leaning Tower was the site of an impressive 1961 ascent by Warren Harding and one of the first big wall solos by Royal Robbins a few years later.
For many Yosemite climbers, the enormous West Face provides a perfect place to climb overhanging, immaculate rock. “This super steep route has a little bit of everything,” said Pipeworks Manager Vaughn Medford who has climbed the route three times. “An airy approach ledge, bolt ladders, moderate aid and some free climbing, along with one of the nicest bivy ledges around – the Ahwahnee ledge is perfectly situated just short of half way up.”
“I climbed it the first time with Mark Vogel and “Dirtbag John” Aliri. Probably in the early 1990’s. It was maybe my 4th or 5th wall,” said Medford. “I did it again roped solo probably in the mid 90’s. My regular partner Tom McQueen and I planned to climb it, but the week we were going to do it he left the valley for the weekend to go see his girlfriend. I was so mad I just soloed it. I did it in a day with my partner Bob Porter sometime in the early 2000’s. It is probably typically done in a day now but I’m a very slow climber so at the time it felt like a challenge to tackle it in a day.”
“It is so steep even the first 2 bolt ladder pitches are fun,” noted Medford. “Then #5 is a steep traverse, #6 traverses back the other way. If you’re doing a 2 day ascent you fix to the top of #6 and rappel back to the Ahwanee ledge to spend the night, but it is so steep that you need to have trailed a rope that is fixed back at the Ahwanee to pull yourself in or else you will just dangle out in space. The top-out is cool too: you traverse left and suddenly there is a dead flat ledge that you step onto and you’re done. It’s kind of abrupt.”
“Rope soloing is VERY fun,” said Medford of his rope solo ascent. “It is 2-3 times the work of climbing it in a team, but finding that you can climb alone and get yourself out of any bad situations is very confidence inspiring. Plus whether you succeed or fail is entirely up to you.”
When asked why it was his favorite climb, Medford responded, “I guess it must be good because I keep going back.”