This past winter, between drenching Yosemite storms, Whitney Stowe, Max Buschini and I crossed the roaring Cascade Creek to climb Crimson Cringe, one of the Park’s most famous hard splitters. The full-rope-length pitch located climber’s left of Cascade Falls ascends golden stone via an arching crack that grows from tips to wide-hands — and caps with kneebars — making it as aesthetic as it is athletic.
Whitney, fresh off attempting the 5.11c Rostrum North Face with me earlier that season, joined Max and I so she could try her first 5.12. It’s one of my all-time favorite routes. Max came to make his film “Friends on the Cringe,” which showcases Wild Country’s new Zero Cams and their latest generation Friends.
When Ray Jardine made the first ascent of Crimson Cringe in October 1973, he secretly carried with him his invention that would revolutionize climbing worldwide. Hidden in his pack was the world’s first camming unit, the Friend, which he tested on first ascents throughout Yosemite.
Today’s Friends carry on the tradition Jardine started nearly 50 years ago, where the constant cam angle of 13.75 degrees remains unchanged. What has improved is nearly everything else —they now protect a full range of sizes, from .33 to 4.41 inches. The new Zero Friends, made with narrow cam heads, cover the smallest cracks up to .75 inches, with Friends protecting cracks from 1 inch to 4 inches. The smaller units are single axle and the larger sizes have hollow double-axles to save weight. All the cams have flexible stems, are lightweight and have extendable 10mm Dyneema slings. They cost between $60 and $90 (USD) each.
Conditions on the Cringe this past winter were grim. On day one, the wall was still damp from the latest storm and as I started up the wall it felt like I questing into the unknown. Runout face climbing led to the crack’s start, which began 30 feet off the deck; slime oozed out of it. Here I fiddled in large nuts, wedging them between mud and hidden constrictions in the crack. Above that —now with wet shoes — I entered the first crux, tips jamming, which I protected by the smallest Zero Friend, a 0.1. From here, the crack opened to fingers, then unrelenting tight hands. Above here came sustained hands, ending with a thank-god left foothold. The final stretch involved underclinging a 4-to-6-inch flake that’s wide enough to get your knees in — but the flake is so sharp it cuts your thighs — capping with a final section of face climbing. Adding to the difficulty, there are few footholds on the crack’s left side, which also leans left.
I didn’t send that day; didn’t even come close. I fell again and again, and when faced with the wetest sections, I resorted to aid. Day two went better because the crack was dryer and I was now familiar with the moves, but the falls continued. However, I couldn’t stop from smiling — the moves, the location, the scenery including nearby flowing waterfalls. It’s all incredible.
When it comes to Crimson Cringe and other Ray Jardine classics, including 5.12c Hangdog Flyer and 5.13a Phoenix, it’s all about the experience. These offer everything a Yosemite crack climber wants: technical jamming and sustained moves. Friends protect them perfectly, making them safe. These are the routes Jardine tested his prototype cams on, so not only are they fun to climb, but they also steep in history.
What brings me back to Crimson Cringe year after year is that it’s always fun, always a challenge, and I like carrying an enormous rack of Friends up the endless line, plugging gear everywhere I please and just going for it.
Maybe someday I’ll re-redpoint that line, but there’s no hurry. It doesn’t get much better than Crimson Cringe, and nothing makes me happier than frequenting it with my friends.