One of the classic Grade IV climbs in Yosemite. Despite having a harder rating than the East Buttress of El Capitan and the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral Rock, this is the easiest long route next to the Royal Arches Route. Though it's 5.10c rating would indicate that it is harder than the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral (5.9) or the East Buttress of El Capitan (5.10b), the EB of Middle is a much less physical route than either of those and most of the climbing on it is in the 5.7 range.
You have several choices for how to do this climb and what you decide may be determined by other parties on the route, but essentially there are three main possibilities:
- Original Route (5.10c or 5.9 A0). This is the leftmost, hardest and least-traveled option as it has more physical and more technical climbing on it. This will take the longest. It can be done as either 5.10c or 5.9 A0. It is probably my favorite option, because it makes it feel like a bigger, longer climb.
- Fifty Classics Variation (5.10c or 5.9 A0). The most popular and aesthetic version.
- Fifty Crowded Variation (5.10a). This is the rightmost variation and avoids the bolt ladder of the original route, joining the Fifty Classics Variation after about a pitch and a half. For the party who is going to free the whole route, this is the most consistent version, though it is a bit more challenging in that you will be climbing on bolts and gear on the 5.10 part instead of just clipping bolts.
The rest of this will describe the Fifty Classics version, as it is the most popular.
The approach is short, but seems longer for some reason. From the Cathedrals parking near the intersection of Southside Drive and the El Cap Cutoff, find the carabiner sign and hike back to the horse trail and follow it toward Middle Cathedral and another carabiner sign (depending on where you parked, the first or the second one you see). Follow the trail up the drainage until you see another carabiner sign (broken off during rockfall a couple of years ago) and trail that cuts over to the base of the route.
The route starts in an undignified manner up through blocky terrain to a bush on a ledge. You can combine this pitch and the next, but be forewarned that the moves off the ledge are tricky, especially for short climbers, so if this is not easy terrain for you, do it in two pitches as the guidebook suggests.
Pitch 2 ends traverses up and right to a good ledge and the dihedral system for pitch 3. The hard moves are right off the ledge and then it is easy and enjoyable climbing that can be done in one pitch (60m) to the base of the pitch 5 bolt ladder. From here the Fifty Crowded variation (5.10a) heads out right to a bolt and then up and over the overlap. After the overlap the bolts can be a bit hard to see, so keep your eyes open.
Our route, however, steps left and up the bolt ladder. Many people think this face is harder than 5.10c and even many 5.10 climbers just yard through here. Since it is bolted every five feet, you might as well try to free it first. From the top of the bolt ladder, step left to the alcove and then turn the overlap and continue up the handcrack for the finest climbing on the route.
If you like wide cracks, chimneys and a bit of adventure, head left on the original route. Otherwise head right across the slabs, looking for a lone pin to protect the one 5.6 move. From here on out follow the rather obvious system of cracks and corners to the top.
At the top, scramble straight back and up the dirty slope until you emerge on the shoulder and then follow the well-worm trail all the way to the very back of the Cathedrals Gully. You should not need to rappel to get into the gully, though once in the gully you should count on two short rappels to get down, especially if it's wet, so keep your ropes handy.