<-- Map of summer 2015
     climbing roadtrip 
     (click to enlarge)

Route: SW Face (Harding Route) (5.10c, 1200')

TR #: 206

Category: California       Summit Elev: 12,950 ft       Rock Type: Granite

Partner: Brian Luther

This climb has a reputation for being burly and it doesn't disappoint. This is one of my favorite Sierra routes to date.


Conness's 1200' southwest face is one of the most intimidating walls in all of Tuolumne. The Southwest Face route climbs directly up the center of this face. It is Peter Croft's "Big 4" routes, and has a reputation for being stout. Every pitch is challenging and has some degree of burliness, although no pitch quite contends with Pitch 4, which is a steep and sustained #6-sized offwidth.

I had my eye on this route since the beginning of my Sierra roadtrip in early July. In early August, I passed directly below the southwest face en route to the West Ridge of Conness. After that, the Southwest Face moved to #1 on my to-climb-soon list. I roped fellow roadtripper Brian Luther into climbing the route and came back about a week later. The route is intimidating enough that it is not climbed every day, so we were a bit surprised when another party (Tyler and Fraser) show showed up at the base shortly after we did. We enjoyed each other's company and shared sounds of grunting and cursing over the course of the day. I really enjoyed this route. I relish stout adventurous climbing, and this route did not disappoint. This route is somewhat of a juxtaposition: on one hand the climbing definitely feels stout and wild and the route is long and committing enough to make time and weather a constant concern, but on the other hand there is a mellow approach and descent, less of a feeling of exposure due to the bowl-like nature of the face, nice belay ledges, and calm and sunny weather. This is probably one of my favorite Sierra routes to date. 

The following page contains some overlays and photos for the climb. Thanks Brian, Tyler, and Fraser for making this a fun day on the rock!
(Pitches as per SuperTopo topo)
General overview Pitch by Pitch detail Looking up the first 7 pitches of the route from the base.

(Pitches as per SuperTopo topo)
Pitch descriptions:
Photo descriptions:
Start at the Sawmill campground. Hike on trail and then cross-country towards Conness, eventually arriving near the summit and then drop down a 3rd class gully to below the SW Face.
1. About 1 hour into the approach. Head for the saddle in the photo.
About 1.5 hours into the approach. Head for the small "L"-shaped notch just right of center in the photo.
3. About 2 hours 20 minutes into the approach. The summit of Conness is on the right and at this point not too far away. To get to the SW Face, you drop down through a gully which is accessed by the low point on the left in the photo. We stashed extra packs and gear before heading down too far.
The steep SW Face as seen from ridgeline before descending the 3rd class gully to the base of the face. The SW Face route goes roughly up the weakness left of center in the photo.
5. Brian in the 3rd class descent gully to access the base of the SW Face. The gully is somewhat loose but goes pretty quickly. I wouldn't want to do it in climbing shoes, although some climbers have been known to do so so they can climb without having to carry their approach shoes up the route.
Memorial plaque for Don Goodrich about 50-80' to the right of the route. Goodrich was killed by a loose block when trying to establish this route.
7. Our rack. We had doubles from 0.5-3", one #4, and one #6 cam, plus a dozen alpine draws, about 4 alpine quickdraws, and 2 long draws. For the most part we were happy with this rack, and perhaps the only change I would make would be to not bring a #4 (we used it enough, but almost always could have found something else to place at the time). We never felt the need for a #5. We found the #6 useful on several of the pitches (not just the Pitch 4 offwidth). A #7 would protect the upper 5.8 offwidth on Pitch 4, but that's about it and it's probably not worth the weight/bulk to carry it.
5.9, 110'
Three options: (1) Left/Original start, very wet even on a dry year, 5.wet+; (2) Center crack, up a groove to a roof, 5.9+ to 5.10?; (3) Right option: not sure what this is but I think it's harder.
8. Brian cleaning sopping wet moss out of cracks on the original start to Pitch 1. Given that we climbed this route during an unusually dry year and after a dry stretch of weather, this pitch is undoubtedly always wet and dirty. I wouldn't recommend this start option, since at least a couple of others exist (center start 5.9+ and and right start 5.? mentioned in this trip report). For some reason we had been under the impression that the other start options were dangerously runnout, but in retrospect the gear on the pitch we climbed was so questionable and the climbing was so slick and insecure that it was way my sketchy than runnout 5.9+. But if you like a memorable adventure pitch and like to stick with the spirit of the original route line, go for it! 
Nuts were the most trustworthy placements on this pitch. With the slimy cracks, cams felt in danger of just sliding right out.
10. Taken while climbing Pitch 1. Vertical moss. Memorable.
Looking down from the belay at the top of Pitch 1. Tyler and Fraser from the party behind us chose the center option, which they called "Yosemite 5.9". It was much quicker and looked like way more fun and safe than our way.
5.10c, 200'
Up through a 10a face move, through a bulge, and into a sustained 10c finger crack.
12. Looking up the 10c crack on Pitch 2. This is steep and sustained. It's the technical crux of the route but that doesn't always mean it's the most challenging section of climbing on the route.
5.8, 190'
Up sloping ledges, traverse under a roof, and into a squeeze chimney. Hint: Stay on the outside of the chimney and I wouldn't advise going behind any chockstones like the party behind us did!
13. Looking up Pitch 3. The goal is to get into the corner below a looming offwidth. This pitch climbs about 20 feet to the right of the corner for awhile before making a sharp jog left at a roof, so rope drag is potentially heinous by the time you reach the final 5.8 chimney in the corner. Unless you want to run it out on somewhat loose terrain all the way to the corner, it might be a good idea to break it into two pitches. Both me and Fraser dealt with heinous rope drag as we ascended the chimney, despite our efforts to avoid it with long runners and moderate runnouts.
Brian ascending the 5.8 chimney. It is 5.8 fun if you stay on the outside. Fraser stayed deep and actually went behind a chockstone, stripping off his harness in the process! That's a first!
5.10a, 160'
Up the steep crack in the corner which starts off as a squeeze, then a nice hand to fist crack, then the crux 5.10a offwidth (#6 cam sized), finishing with a 5.8 offwidth (starts #6 sized and gets wider at the top). During the offwidth sections there are a few old bolts along the way for additional protection. Walk the #6 and enjoy!
15. Looking up at Pitch 4. The 5.10a offwidth section is the wide part at the top. The 5.8 offwidth following that is out of view.
The hand to fist section of the corner. Great climbing.
17. Entering the 5.10a offwidth. Clip the old bolts and walk the #6. I climbed the first half in lieback and stem modes and the second half as a right-side-in-heel-toe offwidth. Burly lead Brian!
18-19. Old bolts "protect" the offwidth. There are also a few old bolts on Pitch 5.
20. Tyler arriving at the top of the 5.8 offwidth which comprises the last 20 feet of the pitch. By this time the offwidth has widened past #6 terrain. This section is rated 5.8 but it is kind of heady when you are tired from the pitch below and your last piece of gear is 20 feet below.
(can link Pitches 5 & 6)
5.10b, 90'
Traverse right on a ledge to corner, then up corner (5.9) and finishing with a 5.10b step right (protected by an old bolt) to gain the corner above.
21. Looking over at Pitches 5 and 6, which we linked.
Brian on the 10b step-over move at the end of Pitch 5. This gets you into the corner of Pitch 6.
(can link Pitches 5 & 6)
5.9, 110'
Steep corner (5.9) to chimney (5.8).
23. Looking up the 5.8 chimney exit of Pitch 6. There's a giant flake on the left wall to assist upward motion. As a follower, I found it essential to dangle my pack on a runner to climb this pitch.
5.9, 180'
Flaring cracks and jugs.
24. Looking up the 5.8 flared cracks of Pitch 7. I led this pitch and really enjoyed it. There was 5.9 somewhere on it but it wasn't noticeably harder than the 5.8. I linked this pitch with the short 5.8 corner at the start of SuperTopo Pitch 8 and set the belay at the base of the 3rd class ramp, which seemed to work well.
(can link Pitches 8 & 9)
5.8, 160'
Loose corner (5.8 stem) to 3rd class ramp.
25. The 3rd class ramp of Pitch 8. Since I had climbed the 5.8 corner as part of Pitch 7, this made it easy to link this 3rd class ramp with the 5.9 corner of Pitch 9 (without having to reestablish the belay location, although that would have been easy too) to finish off the roped climbing on the route.
(can link Pitches 8 & 9)
5.9, 40'
Short and steep corner crack.
26. The short and steep corner of Pitch 9. 
To Summit 
3rd, 300'
300+' 3rd class to the summit.
27. The 3rd class scramble to the top can be seen behind the block on the left.
The view of Tuolumne from high on Conness. In the photo you can see the Cathedral Fire near Cathedral Lakes, which had started about a week previous and fortunately only grown to one-fifth of an acre before being contained. There's another smoldering fire a bit closer too.

Hike down the SE ridge (2nd-3rd with some nice built-up steps). Regain the approach route and hike back to the car.
29. A photo taken of the mellow SE Ridge descent from the summit when I climbed the West Ridge a week earlier. It's always nice to have a mellow descent, especially after a full day on a strenuous route. 2-3 hours to the car!