Royal Arches Trip Report

First Pitch of Royal ArchesMark Ingles and I [Paul M] climbed Royal Arches a couple of weeks ago [May 12], and a few people have asked about it, and others have expressed some interest, so I thought I'd provide some information for anybody interested.

I last climbed it in 1988, simul-climbing with John Dalbey, and we made it to the top in 4 hours.  This time, Mark and I simul-climbed only pitches 2-4 and we made it to the top in about 7 hours.  We agreed we wouldn't rush or push ourselves, so we took pictures, ate and took time to enjoy the climb and the views.  We started about 6:00 a.m., just before another group, and we appeared to be the first ones on the climb, so we didn't have to wait for anybody.  The weather was perfect, and there was some water at various places, but not a lot, and it wasn't a problem--we just had to be careful not to drag the ropes through it.  The water was probably clean enough to drink, but we didn't need to.  We each had 3 liters of water and emptied them all before we returned.
Mark on Royal Arhes
The climbing is generally easy and not particularly memorable--it's more about the views, which are spectacular, and the overall experience.  The places where you have to wake up are the first (chimney) pitch (especially interesting with a pack on), the last (slab traverse) pitch (5.4 my ass), and two steep 30-foot 5.7 sections.  The rest is cruisy, including the pendulum, which is protected by a fixed rope and is really nothing.  We got off route at least once, which isn't hard to do since there are many little variations, all of which have been well used by others and have that route-like scuffed-up look.  No big deal, since you quickly return to the main line.   

View of Half Dome from Royal ArchesWe decided to do the walk-off rather than the rappel.  Turns out they take about the same amount of time, and the walk might even be a bit quicker.  Once we got to the rim, we walked west a short distance to enjoy the cooling spray of Arches Cascade.  If we'd only brought two jugs we could have refilled here.  Then we turned back east and picked up the climbers trail along the rim, past North Dome (where we saw a pair who zoomed past us on RA to get up to North Dome to do Crest Jewel--one very long day!).  Below North Dome there is a section of open slabs where you have to make sure you pick up the  trail at the right location (uphill, marked by a cairn).  Then past the top of Washington Column (which looks more like a sand dune from the back).  Here the trail has been cleaned up by somebody who cut back all the encroaching brush--very nice.  From Washington Column, a well used climbers descent trail angles down to the east, skirting above the death slabs, and then turning right to descend immediately east of the slabs.  There are a few locations where you may need to butt-scoot down some slabs, but no big deal.  The trail continues down through a grassy open area and then enters the forest.  It goes all the way to the Valley floor, though there are a few locations where you could lose it if you got impatient, but with a little care, you can always find it and continue on.  The descent took us a bit less than 2 1/2 hours.

Overall, the whole thing was about 11 hours car to car.  Don't ask me what gear to take.  We took a big rack and had plenty of stuff, so I didn't pay much attention to that aspect.  We took double ropes, which I like to do on long climbs as an extra safety thing, and in case we decided to do the rappels, but we didn't really need them.

Paul M