mountainproject folks weigh in with 5. In the end it took us 6, but really 5 (you'll see why). I'll refer to the pitches as they are in the guide book, mostly because that's the only place that gives landmarks, so I'm sure what's what.
The route starts with 5.9 slab, which neither of us was up for leading first thing off the ground. We noticed that it would be easy to bypass that first pitch and the second, not terribly interesting crack pitch by climbing on broken blocks to the right of the route (properly, the start of the Swallow and the Gulp), and traversing left on a ledge to the start of the 3rd pitch of Whodunit. So we did, Ben leading that first easy pitch.
The 3rd pitch of Whodunit is the second crux: a 5.9 exit from under a roof capping a chimney. Ben led up to the start of the chimney and realized that he was running out of draws. He made a belay at the base of the chimney, so we broke the 3rd pitch into two pieces. Then he led up to the crux, where he fell on a #4 camalot placed directly under the roof. It was kind of a memorable fall, because I heard him scrabbling, a bit like a cat that jumps onto something and misses, before I felt his weight on the rope. He then aided past the crux and made it out. I followed and cleaned the pitch free, which I was very proud of. In fact, I was doubly proud because I had to do the first half, the chimney, with the camelback pack on my chest, then stop under the roof and switch it around to my back to get around the roof. And somehow I did not fall during all this.
I led the next pitch, which, in hindsight, was the 4th plus half of the 5th pitch by the book, up to a cracked roof. The freakiest part was about a quarter up the nominal 5th pitch. By then I'd climbed up an off-width (right off the belay, where I didn't have the #4, so I sent a rope down for it), traversed right to another crack, and then come to a headwall. There was a big block in front of the headwall, about human sized, and I had a small cam on one side of it. I was deciding which side of it to go in order to go up the headwall, when I realized that human-sized block was free-standing and not well lodged, at that. I almost freaked! My pro depended on it, and I was bear-hugging it when I realized there was nothing around the back, it didn't connect to the headwall. Man! That was bad. I very gingerly switched from the left to the right of the block and found a placement on the headwall, before, again very gingerly, stepping on the free standing block to gain the headwall. I climbed 20 more feet and made a hanging belay with one good and two tipped out cams under the broken roof. I was very unhappy and uncomfortable. The pitch behind me (rated 5.8) had been very emotional and the belay was exceedingly uncomfortable.
Ben had the next pitch, but it wasn't entirely clear which way to go. I suspect we were supposed to jog right to some easy ramps, but after much hesitation, Ben avoided the off-width directly in front of him, and went for some face climbing immediately left of that. He had to aid past that section, and then he continued up for a while. I followed that pitch free to a good belay.
The next pitch was mine, and I was terrified by the way it looked. I had to make it up to a roof, traverse under it and go up a headwall to its right. I went up and spent tons and tons of time contemplating the way to protect it, the way to make the moves, the way to minimize drag. In the end, I'm confident I did most of those things right, but it took me a while. I then followed a shallow crack up to yet another headwall type thing, which I had to yard on my arms to get over, and ended the pitch 10 feet below the summit, with hellish drag, but on a nice comfortable ledge. Ben came up and proceeded up to the summit, claiming those 10 feet as an additional pitch. I refuse to accept this!
We came down the slab descent, doing a post-mortem of the whole climb. It had taken us 6.5 hrs to do 6 pitches, 2 of which were half-pitches. That was woefully slow. I had done everything clean, but Ben had aided through one spot we knew to be a crux, and a second spot where we suspect we went straight when the rated route circumvented it. I was happy with my placements during the climbing, but unhappy with one of my anchors. Ben had overcome the desire to give up at least once. Overall, the climb had felt like it was teetering on the verge of being an epic, but it never became one. It wasn't done in great style, but it was done and done safely, and it was our hardest multipitch together yet. And we both agreed that were we to get on it again, we'd be able to style it in sub-1 hour per pitch no problem.
The next day we were both feeling pretty accomplished and lazy, so we went looking for the Smooth Soles wall on Suicide Rock. Once there, we lounged around a while, reading about the climbing history of Tahquitz and Suicide in the book, and then we both toproped the leftmost route, Last Dance, a beautiful 10a slab to thin fingers back to slab, and Ben toproped a 10d slab called Blown Out.
Moonlight Buttress, learning to love the journey
2 years ago