El Capitan’s Salathé Wall- The Proudest Rock Climb On Earth


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Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 11, 2011 - 10:36pm PT
The Ear. Probably not the difficulty so much as the exposure.
Imagine going up on that route for the first time, no beta, no
knowledge, bad manky old shoes, weird gear, Columbia or
goldline ropes that weren't all that strong, really. I mean, now
someone could probably walk a big Friend right up the
whole way.... But that factor of the unknown, that
"adventure" which was their joy to know.... Who cares about
any difficulty? That was 1961, and the light had its own
special richness back in those rare days of so few
climbers. I love the way Royal describes the Sierra,
its splendor, and the quiet sense we get of both Pratt
and Frost. Not much was known about the big walls. I dream
about those times. It would have been the best thing you
could ever do in life, practically, to be a membor of that
Salathe Wall team. How could you ever
forget being up there with those true friends? How did anyone
know how far climbing would progress in the coming decades?
I admire those men, those
pioneers, the example they set of integrity. How did
I know they each would become my friend. If ever I
was jealous of anything, it's that time, the feel of those
holds in afternoon sun, in cool morning, the grip on the
rope, the ring of a piton driven, amid the silence of those
resplendent lonely heights.... I was a boy then, but I
knew how powerful that ascent was. I never want those
visions to leave my memory....
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Sep 11, 2011 - 11:09pm PT
> Steve, you mention that Royal's article appeared in Vertical World of
Yosemite. Yes. But that wasn't the first place, right? Just to be

Steve's intro is entirely accurate. And in the first paragraph of the article, Rowell mentions that the text is taken from the 1963 AAJ. However, the photo selection and captions are by Rowell.
"Royal Robbins leading difficult friction climbing..."
Even if his foot is in an aid sling, I'm sure there was some mandatory free on that pitch, so the caption is reasonably descriptive of the overall pitch. Maybe a little jarring, though, if you enlarge and see the aid sling. :-)

Trad climber
Spokane, WA
Sep 11, 2011 - 11:31pm PT
Thanks for the memories Steve. Climbed the Salathe in '76 with Max Jones. My first El Cap route and my 2nd big wall. Great history and great climbing on that route - felt like we were following in some powerful footsteps. Loved the experience!

Eric Barrett
Spokane, WA

Mountain climber
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Sep 12, 2011 - 12:27am PT
Awesome read, thanks for posting.
Captain...or Skully

or some such
Sep 12, 2011 - 12:30am PT
I'll ditto that. It's the Salathe' Wall, man!
It's glorious. And Huge!

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 12, 2011 - 12:33am PT
Clint, I think we're all in agreement. Just wanted to make
sure people know the original source of the piece. And, as
I said several times, no problem with a foot in an aid sling,
probably half frictioning at times and half aid, and yes some
mandatory difficult friction, difficult for those days,
for certain..., a real adventure.

Trad climber
Sep 12, 2011 - 02:59am PT
Great thread, really enjoy reading everyone's experiences of this amazing route. Here is mine.

The Salathe changed my life. It was my first el cap route back in '02. No matter what happened in my life after it, I always knew that at one moment in time I achieved my dreams. The momentum from climbing this route enabled me to have the confidence to go back to school and push myself to things I never dreamed of.

Salathe embraces so much of what climbing and Yosemite are to me. Classic pitches, solid rock, spectacular position, inspiring bivies, and its history make it a super classic. To know you are hand jamming behind Robbins, Pratt, Frost, the Hubers, Caldwell and so many others is an amazing link to the past that few other climbs allow. I often wondered what it must have been like for the FAists to jettison the fixed lines and head up into the unknown. Even armed with the modern climbing accoutrements and a supertopo the route is no gimme. Climbing the route again with two of my best friends last summer I took a big winger in the dark just below long ledge. Despite having many el cap days under my belt the route didn't seem much gentler.

I hope to get to the reunion, hear others experiences of the route, and get to meet some of the people of the golden age of Yosemite climbing.

Sep 12, 2011 - 11:01am PT
Bump for the love of the Salathe.

Sitting on top of the hollow flake the first time was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Sep 12, 2011 - 11:51am PT
John Shervais and I did it in October of 1975. We worked hard to do it clean, but as I recall, did not quite pull it off. John broke his ankle in a small fall above Sous le Toit and this led to a self-rescue/epic that we both still remember fondly. I wrote about that here a few years ago. This was and still is one of the greatest rock climbs in the world!

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Sep 12, 2011 - 11:57am PT
Sitting on top of the hollow flake the first time was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I can't think of a better moment on the rock. I cried.
James Doty

Trad climber
Phoenix, Az.
Sep 12, 2011 - 12:15pm PT
Pretty good read. Thanks for putting it up here.

Gym climber
wussing off the topout on Roadside Attraction
Sep 12, 2011 - 01:04pm PT
Tell J I said hi 'cuz a this thread, would you Melissa?

Nothing but fond memories.


Social climber
Sep 12, 2011 - 02:49pm PT
Great thread, about a magnificent climb. I'd have to agree, Steve, it's the Proudest Rock Climb on Earth.

Climbed this in 1983, with Dave Houchin from Flagstaff. It was his idea, I really knew nothing about the route, was not very interested in doing it.

Man, I changed my tune as we progressed up the cliff. The features are so incredible, and they just roll on by, one after another, in a grand procession---Hollow Flake, The Ear, El Cap Spire, the amazing roof and headwall section, and best of all Long Ledge, the best bivy ledge in the world.

Climbed a few other routes on El cap since, but nothing really matches the sheer quality of the Salathe Wall.

Had to go back and do it again a few month later with a new partner, one I'd just met, to whom I'm still married.

Thanks Dave, wherever you are!

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Sep 12, 2011 - 02:58pm PT

I would love to get dragged up Freerider and do as much free as I could before I croak....

Oh yeah, now you're talking!

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Sep 12, 2011 - 03:04pm PT
Maybe TM was both clowning and scared at the same time.

We all have to cope with fear, and TM's clowning is as good a coping strategy as any other.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Sep 12, 2011 - 08:59pm PT
When Aldude, Dominque Thomas, and I did the Salathé back in 197(mumble), the Hollow Flake had recently fallen out. Some rubble, but the route was ticked as a Great Adventure. ...seriously hot and we were running low on water. We almost retreated at the Ear, but cooler heads prevailed. So many emotions over that 3.5 days. The Headwall really looms over the entire route. What a feature to cap that line!

About that TM Herbert photo... I always associated it with the West Face route, probably because it was included with that Ascent article. It totally matches the TM I knew—making mirth to keep it light.

LtoR: Gunnar Swanson, Alan Bartlett, Jim Hoagland, Robs Muir, Dominiqu...
LtoR: Gunnar Swanson, Alan Bartlett, Jim Hoagland, Robs Muir, Dominique Thomas. Gunnar and Jim met us on top w/ fresh cantalope!
Credit: rmuir

Trad climber
47N 122W
Sep 12, 2011 - 09:15pm PT
Crunch, Dave Houchin is in Vietnam teaching English right now. He is still out and about pulling on things.

London, UK
Sep 13, 2011 - 04:47am PT

The Salathe was my 50th anniversary route and I can't think of a finer birthday night out than squirming up the jungle pitch in spring conditions in the dark (I may have needed a little encouragement to get started...).

It's the Salathe' Wall, man! It's glorious. And Huge! Amen! And even with large cams, sticky rubber, topos and modern hauling techniques it didn't feel that tame to me.

The stories of fixed ropes on the headwall had made me nervous about experiences we would have with other parties but that nonsense seems to have abated. Apart from rest-day on The Block we had the route to ourselves despite great June weather. I guess the wide stuff still keeps the riff-raff off! It’s just occurred to me that almost every photo I have of the route show one or both of us with a huge grin. That’s the kind of route it is. Thanks again, Melissa.

Melissa before the Hollow Flake

In The Ear

On The Block

Headwall, 8pm

“We so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands”

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Sep 13, 2011 - 11:32am PT
:-) :-) :-)

It really was all that and more, huh?

Rob...message delivered! I hope you're having a blast in Asia.

Gym climber
wussing off the topout on Roadside Attraction
Sep 13, 2011 - 03:09pm PT
Um, on a beach in Turkey now- barely counts.
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