Steck-Salathe TR 6/9/06


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 16, 2006 - 10:47pm PT
Steck-Salathe TR 6/9/06

Finally, after seven years, I’ve finished my Steck–Salathe “project”. Soon after starting to do roped climbing in 1999, at age 39, I decided to set the SS as my goal. Exactly why is lost to time but I’m pretty sure it was reading Steve Roper’s Camp 4. Back then it was rated 5.9. I made it to the top of the climb a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that I actually climbed it. I ran out of water before getting to the narrows. I pretty much pulled on the rope and cried for my mommy the rest of the way. We had to bivy on top too. After that, I practiced for almost a year, sometimes on the squeeze chimney I built. Unfortunately. I ruptured a tendon in my bicep which set me back six months. Never the less last fall I gave it another try. Though I climbed competently, I was slow. My mind just wasn’t in it. We retreated from the top of the Wilson Overhang pitch. For the SS you’ve got to have your mind and your body together.
I climbed well all this spring. I knew my overall fitness was not as good as it usually is this time of year. I hadn’t done any long backpacks and the rainy winter hindered my workouts. Never the less, I decided I wanted to do the climb as soon as possible, just to start the summer strongly. I figured I had been “just glad to be here” on previous trips and needed to take a more aggressive attitude if I wanted to climb the route well. My partner, Jon, had been looking for someone to do the route. He climbs a lot better than me so I felt very lucky. We planned the climb for Friday, 6/9. I was hoping that doing it on a weekday would keep down the crowds. There had been between one and three other parties on previous trips. At the last moment it looked like Jon wouldn’t be able to make it. I called and e-mailed everyone who I thought might be interested. Ed e-mailed me back that he was game. Before I got back to him Jon found he could go. It was a good thing for Ed because he ended up doing a first ascent with Eric.
We decided to go light, one BD bullet pack, two quarts of water each. I took a hat, headlamp, a lightweight fleece shirt, 6 granola bars and a space bag. My first aid kit was four 4x4 gauze pads, a roll of tape, a small knife and a few NoDoz. This is about half of what I would normally bring on a long climb. Jon took even less. His bivy gear was a large garbage bag and youth. The leader would not have a pack. Fearing heat more than cold I wore shorts. I wore 1/8” neoprene knee braces. We took one 9.6 x 60 meter rope. We took two sets of stoppers to #10, two sets of TCUs ( some aliens substituted) and two sets of Camelots #.5 through #3. Plus #4 and #4.5 Camelots. We taped the night before.
We woke at Hardin Flat at 4:00. We started up the first pitch at 6:20.
Here’s the entry ramp after you stash your approach shoes.
Yosemite falls
El Cap
Looking up on the approach.
There was a couple in front of us. They were doing the alternate direct start, which starts straight down from the 5.8 lieback on the first pitch. I’ve heard it is 5.10 jamming or 5.9 lieback. The one time I did it, it was just really hard and I hauled on the rope. I led the first pitch. The 5.8 move at the chockstone is very awkward for me. It took three tries to figure it out. Right after there is about 30 feet of groveling that I think is the “Welcome to Sentinel “ wake up call. The steep 5.8 lieback was easier than I remembered. I climbed over the other teams rope at the lieback so I decided to belay at the first belay ledge instead of going to the second in what I think is the normal way. I exchanged a few pleasant words with the woman seconding as she went by me. I remember her name as Erica. Both of them are Stanford grad students. I hadn’t said anything to Jon about the first pitch but as he reached the belay he said, “I guess that was a sample of what’s to come” so he got the “Welcome” too.
Looking up from the P1 belay
Jon climbed to half way up ST P3, setting up a belay at the pin on a big ledge. The 5.8 move off the P1 belay is tricky and a little burley.
Looking down low on P3
Because the belay was half way up P3 I got to lead the 5.7 overhanging groove which is fun. I had to wait at the bottom of the Wilson Overhang for Erica to follow it. I took these pictures.
I’d been to the top of the Wilson Overhang three times but had never led it. All my chimney practice was paying off though and I did pretty well. The 5.10 is just a few feet long but the whole pitch is basically burley 5.8. Chimney to squeeze to lieback to thin hands. Here’s a picture looking down the 5.8 hand at the top of the pitch.

Jon bypassed the 5.9 OW on the next pitch by setting a piece high and then doing the 5.8 face which is balancey and fun.
Looking up at the 5.9 OW
He skipped the regular belay and set up below the 5.8+ OW in the middle of ST P6 using the old pin. I was starting to get a little tired so Jon took the pitch. I had cleaned the belay and was looking up wishing for a strategy. I remembered it being hard. To get a better view and take a last rest I stepped over onto the pin. A voice behind me says, “You’re not supposed to do that”. In surprise I look down and a smiling climber is soloing up to me. I told him “I really don’t care because I’m starting to get tired”. He says, “It’s too early to get tired. You’re still on the approach”. Ouch! Apparently, his name is Zack and he’s been doing a lot of soloing. Jon has had conversations with him before. We exchanged a few more words before he disappeared above me. The 5.8+ was more reasonable this time. The next pitch is the easiest of the climb, excepting the last. Though I was leading I felt I was taking a break, especially since I didn’t need to put in that much pro. I took the left side though the ST takes the right. Jon went right past me into the tunnel through. I untied and he pulled the rope. By the time I got through he was half way down the rappel. Here’s a picture.
I had remembered the next pitch as being fun and easy for 5.9. Bad memory! Jon told me that as he led it he kept thinking, “Zander said this one isn’t bad,” grunted through the lieback/stem moves.
Looking up the pitch
I was pretty tired as I reached the belay. The nice thing about the slab pitch is you can stay on your feet. I managed to put in a #4 stopper up high to protect the move to the hole. The move looks scary but was fine, maybe 5.7. The pro is just a little sketchy after that but the moves are fine. A new bolt protects the 5.9 long reach to the left, switching cracks. This is a tricky move. Here’s Jon following the pitch.
Jon led the crux pitch very well. I had pulled on the rope to get through this section on my first trip. This time it went nicely. Probably because I wasn’t leading I chugged right up it. I had been thinking about leading the Narrows for so long. Yet when I stood there looking at how really small the entrance was I found it daunting. It took me three tried to finally huck myself up into it.
I felt I could lead it but I was just so tired. I lowered myself out and asked Jon to do it. I suffered about three seconds of self-loathing but the relief of not having to lead the pitch quickly restored my equilibrium. Jon decided to trail the rack, which is a great idea. I remember others have recommended this on ST. He set the BD 4.5 at the lip and the BD 4 about four feet further up. He then ran it out about 20 feet to a good TCU placement. He was climbing really well. Now on top rope I wiggled my way up to the narrowest section, about 25 feet up. I remembered this section from last time. My figure eight made a nice yellow-green bruise on the side of my stomach as I strained to push my way through. For a few minutes I was stuck. Dark and ignominious thoughts filled my brain. Moving over three inches and blowing all the air out of my lungs I was able to wiggle a foot higher. One more time and I grabbed a two inch ledge and hauled myself into the reasonable size chimney above. Saved! The squeeze goes for another 30 feet but it’s thankfully wider. The 5.7 at the top of the pitch protects well but is really hard, or maybe just tricky for tired minds. Jon took the next pitch to give me a rest. Looking up the pitch after the narrows.
I took the mantel pitch, which is short and benign. You belay in a cool alcove looking out at the last hard section of the climb. Here are a picture of the start of the next pitch.
I remembered it being really cool 5.9 climbing on flakes and it proved to be a great 20 feet of climbing. This time my memory didn’t fail me. Jon was getting pretty tired but he climbed well and safely. By this time I was incredibly tired, just beat. I fell three times on the crux. I found I really could only do hand jams so I had to bypass some good face holds. I really don’t know if this made it harder or not. Did I mention I was tired? I led the last pitch and we were done. 12 hours 50 minutes. Summit shots.
I was so tired I moved at a snails pace on the descent. The descent is not all that hard just really long. There are many sections of Yosemite 4th class (5.3?) downclimbing. The light disappeared after we crossed the stream. We did a lot more downclimbing by headlamp. We picked up our shoes at the beginning of the ramps and drank the water we had left there. I was moving so slowly Jon went on ahead to change and snack. I finally stumbled to the car about 10:45. Wendy was glad to get my call at 11:00.
This climb is hard. There’s no getting around it. Yet there is pitch after pitch of fun climbing and a great summit. I recommend it. Most likely I’ll forget the pain and let someone talk me into going up there again. If I do I’m going for the outside of the narrows.
I could never have done this climb, or had so much fun on it, without the three partners that went up there with me. Greg White, Karl Baba and Jon Brooks, thanks guys.
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Jun 16, 2006 - 10:49pm PT
Good TR and good job!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 16, 2006 - 11:04pm PT
Bravo Zander! thanks for the trip report and the pictures... brings it all home!


Social climber
Land of Green Stretchy People
Jun 16, 2006 - 11:17pm PT
Great TR! Thats one of my big goals as well. Nicely done.


right here, right now
Jun 16, 2006 - 11:41pm PT
Nice TR,
What a nice piece of history that route is; did it first in '79 and guided it in '86 with a tough guy ex-army ranger who was in his 40's at the time.

I had a Pepsi and a Pipeload on the Flying Butress and dropped down into the chimney, then up the 5.9 fist on a nice buzz.

Thanks for the effort!
'Fun read.
David Nelson

San Francisco
Jun 17, 2006 - 12:12am PT
Great TR and be proud of your training to be worthy of the climb and then your actual ascent. You did it in good style, fighting all the way.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jun 17, 2006 - 12:26am PT
Zander...Our paths aren't so different, so I'm always really rooting for you when I see your TRs or your plans. When I saw "Steck-Salathe TR" next to your name, I had my fingers crossed of you as I opened it, and probably was more interested in hearing that you pulled it off than I have been of any of the recent superhero feats. I hope that doesn't sound too weird, but your stories have definately been one of my more inspiring takes from the internet. Huge kudos...I feel proud for you!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jun 17, 2006 - 12:56am PT
Congrats Bro!

Awesome ascent! I'm sore just thinking about it.

"If I do I’m going for the outside of the narrows." Yeah, that's what I always say too but it looks pretty dang scary when you're there!

Did you face North or South in the Narrows?



Social climber
The West
Jun 17, 2006 - 01:25am PT
Great stuff! You really shared the feeling with us. Makes me want go back for thirds

Trad climber
where the climbin's good
Jun 17, 2006 - 07:22pm PT

North/south? Isn't it more east or west? Wouldn't it be a lot harder to get up in there facing upstream? I didn't even consider that at all.


I liked your report and all the pictures. I thought this was a really fun climb, but I hated the long loose decent. Still, maybe my memory of that is just about fuzzy enough that I'm ready to go do it all over again. Good job.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jun 17, 2006 - 07:34pm PT

North/south? Isn't it more east or west? Wouldn't it be a lot harder to get up in there facing upstream? I didn't even consider that at all. "

South means facing the main wall, North means facing the Yosemite Falls. Upstream is East, Downstream is west.

at least the way I remember it



I'm so over it
Jun 17, 2006 - 09:26pm PT

One of the all-time routes.

Oh, and that shot looking down Valley is nuts. I had no idea Sentinel was in that position.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 17, 2006 - 11:35pm PT
Russ, Ed, Steve, Tar, David, Melissa, Karl, Jay, Fingerlocks and Yo,
Thanks for your kind words. This is a great route!
I remember reading a post of yours two years ago about the SS. I've always wondered if you went for it. If you haven't, keep the idea alive. If you have, give us a report. The funny thing about Supertopo is that I really feel I know so many people here really well that on reflection are not really my friends at all in the traditional sense. Still, there is a line from a Bujold novel, "The diference between heaven and hell is the company you keep". I feel like I'm in good company here.
I hope to climb with you all sometime.
Gary Carpenter

SF Bay Area
Jun 18, 2006 - 12:48pm PT

Thanks for the inspirational TR! It gives hope to guys like me who started climbing later in life but still have dreams of getting up some of the classic test pieces.

You mentioned that you built a practice squeeze chimney. What was your design? Ed and I are still working my OW crack machine Wednesday evenings. A squeeze chimney would make a nice companion piece. (The neighbors already think I’m nuts so this will just confirm their judgement).

I also enjoyed your Chockstone Chimney TR It’s on our list for this season.



Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jun 18, 2006 - 02:28pm PT
Very nicely done. Great trip report. That´s an all time mountain climbing type of experience. A proud send for anyone.
F10 Climber F11 Drinker

Trad climber
Jun 18, 2006 - 04:23pm PT
Nice TR, I really enjoyed all the photos, they brought back some great memories. Did the route back in 75 when I was 19, makes me wish I had some photos of the climb, thanks for the memories and great job
off route

Trad climber
s lake tahoe
Jun 18, 2006 - 06:33pm PT
awesome story and pics, congrats.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jun 19, 2006 - 10:15am PT
Zander...I still haven't climbed the Steck-Salathe, or even on the Sentinel. It seems like I'm always in some way training for it though. Maybe one of these days, I'll feel like the stars have aligned. In any case, it was really cool to see you actually reach your goal.
scuffy b

Chalet Neva-Care
Jun 19, 2006 - 11:59am PT
Way to go Zander!
You really paid your dues for this one.
This is a great trip report, big on the human element, loaded
with nice photos.
Gary asks about your chimney so here it goes:

Slovak Republic, Europe
Jun 19, 2006 - 12:51pm PT
Scuffy, those cracks to the left of the picture are adjustable or just fixed to different widths? In any case, it looks a great home wall! I could use someting like that unfortunately I have no place where to build it.
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