The road to Steck-Salathe...


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Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Sep 17, 2012 - 06:32pm PT
Best route calibration suggestions so far on this thread:
NEB + Braille Book linkup
Snake Dike car-to-car in a day

If you feel good at the end of the day after each of those trips, you have done a few 5.10 cracks and enjoy wider climbing, you are ready for a fun adventure on SS.

For me, lack of general physical conditioning was biggest factor in needing to bivy. And I went really slow on the pitch before the Narrows, too scared to wide stem out above my gear, sapping my strength in armbars and wet fists and groveling too deep inside for security. Whenever I do it again, I think focus on these 2 areas would speed up my SS time dramatically.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 17, 2012 - 06:39pm PT
No offense, but I fail to see what good doing Snake Dike in a day will provide.
Maybe do it for its own sake but don't think it would help you a bit on SS,
other than a bit of cardio.

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Sep 17, 2012 - 06:47pm PT
I only mention Snake Dike as a measure of your cardio and basic stamina/endurance. If you can do that much work and not feel dead at the end of the day, and you can do the more physical grunty moves of NEB + Braille Book, and you have the skills/experience of some 5.10 cracks, then you are about in the right spot for SS.

Agreed, nothing on Snake Dike or the approach is comparable to SS, except for the amount of calories you burn in a day. SS is still probably worse because of the type of movement, but it's in the right ballpark.

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Sep 17, 2012 - 06:51pm PT
The first time we attempted it, it started raining near the top of the flying butress. We had one fifty meter rope and about 8-9 nuts, a few slings and beaners (minimum free rack). We down climbed virtually the whole route (solo). It was wet. The scariest part for me was'nt the Wilson overhang pitch, but reversing the move that (i think) is the chimney pitch to the 5.8 block at the top of it before the Wilson overhang pitch. Going up you stem an push off your left foot onto your right foot and stick the 5.8 finger lock on the block. Reversing it downclimbing, you have your right finger lock and your right foot on the right wall of the chimney and your left foot & hand on nothing. You have to let go with your right hand and, with just your right foot on the right side of the chimney stick your left foot. And, it is a bit of a reach/stem.

Dave Stutzman had already downclmbed about a half a pitch directly below me in the chimney and standing on a small hold watching me. He saw the expression on my face as I calculated where I would hit (prollie slam into to him as i flew by) and he did his best to squeeze tighter into the crack. It was a sickening feeling letting go of that finger jam, but my left foot stuck. To make it worse I had wore PA's for the first time in my life rather than my EB's because I thought they would be better in chimneys, but they were as slick as all get out, particularly since it was wet.
Oso Flaco

Gym climber
Atascadero, CA
Mar 27, 2017 - 09:31pm PT
...then, even the crickets were quiet after hearing that campfire tail.

Social climber
joshua tree
Mar 27, 2017 - 10:01pm PT
^^^i thought that was a pretty good story. I could picture it😳

i agree with snakedike not help for steck. we just went bouldering the day before we did it, but then again we did have to bivy in the narrows😏
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Mar 28, 2017 - 06:31am PT
Hysterical thread! I backed off SS on my one and only attempt when I was 18. I led the first pitch or two and realized that it was going to be too much. My partner was not as strong as I was, and I felt the weight of all those tough pitches hanging over me. We rapped. Just as we hit the trail after the traverse ledges, the sky closed up, and it poured rain for hours. Oh, that was one happy hike down, I tell you.


Mar 28, 2017 - 11:40am PT
The road to Steck-Salathe....
... continues around the corner. Don't start up the inviting off-width behind the tree... unless you want to.

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Mar 28, 2017 - 04:59pm PT
The Steck Salathe is classic, but I remember it as very long. By the time I got around to doing the climb, Dave Bircheff and I were doing it because it is classic. We realized as we were discussing what to climb that we had never done the route after years of climbing full-time in the Valley. We expected it to be good, not very hard, and straightforward.

We got up early enough to drive the wrong way from Camp 4 to the Leconte lodge parking lot. We found the 3rd and 4th class to the base. I am not sure our confidence was warranted in finding the start, but we were on our way.

I can only remember one section on the Flying Buttress: a steep, wide crack that was slightly wider inside than at the lip. I decided to climb inside and exited at the top: very secure. I think that this must be the pitch above the Wilson Overhang; on the topo I have this pitch is shown as either a 5.9 squeeze or a 5.8 flake on the right wall. I don't remember which way Dave climbed the crack, but he complained mightily---probably my protection forced him up the squeeze.

There had been ongoing discussions about the rating of the Steck Salathe; 5.8 or 5.9. Roper had rated the climb V 5.9 A3 in the 1971 Green Guide. Dave and I decided 5.9 was probably right but we could not put our finger on the exact spot it is 5.9. Several folks have told me that stuff as fallen off, and it is now harder.

At the top of the Flying Buttress, we knew Steve Wunsch had down-climbed the left side of the Flying Buttress and then climbed up the cracks leading into the main chimney all free. Roper had included it in his Green Guide:
"The route was done all free in 1970 by the devious method of dropping down from the top of the Flying Buttress and traversing to the lower Great Chimney. It seems safe to say that this dirty, highly unaesthetic variation, having been climbed once, will fade into well-deserved obscurity."

It was a little dirty on downclimbing, but the headwall looked ugly. Salathe's old bolts were probably still there and there were big pin scars. In any case, Wunsch and his variation were more to our sensibilities than screwing around with 40 feet of ugly aid climbing. Roper was so old-school. Edit: see Werner's note below.

It was my lead, and I don't remember any issues getting into the main chimney except working out how to protect myself and Dave in the down, up and across. I remember working out how not to put anything in so that Dave would have somewhat of a belay as he was downclimbing and moving sideways, probably back-cleaned my protection at the beginning of the traverse, until the rope angle became more vertical. I probably strung that pitch and next together, since I also had the Narrows lead, and I think there is another pitch between the anti-Headwall pitch and the Narrows ledge.

Once my upper body was into the Narrows with straight-forward back-feet chimneying, I turned horizontal enough in the Narrows to get upper and lower arm-bars and crabbed up enough to get my legs sideways enough to get my knees into the Narrows. Very secure and very straightforward. the comments I have read on ST about the Steck Salathe over the past years and in watching a few videos of good climbers struggling into the Narrows, we must have been practiced wide crack climbers.

So far the route had been fun. Climbing the upper chimneys is fast if you are in great shape. I remember stopping mid-pitch near the top of the chimneys and commenting to Dave that it was exhausting. I can remember getting pumped on free routes-not the Steck Salathe-but don't remember getting tired, like a day of standing in slings and nailing on steep walls. Certainly I had done all of the climbs noted above as warm-ups to the Steck Salathe, but I don't remember getting tired on any of those routes.

We were through all of the hard climbing and it was still early, but, boy, was I tired of chimneying. Once we were out of chimneying positions we quickly recovered. We did not look for the register on the summit, found a way through the Manzanita bushs--we found the 5.9!-in the gully back down to the 4-mile trail, and got back to the Lodge for dinner in the early evening.

All in all, a great climb. One of the few for which I have specific memories.

Mar 28, 2017 - 05:06pm PT
Meh .... locals run up it all the time with no rope in an hour.

One local has probably free soloed it over 50 times.

It's not 1970's - 1980's anymore ......
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