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beneath the valley of ultravegans
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:45pm PT
Thanks, Scott! Really enjoyed that.

Social climber
my abode
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:02pm PT
Thank you, Scott.

Big Wall climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:15pm PT
Fantastic bit of history. Thank you so much for writing that up.

Feb 18, 2014 - 08:19pm PT
That's the stuff!

Hi- Quality, 5 star story Scott. I could read this kind of stuff all day.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:21pm PT
Cool, thanks for taking the time, I love stories!

I wish guidebooks were encyclopedia sized and had one of these for every route

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:31pm PT
Thanks Coz . . . it is good to get these tales into the written word.

Yosemite history.

The Desert Oven
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:39pm PT
Awesome story. Thanks for posting that!!! Seriously, Thanks!

Gross Vegas
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:46pm PT
Great stuff Scott!
Thank you for that!

Edit: Impressive account BG!


Climbing #156

Credit: Bob Gaines
Looks mossy??

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:50pm PT
Sometimes logging onto ST is very worthwhile.

Thanks for taking the time to give us this gem.
Big Mike

Trad climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 09:38pm PT
Wow Coz! Excellent tale. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. History is always so much richer when those who lived it, do the telling.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Feb 18, 2014 - 09:43pm PT
Ha ha, nice stuff Scott I always wanted to do that route since I first read about it!

Trad climber
JTree & Idyllwild
Feb 18, 2014 - 09:43pm PT
Nice memories Coz! Of all the climbs we did together I think this was my favorite...although freeing the Chimney of Horrors on the North Face of Higher Spire with you was also quite the adventure. I think what made How the West Was Won such great fun was the uncertainty of the ground-up style, never knowing for sure what we'd encounter; scoping it out with binoculars from the valley floor and wondering...will it go?

Here is the piece I wrote for the Nov 1995 Climbing Magazine

How the West Was Won
The first free ascent of the West Face of Sentinel Rock by Bob Gaines

"From Camp 4 all of us had stared endlessly at the north face of Sentinel, especially at dusk, when the oblique light lit up thousands of tiny features, creating a lovely sight indeed. So entranced were we by these possibilities on this face that we ignored the right-hand profile: the west face. This narrow prow of white granite, some 1600 feet high, is not particularly steep - perhaps only 70 degrees, yet smoothness is the middle name of Sentinel's west face. Hardly a ledge mars the upward sweep; not a single tree or bush disrupts the integrity of the soaring cliff"
-Steve Roper in CAMP 4

In the summer of 1960, Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost first climbed the West Face route on Sentinel Rock. Originally rated VI 5.9 A4, in the early '60s the route was notorious for its dicey expanding flake aid traverse and the 80-foot-long, eight-inch-wide Dogleg Crack, led by Frost who used a single wooden block for pro. Ten summers later, Royal Robbins, on the first solo of a big Yosemite climb, added the second route on the face: In Cold Blood (V 5.8 A4).

Concerted free attempts at the West Face route began 13 years later when John Bachar came tantalizingly close to success. He freed the horizontal expanding-flake traverse with a 5.12 undercling, only to be thwarted by a short, blank dihedral at the top of the pitch. The rest of the route was no harder than 5.lOc. Next in line were John Long and Bill Price, who made several mighty efforts, placing a bolt on a face climbing variation to bypass the expanding flake. Not wanting to resort to placing protection on aid (ethics were stringent in the early 1980s in Yosemite), they gave up their attempt. In 1988, Scott Cosgrove and Jonny Woodward, two of America's best free climbers, added a bolt to Long's variation, only to be shut down by a single move.

In June 1995, the days were getting longer and a winter of guiding at Joshua Tree left me craving something bigger than 100-foot crags. Scott Cosgrove was up for a project in Yosemite, so I suggested we give In Cold Blood a try. Scott was fit from a winter of bouldering at Joshua Tree, where he developed a secret new bouldering area. Scott bagged Josh's first 5.14 the winter before, so I figured if the route was freeable, he was the man to pull it off.

We scrambled up the approach ramp. The rock loomed overhead like a gigantic gray tombstone, causing us to speculate on where Derek Hersey fell while soloing the Steck-Salathe two years before.

In Cold Blood began ignobly, traversing through a malevolent manzanita, then passing a loose section up to an immense, 400-foot high, right-facing dihedral, where the route quality drastically improved. The dihedral resembled that of another Robbins classic, Tahquitz's Open Book, both in size and stature, except that at the tip, instead of turning low-angle, In Cold Blood's crack overhung, with a 5.11+ layback/jam capped with a smooth, ass-kicking offwidth. From the ledge atop this pitch, with the sun sinking low, and our forearms spent, we leaned back to scan the possibilities on the upper wall before zipping down fixed lines. It appeared as if Robbins' A3 aid section could be bypassed by traversing straight right.

Two mornings later Scott redpointed the pitch, an improbable variety of underclings, sidepulls, and edges; sustained to the end, where a 5.12 face move gains the belay. The crux was so devious that when I pulled it off I felt as if I'd done a magic trick. At the belay we were both smiling. Certain elements combine to make a pitch memorable. Here, it was the stunning backdrop: 2000 feet of electrifying exposure, amplified by the roar of Sentinel Falls cascading 4000 feet down the adjacent cliffside, with Cathedral Rocks and El Cap dominating the horizon, the Merced River snaking through the meadow below.

The route above appeared much easier, going through a lesser-angled recess in the face for several hundred feet. Adrenaline propelled me up the next lead, a deceptively steep slab, with two 5.11 go-for-it sections, that ended 80 feet shy of a huge sloping ledge. We felt like we'd nearly solved the puzzle, but a colossal cumulus cloud exploded over El Cap, and we quickly retreated, fearing an epic thunderstorm descent of the ramp. Sure enough, just as we hit the Four Mile Trail, lightning crackled over Sentinel.

From the Valley floor, through binoculars, the next pitch appeared vertical, yet studded with those gargantuan gray knobs peculiar to certain parts of Yosemite Valley. Scott laybacked around the corner to the right, balanced upward on 5.10 knobs, sparsely protected by three hand-drilled 5/16-inch bolts, then belayed from the top of the sloping platform. Our ledge celebration was cut short when we gazed up and saw the immense wall above us. Scott volunteered to lead the next pitch, a "moderate" crack ending at a knobby headwall. As was often the case on this route, the moderate section was a nasty 5.11, replete with a strenuous offwidth and an overhanging layback.

Scott quickly scanned the rock above the belay, then immediately rapped back to the ledge. He didn't have to say anything, I knew we'd gotten off-track. The angle above was near vertical and the knobs were yards apart. Dejected, I led a 5.9 pitch to rejoin In Cold Blood at the base of a huge, detached block. Above this soared the infamous "Incision," a 200-foot knife blade crack that split the headwall. When Robbins reached this point on his solo ascent, he felt blessed by good fortune, but free climbing it looked impossible.

Scott jammed a 5.10 offwidth to the top of the block, hammered a couple of pins into the hairline crack, then took a closer look. "It'll go for sure," he yelled down. "How hard?" I shot back. ".12d, maybe .13a." Since 5.12 is my max, I eyed the face to the left. An easy traverse led down and around a corner. What was on the other side? Surely the West Face route wasn't far away. Linking these routes would give us an all-free ascent.

Not wanting to add bolts to Robbins' classic nail-up, Scott rapped from the precarious block and quickly disappeared out left around the corner. He was yelling, but with the wind and the roar of the falls I couldn't make out a word. It wasn't until I heard a very faint but distinctive tap, tap, tap of the hammer and drill that I knew he'd found the missing link. Moderate, but classically exposed, a 5.10 tip-toe dike traverse led to the heart of the upper West Face. A 5.11 layback flake and a two-bolt face traverse left led us to the 5.10c offwidth pitch on the West Face route. Two hours later we were standing on the summit. We called our 16-pitch route How the West Was Won (V 5.12b).

Scrambling down the descent gully, Scott commented that Yosemite was in another Golden Age, when the big walls first climbed in the '50s and '60s were now being free climbed. When we hit the paved trail we stopped for a moment and looked back at the great north face, its features highlighted by the afternoon light, then we shuffled down among the thronging Fourth of July tourists back to the car.

Gym climber
squamish, b.c.
Feb 18, 2014 - 10:35pm PT
The virtual camp fire is roaring this evening!

Thanks for stoking it up.

Feb 18, 2014 - 10:47pm PT
Great thread and elucidation, 9.5 out of 10 ! 1 more photo and it's a solid 10. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 10:56pm PT
I remember that article BG. It's good.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 18, 2014 - 11:01pm PT
thanks Coz

Big Wall climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 11:03pm PT

Trad climber
JTree & Idyllwild
Feb 18, 2014 - 11:03pm PT
Credit: BG
photo by bob gaines
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 11:11pm PT
Thanks for writing and sharing the stories, Scott.
Pretty cool to get stopped by one move (but still find it very tough),
and then go back again and "win"!
The fun is in the adventure(s) along the way, of course.

Cool to see Bob's story written at the time as well.

Trad climber
JTree & Idyllwild
Feb 18, 2014 - 11:29pm PT
Credit: BG
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