Retro TR: Chouinard-Herbert, Sentinel Rock


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Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 23, 2007 - 08:31pm PT
Chouinard Herbert (5.9 A2), Sentinel Rock

This is just some pics from the first wall I ever did, the first time I went to the Valley. The pics are pretty hideous as it was early on in my climbing career and I didn't yet have the fine art of the butt shot dialed in. The quality ain't so good either, as they were scanned directly from some pretty old photos. C'est la vie.

As I mentioned in my other Retro TR (South Face of the Column), my buddy Tim and I flew in Friday night and hooked up with Bill in San Hoser the night before we launched. We'd never been to the Valley and we hadn't done a wall before. The longest climb we'd ever been on was the Petit Grepon (8 pitches) about three months before this. We drove in near the Valley late and sacked out in a pullout just outside.

We got up early, drove on in and started the approach on Saturday. Hello Four Mile Trail! Pretty impressive to have Sentinel Rock hanging over your head like that on the approach. It's always reminded me somewhat of a tombstone.

I think this is Bill on one of the "approach pitches". There's no hiking to the base of this route. I think we hauled twice just getting to the start of pitch one!!

Quite the view for a first-time Valley visitor...

I believe this is pitch two of the route. Beyond this chimney is a crack leading up to the tree (the next pitch). The goal is to get to the top of the Chessman Pinnacle (that night's lodging).

I believe this is Bill leading the first of three pitches we fixed above the Chessman Pinnacle.

Me cleaning the same pitch. If memory serves, the three pitches sort of angle out right and then back left so you basically end up above the Chessman, and can fix two ropes back down from there. We all picked a sloping ledge and hit the sack.

This tree absolutly fascinated me by the way it grew straight out of the rock, then formed a 90-degee bend and went straight up in the air. That rock in the background didn't hurt the ambience, either...

Day two...up early and chugging up the ropes. This is one of the next pitches. They all sort of blended together on this day as we needed to make some time to get to the top before dark.

This is a shot up to the belay just before the Afro-Cuban flake pitch (pitch 12).

Some pretty airy jugging out there by Tim to get over the Afro-Cuban flakes. At least he got to traverse piece to piece while cleaning. I can remember having some serious shrinkage when I had to suck up the rope and lower out to start jugging directly off this belay.

The top is in sight! Looking up the 14th pitch. One more above to the summit.

We topped out at dark and then had to negotiate the manzanita forest to get into Sentinel Gully, then had to basically onsight the incredibly loose gully in the dark by headlamp. I was sooooo glad to make it to the car about 10:30 that night. We cleaned up a little, then headed for San Jose. After sorting gear back at Bill's place, we packed up our stuff, got two hours of sleep and made it to the airport to fly back to Phoenix Monday morning. I was sitting at my desk at work by 10:30. A bit shell-shocked, but blown away by my first visit to the Valley.

Big thanks to Bill for being patient and getting us up this thing.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 23, 2007 - 08:33pm PT
Very nice TR!

Isn't it Chessman Pinnacle?
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Feb 23, 2007 - 08:41pm PT
Yeah, Chessman. Some dude who was executed at San Quentin or some such thing.

Chouinard-Herbert was my first big wall back in 83. When did you guys do it? We did it in two days, with a bivi on the sloping ledge I think at the top of P8. We just brought a sleeping pad for the two of us and down duvets. Good enough for one night.

I remember the horrific approach, and calling for a toprope after my partner soloed some way scary thing. On the descent we got off-route and traversed way east trying to reach the Four Mile Trail, only to discover there was a 400-foot cliff blocking our way. So we had to go up and over. It was a long descent. We should have gone straight down the gully like yous guys.

Great trip report. Way to keep the photos no bigger than 700 pixels so the post doesn't get too "fat".

Cheers, eh?

Trad climber
mt. hood /baja
Feb 23, 2007 - 09:09pm PT
Nice TR...good to see a c;imbing post!
Those pictures bring back some memories.....thanks!

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 23, 2007 - 09:15pm PT
Thought it was Chessman as well, but looking in the Meyers book, it said "Cheesman"... I'll change 'em...

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 23, 2007 - 10:26pm PT
The memories . . .


right here, right now
Feb 23, 2007 - 10:34pm PT
Way to post up the goods Steelmonk.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Feb 23, 2007 - 11:13pm PT
how cool! we were just talking about the Chouinard-Herbert the other day as a "first wall" climb. And now here it is!

Thanks for the retro TR!

Social climber
No Ut
Feb 24, 2007 - 01:53am PT
Monkey, that was my first Yosemite wall, too, back in '67. Largo, didn't you do the first free ascent in the mid 70's?
Frog Man Junior

Social climber
Feb 24, 2007 - 02:45am PT
Classic! My first wall too. I'll never forget that offwitdh and sliding a #5 up as I went! Great pics, thanks!

Social climber
The West
Feb 24, 2007 - 02:49am PT
Bravo, steel, evaluating my own experience for a retro tr.

Gym climber
Here and there
Feb 24, 2007 - 10:05am PT
Presently adding this route to the to-do list. Looks like a fun adventure. Thanks for the inspiration!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Feb 24, 2007 - 10:35am PT
Great TR, Steel,

Is the approach to C-H the same as the SS? I haven't done the C-H, but I don't remember any climbing to get to the base of the SS.

So how about it, John--a story on the FFA?


Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 24, 2007 - 10:38am PT
The approaches for S-S and C-H are similar, but while you can just sort of easily scramble up and around to the right to get to that wonderful first fat crack on the S-S, you have to do some easy 5th class stuff to get up to the start of the C-H (at least that's what my memory recalls).
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 24, 2007 - 11:35am PT
Nice old days post SM.

Hey Largo,
You were in on the FFA were you not? The Afro-Cuban flake your pitch or any other recollections to share? Still waiting (hoping?) on the Harding Slot Largo-style over on More OW Stuff.

Anyone done the other North Face routes (Kor-Denny, Psychedelic Wall, Direct or the Gobi) and have anything to recommend them? The Direct North Face always looked the cleanest.

Charles Cole free soloed the Steck Salathe way back when and somehow strayed off route after the Great Chimney and ended up finishing on the Chouinard-Herbert!! Once he got down from his misadventure, he told lots of folks the details and almost universally got a "good for you, that's nice Charles, way to go." That is until he told his tale to me. "Charles you're an idiot! How could you lose THAT route? You are lucky to be alive you bonehead!" Charles hung his head with a smirk and then we both busted up laughing. At last, the verbal spanking that he had been seeking landed on his worthy ass. Tough love, the glue that keeps friendships strong.

Social climber
The West
Feb 24, 2007 - 02:19pm PT
When we did Chouinard/Herbert it was something of a milestone for us as well. Not a first wall, I'd climbed El cap by then and even SS and the West Face of Sent. But it was to be our first long hard (for us) free in a day route.

Wheels and I hiked up early one morning to find a party aiding it. We stashed our gear and planned an even earlier start a few days later.

Plan B worked splendidly. A predawn start from camp got us waiting for dawn on the approach. We got to Caryl Cheesman pinnacle by second cup of Coffee time. Wheels, a high caliber face-gun, got the evens and I led the odds. He cruised the 11a lieback and all too soon we were at the .11 corner pitch, my lead. I had butterflys the size of pteradactyls in my gut. I think it was rated 11c(?) back then which was, um, ambitous, for me given the circumstances.

But the pitch went smooothly, (.11a, in current Reid) and was my favorite lead of the route. Wheels, however was having his own anxiety attack, eyeballing the Afro-Cuban flake, his next lead. I could hear him mumbling as he cruised the corner. Which was somewhat out of character for the Taciturn Mr Wheeler.

When he got closer I could make it out, "Redrum,redrum,redrum," He later told me he'd picked it up from the brothers Caruthers as a tense moment mantra.

I was glad it was his lead. He used every bit of his machinist's meticulusness to get solid RP's above the roof and benifited from his sophisticated foot work to eventually scoot up the thing. I followed it clean and free, but didn't think I could have hung around there that long on lead. Wheels was one strong and wirey little f*#ker.

The rest was easy, fun and mostly uneventfull, for us, anyway. We topped out a little after noon and settled into a leisurely, Rasta meditation.

Which was broken by the sound of sirens and flashing emergency lights below. After a bit we could tell that part of the one way loop had been re-routed, there might even have been a helicopter.
My first thought was that something had happened to Walt S who was soloing the NA. Turned out it was the day that a giant oak branch fell on to a green dragon, injuring and killing people (a pregnant lady on her honeymoon?)

(Edit- it's possible this happened earlier, maybe when we were on Cheesman)
We didn't know what had happened till that evening, but felt fortunate in any case.

The brutal descent behind us, we wandered into the C-4 lot where Lynn found the following note on his car.

"Hey Cowboy, next time you leave your car door open and your camera lying in the dirt, I'm going to keep your sh#t instead of putting it away for you." unsigned.

No doubt this had to do with our early start and low caffeine titer.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 25, 2007 - 09:12pm PT
Great TR Jaybro. All free this one is still on my list. I bet the old grim tombstone is mighty grim right now and probably looks about like this or worse.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 25, 2007 - 09:34pm PT
First tried to free this thing with Kauk in (I think) 74, but the Afro Cuban and corner below were soaking wet. Went back later with Pete Livesly and did it up. Very well covered on other threads here in the past, but the big deal for us was the lack of anything remotely bomber pro wise at the end of the AF Flake and me shitting bricks as I went for it anyhow because I didn't want to go up there a third time. Not a lot of hard climbing (mostly 5.9 and easy 5.10) but it gets serious in a few spots though I suspect modern protection devices have made it at least a little safer.

I always wanted to forge out left and try and free some of that stuff but for whatever reason we never did. There's holds everywhere out left but the rock is not the greatest. I was always a little enchanted by Sentinel because it rose up there in full view of Camp 4 and being up on the hillside like that, seemd to be looking down on us. For a mostly free route (just a touch of aid) the West Face is probably the best thing going on Sentinel owing to classic features and solid rock. I must have climbed that thing--more on the initial pitches--five or six times trying to find a totally free line but never did. I do think if someone wanted to bolt the thing on rap you could free all of it but back in the 70s we would never have thought of doing that on such a classic.


Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Feb 26, 2007 - 09:12am PT
After sending with a sport climbing maestro (whom I thankfully bagged into all the hard pitches) we had someone tell us they had freed the seam above/left of the afro-cuban pitch.

Never knew if that was true, though there was a fixed piece of crud or two.

Homey hung around forever setting a "midpitch" anchor at the end of A/C. Got in a mess of small was a chore. Much safer than JL's day I'm sure.

One crux was finding the start...we scrambled "death style" all around the base. Neither of us had recon'ed properly.

Mostly I remember eating a mess of thimbleberries. very hungry--note to self, don't do grade V's with f'n sportos-. no "leisurely meditation" as Jaybro refers to above, either...what a gyp.

Sentinel was always intimidating for me, mebbe because I was hiking the Falls the day (after?) Derek died up there-watched the choppers take him out of there...
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 26, 2007 - 11:32am PT
Thanks for the crux report JL. I hope that all my clamoring for stories doesn't bug you too much. A good tale never wears out and follows you wherever you go. Have you ever heard anything about the Direct North Face as a free prospect? The old Roper guide gives it a grade VI so I assume things are thinner over there and less chossy.

The West Face is a favorite of mine too. I followed my first 5.11 pitch up there back in 1975 and had a great time. After seeing the classic film so many times, I had to do the thing just to find out whether it was "Agony.....or ecstasy!"

No agony on Peter Prandoni's face!
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