Arrowhead Arete and Spire TR


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 53 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 28, 2007 - 01:26am PT

Arrowhead Spire, Arrowhead Arête Trip Report, Part I - history
May 26, 2007
Gary Carpenter & Ed Hartouni

I will start where I usually do for these sorts of reports, Roper's description in the Green guide:

Arrowhead Spire - South Arête pg. 133

I, 5.5 Dave Brower and Richard Leonard, September 1937. Seen from the vicinity of Camp 4, this is the obvious 100-foot pinnacle on the skyline to the right of Yosemite Point Buttress. Follow the West Arrowhead Chimney upward until about 200 feet below the first major series of chockstones. Walk out right on class 3 ledges to the south arête of the spire. Rope up on a ledge about 60 feet above the base of a huge Douglas fir. Once the first steep 30-foot wall is overcome, the climbing becomes easier to the base of a conspicuous chimney. From the top of the chimney an enjoyable, high-angle pitch over knobs leads to the top. Rappel the route. Iron: 6-8 pitons, up to 1½".

Arrowhead Arête pg. 133

III, 5.8. Mark Powell and Bill (Dolt) Feuerer, October, 1956. This is the arête which, when viewed from Yosemite Lodge, rises in striking profile above the Arrowhead Spire. Seen from Yosemite Village, it is deeply cleft on both sides by the great gashes of the West and East Arrowhead Chimneys. This classic route was once regarded as "possibly the most continuous difficult fifth-class climb in this country." It is particularly amazing that the first ascent party did the route all free.

From the top of Arrowhead Spire, rappel first into the notch, then about 50 feet down the west side. Climb steep cracks just left of an open book to a ledge 110 feet up. Work up and right for 50 feet, then continue up the center of the arête for about 150 feet. A prominent tree will be seen up and around a corner to the right. Climb to this tree, then ascend the easy "Great White Flake" which rises above. Next, climb either the center or the right side of the narrowing arête to the fantastically sharp summit ridge.

To descend, walk north along this ridge until it merges with a small buttress. Turn this on the left and follow class 2 and 3 ledges into the West Arrowhead Chimney. Three rappels are necessary – a doubled 150-foot rope is adequate. Iron: 10-12 pitons, up to 1½".

Interestingly, the quote in Roper's description is from Mark Powell himself, at least that is what Chris Jones says in his Climbing in North America. In his chapter "The Southern Californians" he recounts the era, "During the mid-1950s the general level of Yosemite climbing was inexpert. In 1956 two unsuccessful attempts were made to repeat the south-west face of Half Dome, while such hoary favorites as the Higher and Lower Cathedral Spires counted some four ascents each. In contrast to this mediocre performance, Robbins and Sherrick made the third ascent of Sentinel's north face, and Powell established a stunning free climb, Arrowhead Arête (5.8). Powell's pace was quickening..."

"Powell referred to Arrowhead Arête as 'possibly the most continuous difficult fifth-class climb in this country,' and he was probably correct. He knew that in terms of absolute difficulty it fell short of several Tahquitz climbs... Powell therefore added a grade to the rating system in an attempt to give an overall assessment of a route."

So we learn both that at least Powell thought highly of the route, but also it compelled him to create the climbs "grade" in the form that we know it today.

We also learn of Powell that he "combined an athletic asceticism with a robust liking for women and booze, and he found the Southern Californians a bunch of prudes. More to his liking were a group that surrounded civil engineer Warren Harding,..."

From Roper's Camp 4 a more complete story emerges, the quote is from the 1957 Sierra Club Bulletin report Powell wrote on the climb. But the story I like is of Roper's first time up the route recounting that by 1959 only two other ascents had been made. "...when Pratt casually said, on July 16, 'Let's go do it," pointing up at the sweeping white profile visible from Camp 4, I agreed instantly. Hours later, deep inside the West Arrowhead Chimney, the rope-up spot, I looked up at the now-grotesque swoop and its blankness and its mystery–and I rebelled. 'We'll die!' I screamed. 'Why are we here?' My words echoed off the walls of the claustrophobic chimney while Pratt sat quietly, sorting gear and staring out at the Valley far below. Finally, in a tight voice, he yelled, "Goddamn it, are you finished?'"

What Powell had written to get Roper in such a state preceded the pronouncement of being the "most continuous difficult" climb, "It is high-angle face climbing on very small holds requiring great finger and toe strength with excellent body balance and faculties keenly tuned to withstanding exposure. To the advanced rock climber this would be a very difficult test; to the less competent, a nightmare."


Social climber
san joser
May 28, 2007 - 02:10am PT
I can't wait Ed, looking forward to the report. I attempted Arrowhead once about 10 years ago. As I think a few others have, we got lost on the approach and retreated to something more familiar. I'll look forward to living vicariously through your experience till I can try again.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 28, 2007 - 02:17am PT

Arrowhead Spire, Arrowhead Arête Trip Report, Part II - our ascent
May 26, 2007
Gary Carpenter & Ed Hartouni

Gary is looking for adventure climbs, but after last year's suggestion of Chockstone Chimney he was a bit gun shy. That trip bordered on epic, certainly we were at it for a very long time. But for some reason, perhaps a Zander trip report, the spire and arête had surfaced on Gary's to-do-list.

I had looked up in the general location of the Arrowhead Spire and Arrowhead Arête lots of times, but I always had the impression that it was very unesthetic. A confused jumble of blocks and deep chimneys unlike the sweeping clean faces of the other Yosemite Valley features just didn't turn me on enough to go up there and take a look. Some places are worth the work to get there, it had never occurred to me that Arrowhead Arête was one of those places.

On top of that, SuperTopo included the climb in the Yosemite Free Climbs volume, and thus eliminated the climbs "obscurity" classification. It is hard to maintain any obscurity if it is in SuperTopo. The ST beta on the climb is excellent, the start of the trail threw me off a bit, but it really does look like an intermittently used ad hoc trail. What can't be seen is that fact that this is the access to a much better trail that nearly takes you all the way to the start of scrambling. Scrambling is what you have to do to get there, and it involves thrashing through scrub, walking up sandy slopes, the whole nine yards.

Given you go up roughly 1600 feet, the trail is pretty good and in the shade. We get diverted momentarily by someone else's trail spur. We retreat and find the correct start a few hundred yards up slope. Looking from afar you would see that the approach is following one of several vegetated tiers, cliffs dividing the tiers. The trail is not so bad, you loose it then find it over and over again. We pretty much followed it to the base of the climbs, which peek in and out through the oaks on your way.

We drop our packs at the rope-up spot and get ready, admiring its "swoop and its blankness." We're here, so we opt for both the spire and the arête. Gary's got everything ready so he's got the first pitch. Up he goes then "whoa, this is a really old pin here!" comes down to me, an old ring angle. He clips it, backs it up and moves upward. Getting to the chimney and then up to a belay ledge. I follow, so far a nice easy climb.

The next lead is mine, and I get to take it to the top of the spire. There the entire sweep of the arête can be studied. From my vantage point it seemed very steep, and hard but doable. Gary comes up and we set up the rap down into the notch. Me first. Gary follows and I go again on the second rap and find the "scraggily tree" which is wearing a multicolored scarf of slingage down from the notch. I am below the tree, Gary lands next to it. Once everybody is good-to-go he takes off up the pitch. We are climbing quite deliberately for some reason. But up we go. A wide crack in the face succumbs to the thursday night practice.

The next pitch has an interesting bit... and it was my lead. There is fixed iron all the way up this route, good indication that we're seeing the logic of the climb. At the crux on this pitch you move from one corner by surmounting a bulge into another corner. Everything is perfect here, and the protection is also very good. I step and stem and make it, I'm at the belay ledge and in short order Gary follows. The pitches are short, I'm not so sure how they might be combined with a longer rope. The line of the climb is a bit wandering, and rope drag was a problem without extending the leads.

On this belay, the third on the route, we are just above the spire, making vertical feet fast. This mother is steep! the route being climbable at 5.8. Up and up swapping leads, I get the one exiting to the ridge. The "Great White Flake" pitch goes up the left side of a beautiful white flake, most of the time with scant protection (as the flake is far enough from the wall to that our wide gear isn't wide enough). The lead is quite spectacular with the spire behind and the Valley far below. This is "only" 5.7, with no protection for a pretty good stretch and the air below, it must have been a really gutsy first ascent.

The next pitch, Gary's goes up and wanders by a "natural arch" which is quite spectacular, given it's creation was an act of chance and the material properties of granite. My pitch 7 gets us to the ridge, awesome exposure all around and simple climbing. Gary takes us across the ridge and we are done with the climbing part... we get organized, change into shoes, get a bite to eat and then we start the down-scramble to the West Chimney.

Down into this loose domain to the first of three raps, the first slightly obscured from above (we rapped off a bush just above the first rap station). After finishing the last rap we are at the packs. More water, more food and off we go reversing the approach.

The climb is intimidating, and I found myself being very careful... loose holds, sand, brush, ants... it is still in a wild state, it is still an adventure climb, and it is still a real classic.

It is a very nice climb that does not seem to have been done so often. The setting is wonderful, and the climbing is good for it's 5.8 rating. That said, it's not a climb for the young 5.8 leader... of course if you get into trouble, you can yell down to the YOSAR office right below the west chimney... and who knows, maybe Werner will hear you and respond.


Gary has pictures from his new digital... mine are in the shop being developed... I'll post late in the week....

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 28, 2007 - 12:32pm PT
Arrowhead Spire was my first Yosemite climb. We had a couple of goldlines, 6 pitons, no clue. Got way off route, climbed 5 pitches of something, reached the summit at sunset and then dulfer-rapped in the dark -- what a fine adventure that was to look back on.

A small kayak on a very big ocean
May 28, 2007 - 12:35pm PT
Great TR, Ed! Can't wait to see the photos!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 28, 2007 - 01:26pm PT
I forgot to mention that I found somone's gold Black Diamond belay device at the rope up spot...
...if it's your's I'll mail it to you...

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 28, 2007 - 02:46pm PT
Really looking forward to those pics. Arrowhead Arete was my first long climb.


Social climber
May 28, 2007 - 04:52pm PT
Hi Ed,

Looking forward to the photos! I didn't realize your Chockstone Chimney climb was nearly an epic. It's on my list, so haven't been yet.


Happy and Healthy climber
the Gunks end of the country
May 28, 2007 - 05:23pm PT
Nice TR.

I am assuming since there was no mention of it, that neither Ed nor Gary did any screaming before the start.

And times being different, Ed does not mention either one's preferences in women.

Trad climber
Hollywood, CA
May 28, 2007 - 07:43pm PT
Thanks for the TR. I love Arrowhead Arete. One of my all time favorites. The first two pitches are kind of bunk, but after that it just kicks all sorts of ass. It's one of the more "alpiney" climbs I've done in the valley (those who've done it know what I mean. The rock quality, the routefinding, etc).

Here's some pics I took on it last spring - I'll kill 'em off once you upload your pics later so I don't slow things down for the dial up folks

the base:

looking down at the Spire:

The top (well, top of P7, we unroped and did the "8th pitch" as ST calls it essentially as a ridgeline traverse)

Added bonus, you have killer views of Half Dome and Porcelain Wall while doing the route:

Trad climber
May 28, 2007 - 10:13pm PT
Thanks for the TR Ed,
I loved this route. The decent is wild. Here is a picture of the top of the route looking back from the ridge.
Here is a picture of one of the rappels.
I can't wait to see your pictures.

right here, right now
May 28, 2007 - 10:15pm PT
I like your writing style Ed; laid back, practical, fun to read.

May 28, 2007 - 10:49pm PT
"... maybe Werner will hear you..."

World war 3 will happen and I still won't hear sh'it.

But if you wave I might c-ya.

Nice TR Ed and Zander.
KP Ariza

May 28, 2007 - 11:55pm PT
Who needs to hear when you've seen it all-
Gary Carpenter

SF Bay Area
May 28, 2007 - 11:55pm PT
Here are my pics from Saturday

Approach view of Spire & Arete

Base of Arete

Ed topping out on Spire

Spire from Arete (Belay #3)

View from Belay #4

Half Dome from 6th belay ledge

Topped out on the Arete

Looking back along the summit ridge

Descent gully

Rap 2 past very cool chockstone!!


Social climber
The West
May 28, 2007 - 11:59pm PT
Yow, another cool one I have somehow missed.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 29, 2007 - 12:27am PT
Man, that's incredible to look at those pics. I did that route with Phil Gleason about three days after arriving (first time) in the Valley. I think I was 18. Thirty-five years later and Ed is having the same experience, in the same place. What's time when you have the Arrowhead Arete.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 29, 2007 - 12:38am PT
Never got up there but it sure looks cool Thanks for posting Ed.

Largo- best 5.8 in the Valley? Not a lot of contenders at that grade.
nick d

Trad climber
May 29, 2007 - 12:44am PT
Ed, your writing is very good! I always enjoy your postings and am inspired to work harder at my own writing. Thanks for the fun report and the inspiration!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 29, 2007 - 12:52am PT
John, what is time? I agree, the route is there and anyone of us can do it... the experience is timeless. It is a feature of climbing that it plays out on a natural, vertical stage which is nearly immutable. What is 35 years but the time between our ascents, and the fact that we are here to share our mutual experience, and marvel at Mark Powell's vision and boldness now more than 50 years ago. It would be wonderful to be able to share it with him, too; I'm happy to share it with STForum as others have also been up there.

TIG - no screaming, I think we were pretty respectful, and confident that we could pull off the climb. Many more than 3 other parties had travelled up those two climbs before us though, Roper and Pratt did good so long ago, who cares if they screamed a little.

Messages 1 - 20 of total 53 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta