Circular Staircase TR

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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 8, 2008 - 06:51pm PT
In his introduction to the article "Exploring The Yosemite Point Couloir" by Dave Brower, in the recently published anthology Ordeal By Piton, Steve Roper writes of this climb:
"...a long climb that has since faded into obscurity. It was never popular; Chuck Pratt and I did it in 1958, without recourse to direct aid, but I know of no other person who has ever done it. This seems a shame, for the outing is an interesting one, full of surprises..."


There are many climbs in Yosemite Valley which I have termed "Roper Obscurities," for those climbs that appear in Roper's encyclopedic 1971 Climber's Guide to Yosemite Valley and in no later guides. There are 158 such climbs spanning the time period from 1869 to 1970 (a year before the publication of the guide).

The original George Meyers topo guide Yosemite Climbs, which was published by Mountain Letters of Modesto California in 1976, was a loose leaf set of large pages subtitled "Topographical Drawings of the Best Rockclimbing Routes in Yosemite Valley," in modern parlance, a select guide; "These (350) climbs were choosen for inclusion on the basis of their beauty, quality, difficulty and popularity." (Thanks again for Bob Harrington for sending me a copy of his original).

The "Yellow Guide" is the predecessor to the modern comprehensive guide many of us use, and in its preface Meyers writes; "A number of climbs, mostly pre-1970 in origin, are not included for lack of reliable data, or are purposefully not described because of their generally unappealing nature. Long bushwacks to climb what today seem like dirty and unchallenging lines are not popular. Many of these neglected routes have not seen second ascents. I refer the interested reader to Roper's guide for more information." Ironically, most of you have never seen a "Yellow Guide," yet it is the archetype for all the topo guides since published. And it is the setter of style and aesthetics now common among climbing visitors to the Valley.

These climbs appear in name in Roper's Camp 4 and in the chapter "The Profound Abyss: 1933-1946" we learn that "Brower and Harris utterly dominated Yosemite climbing in the mid to late 1930s; they went on to establish nine more routes together, including long and involved climbs such as the Yosemite Point Couloir and the Circular Staircase on Sentinel Rock." While you know Brower, you probably don't know Harris so well, indicated most recently by the lack of response to the news of his death in March of 2005 here on SuperTopo. An accomplished person, you can read the [url="http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/inmemoriam/morganharris.htm"]UCB in memoriam[/url] piece for more biographical information.

Of the climbs of Morgan Harris, you have probably done his most popular, Royal Arches, with the exception of the "Rotten Log Traverse" (you'll have to get Roger to time travel with you back to do that pitch). But you have probably not done any of the others, nor have you heard about them, nor would you learn of their existence in the Reid guide.

But if you travel in the circle of friends that I do, you are up on all the obscurities, and you would know about some marvelously wild places in the Valley not often visited. This is extremely useful when plotting out future climbs, and trying to become familiar with various approaches and descents which live in infamy. One such is the descent from Sentinel Rock, especially after the almost always exhausting first time ascent of the Steck-Salathe. This climb is on the list of climbs that Gary and I will do, and so learning about Sentinel Rock is high on our list of reconnaissance objectives.

And so it was that on Saturday, May 31st that Gary and I found ourselves on the Circular Staircase perhaps the easiest way to circumnavigate Sentinel Rock, taking us by every climb start on the formation, and requiring us to familiarize ourselves with the descent from that formation.

Sentinel Rock -- Circular Staircase

II, 5.8, Dave Brower and Morgan Harris, May 1940. First free ascent by Krehe Ritter and Steve Roper, 1959. From the rope-up spot for the West Face route, work south via either a short rappel or a short 5.7 pitch, to a broad, sloping ledge which shoots across the western side of the rock. Follow this ledge for several hundred feet until approximately 150 feet from its end. The route begins in an easy gully which diagonals up slightly to the right. The 2nd pitch continues up the increasingly difficult gully. After a short distance, curve off right and ascend (5.8) to a large, brush-covered ledge. Walk right a few hundred feet until a gully which leads to the top is reached.
-Steve Roper, Climber's Guide to Yosemite Valley 1971

I know of this route from Eric Gable, he has done the first part to get to another obscurity, The Bannister, and while Gary and I thought we might do this linkup, we ended up reaffirming our initial desire to do reconnaissance... In all, we did 2 short rappels to get to the climb, and a pitch of "technical climbing," all the rest scrambling in the most amazing wilderness.

Here's were we went...


The light blue line is the approach to the start of the West Face route, then a descent, which we did by rappel, to the rather large ledge. Finding the start is a trick, but we went to the end of the ramp and worked our way back looking for something to fits the description of an "easy gully" in Roper's parlance.

You park at the obvious turn out for the "4-Mile Trail" underneath the north face of Sentinel Rock, and start walking up the trail. At some point you will get to the rather obvious ramp after wandering uphill in the brush.

The ramp is obvious as you emerge out of the bush up against Sentinel Rock, looking up:


You just follow the "trail" which is mostly obvious; and be careful not to slip. Here is Gary on the last bit of scrambling before we come to the Steck-Salathe start:


From under the Steck-Salathe looking west and spy a large pine tree, highest on the ramp, and visible from all aspects, including the valley floor.


That is what we are heading for, the start of our descent. Lots of ants at the base, we just throw the rope around the ample trunk and head down. Gary coming to an intermediate point in a set of oaks.


One more little rap gets us to the bench on the west side of Sentinel Rock. Here Gary coils the rope.


and looking back to the pine tree...


...from below our gully.


Here Gary has the lead, which it turns out is almost all of the route given that we have a 200' long rope, which combines the two pitches.


It is grungy, cleaning necessary to get pro in, vegetated, at the end I find him in a bay bush. I just keep going up, which is not technical, looking for the start of The Banister which I'm pretty sure I spy. I bring Gary up and we discuss options.


We opt to just walk up the gully to get to the descent in the light of day. Neither of us have done the descent. Here is the view west as we climb up the first parts of the gully.


From the floor of the valley to the top of the gully is something like 2800' getting us to around 6800' in the saddle between Sentinel Rock and Sentinel Dome. We crank up there quickly (relative, it is a bushwack as you get high). We then descend angling north to intersect the gully coming down from the North Face areas. The whole of Sentinel Rock forms a fortress with walls on the North, West and South, and a steep gully to the East. Here is a look up to the North once we interesect.


And now we're in the descent... Gary scrambling down with our objective discernable below, the stream.


Much props to those who go up there for the first time and descend in the night. I wouldn't do it having been down in the daytime.

Just past the intersection of the stream at the bottom of the steep gully, Gary emerges from the bush, we still have a long, complicated way to go.


This time of year there is another stream which comes in from a bit more east, I lead us over that stream too, and it was a mistake. Keep working down with the first stream you cross to you immediate left. You'll have to puzzle out lots of down climbing, but going too far right is a mistake. At some point we came across a small sage bush which had been tied off with a 7mm perlon cord, apparently a rappel anchor! on an otherwise downclimbable section, at least in the daylight.

Eventually you cross the stream and continue down looking for the climber's trail you ascended to the ramp. Just take this down to the "4-Mile Trail" and your nearly home. Back at the trail head you can look up and admire the formation.


All in all, it is less than 4 miles, round trip. Click the image for a link to the map.
Walleye

climber
Under the dwarf maples near The Same Mansion
Jun 8, 2008 - 06:58pm PT
Geez Ed, you keep going and going and going. I always enjoy the trip reports. Keep having fun and keep reporting.

WJF
L

climber
The right side of the tracks but in the wrong town
Jun 8, 2008 - 07:02pm PT
Refraining has been Rescended! Yeah!!!!


Beautiful photos and TR, Ed. Dang that looks like fun!


Jersey
Jay Wood

Trad climber
Fairfax, CA
Jun 8, 2008 - 07:43pm PT
Super! The satellite map is stunning.

Thanks.
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Jun 8, 2008 - 07:48pm PT
Pretty cool, Ed. Thanks for sharing.

(don't delete this one)
wildone

climber
Where you want to be
Jun 8, 2008 - 08:13pm PT
I love it, Ed. I'm into the obscurities too, but have never thought others would want to read about them. I realize there are lots of us out there.
Next time I go to the valley, I'm gonna do some sentinel creek stuff.
goatboy smellz

climber
colorado
Jun 8, 2008 - 08:28pm PT
HE'S BACK!!!
WhooHoo!!
Sanjan

Boulder climber
a prissy pit
Jun 8, 2008 - 08:35pm PT
bushwhacks in the valley is where it's at man . i've been looking at a line to get up to the diving board from the front , but like fom the stables area for lack of better illustration . i've done watkin's gulley , ascended the sentinel descent , ahwahnnee ramps and some other stuff . i remember looking down yosemite point coulior from the (trail) top . you guys should do it . and post up the tr of course .
Brunosafari

Boulder climber
Redmond, OR
Jun 8, 2008 - 08:44pm PT
SUPER, Ed and thank you for another post we all benefit from via your generous, informing spirit. - Agree with Jay on the ariel view!

Good reminder for all of us at the beginning of summer regarding the potential seriousness of descents in darkness.

Thanks again Ed. I'm entertaining ideas of visiting Yosemite again someday to climb, and your Yosemite postings have been part of the reason. Bruce Adams
bob

climber
Jun 8, 2008 - 09:42pm PT
Ed, super cool. Thanks for that one! Great adventure.
Sanjan, I did a route that started from the Yosemite Point Couliar. We had to rap into it and I remember thinking how badass it looked. Technically HARD looking for the folks climbing it due to the slime!
Great things to look forward to Ed, great things to remember Sanjan. Thanks guys.
Bob J.
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand.... man.....
Jun 8, 2008 - 10:02pm PT
Cool Ed! You guys sure do get around.
nutjob

Stoked OW climber
San Jose, CA
Jun 8, 2008 - 10:05pm PT
Damn Ed, you and Gary are adventure machines.

And you just raised the bar on informative trip reports without going all encyclopedic about it. I'll resist the urge to get a GPS, but that's about as close as anything has come to motivating me to get one.

Now there's this big section of interesting looking stuff between Sentinel and Cathedral area that I find myself checking out from belay stations every once in a while. Specifically, theres a huge left-ascending diagonal crack/ramp that splits the middle of a gnarly looking face for hundreds, if not a thousand feet, almost straight across from Lower Brother. Any idea if there's stuff up there climbable by mortals? This would be top of my list of places to just to "see what's up" after I get through my list of classics. Gotta get that roper guide someday.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Jun 8, 2008 - 10:55pm PT
Thanks, Ed. Great report. I'd always been interested in The Bannister, so I'm curious about any other information you or others may have. Thanks again.
cowpoke

climber
Jun 9, 2008 - 06:25am PT
another cheer for the satellite map of your day! thanks for sharing the adventure!
MisterE

Social climber
My Inner Nut
Jun 9, 2008 - 07:05am PT
Sounds like a grand adventure, Ed. Thanks for the TR.

I particularly like the shot of the valley from the notch - nice.

Keep 'em comin'!

Erik
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 9, 2008 - 07:25am PT
the view to the west is wonderful from Sentinel Rock's west side...




nutjob - there are many obscure climbs of lower obscurity rating in the section of the Valley between Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Spires. The best known climbs in the "modern era" are single pitch climbs down low, but there are climbs like Pohono Pinnacle which are down infrequently and other climbs which have been lost. There is a small cadre of climbers, obscuristas, who are out there looking for those old routes. Some of those are active in putting up new, bold lines on some of those cliffs too.


Dirka

Trad climber
SF
Jun 9, 2008 - 10:13am PT
Hell yeah Ed!!!!!!
I love that Google pic showing where you went. I have never even heard of that route before. Super sweet!
ablegabel

Trad climber
Livermore,Ca.
Jun 9, 2008 - 11:05am PT
Good job Ed, Glad to see you got up there. There are some incredibly beautiful and unique views of the Valley to be seen from that area. -Nut Job- the Left trending ramp you are talking about is probably the 1941 Brower Route on Lost Brother (5.6). It's a good route with some steep chimneys down low, dirt and bush climbing in the midddle, and some creative route finding up high. We did a 10 pitch 5.10b called "Goliath" on the same formation which takes a steeper diagonal line above the Brower route, spliting the face of Lost Brother, and tops out on that formation. -JEleazarian- "The Banister" is a fine route up the side of Sentinel. After getting through the first few pitches of "Circular Staircase" there is a large, obvious chimney above. Aproach it by going up right, through the trees, then diagonal in left on a brushy ramp. There is good climbing in the chimney with some mandatory tree climbing on some very hardy old Oak trees. Up higher, the prefered variation can be a litle hard to pick out but gets better as you get higher. There is a particularly hard move at a pin(the only pin on the route that we saw). Up higher it turns into some hiking/bush wacking, before you take a not so obvious ramp/ledge system that will lead you up left into the notch behind Sentinel - Good Luck - Eric
TKingsbury

Trad climber
MT
Jun 10, 2008 - 08:25am PT
Bump for a cool looking adventure.

Right on! ♫♪♫♫♪♫(radical guitar solo ala Bill & Ted)
Carolyn C

Trad climber
the long, long trailer
Jun 10, 2008 - 09:24am PT
"You just follow the "trail" which is mostly obvious; and be careful not to slip." No truer words has been spoke! Truly a fun approach.

The overhead map is really cool.
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