Sentinel Climbed with Boy Scout Canteen by Young guys


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Social climber
petaluma ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 16, 2008 - 08:42pm PT
The 9th Ascent of the Sentinel - Salathe Route

Someone asked about Jeff Foott and Bill Amborn’s (BBA) 9th ascent in August 1960 of the Salathe on Sentinel on another thread. For the history buffs, here we go…

I was in the Valley in late May 2008, falls roaring but the valley floor dusty as the lower levels of the Sierra had been dry this spring. Being a Golden Pass guy, I checked into Camp 4 for $2.50 a night – an outrageous price! As it was getting dark I was sitting on a table enjoying the warm air when a young climber came by and asked in a frog accent, “Have you been on Sentinel?” I said “yes”. He replied, “Did you see my headlamp? I left it up there.” I said, “No, it was 48 years ago I was up there.” He stopped, perhaps trying to figure if his English understanding was failing him or trying to do mental subtraction. We got in a great conversation about the Narrows and the climb in general, and it turned out he was from French speaking Belgium, not a real frog after all. I thought it was nice that such an understanding could pass between two people separated by so many years and from different cultures.

In 1960 the Salathe route on Sentinel wasn’t named that, it was just the North Face of Sentinel Rock. We hadn’t gotten to the cult of the personality yet, for if you name something after someone before, then you get to have something named after you. Pretty cool the way it works out for all us egotists.

Setting the stage. August 1960. Jeff was a 16 year old high school kid from Albany who was in the valley. By some accident of bad luck, he knew Roper. He had been climbing about 6 months. I (BBA) was in the valley for my third trip having been there in May and June for a total of a week or two doing the classics, Split Pinnacle, Cathedral Spires, Royal Arches. I was 19 and starting my junior year at Cal. I had been climbing for a year and a half, mostly at Stoney Point and some at Tahquitz while at UCLA. I had hitchhiked up with Lito Tejada-Flores a couple of days earlier from Berserkeley where we were students, and we had decided to climb YPB which Lito made into Wipee Butt ress. We were long on puns and short on conditioning. I had been working as a laborer for the Forest Service and Lito was doing whatever. But, even so we popped up YPB in a few hours and were down by lunch and only used one piton for direct aid. So that afternoon young Jeff comes up to me and says, on Rper's advice, “Hey Amborn, wanna climb Sentinel?”

What does a dumbster do but say “Yes”. So we got our gear together and figured it out. Four quarts of water for two days, a climbing rope and a quarter inch hauling rope, some food, whatever hardware the guys told us to bring and a sweatshirt for the noche. I had avoided 6th class climbing as a general rule and so Jeff was the expert on that area. The agreement was he got the headwall and I got the Narrows. A note about our water containers: I had a quart plastic bottle that made water taste like something mildly offensive. Jeff had a quart Boy Scout metal canteen, and we got a two quart metal canteen from someone else.

Late that afternoon we went up and put up the first pitch, then came down. Next morning we were up and at ‘em. I remember a lot of hard climbing and was always glad Jeff got the leads he did, and later he told me he was glad I got the ones I got. Go figure.

We had gone up a good ways when the big canteen sprung a leak due to banging around on the hauls so we had to drink it all down or watch it ooze away. Even in Yosemite in summer you can drink too much water, and after that I didn’t feel too hot. I don’t know about Jeff. The hauling got easier, though. We got to the top of the flying buttress OK and with enough spare light so Jeff could put up the headwall pitch and come down and we could settle down to suffer through a night sitting around waiting for dawn.

Next morning we got going up to the Narrows. At the Narrows it was my lead and I went up as best I could, but I relaxed at the wrong moment and plummeted out and down. As I came out my feet somehow went forward and I was in excellent chimney position, stopped pretty much even with Jeff who had a shocked expression. The thought of going outside was too much to bear, so I went at it again and struggled up. This error on my part wasted a lot of time. We continued up and at one point I thought to myself, “How odd, this rock is sticky!” I was oozing blood onto the rock as my lack of conditioning, especially fingers, had led to complete wearing off of the fingertip skin. But you still gotta climb.

We got to the top and the sun was going down. Jeff pulled it out and pissed on top of Sentinel while making appropriate comments. It was moonless so we got stuck in the huge talus and had to stop and crash again. Made it back early in the morning to Camp 4.

Best climb of my life. And I will always admire Jeff for his courage and steadfastness.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 16, 2008 - 08:53pm PT
great story Bill. Makes it real somehow.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Last >>
Nov 16, 2008 - 10:09pm PT
Thanks for the story . You got nice writing style too . Old-school Yosemite climbing is alive and kicking on Supertopo Forum !

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Nov 16, 2008 - 10:22pm PT
Feckin' A Bill, that was great!!
It was a few years later, but that's how my earliest adventures "felt" in my head.
Thanks for layin' it down!!

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Nov 17, 2008 - 12:02am PT
Awesome tale. Still remember my first trip up that with Jim Orey in '71. Kicked our asses.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 17, 2008 - 12:09am PT
Thanks, Bill - that's very nice!

I suppose it would be impertinent to now create new routes in the Valley, naming them after all the pioneers who have not so far been so recognized.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Nov 17, 2008 - 12:39am PT
Another quality Taco Stand addition!

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Nov 17, 2008 - 08:38am PT
Now that's a cool story you couldn't find anywhere else -- Sentinel in 1960!
Back before even my time.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Nov 17, 2008 - 10:10am PT
Great story, Bill. And a great climb. Dave Bircheff and I did the route late in our climbing lives, when we were really fit and expericenced. We were up and down in a longish day, but I remember both of us being exhausted.
scuffy b

On the dock in the dark
Nov 17, 2008 - 10:49am PT
Thanks for the great account, Bill.
It kicked my butt pretty hard just this year.

Trad climber
Nov 17, 2008 - 10:55am PT
Thanks for the story Bill,
Jim E

Nov 17, 2008 - 11:11am PT
Great story and the telling.
Now I have another route to add to my 'someday' list.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Nov 17, 2008 - 11:55am PT
Great history, Bill. Brings it all back. That wonderful climb has meant so much to so many young climbers.

right here, right now
Nov 17, 2008 - 12:49pm PT
Very nice BBA!

Although born in August of 1960, I had one of those canteens, maybe even identical item; shaped like a thick wafer and came with a drab green cotton cover. Probably the same Boy Scout issue for 30 years.

Jeff Foott climbing that thing at 16: few 16-year-olds have the sort of physical constitution and stamina required to match such a route, never mind the technical prowess.
Hardly Visible

Port Angeles
Nov 17, 2008 - 04:44pm PT
Another classic from the wayback machine!
Thanks BBA

Trad climber
Max V02
Nov 17, 2008 - 05:47pm PT

It was still a tad shy of two years before I would plop out on this planet.

I think I had one of those canteens at some point too. Also one of those ribbed plastic jobs with the attach screw cap (EMS).

Sentinel has long been on my list. Gotta get in a bit better form still. Maybe I'll do it when I'm 51 since I think that was how old Salathe was on the first ascent. He used to seem like such the old guy but not anymore!

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Nov 17, 2008 - 06:12pm PT
That story reminds me a lot of my ascent with Chris Fredericks, in fall 1964. I'm working on a new book and, mostly for fun, and in one little chapter I spent about ten pages detailing that Sentinel experience with Chris. I think we all are blessed to do such climbs, to have been with such people in such an amazing place...

We often read about the main players, but I find it really interesting and compelling to read about others who were there as well, in that golden age. I can see a book of all their stories and memories... I wish someone could put something like that together. Or each person write his own memoirs, and collect everyone's into a big encyclopedia...or something.

the Fet

Knackered climber
A bivy sack in the secret campground
Nov 17, 2008 - 06:27pm PT
Great story. The adventure level was so much higher back then, impressive.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 17, 2008 - 07:14pm PT
"Next morning we got going up to the Narrows. At the Narrows it was my lead and I went up as best I could, but I relaxed at the wrong moment and plummeted out and down. As I came out my feet somehow went forward and I was in excellent chimney position, stopped pretty much even with Jeff who had a shocked expression. The thought of going outside was too much to bear, so I went at it again and struggled up. "

Yup, that outside passage is supposed to be a good plan but it just looks "too much to bear!"



Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Nov 17, 2008 - 10:51pm PT
Foott and BBA teasing me as usual!

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