Lost Arrow Chimney Trip Report 9/19/09


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Trad climber
Sep 30, 2009 - 03:54am PT
Whoop Whoop!

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Sep 30, 2009 - 07:29am PT
I weighed 150 (soaking wet) when I did it and there was no way I could get even my shoulders through the harding Slut.
I passed my rack, shoes, and harness through the hole to the other side, to no avail.
I soloed the other variation (5.9?) in Lava domes and dragged the rope so Scary Larry could follow and crack his pelvis.

Social climber
Sep 30, 2009 - 11:21am PT
G Murphy

Trad climber
Oakland CA
Sep 30, 2009 - 12:26pm PT
I did this in 1990 with Don Snyder when we were both climbing constantly and doing routes in a day like the Nose, Salathe, Watkins, Half Dome, Pegasus, etc. Lost Arrow Chimney was by far the hardest and most physical. Awesome TR.

Trad climber
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Sep 30, 2009 - 01:04pm PT
Was there not a tale of discovering the remains of an unfortunate climber in the Lost Arrow chimney? Coonyard figured into the tale as well.

"His damn jacket won't fit!"

Where on the climb might that have been?

Sep 30, 2009 - 03:00pm PT
Nice work Z and Chad!

Stich: link to Roper's story about the discovering the body here:


Sport climber
Sep 30, 2009 - 03:12pm PT
Cool TR!

Smiled like an angel... laughed like the devil
Sep 30, 2009 - 03:39pm PT
I somehow missed this excellent adventure first time round, Z.

Awesome TR, as usual...and those photos! Beeeeeeeeautiful and a wee bit sceeeeeeeerrrry! Your partner's photos added a really nice perspective, too.

Great job, you guys. Thanks!

Oakland: what's not to love?
Sep 30, 2009 - 04:51pm PT
Thanks for the thoughtful answer on the rack, Zander.

Great pics, Salamanizer.

This climb looks incredibly hard.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Sep 30, 2009 - 09:38pm PT
I always thought the LA Chimney was a 5.10a climb for 5.11 crack climbers. I can't imagine being up there in that ghastly gash if 10a wide was my max.

And how about San Diego Greg on-sight free soling the thing in the late 1970s. I was always way impressed with that one.


Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 1, 2009 - 10:55am PT
Hey Chad,
Nice pics. I never got to see the old bolts. Pretty manky.

One other memory I have of the climb was on the descent. We were rappelling in the dark and were taking turns going down first. We had the rap chart so we weren't worried about finding the way. Chad had gone down and I could see his headlamp looking around as he went so as not to go by the anchor. I turned off my light. It was pretty warm night and clear. The stars were in full force. I could see lights and hear sounds from below in the valley but they seemed a long way off. I had the sense of being out on the immense face of rock and it was peaceful. I was tired and content. It was good.


Oct 1, 2009 - 11:51am PT
I think it was the late 60's when Pete Ramins and I went up the Chimneys. I remember one bolt somewhere. With the falls going and the possibility we might come onto the bones the route had great drama. We could not find/fit thru the Harding squeeze, so to beat the sun we did the rappels. It was eerie expecting one of those to get hung up.

As I remember them the Chimneys had drama, history, and required a lot of work. The SS has variety, great climbing, and even more history.

One is well rewarded by doing both.

Jim Henson's Basement
Oct 1, 2009 - 12:01pm PT
Great TR. Thanks. Looks totally awesome.

The link to the "body-in-the-chimney" story was pretty entertaining.
Eric McAuliffe

Trad climber
Alpine County, CA
Oct 7, 2009 - 11:11pm PT
Great work guys that looked like a rad time!

And thanks so much for putting the effort replacing those bolts, great style!!!


Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Oct 7, 2009 - 11:43pm PT
Wow! Thanks for the great photos, guys. They really took me back.


Bronx, NY
Oct 11, 2009 - 01:38pm PT
It's great to see that some of the old classics still have a certain allure and can provide pleasure. Royal and I did the fourth ascent in 1957, ten years after the first ascent. We got a late start, but if we had started early we might have made it to the notch in one day. We bivouaced two pitches below the Harding Hole pitch. Those two pitches were hard nailing at the time, so I imagine that we climbed most of the lower pitches free in order to make good time. I have no memory of any bolts, but it's possible the Salathe placed some, but probably not Rawl drives. Pratt and Sacherer climbed all the way to the notch free in the early sixties. We were also using 120' ropes and klettershue. Following are two segments of my book that may enlighten and amuse. I should mention that in 1954 Harding had only been climbing for a little over a year.

In 1954 I was on a climbing trip with Barbara Lilley, and she passed around a postcard she had received from Warren (Warren who?). The glossy side showed the 2,000-foot north face of Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite with a line drawn up the north buttress on the left side of the face. The route was actually Frank Tarver’s idea. He was an eighteen-year-old hot shot from the Bay Area and had already been on the route twice, but both attempts ended with falls, actually a good reason to go up again, like getting back on the horse. Finally Frank found Harding in Camp 4. The route was also in the minds of Craig Holden and John Whitmer who, by an exceedingly rare coincidence were already a few pitches up when Frank and Warren arrived at the base of the climb. They combined forces and spent three days getting to know each other on the climb. This was Harding’s first experience at bivouacking, notable because he probably spent more nights bivouacking in the Valley than any other climber, at least into the ‘70’s. The climb was also the first to require more than two days since Steck and Salathé had climbed Sentinel, and the route was considerably longer than either Sentinel or the Arrow Chimney.
A month and a half later, Harding, Tarver, and Bob Swift started on the second ascent of the Lost Arrow Chimney. Harding, still a novice at direct aid climbing, distinguished himself in the narrow chimneys, especially on the last pitch before the notch, subsequently called the Harding Hole. The climb took four days. Within a few months, Harding had done more big wall climbing in Yosemite than anyone else at that time except Salathé. You could say he never looked back. He also made a trip to Tahquitz where he joined Royal Robbins for a climb. Warren led up the first pitch and established a hanging (standing in slings) belay anchored by two pitons. Royal followed, and, when he arrived at Warren’s stance, he clipped his slings into the lower of the two anchors, but as he stepped into the slings the piton popped. Two climbers hanging from a single Army wafer piton driven straight up into a crack isn’t a pleasant sight. “We’d better get something else in,” said Royal, understatedly, as he scrambled to drive in another anchor. There’s a good deal more to say about Royal and Warren, but it will have to wait.

After the first ascent of the Lost Arrow Chimney in 1947, climbers were content to climb the final spire from the notch. Although only about two hundred feet high, piton placing was not an easy matter, and a number of parties failed in their attempts. The four-day ascent of the chimney by Harding, Tarver, and Swift seven years after Salathé and Nelson’s five day epic, and the three-day ascent of Wilts, Gallwas, and Wilson have been previously noted. Chuck’s subsequent comment on the string of ascents, each a day less than the previous one and its implied challenge for the next party, publicly introduced the speed factor into California climbing. Up until then, the main challenge for most climbers was completing the chosen route, preferably before dark if it was a climb that had typically been done in a day, as was the case in the middle fifties with all but four routes. Still, the better climbers began to realize that speed, while not necessarily a goal in itself, was a mark of climbing ease and efficiency that in turn augured for success. It was also fun. Climbing well beats climbing poorly any day.
So, what was the hardest climb in Yosemite that Royal hadn’t done? The Lost Arrow Chimney. In those days, parties of three were still favored on multi-day climbs for their extra security, so Royal and I enlisted Mike Sherrick to accompany us on a Labor Day attempt. I picked Royal up late on a Friday afternoon, along with John Mendenhall and Dave Rearick, and we drove straight up to Camp 4, arriving well after midnight. We found Sherrick tucked into his sleeping bag and roused him to sort gear before throwing down our own bags. We definitely wanted to do the climb in two days, so an early start was essential. The long drive and the short time for sleep conspired against us, and it was already light when we got up. Heating up some oatmeal and instant coffee took more time.
Finally we drove over to the Park Headquarters, signed out with the rangers, and started hiking up in the general direction of the base of Upper Yosemite Fall. Our route finding wasn’t good. In addition to wrestling our way through patches of manzanita and willows, at several points we actually had to rope up to surmount sections of cliff. When we finally got to the base of the chimney we looked across the granite terraces at the base of the Upper Yosemite Fall and saw a trail switchbacking its way up the gully on the far side, the trail that started in Camp 4 and that would have provided an easy, early morning’s stroll to the start of the climb. Our preconceptions led us to believe that the water pouring over the falls would prevent us from getting from the trail to the chimney (if you looked at almost any picture of Yosemite Falls you would reach the same conclusion), but in the fall there is very little water falling, no more than a shower in a cheap motel.
We scrambled up as far as seemed prudent and drew straws for the first lead. Mike won and was soon on his way. From this vantage point the chimney looked fearsome, a dark gash that thrust up farther than distance could be judged. When Mike found a belay spot at the end of the first pitch, it looked like he wasn’t any closer to the top than we were one hundred feet below him. He set up an anchor, and then instead of yelling “belay on,” called out that he was coming down. He wasn’t feeling well. Sorry. Good luck. See you when you get down. He shouldered a rope and headed over to the trail. With all the delays, it was now ten o’ clock. Got to move.
Tahquitz Rock, our training ground, had only one climb with a chimney. The Lost Arrow provided all the training in chimney technique we would want, from wide stems with a hand and foot on each wall, to feet and back, to knees and back, to squeeze and more squeeze. Up and up, hour after hour. By the time darkness threatened, it was clear that the notch was still several hundred feet above us and that the climbing would be hard. We selected two chockstones, one above the other, to sit on through the night. The chockstones were far enough back in the chimney so that they had absorbed no warmth from the sun, far enough back so that we could look out as through a doorway on the slowly dimming light in the valley below while we were already very much in the dark. It was cold. It would be at least ten hours before we could start climbing again.
My fatigue allowed me to sleep fitfully, but sometime in the middle of the night I was awakened by noises I couldn’t at first identify. They came from below, and looking down I could barely make out Royal’s silhouette. He was standing on his chockstone, stamping up and down and blowing on his hands. A wind had come up, literally, drafting up the chimney as lustily as if driven by a roaring fire. But there was no fire, no warmth. Finally, I suggested that Royal join me on my chockstone. Huddling spoon-fashion provided some warmth, some protection from the wind, but it also meant that a slight shifting of position by one of us was sure to nudge the other from any drift toward sleep.
Finally, I came out of a light doze to see that it was slightly lighter out in the valley than back in the chimney. I couldn’t go back to sleep; I could only wait. Most people have probably hung around to watch the sun set from time to time. It’s best on the west coast as the sun darkens from gold to orange to rust before it finally touches the sea at the horizon--there, just where the arrow of light dancing on the water points. The sun sinks slowly, and when it finally slips beneath a distant wave we might shiver a little and turn aside, go inside. A little drink will warm us. But waiting for the sun to come up is a different matter. Royal and I knew we wouldn’t get any warmer. We wouldn’t even see the sun until we moved onto the spire above. We had to wait until we could see well enough to climb, a terribly long time it seemed, and then when we could see the texture of the rock the cold gave us an excuse to huddle a little longer. Was it better to take the lead, as Royal did, and thereby gain some warmth through the exercise, or to belay from the chockstone, thereby avoiding for the time being the deep ache in the fingers from gripping cold rock and fumbling cold pitons? A toss-up, probably. In any case, the decomposing and shallow cracks at the back of the chimney required all of Royal’s skill to get pitons to hold body weight.
The notch where the spire splits off from the main wall is actually formed by chockstones, and beneath the chockstones a natural tunnel runs from the end of the chimney to the other side. On the first ascent, Salathé had pounded his way up an unfriendly overhang to gain the notch, while on the second ascent Harding had found a way through the tunnel. The burrowing saved considerable time and energy, but the tunnel was barely wide enough to allow passage. Harding was convinced that if he could get his head through, he could get the rest of his body through. Jerry Gallwas squeezed through on the third ascent, and from his account the Harding Hole became legend.
When Royal and I got there, he allowed as how I was smaller than he, so I should lead. It’s one of the oddest pitches in climbing, actually more caving than climbing. To begin with, I left all of my climbing gear behind: hammer, hammer holster, pitons, carabiners, slings, the works. The pitch started out as a conventional squeeze chimney, but as I got a little higher I had to start going sideways. My feet became almost useless, my hands searched for holds to pull on, my chest and hips wiggled and jiggled. By the time I got to the narrowest part my body was horizontal. I had to be careful working my head through the slot in order not to abrade my temples or rip my ears. Wiggle, jiggle, pull, scrunch. My progress was measured by the inch. A subsequent visitor to this spot found that as he progressed his pants were being stripped from his legs like the skin of a shedding snake. By the time he emerged his pants were trailing from his ankles, held only by the climbing rope that he had tied to one ankle. Six or eight feet on, the tunnel widened slightly, and the going was a little easier, but now I was headed in a downward direction until I plopped onto the final chockstone and was able to scramble up to the notch.
It was the only pitch I ever led that Royal didn’t want to follow, so I pulled the rope up and threw it down to him on the other side. We felt greatly relieved to be at the notch. All the claustrophobia of the chimney lifted like a morning mist and with it a lot of the accumulated fatigue. We traversed from the notch toward the valley side of the spire into the healing, redeeming, ever-blessed sun, the very same sun that on other days, other climbs, was often an immortal enemy, draining our desire, leaching our precious bodily fluids into its insatiable maw. We made a few moves, and, suddenly, we saw twelve hundred feet of air beneath our feet. It was like riding an elevator up to the 120th floor of a skyscraper and then stepping out onto the window ledge and looking down. Whee! Hard climbing followed, and our respect for Salathé’s aid climbing abilities was firmly grounded in our own immediate challenges. And then the summit, big enough to stand on, but don’t stray too far. Far below, the valley stretched out in the leisurely afternoon light. Light, like shiny coins, twinkled off the small rain falling from the lip of Upper Yosemite Fall, and a softer light pooled in the meadows and lined the nave of the valley. The sun, dropping in the west, cast a spotlight on the altar, Half Dome.
We want to linger, to be immersed in this place, to hold onto this exquisite and seemingly timeless feeling as long as possible. But we don’t want to bivouac again, and so we rappel to the notch. In our initial planning, we had expected to have to rappel the entire route since it is impossible to climb to the valley rim from the notch, and we didn’t have enough time to hike up to the rim and fix ropes down to the notch, the preferred method. A rappel descent would surely dictate another cold night in the chimney. When we drop into the notch, however, we find that our good buddy, Sherrick, had hiked up and fixed ropes for us, and at the top of the ropes he also left our hiking boots, knowing well the pain from hiking for very long in climbing shoes. Down we go, pitons clanging like cowbells, into the once again encroaching darkness. Switchback follows switchback in a rock-a-bye rhythm, fairy lights beckon in the dark forest, pine scent is joined by mountain laurel (bay leaves), the trail levels out, and here we are in Camp 4.
It’s after nine. Most folk are in bed, but a small campfire beckons. We approach. Harding, for it is he, offers us a beer, and so does Mark Powell. A young woman stands quietly between them. She is wearing a skirt and blouse, and the firelight gleams off her nylon encased and shapely calves and her shiny pumps. What is such a creature doing in Camp 4, with hairy Harding and scruffy Powell, no less? The short answer is that it’s Janie Dean. Why is she dressed like this? She just got off work. She’s the manager of the Yosemite Lodge coffee shop. She likes to climb. She’s a very attractive young single woman who likes to climb. Almost unheard of in those days. She’s vivacious, redheaded, and has a slight gap in her front teeth like the sensuous and seductive Wife of Bath, but I’m too tired to pursue. Besides, Harding, Powell and Robbins are not only older than I am, they’re also more worldly and mature and, for all I can tell, virile. A few quick beers, a synopsis of the climb, and so to bed.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 11, 2009 - 02:11pm PT
thanks for the story... very nice sitting here watching the ball game and glancing, from time-to-time at Denny's picture of climbers on the Lost Arrow.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 11, 2009 - 02:45pm PT
Here are some lens distortion corrections on the Chimney photos here and in recent threads. As you can see, a tremendous ice tongue develops in there in the winter.


Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 16, 2009 - 08:50pm PT
I'm going to bump this rascal thread with one last thought.

There is a lot of trash in the chimney. Multiple ropes, cameras, gloves, old sardine cans, etc. Chad and I were thinking what a pain it would be to haul a big sack up there to take it away. One thought was that if someone climbs this and every time they get to a piece of trash they throw it as far out as they can it would all collect in the first four pitches because it is more or less vertical after that. Then a second party could come up the next day and collect it and rap off after pitch four. Rapping, and if needed, freeing a stuck rope would be easier on these first few pitches. So if anybody is going up there and wants to add a little trash tossing to their climb let me know. Even if I can't do it at that time, possibly other taco standers could do the cleanup.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 16, 2009 - 09:56pm PT
Great idea, Zander! Practical and effective.

Restating the obvious too---- it is a big and wonderful step forward that the crux is now protected with trustworthy gear!! If truth be told, up until now, the climb was as Johno Largo says, a 5.10 climb for 5.11 climbers. The crux was actually dangerous and probably should have maybe even had an X rating, even back in 1971.
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