North Face, The Rostrum 5.11c
Avg time to climb route: 6-8 hours
Approach time: 40 minutes
Descent time: 15 minutes
Number of pitches: 8
Height of route: 800'
OverviewMany climbers call the North Face of The Rostrum "the best climb" in Yosemite." Better than Astroman!? Well, we will let you argue that over a couple beers in Camp 4. What is clear, is that The Rostrum features probably the best eight-pitch crack collection in the Valley. This thing is steep and most of the splitter cracks take perfect hands and fingers (there are a few offwidth sections, too.) All this perfect climbing is combined with one of the best approach/descent to a long Yosemite route: you park near the top, descent to the base and then climb your way back to the rim (no heinous gully descents here.)
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HistoryAlthough the Rostrum lured the Valley pioneers, it certainly wasn’t the preposterously steep north face that attracted them. Rather, the wonderfully-named formation was marginally detached from the main cliff and therefore afforded that wonderful goal impossible to find in Yosemite now: a summit trodden only by ravens and chipmunks. In October 1941 Dave Brower, Ken Adam, Dick Leonard, and Rolf Pundt made short work of the relatively easy 40-foot pitch to the top. Brower described the climb: “Because a fall would end up either on [the Rostrum] or on the jagged blocks of the notch, one piton was used for safety, but the ascent is so short that it is hardly justifiable to place it in class 5 as a ‘severe’ climb.” The climb was quickly and deservedly forgotten by most, although I remember doing it in 1959, on a rest day, simply to touch a new cliff.
The 750-foot north face caught the eye of Warren Harding and Glen Denny, and in July of 1962 they spent two days on the wall, nailing virtually every pitch. Bob Kamps and I were able to make the second ascent two months later, in a respectable 10 hours, but we nailed every pitch also. As I wrote in my 1964 guide, “This is an excellent, strenuous, and predominately direct-aid climb.” I would have bet a thousand dollars that the route could not be climbed free.
However, in 1977 those magnificent climbers Ron Kauk and John Yablonski managed to free all but the final pitch, a horrendous roof (they finished 10 feet to the right on Blind Faith, which today is the standard North Face finish). The pair climbed about eight pitches of 5.10 and 5.11, most of it involving extremely strenuous crack climbing. A tremendous accomplishment.
Then, in 1985 Kim Carrigan, Australia’s best cragsman, managed to turn the summit roof. Soon Valley regulars were running up this completed free route. Almost literally running, in some cases. For instance, in 1987 Peter Croft climbed the route three times in succession one morning—laps on a Grade IV! What one wag called “Croft’s Disease” soon spread: John Bachar soloed the route a short time later, and he was immediately followed by Dave Schultz.
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