North Face, The Rostrum 5.11c


Yosemite Valley, California USA

  • Currently 5.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 6-8 hours
Approach time: 40 minutes
Descent time: 15 minutes
Number of pitches: 8
Height of route: 800'
Many 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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Climber Beta on North Face
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Although 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.

In a mere quarter-century the North Face had gone from an all-day strenuous aid climb to a before-breakfast romp.
– Steve Roper

While North Face of The Rostrum is an awesome climb, the 5.11c rating keeps people away. You can usually tell from the parking area if anyone is in front of you. For those unaccustomed to offwidths, the two pitches of offwidth cracks high on the route will prove the crux of the climb. Large cams can adequately protect the first. However, using such cams on the last pitch will likely result in losing them, as the rope will drag them into the crack. Peer deep inside the last pitch offwidth to see two #5 camalots, biners, and slings, all tangled with long sticks from unsuccessful retrieval attempts. Most leaders simply run the last pitch offwidth out or slide a large cam up in front of them. Medium big bros can also be used (#3, maybe #2, not #4). Using a 60m rope will allow linking a long pitch low on the climb and will also allow retreat from the upper half back to the midway ledge.

The North Face is north facing (obviously) and shady, making it one of the few lines that is usually good even on hot summer days. In early season the rock tends to be damp and mossy, but even as colder fall days approach the climb is usually fine as long as there is no wind.

Be aware that occasionally the Rostrum is closed to climbing to protect nesting Peregrine Falcons. Check the SuperTopo Route Beta section to make sure there are no closures. Falcon closures typically begin in January and last until August 1st.
For those who are not fully worked upon reaching the top, simply lower down and toprope either of the 5.12 variations to the last pitch. In addition, two half-rope length killer cracks, the first of Blind Faith (5.11d) and Kaukulator (5.11c) are found to the right of the crux pitch on the midway ledge.

The anchors were recently replaced by the ASCA and are bomber.

The route can be rappelled from any pitch using one 60m rope. If retreating from below the 3rd pitch, you must leave gear and cross the river to Highway 140.
From the junction of Southside Drive and Highway 41, take Highway 41 west. From the west end of the Wawona Tunnel, drive 0.9 miles and park on the right side of the road at the end of the long stone wall. From the end of the stone wall, hike down dirt, then slabs, then westerly into the trees following a climbers’ trail. Once at the rim, continue down steep dirt and... GET Yosemite Valley Free Climbs and read the rest this approach as well beta for over 200 other classic Yosemite routes.

From the top of The Rostrum, rappel into the notch off bolts or downclimb exposed 5.4. Climb up a 5.2 ramp to the rim and walk south back to the approach trail.
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Other guidebooks that include info on North Face
  • Fifty Favorite Climbs, by Mark Kroese (great photos, stories and topos)
  • Yosemite Climbs: Free Climbs, by Don Reid
Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff Last update: October 22, 2018
The Rostrum - North Face 5.11c - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
One of the finest multi-pitch 5.11 climbs anywhere.
Photo: Mark Kroese
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