Arrowhead Arete 5.8
Trip ReportArrowhead Arete and Spire TR
Arrowhead Spire, Arrowhead Arête Trip Report, Part I - history
May 26, 2007
Gary Carpenter & Ed Hartouni
I will start where I usually do for these sorts of reports, Roper's description in the Green guide:
Arrowhead Spire - South Arête pg. 133
I, 5.5 Dave Brower and Richard Leonard, September 1937. Seen from the vicinity of Camp 4, this is the obvious 100-foot pinnacle on the skyline to the right of Yosemite Point Buttress. Follow the West Arrowhead Chimney upward until about 200 feet below the first major series of chockstones. Walk out right on class 3 ledges to the south arête of the spire. Rope up on a ledge about 60 feet above the base of a huge Douglas fir. Once the first steep 30-foot wall is overcome, the climbing becomes easier to the base of a conspicuous chimney. From the top of the chimney an enjoyable, high-angle pitch over knobs leads to the top. Rappel the route. Iron: 6-8 pitons, up to 1½".
Arrowhead Arête pg. 133
III, 5.8. Mark Powell and Bill (Dolt) Feuerer, October, 1956. This is the arête which, when viewed from Yosemite Lodge, rises in striking profile above the Arrowhead Spire. Seen from Yosemite Village, it is deeply cleft on both sides by the great gashes of the West and East Arrowhead Chimneys. This classic route was once regarded as "possibly the most continuous difficult fifth-class climb in this country." It is particularly amazing that the first ascent party did the route all free.
From the top of Arrowhead Spire, rappel first into the notch, then about 50 feet down the west side. Climb steep cracks just left of an open book to a ledge 110 feet up. Work up and right for 50 feet, then continue up the center of the arête for about 150 feet. A prominent tree will be seen up and around a corner to the right. Climb to this tree, then ascend the easy "Great White Flake" which rises above. Next, climb either the center or the right side of the narrowing arête to the fantastically sharp summit ridge.
To descend, walk north along this ridge until it merges with a small buttress. Turn this on the left and follow class 2 and 3 ledges into the West Arrowhead Chimney. Three rappels are necessary – a doubled 150-foot rope is adequate. Iron: 10-12 pitons, up to 1½".
Interestingly, the quote in Roper's description is from Mark Powell himself, at least that is what Chris Jones says in his Climbing in North America. In his chapter "The Southern Californians" he recounts the era, "During the mid-1950s the general level of Yosemite climbing was inexpert. In 1956 two unsuccessful attempts were made to repeat the south-west face of Half Dome, while such hoary favorites as the Higher and Lower Cathedral Spires counted some four ascents each. In contrast to this mediocre performance, Robbins and Sherrick made the third ascent of Sentinel's north face, and Powell established a stunning free climb, Arrowhead Arête (5.8). Powell's pace was quickening..."
"Powell referred to Arrowhead Arête as 'possibly the most continuous difficult fifth-class climb in this country,' and he was probably correct. He knew that in terms of absolute difficulty it fell short of several Tahquitz climbs... Powell therefore added a grade to the rating system in an attempt to give an overall assessment of a route."
So we learn both that at least Powell thought highly of the route, but also it compelled him to create the climbs "grade" in the form that we know it today.
We also learn of Powell that he "combined an athletic asceticism with a robust liking for women and booze, and he found the Southern Californians a bunch of prudes. More to his liking were a group that surrounded civil engineer Warren Harding,..."
From Roper's Camp 4 a more complete story emerges, the quote is from the 1957 Sierra Club Bulletin report Powell wrote on the climb. But the story I like is of Roper's first time up the route recounting that by 1959 only two other ascents had been made. "...when Pratt casually said, on July 16, 'Let's go do it," pointing up at the sweeping white profile visible from Camp 4, I agreed instantly. Hours later, deep inside the West Arrowhead Chimney, the rope-up spot, I looked up at the now-grotesque swoop and its blankness and its mystery–and I rebelled. 'We'll die!' I screamed. 'Why are we here?' My words echoed off the walls of the claustrophobic chimney while Pratt sat quietly, sorting gear and staring out at the Valley far below. Finally, in a tight voice, he yelled, "Goddamn it, are you finished?'"
What Powell had written to get Roper in such a state preceded the pronouncement of being the "most continuous difficult" climb, "It is high-angle face climbing on very small holds requiring great finger and toe strength with excellent body balance and faculties keenly tuned to withstanding exposure. To the advanced rock climber this would be a very difficult test; to the less competent, a nightmare."
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