Picture it... 4:30pm.
Our hot dusty and parched bodies plunging toward the Sentinel Beach. I pause long enough to remove my boots, and jump in with my jeans and long-sleeve T-shirt, marvelous images from the summit of the Sentinel swirling in our minds. The oppressive heat turns blissful after the cold water shock, and all is peaceful and beautiful in my world.
It's Sunday afternoon... hey, didn't we start climbing the Steck-Salathe on Saturday morning?? What happened to the extra day?!?
Apparently, we opted for the full-value experience.
My mind is filled with awesome imagery along the wonderful path of rock, but most of it didn't make it to pixels. Between trying to go fast, and trying to survive the consistently challenging climbing, we didn't take as many pics as we'd like. Well, sometimes two braking hands at the belay added to the psychological pro for the leader too. Most of the pics I did get were valley scenery shots. Those are always nice too 🙂
So here go the pics:
Queue the ominous music... our objective
Foreshortening makes it seem almost tame and cute!
But it's a beast:
Whoever says that the valley is too crowded is definitely a "glass is half empty" kind of person.
The night before our adventure begins:
I'm OK to share such a marvelous place with a few cars. Who am I to keep it all to myself?
It never gets old, squinting up through the windshield with awe and wonder at every turn!
OK, enough of all this touchy-feeling B.S. Time for the adventure. Serve up the pain.
Alarm was set for 3:30am, but those damn Blackberry "disable on weekends" check button have doomed me on multiple trips. I woke up on my own at 4:30am. By 5-something we started the hike, and managed to find a disused version of the 4-mile trail. Here's a pic as we headed up the final ramp after racking up and stashing our packs. We should have been on the route 60 to 90 minutes earlier:
Le_bruce's head breaks the skyline on the initial ramp for the climb:
The day is breaking mighty and beautiful:
I linked the first 2 pitches, and here Le_Bruce launched off on pitch 3 or so:
Nothing left for me to do but sit back and enjoy the view:
A while later I'm back on lead and done, and Le_Bruce is following me up again:
I think this means we're done with 5 pitches, and Le_Bruce gets the 5.9+ squeeze or scary traverse to the flake:
Gittin' up there:
Ho man, that sloping ledge traverse out right looks better from below than it does when you're sittin' where Le_Bruce is:
I had to put away the camera 'til he got to a stable spot over on the flake. But I'm sure he would still have preferred if I didn't have the camera in my hand at this point:
More lovely views:
Somewhere higher up the route. By this time I've totally lost track of where we are.
The best I can do is offer the pictures in mostly chronological order:
Le_bruce giving his best monkey impersonation:
Hmmm... the shadows are going the wrong way, starting to register a little concern:
It seems like every pitch we say, "well, that was a hard one... we'll blaze up the next one and make up some time!" Yeah.
From somewhere on the run-out face pitch below the final monster chimney-system. This was after the raps, some lunch @ 2pm or so, and then a reasonably stout pitch with a little serious run-outs because I was short on gear.
I just can't stop taking pictures of the same thing!
Anyhoo. Apparently I spent an hour and fourty minutes on the pitch before the narrows. All I can tell you is it kicked the living bujeezus out of me. It was wet and slimy inside where my palm pressed for the armbar, or where I tried to get a rattly fist, or where I would have liked to do a hand/fist stack but it was too flared for me to get my left arm in there to help out my flaming right side. And I could have tried the flared steep chimney more to the outside, but that was a little horrifying for me on lead. So I thrutched, earned my upward progress with crowning 2 inch achievements and a beet-red face and splattering drool expulsions. Did I mention that I shredded the back of my right hand on the Wilson Overhang almost at the start of the day? No problem. Pack that future puss-bucket with chalk and call it good.
Bla bla, I made it up that pitch. Le_bruce was hoping I'd link it with the Narrows. F that I said. I need a break. After I belayed him up, I went all fetal position on the little ledge in the drip path. I was ready to bivy and call it a day. It was a good day. And it was sunset, a good time to be done. But Le_bruce wouldn't be having any of that. He lied something fierce in way of flattery to get my arse up that Narrows. Really, he just didn't want to camp out in there. So after regaining some juice, I found the energy to move my shutter finger on the camera:
I've stared at enough of these Narrows pics to not be so surprised with the upward view. But I wasn't prepared for the exposure that you don't see out the bottom of the frame. We're talking back-to-feet chimney out over thousands of feet of space. Exciting stuff! Maybe le_bruce got pics of this, but I was too focused on mustering my reserves for the last push.
You see, we struck a bargain. If I get us up this Narrows thing, he would take all the rest of the leads and get us homeward bound. It seemed plausible at the time. The Narrows is my kind of thing, so I dug deep and got it done. The most special part of the climb for me, out of all the photogenic moments that live only in my memory, is being WAY out left, way strung out and exposed, after the top of the Narrows proper. There was a direct wide finish (to a 3-bolt anchor that I didn't see at the time), or a wandering but easier way out left past a manky bolt and piton. I followed the past of least resistance on a cool arete, and came up short and groveling on a dusty sloping ledge, grasping at a bunch of grass that I quickly realized wouldn't hold my fall, when falling was just not going to be an option. I would have ended up halfway down the Narrows pitch, plastered to the outside of the crack after a monster pendulum. I'd only brought a few pieces of pro up the squeeze part, so I didn't have the gear to make the left-variation exit safe. Fortunately, I scrabbled around and got it done before I realized how grim the situation was. Le_bruce rightly gave me a little grief over that when he followed up.
By now, it was headlamp territory, and there were sort-of-flat spots to bivy. I was worked and ready to call it a night. Here's my bivy spot, complete with tree branches and leaves for insulation:
And le_bruce wasn't as stoked about it as I was. As you can see, he couldn't straighten out his body, and that made him a little cranky:
I still had enough mental energy to get creative with the artsy night photography later on:
But we did have some preparation... we're not total wankers! Check out the plush emergency sleeping bag, the morning after:
Le_bruce was actually a little upset, because this was the $18 bag, when we also had a $4 blanket. We planned to just bring the blanket, but there was a packing mix-up. The main problem with the bag is that he stayed warm all night but was soaking wet and froze off his arse in the morning. On the other hand, I shivered a little in the night but was all toasty dry in the morning. See!
The only real bivy problem was not being able to straighten out our bodies, and having huge lumpy rocks right in the middle of the only practical sleeping spot:
But looking out our bedroom window was pretty:
So I lead up the next pitch, which was a little creepy for me. The main problem is it's a tight squeeze (drop the pack and helmet) to a wide chimney, and in the wide part before the belay, if you fall you will deck. I paused a bit before committing to the last part, and fortunately it was easier than it looked. Some pics looking down on different pieces of that pitch:
I didn't take any pictures of the belay station itself, but it was pretty cool. Then le_bryce headed up after that, 5.8 layback? The big tree looms above as our end goal:
And in the last little loose pitch of 5.9 cracks:
This is why folks where kneepads. I must have steel knees though, because no real bruises at the end of it all. Or maybe just soft jelly knees?
And here's the final little roped bit, turning the lip after the face above the tree:
A hard-earned summit:
And a whole slew of pictures:
With El Cap and East Ledges descent:
There's why the Michael's Ledge descent off of Hawkman's isn't so good anymore, and why Rixon's Pinnacle is not as commonly visited:
Camp4 Wall disappears into the nameless obscurity of a lot of rock:
It's easy to get lost next to the grandeur of the Yosemite Falls:
Yosemite Point Buttress and ArrowHead Arete are pretty tempting from this angle too:
What's that juicy slab below North Dome? Heck, you don't even really notice it from the valley, because it's on top of Royal Arches and Washington Column!
Cloud's Rest is cloudless, and Halfdome is her usual beautiful self:
So for the record, where is Phantom Pinnacle in THIS picture? Last time I asked I didn't get it in frame, but I think I got it this time...
And the boring stuff... somewhere early on the endless descent:
When you get down to a little saddle, don't go this way! Head back toward half-dome direction, over a 10 foot high rise, and then back down to the East/North.
This is what you'll see somewhere after crossing over that little saddle:
Just a little snow left for us, to quench our thirst (we ran out of water at bedtime the night before):
And the good part of a daytime descent is stopping to enjoy the flowers on the way:
That's all she wrote folks. I definitely want to go back and do it faster. I just have to be in better shape, and be a little better climber. It's surprising how much of the climbing is really a challenge for folks of moderate abilities. No couple-crux wonder climb here folks. Eat your wheaties.
If you wanted to be sure to start the descent in daylight of your first day on the climb, I suggest being able to do NEB Higher Cathedral rock car-to-car in 8 hours, and then starting the approach hike of SS in pre-dawn blackness.
Le_bruce and I haven't had a chance to compare notes yet, so I look forward to his pics and commentary!
Edit- Bonus! Raw video clips: