Yosemite drop in

by We didn't write this

Had the pleasure of making a trip to the valley last weekend.

Salathe Headwall

On Saturday, Mike and I decided to take a stroll to the top of the Salathe Wall. In particular, the mission was to work out the 200 foot headwall, the steepest, hardest and most exposed part of the route. This “pitch” can be “easily” reached by rappelling from the top.

As most days in the valley, this one began with a hike. The approach takes 2.5 hours and gains three thousand vertical feet; by far the longest approach I have ever done. We began hiking at first light, a brisk 6:30am.

After some hiking, some jumaring and some more hiking, we stood on top of El Capitan at 9.00am. The valley presented itself with spectacular views of a snowy Half Dome and Tuolumne High Country.

I dropped a rope over the edge and went over, greeted by 3000 feet of exposure under my feet and a comprehensive view of the whole cliff.

The Salathe Headwall, in one word, is “gnarly, brah.”

60 meters long, it is technically divided into 3 pitches, although the idea is to link these into 2 or 1 depending on your ability. The first pitch, least steepest, is a highly technical, Smith Rock esque crimpfest ascending an akward groove (13a). The second pitch, also 13a, is a long endurance fest, ascending a splitter thin-hands crack that gradually gets steeper, and is capped by a heartbreaker fingerlock boulder problem. Finally, the third pitch, 13b, is the steepest and features powerful moves on side pulls and ends with a heart breaker boulder problem, about v6 or v7.

Can you spot the climber? Mike at the bottom of the pitch

Once we both made it to the ledge at the anchors of the pitch, I simply tied in and had Mike lower me down the whole length of the rope. Then, I tried to climb back out.

The session went fairly well. Between the 2 of us, we were able to work out all of the moves. However, it was painfully clear that a higher level of fitness and technique was needed before redpoint attempts can begin. In short, 5.13 trad is full-value and hard. To think of redpointing this pitch after sending the 30 pitches that lie below it is even more daunting, but very inspiring at the same time.

Mike all up in the business

An interesting thought came up on the approach. In my humble opinion, El Cap might be the greatest cliff in the world. Why? Well, for one, there are over a dozen free routes up El Cap, each with an average of 30 pitches. Thus, this single cliff has about 400 pitches, of all climbing styles, on bomber Yosemite granite. I can’t think of any other single cliff in the world that has this many pitches on this good of rock. Now, to make an even further stretch, the Salathe headwall has to be one of the best parts of El Cap. That’s right, the best pitch on the best cliff in the world. Is this the greatest pitch ever climbed?

Probably not, there is way better stuff at the Red. And besides, it’s extremely improbable that the best climbing pitch in the world is this far from Boulder, Colorado. Best or not, this pitch should be on every climber’s list and is certainly worth the hike.

Eventually, the afternoon wind harshly picked up, a bitter reminder that even though we were out for a casual day of toproping, we were also on the tip top of a very, very, large cliff. It was time to bounce.

On Sunday we checked out a single pitch climb called Tales of Power. This is a very steep, splitter crack that looks and climbs like a dream. I was able to send on my 2nd lead attempt. At 12b, this is my hardest Yosemite redpoint yet.

The amazing, super splitter Tales of Power

On the way back we caught a staticky transmission of the Superbowl on AM radio. I was happy to see the Patriots lose. It’s ironic that most of America would consider us “not into sports” because we spent Superbowl Sunday climbing instead of engulfing Dorritos and Bud Light while parked on the couch.

On Monday, the alarm rang at 4:40 in the AM, and I stumbled into a rental car and pointed it towards the airport for a 6:15AM flight back to Oregon. I watched the sun rise over Mount Shasta, exhausted yet excited for the uncertain that lays ahead.

Sunrise over shasta

Thanks for reading,