Squeezing in Another Classic
A Route Description of the Steck Salathe
by Walker Emerson
(A WORD OF CAUTION: Before you embark on this adventure, please do your research! Review both online sources and printed guidebooks. This route is notoriously challenging and should not be taken lightly. Be both confident and comfortable climbing 5.10 cracks in the Yosemite Valley, using the appropriate technique for wide crack climbing and also familiar (& fit enough) for long days of 10-15+ pitches. While we’re psyched to share Walker’s beta, consult a professional mountain guide for more information. Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity. Choosing to climb routes described is done at your own risk. We strongly recommend that you consult a professional guide and a qualified medical practitioner before attempting these routes. )
Everything you’ve heard about the Steck Salathe is true.
It’s wide, it’s hard, it’s good.
The route is a testament to the early ages of Yosemite Climbing. In 1950 on a hot summer day Allen Steck and John Salathe, eyed a line of weakness up the fifteen hundred foot Sentinel Rock. Due to its northern aspect, the climb would provide an escape from the sweltering valley floor. They set off with their gear, pitons, nuts, hexes and stiff rubber boots.
Park at the Four Mile Trail head, on Southside Dr, follow the trail past the boulders and up the gentle switchbacks, to the base of the Sentinel (See Overview Map). Locate a large sloping ramp to your right, continue up around to the base of the climb.
Be prepared for exposed fourth class terrain; skirt the Northeast corner of the wall, between a larger tree and the wall, and up a sandy hill to the base of the Steck Salathe. Begin the route on mound of sand, hidden by trees.
Begin in a large left facing corner, through a difficult 5.8 offwidth. Continue up easy terrain past hand cracks, a 5.7 finger crack, past a few trees and an easy loose section. Belay from a ledge above the loose section. The Wilson Overhang, pitch 4, will be visible. Route finding is slightly difficult. Some simul climbing will be necessary to link.
The Wilson Overhang.
Climb an easy offwidth to the base of the overhang. The crux is easier than it looks. Gain the flake jug and pull over the bulge past a pin. Continue up sustained climbing to the belay.
The hardest pitch for me, was not one of the dubiously named cruxes, but this short 5.9 squeeze. In order to make this pitch less awkward, leave everything at the belay except, the #4 and #2. In your best Yosemite style, suck in your gut and battle the sandbagged pitch, right side in. Once safely past the crux lower a loop of rope and tag up both you and your partners gear. Traverse to the right on good holds to a long sustained 5.8 crack system. Belay at a large ledge.
Climb the steep juggy crack system to the left to a ledge with a few small trees and a large boulder. Sling the boulder with your rope for a belay. continue up up the easy terrain towards the top of the Flying Buttress, passing through a corridor just shy of the summit to a bolted belay on the other side. Rappel or down climb to a large sheltered ledge. This is a nice place to stop and eat lunch.
Climb down to a bolted belay at the base of the obvious crack system, belay from here.
Climb a long 5.9 pitch to a belay below a small roof.
Climb up and right, mantle onto a sloping ledge, climb to the right locating an old bolt. Trending up and left on fun terrain, placing small nuts and clipping new bolts, belay at the base of a wide flare. Easiest 5.9 on the route.
With everything you’ve got, burl your way through the crux of the route. Plunging your arms into the gaping crack, swimming with your legs, wiggle your way past two new bolts to the bolted belay. Victory favors the bold.
Placing the #4 high above your head, chimney through one of the most unique features ever, gaining the squeeze and a hidden jug. Bracing with your knees and feet tunnel inside the mountain, escape through a gap to the outside, following a foot ledge away from the depths, gain the easy cracks and climb to the sandy belay.
Climb easy terrain to the base of one final chimney with large lodge boulders inside. Navigate through and behind the obstacles existing up and left on easy terrain to the belay at the base of a steep crack system. #3 and #4 fit in at belay nicely.
Climb the final steep 5.9 hand cracks to a difficult exist move. Romp up low angle cracks, past a large tree, to the summit. Belay in the sand from a crack to the right with a #.4 and #.5.
Locate the large dead tree directly North of your position. This is NOT the way down!
Instead head towards the North East corner of the summit. Meander down through manzanita tunnels. Exit the manzanita on the West side of the saddle, traverse the hillside to the notch. Pass over the notch to the East gulley.
Keep close to your partner, in case you dislodge a boulder and send it tumbling. At the end of the gulley you will encounter a cold spring. Drink up you deserve it!
From here the route finding is a little tricky. Cross the stream and make your way down a series ledges and small cliffs. Be sure to not get suckered too low and escape back towards the base of the sentinel down a bushy gully. Continue down steep slabs paralleling the creek still on the East side.
At the bottom of the steep section you can escape across the creek to easier terrain and finally arriving at the junction, where you have left your packs. Stash your beers in the creek on the approach for a cool and refreshing reward!
- Single set of BD C4’s #.3 – 4 with extra pieces in the .4 – .75 range
- Single set of BD Stoppers #4 – 12
- 9 Slings
- 3 double length Slings
- 70 meter Rope
- Start early.
- Leave extra gear at base of route.
- Avoid using a daypack.
- Distribute weight on your harness, use two plastic water bottles, modified with cordelette and duct tape.
- Hang a mesh bag from your harness to carry bars, a sandwich and your headlamp.
- Both you and your partner take pictures of the topo with your phones.
- Link pitches to save time.
- Tweet at the belay to avoid boredom.
Walker Emerson is a contributing writer for the PG Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias ‘Smash’. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite.