Template:TripReportInfoBox The Steck-Salathe is one of the super classic climbs in the Yosemite Valley. It is famous for the wide cracks that pitch after pitch keep on challenging your stamina. As an interesting (but sad) trivia, this was the route that British climber Derek Heresy died on while free-soloing. I was personally intimidated while approaching this climb, as everyone tells you a horror story about its narrow passages. However, we had a really good time on it, we didn’t feel it was as challenging as rumored, although we had to work hard to get up it.
The Sentinel map: <googlemap version="0.9" lat="37.729996" lon="-119.594765" type="terrain" zoom="13"> 6#B2E2135C 37.729996, -119.594765 Steck-Salathe </googlemap>
The approach itself is a fun outing. I remember I took my wife there once one afternoon. It is class 3 or 4, depending on how you go, with some exposed sections. The views of the Valley are sublime. The first pitch starts in the north side of the flying buttress, all the way up the last scree slope and beyond some manzanita bushes. There are two options ; One mean looking off-width pitch on the right, with a chock stone in it. Or an equally hard off-width that looks softer and thinner to the left. We took the left option. Pedro linked that pitch and the next one, casually giving me disinformation about how easy they were. They sure were a good warm up, that prepared me to the next two pitches that included the Wilson overhang. I climbed the Wilson overhang, first by jamming hands, getting in it, setting a good piece of pro and then stemming out of it. Sooner than expected I found a pin. Now it was Pedro’s turn to lead the next section. The fifth pitch starts with a flare that is easily the crux of the route. There is an alternative 5.8 hand crack to its right that is a much less caloric option. At any rate, Pedro went to the flare, to what appeared to be a multi-hour wrestling fight with the devil.
That flare took a toll on Pedro’s optimism, but he gained back as we proceeded with the last part of the flying buttress, which softens quite a bit. From the top of the flying buttress, there is a rappel into the ninth pitch. I led the ninth pitch which has some easy off-width and some tricky face and finger crack moves. It ends in a very cool stance, very close to the yellow and red colored rock by the “Flare”. Pedro climbed the pitch below the flare, consisting mostly of slaby moves with some pins to complement the protection. So now it was my turn to lead the infamous flare. I was truly intimidated but as I started climbing the pitch, things started coming along. There was a brand new spanking set of bolts, I learned later, set by the now deceased Brutus of Wide (thanks!). The pitch is wide enough to chimney up using the butt to foot technique, while running the #5 camalot back on the flare as you go. From time to time, you can clip another bolt. So it was not that bad, not very physical, I didn’t think I was going to die there, what a surprise!
The flare ends in a cave looking 4-feet wide crack that lies underneath the “Narrows”. There is a ledge, so the belay is not only very atmospheric but also comfortable. That happens to be a good attribute, because chances are that if you are belaying your buddy up the narrows, you are going to be there for long. The cave looking passage by the belay station narrows from 4 feet to about 1 foot over a step discontinuity 6 feet above the belay. The idea is to climb the chimney, using a butt-to-foot technique at the beginning and then, somehow, crawl vertically up the aptly named narrows. There is a section where you have to do a crazy sequence of chicken wings, until you can work foot stacks inside the coffin looking squeeze. You can walk a #5 at the beginning sequence that sets you in the narrows. After that section, you are not going down or up without an enormous effort. Pedro led this pitch, and props to him, because the exit of the narrow is kind of dodgy, airy and pretty darn wild.
The heart of the route is that pitch. I guess it is about 40 feet of claustrophobic squeeze, the crux being probably, to be able to take it easy, working a bit at a time, and maintaining the pulse under control. Avoid thoughts that won’t make the experience any easier, I mean, it is not the time to think about the California earthquakes, for example.
The next pitch is…another chimney. But this one is much easier. It ends over a chock stone-boulder. The location is very atmospheric, very much like in the rest of the route. Pedro took the last business pitch, that goes over some parallel hand cracks. They feel kind of steep and there are some loose flakes that you won’t want to pull but you might step into. The pitch ends in a large pine that marks the ends of the difficulties. A last easy pitch gradually takes you to the top. The descent is a bit tricky. You have to go west to the col and then south, through a rocky gully to a river that flows to the Glacier Point trail.