Lost Arrow Spire
Lost Arrow Spire
On June 21,1968 after 4 1/2 days, Warren Harding completed a new route on the Lost Arrow. It follows a nearly vertical line for the entire 1400 feet from base to tip; a line which, for the most part, appears completely blank from the Valley floor. To my climbing partner, Della Fixsen, and I, it seemed like an exceptionally aesthetic route. I was looking forward to experiencing this historical climb.
Della and I knew there were going to be some amazing natural ledges. In order to enjoy them better, we decided to take our time on the route. We planned to spend four days and three nights up on the Spire. Our goal was to finish up at First Error Ledge (pitch 4) on the first night. On the second night, Second Error Ledge (pitch 8) would be our stopping point. Then we would spend our last night on The Notch (pitch 14).
The Arrow would be Della's first big wall, and it would be a good grade for her to get some practice in on solid C2+ aid climbing. Our decision to complete only four pitches each day turned out to be beneficial for Della. She was able to concentrate on her climbing without feeling rushed.
On Friday morning, we packed our haul bag and followed the hairy trail to the base. We didn't reach the sun-drenched base until two in the afternoon, and we still needed to get water. We got our water from the base of Yosemite Falls, probably one of the best water pools I have ever retrieved water from. It was getting late, so with our water bags full, we were ready to get busy.
I made a wrong decision on the route right off the bat and ended up on a ledge that was too high. I had to down climb, which ended up with a 13-foot fall, which I always love. I never mind starting out a climb with a fun, little whipper! After finding the right direction, I got on track real fast. Della and I decided to swap leads throughout the climb, and she was next. While racking up I asked, "Did you want the hooks for this pitch?” She hesitated and said, “ No.” Because I have a decent amount of aid climbing skills, I know to never leave those babies behind. I wasn't surprised then, when about 30 or 40 feet up, she came to a blank face, looked down and said, “ I can't go anywhere.” “Hmmm . . . really? Do you think you want those hooks?” I asked her. In a soft voice she called down, "Yes, please.” I chuckled to myself and had her lower the haul line down so I could send them up.
She did awesome for her first time hooking and moved right along. After swapping leads, I got an awesome 10b OW pitch, which was fun and exciting to get into. Being that I freed it, I moved right long.
It was Della's turn to lead the last pitch of the day to First Error, and it was quickly getting dark . As time went on, we soon realized that Della went off route and we ended up way left of where we should have been. She had to make a solid down climb to get back on track, but it was taking a while and getting dark and WINDY. After she got back on track, Della moved right along to take us up to the First Error.
It was super windy, which made it hard to set up shelter, but the protection it provided made our efforts well worth it. Hunkered down, we were tired and it was pushing midnight, but we still needed to eat. Knowing that we had plush ivy ledges, we had packed the MSR Wisperlite and some good non-stick pans. We made some amazing black bean veggie burgers and washed it down with some good ol’ King Cobras. Exhausted, we fell asleep listening to the sound of the tent flapping to in the wind.
Around 7:30 a.m., the wind finally stopped and we were able to rest in silence until 9 a.m. From the comfort of our sleeping bags, we enjoyed the view of Yosemite Falls with a hot cup of coffee warming our hands; not a bad way to start the day. With only four pitches to do that day, our start time was not quite in keeping with alpine style. After eating breakfast and breaking down camp, we finely got going at 11 a.m.
The morning started off well with me taking the first pitch on a mellow C1 style. The day was hot, but really not too bad to deal with. Della took the next pitch, which set her up for a nice lower out about 50 feet or so up from the belay into a nice free climbing corner. I knew this pitch was going to be a long one, so I got out my Bozeman's chair and prepared for a nice relaxing belay. And it was relaxing until I heard a high-pitched scream. Looking up, I saw Della whipping through the air and across the hard granite until the old piton caught her, “Dude, You just took an easy 30 footer! That was sick! Oh, are you OK?" I remembered to ask. Silence. “Della, are you OK??" I repeated. Finally, she looked down and gave me a thumbs up. I knew she was fine and that she just needed a few minutes to regroup. After a few moments, she asked for a few more pieces. She jugged the line and finished the climb. Once reaching the top of that pitch, I looked up and saw my beautiful, long C1 pitch and was eager to get going. Making a fast belay change, I was off and making my way to a really cool corner with a big ol' tree in it. I used it to anchor off the fixed line and found a flat spot to haul my line.
The final pitch was a fun 5.9 ninety foot pitch that Della lead, in style, up the OW and to the second night's camp. With plenty of time at camp we were able to relax and make a decent dinner. We had plenty of time to nourish ourselves with spaghetti. Then we sat back and enjoyed the view of Yosemite Falls.
The next morning, we both woke up feeling flu-like symptoms. Neither of us had slept well due to the high winds. I started up the ninth pitch feeling slow and weak. Every move took so much effort, it felt like it took two hours to move 110 feet. Fortunately, I arrived at a plush belay.
Della had a 140 foot pitch, and she was not feeling any better then me. She fought and pushed up the lead, taking a little longer then we expected. I didn't mind, however, because it gave me the chance to rest and hydrate. When it was my time to jug the line, I felt good and ready. Della still felt a little slow so I took the last two pitches to get us into the Notch. I had a stellar time on these last two pitches of the day. They were the best two of the whole route. I was able to do sky hooks and cam hooks with awesome exposure. This always just lights me up and I get so excited. I'm sure the people on the valley floor were wondering what was wrong with the guy on the wall. Della later asked me the same thing.
When I arrived at the Notch, the fixed line we had tossed down was about thirty feet off the ground. I was not sure what we were going to do. Knowing that we had a party below us, I considered two options: 1) wait until they got there, 2) summit and see if anyone was on top that could unsnag our rope and get it to the Notch for us. Della, quick thinker that she is, came up with a good plan. We would use our haul line as our second rope, but would not rappel with it (because it was an 8 mm static line that can not be rappelled with a 10 mm dynamic line). Then we would rap the dynamic line and just use the static line to pull the dynamic line back down to us. So smart. We were able to relax and enjoy some Mountain House dinners and a couple beers. The wind was not too bad that night so, finally, we were able to get a good night's sleep.
Knowing we had only two pitches to the summit, we enjoyed a full cup of coffee and some tea with a solid breakfast. Since we we were just heading to the summit then back down to the Notch, we did not need to haul our bags. That made our climb much quicker. By 11 a.m., both pitches were completed and we stood on top of the summit. Della had taken the lead since it was her first big wall. When I arrived we exchanged hugs. A few people on the main land side were taking pictures of us. It was only one rap down the backside to our bags, but it was six long raps back down to the ground. Four hours later, our feet were planted firmly on the ground and we were were able to start the two hour long walk to the valley floor. The excitement of topping out always helps the descent go a little bit faster …well that and knowing a cold beer is so close!