I awoke to the sounds of bear boxes locking up, people whispering, cams and carabiners jingling- it was 4:30 a.m. and the other climbers in Camp 4 were gearing up for a long day on a big route. Without much thought, I rolled over and fell quickly back to sleep. Not much later, the soft sound of my alarm chimed at 5 a.m. and was time for me to lock, load, and prepare as the other climbers had, in what seemed like just minutes before.
I truly believe every climber should climb a route that has an exceptional history to it. Every climber should experience a route, knowing that some great pioneers of our generation had long before, made the their way to the top without knowing exactly how it was going to get done. I have an appreciation for them as they have taken leaps of faith, without the guides, the books, the blogs, the pictures or articles. Pioneers have entered a world of unfamiliarity and discomfort, with hopes to unlock and discover our now, well known playgrounds and climbing havens. That is exactly what John Salathe and Allen Steck did for us, on the beautiful Sentinel Column, 50 years ago. That day, I was committed to exploring their discovery and seeing for myself, how they accomplished their steadfast goals respectfully with as little as half, the gear we know and have today.
The Stack-Salathe has been on my list since I had first read about it in Steve Roper's book, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber. Coffee in hand and the crisp air on my face, we racked up. I threw on my approach shoes and we made our way up the trail, to the base of the climb. Bringing only a small daypack to the actual climb, we left our packs at the base and headed up the five class section, to the start of the first pitch.
Now we stare at pitch 1 of 15. We decided to link the first two pitches to save time, knowing that the route was going to take about 8 to 10 hours to complete. And with the descent taking roughly another two, we planned accordingly, as to not have to walk off in the dark. Moving fast, my partner Della and I decided to swap leads; meaning I do one pitch, she does the next and so on and so forth. Pitches went by fast, but with the route being primarily in the shade, the belays were seemingly slow and cold.
After getting through pitch 9 we came out on the other side of a big column, where it then felt to be a little bit warmer. As we turned the corner, we looked up at what we really came up here to do. The 10b OW pitch and the infamous “narrow pitch,” a slot that is 90 feet long and barley sizable enough to fit a grown man into.
We kicked ass through the 10 section, amazing and overwhelmingly entertaining to say the least, which then led me to under the "Narrows." Discussing the pitch details prior the climb, Della won the coin toss for the Narrows. Being the one who was planning on leading the pitch, before I got the liberty to, she said to me, "I'm kind of scared to lead this." Deep inside I was secretly hoping she would ask me to lead it but I confidently told her, “don’t be scared! This is exactly why we're doing this climb- just for these last 2 pitches! Now get your butt up in there!” Racking up with only one # 4 for the pitch, she squeezed up in there and worked her way to the top in style, with a few exciting hoots and hollers along the way, of course. Right then, it was time for me to play in the Narrows! Getting up in there is a little tricky but once you find yourself in the slot, its all safe and sound then. Making it through the Narrows I felt as if the summit was right around the corner and so was the SUN. Being cold all day, it seemed the sun could not come faster as Della lead us to the warmth, and I got the lead to the summit. Ten hours later with plenty of daylight left, we had completed what two young men set out to do 50 years ago. Keeping their perspectives in mind and juggling thoughts of how our climbs may have been different was important to me as my own two feet had just danced their dance. It felt good to not only respect the history, but to share it in some earthly sense. Feeling fatigued, excited and accomplished, I was ready to set out for my next climb.