Type: Trad, 15 pitches
FA: Allen Steck & John Salathe - 1950
Page Views: 58,930 total · 382/month
Shared By: Josh Janes on Sep 21, 2006
Admins: M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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Access Issue: Yosemite National Park climbing closures and conditions Details


The Steck-Salathe truly deserves its status as one of the "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America". Everything from the climbing itself to the many stories of adventure had on the north face of the Sentinel makes this climb a must-do for any aspiring Valley climber -- if not a route to be repeated again and again, it certainly should at least be seen as a rite of passage. The climb's reputation for being long, wide, and physical is well deserved, but the quality of that climbing, the position one achieves, and the overall sense of adventure the route offers should not be understated.

On the first ascent in 1950 Allen Steck and John Salathe reached the top of the Flying Buttress (the first half of the route) in two days, and took another three to reach the summit (Royal Robbins made the second and third ascents a few years later). Today the route is commonly done by free-soloists in the lesser part of a morning; but this is also the climb that nearly resulted in the deaths of Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neill (a fantastic account of their antics appeared in one of the climbing mags a few years back), and did take the life of beloved Derek Hersey. Most parties should expect a very full day even with a first light start, but fast parties could certainly make it down for dinner if they move efficiently and link pitches. Originally rated 5.9, the route has been upgraded to 5.10b which is much more like it. Nevertheless, the 5.10 sections aren't too bad -- it's all those 5.8 and 5.9 wide pitches that present the true crux of the route. There are many ways to pitch out this climb; this description describes my experience on it.

Approach by parking at the Four Mile Trailhead. Follow this trail for a long half-mile to a point on the trail where a narrow, tree-shrouded talus slope heads up into the woods. This is sometimes marked by a cairn, but it is fairly easy to find: if in doubt, continue east on the main trail for a minute or two to an obvious stream bed (sometimes dry late in the season) and then backtrack 100-200 feet to the talus. Head up a well-defined climber's trail in the talus until it eventually dead-ends at the base of the Sentinel at a steep, wide, west-trending ramp. This is a convenient place to rack up and stash the packs. Follow this ramp up until it eventually turns into a narrow system of catwalk-like ledges that weave back and forth up the north face of the Sentinel. This amazing passage (reminiscent of the approach to Hobbit Book in Tuolumne) gains about 1/3 of the height of the Sentinel via simple 3rd and 4th class scrambling. It's hard to get lost on this ramp system, and eventually it opens up to a small, loose area near the western edge of the face. Continue scrambling up until you reach the base of a significant right-facing corner with, yes, a wide crack. This is the start of the route -- you can't scramble any higher.

P1: A 60' right-facing corner with a wide crack in it. This can be negotiated with squeezing and OW skills, but I found it easier to lieback. 5.8, strenuous. I was glad to have a #4.5 Camalot (#5 C4). This leads to a belay stance which I skipped. Step right and continue up some 5.8 cracks to another stance and belay -- a long pitch.

P2: Climb a touch more 5.8 past some fixed gear, then easier terrain, then a brief finger crack, then wandering climbing up a gully system to some final wide cracks and a belay below the base of the Wilson Overhang. Another long pitch, 5.8.

P3: The Wilson Overhang. Climb up an ever-steepening chimney/corner system with a difficult to reach hand crack in the back. Eventually one must commit to either jamming and squeezing awkwardly or stemming out a ways with little pro. There are good face holds for doing the latter. Pull the overhang and climb easier ground up to a belay on a pedestal. This pitch is accurately rated 5.10a but is not the crux of the climb.

P4: Climb up an absolutely horrendous 5.9 squeeze and then traverse right and up to a belay at the base of a huge gully/chute system. Alternatively (highly recommended), skip the squeeze in favor of an unprotected 5.8 flake out right. The squeeze may very well be the crux of the route -- UGH.

P5 & P6: Climb one of many crack systems for the next two pitches up the gully/chute until it is possible to tunnel through the tip of the Flying Buttress to the left. This is a good area to simulclimb or pass other parties as there are many avenues. 5.8-5.10 depending on how you go. Belay at a rap station on the east side of the Flying Buttress -- this is the halfway point and after this retreat becomes more difficult. Do a short (40') rap off the anchor to another anchor at the base of a steep crack system. I guess you can also downclimb this section? Looked difficult.

P7: Ascend the steep and difficult crack system up to an obvious belay -- this is an interesting and challenging pitch. 5.9.

P8: Face climb up and right, then wander sharply back left and up to a belay below a long corner/slot that leads up into The Narrows. There are several fixed pieces protecting this pitch, but small/medium wires work well too. 5.9 and a somewhat heady change of pace from all the thrutching thus far. Don't worry -- its all thrutching the rest of the way from here.

P9: This corner to flare to chimney is rated 5.10b which would lead one to believe its the crux of the climb, but it goes quite well, especially if you're willing to leave the security of the gear in the corner and stem and chimney your way up it a little to the outside. The pitch links very easily into the next pitch, the Narrows, and this is what we did.

P10: The Narrows. If you skipped the 5.9 squeeze after the Wilson Overhang in favor of the 5.8 flake, then this is the unquestionable crux of the route. The Narrows was originally climbed by aiding up a bolt ladder on the outside of the slot, but ever since Robbins' ascents, the way to go has been right up into that hole. Approaching it, unlike Astroman's Harding Slot, is relatively easy. In fact, you can get most of your upper body into the Narrows while your lower body is still comfortably back-footing in the wider chimney below. The problem is advancing the next yard or so: One must drop one's feet and figure out some way to make upwards progress in a squeeze chimney using only body parts from the hips up. I managed this by using the back of my head on the back wall to pull my body upwards while simultaneously exhaling, then taking a deep breath to hold that position while I groped for a higher purchase with the back of my head. Hey, it worked. Gear for inside The Narrows really isn't necessary, but a fist-size cam (#3.5 Camalot/#4 C4) works well to protect the initial moves. For most of this you feel pretty alone with only the sound of your own gasping, and the tinkling sound of the hangers on the old aid bolts blowing freely in the wind on the outside of the slot, for company. Perhaps you'll wish you were out there hanging from those bolts, but perservere -- eventually things will start going a little more quickly. At last you can stem up out of The Narrows to an incredibly exposed position high on the upper face of the Sentinel. Peer down at the old bolt ladder, and the valley floor two thousand feet below. A few more feet of easy climbing leads to a nice belay. 5.9? Yeah, sure.

P11: At this point a stout looking pine tree appears way above. This actually is the location of the final real belay on the climb. Not much further, huh? Continue up a fun 5.7 chimney to a very cool belay at bolts on top of a chockstone.

P12: Continue up the chimney until forced to pull out left through a steep section at a hangerless bolt (plenty of gear to back it up). Belay where convenient. 5.8.

P13: Aim for the tree. Head up and left through a very steep, but short, section of hand or fist cracks (switching between them where necessary). Some of this rock is fairly low quality, but after one last little mantle into the dirt and pine needles, you can taste victory. Belay at the big tree.

P14: An easy pitch continues up the east-trending ramp at low 5th class, then steps around the corner and belays just below the summit.

Descent: Before attempting this descent for the first time, take into account the amount of daylight you have remaining. If it's dark already, consider waiting it out and beginning at first light. You should try to do at least the first two thirds of the descent in the daylight. Part 1: Follow a passage east through manzanita and boulders until it turns into a huge gully that heads down to the east. Follow the obvious trail along the southern (right) wall of this gully until it eventually begins switching back down the center. This gully is often loose and very steep at times and requires much care to follow the trail, which is the easiest path. At one point a rappel is reached, but this is not necessary -- there is a 4th/low-5th passage down just before reaching the rap, but it appears highly improbable from above. Eventually you will reach a stream which must be crossed to reach the second part of the descent. Note: This stream is the one that crosses the Four Mile Trail just after the talus on the approach; it is also visible (as water streaks/wet sections of rock) from Camp 4 when looking up at the valley wall just left (east) of the Sentinel. The stream is spring-fed and safe to drink from at this point on the descent -- a good thing to know when planning for how much water to carry on the climb. Part 2: After crossing the stream, begin heading north (left) on steep slabs. The easiest passage eventually forces you to the far east (right) side of the slabs as you're descending. The base of the slabs terminate in dense trees. Part 3: Continue scrambling down and east (right) along the base of the slabs to a non-descript point at which you enter the trees. Finding the path of least resistance is difficult even in the daylight -- expect some bushwhacking. You can more or less head north and west to reach the climber's trail and the Four Mile Trail, but if you left equipment at the base of the ramp, you'll have to cut sharply back west to reach that point.


Two each from TCU's to hands. One each 4 and 5 inch pieces (a #4 and #5 C4 are perfect). Wires.


andrew kulmatiski
logan, ut
andrew kulmatiski   logan, ut
I'm curious to read your review. When i was there (04?) the bolts were missing from P11 and my 6'3" partner and myself (6'2") could not get through the squeeze - we went out the old aid line on the face. I've also heard the wilson overhang is now rated 10b, not 5.8. I'd have to agree. Oct 17, 2006
Alexey Zelditch
San Jose
Alexey Zelditch   San Jose
Josh, thanks for great quality of route description.
I absolutely agree that "P4: 5.9 squeeze " very well may be the crux of the all route, which I've never considered before I climbed it. Nov 10, 2006
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
I'm glad I did it back when the Wilson Overhang was easy! I remember pitch 5 was originally rated 5.7, which was a cruel joke for those of us expecting an easy pitch. I thought the hardest pitch was the one after the rappel (pitch 7).

I led the Narrows and I thought it was only about 5.7. I'm a pretty big guy, and I remember being able to hold myself in by inhaling. This is kind of spooky at first, but a rather useful technique (as long as you don't get stuck!).

I can also attest that it is possible to get lost a pitch or two above the Narrows. Somehow we got too far left and out of the main chimney system here. This wasn't too bad, we were mainly worried we'd have to retreat and get benighted. We kept getting forced left and topped out way left of the normal finish. There was just enough light left for us to burrow down the manzanita tunnels. Nov 15, 2006
J Beta
New Hampshire
J Beta   New Hampshire  
I actually cracked a rib on the first pitch. I was in full-on grovel mode, trying to belly flop onto (or past?) the chockstone and I heard a pop in my chest. It loosened up as we kept climbing, but I was hurting for the next couple of weeks.

This is one of the best climbs I have ever done. I didn't know how to climb chimneys and offwidths when I started, but by the end I felt like knew what I was doing. I still remember being in the Narrows with the back of my head on one wall and my nose touching the other wall. I don't think I'll ever forget it. Nov 29, 2006
Oakland, CA
Sirius   Oakland, CA
Excellent description, thanks for taking the time. May 1, 2007
I don't remember the 9th pitch in the above description being the crux. I thought the Wilson Overhang much harder. While leading the narrows pitch, I got claustrophobic and wiggled my way toward the outside of the chimney until it widened into a full stem. Though less secure, upward progress was then easy! I clipped the old star bolts for pro (yikes) as I ratcheted my way up, the treetops a thousand feet below... Jun 7, 2007
Sergio P
Idaho Springs, CO
Sergio P   Idaho Springs, CO
The pitch before the narrows (pitch 9 as listed above) has a large 4 foot hollow flake on the left face that is difficult to bypass. On the top left corner of the flake is a nice fist sized horn that is tempting to use. I feel that using this flake or horn in any manner could cause serious rock fall. Possibly a rope cutting, belayer crushing experience. Just be careful. I would also encourage the use of a helmet on this route. It does have sections of loose rock and the helmet will never be a negative issue in any of the squeeze sections. Jun 24, 2007
Marc H
Longmont, CO
Marc H   Longmont, CO
I was so eager to finish the Narrows pitch because I perceived it to be the last real hard pitch and it was getting dark, that I entered facing the wrong way and forget to hang my shoes and water bottle off a long sling. Needless to say, I realized the hopelessness of my inane variation and simply fetal'ed-up and took a little ride (after placing a #4 of course). It's a very interesting way to exit the famous pitch if you ever get the opportunity.

Other than that, climbing the Steck-Salathe is like participating in a cage fight, without training. You pretty much end up with a PhD in wide crack climbing, and the professor wields a huge club of granite during every course. Of course, it's a must do for any self-respecting climber. Jul 29, 2007
Scotty Nelson
Scotty Nelson   Boulder
Curious if people think the Supertopo time of 6-8 hours on route is accurate. We took 12, and got benighted on the descent. Aug 1, 2007
Sergio P
Idaho Springs, CO
Sergio P   Idaho Springs, CO
I would agree w/ Scotty Nelson that this route is more then 6-8 hours. We did it in about 14 hours car to car. 1-2 hours for the approach (we got lost) and at least 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours for the decent (half of it was in the dark). Aug 21, 2007
Joe Stern
Moab, Utah
Joe Stern   Moab, Utah
A mega-classic climb that has the feel of a great adventure despite only being an hour's hike from millions of tourists. Supertopo's average time of 8-10 hours of climbing (updated since your post Scotty?) is certainly achievable by first timers comfortable on all manner of 5.9. The crux of this route will depend on your particular strengths, but expect full value 5.9 climbing on the Wilson Overhang, the pitch after the Wilson Overhang, the pitch after the rappel, the pitch before the Narrows (OW), and the Narrows (and probably a few others!). We took (along with some smaller cams) a single #4, 5, and 6 camalot (new sizes) and used all of them a lot, but you could definitely get by with less. Save some time for the descent, as those slabs can be a bit tricky in the dark! Dec 20, 2007
Darshan Ahluwalia
Petaluma, CA
Darshan Ahluwalia   Petaluma, CA
My partner Kia and I did this Saturday, April 19. We started the approach at 530AM and summited as the sun was setting.

The descent gully is a nightmare when its filled with snow. You'll have to rap the entire gully (7-10 rappels), down climb wet ledges, squeeze between the snow edge and the rock, and do other crappy stuff to get down it.

If attempting the Sentinel when there is snow in the gully, you may be better off rapping the route you came up, especially if you bring twin or double ropes. (I recall seeing several slings on the lower half of the Steck-Salathe.)

Either way you go down, the gully or the face, bring several feet of cord/webbing (and a knife) and prepare for a long night getting off...

PS: bring a lighter. Apr 22, 2008
Will S
Joshua Tree
Will S   Joshua Tree
Did this 7/26. So called "unprotected" 5.8 flake after Wilson does take gear. For big stuff we took a single purple 4 and red 4.5 camalot. Only used the 4.5 at the bottom of the pitch below the narrows. I thought the slab pitch protected better for the leader than the follower.

Be careful on the last double cracks leading to the tree ledge, there's a big loose 3' shard in one of them that will easily trundle.

Crux? Dunno. I thought the Wilson, pitch below narrows, and narrows entry move were about the same but the pro was better for wilson and narrows. 5.8 lieback at the top of the pitch after the rap felt like the tech crux to me, but maybe I missed something.

It was 95+ on the valley floor, but probably only in the upper 70s on the route. Take enough water, I only had a liter and suffered greatly for it. Long hard day to put it mildly. Did the descent in the dark with headlamps (never done it before), thought it was very casual as long as you don't miss a couple of well-cairned turning points. Jul 30, 2008
Dan Brockway
Dan Brockway   Boulder
Death flake below the Narrows? We did this on May 14, 2009 and we did not notice a dangerous flake there. Could it have fallen out?
I found the offwidth pitches especially the Narrows very hard but probably typical for Yosemite 5.10 offwidth. (ie darn hard) May 16, 2009
Osprey Overhang
Osprey Overhang   ...
Excellent line up the Sentinel. While it is a long route with many wide sections to pass through to get to the top, there are more hand jams than chicken wings on the Steck-Salathe. Cut rope drag by taking many long slings and only use half a rope length if you plan to simul. Stash water at the bottom of the descent gully before ascending the approach ramp. Most people are thirsty by the time they make it down.

There are too many edges to use, offering rests from the heal-toes and chicken wings for this climb to be rated 5.10. It will take talent and determination to make it to the top. However, just because you can climb this route, does not mean you can climb 5.10 offwidth in Yosemite. May 17, 2009
Effective May 2009, on P9 (of the posted description here, the pitch below the Narrows) the two old nail-and-sleeve Star-Dryvn bolts from the original ascent have been replaced with 3/8" stainless Powers 5-piece bolts and stainless hangers.

Also, regarding strategy: For parties who have never been in the descent gully, I strongly recommend doing a hike up it to the top of the Sentinel a day or two before your climb: Stash descent shoes, water, and headlamps at the top.

The advantages of this strategy are several:
1. After the climb, you will be familiar with the intricacies of the descent, having just done it in daylight
2. You won't need to drag descent shoes up the climb with you or do the toe-crushing descent in your climbing shoes
3. You will have water and headlamp at the top, and be more refreshed for the descent.

Have fun.

Brutus May 27, 2009
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Stashing gear? That's cheatin'! Nothing like thrashing down the gully lost in the dark, wondering if that is a drop-off below you, with your headlamp fading and your mouth like sandpaper.

Darn, why did I never think of that? Add:
4. You can't wimp out so easily. May 27, 2009
Oakland, CA
Sirius   Oakland, CA
I also thought the pitch after the rappel was the hardest on the route, though I skipped the squeeze after the Wilson by traversing to the flake. This felt a little heady - you don't want to fall if taking this variation.

Great description here, the only part I'd disagree with a bit is the descent. Modified here to match my experience, with my additions in bold (YMMV):

"Part 1: Follow a passage east through manzanita and boulders as it winds south, then drops down SW and into a small notch. Here it appears that you'll be forced to descend a gulley to the west, which you don't want to do, but after dipping under a mini headwall, you'll be able to ascend back east to the true notch and see the trail descending east into the correct gulley.

Follow the obvious trail along the southern (right) wall of this gully until it eventually begins switching back down the center... Eventually you will reach a stream which must be crossed to reach the second part of the descent... Cross almost immediately after reaching the stream - the path may be overgrown, especially in June/July.

Part 2: After crossing the stream, begin heading north (left) on slabs. The slabs you are descending form an 'island' between two different streams (unless they're dry, but their beds will still be obvious): the one you just crossed, and another stream further east. You do not want to cross the second stream. You want to stay in the middle of the slab or on the western 1/2 of it.

Staying more or less in the middle of the slab, look for cairns at a small promontory - from here, you'll descend back west down a clear if steep, blocky, and improbable 4th class section. Do your best to pick up a trail here that will have you re-crossing the same stream you crossed above (this time headed west, back toward the Sentinel massif).

Part 3:..." Jun 23, 2010
Alexander Nees
Grand Junction, CO
Alexander Nees   Grand Junction, CO
I only have one thing to add to the huge amount of quality beta for this route. The 5.9 squeeze after the Wilson Overhang is mellow, except for the last body-length or so immediately before exiting, which is HORRENDOUS. I highly recommend the following strategy:

Climb up the chimney to the point at which your chest is starting to get compressed by the squeeze, maybe 6-8 feet below the slung chockstone. Place a good piece (I used a bomber .75 C4), then slither back down the chimney to the slopey foot traverse out to the 5.8 flake. You can now do the traverse and the bottom portion of the flake with a toprope off your piece in the chimney. Don't place gear in the flake or you'll have bad drag, but don't fall off near the top either, or you'll take a nasty swing into the corner. Follower can clean in the same manner (climb up, remove gear, climb down and traverse) while protected from above. Made this section much easier. Too bad it took me 20 mins of struggling in the squeeze before it occurred to me...

Great route! Oct 18, 2010
Was happy to have a #5 and #6 C4

70m link beta:
Can get to base of Wilson Overhang in 2 pitches.
Can get from pitch after Wilson (5.9 squeeze to 5.7 traverse) to top of Flying Buttress in 2 pitches.
Lots more linking possible above the slab pitch if you have juice left. May 29, 2012
Pavel K  
Done the route in 9 hrs. 3 hrs to the top of Flying Buttress, then slowed down a bit. I didn't really think it had much OW climbing, a lot chimneying (incl. squeeze) though.
Placed only one or two nuts, cams everywhere else. Doubles to C4 #2, then 1 each C4 #3, #4 and 4.5 and we were perfectly fine.
We had 5 liters of water and the second was carrying or hauling pack off harness and it was too heavy. Next time I would carry less and suffer more -:)
I agree that the flake on the pitch before Narrows is dangerous (June 2012) - it flexes and is ready to come down if you pull on it too hard.

Make sure you go climber's right after the 5.9 squeeze above Wilson overhang. There are slings/tat approx. 30-40ft directly above the squeeze and it is NOT the right way to go. You need to angle right to the base of large gully system. I went straight up here, then had to lower Michal down and when seconding the pitch I had to do a bit of spicy face traversing to get into the correct gully.

The descent ranks as one of the worse ones. Took us 1.5 hrs or so, lot of route finding in loose rock.

Overall, great route and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Jun 4, 2012
leeds, ut
fossana   leeds, ut
Thanks for the descent beta, Sirius. We did the route yesterday. There were no cairns on the promontory but it was easy to figure out which one and how to get down. Watch the slabs below the promontory; they are water polished and slick. Jul 3, 2012
Shawn Heath
Forchheim, DE
Shawn Heath   Forchheim, DE  
Thanks fossana, for posting such great pictures of each of the pitches! Aug 28, 2012
leeds, ut
fossana   leeds, ut
thanks, Shawn! The lighting wasn't so great, but I for one wasn't complaining about being mostly in the shade mid-summer. Aug 29, 2012
Denver, CO
Lucas   Denver, CO
As kovarpa mentioned, if you miss the 5.7 traverse after the squeeze you'll end up off route and in the wrong gully. If you keep climbing up the gully though it links back up with the route at the flying buttress. There are 1 or 2 fun 5.10 sections on pretty good rock in there...but definitely some crumbly/exfoliating rock in between.
Pretty fun altogether, I'd do it again.
Sep 17, 2012
San Francisco
tallmark515   San Francisco
We brought a set of offset nuts and a set of Mastercams from tiny to yellow and BD doubles to yellow, one #3, two #4's and one #5. Two #4's was not overkill.

The poster above (Sirius) has good descent beta, the Supertopo beta is worthless.

The route took us about 12hours, we kept up a pretty good pace, for the most part, but got slowed down on the wide crux pitches. We never got lost.

We brought 5 liters of water and drank it all by the time we got back to our packs at the base of the first approach ramp. There is a great spot to leave packs as the descent trail returns you to this spot. There are also some flat spots to bivy.

Regarding the approach, the supposed half mile travel on the 4-mile trail felt MUCH longer than a half mile. Keep going until you get to the spring, which was still running strong in early August.

Bringing a backpack wasn't much of a problem, we trailed it in the chimneys, which wasn't annoying, except in the Narrows.

Gear was great overall, except the 5.7 slab traverse which was pretty easy and the 5.9 slab pitch which was actually a bit tricky. The 5.8 flake variation to the 5.9+ squeeze on the 4th pitch also protects fine.

As mentioned above, most of the pitches (except the modernly rated 5.10 pitches) felt about one grade harder than listed. Which is part of what made this route so incredible. Aug 13, 2013
Peter Lewis
Bridgton, ME
Peter Lewis   Bridgton, ME
A historical note: in 1973 this route was onsight soloed in 2.5 hours by Henry Barber. Just think about that next time you're up there...amazing! Nov 14, 2013
michael s.
Denver, CO
michael s.   Denver, CO
In the "gulley" that constitutes pitch 5 and especially 6, DO NOT CLIMB ON THE FAR RIGHT. holy hell I have never seen looser rock. Lots of it. I was being super-careful and still sent a basketball sized rock plummeting into the abyss. It glanced off the cliff hundreds of feet below and went flying sideways. Thankfully no one was beneath us. Jun 20, 2014
Goran Lynch
Oakland, CA
Goran Lynch   Oakland, CA
This climb delivers a remarkable beating given its moderate grade and length. It's sort of hard, and sort of long, but the combination takes a toll!

P1 (supertopo 1+2): squeeze was significantly harder than expected. Stout wake-up.

P2 (ST 3) I can't recall --- this means it didn't hurt.

P3 (ST 4+5) Wilson Overhang seemed completely desperate at first, until I chimneyed up the flare instead of attempting to "jam" the blank section down low. Plenty of features for chimneying, and a finger crack appears on the left wall pretty quickly, as do good jams in the main corner. Done this way, I honestly felt this was one of the easier sections of climbing on the entire route. My partner didn't agree, but she kept the pack on and climbed it straight in.
And then there's the squeeze in the Supertopo Pitch 5. Easily the worst two feet of progress I've ever attempted to make. Mind-blowingly frustrating. None of the "classic 5.9+" offwidths I've climbed even remotely compare to this completely innocuous-looking slot for utter futility and pain.

Oh, yeah, my helmet decided to detach from my harness in this section. With my headlamp attached. Did I mention it was mid-October with sunset a little after 6p?

P4 (ST 6) I had carried the belay too high up and left in my glee to have escaped from the aforementioned squeeze, and my partner did a great job of extracting us, including a heady 5.9+ slab step right off the belay and a .10a-b traverse right under a roof later in the pitch. Surprisingly full-value pitch.

P5 (ST 7) There are crack systems everywhere. I think we went one system too far to the right --- it was grainy, surprisingly loose, and consistently strenuous 5.9. More reminiscent of an infrequently traveled alpine route than a Valley classic.

The good news about creative routefinding on these two pitches was that the upper pitches proved manageable in comparison!

P6 (ST 9) Beautiful, steep, sometimes fisty. Finally felt some rhythm leading this pitch. The reduction in number of portable holds surely helped.

P7 (ST 10) Huh? Technical face/slab? Where'd that come from?! One crappy old bolt, a few nice new ones. Thin but all there.

P8 (ST 11-12) Mega-lead by my partner. She climbed the Narrows about as quickly as most people climb 5.9 face. Be sure to exit the Narrows after ~60 feet, though, not attempt to tunnel all the way to the belay. If you stay deep, you'll probably get stuck --- my partner tried and had to downclimb (downslither?). Good climbing through this entire pitch, and well-featured (even in the Narrows). The Narrows are an experience, but not because they're brutal --- it's just a really amazing spot. 5* pitch!

P9 (ST 13) 5.7 chimney. Featured, cruiser.

P10 (ST 14-15) Fun mantle, some wandery bits, one last surpsingly steep bit of 5.9, and a big tree. The steep section feels stout when tired.

P11 (ST 16) To the top!

Descent: took us a bit over 3 hours to the base, onsight. In the dark. With one headlamp. The *excellent* mountainproject beta was a huge help, and, while tedious, the descent wasn't bad at all.

Written down like this, the climb doesn't seem like it could possibly take so much effort to get up. 11 Pitches (same number as NEB of Higher Cathedral Rock), 5.10b, all good belay stances, etc. But, somehow, it does. Oct 31, 2014
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
  5.10b PG13
Patrick Vernon   Estes Park, CO
  5.10b PG13
Amazing adventure route. Strategy wise we hiked up the day before to stash gear and find the start. I felt this was a good call as the start is not obvious. The route ascends the right side of the large pillar, not the left as we initially thought. The first pitch is wide and has a slung chockstone you can see from the base ledge. From here, with the supertopo topo, we didn't have any other route finding issues even on the descent.

This route is time consuming with many memorable pitches. The Wilson overhang has excellent gear on the left wall the whole way if you elect to climb it on the outside. We skipped the squeeze on the next pitch in favor of the 5.8 flake. Partner led this pitch, there is gear and placing a piece high in the squeeze seemed to help. Kind of barn doory to get into the flake.

After the bivy ledge the route gets harder and more sustained. The 5.9 face pitch was amazing, plenty of gear on it really. Safe if you dont run out of draws like I did and completely miss a bolt staring me in the face. Long draws are essential as this pitch wanders a bit. The .10b flare was strenuous, but fun (to follow).

The narrows, what a classic adventure pitch. Dont go wrong side in (like I did) it makes an already hard pitch waaay harder. I came flying out after a ten minute struggle, changed directions and was able to get up into the slot with alot less thrutching. Once you are in, it is not over. It is helpful to change directions again once standing on the jug midway up. I figured this out after about an hour long epic struggle cumulating with a slither down the slot to the foot jug. Knowing what I know now, this pitch will probably feel much more reasonable in the future. As for which direction to start, ill leave that up to the reader to figure out. The meat of the narrowd protects well with a 4 or 5 at the start. I got a finger size piece in higher up and rps in a small crack on the wall in the middle.

The narrows worked me and I belayed just after the squeeze as I was taking wayy too long. My partner graciously led the second half of the pitch and while easier, it seemed quite scary.

The last few pitches were non-trivial though easier.

We descended in the dark and with all of the excellent information here it was quite manegable though time consuming. The initial gulley (part 1) is very long and descends almost the entire length of the face. We opted for a rappel off a tree halfway down. Part 2 was much shorter but wasnt super scary as we expected. 4th-5.0 downclimbing with manegable exposure.

Cant reccomend this adventure enough, will always remember this one. Sep 16, 2015
amazing climb in an amazing location. well deserved of its classic status. There are many pitches that felt of similar difficulty to the crux.

Rack: 1x green alien, 2x yellow alien to #2 camalot; 1x #3, 2x #4 camalot. Didn't think a #5 was needed... 60M rope is good. Recommend bringing knee pads.

I wouldn't recommend doing the descent in the dark if you've never done it before. sirius descent beta is good. Sep 21, 2015
blue ribbon
Indian Creek, UT
blue ribbon   Indian Creek, UT
A few notes.
The "5.9" squeeze above the Wilson Overhang is really quite nice (feels like 5.8) and links well with the WO. For the thick chested or those with poor crack climbing technique this may seem more difficult. I personally believe that the link up of these two pitches is the best on the route.

I highly recommend leading the Narrows. The belay stance at the top is among the finest in North America.

No nuts or 5 camalot needed. If you think you should bring a #5 because you're nervous about not being able to french free through 5.9 then you may want to reconsider. A solid 5.9 climber will feel safe with one #4 camalot.

For descent beta I recommend ignoring all of the pesky details in aforementioned comments which will likely lead you astray. Head down the trail on the ridge until you reach the notch. Follow the trail descending East down the gully until another gully comes in from the South. Stay on the trail following the rib until forced into the southern branch then descend to the creek. Continue following the trail until you reach the hikers trail. To anybody with the slightest bit of route finding skills this should not be a big deal. May 17, 2016
Spencer Todd Cone
Boulder, CO
Spencer Todd Cone   Boulder, CO
Climbed the route on June 8. AMAZING!

Excellent route description and Sirius is on point with the descent beta. My partner Daniel and I topped out late and became benighted during our descent. We easily made it down safe and sound thanks to Sirius' thoughtful comment.

Erik Sloan recommended a #6. We brought this up but never placed it. Found the #5 useful in a couple of spots. I also agree with a previous comment about leaving stoppers at home, we brought them up but never used them. Jun 15, 2017
Jake Ramsey
Yosemite, CA
Jake Ramsey   Yosemite, CA
Disregard all the other comments about the descent as they will take you down the wrong path every time. After finishing the last pitch you will arrive at the top of The Sentinel from here continue along the ridge towards Glacier Point which is East. From there you will pick up some Carins. This will lead you to a point where it looks like you could either go west towards El Cap or East towards Glacier Point. Keep heading east, right after turning left you will wiggle between two blocks and pick up and obvious trail. After following the trail you will get to a gully with a prominent wall that will force you to continue right towards El Cap. Downclimb some easy 3rd class till you reach this wall and cut back left towards Glacier Point into the main gulley which you will follow all the way until you the reach the stream. If you keep going right towards El Cap you will most likely die. I took a nasty slide down a sandy slab before catching a manzanita bush. Once in the main descent gulley keep following the trail until you come to point where the gully splits off into two plausible options. You want to stay on the skiers left of the gulley. If you go right on the more open slabby side you'll get cliffed out. Once you turn left you will start heading town a slightly loose dirt and pine duff trail, till you come to point where there is rappel tree on skiers right or a low fifth-class down climb on the left. Either option works it's your call. After navigating that section continue down the gulley aiming for the stream at the bottom. Once you hit the stream follow the easiest path to cross the stream until you are in the middle of the gulley that leads down to the valley floor. Head down the open slab with streams on either side of you. Eventually you will come to a point where it looks you can't go any further. Once you reach this point there should be a carin. Head skiers left towards a block with old rappel tat on it. Don't rappel off this, instead work you way down and right towards a small gulley canopied by live oaks and manzanitas. This gulley will put you onto some more 3rd class slab downclimbing. Keep heading down and left towards the stream you crossed when you first entered this gulley. Eventually you will come to point with a bunch of trees and the stream on your left. Follow the stream through trees until you get fairlly close the the base of Sentinel. You will cross over a log and cut hard left back towards the the 3rd class mossy ramp on the approach. You will quickly pick up a distinct trail leading back to the approach trail. Jun 28, 2017
Spencer - sorry for the misunderstanding with my cam suggestion. I changed the topo to be more clear - doubles to #3, one #4, one #5.

Jake - this year might be more epic navigating the slabs / streams at the base of the descent gully, because there is so much more water this year than normal. The two times I climbed the Sentinel, once in July and once in September, there was no water at all.

Personally I would recommend folks not try to create, or needlessly memorize, detailed descent descriptions that spend paragraphs explaining how to get through hiking / third and four class terrain. Trust yourself that you will find the best way - heck if you are doing the Sentinel descent you just climbed a burly route, so a little bushwhacking, low fifth class downclimbing, etc. should not be too much to worry about. Worry about making it to the pizza deck before it closes!......lol, that will make you try way harder to find the right way, and will keep you from endlessly looking for a set of bushes or trees that matches some wordy, dubious descent description.

I updated the topo with this descent beta: (both times I climbed the Sentinel we got back to the Four Mile Trail in under an hour).

Steep, technical and loose, do not
attempt the first half of the descent
in the dark. Hike / scramble south to
enter the steep gully that drops away
to the east (toward Half Dome).
Negotiate this steep gully with some
low fifth class downclimbing, or rappeling,
in spots. The gully ends on slabs which
lead you around the mountain (stay
skier’s right) and into forrested trail
and short downclimbing sections that
lead back to the Four Mile Trail. Quick,
but challenging descent!

Go For It! Woot!
RockclimbingYosemite.com - Yosemitebigwall.com Aug 1, 2017
Just a plug for the Chouinard - Herbert as a good alternative, and a good way to get the descent dialed, for SS. I only climb 5.9, and it was easy to pull through the cruxes on the Cherbert, on the numerous fixed pins (any section harder than 5.9 seems to have a fixed piece every body length!), and to do the route and descent (but not the approach!) in daylight. Aug 1, 2017
Alexey Zelditch
San Jose
Alexey Zelditch   San Jose
I would recommend instead of brining #6 - take with you on the route new Sloan free climbing book. It weight little bit more than #6, but will be more useful and bring much more fun Aug 1, 2017
Paul Hutton
Kansas City, MO
Paul Hutton   Kansas City, MO
What's the commitment grade of this route? At least IV? Nov 3, 2017
Did S.S. in Oct. '80, so my recall of it is vague. We got an early start in the dark from Camp 4. I remember hearing about the down climb to avoid Salathe's bolt ladder (Barber had free soloed the route). We thought that was a bit contrived. The bolts were old and my partner led that short A1 section. I'm sure it's been freed by now. My partner was a bit better than I but not on squeeze and off-width. I didn't find the narrows too difficult but I gave him tension because he didn't have squeeze chimney experience. I was shouting down some technique to him. The belay spot above the narrows was gorgeous and the afternoon sun streaming through the valley made it more so. A couple of foreign (German?) climbers below us asked us to drop them a top rope after we were out of the squeeze but they were more than a rope length below us and we were watching the sun set behind El Cap. We got to the summit in the dark and spent the night there. I remember watching guys Hang Gliding off Glacier Point going by us at eye level on the descent. I think the route was rated 5.9, A1 (just the short bolt ladder) at the time and that seemed reasonable. Apr 20, 2018
The first time I attempted this route we brought far too much and were benighted low on the route. A friend suggested we leave the #5 & 6 at home as well as packs and shoes and instead, fill our chalk bags with popcorn chicken. We raced up the climb while enjoying these crispy little treats and made it back down to the valley with daylight to spare. Jun 4, 2018
Alissa Doherty
Boston, MA
Alissa Doherty   Boston, MA
It looks like an avalanche, large slide, or some combination have taken out the approach trail (we climbed SS May 4). The talus field is full of loose blocks, scree, and downed trees. It isn’t much of a hindrance until the approach ramp which has a layer of loose rock—my partner and I lost quite a bit of time excavating the third and fourth class slab. Worth adding some additional time and care to your approach and if uncomfortable on exposed terrain, it might be worth waiting for traffic to clean it up over the season. May 5, 2019 · Temporary Report