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The Fin
Routes Sorted
L to R R to L Alpha
Dark Horse T 
Dorsal Fin, The T 
Fin Arete, The T 
Fins and Needles T 
Fish For Brains S 
Gills, The T 
Hand Drills Suck! T 
Hook, Line and Sinker T 
Lateral Fin, The T 
Lyin & Cryin  T 
Other Intentions T 
Pabst Schmear, The S 
Ventral Fin, The T 
Wasatch Harlem T 
Wave of Mutilation, The T 
Unsorted Routes:

The Dorsal Fin 

YDS: 5.10d French: 6b+ Ewbanks: 21 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 21 British: E3 5b

Type:  Trad, 4 pitches, 300', Grade II
Original:  YDS: 5.10d French: 6b+ Ewbanks: 21 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 21 British: E3 5b [details]
FA: George Lowe and the late Mark McQuarrie 1965!
Season: Not in the hot summer
Page Views: 10,078
Submitted By: Orphaned on Mar 26, 2006

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (40)
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Top of the Dorsal Fin on a fine winter day in the ...

Gate Buttress Area Recreational Lease: Climbs on Church Buttress above vault remain closed MORE INFO >>>


The crux of this fantastic route will be quickly discovered at the end of the first pitch. Slab climbing technique will be the only key to this route. Like the Ruckmans mention in their guidebook, one can not imagine doing this back in the day in hiking boots. Hardmen from Yosemite would try themselves on this route when traveling to or through Salt Lake City. To quote Wasatch Climbing North "One hopes this route will remain an inspiration for all climbers." I would dare to add that you are not a true Wasatch Climber if you haven't sent this formation.


Sneak through the trees above the Vault road and make your way up to the gully above. A path in the trees was cut a few years back, but may be grown in. Scrambling will be needed to get to the base of the Fin. In fact, take a day hiking to the base of the route to get familiar with the approach. If you fully understand the approach, take another day and climb the route.


Slab climbing skill and new sticky shoes. A small rack of cams, nuts, and quickdraws. One rope will get you down the rappel of the gully next to Intensive Care Slab.

Photos of The Dorsal Fin Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Chris White heading out the exposed 3rd pitch
Chris White heading out the exposed 3rd pitch
Rock Climbing Photo: Dave Bowling snags the famous chicken head at the ...
Dave Bowling snags the famous chicken head at the ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Rick Barrett on lead, P3
Rick Barrett on lead, P3
Rock Climbing Photo: Pitch 2
Pitch 2
Rock Climbing Photo: Kevin, on the classic dike traverse, Pitch 2 or 3
Kevin, on the classic dike traverse, Pitch 2 or 3
Rock Climbing Photo: Ryan on the first pitch.
Ryan on the first pitch.
Rock Climbing Photo: start of P2
start of P2
Rock Climbing Photo: getting into P1 crux
getting into P1 crux
Rock Climbing Photo: bottom P1, John Mletschnig on lead
bottom P1, John Mletschnig on lead
Rock Climbing Photo: Not the greatest pic... But here is Boissal crushi...
Not the greatest pic... But here is Boissal crushi...

Comments on The Dorsal Fin Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Apr 18, 2016
By Tea
Mar 27, 2006

BBBBBBBBBURLY!!!!!!!!! throw an extra pair of shorts in your may need them after the 1st pitch. Amazing...and very beautiful. A fine tribute to those hardmen of yesteryear!
By Boissal
From: Small Lake, UT
Apr 21, 2008
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b PG13

One of the best routes I've done anywhere, bring your slab mojo and freshly resoled shoes! You gotta wonder how the FA managed to stick to that mirror... Balls of steel were most likely a part of the equation!
The crux on P1 is quite spooky and peeling off while getting to the chickenhead would be sad. I felt like there was another slightly easier crux above the 2nd bolt when traversing right into a groove. The start of P2 also feels a little runout with a bit of exfoliating granite to keep you on your toes, but once you get in the crack above it's pure goodness to the top. Check out the antiques pounded in the crack, there's some creative stuff in there!
I placed a whole lot of nuts on the upper part and micros + cams up to #1 I think. Long runners help on the zigzagging 1st pitch. Wear long sleeves if you've never done the approach, there's some gnarly brush to trash through if you wander. Leave the packs at the sandy platform described in the approach, the scrambling to the base is quite tricky. We hauled the packs up there and had to rap of the huge dead pine to avoid downclimbing this section in the dark.
By Allen Sanderson
From: Oootah
Oct 3, 2009

Note: the two Lost Arrows on the second pitch are lose and should not be trusted. The pins should be replaced with thicker Lost Arrows which will maintain the historic aspects of the climb. (I.e. do not replace the pins with bolts!!!!!!!!).
By Brian in SLC
From: Sandy, Utah
Oct 4, 2009

I think you meant "shouldn't be trusted".

Next size larger pin, and then what? Next size after that? A bolt makes more sense in the modern age, and, will limit piton damage to the rock that's obviously going on.

A pin is only "good" for the person who placed it. After awhile they all turn into junk. Only the FA gets the FA. After that, well, maybe these classic routes should be maintained with gear that makes sense, not bigger and bigger pins which will continue to rust away and get loose like the previous ones.

No one is doing that route in the style of the FA folks (huge kudos). To expect folks to carry a hammer and pins on an established classic free climb is kinda silly. Scared silly. Ha ha. Cheers!
By Ben Folsom
Oct 5, 2009

Maybe if the arrows are cleaned properly (without much downward hammering), some decent small nut placements could result. Just an idea, I can't remember those pins or the crack they are in, so it may not work, but maybe worth a shot.
Better a decent small nut placement than a pin or a bolt.
By Brian in SLC
From: Sandy, Utah
Oct 5, 2009

Micro cam might work too in a large enough pin scar. Especially a fat lost arrow.
By Stevie Nacho
From: Utah
Oct 6, 2009

I recently climbed this magical route for the second time and personally believe those pins are not a big deal. By the time you get to the second pitch corner, it feels like 5.0 If those pins are really loose try to tap them in. If the pin remains loose, pull it and try to fit a nut. If a nut doesn't fit, send a new pin home. Bolts should never be added to this section.

By Rob Duncan
From: Salt Lake City
Apr 25, 2010

Holy Moly. This thing is the climb of the wasatch. I thought it just kept at you the whole way. I found a 70M rope just barely reached the chain anchors at the top of the route (after streching the rope as much as I could)- so you can link the top two pitches for a monster 70M pitch. Perhaps build your gear anchor at the top of pitch two near the old Bong, above the dike, to make it a bit less of a rope-stetcher.
By LCC Climber
Sep 27, 2010

Perhaps soft pitons smashed into placed is a viable option?
Eventually they will create a pod for removable anchors.
By johnny utah
From: Salt Lake City
May 20, 2012
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b PG13

great stuff indeed. Diverse as they come.

as for the talk about pins, they are not necessary anyway, small cams and micro nuts get the job done in the seem there on P2. the top of p2, at the dike, to the rap anchor at the top of the fin is a full 70m. a 60 would likely work, reaching to just before the anchor where you would need to build an anchor.

P1 crux is legit, 25 foot fall potential there. It would be cleanish should it happen. There is fall potential to 25ft on crux of P2 as well though it is 10b not 10d. The final pitch/crack is 5.7 and is an awesome, long pitch of five star climbing

P1 and P2 take mostly .75 and smaller stuff, though a 1 2 or 3 could be used on p1. P3 up is a mixed bag of stuff 2 and smaller or possibly 3.
From: Texas
Jul 31, 2012

We did this today and had a really hard time finding one place that told us how to approach, how to identify the pitches, and how to descend, so I thought I would write it all in one place:

Approach: park .9 miles up the canyon near the gated area that houses the LDS church vault. Follow the marked cairn trail/bushwack for a long time. As you walk this trail you will pass three distinct gullies. Walk up the third one. The entrance to this gully is very close to the vault's parking lot. Follow a loose, scrambly trail for a ways until you get to a gigantic boulder (its the size of a small house and is broken in the middle). Go around this on the left and you will find a low angling corner on the right side of the gully after about 100 ft of walking. Climb up this and wrap around the face to the right and you will see a crack with a bunch of bushes in it and chicken head's around it. This is a bit precarious (5.4-6ish) so you might want to consider roping up. Get to the top of this and their is a tree that you can rap off of to reach the start of the Dorsal Fin.

Pitch 1 A bolt, to a flake, to a bolt. Quite spaced. You then make a precarious traverse to a crescent shaped sloper ledge. Up a long way to another bolt. The crux slab climb to a pair of chicken heads to and the chains. 10d

Pitch 2 Very long. 10- slab climbing to a distant bolt. A tricky mantle on a slopy chicken head to another distant bolt. enter a dihedral that takes a little bit of gear and holds an ancient pin. Follow the slightly offwidth crack past two lost arrows. It is a long pitch, but you get to a two bolt anchor made of an ancient, rusty, scary bolt and a bomber new bolt. 10b

Pitch 3 Very, very long. Follow the crack onward and upward. This section is awkward and it is hard to see the gear you are placing. 5.8ish. Reach a single bolt. Easier slab moves lead onto a very easy slab. 5.6ish. This segment, though very easy, was extremely run out. If there was a bolt in the last 60ft I did not see one. After 30-40 ft there was a large chicken head that I tied off for protection. 5.8 R. Good anchors on a nice ledge.

We did the thing in three pitches and had a 70m rope. The above beta says its 4 pitches, and we might have missed some anchors or didn't bother to build some, so if someone knows how to do it in 4, you can tell me.

Descent: After reaching the anchors of the third pitch we went left until we found another set of anchors and rappelled from there. After that we reached a creative set of anchors comprised of a tree and a chicken head. From there we rappelled once more off a set of obvious anchors and began hiking down the trail. We had to do a little bit of class 4 down climbing that eventually gave way to the trail we had approached on.

Good climbing, but made a classic when you factor in the psychological fun of the run outs and the awesomeness of the relics in the cracks and the ballsyness it must have taken to set up this route in the 60's.
By Boissal
From: Small Lake, UT
Jul 31, 2012
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b PG13

Tell me you got up at 4AM - or tell me who the true slab god is, I've obviously been praying to a false idol who doesn't let me climb hairball routes in the summer heat.
By johnny utah
From: Salt Lake City
Aug 1, 2012
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b PG13

The rusty bolts/anchor you describe as the anchor at the top of the second pitch is technically the top of the third pitch. There is no fixed anchor at the top of the second pitch, you need to build one right after the short traverse left to the bottom of the meat of the big right facing corner and crack part of the climb.
By tanner jones
Nov 2, 2012

definitely bring stoppers for the dihedral on pitch 2. also the anchor build at the top of p2 worked well with .4 bd cams and somewhere a .75? ps, a wasps nest was perched in the flake near the first bolt on p1, so watch out.
By bsmoot
Jan 6, 2013

"The rusty bolts/anchor you describe as the anchor at the top of the second pitch is technically the top of the third pitch. There is no fixed anchor at the top of the second pitch, you need to build one right after the short traverse left to the bottom of the meat of the big right facing corner and crack part of the climb."

The original top of the 2nd pitch belay was in the corner, below the leftward traverse. You can build a belay with small stoppers. There used to be a fixed pin or two there...this is where I still belay. Next time I'm on this climb, I'll replace the old pins.

UPDATE: Old pins have been replaced with new ones.
By James Reynolds
Nov 7, 2013

Best trad climb in LCC, in my humble opinion.
By Kevin Kent
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Sep 8, 2014

I climbed this in mid-August and accidentally fixed a nut right above the bolt on the top of pitch 3 (or top of pitch 2 as many people do it). Some enterprising individual with more finesse than me could probably booty it but it might be nice to just leave it to help supplement the good bolt at the belay.
By S.Cohen
Nov 22, 2014

All TIME!! The smooth slabs, crimpy edges and varied climbing make for one unforgettable route. Plus some runouts to keep you on your toes. George Lowe is a BOSS!!
By brian hess
From: Logan, Utah
Dec 13, 2014

One of my all time favorites.
By Derrick W
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 7, 2015
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b

I was pretty intimidated by this route and have been avoiding it for about 2 years. After climbing it, all I can say is GET ON IT. The crux getting to the chickenhead is well protected (your feet are 3-4 ft above the bolt) and the scariest section is 10b R on the second pitch. If you cruised the Fin Arete, you'll have no problems doing this safely.
By JeffL
From: Salt Lake City
Apr 18, 2016

I took the whipper just before reaching the chicken head yesterday. I fell pretty far, but it's not that bad. There is a shelf about 40 feet below the first bolt, best for the belayer to stand here as opposed to near the base of the fin arête.

As for gear, I brought a single rack #1 and below, offset nuts, and C3s that I did not place. I wish I had more quick draws to link p2 and p3. The pin they speak of above looked solid. You could definitely bring more gear, but if you're getting on this route, you're probably comfortable with 5 cams, nuts, and 10 or more slings

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