© Neil Bennett Photography 2020.

The Rostrum, Yosemite Valley

Some time ago, maybe 1970, I was in the valley with friends and one of those friends and I went to do the Rostrum. I think we scrambled down from above to the start and we began climbing. My friend Tim was on the third pitch (this is a guy who went on to be a park warden in Banff and did multi rescues slung under helicopters) and he said he was going to climb as high as he could then bang in a piton and clip. The pin was in his teeth.

I was standing on a little ledge below but I couldn’t see him due to a little overhang. He was climbing, he stopped to drive the pin, the pin went sailing past me (this couldn’t be good) then he said he was going to try and down climb - pull in rope! As I was pulling in rope he finally launched and just as the rope came tight around me Tim stopped abruptly on another small ledge, breaking his calcaneus. This was definitely not good. We effected a self rescue down to the ground and found the pin he dropped.  Fortunately, other friends were passing by on the road and stopped to see how things were. Somehow we made our way down to the Merced and across, and Tim headed back to Canada and the ministrations of Canadian health care. This left me still wanting to do the Rostrum.

A while later, someone told me about a guy who wanted to climb it so I searched him out. He had never done a climb of this size but I new it wouldn’t be a problem for me to get him up, but he was OLD! Maybe 35!!! (I was probably 22 at the time?) He said great and he’d look after the food. More on this later. Day 1: We found our way to the bottom of the climb and this guy was really slow, really slow. There is a bit of a ledge a bit over half way up and this is where we were going to spend the night.

By the time I was cleaning the pitch up to him it was so dark I could see sparks when my hammer hit the rock. I got to the ledge, frustrated, ready for whatever he had for supper. Now I thought that as this was his first climb of this size he would have something reasonable, but he handed me a can of cold spaghetti and meatballs, saying he just loved it. After maybe one meatball, I gave him the rest.

Day 2: It gets pretty steep, and exposed, and his climbing rate decreased. We only had 4 pitches to the top and I was at the belay at the end of the second last pitch. Only the summit block remained. The sun was starting to set. I was beginning to wonder if we would get off that night. I said it would be best if I led the last pitch as I knew I could get us off really quickly but he said that he wanted to lead it. Meanwhile I’m thinking, with my early 20’s hubris, that this is going to look bad for my reputation. (My buddy and I had done the Nose the year before with only 2 bivouacs, still a good time I hear, so some of my hubris was well earned).

Climbing ropes have a pattern on the sheath. I could watch the pattern in the haul line from my partner’s waist go up a little, then down a little, up a bit more, then down, and I’m watching the sun get lower and lower. Finally, finally, he was at the top and tied off. I think I cleaned the short pitch in just a few minutes then we headed for the road and someone who was going to give us a ride back to Camp 4. I recall him commenting that we should do this again some time….. Didn’t happen.

Being a positive person by nature though, he got his “Grade 5” climb in, and I did the Rostrum. A little later that year my “Nose” buddy and I did the North American Wall route on El Cap, one of the hardest climbs of its type in the world at that time as I recall. I suppose my Rostrum climb was part of the training.

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