The Salathe

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.73149°N / 119.62858°W
Additional Information Route Type: Big Wall
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.13b (YDS)
Additional Information Difficulty: 5.13b or 5.10/C2
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 35
Additional Information Grade: VI
Sign the Climber's Log


The Salathe. Located to the left of the Nose on the Salathe Wall. The South West face of El Cap was named by Yvon Chouinard after John Salathe, the venerable Swiss climber who pioneered hard routes in the Valley during the 40's and 50's, and who also made the first hardened chrome-moly pitons. Robbins named the route by the same name as the face.

Some climbers say it's the best rock climb in the world, it's close neighbor on El Cap, The Nose, being it's main competition. The second climb to be put up on El Cap, it was Royal Robbins answer to Warren Harding's Nose route. Harding had forced a direct line up the center of El Cap, which took 45 days, required 125 hand-drilled bolts, and was climbed siege style with fixed ropes. Robbins on the other hand took a more winding route following natural crack systems, taking only 11 days overall, requiring only 13 bolts, and climbed ground up on the second push with minimal fixed ropes.

It is not as popular as the Nose and consequently not as crowded, although the climb is just as long and arguably of comparable quality. The fact that it does take a more natural line is maybe the reason it was the first climb on El Cap to be climbed free. And it has had more successful free ascents than it's close neighbor the Nose.

Climbers who take on this huge climb should be prepared for a difficult odyssey up one of the largest and most spectacular rock faces in North America.

“Cruise or bruise
Summit or plummet
Make haste or tomato paste
Finger locks or cedar box
Climb in style or fly a mile
Unravel the mystery or soon become history
Underclings or angel wings
Nail the seam or giant scream.”

Dick Shockley, Cruising Up the Salathé Wall, Ascent 1980.

El Capitan SW faceThe SW face of El Capitan


Getting There and Logistics

Nearby airports are Oakland CA, Reno NV.

Oakland International to Yosemite, 160 miles, 3 hrs 15 minutes

Reno/Tahoe International to Yosemite, 225 miles, 5 hrs

Official Yosemite National Park Website

Camp 4 is the climber's place to stay in the valley. A walk in campground that is first come first served. $5 per night. The ranger gets there at 8:30am but the line usually starts earlier.

Spring and fall are the best time for climbing in the valley, the summer is too hot and crowded from the kids being out of school. A grocery store, restaurants and a climbing gear shop are located in the valley.

No car camping is allowed in the valley and it's enforced with significant fines. If you have to car camp coming in do it somewhere on the highway before you drop down into the valley.

No food is allowed to be left in your car at all anywhere in the park. The bears will smell the food and break into the car during the night. Bear boxes are provided at all campgrounds. The bears can smell cookies in a bag locked in the trunk. They will bust out a window or rip off a door and tear out the back seat to get into the trunk to get the cookies.

If you sleep in camp 4 a few times you will eventually hear a car window being broken. The bears will also walk through camp after dark looking for food and come right up to a table while you are eating.

Packs left at the base of routes with food in them can also be marauded even during the day. The squirrels will quickly tear up your gear just to get at food.

The Salathe, The Roof, Pitch 30The roof below the headwall. The follower must commit to an overhanging jumar.



Must read article for those planning to climb big walls in the Yosemite valley. This article is included in all the Don Reid guidebooks.
Staying Alive by Ranger John Dill

A Salathe Rescue Report, Oct 2004

Adventure article on the above rescue (partial)

Analysis of the two fatalities that occurred during this Oct '04 storm.

The Salathe, Pitch 17Pitch 17, a 5.10d that leads to the Ear pitch which is in the center of the picture. El Cap Spire is the point on the skyline just to the left of center.


Route Description

35 pitches total in 3000 vertical feet. Never as crowded nor as odorous as the Nose. Generally the bivy ledges are also better and more evenly spaced for a 4 to 5 day ascent.

Usually done in 1 to 5 days. The climb goes a lot quicker if you are competent on hard 5.10 or easy 5.11. If all you can do is 5.9 it will be a majority of aid. Keep in mind you will loose a couple of letter grades by the 2nd day due to the overall effort of hauling etc. There are six pitches with chimneys, so you should be competent and geared accordingly.

It's usually climbed in the spring or fall, the summer being too hot as it's partially south facing. The spring has a little more chance of rain showers. If you do plan on climbing in the summer take extra water.

The Salathe starts in a shallow dihedral a couple hundred feet from and to the left of the Nose, which starts on the crest of the lowest point of the wall.

The first 10 pitches are called "Free Blast", a climb by itself which goes at 5.11b or 5.10c with just a few points of C2. These pitches are sometimes done separately without hauling and then the climb is continued by rapping to the ground from Heart Ledges and hauling to there. There is usually 4-1/2 fixed ropes to get to Heart Ledges.

The main crux of the route for most parties is the Hollow Flake which is 3 pitches past Heart Ledges. It has 50ft of vertical 6"-7" offwidth with smooth featureless walls, rated old-school 5.9. Not too difficult to stay in but very aerobic and strenuous to move upwards. It may help to practice technique at the crags if you plan to climb this clean. A really large cam works if you walk it. Big Bros work also but they are harder to walk. Whatever gear you use this is the only place where it's this big. This pitch ends on the Hollow Flake Ledge.

The Ear is the next notable pitch about 3 pitches above Hollow Flake ledge. An exposed 5.8 bomb-bay chimney with good protection. The trick is to face outwards and let your eyes adjust to the darkness so you can see the footholds on the outer wall.

The next pitch, pitch 19 is a long 5.13 dihedral that will take an extra number of small cams on aid. Then a short 5.10 pitch to the Alcove below El Cap Spire which is subsequently gained by an easy 5.6 chimney. El Cap spire is the largest and most aesthetic bivy on the route. A large flat topped spire with space for about 8 people.

Above El Cap spire a slanting 5.11c crack leads to a 5.9 squeeze chimney. Above that is a 5.12 or a C1 option. Then "the Sewer" pitch which is not that bad, just a little wet. A 5.10a handcrack leads to the next bivy ledge, the Sloping Block, sleeps 4 to 5, a little bit too sloping to be real comfortable.

A 5.11d or C1 leads from the Sloping Block up to the Sous LeToit which is just a small ledge not really a bivy. From there a flaring Dihedral, that starts at 5.10 and ends at 5.12/C2, leads up to the belay under the big roof. The roof goes at 5.12 or C1. Above that are two spectacular overhanging headwall pitches 5.13 or C2. These pitches are the crux if the climb is done all free. The headwall ends at Long Ledge, a shoulder width ledge that sleeps 4 or 5.

From Long Ledge it's 3 pitches to the top, an 5.12 orC1/5.8, a 5.10d and a 5.9/C2 or 5.11.

The normal East ledges descent with three rappels on fixed static lines.

Pitches that can be easily combined with a 60m rope
1 and 2
9 and 10 (the two pitches before Mammoth Terraces)
25 and 26 (the two pitches before the Sloping Block)
28 and 29 (the two pitches before the Great Roof)
31 and 32 (the two pitches going to Long Ledge)

Bivy ledges
Mammoth Terraces, sleeps 5? (top of p10)
Heart Ledges, sleeps 5? (start of p12)
Hollow Flake Ledge, sleeps three (top of p14)
The Alcove, sleeps 3 to 4 (top of p20)
El Cap Spire, sleeps 8 (top of p21)
The Sloping Block, sleeps 4 to 5 (top of p26)
Long Ledge, sleeps 4 to 5 (top of p32)

Crux Pitches

at 5.11-/C2
p14, 5.9 Hollow Flake
p19, sustained C2
p29, flaring C2
p31, flaring overhanging C2

All Free
p19, 5.13a
P30,31,32, 5.13b headwall, overhanging flare

The Salathe Route OverlayROUTE OVERLAY, go to full size to view. Photo courtesy of David Senesac


Essential Gear and Supplies

Early Ascents (Before Cams)
30-50 pitons from RURP to 3", many chocks up to 3"

Climbing free to 5.9 or 5.10, about 1/2 to 1/3 aid.

Per Team
Set Camalots to #3, doubles of .5, .75, 1, 2
Set TCU's, Mastercams or similar
Set Aliens
Set small offset cams (option)
1-1/2 set Nuts, extra medium to small
1 full set offset Nuts
1- A5 beak
#3 Big Bro, or 6"-7" cam, option for Hollow Flake only.
8 quickdraws
10 slings
2 double slings
2 cordaletts
50 total carabiners
8 to 12 lockers
1 Wall Hauler
1 small cleaning hammer (option)
2 gear slings (multi-loop)
1 60m single lead rope, prefer large diameter 10.0+
1 60m half rope haul line
1 30m 5mm cord lower out line
1 Gri-Gri (2 optional)
walkie-talkies (option)
1 sealed waste bucket
1 haul bag

Per climber
1 auto-lock belay device
1 nut tool
1 pair ascenders
1 pair aiders, sliders preferred (or 1 pair/team optional)
ankle top rock shoes (chimneys)
knee/elbow pads
fingerless gloves
sticky approach shoes
3 quart hydration pack
rain gear top/bottom
light puffy
bag/bivy sack

Water: 3 quarts per person per day. Usually in 2 liter bottles, you can duct tape them but this is not absolutely necessary.

Food. Typically items with high moisture content are favored after multiple days. A fruit cup will be more appreciated than a bagel. Energy gels and drinks also work well. Items with high fat content are good for dinner.

Human waste must be carried off, it is illegal to dispose of it otherwise and could result if fines and arrest.

It is strongly recommended that you take waterproof raingear and a bivy sack on any multi-day attempt. There have been fatalities on this wall due to hypothermia from rainstorms. Once it starts raining substantially the wall turns into a waterfall and escape is very difficult.


External Links

Robbins account of the first ascent, with pictures

The first solo, before cams, 1972, AAJ

First free ascent-Skinner/Piana by Paul Piana, 1988 AAJ

Another Version of the Skinner/Piana ascent by Piana

Supertopo Salathe page

Mountain Project Salathe page

Hans Florine speed ascent website, News on speed ascents

A Nice TR


External Photos

The Tom Frost collection, some of first ascent

The Late Todd Skinner's Salathe page

Supertopo Salathe images

The Salathe, The Headwall, Pitch 31The 95 degree headwall pitches in sunset light.


Literature, Guidebooks, Topos


Climbing in North America, Chris Jones,
pg 262, history, first ascent

Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, Roper/Steck
, pg 269, (out of print)

Camp Four, Steve Roper

Guidebooks with Topos

Yosemite Climbs, Big Walls, Don Reid, informative section on Yosemite
accidents. (out of print)

Yosemite Select, Don Reid

Yosemite Free Climbs, Don Reid

Yosemite Big Walls 3rd Edition McNamara/Leuven (Supertopo)


Climbing Big Walls, Mike Strassman

Big Walls, Long/Middendorf

Big Wall Climbing, Jared Ogden


Notable Ascents

Comprehensive list of notable ascents

First ascent, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, Tom Frost. Sept 12th-16th and 19th-24th, 1961

First free ascent Todd Skinner, Paul Piana, 7 days, 6/88

Yuji Hirayama. 35 hrs. September 1997 free onsight

Tommy Caldwell, first one-day free ascent 16.5 hrs. 5/28/2002

Dean Potter and Jose Pereyra. in 7 hrs 33 min. September 19th 1998

Sean Leary and Alex Honnold. in 4 hrs 55 min. May 2012 (8.5 minutes per pitch!)

Dean Potter on the SalatheDean Potter, above El Cap Spire on his '98 record speed ascent.



Standard Youtube License

Archival footage of an early ascent (1966)

Five Ten's Mayan Smith-Gobat on Salathe

Three part documentary of a modern climb




Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.