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THE PIONEERS
1930s - 1940s
THE PIONEERS
Those who paved the way in Yosemite Climbing
"Half Dome's Summit is perfectly inaccessible, being probably one of the only prominent points about the Yosemite which has never been and never will be, trodden by human foot."

- ROBERT UNDERHILL
Robert Underhill introduced European climbing techniques in 1932 to members of the Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club, this syllabus included: the running belay, use of pitons and carabiners, along with the Dulfersitz rappel. Underhill's teachings would pave the way for many of the future first ascents. The knowledge require to establish and climb routes was not widely accessible until groups as the Sierra Club had formed.
ROBERT UNDERHILL
Pitons
Standard Hip-Belay Technique
Carabiner
John Salathé
GRANDFATHER OF BIG WALL CLIMBING
Modern big wall climbing was invented by John Salathé, a Swiss-born ironworker living in San Mateo, California. One morning in 1945 when he was feeling ill Salathé decided to make a change in his lifestyle, becoming a vegetarian. Embracing his newfound health, John journeyed to Tuolumne Meadows for fresh Sierra air.

A chance fireside meeting with the Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club led to outings and instruction in rope management on the local practice rocks. At this time, Salathé was 46 years old. He quickly began forging improved versions of the classic piton designs, using Ford Model-A axles. Salathé's pins, once heat-tempered, could be made thin yet were stiff and durable enough to be reused dozens of times.
"He wanted a piton that would dominate the granite, not the other way around."

- STEVE ROPER
John Salathe and Yvon Chouinard, photo by Tom Frost
Original Lost Arrow Piton Design
Salathé and John Thune Sr. on an early trip to Yosemite, circa 1947
Salathé was drawn to aid-climbing over the more athletic free climbing, thus quickly refining his technique. He invented adjustable, aluminum-runged aid ladders to optimize reach and was the first Yosemite climber to utilize Prusik knots to ascend fixed lines and clean pitches. He was also the first climber to place masonry expansion bolts in the rock to directly allow for upward progress.
Using these techniques, Salathé pioneered three Yosemite Big-Walls. In 1946, he did the Southwest Face of Half Dome with Anton (Ax) Nelson. The two climbers spent the night on a small ledge during their ascent, making it Yosemite's first climbing route to require a bivouac.
John Salathe and Ax Nelson
In September 1947, Salathé and Nelson managed the first ground-up ascent of the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite, via the Lost Arrow Chimney route. The Lost Arrow piton was named after their ascent of the spire. Their ascent took five days and required four bivouacs.
Allen Steck
Allen Steck and Salathé made the first ascent of the
1500-foot North Face of Sentinel rock July 1950. This five-day ascent was considered the last of the great Yosemite problems of the day, and would prove to be Salathé's last major ascent.
Click any image to learn more.
Tap any image to learn more.
John Salathe and Ax Nelson rappelling off of the Lost Arrow after the first ascent.
John Salathe and Ax Nelson rappelling off of the Lost Arrow after the first ascent.
John Salathe and his dog.
John Salathe and his dog.
Christmas postcard from Salathe and Nelson's ascent of the Lost Arrow
Christmas postcard from Salathe and Nelson's ascent of the Lost Arrow
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