After the 1960′s, the early 70′s brought a change to climbing in Yosemite Valley. Most of the popular routes had been climbed and the “sport” had now become popular. Hundreds of climbers could be found on the large walls of California’s Half Dome and El Capitan on a daily basis. This led to new and more dangerous routes being explored, such as Yosemite’s famous Lost Arrow Spire.
If you’ve ever been to Yosemite Valley, chances are you didn’t even notice the Lost Arrow Spire. From the ground, this detached pillar is almost hard to see as it easily blends in with the rest of the huge wall. But if you look immediately adjacent to the Upper Yosemite Falls, you just might find it and a few daring souls trying to tackle it.
The first climbers to summit the spire had to use some creativity – this was often found by lassoing the summit from the main wall. Yes, lassoing. And the first person to get across was an ambitious climber by the name of Ax Nelson (pictured above on the left). Once the rope was secured, Nelson, followed by Jack Arnold, prusiked the lassoed line. Prusiking is a friction knot named for its alleged inventor, Austrian mountaineer Dr. Karl Prusik. It was shown in a 1931 Austrian mountaineering manual for rope ascending. It was used on several mountaineering routes of the era to ascend the final summit peak, where a rope could be thrown over the top and anchored so that climbers could attain the summit by prusiking up the other side of the rope.
The Sierra Club’s Steve Roper (no pun intended) called this “one of the greatest rope stunts ever pulled off in climbing history.” At the time, the core climbing community didn’t recognize this rope trick as a true ascent of the spire. Thus, Ax and his good friend John Salathé returned later that same season and performed an undisputed ascent via the Lost Arrow Spire Chimney.
The view looking on to Lost Arrow.