On June 4 and 5, two Yosemite Search and Rescue members, 23-year-old Cheyne Lempe and 30-year-old Everett Phillips, completed a grade V first ascent on Sentinel Rock’s 1,500-foot face. Their line, which marked the team’s first time opening a new route in the Valley, was dubbed Short Haul Bait after a rescue technique in which a SAR helicopter lowers a rope to an injured climber and hauls him or her to safety. “The route is 5.8 A2+ on each pitch,” Phillips said, adding with a chuckle, “An R [rating] would be appropriate.”
Diving into large-scale routes is not new for Lempe, who cut his teeth on hard aid climbing at age 19 when he ascended El Capitan’s Zenyatta Mondatta (VI 5.10 A4) in winter, having never before placed a beak. Lempe dove right in on Short Haul Bait as well, learning how to place a bolt the day before heading up the wall. He practiced on a boulder behind Camp 4.
With a steep, arduous approach, Sentinel Rock is not for the faint of heart. Reaching the start of the route above the rarely trodden Northeast Bowl is especially gritty. To get to the bottom of their intended route, Lempe and Phillips had to ascend 50-degree grass and sand with haulbags on their backs. Starting in a gully that is prone to rockfall, the team’s route ascends Sentinel Rock’s northeast face over vegetated seams and chimneys filled with loose blocks. Considering the dangers inherent to the route and its disconnected nature, the team’s running joke throughout their climb was the possibility of needing a rescue.
Regarding the terrain, Lempe stated: “There was one pitch where Everett was dropping so many rocks that he stopped yelling ‘Rock.’ There was just so much it wasn’t worth yelling about it. It was like ice climbing.”
“I got to a 12-foot stretch of loose rock 30 feet above the belay and I knew if I knocked one of those blocks it would be the end of Cheyne and I,” Phillips added. “It took me an hour and a half to overcome those blocks. That was the most memorable section, but every pitch had something like that up there.”
Starting up the wall at 8 a.m., Lempe and Phillips climbed three pitches to a ledge and fixed two pitches higher before digging out a dirt pit and settling into their bivy at 8 p.m. After a 12-hour rest, they ascended their haul cord only to find it snarled and jammed in a crack, a snag that resulted in a core shot. By the time they reached the top of the wall after 35 hours, they had put two more holes in their rope.
Tucking anchors out of rockfall zones, the two kept their hole count down by incorporating beaks into their anchors. They carried a quarter-inch drill kit, placing a total of four belay bolts, a single lead bolt and one rivet while on route.
Lempe’s motivation for the route was to train for an upcoming expedition to Baffin Island. To him, “There’s probably no better way to get ready for first ascents than by doing first ascents. You have to think about so much more–where you’re placing the belay. Will my partner pull off loose rock? I have to make sure that he’s protected.” Lempe credits the team’s success to being “super optimistic” and practicing open mindedness, which he says is “absolutely critical; you’re trying not to let your fear control you but instead let it help you make good decisions.”