Yvon Was Here

7 must-do Chouinard routes

More than most climbers in the 1950s and ’60s, Yvon Chouinard loved to travel. He visited crags across the United States and Canada, teaching, sharing ideas, and often putting up new rock and ice routes. Today, many of those climbs are still area favorites.

Andy Knaub high off the deck on The Snaz (5.10a). Photo by Louis Arevalo/Tandem Stock

The Snaz (5.10a, 9 pitches)
Cathedral Rock, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Yvon Chouinard nabbed the first ascent of this all-day route with Mort Hempel in 1964, and today it’s “definitely one of the Teton classics,” says Exum guide Jeff Whit. Located on Cathedral Buttress in Death Canyon, only about 1.5 hours from the car—a short approach by Teton standards—The Snaz follows a prominent corner line and impels climbers to reach deep into their skills quiver, from the offwidth and hand cracks to a Gunks-like roof. Many climbers rap from the top of pitch six, but according to local custom, you haven’t finished the route unless top out.

Guidebook: A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range, Third Edition, by Leigh N. Ortenburger and Reynold G. Jackson ($39.95, mountaineersbooks.org)

Northcutt-Carter (5.7, 8 pitches)
Hallett Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In 1956, after three attempts over two summers, Ray Northcutt and Harvey Carter climbed the third buttress of 12,713-foot Hallett Peak’s north face, a route they touted as nearly equal to European nordwands. In the January 1957 issue of Summit magazine, Northcutt wrote, “The tremendous exposure, the continuous delicacy, makes this face far more challenging and difficult than any other in the entire region.” Three years went by without a repeat, until Chouinard’s curiosity about the route brought him and Ken Weeks to Colorado. To everyone’s surprise, the Californians raced up the wall in just four hours. The aura had faded, and Hallett’s reputation for excellent alpine rock climbing grew. In 1999, rockfall made the Northcutt-Carter’s start much harder and more dangerous; either start with a three-pitch variation to the right to reach the solid upper section, or choose Culp-Bossier (5.8+), Better Than Love (5.8), or another Hallett classic.

Guidebook: Rocky Mountain National Park, The Climber’s Guide, High Peaks, by Bernard Gillett ($30.50, earthboundsports.com)

The Uneventful (5.6/5.7, 7 pitches)
Tahquitz Rock, California

Chouinard and party made the first ascent of Tahquitz’s longest route in 1959. Following cracks and corners to the summit of the North Buttress, the route has good gear along the way and birds-eye views from the top. Though most climbers peg the climb as considerably harder than the guidebook 5.5, it’s considered a must-do for beginning multi-pitch trad climbers.

Guidebook: Rock Climbing Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks, by Randy Vogel and Bob Gaines ($25, falcon.com)

Matinee (5.10d, 2 pitches)
Shawangunks, New York

During one of his several climbing trips to the East Coast, Chouinard did the first ascent of this testpiece of the Trapps, the largest and most frequented cliff at the Gunks. The climb was freed two years later in an amazing effort by Jim McCarthy—both pitches are hard 5.10. As leading rock climbers on each coast, the two crossed paths many times. During his first trip to the Shawangunks, Chouinard witnessed McCarthy nearly deck after falling from the first belay on Never Never Land (5.10a). When he came to a halt, just above the ground, McCarthy famously said to the startled Chouinard, “Welcome to the Gunks.” Years later, McCarthy broke his arm in a fall from the Nose on El Capitan. Chouinard was on the rescue team, and when he reached the injured climber, Chouinard greeted McCarthy with, “Welcome to Yosemite.”

Guidebook: The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks: The Trapps, by Dick Williams ($31.95, chesslerbooks.com)

Emilie Drinkwater finishing up the first pitch of Chouinard's Gully, with Chapel Pond in the background. Photo by Jesse Williams

Chouinard’s Gully (NEI 3, 3 pitches)
Chapel Pond, Adirondacks, New York

In 1969, Chouinard made his way to the Dacks to demonstrate his innovative ice tools and techniques for a group of local climbers. Until then, Northeastern climbers had mostly cut steps up ice routes—a slow and precarious proposition. Chouinard quickly front-pointed up Chapel Pond’s “big slab” and then led the first ascent of a steeper route that came to be known as Chouinard’s Gully. Guidebook author Jim Lawyer says this reliable line is now “perhaps the most-climbed ice route in the state, if not the northeast U.S.,” because of its two-minute approach, low angle, walk-off descent, and spectacular view above Chapel Pond.

Guidebook: Climbing in the Adirondacks, by Don Mellor ($24.95, ems.com)

Direct North Buttress (5.11 or 5.10 A0, 18 pitches)
Middle Cathedral Rock, Yosemite Valley, California

Chouinard and Steve Roper made the first ascent of this route in 1962, enduring a storm during their sole bivouac that soaked both them and the route’s slimy upper chimneys. Taking a striking line up the prow dividing Middle Cathedral’s east and north faces, this is one of the most prominent, coveted, and reviled lines in Yosemite Valley. The “DNB” is sometimes called Do Not Bother by those who disdain the many wide cracks, or else Did Not Bivy for those who successfully got up and down the route in a day—many others don’t make it to the exposed descent in time, and are forced to spend the night on top. Most of the cruxes come low, including a well-protected mantel that gets graded anywhere from 5.10b to 5.11, but the route is fairly sustained, and the final chimneys will give new meaning to “fourth class” for tired climbers.

Guidebook: Yosemite Valley Free Climbs, by Chris McNamara, Greg Barnes, Steve Roper, and Todd Snyder ($29.95, supertopo.com)

Menage a Trois (5.10b)
Potrero John, Ojai, California

Before heading up this nowbolted route, pay homage to Chouinard and partner Henry Barber, who led it only on nuts in 1976. This was one of many climbs Chouinard did over the years near Patagonia’s Ventura, California, headquarters. Follow a thin seam in the middle of the wall; keep your head as you encounter an insecure move near the second bolt. (Many climbers carry nuts or small cams to supplement the bolts.) After the climb, cool off in one of the many nearby swimming holes.

Guidebook: Rock Climbing Santa Barbara and Ventura, by Steve Edwards ($20, falcon.com)



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