Lost Brother YVF / CS

Tue, May 21, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
later climbed Fri, Jun 19, 2015


Lost Brother is a mostly unknown, long forgotten formation in Yosemite Valley. Located on the south side of the canyon across from the more recognizeable Three Brothers, it has little prominence and appears to be simply a part of the vast stretch of canyon walls between the better known features of Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Rock & Spires. The name appears on no current maps and was last described in the literature in 1971 in Roper's guidebook to Yosemite Valley climbing:

"The Lost Brother is a large formation with an impressive, whitish north face, and is located directly across from Lower Brother."

The three routes listed in the guidebook were all established before 1964 and were mostly forgotten within a few decades due to the long approach by modern standards required to reach them. In perusing the little green book I came across the route description for the Southwest Side:

"II, class 4. George Whitmore and Merle Alley, 1958. Walk up a long stream bed west of the Brother until about 1,800 feet above the valley floor. Ascend slabs which lead toward the notch southeast of the summit. It is possible to wander almost at will. In descending, there are several spots where short rappels are desirable."

This seemed right up my alley, and following a long day ascending Sentinel Rock, Dome, and a few other features, this modest route seemed just the ticket. I packed a harness, 30m rope, 20ft of webbing and my rock shoes in case things got tough. I would be glad to have all of them. I parked not far to the east of the small stream that comes down the drainage I would be climbing to the west of Lost Brother and got started around 6:30a. For the most part is was a pleasant enough cross-country hike, at first through the forest understory littered with duff and downed branches, eventually leading to the dry creekbed that I followed for the remaining distance. The scrambling up the creek was enjoyable, up to class 3, though not sustained nor difficult. As one climbs higher, views across the Valley are revealed, first El Cap Buttress, then higher up El Cap itself along with Three Brothers. Between them is a fine view of Manure Pile Buttress, difficult to see from the Valley floor. The whitish rock of Lost Brother's North Face loomed in shadow on my left as I neared its base. Directly above me the creek drainage grows steeper as it narrows between fractured granite walls on either side. An hour after starting out, I was at the start of the Southwest Side route, a side branch off the stream bed I followed. It looked imposing.

There's very little vegetation on the route. As advertised, it's mostly granite, though not the slabs I was expecting. It seemed more a crack and groove selection of scrambling as I found much of the slabby sections too steep for my liking. I came across an old sling around a small boulder in the lower section where it narrows some. I would use this same boulder with a fresh sling for the last rappel on my way down. Above this, I chose to move right, out of the main channel which runs up against the SW wall that forms one side of Lost Brother, and onto the lower angled cracks and grooves that characterized the route and looked to provide the most options. I spent about an hour and a half all told on the route itself, a good mix of scary fun and enjoyable nervousness, with deliberate and cautious moves, constantly looking around for easier ways to make progress up towards the SE notch. I ended up climbing above the notch far to the right, then circled around to reach the notch from the east side. The options had narrowed considerably by this time and I felt lucky to reach the notch at all. This was some stiff class 4, to be sure. At this point I thought I was home-free since Roper had described the final scramble to the summit from the notch as:

"Easy class 4 scrambling leads to the summit."

I couldn't tell at first if it was easy, but surely it was not obvious to the casual observer.

The notch proved to be a spectacular location in its own right. It drops off into a narrow, forested channel on the northeast side, eventually dropping more abruptly with cliffs below. On the SW side it drops steeply into the main channel of the SW Side route that I had avoided on the ascent. To the south could be seen Taft Point where I could even make out a few folks at the overlook railing. Closer to home, there were three large trees located between the notch and the summit that might afford some help in reaching the top. I climbed up the first 10ft from the notch which involved a near-vertical crack with a loose chockstone that I used to both pull and stand on, not the safest of manuevers. At the shelf with two of the large trees, I could see nothing less than stiff class 5 leading further up. There was nothing easy about the few options available. Maybe it got easier after another ten feet, but I wasn't prepared to make the dicey moves to find out. I'd rather have a belay and more equipment before giving it a go, and so this was as far as I got.

After returning to the notch and finding another old rap sling there, I decided to give the direct route down the main channel against the SW Face a go. It was impossible to tell ahead of time whether my 30m rope would be sufficient, but it seemed like it ought to with much scrambling between rappels. And so it was - just barely. The descent was the highlight of the outing as it turned out, an enjoyable mix of short rappels, awkward downclimbing, and improbable tunneling under chockstones and other debris trapped in the main crack against the SW wall. Changing into rock shoes, I made a total of five rappels during the descent, four of them coming down the main crack. Two of these were around chockstones, one around a sturdy 3-inch tree and another on the somewhat sketchy base of some brush that I was happy to see worked without pulling out by its feeble roots. In all I spent an hour and a half on the descent, getting me back to easier terrain, slightly more time than I took for the ascent. Less than an hour later I was back on the Valley floor and to my car. It was not yet noon, but I was done for the day - that much old school class 4 tends to wear me out, but in a good way. Time to head for home...

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