Category: Yosemite Valley

Rarely formed ice climb “Widow’s Tears” Grade V WI5 successfully climbed!

The Widow's Tears looking in great shape from the Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley on January 14, 2013 one day before Trevor, Kevin, and Kurt climbed it.

On Tuesday January 15 Trevor Anthes, Kevin Daniels, and SMI founder Kurt Wedberg climbed the Widow’s Tears in Yosemite Valley, the longest continuous ice climb in the contiguous 48 states.  This ice formation located near Sentinel Rock needs a special combination of cold temperatures and ample running water to completely form ice from top to bottom. This only happens once every few years.  The recent cold snap in the Sierra created ideal conditions for this climb to form.

Anthes, Daniels, and Wedberg are all Bishop residents and long time friends.  Trevor is a professional photographer ( and manages the Mammoth Gear Exchange located on Main Street next to the SMI office in Bishop, Kevin is the CEO of Fixe Hardware, and Kurt runs SMI. Hearing that the Widow’s Tears had formed they dropped everything, packed their ice climbing gear, and made the long drive from Bishop to Yosemite Valley on January 14.  Colin and Molly Broadwater, founders of Bishop Crossfit where Kurt and Kevin train, closed the gym on Sunday while attending a conference on strength and conditioning.  For the workout of the day they posted “No classes for the people of CrossFit Bishop!!!  Git yourself outside and do something worth writing home about…”.   Although two days late this mission was accomplished!

The trio arrived in Yosemite Valley on Monday afternoon in time to scope out the route and make a plan. The forecast called for temperatures to drop to the single digits that evening and warm to 34 degrees on the Valley floor the following day.  Higher up in the shady gully where the climb is located temperatures should remain cold keeping the ice in perfect shape for climbing.  When temperatures warm up higher than freezing the ice conditions start to deteriorate.  The plan would be to get an early start and climb efficiently.

Approaching the climb by headlamp the team reached the bottom where they put on crampons, helmets, and climbing harnesses and began climbing at 5:45am.  Finding the ice in good shape Trevor took off on the first lead of the day and climbed efficiently over a curtain of ice and set up a belay on a ledge.  Kevin and Kurt followed then made their way over a snowy ledge to where the rest of the climb would continue. As Kevin began leading the second pitch it was just starting to get light enough to see without needing headlamps.  A “pitch” is a rope length of climbing.  Their ropes were 60m/198′ long.  The team’s strategy was to try and maximize each pitch using as much of the rope as possible while doing their best to find comfortable places to set up belay stances making it easy to rest while the leader climbed the next section of the route.

Kurt led the 3rd and 4th pitches.  Picking his way up the terrain he found a mixture of solid ice with a few hollow sounding spots which are to be avoided.  Careful route finding kept the team on good ice and got the team to the base of pitch #5.  Here the climb steepened where the ice was formed over a large almost vertical rock slab.  The team called pitch #5 “the money pitch”.  Kevin brilliantly led this long sustained section.  At the top he placed a secure anchor using three ice screws and belayed Trevor and Kurt up.

It was now Trevor’s turn to take the sharp end and lead pitch #6 that climbed over ice that started off steep then gradually backed off as it reached a ledge offering an excellent place for the team to take a short break for food and water.

Looking at the terrain above it appeared it would be two full 60m pitches to the top.   Kurt led pitch #7 which turned out to be almost as steep as pitch #5.  It was now mid afternoon and nearing the top of the climb the team found water dripping over the ice on parts of the route.  This didn’t prove to be a safety concern.  Air temperatures remained cold and this water was flowing from above where it was warmer.  It was however enough water to soak team member’s gloves.  Thankfully the team was prepared with spare pairs to keep their hands warm.  With rope running out near the top of pitch #7 Kurt spied a ledge 10′ above him.  He yelled down to Kevin and Trevor asking if he had enough rope to get there.  He managed to get to this tiny ledge with no rope to spare then set up a belay to bring the other two up.  By running this pitch out as far as possible it also assured Kevin would be able to reach the top when he led pitch #8.

Kevin efficiently led the final pitch over a mix of steep terrain, wet ice, and finally loose snow leading to a large tree where he set up an anchor to belay Trevor and Kurt up.   Reaching the top of the climb the team exchanged “high fives” for a job well done on a rare climb with a beautiful backdrop of the late afternoon alpenglow on the 3000’+ face of El Capitan.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:

Widow’s Tears January 15, 2013

Kevin and Trevor with binoculars in hand scoping out the Widow's Tears on January 14.

Trevor with a pre dawn start begins pitch #1.

Kevin placing an ice screw leading pitch #2.

Kevin pondering some of his last moves high up on pitch #2.

Looking above at pitches #4 and #5.

Kevin climbing pitch #4.

Kurt and Trevor at the belay ledge at the start of pitch #5.

Kurt organizing rope while Kevin racks up at the start of pitch #5.

Kevin leading pitch #5. This proved to be the steepest part of the route. The team referred to this section as "the money pitch".

Kevin belaying Trevor on pitch #6.

Trevor climbing above a freshly placed ice screw on pitch #6.

Trevor belaying Kevin near the top of pitch #6.

Kevin topping out on pitch #7 with Trevor climbing behind.

Trevor approaching the small belay ledge at the top of pitch #7.

Trevor is all smiles at the belay ledge on pitch #7.

Kevin geared up and ready to start leading pitch #8.

Kevin leading pitch #8, the final pitch that ended at the large tree above right.

Trevor and Kevin psyched as they untie from their ropes at the top of Widow's Tears.


Afternoon alpenglow on El Capitan from the top of Widow's Tears.



The Lost Arrow Direct, Yosemite Valley V 5.9/A2 – C2

The Lost Arrow Spire is the needle protruding out of the face to the right of Yosemite Falls.

This is a report of a climb of Yosemite’s Lost Arrow Spire as written by Kurt Wedberg.

On September 27-30 SMI founder Kurt Wedberg joined big wall veteran Skiy Detray and Amanda Fenn for a climb of this famous feature in Yosemite Valley.  Amanda is a strong climber who spent this past summer expanding her resume and climbing skills into the alpine environment.  Skiy is a veteran of 40+ big walls and served several summers on YOSAR, the Yosemite Search and Rescue.  He spent most of this past summer in Pakistan on the Great Trango Tower (6,286 m/20,623 ft), a striking rock formation above the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram.  He also has set speed records for ascents of routes in Yosemite.  Shortly after our climb of the Lost Arrow Spire he did the first one day ascent of El Capitan’s Scorched Earth A4 5.8 in 22:28 and Tribal Rite A4 5.5 in 19:48.  Needless to say his knowledge and depth of experience were a treat to glean from.  It was a pleasure to share a rope with both Skiy and Amanda.  To have the opportunity to share a 4-day climb of one of the most well known features in Yosemite was truly a privilege.  The Lost Arrow gets its name from an Indian legend.  The story of the Lost Arrow is included at the bottom of the photo essay.

Below is a short photo essay of our climb.  The entire photo galleries from all three team member’s cameras can be found here:

Amanda’s Lost Arrow Spire Pictures

Kurt’s Lost Arrow Spire Pictures

Skiy’s Lost Arrow Spire Pictures

Skiy and Amanda with haul bags loaded and ready for the approach.

Crossing the creek below Yosemite Falls on the approach to the Lost Arrow Spire.

The Lost Arrow Spire directly above with Yosemite Falls on the left.

Skiy ascending up pitch #1.

Amanda leading pitch #2.

Skiy leading the wide "off width" on pitch #3.

Amanda and a typical anchor station on day 1.

After dinner bedded down for the night on a small ledge four pitches up.

The morning sunlight creating a rainbow on Yosemite Falls.

Kurt leading pitch #5 on the morning of day 2.

Our goal tonight is the upper tree. Kurt is leading a pitch in the lower right of this photo.

Amanda taking off on the lead for pitch #6.

Skiy and our haul bags at a belay station.

Skiy taking off on a lead with our destination tree getting closer.

Amanda high up leading on pitch #8.

Skiy on the morning of day 3 relaxing on the ledge we slept on the night before.

Amanda leading a pitch on day 3.

Amanda high up on a lead with her gear she placed showing her line of ascent.

Anchored off and bedded down after dinner on a small ledge at the end of day 3.

The warming rays of the morning sun made for a peaceful morning on day 4 with Yosemite Valley far below.

Skiy and Amanda from "the notch" where the Lost Arrow Spire separates from the main wall. We will climb two more pitches to the top of the pinnacle then do a Tyrolean Traverse to get back to the main face.

Skiy hamming it up on pitch 14 on a beautiful fall morning in Yosemite.

The view of Kurt's feet looking down from the middle of pitch #14.

Amanda taking off to lead the final pitch of climbing.

Skiy and Amanda at the top of the Lost Arrow Spire.

Now we have to traverse approximately 140' on a rope to get to the main wall and finish the climb.

Skiy removing old UV damaged webbing on the anchor we would use for the traverse.

Kurt securing new webbing for the anchor.

Our anchored ropes leading off over the expanse. We had a friend anchor these ropes to the main face a couple days before we arrived.

Skiy volunteered to be the first to test our anchor system.

Skiy nearing half way on the traverse.

Amanda's turn. Skiy is just to the left of Amanda's head with a perfect view of all the action.

Wind picked up in the afternoon adding to the excitement as Amanda traversed.

View looking down in the middle of the traverse.

The final bit to ascend to finish the climb.

Kurt on the Tyrolean Traverse. Photo by Skiy Detray.

In addition to fixing ropes we were left with a little present to celebrate out climb!

After a good night's sleep it was time to hike down. We loaded our haul bags and descended down the Yosemite Falls trail.

Loading heavy haul bags on your back is a great squat workout.

On the descent we got a surprise and very welcomed visit from our good friends Trish, McKenzie, and Drew. They met us on the trail with fresh bananas, hot breakfast burritos, and EMPTY PACKS!!

Three amigos with our route behind.


Kos-su-kah, a young chief of the Ah-wah-nee-chees, smiled upon a maiden, Tee-hee-nay. Kos-su-kah was tall and strong and brave. Among all the sons of Ah-wah-nee there was none so keen of sight, so swift of foot, or so skilled in the use of the bow and the arts of the chase. Tee-hee-nay was the fairest and most beautiful of all the fair daughters of Ah-wah-nee. She was tall and slender as the fir, and as graceful and supple as the stem of the azalea. Her hands and feet were small and beautifully shaped, her silken hair was black as a moonless night and fell in a cloud to her knees. Her eyes were luminous pools of light, and her voice was liquid in its sweetness. Her laugh was like the musical tinkling of the brook, and she was good as she was beautiful.

Tee-hee-nay smiled upon the handsome Kos-su-kah, thereby confessing her love for him, and nothing remained but the formal presentation, by Kos-su-kah, of suitable gifts to her parents, and the preparation of a feast to celebrate their wedding. Kos-su-kah’s suit was approved by the parents of Tee-hee-nay and the lovers were filled with joy. They began preparations immediately for a royal wedding feast. To do this Tee-hee-nay, assisted by the maidens of the tribe, would gather acorns and prepare the acorn bread and mush, collect grass seeds, wild fruits and edible roots; while Kos-su-kah should gather about him the best hunters of his tribe and participate in a big., hunt on the high mountains that there might be an abundance of meat for the feast, to which the entire tribe would be invited.

Before saying their good-byes it was agreed between them that at sunset Kos-su-kah should go to the column of rock which stands just to the east of Cho-lak (Yosemite Fall), and from there launch from his strong bow into the Valley an arrow, bearing on its shaft grouse feathers corresponding in number to the deer that had fallen before the skill of himself and his companions. That she might mark the flight of the arrow and the spot of its falling, and thus be the first to carry news of the success of the hunt to her tribe, Tee-hee-nay was to go at sunset to the base of the cliff and there watch for the signal.

After a most successful hunt, while his companions were making camp for the night, and preparing their game for transportation down to the Valley, Kos-su-kah made his way to the point agreed upon, prepared the signal arrow, and was just ready to send it on its mission into the Valley, when the cliff’s edge on which he was standing, gave way, carrying him with it and hurling him to his death on the rocks below.

After the seemingly endless day of waiting, Tee-hee-nay made her way to the appointed spot, and as the sun went down behind the cliffs, stood straining her eyes up to the heights, hoping to catch a glimpse of the manly form of her lover. But when night had settled his dusky mantle over the Valley, Kos-su-kah had failed to appear, and no signal arrow had winged its way down from the cliff above. Thinking that the chase had led him farther afield than they had anticipated, that he had been unable to reach the cliff before darkness, and, knowing that his signal arrow would not be seen, he was, even now, making his way down the boulder strewn trail of Indian Canyon to deliver in person his message, she bound up the trail hoping to meet him. Over rocks and fallen trees from ledge to ledge, over precipices where a misstep meant certain death she hurried until at last she gained the foot of the cliff at a point from which, should he come, she could not miss him. There, through the long hours of the night, she waited and listened, longing for the welcome sound of his footsteps or his dear voice, and sending winging through the dark void of the night sobbing, passionate prayers to The Great Spirit for the safety of her loved one.

But when the first rosy fingers of dawn lit up the eastern sky and brought no sight of her lover, she sprang like a deer up the steep trail to the top of the cliff, and hurried to the spot from which the signal was to have been given. She called to Kos-su-kah, but only the echo of her voice came back in answer to her yearning cry. Reaching at last the edge of the cliff she came to the point from which a large portion had but recently fallen away. With sobbing breath and a heart numb with an awful certainty, she forced herself to look over the edge, and saw lying far below, the blood-stained lifeless body of her lover.

Stunned by the terrible grief of her loss Tee-hee-nay built, on the top of the cliff, a signal fire and summoned help from the tribe below. The heavy, lagging hours of waiting dragged away, and at last the asked for help arrived. Preparations were at once made for the recovery of the lifeless body of Kos-su-kah. A rope was fashioned from the trunks of young tamaracks by lashing them together with the thongs of the deer that were to have furnished the meat for the wedding feast. When this was finished a young chief prepared to descend, but Tee-hee-nay pushed him aside. She herself must be the first to reach her lover, her hands the ones to perform this sad service. The sympathetic braves lowered her gently down the cliff until she stood beside Kos-su-kah’s battered body. After gently kissing his cold, unresponsive lips she unwound from around her waist the thongs of deerskin and bound his body firmly to the rope, then watched in loving anxiety while the braves gently raised him to the cliff top. The rope was again lowered and Tee-hee-nay was drawn up to the side of her dead lover. Then she, who up to this time had been so brave, gave way to a passionate storm of grief. Throwing herself across the body of her loved one she entreated him to speak to her, sobbing prayers to The Great Spirit for the return of her dead. After a while her cries ceased and she grew quiet. When gentle hands stooped to lift her she fell back lifeless. She had died of a broken heart and her gentle spirit had winged its way to join her lover’s in El-o-win, the spirit land beyond the setting sun.

Reverent hands brought the two bodies of the lovers, now reunited in death, down into the Valley, placed them side by side upon the funeral pyre, and scattered their loved. The signal arrow was never found, having been spirited away by the reunited lovers to El-o-win as a memento of their unfaltering love. And in memory of the beautiful maiden and the noble chief, the slender spire of granite, still standing there near the spot where Kos-su-kah’s body was found, has ever since been known to the sons and daughters of Ah-wah-nee, as Hum-mo, or the lost arrow.