HALF DOME - Cosgrove, Schultz free Southern Belle

Scott Cosgrove on the third pitch (5.12c) of Southern Belle.
photo: Amy Sharpless

On July 19, one of the hottest days in Yosemite's history, Scott Cosgrove and Dave Shultz made the second overall and first free ascent of Southern Belle on Half Dome's huge South Face.

Originally established in spring 1986 by Schultz and Walt Shipley, the route starts on the second prominient arch and breaks through to the forbidding headwall above. Only 30 bolts, including belay anchors, protect the climb's 14 165-foot pitches. By comparison, Warren Harding's South Face Route sports over 300!

Some 5.11 pitches near the top have only three bolts apiece, which could be considered over-protected since the last 5.9 pitch has none. "It is more serious than the Bachar Yerian or You Asked For It, with 5.10 X and 5.11 X pitches," says Cosgrove.

The route was completed over three weekends, with the pair often starting out as early as 5am to avoid the extreme afternoon heat. During the first weekend, Cosgrove redpointed the second pitch, a short layback/undercling leading to an off-balance move, then a difficult crack system. This 5.12b pitch is protected by two bolts.

The second weekend brought more difficult climbing. The third pitch follows a beautiful overhanging crack splitting an outside corner, beginning as an offwidth and finishing with a 5.12c thin-hands crux. The fourth pitch, perhaps the crux of the route at 5.12c/d, starts on a very technical 80-degree face that is harder than the popular boulder problem Elegant Gypsy.

Cosgrove and Schultz spent the first two days of the final weekend fixing the fifth and sixth pitches, follwing a classic offset seam through the huge headwall to flakes and an obvious step right onto more hard face climbing. On their final day they jumared the fixed lines, dropped the extra ropes, and committed themselves to the top. The last eight pitches involved tricky, runout face climbing on excellent rock.

With three pitches of 5.12, eleven pitches of 5.11, and one pitch of 5.9, Southern Belle is a Valley testpiece and, without a doubt, one of the finest long free routes in the world.
-- Amy Sharpless
[from Climbing #110, October 1988]