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Spring into Yosemite

By Nancy Prichard - August 2nd, 2000

Springtime was made for climbers. It's too early to head up to the high country for alpine routes, but some of the classic meccas offer cool, dry rock, and mild temperatures. And if you visit before the pre-summer rush, you can enjoy some of these climbing institutions without hoards of tourists or fellow climbers.

Spring Time in the Valley
Climbers know there is no bad time to visit the great walls of Yosemite, but springtime - before the tourists, before the bugs, and before the scorching summer heat - is darn close to paradise. Yosemite is home to the awe-inspiring 3,000-foot El Capitan and Half Dome, whose beauty captivated the imagination of explorer John Muir in 1869, and over a half century later, served as an outdoor studio for photographer Ansel Adams. Climber are also drawn to its inaccessible spires and shimmering rock walls. In fact, Yosemite has been attracted climbers since 1869!

While Yosemite has long been known as the stomping ground for some of the world's best rock climbers, insiders know that the Valley actually has an abundance of routes of beginning and intermediate ability. Routes such as the Snake Dike (5.7), the Nutcracker (5.8) and Reed's Direct (5.9) are worthy adventures for even expert climbers. And if these don't make your heart beat faster, there's always the classic Outer Limits (10b).

Here are a few tips from Yosemite expert, Sally Moser (also the Executive Director of the Access Fund).


After Six
Several enjoyable 5.4 and 5.5 pitches. Great for the beginning leader.

Bishop's Balcony (first pitch)
The first climb I ever did - it was desperate at the time and hard enough when I returned to lead it.

Grack, Center
A fun outing, perhaps the easiest route at this rating.

Though it's best to avoid the Five Open Book area due to ants and munge, this climb is one of the few moderate leads around.


Delectable Pinnacle, Right
Not a spectacular climb, but a great setting.

Sunnyside Jam (first pitch)
The classic Yosemite hand crack. If you cruise the first pitch, try the second, a moderate 5.9. Top-rope several 5.10s from these two belays.

A long route with great position and not a lot of protection although secure on most pitches; the approach is undoubtedly the crux. The nicest and fastest approach is to follow the trail right below Liberty Cap through the Mount Broderick notch, then over the ridge past Lost Lake. The right edge of a slab approximately 200 yards right of a right-facing corner is easiest. The trail leads left from the top of the slab. The view of the Northwest Face from the Diving Board is worthwhile.


Bishop's Terrace separates those who can hand and fist jam from those who can't. The third 5.6 pitch is a good moderate lead. Rappel off the second pitch or from the Balcony.

Braille Book
A long, isolated climb with a mega approach and a Colorado flavor. Those homesick for El Dorado should do this route.

The ants might make you dance on the first pitch!

Harry Daley
Possibly the easiest route at this rating.

Jump for Joy
Chouinard named this climb for Joy Herron who later married Layton Kor. Usually toproped due to sketchy protection.

The Nutcracker
The classic - one of Royal's favorites. Don't underestimate this climb. The last pitch has been the site of several broken ankles. Again, bats may be calling some of these cracks home. The 5.8 layback start is more in character with the route than the 5.9+ slab or the 5.6 chimney.

If you insist on doing one of the Open Books, combine it with this route for a longer day.

The Surprise
Peter Croft rightly called the third pitch one of the best finger cracks in the Valley.


Central Pillar of Frenzy
This is the climb I remember the most fondly when I think of Yosemite cracks. Do the first five and rap. Be careful of ropes catching in the cracks, especially on the second and third pitches. Usually scraps of rope can be seen buried in the cracks.

Chicken Pie
Pleasant finger jamming up a clean dihedral with knob moves at the top.

Grack Marginal
Still run-out I'm sure, but sticky rubber must help on this.

Higher Cathedral Spire
Great route; the top pitches have been altered by rockfall. Be careful not to snag the ropes on the rappels.

La Cosita, Right
Classic 5.9 lieback.

Lenna's Lieback
A good pitch on Swan Slab.

Lower Cathedral Spire, Regular Route
Only a couple of 5.9 moves; mainly easy. Many people get lost on the tricky approach.

The Owl Bypass
A fine pitch of crack climbing followed by a face traverse. Approach and descent very brushy.

Pepe Pillar
When the East Buttress of Middle or the Central Pillar is full, do this short pitch before you leave.

Positively Fourth Street
A stiff first section (5.7d) leads to the second pitch, a traverse (possibly bat-infested) under a roof and then up great thin crack moves. While in this area do Maple Jam, an easy, solid 10a.

Reed's Direct
The standard by which others are judged, Reed's Direct is the Yosemite jam crack.

Royal Arches
The rotten log is gone, but the slightly dirty variation straight up ends at a fun tree move. Mainly 5.5-5.6 climbing with only one short 5.9 section (some think it is 5.10) that may be pendulumed or tensioned across. A fast party can combine the route with Crest Jewel for a long day. Take care to go all the way to the far end of the North Dome gully on the descent - follow the guidebook's directions.

Sunnyside Jam (second pitch)
Moderate with good protection.

Yosemite Point Buttress
Don't underestimate the length of the approach and descent from this route. Helpful hint: Leave the campground before noon.

For climbers without a partner, consider hiring a guide for the day - a great way to get lots of air under your feet, fast! The Yosemite Mountaineering School (209-372-8344), Yosemite National Park, California, charges $70 per person for a basic rock climbing class; guided climbs run $135 per day, with "Extreme Days" costing $290.

Camping is tight in Yosemite, but you should have good luck finding a spot if you beat the summer rush. Camp Four (Sunnyside Campground) is where most climbers stay, but expect an international climber's refugee camp, with ghetto blasters galore, but plenty of local color. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served system, so get there early. Climbers with spare pocket change should consider a night in the Ahwanee (rooms start at $265). A less expensive alternative is the Wawona Lodge; built in 1879, it's the oldest lodge in the park (rooms start at $94). After climbing, cool down and have a cold beer at Degnans's Deli in Yosemite Village or down at the boulders in Camp Four. The Loft at Yosemite Village has the best cheeseburger west of the Rockies; the Mountain Room Bar is the traditional watering hole for Yosemite locals.

Two good Yosemite books: Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber by Steve Roper (Mountaineers Books, 1994), and Rock Climbing Yosemite's Select by Don Reid, Chockstone/Falcon Press.


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