Classic Alpine Rock Climbs2022-07-10T06:38:55-07:00
Here in the Sierra are some of the most wonderful alpine rock routes anywhere. These are our favorite ascents, climbs that we will happily repeat many times, for the sheer joy of climbing on golden granite with sharp holds and cracks warmed by the California sun, in a setting high above alpine meadows and lakes.
What makes these climbs classic? Position, length, quality of climbing and their beautiful settings all contribute. Great views abound on these, on the hike to and from the climbs and on the routes. Once on the climb you’ll find generally a whole entire day of fun technical terrain, as most of these routes are a minimum of ten or twelve rope lengths long. And the quality of the climbing! The Sierra is blessed with a great combination of high elevation and generally stable weather. It’s rare to have less than good quality rock on any of these climbs and many are on perfect rock top to bottom.
Of course there are more than these listed below…
One Day Rock Climbs
Crystal Crag — 5.7 Introductory
High above Mammoth, surrounded by beautiful pine and fir forest, sits the rocky bluff of Crystal Crag. For someone who has done a little rock climbing or scrambling, this offers the best introduction to the joys of Sierra climbing. A perfect day’s outing, the climb culminates in a pitch up the glittering fairytale-like band of quartz that gives the crag its name, followed by a delicate traverse along a sharp ridge crest to the summit. Trip length: 1 day | Physical Difficulty: Moderate
North Ridge of Conness — 5.6 Introductory
If you’ve done some multi pitch climbing and are fit this climb is a good way to “put it all together” on a longer route, but without having to spend a night out. Located near Tioga Pass, on the border of Yosemite National Park, the North Ridge of Conness is one of our local classes. Never too hard, and not too easy the route has great views of the Park as well as the Eastern Sierra. Trip length: 1 day | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The Third Pillar of Dana — 5.10 Advanced
This is one of the most aesthetic and difficult Sierra climbs – perfect granite high above Mono Lake, with spectacular views out into the Nevada desert. A short descent leads to the base of a huge sweeping slab of rock. The route gets steadily more difficult until you reach the final pitch, which has been understatedly described as “the best 5.9 in the universe”. Trip length: 1 day | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Two Day Rock Climbs
The North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak — 5.7 Intermediate
Over a mile in length, the route involves continuously interesting climbing on impeccable Sierra granite with huge knobs – always a hold just where you need it. A great weekend climb with a straightforward approach, a spectacular “bivvy”, and an easy, non-technical descent. One of our favorite climbs. Trip length: 2 days 1 night | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Bear Creek Spire — North Arête. 5.8, Intermediate; The Northeast Ridge. 5.4, Beginner
Bear Creek Spire is a true mountaineer’s peak – not easily accessible and providing one of the finest views in the central Sierra. The Northeast Ridge offers mainly fourth-class climbing, but with a spectacular ridge traverse to the summit. The shady North Buttress is best climbed in the summer and gives up to 5.8 climbing on solid rock before joining the Northeast Ridge for the long summit traverse. Trip length: 2 days 1 night | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The East Ridge of Mt. Humphreys — 5.4 Intermediate
While all routes to the summit of 13,986 foot Mt. Humphreys are difficult, the most challenging ascent is surely the wonderful East Ridge. The first ascent was by the legendary Norman Clyde, who considered the route a classic mountaineering challenge. Blocks, towers, and exposed traverses characterize this route, which has been referred to as the “Exum Ridge” of the Sierra. Trip length: 2 days 1 night | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk — 5.10 Advanced
If you have done the classic hard routes on Temple Crag or perhaps the Third Pillar on Dana and are looking for the next adventure this might be it. Possibly the best difficult route in the High Sierra the Hulk offers impeccable climbing in a perfect alpine setting of meadows and spires. And all this only a three-hour hike from the cars! This is our new favorite. Trip length: 2 days 1 night | Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Temple Crag — 5.7-5.9 Intermediate
Temple Crag is a rock climber’s paradise, with several of the longest rock routes in the Sierra – all of which require technical proficiency. Our three recommended routes offer exhilarating climbing with spectacular views, good rock, and lots of towers and gendarmes.
Sun Ribbon — 5.9 Intermediate. The 23-pitch Arête even includes a Tyrolean Traverse. Moon Goddess — 5.8 Intermediate. 18 pitches and the best introduction to technical alpine rock climbing. Venusian Blind — 5.7 Intermediate. With only ten or twelve pitches it’s the least committing.
Why not climb them all and compare for yourself? These can also be combined in different ways to make for a three or four day trip as well. Trip length: 2 days 1 night | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Three day Rock Climbs
Mt. Whitney — 5.6 – 5.7 Intermediate
At 14,495 feet, the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney is the goal of many a climber and mountaineer. Our selected routes all require technical rock climbing, but with appropriate training are within the reach of many climbers.
East Buttress – 5.6 Intermediate. This takes you straight up the face of Mt Whitney, where you top out directly at the summit. East Face – 5.7 Intermediate. This wanders up and left across the face, also topping out right on the summit.
You’ll surely get some funny looks and questions like “Where did you come from?!” from people who walked up the main trail. Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Mt. Russell — 3rd Class and 5.8 Intermediate
East Ridge – 3rd class. This route travels up more gentle slopes to start, then gains the ridge to the summit. There is much exposure but beautiful views from here to the summit. Fishhook Arete – 5.9 Intermediate. We’ll climb in the shadow of Mt. Whitney on a fantastic knife edge ridge. Once we’ve gained the main ridge, it’s just a few minutes to the summit, with views in all directions.
Both are excellent ways up the peak, make for great “add-on” routes to Mt Whitney climbs and give you another 14,000′ summit. Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The South Face of Charlotte Dome — 5.8 Advanced
This is a great wilderness climb – another of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” and a grand adventure over Kearsarge Pass to the headwaters of the Bubb’s Creek fork of the Kings River. The exhilarating 14-pitch climb is reminiscent of the legendary rock found in Tuolumne Meadows, with granite studded by large knobs and stained orange and brown. Never too easy, never too difficult, this is yet another on our long list of must-do climbs. Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The Swiss Arête on Mt. Sill — 5.6 Intermediate
One of the great climbs of the Sierra is on 14,162-foot Mt. Sill, the most prominent of the Palisade peaks. The Arête is a great sweeping curve, steadily steepening as height is gained, with an exciting crux step across the Arête. All the way up you have spectacular views over the Owens Valley to Telescope Peak high above Death Valley. Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The South Face of Clyde Minaret — 5.8 Advanced
One of the coveted “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America”, this 14-pitch route takes a steep line up the sunny face of the highest of the serrated Minarets, north of Mammoth. Improbably steep, the face is covered with square-cut holds and sharp-edged cracks with great exposure high above lakes and snowfields; quite an alpine rock climbing experience. Route finding difficulties have given this route a reputation but after dozens of ascents we have it “wired”… Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Middle Palisade — 4th class Intermediate
Some of the ‘Fourteeners” are easy, some are not so. Middle Palisade is one of the not so easy ones. It starts with a crossing of the Middle Palisade Glacier and once on the rock the climbing is continuous third class all the way to the knife-edged summit ridge with constant exposure . All in all a true mountaineer’s peak and if you want add on an ascent of the slightly more diffcult and little climbed Norman Clyde Peak Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Four Day Rock Climbs
East Buttress plus Fishhook on Russell — 5.9 Advanced
Not just one classic, but two! If you’re going all the way up there to climb either Whitney or Russell you may as well climb them both. At least that’s the logic behind this trip. If you are comfortable on 5.7 rock and can push yourself to a 5.9 move or two as the occasion arises these two routes offer a great combination. Trip length: 4 days, 3 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall — 4th Class Intermediate
These two fourteen thousand foot neighboring peaks have very different appearances. Williamson, California’s second highest mountain is a peak of great bulk, while Tyndall is a beautiful and elegant mountain with a sharp northwest ridge offering one of the finest class three routes in the range. The approach up Shepherd Pass is long so it makes sense to climb both in one trip. Trip length: 4 days, 3 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
The Palisades Traverse — 4th Class Intermediate
Feeling strong? Had some good solid alpine experience and wanting to done of the great Sierra traverses? Want to spend a couple of days above 13,000 feet and able to climb technical terrain with a multi-day pack?
If you can say yes to all of these questions then is traverse will be a great one for you. And along the way you will tag the summits of five of California’s fourteen thousand foot peaks without having to descend down off the main Sierra Crest. Trip Length: 4 days, 3 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous
Temple Crag Classics — 5.9 Advanced
One of our favorite things to do in the mountains is to set up a comfortable camp and to climb as much as we can from there. We invite you to join us for four days of fine alpine climbing in the Palisades area. We’ll place camp above Third Lake, in the shadow of the alpine rock climbers paradise – Temple Crag. From here our options include the Celestial Arêtes on Temple Crag, Mount Robinson arêtes, and many more. Trip length: 4 days, 3 nights | Physical Difficulty: Strenuous