If you have done the classic hard routes on Temple Crag and are ready for the next step up in difficulty this is it. The Third Pillar is one of the most aesthetic and difficult Sierra climbs – perfect granite high above Mono Lake, with spectacular views out into the Nevada desert. This route has an almost European feel to it and is one of the most aesthetic and difficult Sierra climbs – perfect granite high above Mono Lake, with spectacular views out into the Nevada desert But this is only the appetizer for the main course – the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk. Ten pitches of stellar cracks, mainly 5.7 to 5.9 with a short 5.10b section that is over before you even start to get pumped.
The best guidebooks are Supertopo’s “High Sierra Climbing” by Chris McNamara. and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.
Get them from Maximus Press.
Both these routes are crack climbs rather than face so you need to be able to comfortably climb 5.9+ hand cracks and have done long multi pitch climbs before. There is quite a bit of 5.9 on the route so technical climbing proficiency is a must.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as the Sawmill Creek Campground on the Saddlebag Lake Road or in Tuolumne, for a night just before the trip. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
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This is the easiest day. The approach to the Third Pillar takes about two hours and is initially through pleasant timberline forest and later above the tree line on the Dana Plateau.
The plateau is a wide expanse of high alpine tundra and finding the top of the route can be tricky, but we have been here many times before. After caching unnecessary items on the summit a short descent takes us to the base of a huge sweeping slab of rock.
Early season ascents also have the added excitement of a short snow slope to cross in order to reach the start.
The first pitch is a good warm up and is 5.8, with a layback crack. A fourth class pitch follows, then the fun begins. The third pitch is tricky with some route finding issues that slow down parties lacking our familiarity with the route, and is consistently 5.9 and features an awkward wide crack. The fourth pitch also has variations, the easiest having a great 5.8 layback and a chimney. The fifth pitch is usually considered to be the crux, a poorly protected (that’s what we’re there for…) 5.10 move leads from the belay to easier climbing, making for a short pitch.
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”. The climb ends abruptly as one pulls over the top onto the horizontal a few feet away from the cached gear. We relax in the sun some before heading back to the trailhead.
A kind of rest day after yesterday’s exertions, we take a leisurely start to the day and then drive the trailhead parking area at Twin Lakes. This parking area is private land and there is a $5.00 per night fee to use it. With less than 2,000’ of gain the walk to the base of the Hulk is moderate, and we should arrive in camp by lunch. The last bit of the approach involves some talus, brush and a beaver swamp but considering it’s less than four hours from the car to camp we’re doing OK.
We get up early and head for the climb. Expect 8-10 hours on route and an hour back to camp where we’ll rest a bit and hike out, which should take less than three hours.
Elevations and Distances
Third Pillar of Dana Round-trip: 5.6 miles, 3000’ of gain, 3000’ of descent
Trailhead to Hulk camp: 4.0 miles, 2600’ of gain, 100’ of descent
Camp to Hulk summit to trailhead: 5.0 miles, 1800’ of gain, 4350’ of descent
You need to be able to follow at the 5.10 level and have experience on multi pitch routes. Days are long and you need to be in high physical shape and able to carry an overnight pack across uneven non-trailed terrain.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners on the overnight (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.
Local accommodation is not included.
Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List:
Details, itinerary, and equipment list.
You can also get our detailed unpublished SMC Guide to The Third Pillar here.
Third Pillar Map
Incredible Hulk Map