The Third Pillar of Dana

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. This route has an almost European feel to it, with an easy hike to the top where extra gear is cached before the climb. 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”. A final mantle puts you on the summit a scant few feet from the cached gear.

We also combine this route along with The Incredible Hulk into our Third Hulk Linkup giving two of the finest hard climbs in the Eastern Sierra in three days.


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.

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 or camped in the Bridgeport area would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

We have to pay the Mono Village an overnight parking fee of $5.00 per night.

Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs

This is a one-day trip. We also combine this with the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk to give two of the best routes in the Sierra in three days with our Third Hulk Linkup.

The day starts with you getting well fed in Lee Vining before meeting your guide at the trailhead. The approach hike takes about two hours and is initially through pleasant timberline forest and later above the tree line on the Dana Plateau.
With good views all the way, the hike to and from the climb are worth the day in and of themselves. If we keep our eyes open we might even see the endangered bighorn sheep that sometimes pass over the plateau.
The climb is great too, though. After caching unnecessary items on the summit we descend to the base via third, and briefly, fourth class terrain. Early season ascents also have the added excitement of a short snow slope to cross in order to reach the start. Six or seven pitches lead to the top.
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 big fun begins. The third pitch is tricky with some route finding issues that slow down parties lacking our familiarity with the route, but 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 is “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.

The only remaining question is ‘where are the First and Second Pillars’?

Elevations and Distances:
Round-trip: 5.6 miles, 3000’ of gain, 3000’ of descent

Program Prerequisites:

You need to be able to follow at the 5.10 level and have experience on multi pitch routes.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits and group climbing gear. Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Third Pillar of Dana map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.