Whether you’re an elite 5.12+ climber, or on your first climbing trip, Tuolumne Meadows is one of the most striking places to rock climb in the world.
While winter ascents are far from normal at 8k-10k feet, Tuolumne sees its fair share of traffic during the late spring and summer months. But come fall, much like the aspen trees, Tuolumne turns to gold. The mornings can be cold, but all it takes is a little blast of sun to get your blood pumping. That, or you can opt for a thirty minute to couple-of-hour approach hike to the base of the backcountry multi-pitch climbing route of your dreams. Either way an early morning start will serve you well if you plan on getting the most out of your day in Tuolumne. The turn to fall brings exceptional weather to the area, and the temperatures for climbing rock are about as perfect as it gets.
There are more than a few classic climbs in Tuolumne, and while you might have to wait your turn for a chance to pull down on one of the more hallowed routes there’s always something, somewhere that’s worth climbing. From single pitch routes on DAFF Dome that require a few minutes hike from the road, to linking up several peaks in a day, the climbing, scenery and overall vibe in Tuolumne is some of the best on the planet. Rather than racing the crowds and scheming for your next move on a polished, slick, face or crack in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne boasts fields of knobs, golden faces, sharp crimps, and (usually) lots of good places to plug gear.
If you’ve been to Tuolumne you already know what a special place it is to visit, and what an other-worldy place it is to climb in. If you’ve never made the trip fall is a great bet if you can make it happen, and if you can score a spot in the campground and show up locked and loaded with supplies you’ll be able to post up in comfort for days on end. Hiking options are endless much like the climbing, especially the easy to moderate multi-pitch routes.
The Regular Route on Fairview Dome (5.9, 10 pitches), The West Ridge of Mt. Conness (5.6, 10 pitches), and the Matthes Crest (5.7, 8 pitches depending on route) are three of the most fun climbing routes you’ll ever do. The crux of the Regular Route on Fairview Dome is found in the first pitch, and offers some of the best crack climbing in Tuolumne. The latter two mentioned climbs are mostly easy with a few 5.6 or 5.7 moves thrown in there, but are both some of the most memorable, exposed climbs imaginable.
The photos that accompany this piece come from a recent fall trip to Tuolumne with climber Dave Campbell. We decided to link a few peaks together, and although we didn’t end up heading to a mutual favorite in Matthes Crest as we had last fall, linking up Tenaya, Tresidder, Cathedral and Eichorn Pinnacle proved to be a spectacular outing.
Tenaya is a perfect introduction to high alpine climbing in the region. It’s a slabby route that’s somewhat sustained at a very low level of technical difficulty. Most of the 13 pitches involve 5.0-5.4 climbing and there’s only a couple of short sections of 5.5. Pitching this climb out takes a long time, but is a great relaxed way to enjoy the route and soak in the amazing views-a great day in itself! However, since Dave and I were hoping to link a few peaks up we simul-climbed the Northwest Buttress in about an hour and were off hiking to Tresidder for a quick solo to the summit before making our way over to Cathedral and Eichorn.
Cathedral, aka John Muir’s church, is the definition of fun rock climbing. This is a peak that boasts several variations up the Southeast Buttress where you’ll find just as many people on their first backountry multi-pitch rock climb as you will people that have climbed the route dozens and dozens of times. On our most recent trip Dave and I ended up trending left near the top to bypass a few parties taking their time on the final chimney pitch. We ended up climbing a section of the peak neither of us had been on before. If you stay on the route proper it goes at 5.6, but what we found felt more like 5.7 with a splash of 5.8. Insane fun is all we kept saying after that pitch! Golden knobs, perfect cracks and one of the more aesthetic peaks in all of Yosemite. Cathedral is a peak worth the trip to Tuolumne, period!
With one more route to go Dave and I headed up Eichorn Pinnacle’s North Face before calling it a day in one of the greatest rock climbing playgrounds known to humans. We showcased bright smiles on the hike out to the road recalling the astounding views from our four summits, the great moves on even greater quality granite, and all the inspired people we ran into that day. Tuolumne is a special place whether you’re a climber, hiker, or just want to be present in a place like no other. As we count down the days until winter make sure you tap into the special outdoor conditions that come with the fall season-tackier dirt to mountain bike, increased friction on rock,warm lakes and rivers to swim-and do yourself a favor and figure out a way to spend some time in Tuolumne.