A Week at Tuolumne

Climbing Pine Line on El Capitan with 3000 feet of granite looming above

Just got back from a week at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.  I’ve spent at least 30 days climbing in Yosemite Valley (it’s my favorite place on Earth), but I had never been to the high country.  It was a fantastic week — we climbed 42 pitches and didn’t see a cloud until the day we left.  We spent four days at Tuolumne and two days in the Valley since my partner, Blake, had never been there.  Our tick list with some pics is below.

Tuolumne has the same pristine white granite that makes Yosemite Valley the world’s premier climbing destination, but the similarities end there.  While the Valley has glacial-cleaved faces and soaring towers with routes that tend to be steep and crack-riddled, Tuolumne features massive rounded domes (the highest concentration of granite domes in the world) so the rock tends to be lower angle with a mix of crack and face climbing.  Also, because most routes were put up on lead, runouts are common on face pitches.  Over half of the routes in the guidebook are rated R and even the non-R-rated routes tend to have runouts on easy sections.  This adds to the mental challenge (and danger) of climbing at Tuolumne.  Finally, Tuolumne Meadows is around 9,000 feet above sea level, with some peaks soaring thousands of feet higher, giving Tuolumne an alpine feel.  Alpine climbing always feels more serious.

Given all of these factors and the fact that my outdoor climbing has been pretty limited this year, I had to ease into the week.  The cruel irony of these trips is that I usually start feeling strong and confident when it’s time to pack up and head home.

Saturday:  Flew from DFW to Reno and got picked up by Blake, who had already been climbing in the Tetons and City of Rocks for a few weeks.  He was fully adjusted to altitude and in peak shape — I smell pain.  A motel in nearby Lee Vining was our base camp for the trip.

Sunday:  13 pitches of climbing on Stately Peasure Dome and Mountaineer’s Dome

  • West Country (5.7, 4p) — Cruisy route to shake the rust off.
  • South Crack (5.8R, 6p) — Nice route with big runouts (30+ feet) near the top.  Welcome to Tuolumne!
  • American Wet Dream (5.10b R, 5 pitches) — We did the first 3 pitches including the crux pitch.  Man, 5.10 feels hard here!
Blake cruising on Stately Pleasure Dome with Tenaya Lake below
Monday:  6 pitches of climbing on Daff Dome
  • West Crack (5.9, 5p) — Follows a continuous splitter crack for 400+ feet.  Nice!
  • Cooke Book (5.10a, 5p) — Good (and intimidating) looking route but we only did the first pitch because I got off route and was a little spooked.  We had to leave gear to get down ($$$).
Tuesday:  We intended to do Fairview Dome but when we arrived at the base another party was on it and moving slowly.  So we decided to drive to Yosemite Valley for some cragging on El Cap.
  • Pine Line (5.7, 1p) — The first pitch of The Nose route.  Cool!
  • La Cosita, Left (5.7, 1p) — Overhanging 5.7?!  Good route.
  • Little John, Right (5.8, 3p) — Nice little route but our rope got stuck on the rappel.
  • Little John, Left (5.8, 1p) — Burly.  5.8 offwidth feels a lot like 5.10 to me.
Wednesday:  Bagged Cathedral Peak via the Southeast Buttress.  4-5 mile approach followed by 700 feet (5.7, 5 pitches) of perfect alpine granite to a dinner-table-size summit.  Classic!
Approaching Cathedral Peak.  Stunning!
Blake pulls over the summit block at almost 11,000 feet.
On the summit.  Eichorn’s Pinnacle in the background.
Thursday:  Another day in the Valley.
  • Central Pillar of Frenzy (5.9, 5p) — 5 stars isn’t enough for this route!  Definitely one of the top 3 routes I’ve ever climbed.  I had climbed this route a few years ago and it felt really hard to second.  It was rewarding to lead the crux pitches this time — they actually felt pretty cruisy.  As an added bonus a bear and her cub wandered by the base of the route sniffing our packs for food.
  • Bishop’s Terrace (2p) — Perfect hand crack.  Often referred to as one of the best 5.8’s in the Valley.
Mama Bear and cub at the base of Central Pillar of Frenzy
Friday:  6 pitches on Meldicott Dome
  • Shagadelic (5.8, 3p) — Ahhh, well bolted face climbing.
  • Excellent Smithers (5.10a, 3p) — Nice route.  Feet felt like they had been through a meat grinder.
Blake soaking his feet (and catching up with the wife) after 42 pitches of climbing
Saturday:  Pack up and fly home… and start planning the next trip.
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