3 Days of Adventure: Climbing in Mammoth Lakes
Known for its volcanic crags and proximity to Tuolumne’s granite domes, Mammoth Lakes is a destination for traveling climbers from around the world. There are short sport climbs and medium to long alpine routes for climbers of all abilities.
Mammoth Lakes is a two-hour drive to Yosemite Valley. There are a number of crags within a short distance of town that happily surprise even the most well-traveled and experienced climbers. To really experience Mammoth climbing, you’ll need three days (hopefully more) to explore the different crags, various types of rock.
DAY 1 – MAMMOTH NORTH
Clark’s Canyon (5.6 – 5.12d sport, trad)
There are a number of crags with varying degrees of difficulty at Clark’s Canyon just north of Mammoth Lakes. Most of the routes are bolted sport climbs on volcanic Bishops Tuff. From Area 13, which offers a lot of moderate and easy routes, to the short bouldering-like pumpy routes at the Potato Patch, and longer sustained climbs at the Main Island, there are a few days worth of climbs to be explored.
Many visitors will visit Clark’s a few times on longer trips or at least spend a full day there. You’ll need a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle to drive to the parking lot. Be sure to pack lunch and plenty of water.
DAY 2 – ROCK CREEK CANYON AND THE MAMMOTH LAKES BASIN
Iris Slab (5.5 – 5.10c top rope, trad)
The granite slab in Rock Creek Canyon is a great beginner spot because of the easy routes and top roping, but is also a good destination for those wanting to learn how to place traditional gear. There are not a lot of routes here, but it is worth a half-day trip for its beautiful views, nice rock, and fun mellow climbs. OR
Gong Show Wall (5.8-5.12a sport, trad)
More experienced climbers will prefer the Gong Show Wall just up Rock Creek Canyon from the Iris Slab. There are a number of bolted routes as well as a few multi pitch trad routes on the granite crags. With hand cracks and multiple roofs, there are different styles of climbs at the Gong Show Wall to challenge more advanced climbers for a half-day or longer. AND
Horseshoe Slabs (5.8 – 5.10a trad, sport, top rope)
Located in the Mammoth Lakes Basin on the southwest shore of Horseshoe Lake, the Horseshoe Slabs are a granite rock known for moderate top roping. The east-facing crag is well shaded and protected from the predominant west winds. There are a few bolted routes. It is a great place for families and beginning climbers because of the easy hike to the rock and mostly easy to moderate routes. OR
Dyke Wall (5.8 – 5.12a sport, trad)
The Dyke Wall is a beautiful granite crag above the Lake George and the Mammoth Lakes Basin with a number of more challenging routes. The views alone are worth the approach, but the climbing is fun and a popular spot with local climbers. The routes here are varied and climb up cracks with nice hand jams, flakes, and dihedrals, as well as an occasional layback crux.
DAY 3 – TUOLUMNE MEADOWS, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
The iconic granite polished domes of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park are just an hour’s drive north of Mammoth and well worth the trek. There are numerous classic multi-pitch routes that you’ll want to climb, so it is best to get an alpine start and fit as much climbing as you have energy for.
Regular Route, Fairview Dome (5.9 12 pitches)
Finger-cracks, liebacks, and large ledges are highlights of the Regular Route of Fairview Dome. The north-facing route offers nice sun protection in hot summer months. The moderate route is nice and long, but with a few pitches of 5.0 to 5.4 and 5.6 at the top you can simul-climb, move quickly and walk off the back. This route as with many of the classics in Tuolumne is very popular and can have traffic at the belays. AND
West Crack, (5.9 5 pitches)
This beautiful crack is rightfully one of the most popular routes in Yosemite National Park. The west-facing route gets late sun and is a great afternoon climb if there aren’t too many parties waiting. The crux is 20 feet off of the ground and bolted, though many people thing the 5.8 roof on the second pitch is more difficult. The route offers perfect finger and hand jams with Tuolumne’s famous knobs on the face.