Climbing in Tuolumne Meadows – Yosemite National Park

Jul 14, 2021

The polished granite domes of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park’s high country are some of the most coveted climbing routes in the world. The granitic rock, and variety of moderate multi-pitch routes is enough to lure climbers from all over the world. The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) was invented in the park and many of the routes are graded at “old school 5.0” when 5.9 was the hardest climbing grade in the world.

“Climbers need to prepare to unleash their A-Game on every pitch, every route,” says April Mayhew, a climbing guide for International Alpine Guides. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to hire a guide for a proper introduction to Yosemite climbing, and it greatly helps to be trained in self-rescue prior to climbing off-ground.” Located near the park’s east entrance, Tuolumne Meadows is just an hour’s drive from Mammoth Lakes and is a great destination for a climbing daytrip.

Travel to Tuolumne Meadows

From Mammoth Lakes take Highway 395 north to Lee Vining and turn left on to High Way 120 west, Tioga Pass Road. In ten miles you will reach the eastern park boundary where you will have to pay an entrance fee or show a national parks pass. Tuolumne Meadows is another ten or fifteen minutes drive from here.

Depending on where you will be climbing, parking can be limited, so an early start is recommended. Be sure to take all food and scented items out of your car and place in bear storage containers found at some of the trailheads.

Top Climbing Routes in Tuolumne Meadows

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.

West Crack, Daff Dome (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.

West Country, Stately Pleasure Dome (5.7, 4 pitches) Located just across the road from Tenaya Lake, this route has great views, and is popular for its easy access and relatively easy and fun climbing. You’ll find the crux is the most fun on the second pitch. It’s a sustained lie back finger crack for nearly 100 feet before you reach a two bolt anchor.

Southeast Buttress, Cathedral Peak (5.6, 5 pitches) Cathedral Peak is an iconic mountain that can be seen from many places in the park. The summit is uninstructed and offers great views of the area. The alpine route requires a longer approach on a trail than other climbs mentioned here, but it’s worth the trek. The splitter crack and chimney offer fun climbing, but moderate climbing in the Yosemite High Country.

Matthes Crest Traverse (5.7) The classic knife-edge ridge traverse is typically climbed in the upwards south to north direction and either solo or simul-climbed. To rope up for each pitch would take too long. The crux is on the west side of the crest below the south summit where you will find a good crack that leads to easier climbing.

Post-Climbing Eats

One of the best reasons to go climbing in Tuolumne Meadows is the food options after a big day in the mountains. The Tuolumne Meadows Grill has soft serve ice cream, which tastes particularly good on a warm summer day. They also serve burgers, fries, and other traditional American grill fare.

If you want to start heading back to Mammoth Lakes before you stop for food, head down the hill to Lee Vining and stop in at the Mobil Station’s Whoa Nellie Deli. The fish tacos are “world famous” but they also have pizza slices and the delicious buffalo meatloaf.

Another favorite spot in Lee Vining is Mono Cone, an old fashioned-style hamburger stand that serves one of the best burgers in the Mono County. They also have soft serve ice cream, really good French fries and milkshakes.

Climbing Gear and Resources

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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