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Ledge Trail
Route

Ledge Trail

 
Ledge Trail

Page Type: Route

Location: California, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.74000°N / 119.58°W

Object Title: Ledge Trail

Route Type: Scramble

Time Required: Half a day

Difficulty: Class 3

Route Quality: 
 - 6 Votes
 

 

Page By: Bob Burd

Created/Edited: May 16, 2003 / Nov 11, 2006

Object ID: 158060

Hits: 18747 

Page Score: 79.02%  - 10 Votes 

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Approach

Starting from the Curry Village parking lot, head south towards Glacier Point, hiking through Curry Village and the tent cabins. It's a pretty simple approach. There is no one right starting point, all of them converging on the same route further up.

Route Description

The Ledge Trail is the shortest route between the Valley floor and Glacier Point. At first glance it seems improbable that a hiking trail could be built on the northwest face of Glacier Point. But upon further inspection, one notices what looks like a thin shelf running diagonally up and to the right (west) starting directly behind Curry Village. This thin shelf is actually a fairly wide ledge that runs 2/3 of the way up to the Valley rim. It intersects a steep gully that angles up and to the left, taking one to within a 1/4 mile of the Glacier Point lookout. Due to severe slide conditions, it was abandoned many years ago, and only vestiges of the once impressive trail remain. In the gully, buried under brush and ferns are many of the stone steps painstakingly constructed by the CCC in the 1930s. In many places there are markings of yellow and orange paint, a common technique of yore utilized by the Park Service to mark trails. There are two signs along the route warning visitors "Trail Closed" due to loose rock and slick granite. This of course adds to the charm.

You can start directly from Curry Village, going through the wooded area behind the tent cabins heading south and following the forest cover as it angles up and to the right. For a less woodsy start, you can begin at the JMT parking lot between Curry Village and Happy Isle, hitting the Glacier Point apron in a much quicker fashion. You can't really go too far to the left - you will smack into the Glacier Point walls and be forced to the right. Too far to the right and you will encounter an extremely loose gully that at first annoys you, but then gets a bit dangerous as it steepens. If you are really too far to the right, you may see John and Craig aid climbing on the left side of Staircase Falls, but you are definitely off-route.

Follow the ledge as it takes you up and to the right, avoiding the loosest parts by shifting to the left or right. You can climb almost the entire way up the ledge hugging the cliffs on your left if you like - just be aware that there are often many visitors directly above your head at Glacier Point, and not all of them may be aware of the dangers of tossing rocks over the side.

The junction with the Gully is obvious, and one of the two signs mentioned above will be found here on the west wall of the gully. Water is often coursing down the center of the gully and this is where you'll encounter some slick granite spring through summer (the water makes an easterly turn here, following the ledge down for about 100 feet before cascading over the cliffs to form Staircase Falls). In places you need to push through fern covered stairways - the old trail can be found in several places here. Climb the gully to the top.

Once at the Valley rim, continue due south until you intersect the Four Mile Trail (about 100 yards), or angle left(east) to head directly to Glacier Point. Either way, you are a short distance from the top. The large number of tourists you may suddenly encounter there will contrast sharply with the feeling of being all alone you'll have on the route. In more than half a dozen climbs of this route, I have never encountered another party along the way. For a fine loop hike, you can take the Panorama Trail down to Nevada Falls and back to Happy Isle & Curry Village. The Four Mile Trail makes for an even shorter loop return.

If you are heading down without having first climbed up, the route-finding is not difficult. Head west from Glacier Point following the Four Mile Trail for about a quarter mile. The very first gully encountered is the correct one. While heading down, enjoy the fine views of Yosemite Falls. The junction with the ledge should also be obvious. There is a faded steel sign bolted to the wall ("Trail Closed") on the left. The water turns right here showing you the start of the ledge. Cross to the southeast side of the stream when you can to keep from following the water down over the falls.

Because there is little sun along this route, it makes an ideal scramble during the summer when temperatures are frying the Valley floor along with the hikers on the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Winter brings another angle to this route. Because it is north-facing, the gully is usually filled with snow starting in December, and rarely melts out until spring even in dry years. The route has been skied, but be warned that in the best skiing conditions it is also an avalanche hazard. Once consolidated, the snow can be very hard (crampons, axe recommended). A climb to Glacier Point in winter can be very rewarding. While you will still see visitors (it is a popular ski tour from Badger Pass), they are much fewer, and the views of the high country blanketed in winter white is worth the climb. It is actually faster and easier to climb to Glacier Point from Curry Village via this route than to ski from Badger Pass (11 miles one way!)

Winter temperatures can be very chilly, and you should carry warm clothing. The entire route sees the sun for only a short period of time each day. The ledge sees the sun right after sunrise for about an hour, the gully sees the sun for about an hour around noon.

Essential Gear

Sturdy shoes in summer; axe, crampons, & warm clothes in winter if snow is present.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.

Additions and Corrections

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DayHiker2011Ledge Trail History

Voted 10/10

Bob,



Great essay that you wrote on the Ledge Trail above Curry Village in Yosemite.



I wanted to point out that I first became aware of the trail while reading the book titled, "Off the Ledge: Death in Yosemite." Its written by a retired US Forest Ranger who compiled all the fatalities from all the various categories (falls, drownings, murder, suicides, etc).



In his book, he explained that the Ledge Trail was originally used by the local Indians back in the mid 1800's. It was a natural pathway back then. The Forest Service improved the trail with markings and some maintenance. However, so many hikers fell to their deaths from the literal ledge that the rangers initially closed the trail to downhill hikers as most accidents happen when moving downward. But, that only partially alleviated the deaths so the rangers closed the trail altogether in the 1920's I think it was. Yet, to the present day, hiker-climbers such as yourself continue to traverse whats left of the trail as a challenge.



Ironically, the trail crosses directly above and behind the mountaineering school there in Curry Village. I spoke to a woman who worked there about the trail and her eyes grew large with fear as she thought I planned to hike it.



I'm not sure how the rangers enforce the "closure" when they can see hikers up there, but apparently its not a strict enforcement.



Anyway, you stated that the trail was closed due to rock falls and I wanted to clarify what the retired Yosemite ranger had written in his book regarding the closures as a direct result of people falling to their deaths.
Posted Mar 12, 2011 10:16 pm
Bob BurdRe: Ledge Trail History

Bob Burd

Hasn't voted

I just finished reading the same book which counted 14 deaths on the trail. Some corrections to your posting - I don't think it was ever an Indian trail. The text says it was used as early as 1870, but that was well after the white folk came in and kicked out the Indians. The trail was not closed until the 1960's, I believe, the text stating that in 1952 downhill travel was prohibited. I still suspect that rockfall damage played at least as important a role in closing it, but certainly it was well-known to the Park Service as a dangerous route.
Posted Jul 18, 2013 11:17 pm

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Images

The Ledge Trail in Yosemite...The view looking down the...This is one of two such signs...Some Old Steps on the Ledge TraildavgoodmanThis is the view of the gully...Staircase Falls
Near the top of the Ledge Trail