Grizzly Peak is located in Yosemite NP, rising 2,200ft from the floor of Yosemite Valley on the east end, adjacent to Happy Isle. Though striking in appearance, it is overshadowed by its famous neighbor Half Dome, which rises some 2,700ft higher just behind it. The John Muir Trail starts at the base of Grizzly's western flank, skirting both the west and south sides of the peak as it follows the Merced River towards Vernal Fall. On most days of the year, hundreds of visitors pass along this section of the trail marveling at Grizzly Peak among a dozen other impressive natural features, yet few of them could tell you its name. It lies in wide open obscurity amongst so many other more popular attractions in the park, out of favor with even the climbers though its easiest route is a challenging class 3.
It was not always this way. By 1885, not only had the unclimbables, Half Dome and Starr King been scaled, but most of the Valley's other major features as well. Grizzly Peak was the largest of the named summits yet to be climbed. In that year, Charles Bailey made the first ascent of Grizzly from Lost Lake and Grizzly's east side. Bailey became an avid Sierra Club supporter and named nearby Sierra Point for the club. In 1905 Bailey suffered a fatal 400-foot fall in the upper reaches of El Cap Gully while on the first ascent with J.L. Staats. Sometime after Bailey's climb of Grizzly Peak, James. M. Hutchings made the first ascent of LeConte Gully, the prominent gully visibile just north of the peak as viewed from the valley floor. This class 4 route to Grizzly Peak, the Diving Board, and Half Dome was made known by (and subsequently named for) Joseph LeConte who recounted his ascent of the route in the Sierra Club Bulletin. Other class 3-4 routes were established in the following decades on the South and Southwest Aretes. Class 5 routes were established on the South Gully in 1938 (David Brower & Morgan Harris) and the West Face (Dick Houston & Ralph McColm) in 1942. Other more difficult routes were established and mostly forgotten into the 1960s.
The primary reason for Grizzly's lack of popularity is the brushy nature of its routes. Though graced with much excellent granite, much of the peak has vegetation that fills many cracks with debris and grunge, and makes for moderate bushwhacking on at least part of any route. Compared to so many other excellent Valley routes developed since the 1950s with clean rock and short approaches, Grizzly's non-trivial route finding and approaches have resulted in its falling from favor. Though no summit register exists to fix a count, it is likely that ascents these days are but a handful each year.
Depending on the route chosen, the peak can be climbed in anywhere from half a day to a full day.
From Yosemite Valley, drive to the east end of the valley on Southside Drive, past Curry Village to the large dirt parking lot for JMT overnighters. Hike half a mile east to Happy Isle, cross the Merced River and you are at the base of the peak. If you take the free shuttle bus, you can get even closer with a bus stop located at Happy Isle.
Routes up LeConte Gully, the west side and the Southwest Arete start up the fall line from the beginning of the John Muir Trail. Routes on the south side can be reached by hiking half a mile along the JMT until around the SW Arete. The easiest route on the east side is approached by hiking up to Nevada Falls, over to Lost Lake, then cross-country to the notch a the top of LeConte Gully.
Red Tape, Camping, etc.
See the Yosemite Valley Logistical Center for all the details.
When To Climb
Because of its relatively low elevation, the peak can be climbed almost year round. During periods of recent snowfall, it is best to avoid the peak for obvious reasons. Snows do not last long on the peak, usually melting off most of the routes in a few days. In the height of summer, temperatures may be too warm for an enjoyable climb (though LeConte Gully is shaded during most of the morning hours).
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