OverviewPerhaps the most common complaint one hears about visiting Yosemite Valley is that it is too crowded. Six million people visit annually, making a virtual city on the Valley floor, with none of the solitude one hopes to find in a Wilderness visit. There are many trails that lead out of the Valley to various sights, and almost all of these are similarly crowded, particularly in the summertime.
To those that venture off the maintained trails, solitude and adventure can be found almost instantly. Not two minutes from Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, Happy Isles and other popular locales, are some really great scrambles that take one off the busy Valley floor and onto the steep cliffs high above the crowds. The shortest of these can be completed in a few hours, the longest require most of a full day.
RoutesEl Cap Gully Class 4
This route climbs the steep canyon carved into north side of the canyon on the far left (west) side of El Capitan's SW Face. There is no use trail to facilitate hiking, and it is rarely climbed. The lower third of the route features boulder hopping as one follows the streambed up from the Valley floor. This is followed by bushwhacking on the steep banks to avoid cliff areas alternating with more boulder climbing. The upper third is very steep, mostly class 3 with some short exposed class 4 sections.
Upper Pinnacle Class 5.2
A series of rocky pinnacles line the right side of El Cap Gully, just to the left of West Chimney. The easiest approach follows up El Cap Gully for 2/3 of its height, then climbing right, up the NE side of the Upper Pinnacle, the highest of the set and the one closest to El Cap's SW Wall.
Eagle Creek Class 2-3
This route climbs the wooded drainage on the north side between El Capitan and the Three Brothers. It is a bushwhack nearly the entire route, particularly heavy in the middle half. The lower third is very steep and loose hillsides.
Upper Yosemite Falls Class 2-3
The base of Upper Yosemite Falls can be reached from either the left (via the Yosemite Falls Trail) or the right. The right side is the far more interesting scramble, following a climber's trail used to access routes on Lost Arrow Spire and others to the right of Upper Yosemite Falls. The lower part is a boulder scramble to gain the second prominent ledge above the Valley floor, followed by an improbably easy stroll across the ledge on a good use trail towards the falls, followed by some class 3 scrambling to either the base of Upper Yosemite Falls or the base of Lost Arrow Spire.
Indian Canyon Class 3
This is an enjoyable route from both a climbing and historical viewpoint. It is perhaps the oldest access point used by humans between Yosemite Valley and the High Country. Located halfway between Yosemite Falls and Royal Arches, it follows the deeply gouged canyon rising up behind Yosemite Village. The climbing is highly enjoyable with much sustained class 3 climbing, scrambling over boulders and rock faces that line the watercourse. It can as easily be used for either an ascent or descent route.
Ahwahnee Ledges Class 3
This a rarely travelled route that climbs a ledge system found east of Indian Canyon and west of the Ahwahnee Hotel. Route-finding is particulary tricky for a descent, but even ascending requires care. It climbs the canyon walls, coming out above and west of the exit point for Royal Arches.
North Dome Gully Class 3
This route is most often used as a descent route for climbs of nearby Washington Column, North Dome, and Royal Arches, but makes for a great scramble as well. Route-finding can be a bit tricky in the upper part. There are great views of Half Dome's NW Face on the way up, and wonderful views from the top of Washington Column.
Tenaya Canyon Class 3-4
Tenaya Canyon is dangerous in times of high and even normal water flow, and should only be attempted during times of low water, typically Sept-Oct. Most often this route is descended, starting from Tenaya Lake, but it makes an enjoyable ascent as well. There are four locations featuring fixed anchors that make rappelling the difficult sections almost trivial. But all of them can be bypassed with good route-finding, though difficulty will increase to class 4.
The Slabs Class 3
This route is most often used as an approach route for climbs of Half Dome's NW Face. It is one of the more impressive scrambles, featuring neck-stretching views directly up the NW Face, fixed ropes up three short class 4-5 sections, and interesting route-finding.
LeConte Gully Class 4
This steep gully rises up to the left of Grizzly Peak starting at Happy Isle. The route is rarely used today, but was once the preferred approach to the Diving Board on Half Dome's west shoulder. It provides a shorter approach to Snake Dike, and can be used to climb Grizzly Peak. Most parties will want to rappel 2-3 sections on a descent.
Sierra Point Class 2
A trail used to run from Happy Isle up the hillside on the left side of the JMT to a prominent overlook that may be the only place in the valley from which four major falls could be viewed simulataneously: Nevada, Vernal, Illilouette, and Yosemite Falls. Finding the trail is a bit tricky, but the stunning view is worth the effort to find it. The steel railing at the lookout is still there, and solid.
Grizzly Peak Class 3
This is the prominent peak below and to the right of Half Dome when viewed from the Valley floor. It is most easily climbed from the east using most of the approach for Half Dome's Snake Dike route. The shortest route heads up Leconte Gully, and an aesthetic and more challenging route follows up from Sierra Point.
Illilouette Gorge Class 2
This is a fairly easy scramble to one of the least known of the Valley's major waterfalls. Most visitors view the falls from the Panorama Trail that runs above the falls from Glacier Point. This scramble provides the rarely seen view from the base.
Ledge Trail Class 3
This old trail used to run from Curry Village almost directly up to Glacier Point. Rockslides and avalanches made the trail too difficult to maintain and it has since been abandoned. Most of this route is class 2 with very little class 3. It follows the great arcing ledge directly above Curry Village, upwards to the right, where it intersects a steep gully that heads up and left to Glacier Point.
Upper Spires Class 3
This route follows the climber's route to the start of the Regular Route on Upper Cathedral Spire. It then heads due south up the cliffs behind it, to some higher, but less prominent spires detached from the canyon walls. One then climbs to the rocky ridge behind the spires, descending either left to the drainage east of Cathedral Spires, or right towards Bridalveil Creek and Higher Cathedral Rock.
Cathedral Gully Class 2
This is actually the common descent route off Higher Cathedral Spire. An excellent use trail takes one up the steep gully between Cathedral Spires and Higher Cathedral Rock. Most of this route is class 1, followed by a lot of class 2 boulder hopping, and then a short hike to the notch above. From here it is an easy scramble to Higher Cathedral Rock or down to Bridalveil Creek.
Gunsight Class 4
This is a short, but exciting climb up the steep, prominent gully between Middle and Lower Cathedral Rocks. Fixed ropes allow one to get over the most difficult section, a short class 4 climb. From the notch at the top it is an easy scramble to the summit of Lower Cathedral Rock, or a bushwhack down to Bridalveil Creek and over to Leaning Tower. One can also climb the NW Face or NW Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock from this point, class 5.6-5.7.