Ahwahnee Ledges

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.74000°N / 119.58°W
Additional Information Route Type: Scramble
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 3
Sign the Climber's Log


This route is located on the north side of the valley, just right (east) of Indian Canyon and left of the ever-popular Royal Arches Route. Because of it's sunny disposition, it is an excellent winter scramble , generally snow-free a few days after the last snowfall. Adversely, it can be damned hot and exposed in summer with temperatures in the 90s. Probably best climbed fall through spring.

The route starts behind the Ahwahnee Hotel. One can park at the picnic site located on the north side of the road (Ahwahnee Meadow is on the south side) that leads from Yosemite Village to the Ahwahnee Hotel. From the picnic site, take the Valley Loop Trail east towards the hotel for 1/4 mile, then head up the boulder fields to the left.

I found this route without the help of any beta, though I did look to see if I could find any mention of it in the literature and online. Because I have a fond respect for history and tradition in the Valley, I'd appreciate it if anyone knows this route to be called by any other name (I made this one up, based on it's proximity to the famous hotel) and letting me know. Also, any history on the route would be appreciated as well!

Route Description

From the south side of the valley, a large boulder field can be seen rising up behind the Ahwahnee (Royal Arches is to the right). The route climbs the left side of the boulder field, exiting to the left about 200 feet below the top of the boulders. The route follows a large ramp system that can be seen running diagonally up to the left. This can be accessed in one of two locations, both class 3. The higher access point runs right along the base of the cliffs, is a bit spicier, particularly when wet in spring, but makes a fine scramble. Getting onto the ramp is the crux, and the most exposed position on the route.

Follow the ramp upwards, moving from one set of the ledges to the another on alternate sides of the ramp, looking for the easiest route for upward progress. You're hemmed in on the right by high walls, and cliffs drop precipitously off to the left, so it's hard to lose the route in the lower third here. Eventually the ramp narrows and the wide open ledges end under some trees. The right side offers a class 5 shortcut to the upper part of the route (and the bottom of the "Y", described later), but I cannot offer any recommendations on this since it was too frightening to me going solo. The easier class 3 route goes to the left from here, under the trees and out to a semi-open, semi-flat area with a great view looking south and down to the valley. A large rock here with a flat top is a fine indicator you are on route. It's also a fine rest spot.

The most devious route-finding is this next section. The idea is to continue to diagonally trend upwards as you come around to the southwest-facing side of the route. There is a bit of duck-and-under bushwhacking here, not hard, but requires you to pick your way. If you climb too far to the left you will be looking at big air and more than class 3. If you climb too far right, you will find yourself pushing up against some class 4-5 cliffs. It is better to trend right, up against the rock walls here, until you can find a way up this 30 to 40-foot wall. If you just keep climbing higher without breaching the wall you will eventually (maybe 300 yards from the flat rock) find easy class 2 scrambling around it. There are a number of earlier places that can be climbed class 3-4, and these are actually interesting problems. Once above this wall, scramble under and around trees, across a boulder field and head for the base of the Y (see photos) where two gullies converge.

If you took the class 2 way around the wall, you may have to climb down a short ways to reach the Y found to the east. From here climb up a hundred yards of a grass-filled gully to the branch in the Y. The left side is easiest, heading up a wide tree-filled ramp to the top of the route. This is the quickest route if returning via the Yosemite Falls Trail. Continue north from the valley rim for about 1/2 a mile under the forest canopy until you reach the North Dome Trail. Head left to reach the Yosemite Falls Trail. Alternatively you can bypass the trail and head down Indian Canyon for an interesting class 3 descent.

The more interesting route from the Y goes right towards North Dome up a zig-zag series of ledges and ramps. You can keep this to class 3 with careful route-finding. In spring there is much water seepage in these ledges making it a bit trickier, but also much fun. The route ends several hundred feet above the finish for Royal Arches, and still about three hundred feet below the valley rim. You can hike up and north to reach the North Dome Trail, head down to the top of Royal Arches (and then east along a use trail to the top of Washington Column), or head east across some more significant bushwhack and slab traversing for a more direct route to the top of Washington Column. You can then descend via the class 3 North Dome Gully. If your destination is North Dome, you are better off avoiding the serious bushwhacking found on North Dome's west side. Heading to Washington Column won't save you. Instead, from the top of the route, head north to the North Dome Trail and take that to the summit.

Descending this route without prior knowledge is not recommended. Getting from the Y junction to the bottom ramp is devious. A party can easily descend down below the Flat Rock area too far to the west, and find themselves struggling on steep terrain and hating life. This route does not seem to be used as a descent route for Royal Arches, likely because it is more devious and technically more difficult than North Dome Gully.

Essential Gear

None needed. A good pair of boots may be helpful, but I climbed it in tennis shoes.

Play nice

Treat the manzanita and oaks along the route well. A number of these will come in handy to aid progress during the climb, and careless bushwhacking not only damages the fragile trees, but may bring bad karma.

You may run into a number of small cairns that were placed while I was exploring the route and thought I may need to retrace my route. Feel free to disperse these if you find them to keep the place looking as unvisited as possible. I had found a larger cairn near the Y but neglected to knock it over - feel free to do so.