Cathedral Rocks/Spires

Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 37.71450°N / 119.6354°W
Additional Information Elevation: 6644 ft / 2025 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires in Yosemite Valley are a prominent collection of cliffs, buttresses and pinnacles located on the south side of the valley near its entrance. There are three main summits to Cathedral Rocks dubbed Higher, Middle, and Lower Cathedral Rocks. Adjacent to Higher Cathedral Rock are the Higher and Lower Cathedral Spires, the most impressive spires in all of Yosemite NP. Higher Cathedral Rock is the highpoint of this group.

These rock features were the scene of some of the first serious rock climbing done in the Sierra during the 1930s. All of the main peaks in and around Yosemite Valley were climbed by the 1870s with the exception of the two Cathedral Spires. It would take over 50 years for equipment and technique improvements before these would also be climbed. The first aid climbing in the Sierra was done in 1933-1934 on Higher Cathedral Spire by a Sierra Club party made up of Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson, and Richard Leonard. In their first attempt they ran out of what they had supposed was an ample supply of pitons. With a fresh supply ordered from overseas during the winter, they were successful on their second attempt the following spring. Before the era of Big Wall climbing in the late 1950s, Cathedral Rocks saw a great deal of attention and was used to develop techniques that Robbins, Harding and others would then start to apply to Sentinel Rock, Half Dome's NW Face, El Cap, the Leaning Tower, and other Big Wall routes in Yosemite Valley.

Today, most of the rock climbing done here takes place on Middle Cathedral Rock and the Cathedral Spires, though routes and climbers are also found on the less popular features. Popular routes on Middle Cathedral Rock include East Buttress, Central Pillar of Frenzy, Stoner's Highway, and Direct North Buttress. The Regular Route on Upper Cathedral Spires is popular not only because of its fine climbing, but for its connection with Yosemite rock climbing history.

There are a number of class 2-4 scramble routes that allow access to the summits of Higher, Middle, and Lower Cathedral Rocks. Gunsight is a short class 4 route that goes up the prominent gully between Middle and Lower Cathedral Rocks on the northeast side. This popular descent route can be used to scramble to the summit of Lower Cathedral Rock, to reach Bridalveil Creek, or for a scramble over to Leaning Tower. The summits of Higher and Middle Cathedral Rocks can be accessed via the class 2 Spires Gully, located south of Higher Cathedral Rock and runs between it and Higher Cathedral Spire.

The magnificent Bridalveil Falls is the first significant falls to greet visitors to Yosemite Valley, flowing between Cathedral Rocks on the left and Leaning Tower on the right. Visitors entering on SR41 can enjoy the spectacular view of the falls and the rock features at the popular turnout and view site located immediately east of the tunnel (this is a fine view spot for El Cap as well).

Getting There

The trailhead for Bridalveil Falls (and the Overhang Bypass/Overpass routes on Lower Cathedral Rock) is located just west of the junction of SR41 with Southside Drive. If coming from SR120 or SR140, turn right onto SR41 and turn left almost immediately into the parking lot.

For other routes, there are various pullouts along Southside Drive. Be sure your car is completely off the pavement.

For the Mecca area on Lower Cathedral Rock, park 1/3mi east of the Bridalveil Falls TH in a long turnout along a straight section of the road.

The trailhead for Cathedral Spires is located just east and before the junction with El Cap Meadow, parking available on the right side of the road. Access to Gunsight and routes on Middle Cathedral Spire is located approximately halfway between Bridalveil Falls and the El Cap Meadow junction.

If coming from the east end of the Valley, turn left at El Cap Meadow and park on the left side of the road at the junction with Southside Drive. This provides access to the trailhead for Cathedral Spires located 50 yards west on Southside Drive. For other routes, it is necessary to drive out to the SR120/140 junction and then head east on Southside Drive.

Red Tape / Lodging / Valley Conditions

Please see the fine Yosemite Valley page for all the info on permits/lodging/travel, etc.

Route Overview

The following information was gleaned from various guide books. If you have more information on additional routes or FA info listed ones, please post an addition here. Greatly Appreciated!
Higher Cathedral Spire
Regular RouteIII, 5.91934 Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson, Dick Leonard
Northwest FaceV, 5.8, A31961 Tom Frost, Royal Robbins
Higher AspirationsV, 5.8, A31982 Rik Derrick, Steve Bosque
Lower Cathedral Spire
Higher Cathedral Rock
Spires Gully2 
Braille BookIII, 5.81966 Jim Bridwell, Chris Fredericks, Brian Berry, Joe Faint
East Face RouteV, 5.10, A41967 Jim Bridwell, Chris Fredericks
Learning to CrawlV, 5.9, A3+1985 Mike Corbett, Steve Bosque, Fritz Fox
Mary's Tears5.11b 
Northeast Buttress5.9 
The Crucifix5.12b 
Middle Cathedral Rock
East ButtressIV, 5.10c, or 5.9 A11954 Warren Harding, Bob Swift, John Whitmer
Central Pillar of FrenzyIII, 5.91973-75 Jim Bridwell, Roger Breedlove, Ed Barry, John Long, Billy Westbay
Stoner's Highway5.10c 
Direct North Buttress5.10b 
Northwest Face5.7 
Lower Cathedral Rock
North FaceV, 5.9, A31960 Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins
The Pilgrimage5.11b 
Scrubby Corner5.11a 
Mechanical Advantage5.12a 
King and I5.11c 
King for a Day5.11d 
Filthy Savage5.10b 
Rock Monkey Rebellion5.11a 
Eye of the Hurricane5.11a 
Velvet Elvis5.12a 
Overhang Bypass5.8 
Overhang Overpass5.11c 


"James M. Hutchings named Cathedral Spires in September 1862. The California Geological Survey named 'Cathedral Rock' in 1863. (Whitney, Geology, 410.) Both names were on King and Gardiner's 1865 map of Yosemite Valley. 'From one point, these spires appear symmetrical, of equal height, squarely cut, and rising above the edge of the cliff behind exactly like two towers of a Gothic cathedral.' (Whitney, The Yosemite Book, 58.)

'The Cathedral Rocks and Spires, known as Poo-see-na-chuc-ka, meaning "Mouse-proof Rocks," from a fancied resemblance in shape to their acorn magazines or caches.' Bunnell, Discovery, 1911:217.)

An earlier name for the rocks was 'The Three Graces." (Hutchings, In the Heart, 400.)"

- Peter Browning, Yosemite Place Names

External Links



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.