Page Type
California, United States, North America
Route Type:
Trad Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall
Summer, Fall
Time Required:
One to two days
5.11+ or 5.9 C1F

Route Quality: 5 Votes

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Created On: Sep 19, 2005
Last Edited On: Mar 6, 2006


The Chouinard-Herbert was first climbed in Aug. of 1962 by Yvon Chouinard and TM Herbert. Many consider the crux of the route to be the exposed approach, which has several pitches of roped (for most) climbing and tests route finding skills. All of that just to get to the start of the actual route.

The route has much moderate free climbing (5.10- or less) and the harder free sections can be aided at C1F. The aid crux is probably the 2nd roof on P11, but goes at C1 with Aliens.


The Chouinard-Herbert approach is quite involved in terms of route finding. A common misconception is the existance of a 4th class approach. Having done the approach several times, with a fair bit of scouting and research, the most realistic options all have involved some 5th class climbing. There are two main ways to go:

Follow the Sentinel approach described on the main page to the sandy gully just past the second ramp and move up until you see a small gully to the left (East) with a sm. tree on top (if you've passed a large pine you've gone too far and are on your way to the Steck-Salathe). There are some fierce looking OW cracks higher up on the left side (North) of the gully. Scramble up the gully to a 5th class section before the sm. tree. Go past the sm. tree to a low angle notch with loose rock. Follow this notch to the East and a ledge with more loose rock. On the North side of the ledge on the ground is an old anchor. On the South side wall are a couple of bolts, including an ASCA 3/8."

Alternately you can scramble up the sandy gully a bit further (20-30,' still before the big pine) and climb (4th/easy 5th) up and East to a sm. tree. Squeeze behind the tree, move across a slab to the NE (4th/easy5th), and round a corner to another, smaller tree and a slab on the North side. This slab drops off to the North 10-20' and into the low angle notch with loose rock (described above). Rap or downclimb (5.10?) the slab to the notch and move East to the anchor.

Climb up a small corner (5.7) immediately to the right of the anchor to a point where it is possible to make a short face traverse (the end of the sm. corner) to easier ground a few feet to the left (East). Move straight up through some brush to an easy chimney (3rd/4th). Above the chimney angle up and right to the base of the Chouinard-Herbert. CAUTION! The base is full of loose rock. Your belayer below and others approaching on the 2nd ramp are directly in the fall line. Watch your footing and the rope.

Route Description

Note: ASCA replaced bolts at all the bolted anchors in Sept. of 2005. The quantity of bolts given here is for good or fair bolts. Until other old 1/4" buttonheads and nails are removed, some of the anchors and lead sections may have more bolts than indicated here or on the updated topo. This is especially notable on P5, P7, P8, P9, and P11. Warning: all bolts (even new) can fail, thus do not rely on any single bolt!

The CH relies heavily on pins in sections. The number of pins has decreased significantly since my ascent in 1993. I pulled one of the P11 pins out by hand 9/05.

There are significant fragile features on this route, especially on P8 and P12. Some sections have loose rock on ledges. Wear a helmet and watch out for those below.

Do not rely on this description and use your own good judgement at all times!

Chouinard-Herbert Route Description:
P1 - Looking up at the U-shaped bowl above, while avoiding the resident scorpion below, climb easy steps toward the left edge of Flying Buttress (to the right), pass a pin, then angle left and up along a somewhat flaring crack (5.6) to a ledge with loose rock (CAUTION!) and a 2 bolt anchor. Note: there is NO 5.6 variation going up climber's left from the base as indicated in previous guides. The climbing here is marked by errant slings and is substantially more difficult (5.9).
P2 - Climb the easy (3rd/4th class) chimney/gully to the East to a 2 bolt anchor at the base of a chimney.
P3 - Move up the chimney (5.8) and exit onto a slab to the left near its top. Belay at the tree above.
P4 - Climb up a couple of steps and continue up a crack (5.8) going up the center of Chessman Pinnacle to a nice ledge and 2 bolt anchor. Good bivy for 2-3.
P5 - Climb up a thin lieback just right of the anchor to a sm. ledge (5.9). Traverse right on the sm. ledge for approx. 10 feet and go up a crack (10+) to a slab and 2 bolt belay.
P6 - Traverse the slab up and right over a couple of lips (5.9) and continue up a short thin crack with a few pins (11+ or C1). Go past a small stance and up a flake to 2 bolts and a pin.
P7 - Traverse left on edges and friction (10a/b) at the base of a headwall. Round the corner and go up to 2 bolts and a fixed pin.
P8 - jam and stem up the corner to where the West face narrows (5.9, CAUTION: fragile features) and move around the arete to a small stance with a new bolt. This is NOT the belay. Continue West along a ledge and move up to the belay on the next (V-shaped) ledge (good bivy for 1, fair/poor bivy for 2-3).
P9 - from the belay move up 5' (5.6) then move West on a narrow ledge until it is possible to cut up and left along easier (4th, exposed, poor pro) terrain to an undercling/lieback flake with several pins. There is an off-route crack with pins going straight up toward the slab/headwall above. The belay is BELOW on a good, but precarious looking (fragile?) stance that is best approached via face holds from above and slightly East. 2 bolt belay.
P10 - continue up the undercling/lieback flake to a point where you can step right to enter a low angle crack system that leads to the right side of the pinnacle and a sweet 5.7+ hand crack. Alternately continue along the flake a bit longer and pass a bolt on your way to the left side of the pinnacle. Follow the crack on the right side of the pinnacle (5.8) to the fixed pin and bolt about 20' higher up.
P11 - move up the hands to OW crack (5.9), pass the first roof (5.10+ or C1), pass a bolt and fixed pin (NOT the belay), and continue over another, small roof (5.11 or C1, Aliens helpful). Belay at the 2 bolt anchor in the corner, just below the Afro-Cuban flakes.
P12 - move up in the corner past several fixed pins, clip a bolt, and head for the numerous fixed pins (C1F) traversing the bottom of the Afro-Cuban flakes. Alternately, from the bolt do a face traverse (5.10a) to a small corner in the center of the flakes. In the center of the flakes go up a crack to a narrow ledge to the West. Belay in the middle of the ledge at a thin crack with a pin and a bolt.
P13 - move West a few feet and go up a short chimney/OW (5.8). Move left and up on the ramp and belay at the 2nd tree (gear backup).
P14 - move up the ramp (easy 5th) to a chimney (5.7) and belay at the tree above (gear backup further up). This is a pretty good bivy site for up to 3 people.
P15 - climb up the face with multiple, sometimes flared cracks (5.6) and head up the path of least resistance to the top (easy 5th, gear belay). This is a long pitch and a 50m rope is a bit of a stretch (may leave you short).


CAUTION: IMHO this descent is more dangerous than either East Ledges on El Capitan or North Dome Gully. It involves a few sections of 4th/easy 5th class downclimbing, significant route finding problems, and a serious bowling alley scenario. It is especially challenging in the dark or for those who've never done it before. Wear a helmet and use your own good judgement!

From the sandy section just below and East of the true summit walk SE through low lying manzanita to a point where you can see some cairns on boulders below. Follow the cairns through a series of boulders and manzanita, descending into the manzanita tunnels. These tunnels are about 3' high and provide a quick and relatively easy way through what otherwise be a major bushwack. At the end of the tunnels is a short (10', easy 5th) drop into the descent gully.

Follow the gully downhill to the East. After several hundred feet you'll reach a faint trail on the right side of the gully. This trail leads through some trees and drops down through low brush to a loose talus section above a smooth slab. We tried the slab, but it drops off and is fairly serious. It is not a good option and may lead to a dead end/rappel.

Going back to the left (North) into the gully (4th/easy 5th down climbing over a mossy section) just before the trees on the trail thin out proved to be a better option. Back in the gully continue down the hill on mostly 3rd class terrain. There are two more sections that require some down climbing and while technically 5th class, they are not horribly exposed.

Continue down the gully until it widens and you reach the West fork/drainage of the creek. Cross the creek and head out toward a tongue shaped low angle to flat section between the West and East drainage. This looks improbable, but there is a relatively easy 3rd/4th class scrambling descent from the tip down to the NW side.

About 50' down you'll encounter a slab (4th/easy 5th) that diagonals down toward the NE, then cut back toward the NW in a small gully. Alternately it seems possible to avoid the slab by descending straight down along a vegetated gully (we did not try this) which looks (?) easier. Use your own good judgement.

Follow the right (East) edge of the West fork drainage and work your way down several ledges, zigzagging back and forth to pick the easiest way down.

Head along the right (East) side of the West drainage, clear a step(4-5'), and follow a faint path down the hill until you get to a slab in the creek. Cross the creek above the slab and work your way North and down the hill through bushes between the West side of the creek and the base of a cliff to the West.

A bit further down the hill a faint trail appears and contours around the base of the cliff to the NW. A few hundred feet further is a pine and the beginning of the 1st approach ramp.

Pick up the trail going down the hill to the 4-Mile trail and head West to get back to the parking area and trailhead. We did not have to rappel at any point.

Essential Gear


Nuts: 1 set + doubles in mid-range (or take more cams of that size)
Cams: 2 sets (0.33-3"), 1 x 4-5" piece
Aliens/Offset Aliens are helpful
Many slings and draws



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