First Two Pitches
Phobos and Deimos are what they named the two moons of Mars but originate from the Greeks as gods of "battlefield panic" and "fear". The Phobos/Deimos Cliff, as it is referred to versus the common typical “dome” in Tuolumne, is a rather obscure cliff located on the north side of the road directly across from Pywiack Dome (just north of Tenaya Lake
). Although an obscure feature, this cliff is home to three of the finer pure crack lines in Tuolumne Meadows at their respective grades: Phobos (5.9), Deimos (5.9)
and Blues Riff (5.11b
). Both Phobos and Deimos were established by Tom Higgins in 1970!
In his guidebook for the area, Chris McNamara and company describe Phobos’ second pitch as the “best steep cracks at the grade in Tuolumne”.
I thought that was overstating it a bit, but in any regard, Phobos and Deimos are worthy routes.
The guidebook along with several summit logs make a lot to do about the first pitch of Phobos (bailing climbers, etc), but I found it fairly straight forward albeit physical.
It starts out simple enough in a crack, but then you are forced to stem and chimney up to an improbable roof under which you traverse out right to much easier ground. The moves are short but sweet. The second pitch (as referenced above) is stellar for the grade, but again, very straight forward. You move to the left to follow a hand crack up until you can jam both cracks for a nice distance. Jugs get you past any serious off-width above and a comfortable ledge-belay awaits. The third pitch is much easier than the previous two following a lower angled wider corner up to a 5.9 exit mantle that reaches the top.
Park across Pywiack Dome on the north side of the road at a small pull out with a climbers trail heading up from it. Follow the switchbacks for about 500’ of gain and angle back right to the base of the wall. The trail dumps you into a drainage that you follow up to gain the broad ledge directly below the wall. Phobos and Deimos are separated by about a 15 minute walk. Blues Riff is in between the two at a huge corner.
Route DescriptionPhobos, 300’+/-, 5.9
1st Pitch- 15m- 5.9/
Several, including my second, think this is a 5.10- pitch. I found it fairly straight forward, although fun and challenging for the grade. There is a bolted line up left on sparse face climbing at 5.11 (Mocha Velvet Stout). There is also a 5.11 roof variation of Phobos to the right. This first pitch follows the obvious hand crack in between those two. Pass a piton and when you start to enter a roof cavity, you can stem and chimney and eventually pull our right below the roof on positive jugs.
Then up easy ground to a 3”-4” crack for a comfortable gear belay.
2nd Pitch- 45m- 5.9/
This is a spectacular pitch but if anything it is a bit soft for the grade. Take on the obvious twin cracks above. Move into the left one at first until you can hand jam both, placing gear at will. The topo mentions off-width above these twin cracks, but there really are not any required off-width moves.
There is a huge jug up and right that seemed helpful, but otherwise this pitch is real straight forward from bottom to top which offers a large sloping ledge gear belay below a wide corner.
3rd Pitch- 30m- 5.9/
Follow the easy wide crack/corner. The guidebook calls it 5.8 at the bottom to 5.6 at the top, but it all seemed like pretty quick ground to me. At the top of the corner, mantle through the small overhang to the top of the cliff. This 5.9 exit move is a variation from the original route, but makes much more sense with no reason to avoid it by traversing out right.
This last move is well protected. I belayed from a tree about 30’ away from the edge of the cliff.
Walk off to the west. If you go down early (first ramp), it involves a bit of 5th class. If you gain a bit of elevation as you traverse west, you will tie into an easier gully, your choice.
The guidebook says a C4 #6 is optional, but you would have to be a tender 5.9 leader to feel the need to haul that up.
It would only protect easy spots. I really did not need the C4# 4 either and if I did it again, would just go with a standard double rack from C4#.5 to #3 with one extra hand piece to sow it up.
This cliff is south facing, so dress accordingly. I believe Phobos is somewhat southwest facing, looked shady when we finished Deimos. So if it is a hot day, hit these two later in the day. If colder, do Deimos first (east facing), then Phobos. Both are fairly clean, helmets are optional in terms of rock fall. Both are full-on crack climbs relative to shoes. It is a 500’ gain up a mostly switchback trail with walk offs on both routes, thus approach shoes or lightweight runners since you be hauling them. Need plenty of directional runners on Deimos.