Royal Arches refers to the huge exfoliation arches on the 1,400' cliff behind the Ahwahnee Hotel, but the climbing routes that fall under the heading of "Royal Arches" span from the Church Bowl to Washington Column. There are numerous routes along this span, from 5.7 to 5.10d R/X to 5.12c R.
The most often traveled route is the ultra-classic Royal Arches, one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America
, according to Roper and Steck. This 15 pitch route is often used to access North Dome, giving 20 or more pitches of moderate climbing. This route was first climbed in 1936 by Morgan Harris, Ken Adam, and Kenneth Davis. Originally rated III, 5.6, A1, the consensus rating these days is 5.7 A1 (McNamara does have it at 5.7 A0, with the A0 going free at 5.10b)
The Royal Arches route has long been a popular free-solo, and the competition over the years has led to some astounding ascent times. Even as far back as 1979, the 15 pitch ascent was being done in under an hour, and the last I heard, the mad climber Dean Potter had done the car-to-car round trip
in under an hour ( I am lead to believe that his descent is via North Dome Gully). Cedar Wright has also climbed the Royal Arches route in under an hour, car-to-car in 52 minutes and 26 seconds (amazing).
Royal Arches are in Yosemite Valley, in Yosemite National Park. The Park is accessed by either Hwy 120, 140, or 41. When you arrive in the Valley, follow the one-way loop road toward Camp Curry, and then take a left at Stoneman Bridge. Take a right at the Village, and then go past the shuttle bus maintenance facility and take the next right toward the Ahwahnee Hotel. Park in the Ahwahnee parking lot.
A better arrangement, if you're camping in the Park, is to ride your bicycle or the shuttle bus, as the Ahwahnee parking lot is often quite full of well-heeled guest cars. The bus makes a stop right at the Hotel. A bicycle is almost always the best option in the Valley.
It costs $30 for a 7-day pass to enter the Park, or $60 for an annual pass. Parking is free if it's available.
When To Climb
This cliff has been climbed in every month of the year, but each season has its trials. Summer is hot and crowded, fall is just crowded (unless you go in the very late fall), winter is cold and wet, and spring is especially wet as several seasonal streams run down this wall. More on this on the route pages.
All camping in the Valley
is reserved (except Camp 4), and hard to come by, especially during the summer months. Some of you affluent SPers may opt for indoor accommodations
, or there's always illegal camping, a long-time favorite of mine as I hate to pay to throw down my bag.
This is mostly a Half Dome cam, but you can see the Arches on the left side of the image, and it will give a decent idea of current conditions.
Half Dome cam with Royal Arches view: Half Dome cam from Ahwahnee Meadows
The official road & weather conditions
are fairly accurate.