Tenaya Canyon Descent a Success!

Tenaya Canyon Descent a Success!

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 16, 2013
Activities Activities: Canyoneering
Seasons Season: Summer

Our party consisted of 4 women aged 21-37.  None of us had done the route before, two of us are professional guides with significant route finding/rappelling/canyoneering experience an the other two happily new what they were in for.  We followed this beta which, despite being 10 years old was excellent and crucial to our successful completion of this route: http://www.dankat.com/swhikes/tenaya.htm

The year has been a dry one so we made a correct bet that mid-July would be fine for attempting this route this year.  We made one significant navigational error right out of the gate and headed off trail too soon, along Tenaya River (make sure you go up into the rocks on the trail before cutting right (SW)).  We hiked along the drainage.  We arrived at the lake near highway 120 just west of Tenaya Lake, realized we were off route, and had to then ascend the ridge to the south in order to drop into Tenaya Canyon proper. along the slabs in the first bowl.  This offered a beautiful view of the entry to Tenaya Canyon from above (and of the sunrise) but added about an hour to our overall completion time. 

Smooth hiking until the top of Pywiack Cascade--the lone boulder is easy to spot--and we chose to scramble down the talus and smooth slabs that were well described and photographed in our beta.  It took a bit of discussion to commit to this route down, however, since it is not super obvious until you are right on it and the bushwacking is thick enough to skin a person.  Trust the route description, if going this way, and scout ahead if unsure so as not to end up a bowling ball down polished slabs that are on either side of the correct and higher friction route down.

At the bottom, near the lone pine tree, go straight to the river bed. We took the high road along the slab and talus instead  and were engulfed in bushes and strenuous bush wacking for nearly a quarter of a mile trying to get down to the creek bed further down stream.

Getting out of lost canyon was a relief and entering the gorge was incredible--by far the highlight of this route.  Almost slot-canyon like--smooth polished walls, amazing pockets and slick rock features.  We set a rappel everywhere there was a rappel anchor-making six rappels total.  Two of these 6 were short and described as down-climbable but the rock was wet and slick so we set rappels anyway.  All rappel bolts/anchors were in great condition except for some jammed carabiners left on rappel number 3 which we replaced.

While we were reluctant to leave the gorge and the steep, narrow canyon walls, it was remarkable to be greeted by half dome, seen from the one perspective you can't get from a road or a trail--a truly remarkable way to enter Yosemite Valley.  The 4.5 mile hike out along the use trail is easy to find all the way except the last bit before the mirror lake bridge.  Descend to the river when the use trail pitters out as you start to approach mirror lake.  This involves scrambling through poison oak (and in our case a wasp nest) but it is the direct way.

We reached our shuttle car (which we left the night before) at Happy Isle Trailhead 13 hours after the start (6:00am-7:00pm).  Long day, but not bad for a first and on-sited attempt, taking all precautions for a safe passage.

Lastly, to all who come next, enter this canyon with respect and do not underestimate it.  Be prepared, do your research and take all the stories about this place into consideration.  It is a phenomenal canyon that has wowed the greatest mountaineers in history.


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emilie - Aug 11, 2013 4:08 pm - Hasn't voted

Great summary!

And thanks for knocking two years off my age! ;-) Look forward to doing it again and shaving a few hours off with improved route-finding (although the bushwhacking is not included in the part I would like to repeat).


Cori - Aug 12, 2013 10:13 am - Hasn't voted


Haha! You're welcome! (I thought you were 37!?) :)

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