The Backbone (5.7)-- Gendarmes
Right up front, I want to give credit to the people who first climbed these ridges and then posted beta
about them on Mountain Project. Although the ridges are on full display from the road up Lee Vining Canyon, I never would have considered climbing any of them had it not been for a closed Tioga Pass and a subsequent MP search that yielded information for these fine alternatives to the Yosemite high country.
Originally, my goal was to climb North Ellery Ridge (5.6) and then traverse down and over to some beautiful snow slopes (Ellery Bowl) that would put me back at my car just east of the outlet of Ellery Lake. However, I misread the terrain and started climbing too early; by the time I could see over to the actual North Ellery Ridge and realize I was on the Backbone, I figured I was committed and I just decided to stick with it.
Initially choosing North Ellery Ridge over the Backbone was due to the fact that I was going solo. Although I had a rope and a rack, I could not be certain of building a solid ground anchor to solo-lead the 5.7 pitch, and while I typically feel okay free soloing 5.6, I'm not too crazy about doing the same on 5.7. As it turned out, I was able to bypass the 5.7 pitch, though I was not able to avoid, without incurring serious elevation loss and then regaining that elevation, roping up a couple times where the combination of difficulty and exposure told me I needed to.
The route gets its name for a feature shortly before the crux.
The FAists were Walter Hawkins and Eric Gabel, back in the early 2000s.
Ellery Ridges from Tioga Pass Road
On CA 120 east of Tioga Pass, drive to the dam and large parking area at the outlet of Ellery Lake and park there. Cross the outlet and then follow a trail east. When the trail ends or starts to descend, cross-country your way to the ridge. North Ellery Ridge is the last one before a huge bowl separating the main mountain mass from East Ellery Ridge; the Backbone is just before it. Photos I have posted here will help you locate it, but the ones below, linked from Mountain Project, are extremely helpful.
In theory, this route is 15 pitches and 1500', but in reality, if you're competent at the grade, you probably will scramble most of the way and rope up only a few times, if at all. That's not meant as an insult to the FAists; apparently, they did all the moderates on this "peak" without ever roping up. However, always keep in mind that you decide when to rope up; a website description does not.
Not far above the crux, you have a choice. The "official" route crosses a couloir to the right and then finishes as a scramble up to easy ground. Alternatively, you can veer slightly left and finish on North Ellery Ridge. That is what I did, as it looked steeper and more fun, and I did there find a second excuse to rope up and plug in some gear.
There is a "summit" cairn above the ridges even though it is not the actual summit of the Dana Plateau.
Views are, as you would expect, awesome.
To descend, you can hike down from Dana Plateau following the Class 1-2 route mentioned on the Dana Plateau page, but this would make for a very long day. Instead, if snow conditions are favorable, you can descend Ellery Bowl by, according to steepness, hiking, foot-skiing, and glissading. It is better to access the bowl from higher than lower, as going lower runs the risk of cliffing out.
Helmet and axe. I had a 30m rope, a set of stoppers, a set of Ultralight Master Cams, and several long slings. That was more than enough.