Royal Arches is considered by many to be one of Yosemite's all-time classics. To be entirely honest, I'm not really sure why. While the route weaves its way up an impressive band of rock at a relatively easy grade, there are certainly other moderate climbs of superior aesthetic quality. Perhaps it is the history behind the climb, first negotiated in 1936, or the easy approach combined with an accessible grade of 5.7 A0, or the simple fact that it serves as the most effective approach to North Dome that makes the climb so popular... I don't know... but don't expect to be alone on this route.
Approach Royal Arches from the Ahwahnee parking lot. The most heavily traveled trail, well right of Serenity Crack, is likely to be the correct trail. The start of the climb is in a chimney in the back of a huge left-facing corner. The highlights: Climb up the chimney past a chockstone (5.6). Make a long 3rd class traverse on ledges to the right. Climb a steep, polished ramp/groove (5.5). Once again, traverse right on 3rd and 4th class ground -- do not be tempted to start climbing up the face or corners, continue right as far as possible. Eventually head up on a 5.7 finger crack. At this point, follow the chalk and clean rock up various crack and ledge systems for several pitches, eventually ending up in a left-facing corner system. At the top of this corner system there is a bolted anchor on the face from which a 30' length of fixed line is attached. Clip this for pro, and either pendulum left or climb left (two moves of polished 5.10-) to a ledge system. Follow this way to the left. Climb up either side of a giant hollow flake, then step left to some tree climbing to a belay alcove. Step around a corner to the left and continue up on low angle 5.6-5.7 terrain. Just below the headwall and roof systems, continue traversing left following the line of least resistance. One pitch climbs through some dirt mounds. Shortly after there is another traversing pitch with a two bolt anchor -- make note of this if you plan to rappel. One more traversing pitch finishes the climb -- this one can feel a bit sketchy compared to the rest of the climb. Traverse high for gear in a dirty undercling, or traverse low to clip a lone bolt. Either way beware of pine needles on the slab. This pitch is strange in that it seamlessly merges into an actual trail into the woods... kinda cool.
Other miscellaneous notes:
- Topping out involves following the trail left and then up.
- Right where the climb ends there is a great spring with water that is safe to drink -- you can't miss it.
- Sleep in! There are numerous places on the climb to pass or be passed.
- The rappel route is fast and effective and can be done with one or two ropes. I highly recommend consulting with the SuperTopo guide for specific details on the locations of the rap stations.
- The walkoff is via the North Dome Gully. For parties only doing Royal Arches (and not doing another climb on North Dome), the raps are the way to go. For parties continuing on to North Dome (or for climbs on the Washington Column), the Gully would be much faster.
Pitch by Pitch Description
The start of the climb is in a chimney in the back of a huge left-facing corner.
1. 5.6 100' Climb up the polished chimney past a chockstone to an awkward move up and over a small bulge to a belay stance.
Pick up your ropes and scramble up along the groove until a short steep wall is reached.
2. 5.6 120' Climb the slabby terraced face until a steep move gains a left facing groove. Follow this up to the belay. This pitch is the first of many where pins scars are very evident.
3. 4th 160' A long wandering pitch of easy climbing and scrambling. Belay at the tree to the right of a polished groove.
4. 4th 80' Move left from the belay and start up a wide groove. Move right half way up and move up to the belay at the top of the groove.
Pick up your ropes and move the belay 160' to the base of a pin scarred crack. Now the climbing becomes more sustained and certainly more enjoyable.
5. 5.7 130' Start up the polished pins scared crack with a couple of good finger locks. At the top of the cracks move right then back left up towards a good belay ledge. Make sure you belay on the left end of the ledge.
6. 5.7 160' Move up left from the belay but quickly move back right and continue up perfect cracks and liebacks. This is a great pitch.
7. 5.5 100' Continue up the steep steps until possible to move right towards an obvious off width crack. Belay at the base of the crack.
8. 5.6 120' Climb up the off width. At the end of the off width move directly up the obvious flakes to the large ledge with a tree. The large hollow sounding flake near the top can be disconcerting so plan accordingly.
Note: It is possible to link pitches 7 and 8 with a 60m ropes and good rope management.
9. 5.7 or 5.10b 125' The pendulum pitch! Climb up the chimney and then step right up a crack system. Move back left into the groove and place high gear up right. You now have a choice, traverse the slab leftwards free at 5.10b, or grab the fixed rope and pendulum across. Either way it is fun. Belay on the flake at the end of the traverse.
10. 5.4 110' Traverse left towards the tree and the base of a right facing corner.
11. 5.7 100' This pitch is relatively short, but feels sustained. Start directly above the belay and head up a pleasant crack system. Continue up leftwards into the corner with good face moves before an awkward section allows a tree and belay to be reached.
12. 5.7 110' From the belay make an awkward move left around the arete and then climb directly up the steep hand crack. At the top of the crack make a couple of extra moves on the face to gain a good belay below a shallow groove.
13. 5.6 130' Looks can be deceiving and this pitch is true to the saying. Climb the easy angled grooves to a good belay stance at a large pine tree.
14. 5.4 150' Steep down from the belay and make a delicate traverse leftwards. As the end of the traverse approaches move up to the right of the tree. Continue up and left to belay on the blunt arete.
15. 5.3 150' Delicate slabby climbing up and left eventually will lead to the triple bolt rappel station at the top of the slab.
16. 5.4 170' Move left and then down towards the bottom of the slab. Gear can be found at the lowest point of this traverse. Step up left onto the slab proper and climb the solitary bolt. Now make the crux moves across the slab. Stay low and traverse leftwards towards the pine needles. The traverse gets easier the farther you are form the bolt. It is only 5.4, but it comes at the end of the climb and offers maximum exposure.
Note: Due to the position of the bolt seconding this pitch is scarier than leading.
17. 5.4 170' (optional) If you want to make the rappel descent you must now reverse the last pitch (16) to return to the rappel station. This time the leader has the harder time!
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Nov 20, 2006
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
This was literally the first climb I did in Yosemite, in 1983. It is rather amazing that some parties can blast up this route in an hour, while other parties take 12 hours. My first trip up was in the latter category! Many years later I climbed it in a leisurely 4 hours, why the heck did it take us so long the first time? Inexperience, confusion, no sense of urgency I guess. However, in 1983 we were one of the last parties to cross the rotten log. The crux of the original route was the second traverse just before the rotten log. This crux is no longer part of the route.
In the spring this route is susceptible to snow-melt streams (even into July after a big winter). You can still do the route, but you have to navigate some stream crossings for extra fun.
The descent down the North Dome Gully used to be one of the most terrifying parts of the climb (if you went the wrong way). Now that a nice series of rappels have been added it is still one of the most terrifying parts of the climb.
|By Jeff Dunbar|
From: Carrboro, NC
Jun 4, 2007
I'm considering this for my first long climb in the Valley in just a few weeks. Anybody got advice on trying to take just a single 70M rope for this route? Does a 70M allow you to link more pitches? Can you rap safely to all the standard rap stations on a 70M? Sure would be nice to leave my two 60s at home...
|By Barry Collins|
Jun 28, 2007
Take 2 60's and do the 7 raps in the dark with one headlamp. That was our strategy.....
From: Sacramento, CA
Jun 29, 2007
Jeff, Royal Arches is in the direct sun almost all day. My suggestion would be to start early, go fast, and plan on being back on the ground before noon. Carry one single 60 or 70m rope. In my opinion, carrying a second rope in order to do a few less raps isn't really worth the extra effort.
|By Jeff Dunbar|
From: Carrboro, NC
Jun 29, 2007
Ok, just did Royal Arches last weekend. Awesome experience (highly recomend taking advantage of the bivy spot with the freshwater spring at the top for a most memorable night in Yosemite). Regarding my previous 2x60M vs. 1x70M rope question, I can now say with confidence that one 70M rope would've made for MUCH faster/easier climbing in the summer heat. We came across two other parties who were able to link more pitches than us with their 70M rope, and I guarantee I would've climbed faster if I wasn't lugging up that damn 2nd rope in my pack.
From: Altadena, CA
Jul 24, 2007
Thomas Keefer and I linked this with Crest Jewel one fine day in 2005 (?) and climbed all day long without seeing another soul until we topped out on North Dome. It's a classic linkup and well worth doing. We started at sunrise and got down just in time to hit the pizza deck. Tom subsequently went back and linked up Crest Jewel Direct, which he said was even better. Either way, you can blast up Royal Arches in an hour or two if you simul, and then gawk at the face of Half Dome while climbing pristine, judiciously bolted slabs for 10 more pitches. Just don't screw up the 'reproach' down North Dome Gully (or back to the top of RA for the raps, which we chose instead). Highly recommended linkup.
From: Sacramento, CA
Oct 29, 2007
rating: 5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
I think the North Dome Gulley descent is not a bad option. That being said DON'T SCREW IT UP. I have done this descent in like 30 min before but most people will take an hour or so. Take your time and get it right or you'll be facing dangerous cliff-outs. The raps might be a good option if darkness is approaching but for many the descent can provide some of the most spectacular views of half dome.
|By Michael Schneiter|
From: Glenwood Springs, CO
Mar 19, 2009
I thought Royal Arches was fun but probably has the classic status more for its history than for the quality of climbing. Super fun to link Royal Arches up with Crest Jewel Direct. We hiked out to Hwy. 120/Tuolumne and hitch hiked back. A competent party should be able to move fast on Royal Arches as well as Crest Jewel and do the linkup no problem. Have fun!
From: San Francisco, CA
May 18, 2009
Lost camera - I seemed to have lost my nikon digital point and shoot somewhere on the Royal Arches descent/North Dome Gulley this weekend.
Please let me know if you find it! Thanks.
From: Las Vegas, Nevada
Jul 28, 2009
We started just before dawn on a hot day in mid July and happily discovered that by maintaining reasonable upward progress we could stay in the shade until quite high on the wall. It was approaching 9 am before the sun caught up with us well beyond the rope traverse, making the route quite pleasant in spite of the warm temps. A fast party could beat the sun to the top if climbing on a day near the summer solstice. Though the descent on the North Dome gully trail was brutally hot in direct sun.
May 4, 2010
What do you who are familiar with this route think of climbing it in the middle of May(16th-22ndish). I understand there is potential for a "raging river" to form, is the climb still climbable, or does it need time to dry?
Just dreaming of what lines Ill be able to do while Im down there.
|By jack roberts|
May 10, 2010
Did this route just yesterday (may 9th, 2010).
The only wet spot was crossing the pendulum pitch. We stayed pretty dry. The waterfall is boiling but where you have to cross it there is an obvious crack that you can climb even when wet. We could place adequate protection and the rest of the way was a hoot and dry.
The rappel down can be done with one 70m rope.
|By Colin Simon|
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2010
rating: 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Don't let the 5.9 or 5.10a rating fool you.
If you grab the pendulum rope (FUN!) the whole thing goes at 5.7 or less.
Perfect for beginners looking for an adventure!
Nov 4, 2010
Single rope raps- can be rapped with a 60 m rope and only one section of downclimbing.
The first rap from a tree (about the 5th or 6th single rope rap) will send you down a 4th class slot to the rappeller's right. When you run out of rope on ledges, look for a tall very dead tree standing on its own. To the (skier's) right of the tree is a hidden bolted station--just be careful on the last move to the station.
|By Dave Alden|
From: San Diego, CA
Feb 28, 2011
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13
1st attempt bailed off the large ledge above P3 due to the crowds. 2nd attempt bailed off of P6 due to time and size of group. Haven't given up, gonna make it to the top one of these days.
|By Steve Shumaker|
Jun 22, 2011
Did this on Father's day with my son. Please note that the wet sections on the last traversing pitch have turned to slime. I would not recommend soloing this pitch right now. We both slipped (somehow without actually falling) about 20 feet from the woods. Some kind soul has rigged a fixed line for the traverse out of the woods, which is also covered with slime.
|By Cliff M|
From: Davis, CA
Oct 23, 2011
anyone have any info/rating about the variation - i think its a variation - around pitch 3 or 4, after some 3rd/4th class you can see a really nice right-facing corner with a right-leaning scoop at top, just right of that corner there is a thin seam with a tree in it. going up the left corner, really nice hands and lieback... After that pitch there is a ledge, and then a more tenuous right facing crack/lieback that you take up, then around the corner to the left into the gully... At some points the rock is kinda flakey... probably harder than 5.7... name/rating for this variation?
|By Colin Schour|
From: Big Bear Lake, CA
Apr 30, 2012
Great way to start the day if you're linking this with North Dome! Pendulum, shoeless waterfall traverse, a few fun cracks, and the most terrifying 5.4 traverse I've ever been on. A classic despite the wandering nature and short pitches.
From: Berkeley, CA
Sep 17, 2012
Some of these pitches are better off linked. Use your best judgement on this (read the topo!). The rappels are perfect with a 60m rope, be mindful about the knots at the ends, there are few chance to climb up and untie one if you pull it above you. One of the bottom rappel stations puts you into the 5.5 polished gully (pitch 3 I believe), careful with this, a 60m rope is just enough to put you halfway down the gully but that's it. There is a great stance there for you to pull the rope through and I would suggest this instead of rapping to the top of that pitch. Chimney down it to the 3rd class.
From: Salt Lake City
Oct 8, 2012
There is a left facing just before the last pitch or two of traversing to the rappel bolts. Do not go up the steep crack! We did two 5.10 pitches to top out, but ended up bailing back down because there was no walk off or access to the North Dome that we could find.
From: Riverside, Ca
Mar 19, 2014
did this route up to pitch 8 on 3/13/14 and had to bail do to time constraints and not really feeling the route.
So now you can bail from top of pitch 8 to the ground because we left 4 bail biners and taped the gates closed. During the rap we only had to sling 1 extra tree and all other raps had slings BUT missing rings. Not sure if people took the rings or left biners and those got stolen. Hopefully people leave these behind for future parties that need to bail.
that being said this route was not fun at all to me. Some good climbing for like 20-30 feet then scrambling, couple feet of climbing then more scrambling and more scrambling. To much scrambling on this pitch. I don't know why it's a classic