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Higher Cathedral Spire
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Regular Route (Higher Cathedral Spire) 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a

Type:  Trad, 4 pitches, 400'
Original:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
FA: Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson, Dick Leonard, 1934 Chuck Wilts, Spencer Austin, 1944
Page Views: 15,921
Submitted By: mschlocker on May 3, 2007

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (159)
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Party topping out on Higher Cathedral Spire.

Closures for Peregrine Falcon Protection MORE INFO >>>


The easiest way up Higher Cathedral Spire. 400' of entertainment take you to the top of a spire with spectacular views. This adventure felt like mountaneering as much as technical climbing with the steep approach, many tree belays, and sometimes loose nature of the rock.

As a note there are several variations. I will list as I have climbed it which was great fun. Check the Supertopo guide for a more complete picture. Each pictch listed is about 100'.

P1 (5.5) Up a left facing dihedral to a bushy ledge.

P2 (5.9) Up a crack to a small roof. Traverse left under the roof, then pull up over the steep bulge on decent hand holds. Traverse left more to a nice ASCA bolt, then up and left to an easy crack. Leads to a tree.

P3 (5.9) Up and left to a chimney. Traverse left around a bulge into a chimney hidden from view from the belay. Up the chimney to another tree belay.

P4 (5.9) The standard route goes up and left for a short pitch, then up to the top from there. The varation (best pitch on the route in my opinion) goes straight up through some steep wildly fractured rocks to a ledge with a tree and continues up a short clean hand crack / flake. From the top of this traverse left and then find the easiest way to the top from there.

Rappel from the ASCA bolts on the south side of the summit. Tree rappels from there. A single 60 meter rope or longer is highly advised. Tie knots.


Across the valley from El Cap. Start near a shield with a cross etched onto the rock. The route is in the shade until the middle of the day, keep this in mind when looking for the start. Route is on west side of the pinnacle.


Gear to 4". Used the 4" piece at least twice. Long slings for rope drag and trees.

Photos of Regular Route (Higher Cathedral Spire) Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Scott, Tony, Chris, Yosemite.
Scott, Tony, Chris, Yosemite.
Rock Climbing Photo: Reward view after climbing Higher Cathedral Spire
Reward view after climbing Higher Cathedral Spire
Rock Climbing Photo: This the 'third' variation for P2 that isn't in th...
This the 'third' variation for P2 that isn't in th...
Rock Climbing Photo: Jeff leads the final (5th) pitch to the summit.
Jeff leads the final (5th) pitch to the summit.
Rock Climbing Photo: Summit shot w/El Cap in background.
Summit shot w/El Cap in background.
Rock Climbing Photo: I think this was pitch 3.
BETA PHOTO: I think this was pitch 3.
Rock Climbing Photo: Tennessee on P2 direct variation (c) Scott Nomi.
Tennessee on P2 direct variation (c) Scott Nomi.
Rock Climbing Photo: Dangerously loose block next to P2 belay/rap.
BETA PHOTO: Dangerously loose block next to P2 belay/rap.
Rock Climbing Photo: P4 spacewalk traverse.
P4 spacewalk traverse.
Rock Climbing Photo: Pulling the last move on to the summit.
BETA PHOTO: Pulling the last move on to the summit.
Rock Climbing Photo: The regular route follows the bushes to the top.
The regular route follows the bushes to the top.
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up pitch 3, I think?
BETA PHOTO: Looking up pitch 3, I think?
Rock Climbing Photo: The etched cross marking the start of the Regular ...
BETA PHOTO: The etched cross marking the start of the Regular ...
Rock Climbing Photo: buttshot on P2, awesome dihedral up the 5.9 variat...
buttshot on P2, awesome dihedral up the 5.9 variat...

Comments on Regular Route (Higher Cathedral Spire) Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Apr 20, 2016
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 4, 2007
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

A large portion of the last pitch of this route fell off in the 80's or so, changing this pitch substantially. Watch out for loose stuff!
By M.Morley
From: Sacramento, CA
Aug 20, 2007

Only "classic" in terms of its history and a nice view of the Valley from the top. The climbing itself is unmemorable and there is quite a bit of loose rock.
By Graham Rogers
May 28, 2008

Some loose rock, yes, but unmemorable? 3 pitches of 5.9, incredible setting, great exposure, and a plethora of variations for your choosing. The hike isn't even bad. Definitely classic in my book.
By M.Morley
From: Sacramento, CA
May 28, 2008

Just my opinion. Of the 100 or so Valley routes I've climbed to date, this is just not one I'm anxious to jump on again. Again, just my opinion. Glad you liked it though!
By Graham Rogers
Jun 12, 2008

No worries, just adding some positive balance. We climbed the NE Butt of HCR (just across the talus field) after I wrote my last comment and watched climbers disturb a crazy amount of rock, I think from the ledge above pitch 4. Careful on the "shattered rock" variation in Supertopo for pitch 4.
By Graham Rogers
Jun 14, 2008

The pitch 2 variation out over the roof right onto a foothold sparse arete and flaring hands adds some challenge and comes straight up to the belay. Seemed a bit harder than the rest of the route.
By James DeRoussel
From: Tucson, AZ
Jun 24, 2008

This is a fun climb in my opinion, and the historical nature of the route only adds to the experience. Great summit.
By Linnea Williams
Oct 27, 2008

I agree. I had a great time and the top-out is insanely awesome. What a view! So much of the time in the valley, you just get to the top of some cliff and hike down. It was fun to climb something with a more "alpine" finish.
By Chris Owen
From: Big Bear Lake
Sep 20, 2009
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13

This is an unbelievable climb for its era, and highly recommended. Five pitches as we climbed it.

Not sure why this wouldn't be a classic - it's steeped in history, has a truly awesome (I don't use that word lightly) summit with sweeping vistas, and gets some massive exposure as it progresses. Not the kind of exposure you earn as you climb but the kind that suddenly jumps out at you, unexpectedly, increasing it's impact.

How many moderate routes can boast this? Even in Yosemite. IMHO the traverse on P4 is about as good as rock climbing gets - like a scene from "The Mountain" with Spencer Tracy easing his way across, above the abyss, blowing on in his cold hands and hammering in pitons as he goes.

Maybe I'm just old, grey, and way too romantic.
By Chris Owen
From: Big Bear Lake
Dec 8, 2009
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13

See the spectacular shot of the final variation pitch in the latest Rock and Ice (#183) where it's featured under "Routes Less Traveled - The Best Yosemite Moderates Off Beaten Track".
By Tony B
From: Around Boulder, CO
May 22, 2010
rating: 5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a

There are at least 3 possibilities for P2, of which I have done 2, and both were quite good. There is the alternative pitch listed to the right of P2 to go up the corner direct, which people kept saying was a sandbag at 5.10, (specifically listing it as being harder than the crux of Serentiy Crack and the Boulder Problem on S/SW) but honestly, it isn't harder than 10a. There is also another unlisted pitch to the right of that one another 7 meters that is good, and probably also 10a.
As well, the P3/4 can be linked to a direct varriation on cracks on the right into the R-side variation on the top, which is also good.

Seems to me that there are practically 2 different climbs sharing almost no territory at all there, save for P1. We did it one way, rapped pitches and repeated on varriations for bonus mileage.
By Bonesaw
From: CA
Jul 25, 2010
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

Was expecting old school Yosemite 5.9 climbing, but I thought it seemed fairly mellow. We did the bathtubs variation on pitch 2 and the 5.9 traverse variation on the last pitch. The approach is a pain, but well worth it!
By Dave Alden
From: San Diego, CA
Feb 28, 2011
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13

Bailed off P4 due to time and group size. Going back soon to reach the summit.
By seldoon
From: California
Dec 31, 2011

I agree with Les. The climbing is fairly mellow if you stay on route. The hand crack finish at the top is good.
By Bonesaw
From: CA
Apr 26, 2012
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

I posted back in 2010 that we were expecting old school 5.9 climbing but that it was fairly mellow. So, I just went back and did the original line on P2 and the shattered rock variation/steep hands variation on P4. Those made the route far more challenging! P2 was stout - more like 10a/b. P4 was stout 5.9.

No variation was better than the other. All is great climbing.
By Sirius
From: Oakland, CA
Jun 11, 2012

Variations upon variations available on this one. We did:
Standard pitch 1,
Straight up through pins and roof variation on p2 (.10- I thought),
Straight up and right variation on steep flakes for p3 (.10-?),
And wrapped completely around the spire for two airy, moderate, and beautiful traversing pitches,
Finishing with a short steep pitch on good locks to a finishing jug on the east side of the spire. Odyssey!

Rapped down and linked up to Braille Book for a great day.

Don't leave food at the base, the squirrels will chew through everything to get it.
From: San Francisco
Apr 22, 2013
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a

Like previous people have alluded, there are 3 ways to go for P2. Supertopo only lists two ways, but if you go straight up from the top of P1 that is the third way not in the guide. It can be deceiving because it 'kinda' looks like a 5.9 finger crack in a corner,... but it's not. I went up it thinking it was 5.9 and was really surprised. The fingers section down low is probably 5.9 but pulling the roof felt more like 10b/c and you have to make some more delicate moves afterwards before you can get gear in.

I also thought the rest of the route was going to be as difficult as P2 and was pleasantly surprised to find it pretty easy (all the other 5.9 sections are one-move wonders). Even the 5.9 hands variation at the top was really mellow for 5.9 and quite short.

Only while rapping the route, did I see the actual 5.9 variation for P2. You'll know you're on that one if you see about 5 pins in the crack.

Great route and a fun feature to top out on. Yeah there's some lose rock and a majority of the climbing is unsustained, but I still thought it was a fun day out.
By Ian M.
May 1, 2013

This is a great route, classic history, amazing summit. The climbing is not the kind of pure, clean crack you get on Central Pillar of Frenzy, but still an awesome route.

A couple notes:

Lose rock is mostly stuff sitting on ledges at belays: be careful not to knock it on to people below you! Other than that, the rock on the route itself was solid with the exception of the direct shattered route section. That was...delicate. It will eventually all come out but fine to climb right now.

When rapping off the top, try to stay to climber/rappeller's right to go to the trees on the right of the route if another party is coming up. Avoids a cluster

Definitely do the direct variations - they are so much more fun and clean. P2 variation has a ton of pins and the roof-like move is well protected and maybe 10a-.

For P3 you'll see the orange rock / "rotten chimney" and a big fin-like buttress. Normal route goes in back of (to the left) this fin and the direct just continues in the corner then does a quick move onto a bit of the face. Really nice - small nut and small cam protect well.

For P4, I did the shattered rock variation, but if your aim is to do the steep 5.9 crack finish (recommended), you can actually just do the normal P4 and then hop up to the ledge off to the right of where you would belay to set up a belay for the P4 crack. This avoids the shattered rock.

The P5 steep 5.9 is very short and is more of a flake than a straight in crack. Fun finish and avoids all the weirdness to the left.

Fun to hear and see everyone on Braille Book and NEB throughout the climb!
By the professor
Jun 8, 2013
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a PG13

The traditional P5 finish is preferable IMO. Walk way left on the obvious ledge system. Crank an unprotected 5.7/5.8 move on a textured face with black lichen which puts you on another ledge with a pillar pasted to the wall. The right side of this pillar looks hard, but step left and climb the left side at 5.7.

What's amazing is that the wall is convex on each side, overhanging below so it's 1000 feet straight below your feet to the talus and nothing but air on each side as well. A quick mantle puts you on the flat top.

In contrast, the flake crack P5 variation is directly above a ledge/alcove with a tree. It lacks the aesthetics and exposure of the traditional finish.

BTW, the crux of this route for me was the short traverse near the start of P2.
By pepito
Apr 20, 2016

Great route, I totally loved it. Varied and fun climbing. Amazing summit. Good solid rock overall, with little exceptions. Confortable belays. With a single rope there are four rappels from the summit to the ground, not three. We did it with a 70m rope, and in the first and second rappel there were only a few feet left, so if climbing with a 60m, be careful. We climbed the direct variation in the second and last pitches, both very good. We did not carry the camalot nº4, I don't think it is necessary at all, at least climbing the variations that we did. My rack: single set of aliens green/yellow/red. Single set of camalots 0.5 to 3. repeat camalot nº1 (red). Nuts. Slings and 10 draws.

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