Type: Trad, 800 ft, 5 pitches, Grade III
FA: Phil Bircheff and Bill Bonebrake, 1969
Page Views: 46,120 total · 291/month
Shared By: Eric Burt on Apr 18, 2006 with improvements by Chris Owen
Admins: Aron Quiter, Euan Cameron, AWinters, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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This route is one of the high Sierra classics. All 5 pitches have excellent climbing on very high quality granite. While most of the climbing is on cracks there is a mix of face and chimney climbing on the route as well. It can be done with a 50 m rope, but a 60 m rope will make things easier. Supertopo has an excellent description of the route in their High Sierra Climbing book (p. 108). Other good references include Secor's The High Sierra (second edition, p. 376), Croft's The Good, The Great and The Awesome (first edition, p. 183) and Moynier and Fiddler's California's High Sierra (second edition, p. 374).

P.1 (normal start). From the initial horizontal ledge system, the route gets right down to business with a short 5.8 fist jam crack in a right facing dihedral. One will be tempted to continue on the arete above the dihedral, but it is a bit simpler to traverse over to another 5.8 crack that heads up and diagonally to the right. At the top of this the angle briefly lessens to 3rd class. Belay at a tree.

P.2. Traverse left at the base of the face and start up towards a hand crack that eventually narrows to a finger crack. The climbing on this pitch starts at about 5.7 and has a few moves of 10a at the top of the finger crack. The system widens to an off width, but this section is most easily done by using the face moves available. There is a belay stance just below the off width, but things will go better on the next pitch if the belay is set up at the next opportunity above the off width about 20-30 ft higher up.

P.3. From this belay there are many parallel cracks that head up to a large detached flake. The climbing here is approximately 5.8, but can be a bit harder or easier depending on the exact route taken. Once the flake is reached there are several choices here as well. Underneath the left side of the flake is a very enjoyable mid-5th chimney, while on the right side is more 5.8 fist jamming. Take your pick - it's good either way. Belay on top of the flake on a 12" by 6 foot balcony with a spectacular view of Mono Lake.

P.4. directly above the flake is another 5.8 crack that leads to a short steep 10a finger crack. The 10a section can be bypassed by going right, but it is really very nice and well protected. Above the finger crack is a difficult face section. The only pro here is two fixed pitons. Supertopo rates the difficulty of this section as 10b. It certainly rewards good balance and a long reach is handy for clipping the pitons. There are other options, which are either run out or harder. This section is short and my recollection is that the hardest moves are right by the pitons. Belay at a tree.

P.5. This part of the route has been described as "the best 5.9 pitch in the universe" (Moynier, p. 374). While most of it is 5.9, it actually has two short sections of harder climbing (10a or so) that some refer to as the crux of the entire route. Both are just above good rest stances and so pro can be placed and the moves contemplated. Note that the first difficult section comes early in the pitch and pro can be placed in a finger crack. A long reach will allow placing the pro while in a good stance, while a leader with a shorter reach will need to commit to climbing into the finger crack before being able to place the piece. Once a small roof is surmounted another good stance is reached along with the start of the next difficult section. This one involves a thin crack. It can be done as a lieback, but that's not the only way and may not be the best way... Place a small nut high before committing to the moves. From here the route gradually steepens and the pillar gets narrower, eventually narrowing to some 5 or 10 feet. Looking straight up to the point at the top with only blue sky behind can be somewhat intimidating! However, the climbing actually eases in difficulty here and has solid jams. The top is slightly overhung, but is bypassed by traversing to the right (place good pro before traversing) and then performing a strenuous mantle. It's an awesome way to finish a route!

"The Third Pillar is a great little alpine climb on a very unique feature. The entire climb is pretty high quality, but its the exceptional last pitch that makes it a classic.

There seem to be many variations to the route, but most commonly parties scramble up around the left side of the formation and then begin climbing there. Alternatively the "Croft variation" basically starts at a low point and climbs up a large flake/pillar and up various crack and ledge systems to a fun finger traverse. Break down the pitches however you like and take whatever lines appear the best -- eventually they will all funnel you towards the narrow pillar at the top of the formation. The crux is on the second-to-last pitch and passes a short, sheer face with a pin and a few RP placements. The last pitch is an outrageous overhanging hand crack with jugs just where they're needed most. Reminiscent of... believe it or not... the Gunks!" [-Josh Janes]


Approach via a well-marked trail at the Tioga Lake Overlook just east of the Park entrance. The trail descends steeply and heads around the west end of the lake before crossing the stream. At this point the trail disappears in the woods, but head south without straying too far from the stream at the right and the trail will become apparent again. After an hour or so the trail will reach an alpine valley/basin that sits just below the Dana Plateau. Mt. Dana is the peak to the northwest. Here the trail heads steeply up a talus slope to the right (east) after another stream crossing. Above the talus the trail heads into the beautiful plateau -- an open expanse of grass and boulders. Head due east across the entire meadow to the cliff line and identify the top of the Third Pillar which juts out over the cliff. It may be helpful to have viewed the formation from 395/Lee Vining to get an idea of the layout of this. [-Josh Janes]

Once the Dana Plateau is accessed, the Third Pillar is fairly obvious as a prow jutting away from the main cliff face towards Mono Lake. Hike to the edge of the plateau just north of the pillar. Stash any gear you don't want to climb with here and descend the 3rd/4th class loose rock into the second gully north of the pillar. Care must be taken here because of the amount of loose rock, but things become more solid with the descent. Hug the south (right as you face down) side of this gully until you can traverse across a ridge into the first gully north of the pillar. From here descend to a point about 200 ft above the base of the pillar where a ledge system marks the normal starting point of the route. (A direct start can be made from the base of the pillar that adds an additional pitch.) There is often snow in this gully, but it is generally unnecessary to bring an axe or crampons. Either kick steps to traverse or if it is too icy, just descend a short distance to where the angle eases and come back up on the other side.

Descend down a buttress just north of the Third Pillar via fourth class passages, eventually cutting back south, sometimes crossing a snowfield, to the base of the climb. {-Josh Janes]

After climbing the route, return to the parking lot the same way you came up along Glacier Creek.


Bring a set of nuts and cams from .5" to 3", doubling up on some of the medium sizes. [Also a few RP's or small wires. - John Janes]


George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Awesome route! When I climbed it, the guys camping near us returned late in the night and told us they had an epic on the route, leaving several cams on the last pitch in the dark. So we got up very early and did the approach knowing these treasures awaited us.

The route was deserted. We went all the way down the gully for the direct start. While we were in the middle of the first pitch, a party came across the usual ledge and got in front of us! We had a great time, but the other party got the cams. Apr 19, 2006
It is worth noting that the books seem to diverge on the early pitches. I believe there are two choices, head towards the left after the first pitch, as described above ( and in ST ). The ST "expanded" version as well as M&F descibe staying staying towards the right, which has more sustained climbing. Both variations meet at the top of the flake, coming from the left and right respectively. May 26, 2006
Alex Shainman
Las Vegas, NV
Alex Shainman   Las Vegas, NV
Definitely a classic route worth the loose deproach!

More beta:
  • In the sun from sunrise till about 1:00ish.
  • The direct start first pitch, albeit JTree-esque grainy, is worth doing for extra value. Don't go too far below the original start (ST topo is well drawn)...Fun roof to flakes and a corner to EZ wide crack or face. (190+', 10-)
  • To add to (correct) the above description of the 3rd pitch...The beginning of the right side of the huge flake variation is more like 9+/10- stem/lieback fun which eventually (with some effort) protects decently with grey - blue TCU's and offset brass wireds. Its 5.7 with slightly scary wedged flakes/daggers in the chimney above the lieback crux to the sweet belay.
  • With so many other variations of variations, one could do a different route each time!
Jul 10, 2007
Boston, MA
Dennis   Boston, MA
Climbed it this weekend for the second time and it was even better than I remembered it. Some beta:

P3: The 10a fingers is great fun. There was a fixed nut near the crux so it was like a sport crack.

P4: The supertopo recommends going up (10b) and left from the piton. This part is sketchy and has brittle loose feet. I chose to go straight up past the piton. One long reach gains a great flake and good pro. Aug 12, 2007
Greg Barnes  
Yep, Dennis is right on for pitch 4 - because a big chunk of rock came out a few years ago, creating the flake hold. Now it's 5.10a (and better climbing) going straight up instead of the off-balance 5.10b moves left. Feb 28, 2008
Greg DeMatteo
W. Lebanon, NH
  5.10- PG13
Greg DeMatteo   W. Lebanon, NH
  5.10- PG13
I may have been out of shape at the time, but I found the cruxes of most pitches to be serious and sparsely protected. It seemed like whenever there were tenuous moves there was either no pro or ledge-fall potential. The crux moves in particular involved very committing moves with a potentially nasty fall into a corner.

That being said an amazing route on a striking feature. Apr 7, 2008
Dmitriy Litvak
Pacifica, CA
Dmitriy Litvak   Pacifica, CA
Climbed it in June. The route is awesome. However, the climbing is hardly consistent. There are some moves which are 5.10, but the rest of the pitches goes at a lower grade. The last pitch is the best.

Some snicky marmots live on the top. Try not to leave any food fr them. Jul 18, 2008
leeds, ut
fossana   leeds, ut
Climbed this for the first time this weekend. The Supertopo description has a good description of the approach. Because the pillar is only visible as you get close to the edge of the huge plateau it helps to have the additional details. The key instruction is to look for a field of dispersed low (1-4 ft) boulders that lead up NE to edge of the plateau.

Note: I was warned about the reach at the P4 crux but didn't find it too bad (I'm 5'6"). Jul 21, 2010
  5.10a PG13
PumpkinEater   Sacramento
  5.10a PG13
I'd say that the move up to the "pin" on pitch 4 (just past the cool layback finger crack on the left side of that crazy looking flake) is pretty sketchy. I took a good 5 minutes thinking it over. If you fall stepping up to clip the pin you're f#$%ed. Funny side note (if you're over 6'3" you can step up on your toes and place a yellow C3 high and left in a small slot to protect the move. Jul 23, 2010
Michael Layton
Sonora, CA
Michael Layton   Sonora, CA
heads up, both pitons are missing (but look for them on a new route in alaska thanks to Mr. W), so don't forget the rps and lil' cams. pitch is now quite heads up and spooky. Sep 7, 2011
Ryan Williams
London (sort of)
Ryan Williams   London (sort of)
Excellent climbing in a beautiful setting. First three pitches wander and are not sustained but I enjoyed them (?my partner didn't?). Final two pitches are both outstanding. A few spicy sections for sure, but there is gear to be found. Take your choice of small nuts and cams for the lower cruxes and place bomber finger and hand size pieces for the final moves on solid locks and hero jugs!

We may have done the hard version of the down climb on the approach, but no matter which way you go, it's exposed. Don't take anyone up there who isn't happy on exposed 4th class. Sep 14, 2011
noah gostout
Madrid, ES
noah gostout   Madrid, ES
Great rout, but a bit run out in places perhaps.
Approached in Chaco flip-flops and regretted it on the descent to the start of the climb, there is a fair amount of scree field to cross and it is no fun with rocks in your shoes.
The business pitch is stellar fun exposed climbing on a column, it is quite runout, 30+feet in one section. (it is also posible I was off route as rout finding can be tricky on this one). The toughest move is in the chimney-ish slot at the top.
(Spoiler Alert/Beta Warning) If you don't turn around and see the foot hold hiding on the right arete, just under the little roof at the top of he column/in the flaring chimney slot, falling onto the ledge could spell disaster.
The last pitch is amazing! not one to forget, ever. Aug 26, 2012
Super fun and challenging for the grade I thought. Climbed late August, only party there all day, perfect weather. P4 missing pin is no big deal, you can get the biggest brassy in there--P5 is way scarier in my opinion. If following the supertopo approach beta, DO NOT "go east on the edge of the boulder field" cut straight across and you'll hit the pillar.

The most dangerous part is the descent to the bottom. It the middle the first pitch we saw several giant boulders roll down the gully we had just crossed to reached the base. If we had arrived 30 minutes later we'd be in bad shape Aug 27, 2012
ddriver   SLC
I've done this twice now, first in 95 and again a month ago.

I don't recall what topo(s) we used, but I think the approach needs some clarification. First, finding the edge of the plateau is fairly easy, but one landmark near the descent is an erratic boulder with a large stone on it, something of a natural cairn. If you head cross country once the drainage trail goes faint this will work for you. The descent I've used both times does not involve ANY gully time. You simply walk/downclimb right off the very end of the pillar left of the route pillar. Warning, this is exposed as hell, but the route is obvious and very well travelled. The most obvious way to do this is to stay right on ledges, but my impression is that it is easier and quicker (probably safer) to keep going straight down this pillar, based on observing the descent times of a team ahead of us and one behind. It's just not obvious to me exactly where this deviates from what I've done.

The first pitch belay we used (also shown on our topo) is on a nice flat ledge in a corner, not at a tree. It is likely above and left of the tree mentioned here. A step across left is required to get there.

This pitch 2 description would not be of great help I don't think. From our belay, we followed an easy corner system up and left until it reaches a large flake wedged into a long right-facing corner. The flake has fingers, the corner goes from hands to rattly fingers (crux) to 5.7 OW. Step left above/in the OW to a great ledge, very obvious stance, but shorter than you might expect.

Pitch 3 follows parallel runnels and you can run it out through the "bear-hug flake" into the chimney and the sketch belay at its top. I'm not sure if this is the balcony referenced above. I did not see anything like that, rather the stance is on blocks wedged in the top of the chimney. At any rate, this is a pinch point for this route. Be first or be waiting.

The missing pin(s) on pitch 4 are not an issue as long as you have small gear. Someone suggested lowe balls and I'll concur. The tree you see photos of at the belay is long dead.

Pitch 5 on our topo is shown as having two options to start with. I think both times I went left out of the belay on discontinuous vertical flakes, rather than going for the finger crack splitter. The flakes offer great climbing with interesting gear. I didn't think there was any 5.10 on this pitch. Oct 10, 2012
blue ribbon
Indian Creek, UT
blue ribbon   Indian Creek, UT
What aspect does the climb face? Mar 18, 2013
Rude Boy
San Francisco, CA
Rude Boy   San Francisco, CA
I think my partner that lead the crux took the hardest and thinest crack possible. Felt 10b/c ish. Staying in the wider crack would probably make it 10a/b ish. I don't see what everyone raves about, didn't think this was THAT great of a climb. May 22, 2013
Jessica Pemble
Yosemite, CA
Jessica Pemble   Yosemite, CA
What an awesome route! I don't typically enjoy downclimbing (or exposure when doing so) and I was expecting something way harder in regards to the descent gully. I found it most enjoyable to start left of the gully on a somewhat noticeable "trail" in some loose terrain that never felt any harder than 3rd class (with a few possible 4th class moves). Head down and slowly start traversing right towards the gully (on boulders) when it looks good and you'll skip most of the exposure. Jun 30, 2014
Wondering if RPs like the DMM offset brass are necessary? dmmclimbing.com/products/br…

Or small nuts like the peanuts are good enough? The brassies are expensive...

Is there a snow traverse? We are visiting late August, is that going to be an issue with hiking/approach shoes?

Lastly, if doing the standard start, is it possible or recommended to go back to the start to retrieve gear? Or should all gear be taken up on the climb? Jul 18, 2014
Clayton Knudson
Moab, UT
Clayton Knudson   Moab, UT
Did this route or something similar July 26th, 2014. Didn't seem to find these pins mentioned in the middle pitches, definately did some 5.10+ climbing on poor, sparse gear with scary fall potential. I believe we were too far right for most of the climb, maybe somewher between Lenticular Limbo and the regular route or just on Lenticular Limbo. Try to stay on route. Also, found some bail gear that looked pretty new, if you think it's yours email me. No snow field traverse necessary at this time, the decent to the base of the climb is pretty clean but takes a while to get down. Last pitch might be the best 5.9 I've ever done and well protected, especially compared to whatever the hell I was climbing before that. Enjoy yourself! Jul 29, 2014
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
> What aspect does the climb face?

As I recall it faces primarily East. Maybe more like NE? Aug 21, 2014
Oakland, CA
Daniel.climbs   Oakland, CA
Climbed the route on 6/25/15
Route faces ENE and enjoys full sun until midday. overall, its a very blocky climb with short crux sequences. The climbing is OK, but the setting and the hike are excellent.
P1: Short 5.9 start (20') to a block-fest.
P2: move about 40 feet left from the p1 belay before moving up into the 5.8 corner, 5.10 flaring fingers can be protected safely.
P3: Up behind the massive detached flake to a weird anchor. Get creative atop that beast.
P4: Lower crux is a finger crack that takes gear just fine. The upper crux is a bare section with a lousy mini pod for an RP. I placed a marginal BD #1 micro nut. There is no piton, as mentioned in SuperTopo. Reliable gear is in the crack between the block upon which you stand and the wall (Yellow C4) and ~5 feet above you. Don't blow it.
P5: Cruxes are short, one-move-wonders between larger blocks. The lower crux is a face move up a dish and the upper crux is more strenuous, but can be protected safely. Jul 6, 2015
Colin Brochard
Colin Brochard   Austin
Don't stray too far right on P2(not counting the pitch 0 sitstart). My partner ran up some runout seam to some tat around a horn below a steep flared finger crack. Pro didn't look great in the flared fingers above so I traversed back left and got involved with a clean and physical OW (5.9ish and good fun at ~11k feet).

P4 involves a short but heady 10- section. I put a piece in at my feet before leaving the ledge mid pitch. Immediatly after stepping up and right from the ledge you can get a small nut in over your head, I was also able to reach up and plug a .4 camelot into shallow crack in the sidepull above. Sep 29, 2015
Mike Holley
Boone, NC
Mike Holley   Boone, NC
Dear Dana,
Your third Pillar is Killer!!
I’m not versed in your first,
Or beckoned by your second,
But get me on your third
And I’ll surely drop a turd!! Dec 19, 2015
Bobby Mustard
Bobby Mustard  
No sense carrying all your RP's, bring your smallest three and throw them on your normal nuts just for the fourth pitch.

Also, don't bother with pitch 0.

E Jul 9, 2016
sammy raviv  
Not sure if we missed it but no pin or pins on the 10b section of fourth pitch. Just a small nut or an RP placement before pulling crux moves. Pretty exciting. Jul 18, 2016
Anouk Erni
Portland, OR
Anouk Erni   Portland, OR
I second that there are no longer pitons at the 10b face move on P4. I managed to put in a brassy and yellow c3 as my protection for this move. Still, a fall here would result in banging into an unstable ledge. My partner was shorter, though, and had trouble on this move because she couldn't get to the good hand hold up high and right that I found. The offwidth near the start for me was cruxy. You definitely can't walk up the outside of it until you're about 15ft up it. In all a stellar climb! When we did the descent by the way we had to downclimb some 5th class climber's right and bypass the super snowy gully before finding a better path down the rocks. Jul 26, 2016
I would recommend setting the belay on top of pitch 1 as far up as possible before getting to the right facing corner. It's a long ways up there on 3rd class ledges. This will make it easier for the person leading pitch 2.

Incredible route! Every pitch has quality climbing on it. Jul 6, 2017
San Jose
B-Slim   San Jose
As of 15 Jul 2017, the approach was muddy and wet but feasible(we had to go pant less to cross stream off the parking lot). Thanks to such conditions we were the only persons on the Pillar on a Sunny Saturday almost never heard of. Crossing the last snow couloir was sketchy and needs some snow travel experience it is pretty vertical as you can see in the following picture

Falling or sliding on this last traverse can have pretty bad consequences. Snow TR Jul 17, 2017
San Francisco
pdao   San Francisco
As of 7/29/2017 there's still steep snow in the gully. It's passable if you feel like kicking in steps, but you can also climb down and go around it.

I found a rope at the base of the first pitch. Is it yours? PM me if you want it back.

Lastly, someone took a nice, pungent shit at the base. Thanks for that. Tried scraping it off, but it only made things shittier. Jul 31, 2017
This is a great route. Highly recommended. I just want to add something to approach for those who are not locals (like me). Park here: 37.921022, -119.254719. The trail starts behind the bathrooms. About five minutes later, you will see a worn out sign for 'Dana Lake'. Follow this path which will bring you to Glacier stream. You will go along the stream for a little bit before you cross it. There will be logs that will help you cross it (unless they got washed off).

The hike continues for about good half an hour on the left side of the stream until the trees will be less and less dense. Keep hiking (still on the left side of the stream) until you reach the base of a talus slope. The path kind of disappears but always bear left and up to the top of the talus slope. Soon after you reached the top, you will end up in this huge Dana plateau with grass and boulders. (Please note, the Third Pillar of Dana is actually more of the Third Pillar of Dana Plateau. The actual - pointy- mountain Dana will be at this point couple miles away from you, on your right.)

Anyway, follow the path (mostly bearing left) until again kind of disappears. Hike left towards the edge of the plateau. Locate giant probe (the Third Pillar), follow cairns to down climb on the left side of the Pillar to the base of the climb. On the down climb (mostly third class), you will come to a big flask looking boulder. Take right. The rest will be pretty clear. You will need to cross the gully, which depending on time of a year might be snow covered. Allow at least 1.5 hours for approach and save an energy for the last pitch. Enjoy! Aug 25, 2017
Peter Lewis
Bridgton, ME
Peter Lewis   Bridgton, ME
Could someone post a screenshot from Google Earth or similar showing the approximate line of the approach and the top of the climb? I just can't seem to figure out where this thing is. Thanks. Jan 6, 2018
Jeremy Byrne
oak hills CA
Jeremy Byrne   oak hills CA
Do you think the approach is doable in mid June this year (around June 20th)? Would I need crampons? May 7, 2018
Gilbert AZ
  5.10- PG13
walmongr   Gilbert AZ
  5.10- PG13
Jeremy I went over Tioga pass June-3nd their was still alot of snow on the Dana Plateau and in the approach gully... I posted a pic above for you to look at. Jun 11, 2018
William Buchanan
Seattle, WA
William Buchanan   Seattle, WA
Yet another note on P4: it's well protectable, if you have a small brass offset for the first flake, a yellow/blue BD X4 offset, and a purple 0.5" C4 for shortly above. No ledge fall potential if you protect it as such.

Don't bother bringing a 4" cam Jun 12, 2018
Mike McL
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Mike McL   South Lake Tahoe, CA
Beta alert...

I was always a bit intimidated by the description of the 4th pitch. I didn't find it to be too bad really, only a little heads up. I wouldn't want to take a fall on the first move off the ledge, but it's not terribly difficult. The first move off the ledge was protected by a #2 DMM/HB brass offset. The tiny offset was about as good as it can get for such a small piece. The move is delicate but not too hard. After that I was able to reach a good handhold. If you're really short this could possibly feel harder. I'm 5'10" and had plenty of reach for the hold. From here I could place a good #6 DMM/HB brass offset in the old pin scar. At this point you're a bit right of the ledge anyways and the fall doesn't seem as bad. 1 move to get your feet up and then you have good hand holds and you can place a bomber yellow alien.

Thin cams were helpful. The P5 thin layback (which I found to be the hardest single move on the climb) was well protected by a purple BD C3.

The last pitch was indeed memorable. Jul 14, 2018
I'm not a good crack climber at all and found the 10a fingers on pitch 4 to be awesome and not at all difficult. following the thin lieback on pitch 5 my feet came off and I hit the ledge about midway through the rope stretch but it was fine. Not sure if that was the crux, or the descent, which had me puckered at times. Stay on the solid rock and off the loose stuff.
Edit there still (or again) is one piton on the 4th pitch. Aug 29, 2018
Chris Hill  
Great route with spectacular views from every belay. Don't understand the hype for the P3 flake belay, the gear is garbage other than slinging the horn.

The piton on 4 is for an 11a variation, but RPs protect the crux just fine. Sep 3, 2018
Long hike for a short climb. Very loose descent. Bad gear for the hardest climbing. Jan 4, 2019
ETC Cantor
San Diego, CA
ETC Cantor   San Diego, CA
Not a fan of upwards rating the FA assessment of the route rating. I felt the flake crux was harder than 5.9 when I climbed it in 2003 but 10- is still fair to accurately represent the objective challenge of the route. Feb 23, 2019
Sean Sullivan
Sean Sullivan   California
the best. ever. 17 hours ago