Type: Trad, 600 ft, 5 pitches, Grade II
FA: Richard Leonard, Jules Eichorn and Bestor Robinson, Aug 1934 (aid) Roy Gorin, Paul Estes, Jerry Ganapole and Raffi Bedayn, May 1948 (clean)
Page Views: 3,700 total · 26/month
Shared By: George Bell on Feb 4, 2007
Admins: M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

You & This Route

20 Opinions

Your To-Do List:

Add To-Do · View List

Your Star Rating:

     Clear Rating

Your Difficulty Rating:

-none- Change

Your Ticks:

Add New Tick
Access Issue: Yosemite National Park climbing closures and conditions Details


This is a famous historical route, put up in 1934. The route, however, consists mostly of wandering ledge traverses and the rock quality is not great. The climbing is not memorable, but the summit sure is. It is rather surprising such a precipitous looking spire has this easy route. Although rated 5.9, there is only one hard move, and if aided the route is rated 5.6, A0.

Follow the gully east of the Cathedral Spires and GO ALL THE WAY TO THE NOTCH BETWEEN THEM! The start of this route is hard to find and numerous parties have started too low. The actual route begins only about 150 feet from the notch, so go all the way to the notch to be sure you are not starting too low (see the "Direct Start").

Follow an intricate route up to "Main Ledge", a huge ledge halfway up. The first pitch is rated 5.6, and ends at a gigantic (ant infested) tree. A 4th class pitch leads to the left end of Main Ledge. If you go straight up now you are on "South by Southwest (11a)". But for this route, wander right on Main Ledge (3rd class), staying high. Now comes the short crux by a bolt. Make an awkward 5.9 face move (or aid on bolt) and then move up and right to easy ground.

The FA went up the menacing, thin flake detached ten inches from the wall (this flake is located somewhere above the bolt, I believe, if it hasn't fallen off by now). The mindset necessary to climb the flake bordered on insanity. First, a sharp projection on the flake was lassoed. Then the rope, hanging vertical, was climbed hand-over-hand until it was possible to mantel the projection. If liebacked, the fragile flake would have broken so out came the hammer. The leader then delicately chipped footholds into the flake while balancing his weight in an effort to keep from pulling the feature—and himself—from the wall. This was Yosemite’s first instance of chipping, a practice that was not repeated until the sport-climbing boom in the 1980s [thanks to Chris McNamara for this historical paragraph, excerpted from SuperTopo].

Continue up a pitch 5.5 and then one last 4th class pitch to the summit.


Light rack. Long slings are useful due to the wandering nature of the route.


To descend, rappel the SW Face and route "South by Southwest" with two ropes. Then rappel the first pitch.


- No Photos -
Original Aid Route FA: Richard Leonard, Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson, 8/1934
Lower Cathedral Spire - Regular Route FA: Roy Gorin, Paul Estes, Jerry Ganapole, Raffi Bedayn, 5/1948 Jan 21, 2012
WARNING - we just did this route yesterday and the rap "anchor" at the top has been stripped of all gear - it consists of only three glue-in bolts on the ground (no chains, no rap rings) - so the next person to rap it will most likely need to leave something (because even though the summit bolts are smooth glue-in bolts that you can normally rap directly from, you won't be able to pull your ropes through them due to the friction caused by the position of the bolts). Our single 70m rope was long enough to allow us to safely rap the whole route, however, because the summit bolts are placed several feet back from the edge, there was insane friction when pulling the ropes after making that initial first rap from the summit. We were literally unable to pull our rope (brand new/smooth) through the summit anchor, and eventually had to climb back up to the summit, down climb (with the rope) to a slung tree 30-40 feet below the summit, and then make a very short rap (about 20 feet) to the 'first' rap station (which is purple webbing through one bolt and one piton - the top of pitch 5 on the Supertopo).

From this rap station it is two more raps (with a single 70m) to the main ledge (one hanging belay between). To rap from the main ledge to the ground, locate the slung tree halfway between the start of SxSW and Reg Route (on that main ledge) and make 3 more raps to the ground (with a single 70m). Note that none of the lower tree rap-stations have metal rap rings or biners, so you may want to bring some to leave, or else you are rapping directly off slung webbing. Take your approach shoes and packs and everything with you up the route unless you want to hike all the way back up to the ledge at the end of the day to retrieve your gear, because you end up significantly downhill from where you begin. Apr 22, 2014
Ben Kraft
San Francisco, CA
Ben Kraft   San Francisco, CA
fwiw you can probably ignore Daniel's warning. There are indeed three chainless summit bolts on lower cathedral spire, but there's another better positioned rap anchor on the face to the left of the finish of south by southwest. Ignore the summit bolts, I don't think they were placed for climbing. Mar 24, 2015
The glue ins were put in for slack lining as far as I know and are not meant to be used as a rap line. The rap line can be hard to find. It's pretty much on top of South By Southwest and raps that route. The anchor consist of two old bolts(could be replaced) and webbing with rings (may want to bring some to replace). Sep 13, 2017