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Regular Route (Higher Cathedral Spire)

5.9, Trad, 400 ft, 4 pitches,  Avg: 3.5 from 259 votes
FA: Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson, Dick Leonard, 1934 Chuck Wilts, Spencer Austin, 1944
California > Yosemite NP > Yosemite Valley > Cathedral Spire… > Higher Cathedral Spire
Access Issue: Yosemite National Park climbing closures and conditions Details


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 pitch 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 [Hide ALL Photos]

Party topping out on Higher Cathedral Spire.
[Hide Photo] Party topping out on Higher Cathedral Spire.
Scott, Tony, Chris, Yosemite.
[Hide Photo] Scott, Tony, Chris, Yosemite.
Reward view after climbing Higher Cathedral Spire
[Hide Photo] Reward view after climbing Higher Cathedral Spire
Route Overlay or Higher Cathedral Regular Route.
[Hide Photo] Route Overlay or Higher Cathedral Regular Route.
Some dude named Pat on the last pitch. Taken while on rappel.
[Hide Photo] Some dude named Pat on the last pitch. Taken while on rappel.
Annie about to pull the rounded mantle, last pitch
[Hide Photo] Annie about to pull the rounded mantle, last pitch
5.9 handcrack variation on Pitch 5. Good climbing!
[Hide Photo] 5.9 handcrack variation on Pitch 5. Good climbing!
Climbers topping out on the Regular Route (via the steep handcrack variation).
[Hide Photo] Climbers topping out on the Regular Route (via the steep handcrack variation).
This the 'third' variation for P2 that isn't in the guide and is way harder than 5.9.
[Hide Photo] This the 'third' variation for P2 that isn't in the guide and is way harder than 5.9.
Some dude named Pat climbing the last pitch. Taken while on rappel.
[Hide Photo] Some dude named Pat climbing the last pitch. Taken while on rappel.
buttshot on P2, awesome dihedral up the 5.9 variation, riddled with old pins!
[Hide Photo] buttshot on P2, awesome dihedral up the 5.9 variation, riddled with old pins!
The etched cross marking the start of the Regular Route.
[Hide Photo] The etched cross marking the start of the Regular Route.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] 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! Jun 4, 2007
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
[Hide Comment] 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. Aug 20, 2007
[Hide Comment] 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. May 28, 2008
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
[Hide Comment] 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! May 28, 2008
[Hide Comment] 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. Jun 12, 2008
[Hide Comment] 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. Jun 14, 2008
James DeRoussel
Tucson, AZ
[Hide Comment] This is a fun climb in my opinion, and the historical nature of the route only adds to the experience. Great summit. Jun 24, 2008
[Hide Comment] 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. Oct 27, 2008
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
  5.9 PG13
[Hide Comment] 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. Sep 20, 2009
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
  5.9 PG13
[Hide Comment] 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". Dec 8, 2009
Tony B
Around Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] 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. May 22, 2010
[Hide Comment] 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! Jul 25, 2010
Dave Alden
Sacramento, CA
  5.9 PG13
[Hide Comment] Bailed off P4 due to time and group size. Going back soon to reach the summit. Feb 28, 2011
[Hide Comment] I agree with Les. The climbing is fairly mellow if you stay on route. The hand crack finish at the top is good. Dec 31, 2011
[Hide Comment] 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. Apr 26, 2012
Oakland, CA
[Hide Comment] 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. Jun 11, 2012
San Francisco
[Hide Comment] 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. Apr 22, 2013
Ian M.
[Hide Comment] 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! May 1, 2013
the professor
  5.9+ PG13
[Hide Comment] 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. Jun 8, 2013
[Hide Comment] 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. Apr 20, 2016
Natalie Nicole
San Francisco, CA
[Hide Comment] My favorite 5.9 in the Valley. We took the direct variations on both pitches 2 and 4/5. The original line variation (with the pins) for pitch 2 was nails for 5.9! I was really surprised when I fell off, having never fallen off a trad lead below 5.10 in my 2.5 years of trad leading, but after looking at MP and Supertopo comments, it seems that freeing the original variation falls somewhere in the broad range of 5.9+ to 5.11-. I would say somewhere between 5.10a-b/c. Pitch 3 was pure fun. Awesome views at the top and a great day out overall. Rapped with a single 60m with no problem. Nov 14, 2017
Sam DeRose
San Francisco, California
[Hide Comment] I've only just started climbing valley 5.9 and thought the only 5.9 move was in the short left traverse at the start of pitch 2. Anyone else think this is soft for 5.9? Also did the direct handcrack finish on P5 which was short and fun, can't speak to the original finish but seems like I gotta do that next time! May 9, 2018
[Hide Comment] Climbed this yesterday. What a great route! So classic. I disagree with all of the negative comments that have been made here about this route. If this were on the valley floor there would be a lineup a mile long. Every pitch is great. Pitch 1 is somewhat ordinary but from there onward it is incredible. The rock is not bad. Sure there is some hollow rock but if you look around you will always find good pro. The furthest right finger crack on pitch 2 is tough! I would rate it 10b/c. The summit is way cool. The raps are quick and straight forward. The approach is steep but it goes quick if you know where you are going. It took us less than an hour to do the approach and 2 hours to do the climb. Fantastic. Sep 21, 2018
Nathan Stegenga
Spokane, WA
[Hide Comment] The P3 5.9 face variation is lots of fun! A tiny bit of bad rock but good gear is available and the climbing features some fun, airy moves on little huecos and face holds. The shattered rock var. on P4 has a very fun sporty feel and the rock is actually really solid. Makes a direct finish on the hand crack easy in one push. Oct 18, 2018
[Hide Comment] So so much fun. Awesome summit, all types of fun climbing... yes, the top is a tiny bit loose, and there’s some weird, improbable traverses, but it all works out. 7 days ago