Type: Trad, Alpine, 1500 ft, 10 pitches, Grade IV
FA: unknown
Page Views: 50,334 total · 387/month
Shared By: Joseph Myers on May 21, 2008
Admins: M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Yosemite National Park climbing closures and conditions Details


A fun back country route. Just stay on the ridge as much as possible for the best climbing on the best granite.


Tuolumne Meadows backcountry. There are a few different methods for approaching Conness, but the trail(s) from Tioga Pass works...There's also a good way starting just west of Lembert Dome going up to Young Lakes...then it's cross country through to Conness creek, which if followed all the way to its source will land you in Roosevelt lake. Hiking southeast from here will get you into the vicinity of the West Ridge of Conness.


if you plan on roping up for the whole climb, just bring a regular rack...Most of the climb can be soloed or simul-climbed at easy albeit moderate 5th class high country climbing.


LeeAB Brinckerhoff
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
This can be tough to find from the back side, Tioga Pass. You have to stay more right than you would think.

If you do approach from the Saddlebag Lake area, as opposed to from Lembert Dome, you have the option to downclimb the North Ridge and hike out that way. It makes for a nice long day out in the back country.

Very nice views off the ridge, stay as close to it as possible. Feb 8, 2010
harihari   VANCOUVER
At a slide show a few years back, Croft said that-- after his 9,000 foot, one-day Karakoram 5.11 route-- this was his favorite rock route. Jokes notwithstanding (Q: What is Peter Croft's favorite rock route? A: Whatever he's just climbed), you can see why.

This is the best alpine rock route at its grade (and one of the best at ANY grade) I have done. You can EASILY free-solo it: there is one dicey section (the rock bridge) which is exposed, but easy; the rest is a 5.6 ladder on impeccable rock, a billion solid incut holds, and good cracks. Loads of places to stop and admire the view. Then you top out, and look waaaaay down into the Valley, and feel all bad-assed up there at 13,000 feet.

We were going to do the Harding route, but my partner didn't feel up to it. So, instead of going back by upclimbing the choss approach, we did the West Ridge...and it was so good that we didn't put our harneses on, just simul-soloed the whole thing, massive shit-eating grins on our faces...it was so good we didn't want to stop.

DO IT. Jul 12, 2011
Simon Thompson
New Paltz, NY
Simon Thompson   New Paltz, NY
We had to bail after 4 pitches but they were great. As you gain the ridge, try to stay as close as possible to climbers' left. This is where the classic climbing is, including stellar parallel cracks and wicked exposure on the ridge proper. We climbed 4 pitches and bailed down the gully to climber's right dude to extremely high winds. We made 4 rappels using a 70m rope. I believe we rappeled very close to where the guidebook's description of the route goes. Nov 8, 2011
Al Peery  
This is my favorite alpine solo climbing! Great views, exposure and so much fun!

I use the North Ridge to access the West Ridge for a full day of ridge running. I often find loose rock sections downclimbing the first rappel on the North ridge, but downclimbing the blocks on the second rappel is more solid than it looks. Apr 6, 2012
Andy Novak
Golden, Co
Andy Novak   Golden, Co
Both approaches are long, but If you have the time, I recommend an overnight at Young lakes as opposed to the one-day approach. Note that the Supertopo has a MAJOR error concerning the approach from this direction. DO NOT go up to the ridge then decend back down the gully to start the route; instead simply cross the drainage in the morning and walk over to the base of the route: takes about 2 hours from Lower Young lake if you're taking your time. Amazing couple of days there. Jul 12, 2013
Oakridge, OR
Ball   Oakridge, OR
If you love hiking, and I mean really love hiking, this route is for you. Take the longer way around (carnegie trail up the pass) for better views.

Otherwise you may be asking why you hiked so long for two, maybe three pitches of climbing (did it in boots so I'm guessing the length). Jul 20, 2013
Doing it from the Saddlebag Lake area (East side) is a long ways in. Around 4 miles and +2500 vertical feet (7km and +760 vert meters). Which might not sound so bad. But that includes +2050 vertical feet (+625 meters) off-trail, so harder and slower, especially if carrying a rope and some sort of Trad rack.
And it includes 1725 vertical feet (525 vert meters) of descending, all off-trail.

Also fairly high altitude. Merely the approach goes over 12,200 ft (3725 meters) altitude. So if like most Californians and many visitors, you live most of the time near sea-level, the approach is going to feel tougher unless you've first put yourself through a serious altitude-acclimatization program.

And the route-finding is tricky, so need to allow some extra time for backtracking and for figuring things out.

So while the West ridge is great high-mountain route, if you want to do it in a single day from the trailhead, then you have to want it kinda bad.

I do like the idea of leveraging all that approach/descent labor by doing both the North ridge and West ridge on the same day. Of course this requires going very light and fast. With a partner who knew both very well, I once climbed the North ridge first, then down and around to the base of the West ridge, then climbed up the West ridge -- a great day for me. Aug 8, 2013
Detailed description of approach from Saddlebag Lake area (east side).
It is helpful to combine this description with the photos + description on www.dreaminvertical.com/?p=1793 , and of course the description in the book High Sierra Climbing, by Chris McNamara (SuperTopo 2004).

GPX file containing all latitude/longitude waypoints in the following description (and some useful tracks) is linked from this page .

Trailhead is at USFS Sawmill campground (GPS latitude/longitude approx N37.9560 W119.2667) (altitude ~ 2980 meters) - about 2.3 km (1.5 miles) NW from rt 120 (the main Tioga Pass road) on Saddlebag Lake Rd.
. But there is no day-hiker / climber parking at that trailhead (as of 2013). All designated parking is for campers.

Start walking NW on road. After about 200 meters can take a shortcut by continuing straight on trail (or bear left on road). About another 200m rejoin dirt road and continue NW mostly flat or gentle downhill. After snother 500m, turn L to cross creek on log. Another 500m roughly W go past the hut of the Carnegie Institute (by now the road has turned into a trail). Continue roughly W about another 1500 meters (with some bends and some uphill sections).

At the top of an uphill section, and a little before crossing a creek and entering a large flat meadow, around
(GPS lat/long ~ N37.9619 W119.2954) (altitude ~ 3100 meters) (small cairn as of 2013) ...
leave the trail toward the R, and go uphill roughly NW (or at first more N). See the prominent peak above roughly NW and aim toward a wide notch just left of it.
. (though for those carrying more weight, seems like it might be easier to stay on the trail farther toward Alpine Lake -- not obvious why it would not work to then rejoin the main approach route higher up -- the extra distance is not large).

About 650m of uphill (likely with a move of difficulty class 3+), reach a flat area (lat/long ~ N37.9665 W119.3009) (altitude ~ 3385m) with a tarn (small lake which might be dry). About 200m flat going W, then leave the flat and go uphill a bit toward R, WNW for about 500m to ...

reach another roughly flat area (N37.9672 W119.3094) (alt ~ 3560m) (small cairn as of 2013). Dramatic setting on cirque with a lake lower inside and some steep cliffs above across to SW, with a couple of prominent notches across SW.
Note: The summit of Mt Conness is not in view (not even close) and those notches do not lead down to the W ridge.

Next objective is a notch above WSW, at the Right end of the top of the face containing those steep cliffs, but far to the Right of the cliffs themselves - with a more reasonable slope leading up to the notch.
Aim WSW for that notch ... simplest is to get onto the crest of the ridge (with big view NE) as soon as see an easy way. Or stay longer below the ridge ... first down a little bit, then traverse horizontally across the slope. After about 150m a steep move up R, then a rising traverse for about 300m up to the high point of this approach route, near the NE corner of a gentle sandy quasi-plateau to the SE of the Mt Conness summit
(lat/long ~ N37.9656 W119.3145) (altitude ~ 3730m) (medium-large cairn as 2013).
. (This is where the descent route from the Mt Conness summit meets the approach route.)

Now it's time to start looking at notches and thinking about which one to cross to get down to the base of the West ridge. The answer is: Below where you are now, and farther below than you might be hoping or thinking: roughly SW across this gentler area, lower than any of the obvious notches (since those cliff out on the W side). So the next objective is WSW-SW, but perhaps it is easier to "contour" (for a total distance around 500m) ... at first gentle WSW, then more W where it goes down steeper and across the bottom of the valley, finish more SSW-S. Likely will take a couple of tries to find the best crossing W into the descent. The best place I found (not really a "notch") is a broad sandy area (lat/long ~ N37.9634 W119.3189) (altitude ~ 3690m) (No cairn as of 2013).

Next some serious down-scrambling with loose rock (test the holds) and route-finding. Seemed to me that, if find the best lines and work out the moves right, no single move was more difficult than class 3. A reasonable line for me was to first head roughly straight down (roughly W), then bear to descender's Right (NNW) to reach dirt/scree. Not much more than 25 vertical meters of serious down-scrambling.

But still lots more slogging down on dirt/scree. Aug 8, 2013
  • Very worthy add-on for those who get to the top with extra time and energy:
Down-climb the upper section of the North ridge ... likely easier if often go a little below the crest on the SW side ... but stop somewhere before reaching the gap by the "second tower". Then
climb up the N ridge but now trying to stay as close to the crest as possible.

  • Alternate descent: Down-climb the whole North Ridge (as LeeAB pointed out). It's a good idea to read the guidebooks + discussions + comments for that route, since there's some trickiness in getting over one of the towers.
  • Alternate approach which might fit with that alternate N ridge descent: Park at Saddlebag Lake, then hike/scramble around the N side of North Peak (without going to its summit). Then drop down around its W side toward Roosevelt Lake and head S to the base of the W ridge.
  • Big day: Climb the North Ridge first up to Mt Conness summit, then hike SE then SSW down to the steep scramble which goes down W to the base of the West ridge, then climb up the West Ridge to reach the summit a second time.
Aug 12, 2013
Ryan Nevius
Chiang Mai, TH
  Easy 5th
Ryan Nevius   Chiang Mai, TH
  Easy 5th
Simple approach beta from Sawmill Campground:

  • From the parking area, follow the dirt road/trail through the campground and past the Carnegie Institute (wood shed).
  • When you see this view, head toward the brushy saddle (closer view here).

  • Walk past Alpine Lake and aim for the notch on this peak

  • Once on the plateau, aim for the notch in the center of this photo

  • Descend to the start of the route
Aug 17, 2013
Yes Ryan, those photos do make the navigation simpler. Thanks a lot for posting them.

Now for those of us who reach the W ridge by some other way (e.g. first climbing the N Ridge route) and want to then descend the more southerly approach route ... We need another set of photos shot from the other direction - (You would't happen to have those too?) Sep 1, 2013
Ryan Nevius
Chiang Mai, TH
  Easy 5th
Ryan Nevius   Chiang Mai, TH
  Easy 5th
kenr, I do not. I have a photo looking back toward the plateau from the summit...But I chose to take the North Ridge down instead of the standard descent. Sep 3, 2013
Mike Holley
Boone, NC
Mike Holley   Boone, NC
Holy Moly was this ever a fun day out! Long, long approach and fantastic sustained scrambling up the entire route, minus the semi-serious (5.6) climbing down low. Route finding can be a little tricky on the first couple pitches but after that its easy breezy. Free solo'd this route with a buddy for the first time and got a little spooked trying to figure out the start, got off route for a while and ended up on something more like 5.8-5.9 for a small section but overcame and had a stellar day out! If I were to do it again I would most likely bring a few pieces and a small rope to simul climb the beginning. Total adventure climbing on a very beautiful ridge line in a beautiful and remote section of Yosemite!! Dec 5, 2015
Brendan Blanchard
Boulder, CO
Brendan Blanchard   Boulder, CO
After royally screwing up the approach, six hours of hiking landed us at the base of the West Ridge, and another five to the parking lot. A long haul, but a great day nonetheless.

As for the grade and style of climbing, I don't think "two Cathedrals on top of eachother" is a fair assessment. The style of the first two pitches is much different from Cathedral, and I think much less secure. Having onsight solo'd Cathedral in climbing shoes, I found the starting pitches of the West Ridge to be far more dicey (and less clean, more crumbly due to less traffic) in approach shoes than expected for the grade. The climbing is much different from the closer to vertical, juggy nature of Cathedral, though once past the first two pitches, it's a 4th-5th ridge scramble that's not concerning at all. I'd suggest climbing shoes for soloing this regardless of comfort on other climbs at the grade, but of course YMMV. Jul 12, 2016
Eli .
Eli .   GMC3500
I'll also echo Brendan's comments. While everything after the first two pitches is comfortable and secure, if you're going to solo it approach shoes may not be the best option for the start. Stellar route either way! Jul 12, 2016
This page identifies the route as grade IV. Even parties traveling at a moderate pace and pitching it out will not take more than half a day...it is grade II or III in the Secor and Fiddler guidebooks respectively Aug 11, 2016
I don't usually post, but having just climbed the west ridge, I thought I would add a few comments and emphasize a few points already made.

1) I may have been off route but the climbing down low was 5.7 with a lot of run out because the seem I was in was shallow and off width (looked good from the ground). I would say be a confident 5.8 leader or go with somebody that knows the easiest route. I am sure there are 5.6 lines, but are you going to find them? Having done Matthes crest the week before I assumed it would be like that. MUCH HARDER. By the way, I stayed to the right or was on the arete pretty much the whole time. Not sure if this was correct or not. There was some beautiful climbing with significant exposure.

2) If you have GPS mark the notches as you come in. It may be VERY difficult to find the descent notches in the dark. I found them with GPS, I am not sure I could have safely found them in the dark without GPS. They are much more noticeable on the approach (both because you are looking up, and there is light)

3)The approach is a little counter intuitive. Printing the pictures of the route, using GPS and following the description rather than my intuition worked pretty well. Another group out that day kept getting lost because they were more or less following line of sight (or what they imagined was the right way). The only thing that wasn't super clear. When you go over the last ridge (before dropping back down to the base). Cross the sandy gully fairly high (so you don't lose to much elevation) then walk pretty far down the other side before looking for the chute to drop down. There are many chutes. The first few won't work. Sep 30, 2017
1500 feet of hero climbing. Simuled the whole thing with ~6 belays. The approach is a ton of fun, though it is long. We started it in the late morning and were summiting with a stunning sunset. A bivy at the top is highly recommended and breaks up what would otherwise be quite a long day. Apr 27, 2018
Hobo Greg
My Van
Hobo Greg   My Van
Approach from Young Lakes is casual and gorgeous. Route is mega fun, descent back to lakes pretty easy to follow. Great outing in the Sierra. Jul 1, 2018
Antonio Ting
San Francisco
Antonio Ting   San Francisco
The climb itself is fantastic, first two pitches of 5.6 were much easier than I had expected. If you want a jug, you will find that jug, and that jug is beautiful. Amazing first free solo.

I would say the crux of this route would be the approach and descent (4-5 miles, and LOTS of elevation gain) . Don't get lost like I did. Aug 20, 2018
D. Evans
Tustin, California
D. Evans   Tustin, California
That part near the start where your hands are right on the arete and you can peek over the edge towards the Harding Route is so spectacular!! The face to the right undercuts the West Ridge and the exposure is sublime! Sep 10, 2018