Introduction Climbing Information Guide Books Access and Regulations Getting There Weather Camping and Accomodations
The beautiful rounded domes of Tuolumne Meadows offer some of the best moderate granite climbing anywhere. Located within the Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne is a good choice if you want to escape the heat and the crowds of the Yosemite Valley, and climb in a peaceful and quiet setting during the summer months. Tuolumne is simply an amazing place of solitude and beauty, where exquisite climbing opportunities await on some of the best granite in North America.
The massive granite domes and other high peaks are situated at an altitude of 8600 feet, where the air is cool and crisp, and the skies are clear. Tuolumne is more peaceful, relaxing, and quiet than the Valley, and you'll be happy to be climbing in a cool alpine breeze when it's 100+ degrees everywhere else. After a long day of climbing on perfect glacier polished granite, go take a hike accross the meadow, hang out at the beach at Tenaya Lake, cool down in the river or enjoy a local beer and a burger at the grill. Tuolumne Meadows is simply the perfect summer climbing destination.
The climbing in Tuolumne is simply spectacular. Wether you're an expert or a beginner, climbing on a dome or a high peak, cragging, sport climbing or bouldering, you'll get that High Sierra Country, alpine feeling that makes Tuolumne such a great place to climb.
The granite is well featured, very solid and incredibly clean, ranging in color from white to gold. Knobs or crystals are spread all over the faces, and can range in size from a grain of salt to a huge jug. Flakes, cracks and dihedrals are also found on most climbs and usually offer adequate protection.
The climbing in Tuolumne is generally technical and balancy, demanding precise footwork and good smearing technique. Climbing in Tuolumne offers a great mix of face, cracks of all sizes, knobs, slabs and edges that will challenge the most accomplished climbers. Sometimes, the sparse protection will add a mental dimension that will make a route even more memorable. But don't let the reputation of being runout, and poorly protected with old rusty 1/4 inch bolts stop you from climbing in Tuolumne. In recent years, many bolts and anchors have been replaced on the most popular climbs, and most routes usually protect well.
However, true Tuolumne style routes can feel very runout to some, and it takes some time to get use to it. You should carefuly study a route before jumping on it, especially if the route is rated runout. Many routes don't have fixed anchors, and you should be experienced at building your own solid belays on gear. This also means that retreat can be difficult on most routes, so be prepared to leave slings and gear behind in case. Routes can vary a lot from one to the other: long to short, runout to well protected, steep to low angle, finger cracks to offwidth chimneys, secure to scary, etc... The diversity is all part of the Tuolumne experience!
Because the climbing in Tuolumne is so diverse, you'll need a variety of pieces in your rack, and each climb will demand a different selection of gear.
In general, most anchors are built on pro, so have plenty of various sizes and double in some key sizes to build solid anchors. It's also a good idea to bring long slings to tie around trees and blocks.
The cracks of Tuolumne usually take nuts very well, so bring a good assortment and a double set is useful on some climbs. A set of smaller micro nuts, like the HB brass offsets is also a good addition to your rack. Make sure to have a good selection of cams as well: double set of micro cams and double on regular sizes should be plenty. On most routes, you'll need cams up to a 2" to 3", but the occasional wider crack will demand bigger pieces. For the face climbing and slab sections, some bolts will be encountered and some pitches tend to traverse and/or wander a bit, so bring a few quickdraws and long runners. Occasionally, an old bolt or piton may be encountered and it is important to inspect them carefully before committing to them. Use good judgement and common sense when using sketchy fixed protection.
As far as ropes, a 70 m rope will help you move faster, climb longer pitches, and possibly past slower parties more easily, but a 60 m will work fine for most routes. If you plan to rappel and/or retreat, it is always a good idea to have two 60 m ropes with you, and some extra webbing. Most multi-pitch routes require walking-off the back or the side of a dome, sometimes down steep and exposed 3rd/4th class polished slabs, and some will choose to do the walk-off in their climbing shoes. However, it is a good idea to bring along a good pair of hiking shoes for the descents, especially if your climbing shoes are not the most comfortable.
5.4: Hermaphrodite Flake, Beginner's Route
Alternative Climbing Areas
The famous Yosemite Valley is just over an hour away and is definitely worth a visit if you've never been. It usually has warmer temperatures and can be climbable if there's bad weather in Tuolumne. Several good climbing areas can also be found around Bishop and Mammoth. Of course, Bishop's bouldering is world famous, and Owen's River Gorge offers amazing sport climbing. The Sierra Mountains have plenty of multi-pitch climbing and mountaineering options as well. The Lake Tahoe area has many great but smaller climbing areas, including Lover's Leap, Phantom Spires and Eagle Lake. If it's too cold to climb in Tuolumne, and you're looking for warmer weather, you can always drive south to the Needles or even Joshua Tree.
The Tuolumne Meadows Mountain Shop is the closest climbing shop. The shop is adjacent to the gas station and you can reach them at 209-372-8436. They're open from 8:30 am to 6 pm, and they offer a limited selection of climbing gear, camping gear, clothing, guidebooks, etc... For a bigger selection, specialty items or rentals, try Mammoth Mountaineering (3189 Main St, Mammoth Lakes; 888-395-3951), the Yosemite Valley Mountain Shop (209-372-8396) located in Curry Village, or Wilson's Eastside Sports (224 North Main Street, Bishop; 760-873-7520).
The Yosemite Mountaineering School and guide service provides an excellent range of climbing instructions and guided climbing in and around Tuolumne. They can be reached at 209-372-8344 / 866-387-5711. Inquire at the Mountain Shop adjacent to the gas station, they're located in the same building.
There are no climbing gyms in Tuolumne. Go play outside! In case of extended bad weather, drive to the Bay area where many climbing gyms can be found.
The Rubber Room is the place to go for the best resole. They're located in Bishop, 175B North Main Street, Bishop, CA 93514. Call them at 760-872-1363 or 888-395-ROCK. Also check Barry's Resoles for a local service (559-855-4511).
There are two main guidebooks available for Tuolumne Meadows:
Tuolumne Free Climbs, Supertopo, Barnes, McNamara, Roper, Snyder, 2003. This guidebook contains detailed information on about 100 routes, from multi-pitch to one pitch cragging. Very detailed topos and precise information. The focus is on the most popular areas of Tuolumne and most routes range from 5.5 to 5.10 in difficulty. If you need 1 book for your first vist, this is it.
Rock Climbing Tuolumne Meadows, Don Reid and Chris Falkenstein, 2006, Falcon Rock Climbing Guides Series. This is the most comprehensive guidebook for the area. It covers a lot more routes (over 1000) and lesser known areas than the Supertopo. It contains information on trad and sport climbs, and also a little bouldering too. However, the topos and approach/descent information are not always the most precise, and some have reported a few mistakes. If you're familiar with the area, have climbed the Tuolumne classics, and are looking at lesser known routes, then this is the book for you.
How to Get There
Several airport options exist if you are going to fly in. The closest international airport is Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which is about 130 miles (2.5 hours) away from Tuolumne. Other airports to consider include Oakland International, San Francisco International, Sacramento and Fresno, all located about 4 hours away from Tuolumne. Tuolumne is easy to reach from San Francisco, and many plan to visit the Bay area before or after climbing in Tuolumne.
Tuolumne is a very easy place to get to, and is located within Yosemite National Park. If you're coming from the east, access from Hwy 395 through the town of Lee Vining, and drive east on Hwy 120 over Tioga Pass. You'll go through the Yosemite National Park entry gate (fee), then continue a few more miles west to Tuolumne Meadows.
If you're coming from the west, various driving options exist, depending on where exactly you are coming from. In any case, once you made it to Hwy 120, simply head east to Tuolumne Meadows. Note that the Tioga Pass road is closed from late fall to late spring (the exact date varies depending on snow conditions). Tuolumne is about 130 miles from Reno, 80 miles from Bishop and 200 miles from San Francisco.
Highway 120 crosses Tuolumne Meadows from east to west, splitting the park in two and providing access to all the climbs. The road offers easy access to most of the climbs, as parking is allowed in pullouts next to the road. Watch your speed on Hwy 120, law enforcement vehicules are frequently giving tickets for speeding. Many bears, deers, etc. have been killed by speeding drivers, so slow down! Highway 120 is subject to winter closures. It usually closes after the first big snow fall in November, and re-opens sometime in May or June, depending on snowfall. Check Yosemite and Tuolumne road conditions, or call (209) 372-0200.
YARTS offers bus transportation from Yosemite (Merced) to Tuolumne, and all the way to Mammoth Lakes (fees vary). A shuttle is also free within Tuolumne. To avoid driving, take this free shuttle bus which runs every 30 minutes in the summer, with multiple stops between Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and Tenaya Lake. Use YARTS to cut down on traffic, pollution and noise.
Fees and Permits
There is a fee required to go through Yosemite National Park. A 20$ permit can be used for up to 7 days and is sold at the entrance gate. Also, consider the America The Beautiful (Annual) Pass, which gives you unlimited access to all National Parks and various other recreation areas for 80$ per year.
Wilderness permits will be required if you plan to camp in the backcountry. Get them at the wilderness permit station located near the Tuolumne Lodge (Bear-proof canisters also required).
Tuolumne is one of the best summer rock climbing destinations in North America. It is part of a huge mountain range and sits at an altitude of 8 600'. While summers are usually sunny and warm, severe thunderstorms, lightning, hail, and heavy rain are always a possibility in the afternoon. Afternoon thunderstorms are a constant threat and very dangerous to climbers, so get an early start, be prepared, and check the forecast before committing to a long route with difficult retreat.
Because of the altitude, Tuolumne gets lots of snow during the winter, and the Tioga Pass Road (CA 120), which provides access to all the climbs, usually only opens in May or June, and closes after the first big snowstorm sometime in late October or early November. Check Tuolumne road status before you go. Therefore, most climbers usually enjoy climbing in Tuolumne between June and September. Expect daytime highs between 60 and 80 degrees, with cool nights that can easily dip into the 30s. Before that, the approaches can be full of snow and the campground might still be closed.
Early summer (May June) is the best time to climb in Tuolumne, when the days are long, the air is dry and the sun is high. Climbing in Tuolumne before July might also allow you to stay away from the crowds, and not worry about mosquitos. Approaches might still be wet or snowy.
Mid summer (July and August) is a crowded period, with many tourists driving through the park, and climbers getting in line on the most popular routes. The snow is mostly gone and the temperatures are nice and warm, but the mosquitos can be bad and getting a campsite on the weekend can be more difficult.
Early Fall (September) is another great time to visit. The climbing temperatures can be perfect, but the days are getting shorter and nights can be very cold. The first snow usually arrives around early November.
Spring and winter are usually too cold, with too much snow keeping the road closed.
Camping and other Accomodations
The Tuolumne Meadows campground is the best option for climbers because of its proximity to the climbing. It is located next to the Tuolumne Store and gas station. The campground has 304 sites and is generally open from mid-June to the end of September, depending on conditions. Pets are allowed and you can sleep in your car (use bear box). Sites include a picnic table, firepit and grill, tent space, parking, and a food locker. Toilet facilities and tap water are also available.
50% of the sites can be reserved up to five months in advance (visit www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777, International reservation number: 301-722-1257) and the other 50% is on a first come first serve basis. It is highly recommended to make advance reservations, or to arrive early in the morning and stand in line in order to get a site. Daily site fees are $20.00 per night with a six person, two car limit. Group sites are also available for $40 per night, and RV's up to 35 ft are also permitted.
Note that the campground is situated at an altitude of 8 600', so nights can be fridgid especially in early and late season. Also beware of the mosquitos in the middle of the summer.
Backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the wilderness, as long as you are more than a mile from the nearest paved road. Wilderness permits are required for any overnight stay in the backcountry and are issued on a quota basis. The most convenient permit office is located about 1 mile east of the Tuolumne Meadows store, near the Tuolumne Lodge. Bear-proof food canisters are not required, but are strongly recommended. Canisters can be rented at the wilderness permit station.
Many other campgrounds can be found nearby, either inside or outside of the Park. However, most will require a 20-30 miles drive.
Food and Restaurants
There is a small grocery store in Tuolumne Meadows located next to the campground. It offers a limited selection of groceries, beer, and some organic food, as well as camping supplies and gifts. For groceries in Lee Vining, go to the small Mono Market. It is a good idea to stock-up with groceries before you arrive in Tuolumne.
The Tuolumne Meadows Grill, located next to the store, has a very limited menu and serves breakfast and fast food such as burgers and fries. If you're looking for a more elaborate menu or a more expensive diner, then check out the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Dining Room, where meals are served family style and reservations are required.
If you don't mind a little driving, then head east to the Tioga Pass Resort. They have a great dinning room and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even have a nice beer selection, amazing baked goods and they're super friendly.
If you don't mind going down 14 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows to Lee Vining, then The Tioga Gas Mart (Mobil gas station) is a no brainer. The Whoa Nellie Deli serves-up some of the greatest food around. This restaurant might be located in a gas station, but don't let that fool you, because the food won't disapoint, with items such as their World Famous Fish Tacos, Legendary Lobster Taquitos or Herb Crusted Grilled Pork Tenderloin. Mmmmmm...
The town of Lee Vining also has a BBQ restaurant, and a coffe shop (Latte Da) where FREE wireless internet can be found.
Water and Shower Info
Tap water is available in the Tuolumne campground and it is safe to drink. There is also a hose/tap located next to the gas station.
Showers cost $2 and are located at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (between 12 and 3pm), and might or might not be available for purchase depending on water supplies. Otherwise, drive to Lee Vining or the Valley (Curry Village) for showers, or simply take a dip in one of the popular swimming holes! Tenaya Lake also has a nice sandy beach located at its North end, and it is almost mandatory to take a dip after climbing on Stately Pleasure Dome.
The closest wireless internet to Tuolumne is located in Lee Vining. Try El Mono Motel & Latte Da Coffee, located at 51 Highway 395 (at 3rd Street) in Lee Vining if you own your laptop. Other options include the Mono Lake Committee, the Library and the Information Center.
Cell phone reception is spotty at best, and some carriers get better reception than others (ATT?). Your best chance to get a good signal is around the Tuolumne Store and at the campground entrance, or from the top of most domes.
In case of an emergency, or search and rescue situation, always call 911. To reach the Mono County Sheriff, dial (800) 447-1912. There is 24-hour emergency medical clinic located in Yosemite Valley, which can be reached at (209) 372-4637. Mammoth Hospital is also a 24-hour emergency hospital. It is located at 85 Sierra Park Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, and can be reached at 760-934-3311.
If you come from sea level, it will probably take you a few days to adjust to the high altitude. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, insomnia, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Should these symptoms develop, descend to a lower altitude and visit the Yosemite Medical Clinic in Yosemite Valley.
It is recommended to drink lots of water and maybe climb an easier route with a short approach on your first day to get acclimatized.
Animals and Plants
Tuolumne is bear country, and about 400 bears live in Yosemite National Park. Bears will seek out food, or empty containers that smell like food, wherever it can be found, and you will be required to store ALL your food, drinks, and scented items in bearproof lockers while in the Park.
Each campsite at the Tuolumne Meadows campground has its own food locker. If you camp in the backcountry, use the bearproof canisters. Several bearproof lockers can also be found at trailheads and near parking lots. Do not leave food inside your car, including canned food, bottles, toothpaste, drinks, soap, sunscreen, cosmetics, trash, etc... If a bear breaks into your car to steal food (and they do), you are liable for $500 or more in fines. Be extremely careful about leaving food in your climbing pack at the base of a route. Bears are very intelligent and know where climbers go. Try to bring food up with you and leave nothing at the base.
If you see a bear in a developped area such as a campground, make as much noise as possible by yelling and banging pots together to scare it away. If you see one in the backcountry, try to stay at least 50 yards away to allow it to continue in its natural behavior.
To help protect the bears, please drive slowly and respect the speed limits. The most commom human-related cause of bear deaths in the Park is being hit by a car.
For more information about bears, please visit the Park Service's bear and food storage page .
Also beware of marmots. These guys are always on the lookout for climbing packs and they will chew a hole through it to get to the goods. Always hang your pack high up in a tree branch while you climb or bring your food up on the wall with you.
Mosquitoes and other bugs and insects are always present for most of the summer in Tuolumne, and they can be quite aggressive. Don't forget to bring your favorite insect repellent, and if you'll be hiking in the backcountry, consider wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and try to cover as much as possible.
Climbing closures can be in effect to protect sensitive peregrine falcon nesting sites. Check with park visitor centers or wilderness centers for current closures.
Hiking or trail running in Tuolumne Meadows is a no brainer because there are so many nice trails leading to wonderful high alpine lakes, peaks, etc. Head up to Mono Pass, the Cathedral Lakes, Mt Dana, May Lake, Gaylor Lakes or Elizabeth Lake. If you want to take a break from rope climbing but still want to get on the rock, Tuolumne has a lot of very high quality bouldering that can keep you busy on a rest day.
If you don't feel like hiking or running and you just want to relax, then go hit the beach at Tenaya Lake for a refreshing dip. Or maybe jump on a horse and go for a horseback ride. There are also endless possibilities if you like fishing. Streams and lakes abound all around Tuolumne Meadows, Lee Vining Canyon and all the way to Bishop.
Go for a drive and head down to the Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy, Bishop or Mammoth Lakes. Hot Springs can also be found around Mammoth and Bishop.
It is possible to bring your dog to Tuolumne, but keep in mind that there are many strict rules to follow:
Dogs are only allowed in developed areas and on roads and paved trails. They are not allowed on other trails or in wilderness areas. They must be leashed at all times or physically restrained. As always, it is imperative to clean up after your pet and deposit feces in trash to protect wildlife from disease. Pets are not allowed in any accomodations within the park. While they are allowed in the Tuolumne campground, they are not allowed in some other ones. It is not allowed to leave your pet attached or tied and left unattended.