Northwest Buttress, Tenaya Peak 5.5


Tuolumne Meadows, California USA

  • Currently 4.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 5-7 hours
Approach time: 30 minutes
Descent time: 1-1.5 hours
Number of pitches: 14
Height of route: 1500'
Long, sweeping, and spectacular, the Northwest Buttress of Tenaya Peak is an obvious line. Yet, in the past, it has seen almost no traffic because the route appears loose and blocky. In reality, the climbing is supremely clean on amazing, white granite. Unlike the knobby, flaky granite of Cathedral and Matthes, the granite here is slick and cleanly fractured. While the crux moves are 5.5 friction, almost every pitch is 5.0-5.4ónot trivial, but not 3rd or 4th class blocks like many other long easier routes.
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Snow can be a problem on this route. Often a snow patch sits in the middle of the route until late June or July, and large slab avalanches have been seen in May. The snow condition is obvious from the road; if thereís any snow on the buttress, wait until later in the season. The snow patch normally sits at the crux of the route, and to bypass it to the right will involve harder climbing on unknown terrain.
The route is popular but even if others are on it there are dozens of ways to pass slower parties during the first half of the route. Do not underestimate the lengthóthe route appears foreshortened while you are on it and that tree that looks like itís one pitch up may well be four rope lengths ahead!

Getting to the start of the route is straight-forward until the last few hundred feet, where wet conditions, trees, loose rocks, and small cliffs must be negotiated. Unusually good trails, apparently from deer, are found in the lower brush.
There are a few options to finish the route: an easy traverse off left, a steep 5.8 hand crack or a loose, blocky finish up and right. If you feel comfortable dealing with loose rock, the right finish is the most direct and easiest route to the top, but the traverse off left is the standard finish. The 5.8 finish is fun, but somewhat grainy and mossy so it is not recommended unless youíre comfortable at the grade.

Since the route is longer than it looks and ascends a high point, watch out for storms. Itís possible to retreat off left at many points in the first half of the route, but rappelling involves leaving a lot of gear. There are many old fixed pitons in the upper half of the route and a few trees, but again gear is likely needed for rappel stations. Two ropes are not mandatory for retreat, but allow more rappelling options.
Park at the large parking lot with bathrooms, about 300 yards northeast of Tenaya Lake. Hike straight across the woods and meadows, aiming for the toe of the buttress. Work up surprisingly good deer trails to the left, then scramble and bushwack a bit to reach the toe of the rock. If you get on the main lower ledge, a short polished scramble leads up a waterchute, or simply work back left and go up and around. In general, the scrambling is easier than it looks. Look for trails and paths around difficulties.

Hike west down the ridge from the summit, generally staying to the left side of the actual ridgetop. After about 0.5 miles, start looking for an open bouldery area about 200 yards below some large rock formations on the ridgetop. Work around to the right and join the main ledge system. It helps to have carefully eyed the ledge system from the car ahead of time. There are some hard climbs on steep cliffs above the ledge once you start down. Follow the ledge all the way back (but be very careful, itís easy to get on dirty steep slabs). Once back at the start of the ledge, descend back down where you came up (or thrash down almost anywhere).

An easier, but longer, alternative is to keep hiking down the ridge until you reach a major hiking trail, then follow this back to the right. When the trail splits, the left branch leads to the road at the Sunrise trailhead at the west end of the lake, and the right contours along the lake back to the beach. This latter trail is very beautiful, with perfect views of the lake and Stately Pleasure Dome on the far side.
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  • Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows, by Don Reid and Chris Falkenstein.
Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff Last update: July 2, 2017
Tenaya Peak - Northwest Buttress 5.5 - Tuolumne Meadows, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Greg Barnes
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