Favorite Yosemite Spots: Climbing the Leaning Tower

As part of an ongoing series, we feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The Leaning Tower, a granite feature located next to Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of Marta Czajkowska, who lives and works as a photographer in Yosemite Valley.

“One of my most favorite places in Yosemite Valley is the Leaning Tower. Frequently overlooked, the Leaning Tower rises to the right of Bridalveil Fall. A stupendous overhanging tower of flawless granite. The tower is known to climbers as the “The steepest wall in North America”. That steepness is what makes it so remote. There is no hiking trail and advanced technical rock craft is required and tested if you want to conquer it. The lower part of the Tower overhangs an average of 110 degrees, while the upper section averages about 95 degrees – making it one of the world’s most continuously overhanging granite cliffs. It’s just a little too steep and a little too long to be an easy day climb.

Climbing a rock that’s that overhanging means three things:

1. Exposure. More often than not when you are climbing the Leaning Tower you are hanging in space. There is little below you but air.

2. Hard work. The less contact with the rock, the more physical it is to climb. This is when we start talking about Gravity with a capital G. You can REALLY feel it.

3. Safe Falls. If you happen to be falling down, it’s best not to encounter anything on your way. Overhanging cliffs are the safest for falling.

The magic of climbing the Leaning Tower is that the route starts already half way up the face. It’s like a shortcut. The other thing is that these extremely hard and overhanging sections are interspersed with huge and lavish ledges. One of them is so big and comfy, that it was christened “Ahwahnee Ledge” – encountering a ledge that size feels as luxurious as staying at The Ahwahnee. Right before the real summit there is another huge ledge, called “Dano Ledge” after Dan Osman, a climber known for his boldness and vision. Hanging out on Dano Ledge, watching a sunset – life does not get any better!”

The Leaning Tower has been named since 1883. At 6500 feet elevation, the tower rises 2500 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. Across the valley from Yosemite’s giant stone monolith, El Capitan, the tower was also known as “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah’s Citadel”, based on the Native American name for El Capitan.

Marta also wrote about her climbing experience at the Leaning Tower on The Cleanest Line blog for Patagonia in 2013.

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Favorite Yosemite Spots: Higher Cathedral Spire

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

The “Favorite Spots” series features the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Theresa came to the park on an extended rock climbing vacation in 2003, and still hasn’t left. Although she also loves to hike and explore the Yosemite backcountry, it’s no surprise that wild, airy places are among her favorites.

“Whenever someone asks me what my favorite spot in Yosemite is, the first place that comes to mind is usually the one that I’ve been to most recently. The fresh memories are so vivid and clear, and Yosemite is full of jaw-dropping places. Still, if pressed, I’d have to admit that over the years, the summit of Higher Cathedral Spire often ends up rising to the top of the list.

If you look across the meadow from El Capitan, there are two long slender fingers of rock rising up to the left of Middle Cathedral Rock, Lower Cathedral Spire, and above that, Higher Cathedral Spire.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Part of the appeal is that this summit is challenging to get to. Unlike the summits of more vaunted cliffs like El Capitan or Half Dome, there are no hikers’ trails to the summit. Technical rock climbing skills and gear are required, which means my partners and I have almost always had the summit all to ourselves.

On the other hand, it’s relatively accessible and only a moderately difficult climb. The easiest route to the top is 5.9 on the climbing scale where beginners often start out on 5.6 and the hardest climbs in the world are currently going at 5.15c.

From the top of the spire, you get a magnificent birds-eye view of Sentinel Rock, the top of Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, and of course, El Capitan. The summit is also the perfect size. Big enough that you can relax, walk around a little, and even take a nap, yet still small enough to give you the feeling of being on top of the world.”

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Higher Cathedral Spire was first climbed in 1934 by Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson and Dick Leonard, in the era when climbers were just beginning to explore Yosemite’s cliffs with ropes and gear.

Yosemite for Everyone – Rock and Roll Yosemite’s 8th Annual Visit

Part of Yosemite’s appeal is the accessibility of its grand vistas and enormous cliffs. You don’t have to hike for miles to be sprayed by the mist of a waterfall that is hundreds of feet high. Short paved paths lead to many amazing sites making them both stroller and wheelchair-friendly.

The Rock ‘n Roll Yosemite camp run by Access Leisure visited the park for the 8th straight year. From May 14 – 17 participants explored Yosemite Valley by hand cycle and exposed themselves to the thrill of rock climbing during an Adaptive Rock Climbing Session organized by Mark Wellman of No Limits, and with the help of Yosemite Mountaineering School climbing guides.

Climber Sheryl Cooley sets out under the watchful eye of Mark Wellman and a Yosemite Mountaineering School guide.

Climber Sheryl Cooley sets out under the watchful eye of Mark Wellman and a Yosemite Mountaineering School guide.

Climber Abeba Benton is strong enough that she doesn't need the 3:1 mechanical advantage, simply executing dozens of pull-ups to reach the top.

Climber Abeba Benton is strong enough that she doesn’t need the 3:1 mechanical advantage, simply executing dozens of pull-ups to reach the top.

Jim Davis takes advantage of his strong right arm and an ascender on his right foot to climb to the top.

Jim Davis takes advantage of his strong right arm and an ascender on his right foot to climb to the top.