Tenaya Peak, NW Buttress (5.5)

A Slab Wonderland

After a day resting in Reno, Kylie and I left her home after lunch and drove down towards Yosemite and Tioga Pass. We were hoping to get into the park in time for a quick run up Tenaya Peak and its low angle NW Buttress. Unfortunately road construction and a lengthy line at the park entrance meant that we only pulled into the trailhead around 4:30 pm. We were going to have to be fast.

We blasted into the forest, not bothering to find the approach trail. We prepped so fast that we forgot the bug spray and were quickly swarmed by mosquitoes. After a little bushwhacking and huffing and puffing, we got onto the slabs at the base of Tenaya Peak. Now it was time for the fun part.

NW Buttress Tenaya Peak
Looking up the NW Buttress.

The route is listed in guidebooks as over 1000 ft tall and 15 pitches long, but in reality most of it is no-hands slab terrain. Still in our approach shoes, we were running up the slabs so quickly we were out of breath. I’m not sure we will ever be so gassed while rock climbing. It was quite a cardio workout!

Tenaya Lone Tree
Lone Tree on a nearby ridge.
Running up Tenaya
Speed climbing up Tenaya.

About one third up the route, we switched into climbing shoes, and about two thirds up, we broke out the rope. We were giggling the whole way on the perfect, sticky granite slabs. Additionally, it appeared we were going to have this classic, beginner Yosemite route all to ourselves! We call this the Beckey strategy (named for the popular Beckey route on Liberty Bell): pick a popular route and try to be last on route rather than first on route.

Tenaya Peak Lead
Kylie leads up a thin finger crack.

From here, we simul-climbed on a 30m rope through many low 5th and 4th class steps. We had a topo, but honestly, there’s no need for one on this route. All routes are about equal, you just have to scout out your next few steps ahead of time. We simply kept on track to an obvious shadowed dihedral near the top of the route, which held the 5.5 crux. I gave Kylie a normal belay through this crux, which she led easily, and then we were at the summit!

The light was getting low and we had a fantastic view of the Yosemite High Country. We saw Matthes Crest, our goal for the next morning, and the top half of Half Dome.

Overlooking Half Dome
Overlooking the Valley. Half Dome in the foreground.
Matthes Crest View
The incredible Matthes Crest knife-edge ridge.

Since it was getting later in the evening, we decided we would try to take the more technical shortcut descent where you cut across the face and end up back at the car. We hiked down the ridge a ways before finding a weakness in the face and figured we would give it a shot. We quickly found cairns, indicating that we were on path.

Tenaya Peak Sunset
Sunset over Tenaya Lake.

We wound our way downwards and right, scampering across slabs and weaving through cliffs, eventually coming out at the shores of Tenaya Lake. A short walk brought us back to the car at 9pm, just before headlamps were needed. A fantastic introduction to Yosemite!


  • The actual 5th class sections compromise maybe only the upper half of the route, so it is no where near as long as 15 pitches might make it sound.
  • The shortcut descent went well for us with no real beta on it, so I would not hesitate to recommend it to others. It definitely saved us a lot of time.
  • Go late like we did and you’ll have this classic to yourself!

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