East Buttress of El Capitan



Quick Facts

Approach Time: 

one hour

Descent Time: 

1-2 hours


9-13 pitches




Your rating: 4




The main highlight: it's on El Cap. It's not considered a "real" El Cap route since it is pretty much always climbed in a day, but it is a chance to at least touch the big stone and check out the East Ledges descent.


The details are in every published topo for Yosemite free climbing and more are widely available on the net, so there's not much point in recounting them all here. Just a few things to add.

  • If you are a strong party (solid 5.10), you can start out on The Moratorium (5.11a) and get some excellent climbing that spits you out right at the base of the East Butt. The 5.11 section is only about five feet long or so and a solid 5.10 leader should be able to pull through that section quickly.
  • Keep your distance from the base while crossing over from Zodiac to the route, since stuff can come off and the wall there is real steep and hanging right over you.

That said, by all means use the Fish topo which brings the length down to 9 pitches compared to the 13 pitches in the other topo and specifically warns you about avoiding the ant tree on pitch 2. Be aware that a 60m rope will be stretched to the limit and then some to get to the tree at the top of the Fish topo's pitch 3 (that's pitch 5 on the standard topo).

A few additional notes.

  • The first pitch is easy and fun as 5.9 Yosemite chimneys go
  • The second pitch is a tricky 5.10b move, but it is literally one move. There used to be a pin, then there was nothing, and now I'm told there's a bolt there (2006). In any case, once it's over, it's pretty easy climbing.
  • do not stop at the ant tree on pitch 2, but go all the way up into the gully.
  • The 5.6 arrête is nice and bit intimidating (see photo above). With a 60m rope, your partner(s) will likely have to start moving a bit and completely undo the belay for you to reach the tree if you are using the Fish topo
  • A not so nice section leads you to the prominent corner that dominates the route.
  • You can climb the corner or the face, and almost everyone opts for the face. This is a fairly tough pitch, perhaps the real crux of the climb, and a good gauge of whether you're ready for the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral rock. Now you'll start to really feel the exposure too (see "thumbs up" picture of Rossano below).
  • From there you have some nice, relatively moderate but occasionally somewhat runout climbing that gets you quickly to the top

As for the descent, the main thing is to look for the starburst pattern in the quartzite veins on the wall and then look for the rap stations opposite that. There is also a set of rap stations that requires two ropes (often has fixed lines of dubious quality) that you can find by hugging the wall above the east ledges. Basically, just before you get to the abyss, you should find the first station on that rap route.

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