Climbing Guides to Yosemite and the High Sierra

In recent years, Erik Sloan has come out with a pair of sumptuous new guidebooks, one for bigwalls and one for free climbing. These are the best Yosemite climbine guides currently available.

Yosemite Free Climbs

The last Yosemite free climbing guidebook that attempted to be complete came out in 1992. Even if you can find a copy, hundreds of routes have gone up since then, including moderate modern classics, so it's not just the Dawn Wall that it's missing. It's things like Super Slacker Highway, a modern classic 5.10b. Fortunately, most of the quality routes are in the new Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley with 750 routes. Like Erik Sloan's bigwall guidebook, this one is also full of inspiring photos and stories. Sadly, I spend as much time perusing it these days as I do actually climbing. But it is handy for those who don't know Yosemite to have so many photos of the routes to help you find the ones that inspire you.

Yosemite Big Walls

When it comes to big walls, the choice of guidebook is easy — the most recent and complete guide would be the new Yosemite Bigwalls guidebook. The 2017 e-book update is only $10! That said, the paperback is beautiful. Full of pictures and stories and can sit on your coffee table and help you keep your psyche through those long winter nights.

Tuolumne Free Climbs

In the summer, most locals try to climb in Tuolumne. While the Valley bakes at 98 degrees F in July and August, Tuolumne remains cool and comfortable. Here, I think both current guidebooks are good. Reid and Falkenstein recently came out with a new edition of the their Rock Climbing Tuolumne Meadows guidebook and there's the SuperTopo Tuolumne Free Climbs as well. It's a choice between breadth (Reid and Falkenstein) and depth (SuperTopo). I've never had any trouble with the Reid and Falkenstein descriptions, so I personally prefer breadth. If you're the kind of person who finds yourself often lost on approaches or off-route on climbs, you might prefer the SuperTopo book.

High Sierra Technical Routes

This is a tough category. No book has an extensive collection of routes and most books do not remotely compare in quality to the sort of guidebooks that are available for the Alps, for example. Any book for the Alps would tell you how long you should take for the approach, the route and the descent, for example. Yes, everyone goes at different speeds, but once you've done a couple of routes you know what factor you need to apply to the numbers provided by a given author. Very useful information. Why do most of the books for the High Sierra omit that basic information? I don't know, but I do know that it is much easier to choose routes based on books for the Alps than based on books for the Sierra. Most High Sierra climbing guides don't even give you enough information to decide whether or not you need one or three days for a given route. You have to guess by poring over maps, asking people who've done the route and so forth. Aggravating. So there!

There are basically four books that I know of:

  • SuperTopo High Sierra Climbing. This is the exception to my complaint above. It has a nice selection of routes, some quality photos, and, yes information on how long you should expect to take for the approach and the route.
  • Moynier and Fiddler Climbing California's High Sierra is the classic and somewhat improved in the second edition. There's a nice selection of routes and it gets great reviews on Amazon, but frankly the descriptions of the approaches and the routes are often close to useless when trying to pick a route from the comfort of your own home. This is one of those books that gives you no idea of how many days to plan on.
  • Peter Croft's The Good, the Great, and the Awesome: The Top 40 High Sierra Rock Climbs is without a doubt one of the most entertaining guidebooks you'll read and, while not as good on the nuts and bolts aspects as the SuperTopo book, it is an improvement over the Moynier and Fiddler book.
  • RJ Secor, High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The route descriptions here are terse. No other way to put it, but Secor has information on more routes in the Sierra than anyone else, probably by a factor or ten or twenty. If you are the adventurous sort and you want to get off the beaten path, this is the book for you. Secor basically simply tells you very roughly where the route is and how to get there. Sometimes there's a detailed description, but not often. This is the adventurer's guide and the one that will make you dream of exploration more than any other guidebook for the Sierra.

Speed Climbing, by Hans Florine and Bill Wright.

I also want to mention one instructional book that may prove useful to people coming from home areas where they're not used to climbing 12 or 20 pitches in a day.

If you're not used to climbing long traditional routes, you might want to read up a bit on speed climbing techniques before coming to Yosemite. The phrase "speed climbing" has a negative connotation to some, but "benighted" and "unplanned bivy" both have really negative connotations to me.

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