Northwest Buttress of Tenaya Peak

I wanted to tick off this Tuolumne Meadows classic as soon as I arrived to the Sierra Eastside. It dominates from the road, standing over Tenaya Lake. I first saw it bouldering in the nearby Tenaya Lake boulders. Some climbers I ran into said it was an awesome climb.
Rob and I decided to go for it. Due to timing issues, including the road work in the meadows, we didn’t reach the trailhead until past noon on a Friday. On the minus, we’d be climbing in the heat of the day. On the plus, there would be nobody on the route.
We started the approach from the Tenaya lake parking lot. The trail begins as a use-path through the trees. Pretty soon, the climb appeared right in front of us. To reach the base of the buttress, we crossed left around the wet, dark slabs.
I was pouring sweat during this short, steep approach. It was past noon, in summer, with the 8,000-foot sun bearing down. Remind me never to climb this late again.
We soon reached the base of the climb, with the entire route spread before us. As most everyone does, we soloed the first, easy slabs. The views the entire day were sublime. The climbing is always easy, but the setting is beyond spectacular.
The route from the base of the climb, where we crossed over to the slabs.
As we thought, there was nobody on the route — not a single soul. The combination with it being a Friday, plus the reservation, plus the time; meant we’d have the climb for ourselves. We got around the reservation by dropping a car over the gate at Tioga Pass at 5:50 that morning.
The Tenaya Peak money shot.
A little more than half-way up, the route became fifth class and we roped up. Since the climb was short and we didn’t care about speed for a casual, half-day climb — we brought a little extra pro. Doubles from #0.5 to #2 and a set of nuts. A little overkill, but it made finding protection easy when we wanted it.
Rob led the first pitch. I soon followed, then took over the next lead.
First pitch
I opted to do the entire climb in approach shoes that I just purchased. Rob wore climbing shoes. I have little experience with friction slabs, and as luck would have it, the next pitch was all friction. I ascended on lead, with only one gear placement every 10 meters. There’s nothing quite like learning friction slab technique, run-out while on the sharp end, in approach shoes.
Friction slab pitch.
After that, Rob led another pitch. I followed, and found that the terrain eased up to 5.easy and 4th-class. We simul-soloed for about two pitches, until we reached a monster belay ledge. This was a cool ledge, with awesome views. Plenty of flat spots, too. I wonder what the NPS would think about people camping there.
Do belays get any better than that?
I led the next pitch. It was easy fifth class, except for a dicey friction traverse move on steeper slabs. It made me wish I brought actual climbing shoes. I placed a good piece in, then completed it with the shoes barely holding on.
After that, Rob did a half-pitch which brought us towards the 4th class traverse to the summit.
Last pitch before fourth-class traverse, on climber’s left of the peak.
When I followed, the first handhold I grabbed was a loose, torso-sized flake. It dislodged, slid down, and collided with my ankle bone. Ouch. I had to rest for a few minutes before the pain subsided enough for me to climb again. I’d become complacent with all the good rock here. I didn’t think to test the hold.
I followed, in a lot of pain. We then continued onto the 4th-class traverse to the summit to save time. It was exposed and loose in parts. We did protect some of it out of an abundance of caution. There was one particularly airy traverse which was fun to do. The views were phenomenal the whole way, and were from a cool perspective.
Looking at Stately Pleasure Dome from the fourth-class traverse.
After the traverse, the summit was a short 3rd-class scramble away. These views were beyond phenomenal, with granite soaring out of evergreen meadows. I thought Yosemite was over-rated. I’ve only spent time in the Valley (a.k.a Disneyland) in prior years. But as for Tuolumne Meadows, it’s pure magic.
Tenaya Lake from the summit.
Summit view looking back towards Tuolumne Meadows. peaks in the horizon are around ~12,000 feet.
Now, we would do the descent. I heard from another climber that there was a shortcut down to the Tenaya Lake Beach, right next to the car. Rob’s guidebook confirmed this too. It would be via some chutes, ledges, and low-angle slabs.
We followed a use trail for a ways. It seemed to go all the way to the Cloud’s Rest trail — the long way around to the cars. We soon left the trail and went down towards the ridge, hoping to find the shortcut which would bring us down.
We descended and looked over the ridge-line. We didn’t see any way that would go — only cliffs. We did miss a tree-covered chute a few hundred feet back towards the summit. It went from the ridge-line to the beach. That may have been the shortcut.
A few hundred feet ahead of us was the location where the West Ridge merged into a North Ridge of Tenaya. From our vantage point, it looked like a much easier route. My topographic map showed the grade would be mellow as well.
So, we traveled cross-country to that ridge-line. We reached it, started to descend, but ran into more cliffs! It wouldn’t go.
We continued back uphill and traversed again, much to our chagrin. We should’ve been at the Mobil by now, devouring a burger.
On the descent.
We continued past that ridge-line and saw another way that could go. We followed that down, only to find more cliffs. We were so annoyed that we discussed rappelling off a tree so we could make our way. But in the end, we decided to traverse more along the West Ridge.
After some more walking, we found a way that would go — off the West side of Tenaya Peak. We left the ridgeline via a cliff-free route.
A view of the Northwest Buttress taken on the descent. A more accurate perspective of the grade.
As a result of our long detour, we had an unexpected surprise. Cloud’s Rest and Half-Dome took up the skyline. They were shrouded in haze too. We thought it was fog at the time, but unbeknown to us, the Washburn fire started while we were climbing. It was wildfire smoke — the first of the season.
Cloud’s Rest (left) and Half-Dome (right).
From where we left the ridge-line, the fall line would take us to the Cloud’s Rest trail — the long way around. The way back to Tenaya Lake wouldn’t be straightforward. So, I took out a compass, and we followed bearings back to Tenaya Lake.
This bearing was a long, cross-country traverse which veered skier’s right. Rob didn’t think it would go, but I assured him to trust in the compass. We did have to navigate around a few cliffs, but before we knew it, Tenaya Lake was visible again.
Our descent route.
At the same time, mosquitoes began to swarm us. I remembered to bring bug spray, and we doused our skin in 100% DEET. It was disgusting and smelled worse than it felt. But, it kept the mosquitoes away.
From there, a well-maintained trail for a mile-and-a-half brought us back to our cars. Unfortunately, we’d miss closing time for the Mobil by the time we drove back. We wouldn’t have any dinner to celebrate with. Thankfully, I’d bought groceries a few days earlier. I whipped up sausage rolls with peppers, onions, and spicy mustard for dinner. Not too bad.

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