The tale of the tape
Total hiking (approach plus descent): 14+ miles // 4,000′ vertical gain/loss
Total climbing (roped and final 3rd class slabs): 1,400′
This climb is often called Snake Hike, and for good reason – you spend a lot more time walking than you do climbing! Going car-to-car is a long day on your feet, and a great way to tune-up for longer days in the mountains.
The approach is found in plenty of guidebooks and websites, so I’ll spare repeating it. The only piece of advice I’ll give is the final bit: walking towards Little Yosemite Valley (perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 mile before the LYV sign), there is only one place where the trail meets/crosses a solid granite slab descending from the small ridge on walker’s left. Turn left here, slip through the notch, gain a highpoint, and sight Lost Lake. Work towards Lost Lake – in general losing elevation before you begin to traverse. From Lost Lake the trail becomes more distinct until you hit the talus. For my money, the slabs are the way to go from here. If you’re wearing approach shoes, just pick a low-angle-looking section and gun it. If you’re wearing boots or trail runners, it’s worth putting on climbing shoes.
At the top of the obvious slabs, choose either a leftward traverse on a well-defined climber’s trail, eventually turning back on itself to gain the final 100′ or so to the base (easily sighted from a distance as the cluster of trees on the shoulder of the dome) – or climbing some easy 5th class ledges directly up and towards the aforementioned trees. The start of the route is obvious as it has a few trees on the right side and a small (2′) roof.
The route itself is straightforward except for one section: the 5.7 friction stepacross. At the second belay, you need to gain the LEFT dike – DO NOT continue straight up towards the right dike. There will be a very small dike about 15′ above the belay moving up and left towards the BIG dike you obviously want. This small dike, as a further enticement, has a bolt quite near it. DON’T get suckered in to clipping this bolt and taking this dike (that is if you want to climb the 5.7 – feel free to go for it if you’re feeling frisky). Instead, stay well below the dike on semi-obvious small dishes for a friction foot traverse. There’s a bolt about 1/3 of the way across to the big dike that’s easily missed, so keep your eyes open.
Runouts? Honestly, I’m no hero, and I never noticed them in the two times I’ve done this climb. You would have to be totally inattentive or actively let go in order to fall on any of the dike pitches. Pay attention and don’t let go.
From here on out you’d just about have to try to get off-route. Follow the dike up. Efficient parties will unrope after the first seated belay – your feet/achilles are likely to be screaming and this will be a MAJOR milestone on the climb.
After this, all that’s left are several hundred feet of seemingly endless 3rd class slabs to the summit. I think this is the crux of the whole day! People seem to talk a lot about wether to stay right or left, but I just go with whatever looks low-angle and it’s always seemed to work out well.
We were lucky enough to hit the summit just after the cables were closed because of rain/lightning danger and literally had the whole summit to ourselves.
From here, you take the cables down – totally surreal to be the only person on the cables when the number is often >100 – and start the knee-brutalizing trip back down to the valley.