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California is big. Visiting climbers should think like it's a continent - like another Europe. Usually one or two regions will offer more than enough great climbing (and car-driving) for a single visit.

transportation: The bad news is that public transportation outside major cities and population corridors is infrequent or lacking. Most climbing areas are difficult to access without a car. Most climbing guidebooks and websites just assume that you have a car. The good news is that renting + fueling + operating a car is usually much less expensive than in Europe.

Some of the best newer climbing areas require a High Clearance vehicle for driving access. Some might require 4WD in addition to HC. Some companies in California rent vehicles with HC (and 4WD). some rental car companies have restrictions in their contracts which forbid driving the vehicle on or off certain kinds of roads.

Passes/Cols: Some key roads E-W across the Sierra mountains are closed for several months of the year (e.g. Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass) - (This is not Switzerland: there are no alternate tunnel roads or tunnel trains anywhere nearby).
Many other mountain roads and passes (including highway 50 and Interstate-80) might be closed or require chains during/after major snowstorms. The California Highway Patrol police frequently checks cars for chains when there are storms. Chains can sometimes be purchased at gas service stations before the passes. Some rental cars do not permit chains.

resources info:
CampToCamp route descriptions and outing reports Comments and route descriptions
recent English-language print guidebooks route descriptions and commments route desriptions
discussion forum posts on MountainProject, SuperTopo, etc

Usually get pretty good coverage of useful current info for a route by purchasing a current print guidebook for a region and supplementing that with the latest Comments for that route on MountainProject + c2c (and other web sources).

Regions + Mountain Ranges list
Los Angeles region
Joshua Tree
San Jacinto mountains (Tahquitz/Suicide)
San Bernardino mountains
Northern cities + valleys
San Francisco Bay region
other (Pinnacles, Calaveras Domes)
North Forests
. (including Mt Shasta, Lassen Peak, Trinity Aretes, Castle Crags)
Sierra west
Sonora Pass region
Yosemite National Park (El Capitan, Half Dome, Tuolumne Meadows)
Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Park (Chimney Rock, Moro Rock)
southern Sierra hills (Needles, Kern River crags)
High Sierra Crest
Mt Whitney
Palisades region
Mt Conness region, Sawtooth Ridge, etc
Owens valley: Bishop, Owens River Gorge, Mammmoth Lakes, Mono Lake
Death Valley
White mountains, Inyo mountains

Maps showing these regions in GPX format are linked from this page.

Regions + Mountain Ranges details

Southern mountains + regions
LAX - International visitors would typically access these climbing areas and peaks from Los Angeles International airport -- most are within 3 hours driving.

Joshua Tree National Park region (E of Palm Springs)

. . Joshua Tree
. . famous climbing area, especially in colder seasons, near (N34.0138 W116.1627)

San Jacinto mountains (SW of Palm Springs)

San Jacinto peak (3302m): c2c

. . Tahquitz / Suicide
. . famous trad climbing areas (info MP)
. . near (N33.7648 W116.6871)

San Bernardino mountains (NW of Palm Springs)

San Gorgonio (3506m) : c2c
. . (highest summit in southern California)

Mt San Antonio / Mt Baldy : c2c

Mt Baden-Powell : c2c

Los Angeles region
. . (to be added) - (info MP)

other Southern . . .

San Luis Obispo peaks ...
. interesting volcanic rock, near (N35.3138 W120.7267) (info MP)
. guide: California Central Coast Climbs: San Luis Obispo, by Tom Slater (K Daniels Associates 2005)

Northern cities + valleys
SFO - International visitors would typically access these climbing areas from San Francisco International airport -- all are within 3 hours driving. Nearby is famous climbing in the Sierra West regions.

Pinnacles National Park (formerly P. National Monument)
Interesting Trad climbing, but not the most sound rock, near (N36.4906 W121.2063) - (info MP).
guide: A Climber's Guide to Pinnacles National Monument, by Brad Young (2007)
* Elephant Rock : c2c

San Francisco Bay region
including Berkeley, Castle Rock, Mickey's Beach - (info MP)

North Forests
. (the far north part of the state of California) .
International visitors would typically access these climbing areas and peaks from SFO San Francisco International -- though most are more than 3 hours driving from the airport.

guide: California Road Trip: A Climber's Guide to Northern California, by Tom Slater and Chris Summit (Maximus Press 2009). Useful guide for many different non-alpine rock climbing areas.

Trinity Aretes
. near (N40.7937 W123.5076) (info on MP)

Castle Crags
. approach trail near (N41.1655 W122.3214) (info on MP)

Mt Shasta (4322m) (N41.4092 W122.1951) - great volcano, standing alone above the vast forests. (also ski rando)

Lassen Peak (3189m) (N40.4877 W121.5050) - volcanic area. (also ski rando)

Sierra West regions
These regions include the foothills and peaks of the Sierra mountain range which are normally accessed by roads from the west or south sides, so international visitors would typically fly into SFO or LAX. (Peaks in Yosemite N.P. and Sequoia Kings Canyon N.P. which are normally accessed from the east side are included in the High Sierra Crest regions.)

Guide: California Road Trip: A Climber's Guide to Northern California, by Tom Slater and Chris Summit (Maximus Press 2009). Useful guide for many different non-alpine rock climbing areas.

Guide: The High Sierra: Peaks - Passes - Trails (3rd edition), by R. J. Secor ( 2009). Valuable comprehensive reference for alpine climbing and hiking.

South Sierra hills region

. . Needles
. near (N36.1211 W118.5042) . (info MP)

. . Kern River crags
. near (N35.8292 W118.4543) . (info MP)

Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Park
Includes some great climbing peaks, but many of them require long hiking access. Also some good crags closer to the road.

Climbing areas closer to roads / lower altitude
. Chimney Rock - near (N36.6546 W118.8671)

. Moro Rock - near (N36.5440 W118.7650)

Remote / higher altitude ...

Castle Rock Spire : near (N36.5083 W118.7184)
Spectacular blade of rock. Mostly aid routes. Near The Fin, in the vicinity of Moro Rock.
guide: Secor p124

The Fin : near (N36.51010 W118.71619)
Great climbing on W face, difficulty around 5.9/5.10 -- Near Castle Rock Spire, in the vicinity of Moro Rock.
guide: Secor p127

Charlotte Dome (3259m) (N36.7824 W118.4804)
* S face / SE face (5.8)

Angel Wings : near (N36.5705 W118.5849)
very big granite wall
guide: Moynier+Fiddler p142
guide: Secor p106
* S arete Direct (5.11)

Hamilton Dome : near (N36.56053 W118.58205)
guide: Secor p105
* N arete (5.7)
. . guide: Moynier+Fiddler p140

Black Kaweah (4180m) (N36.5453 W118.5156)
dramatic peak
guide: Secor p111
guide: Moynier+Fiddler p132
* SW face (class 3)

The Obelisk (N36.9077 W118.8539)
Moderate routes (5.7-5.9) on excellent rock. Long difficult approach.
guide: Secor p205

Tehipite Dome (2350m) (N36.9186 W118.7810)
Biggest dome in the Sierra.
guide: Secor p210

Yosemite National Park

. . Yosemite Valley - c2c

Half Dome (N37.7452 W119.5338) : c2c
Snake Dike
NW Classic

El Capitan (N37.7322 W119.6372) : c2c

North Dome : c2c
S face
Crest Jewel

Royal Arches : c2c

Glacier Point : c2c

Higher Cathedral Rock : c2c

. . Tuolumne Meadows

Stately Pleasure Dome : c2c

Tenaya Peak (3135m) (N37.8285 W119.4435)
* NW buttress (5.5)

Fairview Dome (N37.8713 W119.4038) : c2c
* Regular Route

Lembert Dome : c2c

. . Cathedral range
Along the south side of Tuolumne Meadows. An ocean of granite.

Cathedral Peak (3326m) (N37.8478 W119.4055) : c2c
SE Buttress (5.6) : c2c
NW face from E side approach (normal descent route, class 4/5)

Eichorn Pinnacle (N satellite of Cathedral Peak)
West Pillar (5.9)
N face (short 5.4)

Echo Peaks

Matthes Crest (3328m) (N37.8237 W119.3973)
S Ridge traverse (5.7-5.6)
N Ridge (5.8-5.7)

. . Clark range

Mt Clark (3513m) (N37.6963 W119.4285)
* SE arete (class 4)

. . Mt Lyell area

Mt Lyell (3999m) (N37.7394 W119.2717)
Highest summit in Yosemite National Park
* E ridge (class 3, often with snow)

(Mt Conness: see under High Sierra Crest regions)

Sonora Pass highway region
. (Climbing normally accessed from route 108) .

Guide: A Climber's Guide to the Sonora Pass Highway (2nd edition), by Brad Young and Steve Dawson (2013)

other Sierra West . . .

. . Shuteye Ridge
approach road near (N37.2291 W119.5041)
guide: Shuteye Ridge by Grahm Doe ( 2013)

. . Courtright Reservoir
Trapper Dome (N37.1029 W118.9887)

High Sierra Crest regions
Many more 4000-meter peaks in the Sierra mountain range than in the European Alps. Very few huts/refuges. Very few glaciers. Very few lifts. Very few roads. Mt Whitney (4421m) is the highest summit in USA outside of Alaska.

The highest peaks are on the east side of the range, and rise dramatically from the broad valley. Highway 395 runs alongside the entire length of the high crest and offers many great views up to them. So many of the best alpine climbing routes have shorter access than the "average" Sierra peak (and are close to excellent crag climbing and bouldering in the Eastside valley regions).

Also a great area for ski mountaineering / randonnee. There is also a lift-served skiing station (Mammoth Mountain) which is large by USA standards. Many of the best ski tours are close to excellent crag climbing and bouldering in the Eastside valley regions.

International visitors can access the northern regions from Reno Tahoe International airport (RNO) and the southern regions from Los Angeles (LAX) or Las Vegas (LAS). Access from SFO is also possible, but driving can take much longer in the snow season (Oct-Nov to May-June) because the high roads are closed.

Guide: High Sierra Climbing (2nd edition), by Chris McNamara ( 2013). Detailed descriptions and topos for select alpine rock routes, also stories.

Guide: Climbing California's High Sierra (2nd edition), by John Moynier and Claude Fiddler ( 2002). Select alpine rock + ice climbs. Focus more on ideas and stories than details of route.

Guide: The High Sierra: Peaks - Passes - Trails (3rd edition), by R. J. Secor ( 2009). Valuable comprehensive reference for alpine climbing and hiking.

South section
. (south of the Mt Whitney region)
includes Horseshoe Meadows trailhead,

Mt Langley (4275m) (N36.5233 W118.2390)
* NE couloir (ski)

Mt Whitney section
. (includes climbs which are normally accessed from the Whitney Portal trailhead, including Meysan Lake, South Fork + North Fork Lone Pine creek drainages, and some adjoining terrain west of Mt Whitney.)
. (Access to many of these routes requires advance permits for much of the year)

Lone Pine Peak (3945m) (N36.5615 W118.2253)
* N ridge (5.5)

Mt Muir (4273m)
* E buttress (N side) (5.2)

Keeler Needle (4344m)
* E face / Harding route (5.10c)

Mt Whitney (4421m) (N36.5783 W118.2936) : c2c
East Face (5.7-5.6) : c2c
East Buttress (5.7-5.8)
Mountaineers Gully (climb 3rd class)
Mountaineers Gully (ski) : c2c
* Mt Whitney Trail

Mt Russell (4296m) (N36.5900 W118.2905)
Fishhook Arete (5.9)
Mithral Dihedral (5.9)
* East Ridge (3rd class)

Mt Williamson section
. (from Lake Tulainyo north to Kearsarge Pass)

. Lake Tulainyo (3902m) is one of the highest lakes in USA.

Mt Williamson (4383m) (N36.6559 W118.3111)
Second highest summit in California, more massive than Mt Whitney. Much more difficult access thab Mt Whitney.

Split Mountain section
. (from Kearsarge Pass north to Southfork Pass)

Split Mountain (4287m) (N37.0208 W118.4223)
NE couloir (ice/snow)
E arete of N summit (5.8)

Palisides section
. (from Southfork Pass north to Bishop Pass)
Famous area for alpine routes.

Temple Crag (3957m) (N37.1098 W118.4927)
Venusian Blind Arete (5.7)
Moon Goddess Arete (5.9)
Sun Ribbon Arete (5.10a)
Dark Star (5.10)

Middle Palisade (4273m) (N37.0699 W118.4700)
* NE face (class 4)

Norman Clyde Peak (4244m)
* Twilight Pillar (5.9)

Mt Sill (4318m)
* Swiss Arete (5.7)

Polemonium Peak (4270m)
* V-notch couloir (ice)

North Palisade (4343m) (N37.0940 W118.5229)
* U-notch couloir (snow/ice then rock)

Thunderbolt Peak (4270m)
* NE couloir (ice then rock)

Bishop / Evolution section
. (from Bishop Pass to just south of Bear Creek Spire)

Mt Goode (3988m) (N37.1232 W118.5686)
* N buttress (5.9)

Mt Thomson
* N couloir (snow/ice)

Mt Emerson
SE face (5.4)
N face (snow/ice)

Mt Humphreys (4265m) (N37.2704 W118.6736)
E arete (5.4)
NE couloir (snow/ice)

Basin Mt : c2c (ski)

Mt Tom (ski)
* Elderberry Canyon (ski)

Rock Creek / Mono Recesses section

Bear Creek Spire (4184m) (N37.3679 W118.7677)
East Arete (5.8)
Northeast Ridge (5.5)
* North Arete (5.8)

Esha Peak : c2c

McGee - Mammoth section
. (roughly McGee Creek drainage north to Mammoth Pass)

Red Slate Mt (4005m) (N37.5073 W118.8693)
* N couloir (snow/ice)

Laurel Mt (3602m) (N37.5801 W118.8913)
. (easy access from rt 395, spectacular above Convict Lake)
* NE gully (5.2-5.4) (climb) / Mendenhall couloir (snow)

(nearby is Crystal Crag (3165m)

Minarets / Ritter range

Clyde Minaret (3740m)
* SE face (5.8)

Michael Minaret
* Eichorn's Chute (class 5)

Mt Ritter (4008m) (N37.6894 W119.1990)

Mt Wood section

San Joaquin Mt (3535m) (hiking)

Mt Wood (3855m) (N37.8091 W119.1656) (ski)

Mt Dana (3981m) (N37.8997 W119.2212)
* Dana couloir (snow/ice)

Dana Plateau: Third Pillar (5.10a)

Mt Conness section
. (from Tioga Pass to S end of Sawtooth Ridge)

Tioga Pass (3031m) : c2c

Mt Conness (3855m) (N37.9669 W119.3213)
West Ridge (5.6-5.7)
North Ridge (5.6-5.5)
* SW face (5.10c)

North Peak (3733m)
* N couloir (snow/ice)

Sawtooth Ridge section

Matterhorn Peak (3743m) (N38.0934 W119.3826)
* North Arete (5.6)

Incredible Hulk - near (N38.1212 W119.4149)
Sun Spot Dihedral (5.11b)
Positive Vibrations (5.11a)
Red Dihedral / Yggdrasil (5.10b)
Falling Dihedral (5.10a)

North section

Tower Peak (3583m) : c2c
. . Couloir NW

Eastside regions
These are east of the Sierra mountain range (away from the big cities, near Nevada), including Owens River valley, Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley - and very close by the Sierra High Crest regions.

International visitors can reach the northern regions from Reno Tahoe International (RNO). The Tahoe regions are also convenient from SFO.
Southern regions can be reached from LAX or Las Vegas (LAS).

Guide: California Road Trip: A Climber's Guide to Northern California, by Tom Slater and Chris Summit (Maximus Press 2009). Useful guide for many different non-alpine rock climbing areas.

Owens River Valley south region

. . Lone Pine area

Whitney Portal buttress (N36.5916 W118.2401)

Alabama Hills

. . Bishop area
guide: Bishop Area Rock Climbs (3rd edition), by Peter Croft and Marty Lewis ( 2008)

. . Buttermilks (bouldering)
. . near (N37.3296 W118.5657)

. . Happy boulders

. . Pine Creek Canyon
. near (N37.3827 W118.6720)

. . Owens River Gorge
famous sport-climbing area, near (N37.5096 W118.5694)
guide: Owens River Gorge Climbs (10th edition), by Marty Lewis ( 2005)

Owens River Valley north region

. . Mammoth area
guide: Mammoth Area Rock Climbs (3rd edition), by Marty Lewis and John Moynier ( 2004)

Crystal Crag sport routes
Crystal Crag (3165m) (N37.5911 W119.0139) alpine routes
Aretes of Crystal Crag direct (5.6)
S arete (class 4/5)
N ridge (5.6)
W face (class 3/4)

Dike Wall

Wailing Wall

Clark Canyon

. . Mono Lake / Lee Vining area

Death Valley region

Telescope Peak (3366m) (N36.1701 W117.0892) : c2c

Inyo mountains
. (not much of climbing or ski-touring interest)

White mountains

White Mountain Peak (4342m) (N37.6343 W118.2558)

Ancient Bristlecone Forest : c2c

(nearby is Boundary Peak: highest summit in state of Nevada)

South Lake Tahoe
guide: South Lake Tahoe Climbing, by Chris McNamara (SuperTopo 2004). Detailed topos for non-alpine rock climbing areas.

. . Lovers Leap . near (N38.7996 W120.1405)
. . Sugarloaf . near (N38.7768 W120.3082)
excellent granite crags

Waterhouse Peak : c2c (ski)

Powderhouse Peak : c2c (ski)

North Lake Tahoe

. . Donner Summit
. . near (N39.3194 W120.3208)

Also other climbing areas along the north west shore of Lake Tahoe.

Associated documents


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