Yosemite Valley Scrambles

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June 5, 2005

East side of Yosemite Falls via Sunnyside Bench and Illilouette Gorge Upper Falls


I was looking for a way to visit the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley without re-doing the very familiar trails again. Over the past couple years I've been getting into cross-country and scrambling trips, and I've found good information on routes suitable for me in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere (SummitPost.org is a fine resource!) Two routes that attracted my attention were the Sunnyside Bench route to Yosemite Falls (because it is the second tallest fall in the park) and Illilouette Gorge, which you can't get close to except from the top.

Trip Icon According to the information posted by Bob Burd (insane, but reliably so, in a good way), the Sunnyside Bench route was Class 2 (walking with a hand for balance sometimes) and easy Class 3 (hand and feet needed). Bob climbs, so I figured his "easy Class 3" would be a solid Class 3 for me, a hiker, and at worse would be doable, if a bit sketchy. I expected to be able to do the Bench (Class 2), and hoped to do the upper part (easy Class 3), but would not have been disappointed to turn back. I was joined by CHAOTs Heyning C. and Brandon C., both of whom were comfortable with the scrambling.

Trip Icon We started by a quick visit to the Lower Falls on the main trail (good water, lots of blowing mist), then went along the Northside Trail to the boulder field that accesses the Sunnyside Bench about 500 feet above the valley floor. Pretty decent use trail the whole way, with a spot of Class 3 and a bunch of exposed Class 1 (trail walking, only with a sheer drop just off the side of the trail). We got to the end of the bench above the top of Lower Falls, later in the year, when it isn't so wet, one could get down to the very brink of the falls (I think). Then we went back a little bit to find the route up...the first thing was in the right place, but looked very steep, so we went further back to another route that looked easier, but turned out to be a bit challenging for our skills, so we went back to the original spot and found out that it was about as difficult as a vertical ladder, with great hand and foot holds.

Trip IconAbove this, there was a few hundred feet of easy zigzag ascent up crack systems, followed by the advertised Class 3 friction (30 degree clean granite, effectively a walk up, if you trust your shoes), a bit more easy Class 3 and then a long ascent through oak forest to the base of the wall below Lost Arrow Spire. We didn't contour into the area close to the base of the Upper Falls, which would have been very wet. The views were, of course, stunning, especially to Brandon, who is new to the area. Coming down was no problem, although the friction wasn't so much fun, and some sections of dirty/rotten granite near the top were less than amusing.

We still had some time when we got down, so we walked across and up the Valley to Happy Isles, and did part of the scramble up Illilouette Gorge (which topped out at easy Class 2), before hurrying back to the car and coming home.

Weather and Conditions

Temperatures were moderate, sunny with a few clouds. Water levels are well below the peak but still fairly vigorous.

About 7 miles (2 miles scrambling routes), 2600 feet of ascent, 7 hours on the trail. Bunnyhike rating: 57

Route Information

Area map, hiking route in and blue and fuchsia, scrambling routes in red

Map with route
Detailed Map (151K)

Yosemite Falls maps, scrambling route in red

Map with route - Map with route
Topographic - Aerial View

Illilouette Gorge map, scrambling route in red

Map with route

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Yosemite Valley Scrambles / Robert Parks / rparks@lvhot.org / revised June '05