Sierra Traverses

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The Sierra have some excellent traverses. Here is a small list of the well-known traverses. Many of these are quite difficult and have only seen a handful of ascents. More information can be obtained from "Climbing California's High Sierra" by John Moynier and Claude Fiddler, and from "The Good, the great, and the awesome" by Peter Croft (we have both books in our library). usually has good information as well, and they link to trip reports.

It is worth noting that the ratings for theses traverses are not very comparable to ratings of traditional rock climbs. A tough traverse is usually rated (5.9 VI), but this does not mean you will find 5.9 climbing necessarily; rather, it is a relative grade compared to other traverses. A (5.7 IV) traverse is on the easier end of the scale. With only a few exceptions, most of these traverses rely heavily on routefinding, and while the guidebook author may have found a 5.9 crux, other parties may find a 4th class variation (and vice-versa). In general, a "5.9" rating means that the party should be comfortable soloing mid-5th class, and "5.7" rating means the party should be comfortable soloing hard 4th class.

Comments on the guidebooks: For the harder traverses, be cautious of Peter Croft's description, since while most guidebook authors are very good athletes and prolific climbers, Croft is a world-class athlete and does things like soloing Astroman. So if he does someting without a rope, don't assume you won't want one! Secor's Sierra guidebooks cover most of these traverses, but because his guidebook is so comprehensive, he relies in places on second-hand information, and thus the gradings may be inconsistent. Moynier and Fiddler's guidebook is a great source of inspiration, but their route descriptions are infamously short.

Sierra Nevada Traverses

Traverse of the Devil's Crags

{{#widget:ThumbnailLink |target= |src= }} As far as we know, these have only been traversed once, back in 1992 by Claude Fiddler and friends. He says "We managed to traverse the loose and extremely dangerous Devil's Crags. The ascents made on this and the August trip were the second ascent of many of the Crags." and "Our ascents taking place fully sixty years after the first ascents. The climbing involved difficult (5.10) climbing and overhanging rappels from some very shaky anchors."

Whitney Basin traverse

A long traverse! See Moynier and Fiddler for a description. You climb Lone Pine, an unnamed peak, LeConte, Mallory, McAdie, Muir, Whitney, Russell, and Carillon. Rated 5.7, with rappels. Here's a description of a winter attempt by Stephen.

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Palisade traverse

From Southfork Pass to Jigsaw Pass. Described in both books. Very long and seldom done. 5.9 with rappels. Until the 90's, the fastest times on the traverse were about 7 days (one party counted 160 pitches! however, most do it in much less). Reardon claims to have done it in a day. Peter Croft, as of the time of writing his book, says he hadn't yet done it in one continuous push, so that says something.

Little Palisade traverse

Main Article: Little Palisade Traverse

This is the part of the main Palisade traverse that goes from Sill to Thunderbolt, and much more popular than the full traverse.

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Kaweah traverse

{{#widget:ThumbnailLink |target= |src= }} VI 5.9, see Moynier and Fiddler for details. Beautiful mountains, loose rock. First ascent by Claude Fiddler, Andy Selters and Danny Whitmore in 1997. As described in Moynier and Fiddler:

"Fiddler, along with Andy Selters and Danny Whitmore, finally accomplished the complete traverse in July 1997. They began by making the first ascent of the long south ridge of Black Kaweah. Although the ridge began with easy scrambling, the climb soon became serious. Fiddler noted, "500 feet below the summit, our enjoyable stroll turned into a vertical, loose and scary headwall. Andy did a masterful job of leading two very tenuous pitches accessing easier ground."

"The strong team was able to make it to Michael Minaret by that evening and were awed by Michael's considerable climbing ability because they were forced to rappel twice on a route that Michael had ascended solo. Continuing the following morning, Fiddler described their efforts. "The routefinding, including when and where to rappel, was not easy. The problem solving was a continual challenge. The mental aspect is always the hardest part of a traverse like this."

"As they neared the end of what they believed to be the technical climbing, they faced a final obstacle. "As we made it over what the guidebook promised was the last of the difficult climbing, we were stopped by a loose, vertical and ugly 300-foot headwall. As supposed Class 3 scramble was nowhere to be found. I was ready and expected the hard part to be over. My mental guard had melted away. I started looking for Class 3 anything, while Andy determined that the headwall would be fine. A shouting match ensued as Andy began to assemble gear. The match ended with Andy leading a nasty pitch and me burning up the next lead, relieved when it lead to easy terrain. We made it up quickly and did not let the episode spoil a good effort.

"Route: take the High Sierra Trail over Kaweah Gap and down into the Big Arroyo. Climb the southwest face (Class 4) to the summit of Black Kaweah. Descend the east ridge to a prominent notch, then climb the west face of Pyramidal Pinnacle (Class 4). Traverse the ridge (Class 5, some rappels) to reach the summit of Koontz Pinnacle. Descend the jagged ridge (some rappels) to reach easy slopes (Class 3) leading to the summit of Red Kaweah. Descend into the deep notch (some rappels) separating the peak from Michael's Pinnacle, then climb the steep northwest face (5.9) to the summit. Descend the long southeast ridge (Class 4) to reach the base of the obvious peak Squaretop. Two Class 4 pitches up the northwest face lead to the traverse of the summit ridge. Descend the southeast face (Class 4) before climbing over Bilko Pinnacle (Class 4). A steep headwall (Class 5) bars access to easy ground near the summit of Second Kaweah. A long easy slope provides access to Mt. Kaweah if desired."

Evolution traverse

VI 5.9. Popularized by Peter Croft; see his book for more info. There are some trip reports online, including the pullharder Evolution Traverse report (I met these guys at Tahquitz and JTree and they're very nice and have been putting up some fine hard routes in the Sierra; they're grad students at UC San Diego). Their trip report also links to some beta they got from Climbing magazine's Matt Samet. A slightly more recent trip report is here. In Kroese's "50 Favorite Climbs", Croft lists this traverse as his selection (snippet available on google books). From Kroese. Time required: 1 day approach, 1 day to acclimate, 2-5 days on rock; season: July to mid-September. See also this July '09 trip report of an attempt.

Rock Creek traverse

V 5.9. First ascent by Claude Fiddler and Jim Keating in 1987. Includes Bear Creek Spire. From Moynier and Fiddler: "Each of these teams has been impressed with the quality of the climbing on the traverse, as well as the serious nature of the exposed ridgeline. Although the rock is solid on the ridge, there are large blocks that are precariously perched. Croft had a close call... as did Fiddler... More recently, Ben Craft attempted to repeat the route and described his similar experiences. 'My partner and I escaped death twice. He went for a slide on top of a huge boulder, only to jump off before it creamed a ledge.'"

Minaret Traverse

{{#widget:ThumbnailLink |target= |src= }} VI 5.9. First ascent Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler 1982. Tags about 13 summits. See Moynier and Fiddler for more info, and Stephen's trip report.

Cathedral Range traverse

IV 5.7. Near Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest. See Moynier and Fiddler for more info. Up to 15 summits in one long day (a lot of variations possible).

Sawtooth Ridge traverse

VI 5.9. First ascent Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler, 1984, over two days. "The traverse of the crest has been repeated a few times over the years, including an effort by Ben Craft and Craig Clarence in the summer of 1999. Craft described their adventure. 'I Loved the whole thing except the gullies and raps...'". Includes Cleaver Peak, Sawblade, Northwest Tooth, Southeast Tooth, Col de Doodad, Dragtooth and Matterhorn. With names like that, how can you not be enticed?

Winter Traverses

A link to a supertopo thread on winter traverses. No one knows if the full Palisade traverse has yet been done in winter; here are pics from a winter attempt.

Two of the PullHarder guys did a little Palisade Traverse in winter in Jan 2011. This is the first winter traverse I know of, but it's likely that it has been done before. The full Palisade traverse is still waiting for its first winter ascent (at least, to the best of our knowledge).

Update: the little Palisade traverse may have seen a winter ascent (a drought winter) back in 1975 by the two Sierra Club PCS members Harold Ike and Steve Brewer.


Here's a brief summary of the Mt. Clarence King traverse recently completed by Misha Logvinov and Pavel Kovar.

Traverses in other ranges

Cascades: most common is the Torment-Forbidden Traverse. The Picket traverse is famous but much harder. Croft describes a traverse of the Stuart Range in the Canadian Alpine Journal (1986, p. 35).

Colorado: the are four "great" Colorado traverses: Crestone Needle to Crestone Peak, North Maroon Peak to South Maroon Peak, Mt. Wilson to El Diente traverse, and Little Bear to Bianca traverse. The Crestone Traverse is much more difficult than the Maroon traverse, but I can't comment on the other two.

East Coast: the White Mountain traverse is fun and non-technical; most people do it in one day. In winter, it is a serious challenge, since the weather on Mt. Washington is horrible.

If you want beta, let us know since we have climbed many of these.

See Also

Category:Sierra_Alpinism#Routes_Without_Winter_Ascents includes many of these traverses.