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Educational Climbs - Part 1

By Dan Zimmerlin

So, you want to learn how to climb. You want to prepare to do the classic, traditional free climbs. Many books have been written about technique, anchors, placing protection, etc.. But obviously you aren't going to learn to climb by only reading about it. You are going to have to get out there and do some climbs. But what climbs? Well, the ratings help some. But if you really want to learn you are going to have to choose the right climbs, the ones that will help you learn.

Inspired by an idea in Dan Duane's recent book El Capitan, I decided to put together a list of what I am calling "educational climbs." These are climbs on which I think one can learn technique, anchors, protection, etc. in practice. They are not necessarily great climbs, though there are some great climbs among them. And all of them I think are good climbs. These are the climbs I think one should do to get ready for the classics. So, for example, I did not include Royal Arches, though it is certainly both classic and educational. My thinking is that if you can put it together to do Corrugation Corner, you'll have the skills necessary to be confident on the Arches.

Also I chose not to include those climbs that probably are educational in some sense, but to my mind are really horror shows. Those are the climbs that kick climbers' butts without helping them to get better. Moby Dick might be an example. Nor did I include those horrors that are poorly protected, like the Dike Route. Though a classic, you don't learn from the Dike Route. You do the Dike Route after you have acquired the skills and confidence to risk it. In that sense, it is more like a final exam, one you don't want to fail.

The idea is if you lead these educational climbs, in good style, you will be well on your way to the next level in climbing. Mind you, you should probably be doing other climbs as well, just to solidify your skills. There are lots of other good climbs to use these skills on. And you will probably be following harder things when preparing to lead these. But don't make the mistake of thinking that following a climb teaches you as much as leading it, especially at the 5.6-5.9 level. Obviously on the long routes, you will probably swing leads, but you have to hold up your end. And, with the exception of your very first leads, also don't make the mistake of preparing to lead a climb by wiring it on top-rope. I think it is fine to follow something before you are ready to lead it, and to come back to lead it when you are ready. That is very different than rehearsing it. You have to be able to lead these in traditional good style. And that means facing the difficulties head on.

This article is the first in a two-part series. Below are my choices of educational climbs in the 5.6-5.8 range in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Donner Summit and Lover's Leap. (I could create a whole separate list for Joshua Tree.) I have arranged them somewhat in order, with the easier climbs at each level being listed first, the harder ones later. And I have made a few brief notes of some of the features of each climb. As you consider these climbs, let me know if you think I have included any that just aren't that educational, or if I have left out any that you have done that should be included.


  • Grack Center, Glacier Point Apron, Yosemite - Great low angle jamming , thin face, mainly good pro
  • Composure, Snowshed Wall, Donner Summit - Great jamming, some steep
  • Northwest Books, Lembert Dome, Tuolumne - Liebacking , face climbing, route finding
  • After Six, Manure Pile Buttress, Yosemite - Corner climbing, face, crack, some route finding
  • Deception, Hogsback, Lover's Leap - Corner climbing, liebacking, route finding,
  • Church Bowl Chimney, Church Bowl, Yosemite - Hard chimneying
  • East Wall Route, East Wall, Lover's Leap - Steep 3-dimensional climbing, dike hiking, route finding


  • Pop Bottle (now harder than 5.6), East Wall, Lover's Leap - Corner climbing, crack climbing, good pro
  • Golfer's Route, Low Profile Dome, Tuolumne - Face climbing, some runouut
  • Bear's Reach, East Wall, Lover's Leap - Liebacking, corner climbing
  • West Country, Stately Pleasure Dome, Tuolumne -  Low angle delicate liebacking and face climbing, thin (but good) pro. Exposed descent (Style counts here as well!)
  • Surrealistic Pillar, Lower Buttress, Lover's Leap -  Steep crack climbing, runout dike hiking
  • Chouinard Crack, 1st pitch, Monday Morning Slab, Yosemite -  Thin crack climbing, some runout
  • Jamcrack,1st pitch, Sunnyside Bench, Yosemite - Steep, slick jamming
  • Bookmark, East Wall Right, Lover's Leap - Steep face and crack climbing, off width
  • Devaluation, Snowshed Wall, Donner Summit - Steep corner and crack climbing, tricky(but good) pro
  • Corrugation Corner, Main Wall, Lover's Leap - Put it all together, crack, arete chimney, corner, routefinding


  • Alimony Cracks, Daff Dome, Tuolumne - Short but great jamming and liebacking, good pro
  • Harry Daley, Monday Morning Slab, Yosemite - Boulder start, roof, great jamming
  • Churchbowl Lieback, Churchbowl, Yosemite - Delicate liebacking, delicate pro
  • East Crack, East Wall, Lover's Leap - Steep corner & crack climbing
  • After Seven, Manure Pile Buttress, Yosemite - Steep crack & face climbing
  • Bishop's Terrace, Church Bowl, Yosemite - Crack, wide crack, steep double hand cracks
  • Haystack Crack, East Wall, Lover's Leap - Crack climbing, roof
  • Jelly Roll Arch, Grouse Slab, Donner Summit - Liebacking, tricky (but good) pro
  • Trial By Fire, Royal Arches Area - Flared off-width
  • Braille Book, Higher Cathedral Rock, Yosemite - Big approach/descent, tough climbing, chimneying, off-width
  • South Crack, Stately Pleasure Dome - Put it all together, crack climbing, thin cracks, runout face, route finding

If you are trying to get better, get out there and climb. I propose the above list as climbs you should try. Of course, as in all climbing, you will have to exercise judgment in considering these climbs. If you don't have the skills, either in technique or in placing pro, to do these with confidence, they too could be horror shows. But if your skills are coming along on these and if you are solidifying them on the many other climbs at each level, you should be able to progress with confidence.

In the next installment, Educational Climbs, Part 2, I will propose a similar list of climbs to move to the next level, 5.9-5.10. Many climbers climb quite happily for years and never lead harder than 5.8. However, if you wish to move to the next level, stay tuned. I have the climbs for you.