Third Pillar, Regular Route
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This route is one of the high Sierra classics. All 5 pitches have excellent climbing on very high quality granite. While most of the climbing is on cracks there is a mix of face and chimney climbing on the route as well. It can be done with a 50 m rope, but a 60 m rope will make things easier. Supertopo has an excellent description of the route in their High Sierra Climbing book (p. 108). Other good references include Secor's The High Sierra (second edition, p. 376), Croft's The Good, The Great and The Awesome (first edition, p. 183) and Moynier and Fiddler's California's High Sierra (second edition, p. 374).
P.1 (normal start). From the initial horizontal ledge system, the route gets right down to business with a short 5.8 fist jam crack in a right facing dihedral. One will be tempted to continue on the arete above the dihedral, but it is a bit simpler to traverse over to another 5.8 crack that heads up and diagonally to the right. At the top of this the angle briefly lessens to 3rd class. Belay at a tree.
P.2. Traverse left at the base of the face and start up towards a hand crack that eventually narrows to a finger crack. The climbing on this pitch starts at about 5.7 and has a few moves of 10a at the top of the finger crack. The system widens to an off width, but this section is most easily done by using the face moves available. There is a belay stance just below the off width, but things will go better on the next pitch if the belay is set up at the next opportunity above the off width about 20-30 ft higher up.
P.3. From this belay there are many parallel cracks that head up to a large detached flake. The climbing here is approximately 5.8, but can be a bit harder or easier depending on the exact route taken. Once the flake is reached there are several choices here as well. Underneath the left side of the flake is a very enjoyable mid-5th chimney, while on the right side is more 5.8 fist jamming. Take your pick - it's good either way. Belay on top of the flake on a 12" by 6 foot balcony with a spectacular view of Mono Lake.
P.4. directly above the flake is another 5.8 crack that leads to a short steep 10a finger crack. The 10a section can be bypassed by going right, but it is really very nice and well protected. Above the finger crack is a difficult face section. The only pro here is two fixed pitons. Supertopo rates the difficulty of this section as 10b. It certainly rewards good balance and a long reach is handy for clipping the pitons. There are other options, which are either run out or harder. This section is short and my recollection is that the hardest moves are right by the pitons. Belay at a tree.
P.5. This part of the route has been described as "the best 5.9 pitch in the universe" (Moynier, p. 374). While most of it is 5.9, it actually has two short sections of harder climbing (10a or so) that some refer to as the crux of the entire route. Both are just above good rest stances and so pro can be placed and the moves contemplated. Note that the first difficult section comes early in the pitch and pro can be placed in a finger crack. A long reach will allow placing the pro while in a good stance, while a leader with a shorter reach will need to commit to climbing into the finger crack before being able to place the piece. Once a small roof is surmounted another good stance is reached along with the start of the next difficult section. This one involves a thin crack. It can be done as a lieback, but that's not the only way and may not be the best way... Place a small nut high before committing to the moves. From here the route gradually steepens and the pillar gets narrower, eventually narrowing to some 5 or 10 feet. Looking straight up to the point at the top with only blue sky behind can be somewhat intimidating! However, the climbing actually eases in difficulty here and has solid jams. The top is slightly overhung, but is bypassed by traversing to the right (place good pro before traversing) and then performing a strenuous mantle. It's an awesome way to finish a route!
Once the Dana Plateau is accessed, the Third Pillar is fairly obvious as a prow jutting away from the main cliff face towards Mono Lake. Hike to the edge of the plateau just north of the pillar. Stash any gear you don't want to climb with here and descend the 3rd/4th class loose rock into the second gully north of the pillar. Care must be taken here because of the amount of loose rock, but things become more solid with the descent. Hug the south (right as you face down) side of this gully until you can traverse across a ridge into the first gully north of the pillar. From here descend to a point about 200 ft above the base of the pillar where a ledge system marks the normal starting point of the route. (A direct start can be made from the base of the pillar that adds an additional pitch.) There is often snow in this gully, but it is generally unnecessary to bring an axe or crampons. Either kick steps to traverse or if it is too icy, just descend a short distance to where the angle eases and come back up on the other side. After climbing the route, return to the parking lot the same way you came up along Glacier Creek.
Bring a set of nuts and cams from .5" to 3", doubling up on some of the medium sizes.
|Photos of Third Pillar, Regular Route Slideshow
BETA PHOTO: Looking up at the route from the base. Most of th...
BETA PHOTO: Looking east from the plateau past the top of The ...
BETA PHOTO: Looking across the gully to the ledges that mark t...
Calvin Kilcrease leading above the 10a finger crac...
Eric Burt leading just above the first crux on P.5...
Photo by Blitzo.
Rob just finishing the 10b fingers section on the ...
Starting up the first pitch of the Regular Route, ...
Jeff past the crux section of pitch 2, getting int...
Jeff at the spectacular P3 belay!
Looking down the route from the top.
Jeff on the final pitch, dubbed by some as the "be...
View of Mono Lake from the summit.
Atop the huge, scary-looking-but-solid flake with ...
Bill Geist following the upper section of the four...
Roberto on the 4th class approach gully.
Roberto and Duke on the approach hike.
Eric Collins on 3rd Pillar, circa 1986
Eric Collins on 3rd Pillar, circa 1986
Eric Collins on the summit of 3rd pillar
Jeremy Freeman on the 1st pitch
Ginger on p1
BETA PHOTO: Third Pillar of Dana looking mighty impressive on ...
Ginger following the final pitch of the Third Pill...
Ginger on Third Pillar of Dana with the route unfo...
BETA PHOTO: Vincent downclimbing the prow to the right of the ...
BETA PHOTO: Crossing the snow gully to reach the base.
the traverse that starts P2
Around the crux of P4
BETA PHOTO: The top of the descent to reach the base of the ro...
Finishing the chimney on P3.
BETA PHOTO: Brian crossing the snow gully 7/22/2011.
BETA PHOTO: The regular route as viewed form the approach. Th...
The start of the downward approach from the rim. ...
3rd Pillar of Dana Descent.
Low down, I think it's pitch 1
near the top
Summit, with Mono lake
BETA PHOTO: Looking straight up the direct start.
BETA PHOTO: Up up and away!
Summit shot, topping out on 3rd Pillar of Dana. P...
|Comments on Third Pillar, Regular Route
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Apr 19, 2006
Awesome route! When I climbed it, the guys camping near us returned late in the night and told us they had an epic on the route, leaving several cams on the last pitch in the dark. So we got up very early and did the approach knowing these treasures awaited us.
The route was deserted. We went all the way down the gully for the direct start. While we were in the middle of the first pitch, a party came across the usual ledge and got in front of us! We had a great time, but the other party got the cams.
May 26, 2006
It is worth noting that the books seem to diverge on the early pitches. I believe there are two choices, head towards the left after the first pitch, as described above ( and in ST ). The ST "expanded" version as well as M&F descibe staying staying towards the right, which has more sustained climbing. Both variations meet at the top of the flake, coming from the left and right respectively.
|By Alex Shainman|
From: the best place right now!
Jul 10, 2007
Definitely a classic route worth the loose deproach!
- In the sun from sunrise till about 1:00ish.
- The direct start first pitch, albeit JTree-esque grainy, is worth doing for extra value. Don't go too far below the original start (ST topo is well drawn)...Fun roof to flakes and a corner to EZ wide crack or face. (190+', 10-)
- To add to (correct) the above description of the 3rd pitch...The beginning of the right side of the huge flake variation is more like 9+/10- stem/lieback fun which eventually (with some effort) protects decently with grey - blue TCU's and offset brass wireds. Its 5.7 with slightly scary wedged flakes/daggers in the chimney above the lieback crux to the sweet belay.
- With so many other variations of variations, one could do a different route each time!
Aug 12, 2007
Climbed it this weekend for the second time and it was even better than I remembered it. Some beta:
P3: The 10a fingers is great fun. There was a fixed nut near the crux so it was like a sport crack.
P4: The supertopo recommends going up (10b) and left from the piton. This part is sketchy and has brittle loose feet. I chose to go straight up past the piton. One long reach gains a great flake and good pro.
|By Greg Barnes|
Feb 28, 2008
Yep, Dennis is right on for pitch 4 - because a big chunk of rock came out a few years ago, creating the flake hold. Now it's 5.10a (and better climbing) going straight up instead of the off-balance 5.10b moves left.
|By Greg DeMatteo|
From: W. Lebanon, NH
Apr 7, 2008
rating: 5.10- 6a 18 VI+ E1 5a PG13
I may have been out of shape at the time, but I found the cruxes of most pitches to be serious and sparsely protected. It seemed like whenever there were tenuous moves there was either no pro or ledge-fall potential. The crux moves in particular involved very committing moves with a potentially nasty fall into a corner.
That being said an amazing route on a striking feature.
|By Dmitriy Litvak|
From: Pacifica, CA
Jul 18, 2008
Climbed it in June. The route is awesome. However, the climbing is hardly consistent. There are some moves which are 5.10, but the rest of the pitches goes at a lower grade. The last pitch is the best.
Some snicky marmots live on the top. Try not to leave any food fr them.
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 21, 2010
Climbed this for the first time this weekend. The Supertopo description has a good description of the approach. Because the pillar is only visible as you get close to the edge of the huge plateau it helps to have the additional details. The key instruction is to look for a field of dispersed low (1-4 ft) boulders that lead up NE to edge of the plateau.
Note: I was warned about the reach at the P4 crux but didn't find it too bad (I'm 5'6").
Jul 23, 2010
I'd say that the move up to the "pin" on pitch 4 (just past the cool layback finger crack on the left side of that crazy looking flake) is pretty sketchy. I took a good 5 minutes thinking it over. If you fall stepping up to clip the pin you're f#$%ed. Funny side note (if you're over 6'3" you can step up on your toes and place a yellow C3 high and left in a small slot to protect the move.
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Sep 7, 2011
heads up, both pitons are missing (but look for them on a new route in alaska thanks to Mr. W), so don't forget the rps and lil' cams. pitch is now quite heads up and spooky.
|By Ryan Williams|
From: London (sort of)
Sep 14, 2011
rating: 5.10 6b 20 VII- E2 5b
Excellent climbing in a beautiful setting. First three pitches wander and are not sustained but I enjoyed them (?my partner didn't?). Final two pitches are both outstanding. A few spicy sections for sure, but there is gear to be found. Take your choice of small nuts and cams for the lower cruxes and place bomber finger and hand size pieces for the final moves on solid locks and hero jugs!
We may have done the hard version of the down climb on the approach, but no matter which way you go, it's exposed. Don't take anyone up there who isn't happy on exposed 4th class.
|By Richard Shore|
Jun 11, 2012
rating: 5.10- 6a 18 VI+ E1 5a
Pitons on the P4 crux are indeed gone. Decent offset brassies can be placed in their absence. Spectacular finish on a spectacular climb. Probably my favorite "short" route I've done in the Sierra.
Take care on the descent to the start of the climb. It's 4th+ class in places, and loose. A girl broke her tibia/fibula there two days before our ascent when she dislodged a boulder onto herself.
|By noah gostout|
Aug 26, 2012
Great rout, but a bit run out in places perhaps.
Approached in Chaco flip-flops and regretted it on the descent to the start of the climb, there is a fair amount of scree field to cross and it is no fun with rocks in your shoes.
The business pitch is stellar fun exposed climbing on a column, it is quite runout, 30+feet in one section. (it is also posible I was off route as rout finding can be tricky on this one). The toughest move is in the chimney-ish slot at the top.
(Spoiler Alert/Beta Warning) If you don't turn around and see the foot hold hiding on the right arete, just under the little roof at the top of he column/in the flaring chimney slot, falling onto the ledge could spell disaster.
The last pitch is amazing! not one to forget, ever.
|By richard border|
Aug 27, 2012
rating: 5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- E2 5b
Super fun and challenging for the grade I thought. Climbed late August, only party there all day, perfect weather. P4 missing pin is no big deal, you can get the biggest brassy in there--P5 is way scarier in my opinion. If following the supertopo approach beta, DO NOT "go east on the edge of the boulder field" cut straight across and you'll hit the pillar.
The most dangerous part is the descent to the bottom. It the middle the first pitch we saw several giant boulders roll down the gully we had just crossed to reached the base. If we had arrived 30 minutes later we'd be in bad shape
Oct 10, 2012
I've done this twice now, first in 95 and again a month ago.
I don't recall what topo(s) we used, but I think the approach needs some clarification. First, finding the edge of the plateau is fairly easy, but one landmark near the descent is an erratic boulder with a large stone on it, something of a natural cairn. If you head cross country once the drainage trail goes faint this will work for you. The descent I've used both times does not involve ANY gully time. You simply walk/downclimb right off the very end of the pillar left of the route pillar. Warning, this is exposed as hell, but the route is obvious and very well travelled. The most obvious way to do this is to stay right on ledges, but my impression is that it is easier and quicker (probably safer) to keep going straight down this pillar, based on observing the descent times of a team ahead of us and one behind. It's just not obvious to me exactly where this deviates from what I've done.
The first pitch belay we used (also shown on our topo) is on a nice flat ledge in a corner, not at a tree. It is likely above and left of the tree mentioned here. A step across left is required to get there.
This pitch 2 description would not be of great help I don't think. From our belay, we followed an easy corner system up and left until it reaches a large flake wedged into a long right-facing corner. The flake has fingers, the corner goes from hands to rattly fingers (crux) to 5.7 OW. Step left above/in the OW to a great ledge, very obvious stance, but shorter than you might expect.
Pitch 3 follows parallel runnels and you can run it out through the "bear-hug flake" into the chimney and the sketch belay at its top. I'm not sure if this is the balcony referenced above. I did not see anything like that, rather the stance is on blocks wedged in the top of the chimney. At any rate, this is a pinch point for this route. Be first or be waiting.
The missing pin(s) on pitch 4 are not an issue as long as you have small gear. Someone suggested lowe balls and I'll concur. The tree you see photos of at the belay is long dead.
Pitch 5 on our topo is shown as having two options to start with. I think both times I went left out of the belay on discontinuous vertical flakes, rather than going for the finger crack splitter. The flakes offer great climbing with interesting gear. I didn't think there was any 5.10 on this pitch.
|By blue ribbon|
Mar 18, 2013
What aspect does the climb face?
|By Some Random Guy|
From: San Francisco, CA
May 22, 2013
rating: 5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- E2 5b
I think my partner that lead the crux took the hardest and thinest crack possible. Felt 10b/c ish. Staying in the wider crack would probably make it 10a/b ish.