Climbing Kings Canyon: The Obelisk

The Obelisk offers a remote climbing challenge far removed from other Sierra hotspots.
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The Obelisk offers a remote climbing challenge far removed from other Sierra hotspots.

The two most prominent "destinations" for climbers in the High Sierra are Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. But there are many remote domes and crags on the western slope of the High Sierra that should not be ignored. The Obelisk is such a crag. This landmark serves as the far western boundary of Kings Canyon National Park. The south face is covered with knobs and chickenheads, perfectly sized and shaped for holds and protection, seemingly designed for climbing. This quality, combined with the remoteness of the crag, and a spectacular rappel, makes for a memorable climb.

Climb The Obelisk

The approach starts from the Crown Valley Trailhead, located near Wishon Reservoir, approximately 35 driving miles from Shaver Lake. A 10-mile hike past Statham Meadow, Spanish Meadow, and Spanish Lake leads to Geraldine Lakes, where a faint trail leads southeast to end north of the Obelisk. Hike cross-country, over the top of Peak 9,628 and the next small point to the east side of the crag. Continue down and around the east side of the Obelisk to the bottom of a prominent chimney on the right side of the south face.

Climb the chimney to an alcove and then go up and left across a face of knobs and chickenheads to a point beneath a prominent roof. Next, climb up and right across knobs and chickenheads to an exposed belay stance at an obtuse, outside corner. The fourth pitch goes straight up the dead-vertical class 4 chickenheaded face above the corner to a large ledge at the base of the final headwall. Traverse to the left across the large ledge. Climb a right-trending white chute before traversing left across a seemingly "blank" face (a 5.7 move) to a belay stance in a shallow right facing corner. The last pitch climbs the inside corner to where it turns into a chute that pierces the upper headwall, followed by two hundred feet of class 3 to the top.

The crux of this climb is the descent. Head northeast from the summit a short distance to the first rappel, a short one to a ledge above the great overhang. The second rappel is unforgettable: free (i.e., not touching the rock) for 165 feet to a small notch. Easy class 3 over a small crag leads back to the real world.

Plan a trip to The Obelisk

Permit: A wilderness permit is required to camp overnight in the John Muir Wilderness. Contact the Sierra National Forest (see below).

Guidebook:The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, Second Edition, by R.J. Secor. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1999, $29.95.

Contact: Sierra National Forest, Pineridge Ranger District, (559) 855-5360; www.r5.fs.fed.us/sierra/.