Yosemite Falls (Middle Earth)

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Yosemite Falls (Middle Earth) Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
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Difficulty:4C III R (v5a5 III)
Raps:‌6-8, max ↨210ft
Overall:4-6h ⟷2.5mi
Approach:1-1.5h ↑1500ft
Descent:3-5h ⟷0.5mi ↓1099ft
Exit:15min ↑0ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Rock type:Granite
Condition Reports:
16 Sep 2023

"We thought we were the first group through of the season, but after finding 2 rappels rigged with non-locking carabiners, and then discovering 200m of

(log in to submit report)
Best season:


Middle Earth, aka the Inner Gorge, runs from the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. The area goes virtually unnoticed by a typical tourist visiting the park. For those seeking solitude of the falls, a trip through Middle Earth provides that and an exciting adventure. The route consists of 6-8 rappels up to 210 feet and 2 jumps up to 30 feet. The R rating is for multi-pitch rappels and an exit from a pool next to a pourover that can be problematic at high flow. Bolt stations are plentiful.

Staged rappels

Two rappels involve re-belaying on exposed ledges. Although they are not hanging re-belays, they require clipping into the anchor before transitioning to the second rope. This generally requires full autonomy from all members of the group as it is difficult to leave experienced canyoneers at the tops and bottoms of all rappels. Also, these rebelay points would not easily accommodate a full party of moderate or larger size, so your group must have the skills and equipment to conduct multiple large rappels at once.

Water flow

Water conditions play a large role in difficulty of the canyon with areas of strong hydraulic potential as well as dangers of being swept over the edge of a waterfall. It is advisable to attempt the canyon in late summer / fall season when the Upper Falls are providing minimal to no flows to the canyon drainage. When in doubt about water conditions, it's better to postpone the trip so that technical conditions don't exceed group abilities.

There is one particular spot which may be difficult in high flow: swimming out of the pool that you land in on first jump to the next anchor which lies to the right of a pourover. The right side of the pool is steeper. The left side has a sloping ledge that is easier to rise onto but then would require crossing over the pourover point. In moderate or low conditions this is not an issue.

It is possible to visually check current water flow in real time using one of the Web Cams installed by the park service. However, it is very difficult to estimate flow from a distant waterfall.

A more precise estimate can be made by looking at either of the two USGS stream gauges on the Merced in Yosemite Valley. There is a gauge at Happy Isles, "11264500 MERCED R A Happy Isles NR YOSEMITE CA" and a gauge at Pohono Bridge,"11266500 MERCED R A POHONO BRIDGE NR YOSEMITE CA". Yosemite Creek flows into the Merced River between these two gauges along with Tenaya Creek, Bridalveil Creek and several smaller creeks. In the winter, Yosemite Creek can be as much as 20% of the flow in these gauges, but more typically provides in the range of 10% to 15%. As the snowmelt season ends, the percent of flow that Yosemite provides drops to 4% to 1%. In late summer Yosemite Creek can drop to nothing. Summer Thunderstorms in the Yosemite Creek drainage can easily raise the flows and change these estimates.

June 29, 2013 a group descended during extremely high flow. The Pohono Gauge read 280 CFS. The Happy Isles gauge read 218 cfs. Estimated Yosemite creek flow was 17 cfs +or- a few cfs. This flow was dangerously close to being un-runnable due to Rap 6.

July 27, 2015 a group descended during fun easy flow. Pohono read 88 CFS. Happy Isles read 83 cfs. Estimated Yosemite Creek flow was less than 2 cfs.

August 8, 2015 a group descended during low flow. Pohono Gauge read under 40 CFS. Happy Isles read 38 cfs. Estimated Yosemite Creek flow was less than 1 cfs.

Sept 5, 2015 All waterfalls are bone dry.

(Yosemite Creek flow estimates are based on the USGS Yosemite Creek gauge readings from 1912 to 1918. PMartzen)

These are generalized references only. Do not base your trip on flow alone. You can ascend the Sunnyside Bench climber's walk off and view Rap 6 from the bottom. If attempting to run during high and potentially fatal flows consider scouting the exit.


Standard Approach

The standard approach for Middle Earth accesses the base of the upper falls from the West. Start at the Upper Yosemite Falls Trailhead, and follow the popular Upper Yosemite Falls trail for approximately 2 miles, gaining ~1500' of elevation. Approximately 10 minutes up the third set of switchbacks just under 5400' elevation the trail makes a hard left at the base of the large granite wall, leave the trail here (using discretion to avoid luring tourists into hazardous terrain). Boulder hop down to the granite slabs below. If you stick to the wall on your left it is easier. There is also a use trail that goes down here if you look closely.

A short scramble up canyon allows access to the soaring head wall of the upper falls. From the base of the falls (or just below) make your way down canyon over the slabs with a few short down-climbs. With flow this could be quite slick. You can also stay out of the canyon RDC until the top of the first rappel.

Sunnyside Bench Technical Rock Climbing Approach

Alternatively, the head of the canyon can also be accessed from the East, which requires some additional rock climbing and/or route finding skills.

First, find your way to the top of Sunnyside Bench, either by climbing the technical rock climb Sunnyside Bench Regular Route (5.4, 3 pitches), or by reversing the descent trail (Class 2+, difficult route finding unless you've hiked down it before). For trad leaders a standard rack up to BD #2 will suffice. For more information on these options, refer to Climbing Beta Websites linked below.

Once at the top of the "bench", route find your way up towards the base of the upper falls. Traversing West along the top of the bench instead leads to the top of the lower falls, an optional exit for this canyon (See Descent Route).

Note: With the permit reservation system in place as of 2020, it is less likely one would have the additional vehicle for a car shuttle if taking the Sunnyside approach. Without a car shuttle you do not save distance on your total hiking for the trip. Combined with the exposure of this approach, it is less appealing than it used to be considering the standard route has a lot of trees and an well established trail.


UPDATED JULY 2021 - Minor anchor changes have occurred over the years; however because this route is primarily a Yosemite SAR route the majority of the anchors are consistent. Rap lengths and numbering has been updated. In low flow one might even be able to enter further up canyon by building your own anchor, but those past natural anchors have been removed from the beta as they are not the standard route.

VERY IMPORTANT - Rap lengths very could vary considerably depending on the flow and the depth of some pools. Please use contingency anchor techniques and be ready to lower your first team member to the appropriate rope length.

Rap 1(Normal Approach): 80' off a double bolt chain anchor RDC, goes down the slab and back into the watercourse.

Rap 1(Sunnyside Bench Approach): In high flows, drop in on canyon left using a large boulder which places you at "Rap 3". In low flows, it would be possible to get down the cascades starting at bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Rap 2: Natural anchor off rock of your choice LDC. This very short drop onto a slippery slab that could possibly be downclimbed in drier conditions. You can get off rappel before the next anchor, but with flowing water this might be dangerous. It can be a good idea to stay on belay until you get to the Rap 3 anchor (approximately 105' from Rap 2). A 200' rope allows for everyone but the last person to make it to the third anchor, and LAMAR can be bottom belayed.

Rap 3: 2 bolts with chain LDC. Approximately 40' to a flat slab. From here it is an easy descent along a slab to the next anchor DCL; however, as with Rap 2 above, in higher flow or with less assured footing, you may want to stay on rappel until the next anchor - 90' from anchor to anchor.

Rap 4: 3 bolts with chain LDC. 60' to the next anchor. ***This rappel used to have the option of being broken into 2 parts with the current "Rap 5" being formerly labeled "4b", but it is the opinion of this author and the last that you do not do this. There is a large flake on the wall with a high potential of sticking the rope beside rappel 5. There is also a ledge further down the wall with lots of cracks that could also present rope pull issues. Separating the rappels seems to be the standard practice, so they are now broken up permanently.

Rap 5: 3 bolts with chain LDC. This exposed anchor station is annoying with 3 people and quite crowded with 4. Rap length changes with the pool depth from 110' in higher flow to possibly even 150' in length if dry. The current at the bottom can get quite strong in early season making it difficult for a person to swim back to help with the rope pull. Either have the second to last person stay on the small landing at the bottom or use enough rope for the pull to reach the pool shore.

From here there is a small downclimb LDC. There is a single bolt for a handline if necessary. The next obstacle is passed by climbing over some boulders in the MIDDLE of the canyon. Eventually you land on top of a house size boulder. Jump 35' taking care to check for rocks. In the past there have been different versions of anchors on the left and right but they change yearly from the flow.

Rap 6: 2 bolts with chain RDC, to the right of the pour over around the corner. Rap length, depending on the pool length is roughly 130' and possibly a lot longer (prior reports have been up to 170') depending on the rocks at the bottom and the pool depth.

Rap 7: A bolt backed up by two older pitons RDC ~40’ - This can be jumped or rappelled, and drops into main waterway over the lip of Lower Yosemite Falls. In extreme flow conditions, it can be a sporty exit to make sure you don’t get swept down the main (350'+) waterfall. It is advisable to send strongest swimmer first to assist others with exiting the water course when water is flowing.

Rap 8: This is the final multistage 385ft+ rappel down the side of Lower Yosemite Falls. Some teams opt to exit the canyon here by hiking along the bench LDC (see below), but if time, skill, and equipment allow, rappelling can be a great experience. The first anchor is on canyon left at the lip of the big drop, accessed by a series of bolts leading to the rap station. You won't miss this one. As you descend, there are many anchors for lead climbing, but most do not have webbing on them. The final rappel stage is located on the large ledge that slopes down to the right; you should be able to see this target once you lean back on rappel at the first stage. A static 200' rope will probably not quite reach the ledge. If you have a 220' rope, dynamic rope, or similar, you may be able to rappel directly to this ledge. If you rappel straight down, the final anchor is right (LDC) of where you land, up at the top of the ledge. From this anchor, it is 165-180' to the bottom depending on how full the pool is.

  • Photo by Luca Chiarabini
  • If your 200' rope does not reach from the first-stage anchor to the big ledge (this is likely), look for a very small ledge with two bolts slightly LDC of the straight-down fall line of the first-stage anchor, and appreciably RDC of the final-stage anchor. From this small ledge, rappel an additional ~50' to the large ledge. When using the small ledge, the rappel sequence is:

    • R8a: ~160' from the top anchor to a small, 2-person ledge with 2 bolts and 2 rap rings. (You won't be able to see the next rap stations from the top)
    • R8b: ~50' from the small, intermediate ledge to the large, obvious ledge.
    • R8c: ~180' from the large ledge to the pool.

    If you attempt this rappel sequence make ABSOLUTELY sure:

    • To make a knot at the end of the rope: make sure first person down won't go beyond the end of the rope by making a big knot on it
    • To be ready to ascend or extend: if you miss the right anchor or choose the wrong one you may run out of rope and need to ascend or resort to do more stages than originally intended
    • Not to drop rocks: there will be tourists swimming in the pool at the bottom of the falls wearing no helmets
    • That the first stage rigging is retrievable: two groups have had to ascend the entire first stage to free stuck ropes due to just a half twist in the rappel and pull lines, or a poorly-oriented carabiner block. To minimize the chances of sticking this rope, have the last person:
      • Orient the pull side of the rope to the right (LDC) side of the anchor at the start of the rappel
      • Orient the carabiner block so that it is as free as possible from the rigging when the pull rope is pulled straight down
      • Keep the pull rope out to the right (LDC) side of the rappeller during the descent
      • Try to hook the pull rope around at least one small rock nub on the way down so that it stays to the right (LDC) of the rappeller during the entire rap
      • If the pull rope ever crosses below the rappel rope, stop immediately and fix it, ascending if necessary
      • Rappel straight down (slightly left/RDC of the small anchor station) to minimize the chance of dragging the rappel rope over top of the pull rope -- you can walk laterally to the anchor along the small ledge when you get close

    If you combine R8a,b,c into one rappel you will need over 385 feet rope!


    Rappelling Lower Yosemite Falls will deposit you in a popular tourist destination at the base of the falls. Simply hike back to your car on large, obvious trails teeming with people.

    To skip the Lower Yosemite Falls rappel, hike down along the rim as shown in supertopo.com beta site. There is a fairly easy to follow use trail back to Yosemite Village: After the 40' rappel/jump and short swim just before the big falls at the end of the canyon, make your way up the slab LDC. At the top of this where it levels out there is a use trail that follows a bench in the cliff. It can be loose, goes up and down and there may be a few short scramble sections, but as for off trail it is fairly easy to follow and well worn.

    You will eventually get to a boulder field, the first real place where you can go right and head down off the bench. It might be easier to stay to the right of the boulder field. This puts you on the Yosemite Loop Trail. Continue past the mule stables through the employee housing area and soon you will see the visitor center.

    Red tape

    The canyon is located within Yosemite National Park boundaries, and as such, park admission fees apply. In addition to the standard park admission fee, a reservation is now required to enter Yosemite "through Thursday, September 30 or until local public health conditions improve." Unlike the 7-day entrance permit introduced in 2020, the 2021 permit is good for 3 days but does not require you to enter on the first day to activate the permit. The park has not made this abundantly clear.

    LINK: Yosemite NP Plan Your Visit Covid-19 Restrictions

    Beta sites

    Trip reports and media

    July 18, 2018. R1: Bolts RDC 75' to drop in from the shelf into the drainage. R2: 320' two-pitch LDC (anchors for a belay out to the rappel anchor are there if needed), consisting of a 160' rap to a small ledge about 4" wide then another 160' pitch to the bottom. J1: 30' jump off a house-size boulder into a large pool followed by a swim. R3: 150' from bolts RDC; at the edge of the pool on the right. In high flow this could be dangerous getting out of the pool at the pourover. Immediately followed by a 25' jump from a ledge RDC into the narrows. R4: the final rappel, 360' two-pitch rappel alongside the Lower Falls; the first pitch is 210' and lands on a wide ledge about 4' wide making for a convenient re-belay onto the second pitch which is 150' and deposits the rappeller at the edge of a large pool for a standing disconnect then short swim across the pool, likely to cheering and applause from tourists frequenting one of Yosemite's most popular swimming holes.



    Information provided by automated processes. KML map by (unknown). Main photo by (unknown). Authors are listed in chronological order.

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