Canyoneering 1000ft Down Yosemite Falls

The final rappels down Lower Yosemite Falls

Middle Earth was a challenging canyon route starting at the base of Upper Yosemite Falls, descending ~1000 ft to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. It tested and broke my nerves but I still had a number of firsts including my first class B+ canyon involving several swims.

The ascent was about 1500 ft up the Yosemite falls trail before heading off trail to the base of upper Yosemite falls.

Base of Upper Yosemite Falls
Sadie getting in the flow from Upper Falls

Getting into the falls we were in high spirits until we ran into a body recovery operation by YOSAR (Yosemite search and rescue) from a pool of water. We all smelled it on the way to our first rappel. It was shocking and we thought long about whether to continue. Which we eventually did.

The first rappel was short and straightforward off chains.

The first rappels where we did some thinking

A short way down was long webbing off a single piton (R2) that went around a corner and down very slick rock. 

Lucas heading down canyon

The third rappel was a short one to a slab, followed by rappel 4 to an intermediate belay station to avoid rope getting stuck on a flake.

View of the first stage (R4) of the full rappel (R5)

The belay was a little crowded, but we made it work as we rigged the long 150ft drop to a pool (R5).

Double checking ourselves before the drop

Luckily there was a notch where we could get off belay before the first mandatory swim for the day.

Sadie rappelling #5
First mandatory swim

A group of seven dudes caught up to us on this rappel. Their testosterone fueled party didn’t really give us space as they descended from a higher anchor to bypass while we were completing this rap.

Next obstacle was a handline followed by an optional rappel that could have been avoided with some solid-headed down climbing.

Then we got to the 30 ft jump that I avoided by walking/downclimbing to a 5 ft jump into the water for this second swim. One of our party did the 30 ft jump no problem.

Lucas swimming after his jump into the pool while the rest of the team rappels down.

Rappel 6 was another 100+ ft slippery rappel that allowed us to again get to an alcove before swimming across a pool to the other side.

In only leggings and a quick dry shirt I was hot from the 100 degree Yosemite Valley heat but also cold and shivering a bit. We hung out on the warm rocks here waiting for the other party which had slowed considerably to clear the anchors and dry out.

Sadie sunning herself on the rocks.

The final rappel (R7) before the big drop was allowed another (short) rappel into an alcove to get off belay before jumping in and swimming to the top of the Lower Yosemite Falls. 

The last rappel (R8/9) over the Lower Yosemite Falls and down to the deck was 370 ft and broken into two rappels. They were incredibly exposed and I just couldn’t do it. I got too scared and overwhelmed. There was an exit here and I took it down Sunnyside Bench to meet everyone else at the bottom.

Sadie descending the first stage of the rappel 200 ft
Staging for the second rappel on the ledge


This was a very adventurous undertaking, more than I expected. I am disappointed that I bailed but we also have to know our limits, in the moment, at that time in our lives. I’m proud for the rest of the party for completing the canyon and not letting my own nerves be a reason to also bail. In all, it was a true adventure and every adventure comes with risk, nerves and payoff.