Source: Climbing in Yosemite at Guillaume and Jennifer Dargaud's website.

A Brief History of climbing in Yosemite

  • 1869 John Muir wanders up alone and climbs Cathedral Peak a Class 4 crack without a rope.
  • 1930 - Francis Farquahr, editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin, learns European rope techniques from Robert Underhill while climbing in British Columbia and asks him to write an article in the Bulletin, which arouses interest amongst bay area mountaineers.
  • 1933 The Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club (RCS) visits Yosemite and 4 of them climb 1,000 feet up Washington Column.
  • 1934 Jules Eichorn, Richard Leonard and Bestor Robinson climb routes on lower and upper Cathedral Spire, the two most technically difficult and intimidating rock climbs in North America and are hailed as heroes by the media.
  • 1945 - Swiss born John Salathé, a blacksmith in San Mateo develops hard steel petons and pioneers aid climbing.
  • 1961 - Yvon Chouinard starts the clean climbing movement using chocks/nuts instead of bolts that cause permanent degradation of the rock.
  • 1970 - Famous climbers Royal Robbins, Warren Harding and Galen Rowell establish many new routes.
See A Short History | Yosemite Climbing Association
Half Dome Regular Northwest Face 23 5.12 or 5.9 C1
Lost Arrow Spire Lost Arrow Spire Tip 2 5.12b or 5.7 C2
El Capitan Salathe Wall 35 5.13b or 5.9 C2
El Capitan The Nose 31 5.13c or 5.9 C2
El Capitan Dawn Wall 31 5.12 - 5.14d
Sentinel Rock Chuoinard Herbert 15 5.11+
El Capitan Zodiac 16 A2 5.7
El Capitan North America Wall 27 A2 5.8
El Capitan Muir Wall 33 A2 5.9
El Capitan Eagles Way 19 A3 5.8
El Capitan Excalibur 28 A3 5.8
El Capitan Mescalito 26 A3 5.8
El Capitan The Shield 30 A3 5.8
El Capitan Wall of Early Morning Light 27 A3 5.8
El Capitan Pacific Ocean Wall 27 A3 5.9
El Capitan Lost in America 16 A4 5.10
El Capitan Tribal Rite 29 A4 5.5
El Capitan Aurora 16 A4 5.8
El Capitan South Seas 24 A4 5.8
Half Dome Zenith 21 A4 5.8
El Capitan Sea of Dreams 27 A4 5.9
El Capitan Reticent Wall 21 A5 5.7
Washington Column South Face 10 C1 5.8
El Capitan Triple Direct 30 C2 5.8
El Capitan Lurking Fear 19 C2F 5.7
Leaning Tower West Face 11 C2F 5.7

Royal Robbins and Tom Frost-
El Capitan, North American Wall

Alex Honnold on the Regular NW face
route - Half Dome
by Jimmy Chien

El Capitan history (brief)
"To climb anything on the cliff proper, top to bottom, was about as likely as a trip to the moon. I think it's safe to say that no being before 1950 entertained even a moment's thought about climbing El Cap," wrote Steve Roper in "Camp 4, Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber".
As of 1956 the faces of El Capitan and Half Dome are unclimbed.
The Northwest Face of Half Dome went in 1957 and the nose on El Cap in 1958.

In 1970 Warren Harding made a much-publicised first ascent of the "Wall of Early Morning Light", up the tallest portion of El Capitan in its southeast side. With Dean Caldwell, he spent 27 nights on the wall, living mostly in tented hammocks designed in coordination with Roger Derryberry. When a 4-day storm rolled in, the National Park Service decided, after 22 days, that the two needed to be rescued. Ropes were lowered, but after much shouting back and forth, retracted. Harding, in his book Downward Bound, recounts what might have happened had the rescue persisted:

"Good Evening! What can we do for you." "We've come to rescue you!" "Really? Come now, get hold of yourselves - have some wine."

The Nose 3,000 ft 31 pitches
The rating 5.9+ A2 is based on using Aid to get around the Great Roof and Changing Corners.

The most popular and historically famous route is The Nose.
From 1950 to 2000, the Nose went from impossible to last great problem to hardest rock climb on the planet to classical alpine rock climb.

Pitch feature
8,9 The Stovelegs
Camp IV
El Cap Tower
Camp V
17 King Swing
22 The Great Roof 5.13c
Camp VI
27 Changing Corners 5.14a/b
31 Top
Other El Cap Routes:
Freerider (5.12d) - Honnold "Free Solo" the movie
Mescalito Dawn Wall


  • 1958 - Climed for the first time using siege climing (climb for a few days then retreat to the floor). 46 days over a period of 16 months. Warren "Batso" Harding (5'-5"), Wayne Merry and George Whitmore spent a total of 46 days on the wall. Some 675 pegs and 125 bolts were placed.
    To beat a deadline set by the park service Harding spent 14 hours from dusk to dawn, hand drilling 28 bolts in a row by headlamp
  • 1960 - Second climb of El Capitan, completed in 6 and 3/4 days by Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost.
  • 1964 - The ascent of the North American Wall in 1964 with Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard, was considered the hardest rock climb in the world at the time.
  • 1969 - First solo climb of the Nose by T. Bauman.
  • 1975 - Nose is climbed for the first time in a single day by John Long, Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay.
  • 1993 - Lynn Hill, America's premier rock climber, makes first free ascent of The Nose. Her first attempt was stopped only on Changing Corners by a piton jammed in a critical finger hold. After removing the piton she re-climbed the route from the ground reaching the summit in 4 days.
    In August Hans Florine solos the nose in 14:10.
  • 1999 - Most parties take three days to climb The Nose and bivy on a variety of ledges such as (from ground up) Dolt Tower, El Cap Tower, Camp IV (pitch 20), Camp V, and Camp VI.
  • 2002 - Yuji Hirayama and Hans Florine speed climb the Nose route in 2 hours, 48 minutes, and 30 seconds.
  • 2004 - Two Japanese climbers died of hypothermia in the middle of pitch 28.
  • 2012 - ALex Honold and Hans Florine set the record for climing the nose in 2:23:46
  • June 3, 2017 Alex Honnold free solos El Cap. He went up a Freerider (5.12d), with a few variations in 3 hours, 56 minutes.
    at the 2019 Oscars Free Solo, a Nat Geo Movie got an oscar for best documentary. Alex Honnold free Solos El Cap.
  • June 6, 2018 - Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell set a record climbing the nose in 1:58.

Camp 4 - The closest campground to the cliffs. For decades climbers flocked to the site, supplementing their diet with complimentary butter and crackers from the park cafeteria. "We camped together, we trained together, we climbed together," Dale Bard, a Yosemite fixture in the 1970s, says in the film. "We were a tribe."

Other historic climbs

2014-15 - Mescalito Dawn Wall Project Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt the Mescalito Dawn Wall project on El Capitan, A free line which unites the famous Mescalito with New Dawn, two cult routes on the southeast face to the right of the famous The Nose.
Started Dec. 27; Finished Jan. 14.
It took them several attempts to do Pitch 15, rated 5.14d.
There are six pitchs reportedly in the 5.14 bracket. See Santa Rosa climber Kevin Jorgeson conquers difficult part | The Press Democrat
Dawn Wall: El Capitan's Most Unwelcoming Route -
See New Dawn - El Capitan -
Yosemite climbers reach peak of 3,000-foot granite wall - CBS News

El Capitan Links:
The Nose - El Capitan -
Freerider (5.12d) - Honnold "Free Solo" the movie

Camp 4 - The closest campground to the cliffs. For decades climbers flocked to the site, supplementing their diet with complimentary butter and crackers from the park cafeteria. "We camped together, we trained together, we climbed together," Dale Bard, a Yosemite fixture in the 1970s, says in the film. "We were a tribe."

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley Topo

See Also:
A Short History of Yosemite Rock Climbing | Yosemite Climbing Association
Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Rock Climbing |
Climbing in Yosemite
Yosemite Climbing - Photo Gallery - Pictures, More From National Geographic Magazine
Yosemite Big Wall Climbing - The Best Routes |
Rock Climbing and Ratings under recreation
El Capitan climbing history
Big Wall Climbing in Yosemite - What You Need to Know
Camp 4 in Yosemite
Yosemite Climbing - Photo Gallery - Chien Photography - National Geographic Magazine
Yosemite's Best Free Climbing Routes
climbing culture of Yosemite, Jimmy Chien National Geographic shoot video by renan ozturk
People on El Capitan using GigaPan - GigaPan allows you to stitch photos together creating a Gigapixel image then click on thumbnails or use the slider to zoom in.
Rock Climbers
Rock Climbing Products

last updated 10 Jan 2015