Text and pictures © 1995-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"No, I'm not going to climb that (El Cap). All of these ropes and gear are to tie up your wife and daughter." — Jeff Batten
Left: One of the 2 most famous pieces of rock in Yosemite: Half Dome as seen from the top of Yosemite Falls. The Snake Dike is on the right edge and there are some classic aid climbs on the facing wall (West face direct, Tusaack...).
Right: Miriam on the Snake Dike, a beautiful slab classic on Half Dome. Easy (5.7) but poorly protected (some pitches have one bolt). Gear necessary: 3 quickdraws and 2 or 3 stoppers for the first pitch. Leave early as it's usually crowded. On my last day in the valley I free-soloed it. Fun !
Right: Summit of Half Dome with some hungry squirrels. Those critters (and chipmunks too) can steal food from you pack if you don't pay attention but they help make good pictures !
Most common animals found at Camp 4 (the 1st camping ground on the left when you arrive in the village): climbers and coyotes (also bears, squirrels...).
Left: Hangout and gear sorting at Camp 4: Miriam (Australian, my 1st partner), Mike (from Colorado, my 2nd partner), Adam (the Australian who climbed Salathé Wall one handed after slicing it nearly in half in a fall), Parish (another very strong Aussie) and me.
Right: I saw this coyote as I was making some bacon&eggs early in the morning at Camp 4. It was just 10m away, looking at me cooly. I jumped on my camera to take this one.
Left: Cathedral Spire, a short but beautiful climb (5.9). The approach (same than for the higher cathedral) is rather long, so it is not usually crowded. There are many classics on the Cathedrals: the Braille Book, the east buttress, the north-east buttress and the DNB below).
Right: Breathtaking view on El Cap during the climb of the last pitch. Exposed, steep but good pro if you don't get lost...
Left: Summit of Cathedral Spire.
The lower Cathedral, a 600m wall facing El Cap. Unlike El Cap, most of the routes on it are free-climbing, but most are hard in a classic kind of way. With Mike we climbed the Direct North Buttress (DNB), an old Chouinard classic, visible between sunlight and sunshade on the picture. Long, sustained, poor pro, hard to follow... The route finishes in the big dihedral visible from halfway up. Some of the belays are pretty bad.
Left: Lower Cathedral, opposite of El Cap.
Right: Direct North Buttress, the scariest move.
The first half is on slabs with the crux shown on the picture: a 20m runout straight from the belay, the belay being a sling around a moving boulder and ending with a good 5.10 move. The only piton came off while Mike was doing the move. The fact that the topo states that the crux is the 3rd pitch is a joke: only the naive can compare a bolted 5.10b with some hideous grade 4 offwidth or 5.something runout no-belay slab. The second half of the climb is on steep and smooth chimneys and dihedrals (they call it grade 4 !!!). Oh yeah, even the way down is hard, you have to survive the cat walk first, generally in the middle of the night. We even found a cut rope on it to give you a hint !
The Lost Arrow, an absolute must do. From the center of the valley, it is the obvious piton on the right of Yosemite falls. It's possible to climb it from the base, but it's normally done from the top of Yosemite falls: rappel down the notch, then climb the last 2 aid pitches (bolts, some without heads). Very exposed.
Remember to leave the line used for the rappel (100m necessary) to use for a Tyrolean traverse afterwards. Hope you don't get too scared of height. Anyway it's a nice day climb, it took me just a few hours to solo it. A few days later a guy rope-walked it naked...
Left: Aid pitch on the lost arrow.
Right: Getting out of the Lost Arrow.
Now to business. El Capitan. The Nose. Two names that used to send me daydreaming and that now send me into fits of fever and make me rub my wrists in pain when I hear them. With Mike we decided to climb Triple Direct (start into Salathé Wall in free, then crosses Muir's wall to get back to the Nose, a good way to avoid the crowds)... in a day. We took off at 7 in the morning with a truckload of beer (...err I mean gear, the beer is what we drank too much of the previous night, explaining the late start), some power bars, 12 liters of water (good choice) and lots of faith.
Left: El Capitan. The Nose is visible between sunlight and shadow, and we had time to see both sunlight and moonlight since our day-climb turned into a 41 hour climbing marathon.
Right: Start of the Triple Direct (3rd? 5th? pitch).
When we started there was somebody repeatedly screaming from high up: "EssHuh! EssHuh!...". We understood it only a couple of pitches higher, it was: "Rescue! Rescue!". It was a Korean climber fallen near Camp 6 who had broken an arm and a leg. See the tiny spot in the top right corner of the picture ? It's the helicopter come to pick him up. Not the best way to start our day, but as I said, we had faith...
Left: Mike Shimp on Triple Direct, end of the 1st day.
Right: Under the Nose's great roof (8a+).
Efforts are taking their toll, but it's nothing compared with what was coming next. During the night we had some hard aid. I remember a pitch I led all on Leeper cam hooks... They pulled out a couple times with impressive sparks.
I also took a 10m fall when 5 pieces (out of 6 !) pulled out during the traverse to reach Mammoth Terrace, at 4 in the morning. Yeah, sure wakes you up !
Early morning on the 2nd day, we passed 2 Aussies under the Great Roof. That's the 8a+ pitch freed by Lynn Hill. There are definitely aliens walking (climbing ?) among us. From here on, the climb's always overhanging, as if we had arm strength left.
Left: The Nose's great roof seen from a (safe) distance. You can see two tiny dots in the same position than the people on the picture above.
Right: El Capitan by moon light.
Two hours of pause lets you see the headlamps of the hard-core climbers who do it at night, too. The 2nd night overran us above camp 6. We kept on going with dreams of fresh beer and pizza at the village. As I was leading the last pitch around midnight, 5 base-jumpers flew right by my back. Duh ! Some friends had carried our sleeping bags up, but we never found them, we slept in somebody else's sleeping bag (both of us !) and ate two found cans of soup in front of a fire. Souvenirs, souvenirs...
"As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered. I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was." — Warren Harding ( -2002).
Eight years later I went back to Yosemite with Jenny to bag a whole lot of other excellent routes, including the infamous Steck-Salathé on the Sentinel, the regular NW route of Half Dome and the Salathé Wall up El Cap. The climbing sure didn't get any easier in the meanwhile...
Also check this hilarious post to rec.climbing if you have some questions about Yosemite. I have also collected some quotes about Yosemite.