West Face of El Cap


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Trad climber
St. Charles, MO
Topic Author's Original Post - May 8, 2009 - 08:51am PT
My partner and I are planning to climb this route in June. Does anyone have beta on which guide has the most accurate topo?
Any pictures of the route that could be emailed or posted would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Tim
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
May 8, 2009 - 08:54am PT
PM Nanook?
t is for trad

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
May 8, 2009 - 09:43am PT
i did this route last summer, great line, nothing quite like it in the valley. we used the topo from the falcon guide and it was pretty accurate. I would say that the only confusing part was topping out. after the last five ten pitch, once you get to thanksgiving ledge, we went hard left and it seemed like the 5th class went on for a while until it turned into 4th class and even that went on for a ways. we ended up bivying when it got dark. but on second thought another tricky pitch is the one after the downclimb. the guidebook i think even shows two cracks, make sure to take the one on the right! hike up to ribbon falls and you'll get a really good view of it and the topo will make more sense. I have some pictures but not readily available, if you PM me your email i might be able to send you a link. There are so many good pitches on this route, the .11 pitches are great, a little heady to lead if you're going for the free onsight but safe. I remember the top of the first 11c pitch being run out and scary but i think i was to in the zone then to realize it. have fun!!
Erik Sloan

May 8, 2009 - 09:52am PT
There is a great new topo, with linking beta for a 70m rope which I can't find the link too right now. Anyone got it?

This route is awesome. If you do find the linking beta I would avoid linking the two pitches to Thanksgiving (for that matter I think most mortals will find the first 2 pitches pretty hard to link). Though it's doable it's a super long 70m pitch with rope drag.
The easy links are pitches 4/5 and 6/7 in the Reid guide

Having climbed El Cap a bunch the top out was pretty cruiser, just plan on a solid 45-60 minutes from the top of the 5th class to the top of the Nose. FYI:You'll walk downhill a bunch to the top of the Nose.

Looked like it was still wet up there yesterday.


Trad climber
El Portal, CA
May 8, 2009 - 10:14am PT
Ahhhhh what a great route. Did it in mid-July when it was hotter than hell. We used the Reid topo and it seemed fine. Enjoy!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 8, 2009 - 10:38am PT
Hi Tim, here is the original written route description from the green Roper. It is interesting and useful also and describes the route before it was climbed free. I did the fourth ascent of it in August 1971.

VI, 5.9, A4. TM Herbert and Royal Robbins, June
1967. The first ascent of this 2,000-foot face,
done in very wet weather, took four and a half days.
Only one bolt was placed. Climb up the EI Cap-West
Chimney route until under the face, then begin
climbing from a large block between two steep
sections of the chimney. Free climbing ends at
discontinuous crack and flakes leading up and right.
then up and left to a good belay ledge. Nail a thin
arch which curves left, move left using skyhooks,
then climb up to a sling belay in a recess. Pitch 3: nail
an AI crack in a dihedral for 50 feet, then move right
and nail a slab. A bit of free climbing leads to a belay
ledge. An easy class 5 pitch leads up 60 feet to a good
belay ledge. Next, go up and left around a corner
(nuts are helpful amid loose blocks), then continue
straight up (ignoring a huge arch leading fight) on
mixed climbing. This leads to a large ledge. Pitch 6:
from the left part of the ledge nail to a sling belay in
a corner. Continue nailing then move
to a narrow ledge with all anchor bolt.

A short free section leads to a crack on the right
which is nailed to a ledge. Pitch 9' climb free up and
Tight to a horizontal crack. Nail to the right about 40
feet, turn a corner and drop down 3S feet in a groove
to a belay alcove. Climb down a ramp leading right
for 10 feet, then nail up and slightly left for perhaps
100 feet. Traverse free to the right and belay in slings.
Above, do not nail the left-hand crack but rather one
which goes more or less straight up. After some easy
nailing, proceed up mainly free to a belay stance.
Pitch 12 is short, fairly easy and ends on a ledge with
a block. Next, climb free up a crack which diagonals
left; then, when the crack ends, traverse left and
climb up to a small belay ledge. Mixed aid and
jamming leads up and somewhat left to a loose block.
Avoid this by manteling right, then climb to a huge

Nail a crack which lies 30 feet left of a prominent
dihedraL When the crack ends, nail to the right in a
horizontal crack leading into the dihedral and belay
in slings a bit higher. On the 16th pitch nail to a small
Ledge. Next, climb up and right to Thanksgiving
Ledge. Walk left 50 feet left, then climb a 5.6 pitch to a
broken area. Continue up past a bush to the base of a
flared chimney. Move left to a bushy area, then
proceed up to a belay stance atop a pillar. The final
pitch goes up a flared gully, then traverses up and
right across the face to the rim. Iron: 45-50 pitons,
up to 3". Nuts are helpful and several cliffhangers are

Trad climber
WAS Auburn CA, NOW Seattle WA
May 8, 2009 - 12:04pm PT
one of my favorite routes in the valley!

the burly second pitch.

after the 5.7 traverse you do the slightly runout 5.10 pitch.

last pitch before thanksgiving ledge.

Captain...or Skully

Social climber
North of the Owyhees
May 8, 2009 - 12:52pm PT
Nice pics........Woot!
Erik Sloan

May 8, 2009 - 01:37pm PT
Is that the easiest way to do the 5.10 traverse?

We couldn't tell so Alec just busted straight right(pretty sure his feet were on the ledges you see in the foreground in the photo). I, being light of course, lowered over to the easier ground.
Erik Sloan

May 8, 2009 - 01:41pm PT
Here's Alec making the last 10d pitch(2 down from Thanksgiving) look way too easy.

Alec later, "Oh, I thought that section was 5.9 in the topo and was thinking man, I must be kinda worked."

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
May 8, 2009 - 01:53pm PT
I kind of wondering what kind of beta you would need that's not on Reid (Falcon) or Supertopo versions. I found the route really straightforward. I wanders a bit above Thanksgiving Ledge but it's pretty easy. If you've dispatched the lower pitches then the upper part won't be a problem. Most of the hard pitches you can french free if you need to. Nothing really heads up on the route. Some might say the upper part of the second pitch is, but when I did it there were so many fixed heads, you could just grab one and yard your way out of trouble.

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
May 8, 2009 - 01:56pm PT
did this in 1988, onsight free in a day. what i remember most was that the first two 5.11 pitches felt much easier than i thought they'd be. i blew the belay at the top of the 5.11c finger crack pitch -- i wound up setting up a hanging belay off of a single hangerless 1/4" bolt and a bunch of not-so-great tiny wires; i was maybe 20 - 30 feet short of a big ledge. today's longer ropes would remedy that problem.

i recall being totally pumped on the last couple of 5.10ish pitches. i also remember that the exposure goes away after the 11c finger pitch, and that was a shame because it was just starting to feel airy. mostly i remember it as being one of the best single days of climbing i enjoyed in the valley. quite the adventure for me -- i was never much one for those really long routes.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
May 8, 2009 - 04:11pm PT
as a free climb, the second pitch is capable of spitting out nervous, intimidated, not-quite-ready-for-ElCap climbers and sending them back to the grade IVs. Of course, this is only what I've HEARD, you know, second hand from somebody else.
t is for trad

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
May 9, 2009 - 03:19am PT
i do remember that second pitch being a scary lead at some points. The 11 is right off the belay and not bad, but still, i was a wuss and french freed it. but the top part is dicey. Somone had given me some advice maybe a month before I got on the route, something about, when you are right of the crack and you come to a move that you think you could do, but you reaaaally don't want to do because you are run out above your gear (i remember at least 15 feet seperating me from my last piece at this point, that may be memory exaggerating though)step around left to some good holds. After testing this improble move for maybe five minutes while my hands were getting sweaty and my legs were starting to shake the memory of this advice comes floating back into my head as if from the cool afternoon breeze (memory creats such great poetry) and i looked left and right in front of my face was the way I'd been looking for all along.

Cheers to bvb doing it all free onsight, that was my goal but i just didn't have the stones. I got the first pitch free on top rope but that was about it. but even as we speak I'm gearing myself up for a second try.

As for that 5.10 traverse (after the downclimb right?) i don't remember going low at all like the picture shows, or maybe we had our belay down lower? possible. And I guess the topout wasn't actually bad at all, it was just dark and we really wanted to get off the route. We had been hauling stuff up with us all day which killed our time, i don't recommend that. Either do it all in a day or don't do it at all. then again We also fixed the first two pitches with one 70, which might make it go easier if you're not sure about doing it all in a day.

Social climber
Newport, OR
May 9, 2009 - 06:53pm PT
Yeah also did this onsight, free, no-falls, in a day with Erik Eriksson in '81 (or was it '82 "E") It's really a fun route!

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
May 9, 2009 - 07:10pm PT
i suppose it's worth mentioning that when i did it i had a super-strong partner -- john wason -- and the psychological safety net that having an el cap veteran and one of my best freinds as a ropemate ensured that i'd climb without fear all day. so, if you can, bring a rope gun along with you. knowing you can wuss out any time you want and get a top rope on every single pitch sure frees you up to push yourself!
Ron Raimonde

Big Wall climber
May 10, 2009 - 02:30pm PT
We Climbed Realm of the flying monkeys in 88? Instead of the West face start, we climbed the first 4 pitches of Mr. Midwest at old school A3 and nothing gnarly. This ends at the West Face 4 anchors. Neither one of us was willing to do the 2nd pitch of West Face. I remember the exit being tons of work with our loads. RR

Big Wall climber
May 10, 2009 - 06:28pm PT
The w. face is one of my favorite routes in the valley. Lots of fun moderate climbing on very featured granite. On one pitch you climb over this 5' roof on huge jugs with huge exposure, and it's maybe 5.9 at most. Very unusual for yosemite. The cruxes are all well protected, and not too bad for the grades. The 5.10 face climbing after the big traverse halfway up seemed kinda heady, but maybe I didn't go the easiest way? It was the probably the only section harder than 5.9 that you couldn't A0 through if you wanted to. That topo Erik mentioned with the 70 M linking beta was really good, but I can't find it right now. I'm sure it's hiding somewhere out there on the internet... You can do the route with a pretty light rack, because there aren't any long sustained hand cracks and there is a fair bit of fixed stuff.
Thanks for this great day on the captain last fall Erik!

Trad climber
St. Charles, MO
Topic Author's Reply - May 21, 2009 - 12:11pm PT
Thanks to everyone for all of the info and pictures of the route. We are getting psyched to go out and give it a go. Any more stories or pictures would be great to keep the stoke level high! I'll be sure to post a trip report when we get back.

May 21, 2009 - 12:21pm PT
Yeah, this route rules. Nice photos Pato!! Did it in November... was on the 5.9 pitch described above with the jugs, about 5 pitches from the top or so, right as the sun was setting (my partner at the time refused to get up before 9 for any route no matter how long).... somehow my old beater Tikka headlamp opened up and the batteries came tumbling out. Mid-lead and run-out, I caught two of the batteries with my one free hand but the third one got away.... "AIIGHHH!!!" Spent the rest of the day (and night) climbing up to 5.8 in total darkness, batmanning up the rope between stances on the harder stuff, and stumbling down the east ledges in the spare light of my partner's headlamp... fun fun.

Anyway, anyone ever descend off the west side of el cap? Apparently you can walk off in that talus gully between Ribbon Falls and EC with no rappelling....?

Truckee, CA
May 21, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
Dustin my friend, I am not sure but I think that might be REALLY BAD BETA!! People sometimes go past, that is West, of Ribbon Falls and come down the long long talus slope that Sean Jones used to access his fantastic climbs at the top of Ribbon, but between El Cap and Ribbon Falls is a much trickier gully/chimney and rumor has it that this is NOT a good descent.

Did the 3rd free ascent of the West Face with Steve Hong about 5 days after the brilliant FFA of Bill Price and Ray Jardine. We were psyched to go for the 2nd, but Mark Hudon kind of pulled rank on me when he heard of our plans insisting that they were going up first, so I did Astroman with Leonard Coyne, rested a day, then went up there with Steve. Steve was really good then, but not the crack master that he would become a short time later. That spring he was in the Valley to get jamming down, which he did, in spades, and many of the unclimbed thin fissures of Indian Creek, became history.

At the time, (remember we had barely begun using cams) word was the 2nd pitch required a couple of pins, and the first few ascents were done by free climbing the first two pitches, fixing them, rapping down and sleeping at the base then firing it the next day.

Steve and I climbed it no falls. I think Max had discovered the easier way around the thin corner on the 5th or 6th by face climbing to the right. Which we were able to follow easily since it had very fresh chalk on it. We topped out at 2:00pm, totally blown away to be standing on the summit of El Cap after a mere 8 hours of really fine climbing.

I need to add this to my 30th anniversary ascent list I am trying for this year, along with Astroman, Tales, etc.

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
May 21, 2009 - 01:16pm PT
Why do I remember Ron Fawcett making a really ascent of this? I although he did the second or third but I'm probably totally pulling that out of my a#@.

Anything to beat a dead horse about the 5.10 face: I don't remember it being bad. Don't ask me how, but I remember a good yellow tcu placement, and just some step up and reach right kind of moves. Maybe earning my face chops at Suicide prepared me better than I thought. It's only about 5.10a/b, right?

BTW TimN, if you send the second pitch, apart from the 5/6th pitch (which you can french free pretty easily-I ended up having to at the very end), I don't really think you're going to find anything higher up that's going to stump you.

May 21, 2009 - 01:29pm PT
Hey Peter,

Yeah, not really recommending it to a visiting climber, but I am curious about this gully. The old Roper guide and the Meyers guide list it as class 3-4. This is the gully LEFT of the El Cap chimney, which is supposed to be more technical with steep sections around chockstones etc.

Anyway, just curious... walking back up over the top of El Cap from the west face and down the east ledges kinda sucks.

Hey, Petey--got a mtn biking question for ya. Call or email ya later....

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
May 21, 2009 - 05:13pm PT
A little tidbit on this fine route. If you do it when Ribbon Falls is still going, it can be a bit chilly in the morning since it doesn't get sun until later in the day and Ribbon Falls becomes this nearby swamp cooler.

At least seemed that way one of the times I was up there.

Mike Corbett and I did it in a long day long ago. I just got off work at midnight and we borrowed some gear and headed straight to the crag. Started in the dark and the first two pitches weren't at all fixed so there was actually some hardish aid in the dark. When Corbett jugged the second pitch, a bunch of my pieces pulled and I saw his headlamp (and him) swinging across the face! Next pitch, Corbett puts two cams behind a block. the block (20 in TV size) comes off in my hands when I'm cleaning. Holy shi...!

Did it in half the time with a 17 year old kid 15 years later.

Both good times



bay area
May 21, 2009 - 06:08pm PT

stephens, you're prolific on the topo these days..

question: how does this badboy compare in general length/ difficulty to doing NWFHD in a day?

May 22, 2009 - 01:59am PT
West Face is harder and feels longer. Now stop ridiculing me.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 22, 2009 - 12:47pm PT
If you can lead the first two free, you can do the whole thing.

Trickiest single bit is on the 2nd pitch. You used to have to run it to the 2nd belay off fixed bashies and old frayed wires but the climbing wasn't too hard there.

The upper hard bits are mainly 2-3 body-length sections of cranking between good holds, typically with good pro. Most of this route is 5.8 and 5.9 and a lot of easy 10a type styling.

For experienced Yoz climbers, soon as you finish the last corner, extend the day packs on a sling on your waist, so they hang below, and solo off the chimneys to the top. Takes about 15 minutes.

For fit climbers, approaching and descending will take almost as much time as the route.

This thing always felt like a kind of alpine route to me, unique to Yoz. All in all, solid rock as well. I'm sort of surprised others haven't worked out more free climbs over there.

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
May 22, 2009 - 01:00pm PT
We pulled rank on you, Peter? Sounds like something I'd do although I don't remember doing it.

May 22, 2009 - 01:17pm PT
Anyway, anyone ever descend off the west side of el cap?

I have, but you do have to make one short rappel. You could down climb but it's easier to make a rappel.

The hike down the gully is not sweet ....

Trad climber
Mountain View
Oct 10, 2011 - 12:09pm PT

Social climber
long beach ca
Oct 10, 2011 - 12:38pm PT
im so sick right now and reading all the different posts about el cap is pretty entertaining, myles did that climb with pauly, they would know. im just a lowly beginner

Trad climber
Oct 27, 2011 - 07:51pm PT
Just went up recently to check out this route; it looks beautiful!

But what is up with the original bolts? The West Face of El Cap has supertopo grade trade route written all over it, but the pro is sketchy! (many other posts say "all cruxes are well protected" but I consider rusty 1/4" bolts from the early 70s to be something less than bomber...)

The first anchor is a super old bolt, a very rusty angle, and a purple C3 that I needed to lead the second pitch. The second anchor has one new bolt and several drilled pins.... The spainards topo on ST mentions some "bad bolts" higher up too..

What would it take to update the hardware on this obviously classic line? Can I sign up to help? I would love to learn how to toil on the wall in a new fashion! Roger? Clint?

Btw, we bailed from the top of two to head for more travelled terrain... lately most routes take me a recon run b4 the send anyway, so its on the list!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 02:57am PT
Hmmm, I've done the route twice ('91 and '99) and didn't note any bad belay bolts or pro bolts in those trip reports.

There is that silly rats nest of slings / sling belay in the middle of the crux moves, but you weren't up that high, and people shouldn't be belaying there.
There is a weird bolt up high on the last 5.10 pitch which is hard to reach free, but it sticks out, so I just threw the lead line over it.
These sorts of things would just be removed on a cleanup mission.
In the meantime, if it's a bad bolt, too scary to use, don't use it.

There was only one original bolt (see Peter Haan's post).
Although of course there many pins placed on the FA, and we don't use those much anymore, so having a few fixed pins or bolts makes sense.
I don't think it should have 2 ring bolts at every anchor.
It's a gear route. I think if the existing bolts were scary for you, you probably haven't seen an actual rusty 1/4" bolt before. It may have some rusty 3/8" bolts at this point, but those are usually pretty good.
I could be wrong of course, if someone has removed bolts that were there in '91 and '99. But I don't think any 1/4" bolts would appear on it in the meantime. You would not be the only person to mislabel a rusty bolt as 1/4". The real 1/4" bolts are getting harder to find, so I think people have a tendency to call anything that has some rust a 1/4".

Sorry if this feels a bit negative; I am just trying to reconcile my observations with yours. If you have photos of the bolts in question, please post them and we can try to ID them.

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Oct 28, 2011 - 10:21am PT
Well Clint, I did the route on the 13 October 1995. I'm sure there was one belay, somewhere in the middle of the route, maybe before or after a 5.11 pitch that was two 1/4" bolts. It stuck in my mind as it struck me how little there was between us and oblivion. I can't be any more specific than that.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 03:13pm PT

I believe that anchor with two 1/4" bolts is the one I was vaguely referring to as the "rats nest of slings in the middle of the crux".
This was marked as anchor (6) in the 1987 topo.
The 1994 topo was modified to show (6) lower, with 5.11c at the 2 bolts.
It's still an "easy belay to end up at" as long as those bolts are there, as we tend to just continue leading up if we see reachable slings above.

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Oct 28, 2011 - 04:17pm PT
Hmmm, my topo is Yosemite Select, Don Reid, 1993. I see the belay you are referring to. It's half way up a L facing flake/corner and labelled s.b. and the 5.11c shown above it and 10c below. This is definitely not the one I was thinking of. No, the belay that remains in my mind was in the middle of a wall on a ledge with no way of backing it up. Could be belay 8, after another 11c? Maybe after this?
W Face El Cap 13 Oct 95.
W Face El Cap 13 Oct 95.
Credit: jaaan
My apologies if it's not where I thought it was... but it's not the one you mention.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 28, 2011 - 04:58pm PT
OK, I see. Yes, that is belay (8), 2x shown on the topo.
I remember it's a ledge with no crack above it.
Could definitely be 1/4" there.
I didn't note anything in my TR about it, but the 1/4" don't really bother me that much when there are two. I'm happy to haul a haulbag off two 1/4" bolts, for example.
Would be worthy of an upgrade by most standards, though!

Trad climber
Oct 28, 2011 - 05:18pm PT
Thanks Clint for your response. Maybe I am mis-identifing the diameter of bolt, but I do know what the warm and fuzzy feeling of reading ASCA on a hanger is! Is there any way to get this route on the list for the future? Can I get involved in the project in a formal way?

And you have no problem hauling off two 1/4"ers? maybe I need to sac up, but that just sounds like tempting disaster...
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
May 1, 2013 - 05:42pm PT
I saw some comments about this route being wet. Is it too early in the season for an ascent? Or are the cruxes dry? I'm an experienced climber, just not an experienced Yosemite climber, so I don't know about how long snow runoff lasts and things like that.

Also, anyone have approach beta for this sucker? Or do I just head toward the Nose, take a left, and head up hill for an hour till I see that huge arch around pitch 4?

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 1, 2013 - 06:14pm PT
It should be fairly dry at present - it has been a pretty dry winter.
Be careful on the approach - people have died on it.


May 1, 2013 - 07:19pm PT
but is it trad?
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
May 1, 2013 - 07:44pm PT
Thank you so much Clint! That helps immensely!

Josh Higgins
Roger Brown

Oceano, California
May 1, 2013 - 09:22pm PT
There were fixed ropes on the approach, October 2012 and a fixed rope to the top of the second pitch. Yellow haul bag with approach shoes and ropes inside is setting at the base. Looked like it had been there awhile so we took a peek inside. There was probably more stuff but we just took a peek. Very strange. We spent 6 days on the route. I called it "Blood-Sweat-and Fear"
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
May 6, 2013 - 12:01pm PT
Thanks again for the beta. It resulted in a successful approach, and a great climb!

There are roughly 600-800' of static line fixed on the first three and a half pitches, two haul bags at the base, directionals, gear at the top of the fixed lines, a random dynamic rope at the top of the 2nd pitch, and probably more. If anyone climbs this thing anytime soon and it's still there, toss that sh#t to the ground. It's an eyesore, gets in the way of anyone leading, and leaving that much gear on a classic route is just narcissistic.

I had a blast on this wandering adventure. What a fun climb! Face holds forever! There are definitely bolts that could be replaced, but it wasn't too dangerous. That said, know what you're doing if you get on this because it's hard and there are mandatory runouts. Good times!

Jon Clark

Mar 24, 2015 - 07:36am PT
bump for 70m linking beta
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