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Home >> Climbing Areas >> Yosemite Big Walls Friday, October 31, 2014 

Yosemite Big Walls:
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Muir Wall, El Cap
High Sierra, 5.10
Red Rocks, 5.10a
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Big Wall Climbs and Beta
Intro to big wall climbing in Yosemite
Suggested first big wall climbs
Suggested climbs for return trips
Big wall safety
Chris McNamara's aid rack
When to climb in Yosemite

Big Wall Guidebooks
Free Big Wall SuperTopo for Muir Wall
The Road to the Nose
Yosemite Big Walls: SuperTopos

 


El Capitan viewed from Cathedral Spires.
Photo: Chris Johns
   

Yosemite Big Wall Climbing Info
Yosemite is big wall paradise. The walls are enormous, the rock solid, and the weather ideal. Below I have offered a primer to help you plan a Yosemite big wall adventure. I have also included some personal tips and techniques and the gear I am currently using. Enjoy!

Chris McNamara

P.S. email me if you have any beta that should be added to this page

Yosemite Big Wall Skills
Yosemite offers short practice aid routes, 3000-foot A5 nightmares, and everything in between. No matter what you plan to climb, you will need basic free climbing and aid climbing skills before you arrive in the Valley. Train in both a climbing gym and your local crag and read our How To Big Wall Climb Book. Consider purchasing Road to The Nose, a guidebook that offers advice on training for Yosemite big walls and also includes numerous topos for moderate routes. For a more complete selection of big wall routes, check out Yosemite Big Wall SuperTopos.

Good Practice Aid Climbs
Here are some El Capitan base routes to hone your aid skills and get you familiar with Yosemite granite. All these climbs are included in the Road to The Nose guidebook. Also, here are some Southern California practice areas

Route            
Rating
Pitches
Source
Description
Pacific Ocean Wall Base
C1
1
The Pacific Ocean Wall is an intimidating climb with a very moderate first pitch. This is a great first aid climbing lead.
North America Wall Base
C2
1
This pitch offers sustained nut and small cam placements with a few "aid boulder problems" below the anchor.

El Cap Tree

C2 5.7
4
This wandering and adventurous climb leads to El Cap Tree, an 80-foot ponderosa, the only major tree on El Capitan.
Dihedral Wall Base
C2+
2
These two pitches ascend the lower portion of an enormous 600-foot dihedral. They are sustained and involve some tricky placements.
La Escuela
C1
1
A great first aid lead. Some of the placements are a little awkward but they are generally secure.

Good First Big Wall Climbs in Yosemite
Below are five moderate Yosemite big walls. None of these climbs is easy and you will need to have your aid skills wired before attempting one. Most of these climbs are included in the Road to The Nose guidebook.

Route            
Rating
Pitches
Source 
Description
Washington Column, South Face
C1 5.8
10
A popular first wall. This climb is probably the easiest Grade V wall and is usually crowded.
Leaning Tower, West Face
C2F 5.7
11
Probably Yosemite's shortest Grade V wall but also the most overhanging. Most of the crux sections have fixed gear and there are many bolt ladders.

The Prow

C2F 5.6
12
A steep and popular route. While most crux sections are fixed, the exposure and thin crack systems make this climb challenging both mentally and physically.
Lost Arrow Spire Tip
C2 5.7
2
A true Yosemite classic climb. While only two pitches long, the exposure will make you feel like you're halfway up El Capitan.
Skull Queen
C2 5.8
13
A more difficult and less crowded variation to the South Face.

Brief ad break: please help support this site by checking out the Yosemite Big Walls guidebook. There is a free sample download here

      View the Index and Introduction
      View a list of new routes since the Second Edition and read the Preface about What's New?

Good Long and Moderate Big Wall Climbs
After climbing a few shorter big wall routes, you may be ready to tackle the biggies: Half Dome and El Capitan. Listed below are some of the most classic Grade VI big walls in Yosemite. Even if you are too cheap to buy one of our rock climbing guidebooks, please take a look at the list of climbs to develop a good tick list of great Yosemite climbing routes. But, please consider supporting our efforts by buying one of our SuperTopo itinerary packs—you won't be disappointed! Check out our list of Yosemite's 40+ best big wall climbs

Route            
Rating 
Pitches
Source 
Description
Half Dome, Northwest Face
C1 5.9
23
My (Chris McNamara's) favorite route. Loads of quality free climbing in a spectacular location. Most of this route can be climbed at 5.9 or easier.
The Nose
C2 5.9
31
Considered by many to best rock climb in the world. Period.

Salathé Wall

C2 5.9
35
Almost as classic and slightly harder than the The Nose. Many memorable pitches and ledges.
Lurking Fear
C2F 5.7
19
One of the more moderate and shorter routes on El Capitan. The first half requires mostly aid climbing and the second half requires mostly free climbing.
Zodiac
A2 5.7
16
The most moderate route on El Capitan's overhanging southeast face. Spectacular exposure and easy hauling.

Climbing Safety
More than 100 climbing accidents occur every year in Yosemite. The two documents below include some helpful information to help you avoid an accident.

      Staying Alive by John Dill, Yosemite Search and Rescue
      Two Climbing Accident Summaries by Tyson Hausdoerffer

Climbing Ethics
The document below contains a number of tips that all big wall climbers should adhere to in order to keep Yosemite the climbing paradise it is today. Also, here is a great thread on making a poop tube or big wall waste system and a discussion on big wall passing ethics.

      View Low Impact Climbing in Vertical Wilderness and Taking Care of the Big Stone by Jesse McGahee, Climbing Ranger, and Steve Grossman

Favorite Big Wall Links
OutdoorGearLab Big Wall Gear Reviews
Live El Cap and Half Dome Cams
El Cap Gigapixel

Chris McNamara's Aid Rack
Here are the two aid racks I use most often on Yosemite big walls. I have also included a checklist of what to bring on multi-day walls. I did not include a rack for a sample A4 nailing route because nailing racks vary wildly depending on the route. Keep in mind that everyone prefers different gear and my rack not necessarily the best rack for you. Also, I tend to go light and you will probably carry more cams, nuts, pitons, etc. Here is a detailed description of basic wall gear and protection or a description of haul bags, portaledges, and bivy gear

If you click on any of the following links and make a purchase, a portion of sale comes back to us to help keep the site running: Altrec EMS Moosejaw Backcountry Patagonia REI

Rack for all clean routes (Example: The Nose)

Rack for mostly clean routes (Example: Zodiac)

Misc. gear for multi-day walls:

1 ea DMM Offset Nuts
1 set DMM Peenut
s
1 set DMM Brass Offsets #2-3, 2 ea #4-6
2 ea cam hooks (narrow)
2 sets of Metolius Master Cams to #5 of Aliens
1-2 sets of Metolius Offset Master Cams to #5
2 sets of Black Diamond Camalot C4 #0.5-3
1 each of Black Diamond Camalots C4 #4 and #5
1 medium Black Diamond Pecker (optional)
1 60m x 10.2mm climbing rope
1 60m x 9mm static haul line
Petzl Micro Traxion or Pro Traxion
Petzl ascenders
Petzl Wall Step Etriers
1 Metolius Monster Daisy chain
Black Diamond Fifi hook
10 Black Diamond Oz quickdraws
50 CAMP Nano 23 carabiners or CAMP Photons
10 Mammut Crocodile Sling
Black Diamond Momentum or Petzl Sama climbing harness
Petzl Gri Gri 2 or Trango Cinch belay device
Petzl Reverso 4 belay device
Five Ten Guide Tennie or La Sportiva Ganda
La Sportiva TC Pro shoes or Five Ten Anasazi VCS
Petzl Meteor or Petzl Elios or Black Diamond Vector helmet
Metolius Adjustable gear sling

ALL CLEAN ROUTE RACK PLUS:
1 Cliffhanger
1 Talon
1 Grappling hook
2 ea of mid-sized cam hooks
4 keyhole hangers
4 wire rivet hangers
Yosemite Hammer or Petzl Bongo
5 copperheads (#2-3)
1 ea Moses Tomahawk
1-2 ea Black Diamond Pecker (med, lrg)
1 Knifeblade
3 Lost Arrow pitons (#1-3)
2 baby Angles (1/2”, 5/8”)
2 sawed angles (3/4”, 1”)
2 Metolius daisy chains
2 ea Yates Big Wall Ladder
Yates Big Wall Rack
tie-off loops
Metolius Waldo Harness
or Arcteryx B360

Runout Customs Double Portaledge
Metolius Dome Haul Bag
Metolius Quarter Dome Haul Bag

3/4 length Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest sleeping pad
Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina sleeping bag
Black Diamond Big Wall Bivy Sac
Metolius Big Wall Stuff Sacks
Metolius Waste Case or homemade poop tube
Wag Bags
Wet One's wipes
Petzl Tikka XP headlamp
Mtn biking gloves or Metolius belay gloves
Outdoor Research Helium 2 rain jacket
Arcteryx Atom SV
small knife (my current favorite)
wide-brimmed cloth sun hat
iPhone
duct tape
portable solar panel
cell phone
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles
Jet Boil Flash stove with JetBoil Hanging Kit

Snow Peak Titanium Spork

Anchor Conditions
Since 1997 the American Safe Climbing Association has replaced more than 800 bolts in Yosemite. Some anchor information is available for certain climbs on the route beta pages. For the most up-to-date information on each route’s anchors conditions, visit the ASCA web site.


The Leaning Tower at sunset.
Photo: Chris McNamara
   

Yosemite Essentials
In the sections below, we attempt to list information that will help ensure that your climbing trip to Yosemite is enjoyable and hassle-free. For starters, let us note the location of the National Park system's web site for Yosemite:
Official Yosemite National Park Web site

Getting There
Travel information is available on the Yosemite Rock Climbing info page. Travelocity is one or our favorite travel web sites and if you book through this link, a portion of the sale goes to support this web site.

When to Climb
Yosemite has some of the best weather of any climbing area on earth. That said, note that it could storm at any time in Yosemite, and often heavily. Climbers should always prepare for the worst on big walls by bringing adequate bivy gear (see Staying Alive). The best times to climb are in the spring and fall. The summer can also be great once you get a few pitches up and out of the heat. In the winter, the Valley empties of both tourists and climbers, giving a much more pristine feel to the climbs. Winter can have good climbing weather but can also have months of uniquely wet and severe Sierra storms.

Current Weather and Road Conditions
Current road conditions and weather reports for Yosemite area destinations can be found below:
Yosemite Valley weather — five day forecast of Yosemite Valley
Yosemite road conditions — or call (209) 372-0200

Seasons
Nov. 15–March The walls and Valley are relatively empty with usually at least one five-day spell of good weather per month. On any winter ascent prepare for the absolute worst, as Pacific storms can last up to a week or longer and bring heavy snow and rain. The driest and most protected routes are on Washington's Column, Leaning Tower and the Southeast Face of El Capitan.

 Month
Average Rain
Max/Min
Temp (F)
   January
6.35"
47/25
   February
6.64"
55/26
   March
5.87"
58/30
   April
3.29"
65/34
   May
1.48"
71/39
   June
0.51"
80/46
   July
0.29"
89/50
   August
0.06"
89/50
   September
0.55"
82/48
   October
1.68"
72/39
   November
3.49"
57/30
   December
7.10"
49/26
   

April–May 15 Walls and the Valley are still uncrowded, but there is a 50/50 chance of getting either good or miserable weather. This is also the time of some of the wettest Pacific storms. You should still stick to walls on Washington's Column, Leaning Tower and the Southeast Face of El Capitan.

May 15–June Perfect weather and big crowds both in the Valley and on the walls. Almost every route is dry.

July–Aug. The Valley is still crowed with tourists, but the walls are uncrowded. While Valley floor temperatures are often in the 90s and 100s, temperatures on the walls 500 feet above the Valley or higher are usually comfortable in the 70s and low 80s. Be prepared with plenty of extra water.

Sept.–Nov. 15 The Valley is crowded with tourists and walls are crowded. Mostly cooler weather with an occasional heat wave. The first winter storm usually arrives in late October or early November.

Staying in the Park
Information is Available on the Yosemite Rock Climbing Info Page

Related Big Wall Books
Camp 4 - Steve Roper's definitive book on Yosemite climbing history from the beginning to 1970. A must read.
Defying Gravity - This book is less personal and authoritative than Camp 4 but covers a broader period of time and has more photos.
El Capitan - Dan Duane picks a handful of Yosemite personalities and explores what made them tick.
Vertical World of Yosemite - A collection compiled by Galen Rowell of the best Yosemite first ascent accounts.
How to Big Wall Climbs - The most current "how to" aid climbing book written by Chris McNamara.
Yosemite Big Wall Obscurities - This free download includes hand-drawn topos of obscure Yosemite big walls. NOTE: these topos are of dubious accuracy.

SuperTopo rock climbing guidebooks for Yosemite Big Walls
Yosemite Big Walls: SuperTopos - The most detailed and informative guide to Yosemite's most popular big walls.
Road the The Nose: SuperTopos - A step-by-step guide to help you prepare for climbing a Yosemite big wall.




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