Mescalito A3 5.8

  • Currently 5.0/5

El Capitan

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
working of the first free ascent of Mescalito
Tuesday September 29, 2009 5:45pm
first a public service announcement: take your poop down from el cap.
Metolius Waste Case in from of El Capitan.
Metolius Waste Case in from of El Capitan.
Credit: Chris McNamara
Here are many ideas on the subject of managing your poop on the forum or you can just buy a Metolius Waste Case.

ok, down to business:

It had been a couple years since i last belayed Tommy Caldwell on the first double free ascent of el cap in a day

to be honest, i still have not "climbed" with him, only belayed except for a brief, shining moment where i aided a pitch in the Grand Canyon

but i guess i can belay OK.... because i got the nod again to belay again on a new el cap free project: Mescalito!

for those who dont know el cap, the idea of free climbing mescalito is kinda out there. routes like the Nose and Salathe, while they are hard, and way harder than i will ever climb, follow large crack systems that you can see from el cap meadow. Mescalito, on the other hand follows large "flared seam" systems that finally relent to... large blank sections?? impossible!! or is it?

Check out Video of this climb here:

The nose and salathe are probably 90% 5.11 and easier. Mescalito/ Dawn wall likely be 80% 5.12 and harder. It will break down something like this (Tommy's guess)

(note, 60% of the pitches are on mescalito, other pitches are on Dawn Wall, Adrift or are new free variations)

I'll break the suspense: no tommy did not free the route on this trip.

So why am I (with permission from Tommy) spraying so much about a route that hasnt been done yet? Because tommy, who's freed all buy two hard routes on el cap, thinks this might be a ten year project... and he's hoping some new up and coming climber will get psyched and start the 10 year process now so he doesn't have to wait till he is 40 to free it... (crap, Tommy, we are not in our 30's, how did that happen?!?!)

anyway, back to the spray fest

the ascent started with a descent: rapping off the top of el cap... exposure!!!

here i am rapping into wino tower, a proud (but slanted) ledge half way up a blank wall... and the place where Warren Harding camped out on his epic first ascent of the Dawn Wall

shortly after we landed tommy warmed up on a 5.12b pitch to loosen up. NOTE: i call this pitch 5.11 in my book. i was wrong. (its the Wall Of Early Morning Light pitch off Wino Tower)


True story: the morning we packed up in el cap meadow (remember, this is in april), with a more than minor chance of rain, tommy actually thought we did not need a rain fly up there. And after i raised the idea that we should probably have one, just in case, he had to drive back to his house to get one... which we are all glad he did!! mid way through the night it started to rain/snow. we jumped out of the ledge and set up the fly. by morning, we were clearly in a storm. which was kinda a big deal for me since I had never been in a storm on el cap before.

tommy under the ledge

corey and coop hanging out in the COLD

With bad weather, I was off the hook for belay duties. But Tommy, being the animal he is, decided to work on the route self belayed with a mini traxion. Nothing like 5.14a friction in rain/snow.

Halfway through the day he let us know that he made a major breakthrough and found a way to get around the 5.14+ crux with some 5.13+. now the route only had 5 5.14 pitches… no problem!!

Here is a 1 minute video of Tommy talking about finding a way around the 5.14+ section. I am shooting from the portaledge in a mellow snow storm -

And here is another video where Tommy talks about the remaining hard pitches he has to figure out -

And one last video in the portaledge where Tommy lists off the ratings of all the pitches -

I was pretty pumped to sit in the portaledge and answer email, watch youtube and read the forum on my iphone when tragedy struck!!! We realized our solar panel didn’t work withough direct sun…. noooooooo….

we were all pretty bummed.

Instead, I turned my attention to staring at the portaledge and outside the portaledge all day. I made these observations.

A mini review of The Black Diamond Cliff Cabana Ledge
 is very comfy and has lots of cool pockets to stash stuff –
 its really really heavy
 it took me a long time to set up. Granted it was the first time I had done so. But I really like how much more simple the A5 ledges were to set up.
 The rain fly is AWESOME!!!! This is a big improvement from the A5 rainfly I was used to because:
 it ventilates extremely well because it has a big “awning” at the top of the door that is molded to stick out and let air in. This is crucial. Nothing worse than keeping out all the rain only to get wet because of your own sweat… eeeoowww
 plastic panels so you can look out
 nice increase of space with the tent pole that pushes out the outer wall
 one negative to the rain fly and ledge set up is there are big gaps in the portaledge bed so that loose item tend to fall through (like coffee mugs). Its then really hard to fish the items back out from the bottom of the rainfly.

That aside I was very impressed with the rainfly and give it the grade of an A. The portaledge gets an A for comfort but a C for weight and easy of set up. So overall I think I would give it a B. I am not sure how it compares to the other portaledges out there. My ultimate ledge right now would be an A5 ledge with a black diamond fly. But I hear the metolius fly is pretty sweet, too.

While on the topic of gear reviews, we had this awesome petzl hammer on the trip. I had never seen it before but its now my new favorite. I don’t even know where you can buy it.

Also, I did a gear test on the new Moses Cam Hooks :
that you can read about here

Ok, back to climbing, the next day the sun came out after some sweet clearing storm clouds

Here is 37 seconds of video of the clearning storm clouds -

And Tommy emerging from the portaledge after the storm -

Tommy warmed up on some of the easier climbing on the route: 5.13c

For those of you following along in your supertopo big walls book – this is pitch 15 of wall of early morning light

That blank seam is the 5.14+ pitch that tommy no longer has to climb. But just for fun, the next day he did work on it. This next photo, and all the good ones that follow, are from Corey Rich and I stole them from the Big Up Productions Web Site

B sure to check out the new Dosage V trailer:

Tommy on the 5.14+ pitch 15 that he can now avoid with the pitch below

unfortunately for tommy, a lot of the hard climbing on wall of early morning light is protected with the original Harding aluminum dowels.. yikes!!

luckily for tommy, we had the new Moses Keyhole Hangers which are awesome. You can read a great thread and see how these are made here

luckily, the sun came out and our solar panel was back in action and I could once again follow “As The Taco Turns” and web sites - by the way, if you are going to spend a lot of time at belays on el cap, I really recommend an iphone and a solar panel

Ok, enough with the 5.13+ warm up, lets get to some REAL climbing

Below is one of the route cruxes that Tommy has not figured out yet: the features end and he has to make an eight foot horizontal dyno! it looks impossible. and it might be. but that didnt stop tommy from making about 20 tries (and 20 falls). He was hitting the almost every time, but its just such a big move that the swing through of the legs will be really hard to control.

There are a couple dyno's like that. But for the most part the reason the route is so hard is not the BIG moves but the little ones. You have to hold onto microscopic edges and stand on... well stand on things that dont even resemble footholds. Tommy said this has been the key to unlocking so many hard el cap routes "It took me 4 years until I finally learned how to stand on "edges" I never thought were possible to stand on."

Tommy continued "That is the reason so many 5.14+ or even 5.15 climbers get shut down on El Cap. It takes years to learn the technical hand and footwork you need on el cap."

its hard to tell in photos like below, but he's standing and holding onto just about nothing on a vertical wall -

Here are what some of the handholds look like

photos by Corey Rich and Aurora Photos

The next day we moved down to a pitch on Adrift (near pitch 8 of Mescalito). Here there was another 6 foot horizontal dyno that Tommy was able to do (after a few nice falls). He was out of view so I didnt really know when he would fall. Every few minutes there would just be a big yank on the rope. I think i was more scared than he was.

After working out those moves, we moved back to the ground. He didn't send all the cruxes, but overall, Tommy was psyched. He thought it would be a 10 year project before this trip and now its possibly only a 2 year project.

i think there are only 2-3 sections that he needs to figure out. one of them is that sick dyno (photos above)

however, once he figures out the moves, that is just the first step. the real challenge will becoming fit enough so that he can do all the pitches in one go. There is as much 5.14 on this route as the rest of the Yosemite Valley crags (i think there are five 5.14 pitches on this route and 3-4 5.14 cragging routes in the valley). And keep in mind that 5.14 on granite is not the same as 5.14 on limestone. There are very few 5.14 limestone climbers that can show up and quickly send technical valley 5.13... let alone 5.14.

Then there are the 8 or so 5.13 pitches. Overall, it will easily be the hardest big wall free climb in the world.

Tommy's Rack for the climb:
1 set of Black Diamond Stoppers
1 set of Black Diamond Micro Nuts
2 sets of Black Diamond Camalots #0.3-5
60m x 10.5 mm Blue Water Lead Rope
1 60m x 8mm Static Rope
10 Black Diamond Oz Quickdraws
40 Black Diamond Oz Carabiners
12 Shoulder Length Slings
Black Diamond Ozone Harness
Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device
La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes
Black Diamond Padded Gear Sling
10 Keyhole Hangers
10 Wire Rivet Hangers
Petzl Mini Traxion
2 Spectra Daisy Chains
Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag
Black Diamond Cliff Cabana
Metolius Waste Case
Shell Jacket
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
La Sportiva Men's Exum Pro Boot

check out more photos at

I am not sponsored by any climbing companies nor do i receive any special compensation by recommending one product over another.

Click here to see what is currently on my El Capitan rack

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  Trip Report Views: 13,072
Chris McNamara
About the Author
Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of Chris McNamara’s life on earth has been spent on the face of El Capitan—an accomplishment that has left friends and family pondering Chris’ sanity. He’s climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. In 1998 Chris did the first Girdle Traverse of El Capitan, an epic 75-pitch route that begs the question, “Why?”

Outside Magazine has called Chris one of “the world’s finest aid climbers.” He’s the winner of the 1999 Bates Award from the American Alpine Club and founder of the American Safe Climbing Association, a nonprofit group that has replaced over 5000 dangerous anchor bolts. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and serves on the board of the ASCA, and Rowell Legacy Committee. He has a rarely updated adventure journal, maintains, and also runs a Lake Tahoe home rental business.

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Bob Jones

Trad climber
san luis obispo
  May 27, 2009 - 11:58pm PT
So I suppose you are still alive.

Social climber
  May 28, 2009 - 02:39am PT
F*#k Yah!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 28, 2009 - 05:14am PT
Cool TR report Chris.

Does this mean that we will get 10 years of updates?

With a quick calculation and a few adjustments for age and ability, I might top out just as I hit 90.

Funny aside to ST campers. Chris answers an e-mail from me with the following opening line:

"Hi roger

Thanks for the note. I am on el cap right now belaying tommy Caldwell as he tried to free mescalito."

There is something otherworldly about both Tommy starting a 10 year project and getting an e-mail from someone belaying on El Cap. On the other hand, in the Twitter age, waiting 10 years to respond to e-mails probably won't work.

Trad climber
  May 28, 2009 - 05:41am PT
This was your first storm on El Cap? Am I wrong to say Wow?


Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
  May 28, 2009 - 06:44am PT
Amazing stuff...looking forward to more!
Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
  May 28, 2009 - 06:50am PT

Trad climber
Less than a second shy of 49 minutes
  May 28, 2009 - 07:03am PT


Waiting with bated breath for the rest.



Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
  May 28, 2009 - 07:19am PT
Chris, you had never been in a storm on El Cap before? WTF? How is that possible?

Good luck Tommy!

  May 28, 2009 - 09:52am PT
Totally sick! Thanks for the report. I can't imagine freeing that seam on P7-10. It is so thin plus its dirty and seeps...not to mention the good gear is not to frequent.

Great stuff.

Trad climber
  May 28, 2009 - 10:52am PT
Hope those Austrians don't drop in for a surprise visit and bag the thing.

Trad climber
  May 28, 2009 - 11:05am PT
I too like to "loosen up" on .12b 2,000 feet off the deck.

Oakland, CA
  May 28, 2009 - 11:44am PT

Thanks for sharing that - I'm tuned in for the continuation.

Big Wall climber
From Back to Big Wall Baby
  May 28, 2009 - 11:58am PT
HighDesertDJ, LOL

Looking forward to more progress on this project way cool.

Chris, I must be an ok belay slave too as I seem to do a lot of that for others these days.

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  May 29, 2009 - 06:07pm PT
i just posted another installment to this Trip Report
bubble boy

Big Wall climber
Mammoth, CA
  May 29, 2009 - 06:13pm PT

Trad climber
  May 29, 2009 - 06:23pm PT
Wow, great pix. Thanks for posting.

I found this bit remarkable:

"So why am I (with permission from Tommy) spraying so much about a route that hasnt been done yet? Because tommy, who's freed all buy two hard routes on el cap, thinks this might be a ten year project... and he's hoping some new up and coming climber will get psyched and start the 10 year process now so he doesn't have to wait till he is 40 to free it..."

I'm not sure which amazes me more: the pix, or the fact that Tommy would have to troll for other folks to pitch in on the project.

I guess we'll have to wait for more Europeans to come over for extended visits.


Mountain climber
the hills of my home
  May 29, 2009 - 06:35pm PT
even tho the belaying sounds boring, the climb sounds fun. or historic, or something.

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
  May 29, 2009 - 06:41pm PT
Thanks for the update!

Big Wall climber
So Cal
  May 29, 2009 - 06:46pm PT
Quite inspiring! Tommy is so damn hard-core & bad-ass! I sincerely hope he sends soon!

Thanks for the trip report!

Big Wall climber
From Back to Big Wall Baby
  May 29, 2009 - 06:54pm PT
I already have the I Phone. I sort of like the solar panel thing. Heavy porta ledge a a bit of a bitch to set up will pass on that.

Mudcat Spire
  May 29, 2009 - 07:00pm PT
This seems just so out there.

I get people freeing the Salathe. I get people freeing the NA.

I don't get this.

Trad climber
the jeep
  May 30, 2009 - 12:52pm PT

the monkey agrees, very cool!

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  May 30, 2009 - 03:06pm PT
That shiet is cool!

Social climber
Das Blase
  May 30, 2009 - 03:31pm PT
Epic for sure! Tommy is gnarly!

Trad climber
  May 31, 2009 - 05:53pm PT
as long as my login is still active, i can't let stuff like this drop to page 3.

thanks for making the taco worth reading, Cmac
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 31, 2009 - 06:26pm PT
"It took me 4 years until I finally learned how to stand on "edges" I never thought were possible to stand on."

Secretly, folks, I felt the same way when I was learning to climb. Then I read the next bit:

Tommy continued "That is the reason so many 5.14+ or even 5.15 climbers get shut down on El Cap. It takes years to learn the technical hand and footwork you need on el cap."

Hey Chris, does Tommy have to change his shoes often to stand on those "edges"?

Ice climber
canyon country,CA
  May 31, 2009 - 07:10pm PT
Wow! Pretty amazing. What's the new hole count??
Captain...or Skully

  May 31, 2009 - 07:12pm PT
Yeah.... drillin' all over Hell ain't cool.
Ask the Hubers.......Bold leads with A3 pro(that sucked).....
Not Fatty bolts. Changes the equation a bit, I'm thinkin'...
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  May 31, 2009 - 09:46pm PT
Rad, rad, and rad.

I just can't believe this stuff is possible. How many sections has Tommy not figured out the moves on? Is it a matter of putting it all together or do many unlocked sections remain?



Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  May 31, 2009 - 09:59pm PT
climbers are so insanely creative

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Jun 1, 2009 - 09:04am PT
I just uploaded 5 videos and put them in the trip report

or you can see them all here:

warning, there is no climbing in the videos just clearing storm clouds and tommy discussing the route and his likelyhood of sending it

Trad climber
Denver, CO
  Jun 1, 2009 - 11:26am PT
Chris - your gear list shows no cams smaller than a 0.5 camalot. That cannot be, can it?
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Jun 1, 2009 - 11:35am PT
oops... i will fix that

oh and karl, to answer your question, i think there are only 2-3 sections that he needs to figure out. one of them is that sick dyno.

however, once he figures out the moves, that is just the first step. the real challenge will becoming fit enough so that he can do all the pitches in one go. There is more 5.14 on this route than i think all the rest of the Valley crags (i think there are five 5.14 pitches on this route and only four 5.14 cragging routes in the valley)
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Jun 1, 2009 - 11:47am PT
Does he need/want to be able to do it on one go or could he just climb Mescalito in 10 days like the rest of us chumps! (or is that one go?) Skinner was up on the Salathe for almost a month straight wasn't he?

Pretty Cool!



  Jun 1, 2009 - 12:04pm PT

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Jun 9, 2009 - 12:32pm PT
So I guess Tommy's the reason the "C3F" pitches (according to your book, Chris!) didn't have any fixed pieces when I climbed it a couple of weeks ago? He's freeing what I'm nailing? It's hard to fathom.

Social climber
1187 Hunterwasser
  Jun 9, 2009 - 01:48pm PT
hahaha "I guess I belay OK."


Big Wall climber
  Jun 11, 2009 - 11:08am PT
I ran across that hammer for sale, called the Bongo Hammer:

Google it and even more places show up, so it's in the wild.

A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
  Jun 14, 2009 - 02:00pm PT
bump cause i never saw this. bad ass.

  Jun 14, 2009 - 03:09pm PT
I remember Eddie Mo taking a 60 foot zipper on pitch original Harding rivet had sheared...and an original Harding rivet HELD the fall! Thin sh*t to free!

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 14, 2009 - 07:47am PT
Nikon just put a bunch of photos up on its site about this climb

my career as a professional belayer is really starting to take off!

Trad climber
  Aug 14, 2009 - 07:57am PT
Really nice! Thanks for the heads up!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Aug 14, 2009 - 07:58am PT
A ten year project, hmmmm....I guess that leaves me out.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
  Aug 14, 2009 - 08:02am PT
Completely amazing to me.

Social climber
  Aug 14, 2009 - 09:48am PT
Holy schit! Amazing!

Social climber
  Aug 14, 2009 - 10:01am PT
Chris McNamera, belayer to the stars!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Aug 14, 2009 - 11:48am PT
It looks kinda steep and smooth up there in places!

(photo by Corey Rich)
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
  Aug 14, 2009 - 12:50pm PT
I would pay Tommy to let me go up there with him just to belay and watch!

Gym climber
  Aug 14, 2009 - 03:02pm PT
I was going to hot-link one of those Nikon photos, but decided to just point:

This is a RAD picture of C-Mac!!!!

Trad climber
Mountain View
  Aug 14, 2009 - 03:09pm PT
Also very cool that Kevin Jorgeson is going to work with Tommy on the route in the fall.

Social climber
Das Blase
  Aug 14, 2009 - 03:49pm PT
The video that Nikon has on their site of Mescalito is perhaps the coolest video that I have ever seen.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Aug 15, 2009 - 09:14pm PT
i didnt even notice there was video at first... cool!

three different ways to see the video

  Aug 15, 2009 - 09:22pm PT
That is a great fecking video! I hope he makes more progress in the autumn.

Trad climber
  Aug 16, 2009 - 04:15am PT
Yahouza Tommy, that's one heckof a Flying Dynosore move!
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
  Aug 16, 2009 - 08:48am PT
i am all about free routes on el cap.

i do think that the amount of bolts added to the aid/free pitches needs to be minimal.
otherwise all the aid routes will be much less committing.

while Coz and i were on the Muir and it's variations, we did not add ANY bolts to existing Muir wall pitches.

food for thought, go Tommy!

Gym climber
  Aug 19, 2009 - 03:02pm PT
WOW Holy Schlitz! TC is the man. Mac you have never been in a storm on the Craptain?? What the hell is wrong with you. Fair weather climbers they are all the same. LOL. Maybe TC should warm up for those hard pitches with some 4th class hauling before he hits the vertical. That will warm you up big time. In fact i am willing to belay on those 4th class hauls if he would like. I find them to be both exhausting and a really fun back breaking warm up, might even get some peck pump. Hell the talus field below offers some great challenging hauling. Never under estimate the power of a 4th class haul!.

Best of luck on this and I am sure by 2011 we will be reading about the Mescalito Free. Put the Austrians on the no fly list!!!!

Somewhere out there
  Sep 30, 2009 - 12:42pm PT
Thanks for the update Chris!!!

This is a super kick-ass thread!!!

I want to see the entire video!!!

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Sep 30, 2009 - 04:08pm PT
I am pretty sure Tommy has not added any bolts to the original routes. The bolts you see him drill are on variations to the side. Ocassionally he will replace an old dowell with a bolt, but that is fine by me (and most people)

Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
  Oct 3, 2009 - 10:09pm PT
I would have never considered that route to be freeable. Unbelievable.

Great trip report with the new format, too.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Author's Reply  Oct 9, 2009 - 11:01am PT
The footage of Tommy Working on Mescalito is now availabel in the Progression movie from Big Up Productions

Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  Oct 11, 2009 - 08:05pm PT
I’m lost for words. Wow!

United States
  Sep 28, 2010 - 01:47pm PT
this is some really exciting stuff. i want more.

Trad climber
Boulder, Co
  Aug 24, 2011 - 01:56pm PT
Bump for the upcoming Fall season in the Valley!
this just in

north fork
  Aug 24, 2011 - 02:32pm PT
Here's a few shitty pictures I took in October of 09. Working the bottom slab sections.
Credit: this just in
Credit: this just in
Credit: this just in
Credit: this just in
Shortly after these shots, Tommy dropped his stoppers and said something like "shit I need those" as he continued to climb. I hope they get it this year, pretty sure they will.

Oakland, CA
  Aug 24, 2011 - 03:05pm PT
Those are killer shots, TJI.

Gym climber
  Aug 24, 2011 - 03:08pm PT
He did it last week just working out the details on a movie and a paid article for some rag. LOL

I can't wait to see this go down. I may have to go watch this happen up close.

  Nov 10, 2011 - 07:20am PT
Bump for Tommy!!

loveland co
  Nov 28, 2011 - 11:06am PT
Your freeing Mescalito but your climbing the Dawn Wall? With hammers and hangers? I'm rolling over in my grave - well I will be by the time you are done freeing it. Chris Nelson

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jan 8, 2012 - 05:28pm PT
climbing bump

Trad climber
New Delhi
  Apr 27, 2012 - 05:18am PT
Those hand holds are outrageous! That isn't even anything. Smaller than a dime. Amazing
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El Capitan - Mescalito A3 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Mescalito is route number 15.
Photo: Galen Rowell
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