Rock climbing in Yosemite re-entered the spotlight recently with documentary movies like Free Solo and Dawn Wall. In Free Solo, Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of El Capitan more than earns its acclaim from the sheer audacity of tackling such a long and difficult climbing route without any protection – never mind the amazing storytelling by climbing filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Meanwhile, in the Dawn Wall story, the strong bonds between climbing partners take center stage, as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson dig deep to complete a visionary climbing project together.
These films underscore the fact that Yosemite has long been known as a rock climbing Mecca. Serious climbers from around the world aspire to test themselves on the soaring granite walls of cliffs like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and so many more. But make no mistake, there are plenty of shorter and easier climbs here in Yosemite as well that are more suitable for mere mortals and aspiring rock climbers.
Whether you’re interested in trying rock climbing in Yosemite yourself, or you’d prefer to enjoy the stories from the safety of the ground, read on.
Watching Rock Climbers in Yosemite
One of the remarkable things about Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows is how easy it is to get to steep cliffs and excellent rock climbing. For example, one of the most popular places to watch climbing in Yosemite is from below El Capitan. You barely need to get out of your car. Just find a spot to park on the side of the road, and look up. It can be hard to spot the climbers however, and you’ll want a pair of binoculars to see more than just tiny specks on the vast granite walls.
Fortunately, during the late spring, summer, and early autumn months, the Yosemite Conservancy sponsors a free program called “Ask a Climber”. Climbing stewards set up telescopes near the bridge at El Capitan meadow so you can see the El Capitan climbers up close. Plus, they are ready to share their knowledge and answer questions about different climbing routes, techniques, and more. Here are some of the most frequently asked climbing questions that the climbing rangers get.
If you keep your eyes open, you’ll also see rock climbers on numerous other cliffs around Yosemite Valley. Please be respectful when you see them. They may be happy to talk with you, but they may also need to focus on their climbing and safety.
Going Rock Climbing in Yosemite
Naturally, if you’re interested in rock climbing, and planning to visit Yosemite, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Of course, you will be able to tick “rock climbing in Yosemite” off your bucket list, but there are so many more reasons than that. Climbing Yosemite’s clean granite routes is pure pleasure – whether you’re dancing up thin slabs on dime-edge holds, pulling for all you’re worth on splitter cracks, or pinching crystals in Yosemite’s high country. Plus, the view really is better when you’ve earned unique views from above the treetops and eye-level with the birds.
Experienced rock climbers will already know to grab a Yosemite climbing guidebook in advance to treat themselves to photos, stories, and plenty of advice before they arrive. Mountain Project also has plenty of beta/detailed advice on climbing routes. Swan Slabs near Camp 4 has a nice collection of easy routes to get started on, though during the summer months Tuolumne climbing areas like Puppy Dome are cooler and more comfortable to climb. Some of the best easy multi-pitch climbs can be found at Manure Pile aka Ranger Rock just east of El Capitan, or if you’re ready to turn it up a notch, choose one of the really long easy classics like Royal Arches, Snake Dike on Half Dome or a classic route on Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne.
From your cabin rental at The Redwoods In Yosemite, you can also make a quick exploration of the rock climbing right in Wawona. Look for areas like Mortar Rock or Powerline Rock for nearby climbs. Plus, there are also many routes on nearby Wawona Dome, though there is a longer hike to get there.
Best Time to Go Rock Climbing in Yosemite
There are opportunities to go rock climbing in almost every season in Yosemite. You can find comfortable climbing in the winter at lower elevations along Highway 140, and it’s easy to beat the heat on high country granite in Tuolumne Meadows even during the summer. The climbs in Yosemite Valley are most inviting during the spring and fall months, though you can find top-notch climbers exploring big walls well into the winter months as well. Just be sure you always keep an eye on the weather.
Yosemite Rock Climbing for Beginners?
Yosemite can be an intimidating place for people who are very new to rock climbing to climb independently. There are a small number of climbs where you can walk or scramble to the top to set a top-rope, but for most climbs, you’ll want to find someone who can lead up from the ground – putting in gear as they climb to protect themselves from a fall. There are also a few sport climbs in Yosemite, but most routes require placing stoppers or cams into natural features rather than simply clipping to pre-existing bolts for protective gear. Managing and placing your own gear introduces another level of skill and experience.
However, if you don’t have those skills, or simply don’t want to pack your full rack of gear for your Yosemite vacation, don’t despair. Simply hire a climbing guide.
Yosemite Climbing Guides
There is only one rock climbing guide service authorized to take you climbing in Yosemite National Park, the Yosemite Mountaineering School (YMS). YMS offers rock climbing lessons, guided climbs, and special skills workshops that can walk you through learning to lead, self-rescue techniques, or even help you prepare for your first big wall.
The climbing guides at YMS are expert climbers who are fun, friendly, and eager to share their extensive knowledge of rock climbing and Yosemite’s cliffs with you. They can accommodate all ages and all levels of climbers – from those who have never tied into a rope before to those ready to take on El Capitan – so if you want to go climbing in Yosemite, give them a call (209-372-8344).
YMS also leads guided hikes and backpacking trips. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, and simply listen to stories of rock climbing (as well as learning about Yosemite’s plants, animals, geology, and more), you can sign up for a hike instead. Group and private hikes are both available.
For those staying in Wawona with The Redwoods In Yosemite, another option for a rock climbing experience is the Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides (SYMG). SYMG’s rock climbing offerings all take place just south of the park on scenic cliffs in the Sierra National Forest. Like YMS, SYMG’s guides are top-notch and have climbing options for beginners and experts alike.
Whether you are excited to try something new in a beautiful setting or looking to challenge yourself on Yosemite’s legendary rock climbs, you’ll love your experience in Yosemite.