el capitan cliff with pines and cloudy sky
Rising nearly 3,600 feet above the valley floor (7,500 feet above sea level), El Capitan is massive. Picture from Riccardo Oliva.

El Capitan: The Wall of Challenges

Climbing the unclimbable: the story of El Capitan

El Capitan was considered for a long time “one of the hardest walls to climb”. Before the 50s, it was even named unclimbable. El Capitan is now the standard for big-wall climbing. It is a grade VI with a lot of different climbing routes. A normal ascent takes between three and seven days. This means that you need to find somewhere to sleep during the night. Hopefully, you do not need to find a cave in the middle of the wall every time the sun sets, there are some systems climbers use to sleep.

Sleeping on the ascent

How do climbers sleep during the ascent? This is a question that might spark your interest. The answer is much simpler than we think. If possible, climbers will stop on a ledge system and spread out their sleeping bags there. However, sometimes there aren’t any convenient ledges, or the ledges are too small or sloping.

In that case, a prepared climber will carry a portaledge along. These “portable ledges” are like heavy-duty aluminum frame cots that hang from an anchor instead of standing on legs. From this comfortable stance, climbers can relax, cook dinner, and sleep in relative comfort with an incredible view waiting for them the next morning.

How the tide has turned for El Capitan

From an unclimbable wall, climbing El Capitan became a race. Through The Nose, which is the fastest route to the top, climbers try to do the ascent as quickly as possible. Just like a marathon, the goal is to climb El Capitan under 2 hours. In 2017, after 11 attempts, Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds broke the previous record with an astounding 2 hours 19 minutes and 44 seconds.

Back in 2017, this record is considered incredibly strong. However, in 2018, two climbers break the record once again. And in a spectacular way! On June 6, 2018, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climbed The Nose on El Capitan in 01:58:07, setting a speed record for the ages.

This event was largely relayed by the media and compared to a marathon. However, the next challenge we are going to see about El Capitan goes beyond a marathon. And who else than Alex Honnold to try it.

Free Soloing El Capitan

The story I am about to tell is simply one step further. And probably two or three steps further. Free soloing is a discipline in itself in the climbing world: it’s climbing alone, without equipment. After watching the previous videos, free soloing El Capitan probably sounds impossible.

However, Alex Honnold did it, and the ascent was captured by National Geographic. It resulted in an incredible movie, which you can see the trailer below.

Here is the trailer from National Geographic. The full movie is breathtaking!

Records for everyone

Alex was not the only one to break records on El Capitan. Indeed, Selah, a 10-year-old girl, climbed El Capitan in 2017. She did not free soloed it, but still, ABC World News Now relayed her effort.

Hiking the Half Dome, the most iconic mountain of the Yosemite Valley

After this dose of adrenaline, let’s go back to the human scale. Those climbers are definitely superhumans and it takes a lot of practice to get to their level. If you are not into climbing, you should stay safe and hike instead. I am convinced that we can also enjoy those magnificent mountains without climbing them as vertically as possible.

The Half Dome trail is a great challenge for hikers. This trail is arduous, but most people can reach the summit.

person walking on a sinuous road
The Glacier Point captured by @derekrliang

This is what Kraig Adams did during his 20 Miles Trail around the Half Dome. Kraig is a big source of inspiration for me. His vision of the world and his interest in minimalism are two values we have in common. He shoots his videos in a way that makes them very soothing. The next video about his hike around Half Dome speaks by itself.

Check out this hike video from Kraig Adams in the Yosemite Valley

This climb will take you through incredible landscapes and is one you will remember about for the rest of your life. The end of it, when you walk on the dome, is especially impressive. You can see it too in the video.

The virtues of hiking and climbing, especially in Yosemite

Challenging yourself is a key point to grow. Free soloing El Capitan is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it is not mine too. However, watching people doing it is still a source of inspiration. Feeling what it represents for them to beat their fears and crush their challenges is powerful.

sunset over el capitan with water and mountains
Shot of the Tunnel view, with El Capitan to the left and Bridalveil Fall to the right. Picture from @derekrliang.

Travel responsibly

I enjoy finishing my articles with eco-tourism advice. I did it for the Adirondacks Hikes, Antelope Canyon, the Uluru History, the Death Valley Travel Guide, La Salar de Uyuni Tour, Madeira, and the Cathedrals Beach. We should preserve such places. Climbing and hiking have an impact on the environment. If this impact stays limited, it means that future generations will be able to follow your steps and visit Yosemite just like you visited it. This is something we need to aim for. Yosemite National Park is one of the most scenic mountain regions in east-central California. It is situated about 140 miles (225 km) east of the city of San Francisco and some 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Sacramento.

If you want to incorporate the Yosemite Valley inside a road trip, you should download my e-book: The Best U.S. Road Trip, which goes from Las Vegas to Yosemite Valley. It’s free.

four people walking next to el capitan
Yosemite National Park must be preserved. From the left to the right: @wanderlustvp, @joechungphotography, @goirickdas, and @nathan.tung. Picture from @derekrliang.

See you somewhere in the world.

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