Is El Capitan hard to climb?

Also known as El Cap, El Capitan is one of the most scenic rock formations of the Yosemite Valley. Just like every other rock in the world, climbers crave for getting on top of it. This was considered impossible for a long time, but now, it is a common thing for hardened climbers to challenge El Capitan. So, Is El Capitan hard to climb?

El Capitan is hard to climb. The ascension takes several days and some passages are difficult. Beginners cannot climb El Capitan. Since 2013, 5 people have died climbing El Capitan. Before taking this climb, you should test yourself on easier big walls and train using appropriate training. We will now get deeper into the preparation and everything you need to know about climbing El Capitan.

el capitan is a rocky mountain with pine trees on top
El Capitan is such a massive big wall. Picture from Jesse Gardner.

Training to climb El Capitan

After doing some research, I came up with a lot of different pieces of training. People do not agree with each other for some details. However, several guidelines seem to appear regularly. Those are the tips I will give you to build your training.

Climb daily

As you probably know, climbing trains every part of your body, from the fingers to the buttocks. Hence, keeping a healthy workout routine is key to climb El Capitan. You should boulder or climb almost every day. Going to the gym is also an option, but you should keep in mind that the movements done at the gym don’t look like the movements you do during the climbs.

Train your fingers

The second guideline which came often of the research is training your fingers. Alex Honnold, the man who free soloed El Capitan, usually mentions this part of his daily workout routine. It is key to have power in your whole body to have solid fingers. The YouTuber Isaiah Photo, an amateur climber was able to climb V5s after a 30 days fingers training challenge. Before that challenge, he could only climb V3s.
This man training helped him to get from V3s to V5s. It was all about finger training, which his the main part of the training you should do for El Capitan.

If you are not sure which exercises you should do to train your fingers, here is a list of exercices to train.

  • Finger push-ups
  • Decreased fingers pull-ups
  • Four-fingers pull-ups
  • Three-fingers pull-ups
  • Two-fingers pull-ups

If you are able to complete a set of 5 four-fingers pull-ups, you can try taking on the three-fingers pull-ups. Same for the progression from the three-fingers pull-ups to the two-fingers pull-ups.

fingerboard to train your fingers for climbing
Buying a fingerboard to train your fingers to climb could be a great idea to strengthen your fingers and crush El Capitan.

Train your resilience

Climbing El Capitan takes days. If you are not used to several-days climbs, you will probably fail. To climb El Capitan, you must show up day after day until you get on top. Climbing daily is a good first tip which I already gave you and which will help you with that point. If you cannot commit to climbing daily because of laziness or because of your muscle aches, you will not be able to get on top of El Capitan. Then, you should also train your mental resilience and your confidence. This is more of a long-term workout and there are no particular recipes for.

How long does El Capitan take to climb?

For normal people

It depends on your fitness, but it’s safe to say that it will take you several days to climb El Capitan. That means that you will need to sleep, eat, and poop during the ascent. If you are not sure how to do that, feel free to do your own researches. There are tons of great articles on the web which will answer your questions. This article about El Capitan in general does mention how to sleep when you climb. To answer the initial question, which is “How long does El Capitan take to climb for average climbers?”, the answer is the following. An average level climber usually spends 2 to 3 days on the ascent, when the weather conditions are great and the route is uncrowded.

For professionals

Climbing The Nose -the shortest route- of El Capitan as fast as possible is almost like a game for professionals climbers. The speed record was broken several times in the last few years. However, a solid record was set on June 6, 2018. On that day, Alex Honnold, the same man who free soloed El Capitan, and his friend Tommy Caldwell were able to climb El Capitan in 1 hour 58 minutes and 7 seconds. This moment was captured by the YouTube channel REEL ROCK is the world’s biggest platform for climbing films.

What’s the hardest route on El Capitan?

Every route has its difficulties. The Nose is the shortest route to climb El Capitan, but it has some difficult moments. Just like when you want to drive to point B from point A, the shortest route is not always the fastest route. It is the exact same when it comes to climbing. Distance is one thing, but the difficulty is another one. Since you will spend several days on the climb, maybe it could be wise to choose a longer route which is easier.

For El Capitan, this situation is not really relevant, because The Nose is actually one of the easiest routes. So, you should probably choose to climb The Nose if it’s your first try at El Cap.

Now, if you are here for a challenge, you can climb El Cap through other routes. You can find them easily on the web. But, there is one route which you probably can’t climb. It’s the Dawn Wall. When you ask a professional climber “What is the hardest route on El Capitan?”, the chances that he answers “The Dawn Wall” are very high.

The Dawn Wall is considered the hardest route to climb on El Capitan. With a difficulty of 5.14d, El Capitan is the longest hardest free climb in the world. Free climbing is climbing without equipment helping the progression. This means that climbers have ropes to protect them during falls, but they do not have material to assist their progress. Please, remember that this route is for hardened climbers. Also, you can watch the movie which was made about The Dawn Wall, to see what it represents.

Redbull sponsored the event. This shows you that it is something extreme to do.

The Dawn Wall was never free climbed before 2015. On that day, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the climb after 19 days.

How much does it cost to climb El Capitan?

First, you have to know that there is no required permit or use fees to climb El Capitan. However, you have to pay at the entrance of the park. The fees to enter the Yosemite Natonal Park are $35 per vehicule. Then, you will have to pay for your equipment of course. This totally depends on you.

Finally, if you need to hire a climbing partner, you will have to pay for a specialized guide. This can be very costly. It can cost up to $6,000. To sum up, climbing El Capitan can cost anything from the park entrance fees to the price of a climbing guide. So, climbing El Capitan can cost anything from $35 to $6,000.

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