Part of what makes the Yosemite Valley unique is its towering granite rock formations. Stalwarts like the giant wall of El Capitan, the polished promontory of Half Dome, and skyscraping Glacier Point all call to expert rock climbers, who sometimes bivouac overnight while suspended in mid-air. The excitement of rock climbing in Yosemite can be experienced by everyone, whether or not you decide to rope up yourself. Just watching climbers crawl like bugs up the face of big walls or free climb beside Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall, is thrilling enough.
In the Yosemite Valley, Camp 4 is the unofficial home base for independent rock climbers in the park, especially during the spring and fall climbing seasons. There you’ll find climbers practicing their bouldering skills, as well as around Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Spires and Rocks. In summer, the focus of the action moves up to the Tuolumne Meadows area in the Sierra Nevada high country off Tioga Road. There the grassy meadows are surrounded by spectacular opportunities for dome climbs, including to worthwhile viewpoints of Tenaya Lake. More bouldering possibilities await at Tuolumne Meadows, especially in the area nicknamed The Knobs.
Guided Climbs, Lessons, and Equipment Rental
You don’t have to tackle extremely challenging climbs just to get a taste of what makes rock climbing in Yosemite National Park so awesome. Run by the park’s concessionaire, the Yosemite Mountaineering School (YMS) was established in 1969 during the early record-breaking heyday of rock climbing in the park.
Today, expert YMS guides give group rock-climbing lessons at all skill levels, and also lead private guided climbs. Families or groups of friends can arrange private rock-climbing lessons, while women can sign up for “Girls on Granite” climbing weekends. Experienced rock climbers looking to enhance their skills should consider advanced crack and big-wall climbing workshops and seminars, as well as self-rescue and ice-climbing classes.
Reservations are recommended for all YMS lessons, classes, and seminars, which can book up weeks in advance during the peak summer season. In spring and fall, YMS is based at Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley. In summer, YMS moves up to Tuolumne Meadows in the high country. YMS rents and sells camping and climbing gear at its various locations around the park. For more information, visit Aramark’s website (www.travelyosemite.com) or call (209) 372-8344.
Rock Climbing on Your Own
If you’re heading out to climb without a guide, check in first with the wilderness information center in Yosemite Valley. Ask about which climbing areas may currently be closed due to nesting peregrine falcons, and whether or not you’ll need a wilderness permit (required for any overnight camping or bivouacking trips). Helpful rangers can also give you advice about current safety conditions, fixed ropes and bolted routes, and environmental minimum-impact regulations, including proper storage and disposal of food, trash, and yes, human waste.