Climbing is a popular sport all around the world. If you look around you, there's no shortage of things to climb. From tall trees and mountains to steep slopes and buildings, people have taken to climbing all sorts of things in pursuit of fun and adventure.
The national parks of the United States offer some great opportunities for climbers. Yosemite National Park in California features a climbing obstacle that draws people from around the world every year. What are we talking about? The formidable…the famous…El Capitan!
El Capitan, which means “the captain," is a vertical rock formation that towers over the north side of Yosemite Valley. Rising about 3,000 feet from base to summit at its highest point, El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.
It has also become one of the world's favorite challenges for rock climbers. You can reach the top of El Capitan by hiking a trail next to Yosemite Falls. For rock climbers, though, the real challenge is to climb straight up its sheer granite face.
There are many different climbing routes. Each route has a unique name and special challenges. All of them are considered extremely difficult. In fact, climbers once thought it was impossible to climb El Capitan.
Today, “El Cap" — as climbers like to call it — is the standard in big-wall climbing. There are two main faces that can be climbed: the Southwest and the Southeast. Between these two faces juts a massive prow called “The Nose."
There are over 100 established climbing routes up the two main faces. Today, though, the most popular and famous route is to climb “The Nose."
“The Nose" was first climbed in 1958 over the course of 47 days by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore. Tom Bauman made the first solo ascent of “The Nose" in 1969. In 1975, John Long, Jim Bridwell, and Billy Westbay successfully climbed “The Nose" in a single day.
Most climbers tackle El Capitan with the help of various mountaineering aids, such as bolts and fixed ropes. Today's top adventurers take a different approach. So-called “free climbers" scale El Capitan's sheer granite face without the help of climbing aids!
In addition to the challenge of free climbing, other mountaineers go for speed records. What once took 47 days and then a single day can now be accomplished in less than three hours! For example, Alex Honnold and Hans Florine set a speed record of 2 hours and 23.46 minutes on “The Nose" in 2012.