Yosemite Valley is famous for its big granite walls rising straight up from the valley floor. Their majestic beauty is admired by climbers and sightseers alike. A trip to Yosemite National Park will leave you in awe of these beautiful giants.
A couple of years ago we visited Yosemite Valley to see these famous walls for ourselves. While there, we couldn’t resist doing a few climbs.
The most famous climbs in Yosemite are multi-day routes on big walls. Climbers spend three or more days on the mountain. They sleep in bivys on small ledges or hang from the side of the wall. We had never done a multi-day climb on a big wall so instead we chose shorter routes, but still had a great Yosemite adventure.
El Capitan (El Cap) is a stunning granite wall rising over 900 m straight up from the valley floor. Our first glimpse of this massif was unexpected. Driving into the park we didn’t expect to see it so easily from the road. It was a magnificent surprise. In fact, Yosemite Valley is quite compact. We were surprised how close the iconic mountains are to the road and to each other.
Yosemite has a long history of climbing and the area is steeped in tradition. Park officials and climbers want to maintain the natural state of the rock as much as possible. Therefore there aren’t many permanent bolts since these need to be drilled into the rock and cause damage. Instead, climbers must use removeable cams and nuts for protection. This style of climbing is called trad (traditional) climbing.
We didn’t climb the famous El Cap route ‘The Nose’, but did climb a route that is just beside this steep wall on Ranger Rock. We’re not sure why but it’s also called Manure Pile Buttress. Thankfully, the rock was not a manure pile, but actually a great wall with a few perfect cracks to climb. On the climb we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Cathedrals on the other side of the valley and the more rugged side of El Cap right beside us. From the top, a large balcony gave us room to enjoy an amazing view of the valley including North Dome and Sentinel Rock. Climbing in Yosemite allowed us to see these giants from many different perspectives.
We have climbed granite many times in Canada and have found it to be very textured, almost sharp. After a weekend climbing in the Bugaboos, it seemed as though the cheese grater-like granite had scraped off our fingerprints. The granite in Yosemite though is very polished and the heat makes it very slippery. This makes the climbs a lot more difficult and scarier.
A little further down from Ranger Rock is a climbing crag called Five Open Books. The slippery granite crack took us by some incredible views of Half Dome as it stood proudly on its mound. It seemed to be beckoning us to climb it.
Half Dome is the most recognizable mountain in Yosemite. It looks exactly as its name implies. It’s a dome that is cut in half so that one side is a rounded dome, and the other a shear wall rising 1,460 m from the valley floor.
The climb that we did on Half Dome is called Snake Dike. It follows a strange feature that looks like a snake’s vertebrae slithering up the dome. It isn’t a difficult climb, but it is long, exposed and can be very windy. There are very few cracks in the rock so there is little opportunity to put in removeable protection. Because of this, there are a few permanent bolts and pitons. They are spaced far apart and many are very old and we weren’t sure how well they would hold if we fell. It would be a straight drop down the side of the mountain if we had an accident.
Snake Dike is a very popular climb so we arrived early and were glad to be the first in line. During our long morning of climbing we barely took time to look around. Finally, we arrived at the summit and were able to enjoy the view. We could see far down the valley over the tops of the other peaks. El Cap looked like a small ridge at the end of the valley.
After only seeing a few other climbing groups all morning, it seemed odd to be with hordes of tourists on the summit. There is a long staircase that they use to get up and down the mountain. We were very nervous to use it for our descent though because it’s very rickety and crammed full of people.
Glacier Point Apron has what is considered to be the best 5.6 climb in the valley. The Grack follows a slippery crack that gave us better and better views. From our angle we saw North Dome sitting high above the interesting features of the Royal Arches climbing area.
There are a lot of interesting rock features in Yosemite, many have popular climbs on them. Snake Dike is one. Another popular climb is The Royal Arches on the crag of the same name. It takes advantage of the different angles and fissures of the features that make good foot and hand holds. Like the arches, the climb follows an arc pattern as it ascends the wall.
Even if you don’t climb you can still find amazing views of these giants. The scenic Merced River has many great viewpoints. We were surprised that even though the park was very busy, we were still able to take a few quiet walks with no one else was around.
With so many waterfalls in Yosemite you’re sure to find your favourite. Vernal Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are tall cascades, dropping straight down from the top of rocky cliffs. We visited in early fall, so the water levels were meagre, but their settings were still picturesque.
Where to stay
Hotel accommodations inside the park range from tent cabins to luxurious rooms. Booking is managed by Yosemite Hospitality.
When booking a campsite in a Yosemite, you have to be very organized. On-line reservations are available as much as 4 months in advance and spots are taken quickly. I didn’t do much research before the on-line booking date and thought I’d be able to figure it out at the time. Within minutes of the site opening, most of the campsites were taken. As a result, we could only get a campsite outside of the valley in Hodgden Meadows. In the long run though we enjoyed staying here since it was higher and therefore a bit cooler. As well, it was far less busy. Our advice is to visit the on-line booking site, research the campsites and familiarize yourself with the booking program in advance of your booking date.
Park passes can be purchased at the park gates. They offer a few different types of passes. Visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm to help determine the pass you need.
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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