Moby Dick is the name of a route located on the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.
Note: I have climbed only the first pitch of this two-pitch route. If you have done both pitches, please add the information to the "Additions and Corrections" section of this page.
Most of us are familiar with Herman Melville's novel about a ship's captain, Ahab, doggedly looking for a white whale that had taken his leg. The formation known as Moby Dick certainly resembles a whale, though not exactly a white one. This interesting formation offers three classic lines that will test your climbing skills and resilience.
The center route of Moby Dick is a crack system that changes in orientation and size from finger tip lock-offs to off-widths. The orientation of the crack varies from straight-in to lay back shallow dihedral. Simply put, you need to be ready for solid 10a climbing.
Originally rated at 5.9 in 1963, this route attracted many naive climbers, myself included, to put themselves against their first 5.9 in the valley only to be rudely awakened to the realities of this route.
Pitch 1- This pitch begins with a finger tip in an old pin scar with a smooth face for your feet to smear on. A few feet higher, you will have a straight-in finger crack. Once you reach the top of this section, you are past the crux. About twenty feet from the base you are forced to lay back this crack in a mini-dihedral to reach a small ledge. This section is a bit hard to protect since you can't see the crack's size while lay backing. Past the ledge the crack widens to a straight-in off-width. Some twenty feet up this off width, the crack widens enough for a body to fit in. Past this section, you will have a few more feet of straight-in off-width to an alcove and the end of the first pitch.
Note: Having done this pitch, you can set up a top rope on the crack to the right of the Center Route. This is a crack in a left facing dihedral and it's called Ahab, rated 10a.
Pitch 2- This is a short pitch of lay backing to another ledge. Most people skip doing the second pitch and rappel down from the top of the first pitch.
Essential Equipment: two sixty meter ropes, standard rack from small nuts to a few cams up to 4 inches. If you don't feel comfortable on Off-widths, carry extra 3"-4" cams.
El Capitan, El Cap, is unmistakable. El Cap Meadow is directly in front of El Capitan, right next to the one-way road leading out of the park. There is a long shoulder allowing for many cars to park. Park a hundred yards to the southwest of the bridge. Looking toward the forest across from the El Cap Meadow, you will see a faint climbers path leading toward the base of the most prominent feature on El Cal, The Nose of El Cap. Follow this path to a dark formation directly below The Nose. Avoid paths that head right and stay with the ones that go left. Once you are on the base of the main wall, the first formation you come to is a large formation resembling a whale. This is "Moby Dick." The Center Route is to the left of a very prominent dihedral, and it's a very thin crack to start and widens half way up the route.