ApproachPark off Northside Drive just west of El Capitan Meadow. There is a parkinglot on the north side of the road, but you can also pull over wherever there is room.
Head north and follow Ribbon Stream up through the forest and talus. If you head too close to El Cap's Southwest Face, you will end up climbing a scary-steep gully between El Cap and KP Pinnacle (called West Chimney) - this is NOT El Cap Gully. Where the stream forks, head right (northeast) and follow the boulder fields up. This will place you at the bottom of the correct gully.
Route DescriptionThis gully is imposing when viewed from the bottom or the top. It is not for the faint of heart, and requires some serious scrambling with 15-25 feet of exposure in places.
The bottom 2/3 of the gully are straightforward class 2 climbing over boulder and talus fields. The gully is heavily shaded in the morning hours, and makes for cool temperatures when it is hot elsewhere in the valley. It also allows a surprising amount of vegetation considering the shortage of water.
Stick to the streambed as far up as possible. A first obstacle about halfway up can be bypassed on the left (class 3 bushwhacking) or on the right (easier, steep class 2, minor bushwhacking). Move back to the rocky streambed when able to avoid more bushwhacking. The tall spire on the right side of the gully is KP Pinnacle. The climbing is easy until you are well past the side chute that leads to the notch between KP Pinnacle and El Cap. This is an interesting route that may allow a scramble to the top of KP Pinnacle (a future project). But the side chute will not help you climb the gully.
Once above the side chute, the gully gets narrower, and you will not be able to follow the streambed at an obvious constriction where the wall close in, at the 2/3 way mark. The gully begins a curve to the left just above this point.
The climbing at this point gets interesting. The right side is cliffs coming off from El Cap. The left side offers your only hope of progress, on a combination of ledges, cracks, and some bush travel. Have faith that the way will go! The bushes here are now your ally as you depend on them to pull yourself up and keep you from falling. Do not climb too high above the creekbed or you will have to come back down. You should find yourself a steady 30-50 feet above the streambed as you climb the gully and follow the curve to the left (north).
You will shortly see the trees at the top of the gully which offer hope that salvation is at hand. It is not yet easy however. Even as the trees loom only 100 yards above you, there are some tricky slabs with friction climbing that must be overcome before you are out of the woods (or in this case, into the woods). The exposure is not great here, but still serious. I managed to climb with my hiking boots on to this point, but resorted to my climbing shoes for this 30-foot section.
Once you reach the trees, it is only 50 yards or so to the trail which contours around the top of the gully - you can't possibly miss it unless it is covered in snow.
Essential GearDepending on conditions and your level of comfort, you can dispense with some or all of the following:
rappel rope and gear
Not having any beta on the route beforehand, I carried the above gear and then some in case I had to bail out. The climbing is easier (and more fun) if you go without, but be sure of your confidence on such terrain. Though I have called this a fourth class route (and that only for the upper third), others will likely argue that there are a number of class 5 moves required. This is quite likely, but they would be low class 5 in any event. There were definitely some exposed moves, but none I felt requiring the use of the more sure-footed climbing shoes.