Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Lat/Lon: 37.73420°N / 119.6367°W
Elevation: 7569 ft / 2307 m


El Capitan is perhaps the most sublime feature in all of Yosemite Valley, and second only to Half Dome among Yosemite's most recognized features. Modern big wall climbing began in the late 1950's and was developed into a fine art on its faces in the 1960's as climbers from all over the world have come to challenge its demanding routes. Called simply El Cap or The Captain, this immense granite wall rises 3,300 feet from the talus slopes to the Valley rim above.

Over 70 big wall routes have been established on El Cap's Southwest and Southeast faces, though most of these are variations connecting two or more of the earlier established routes. At any given time from spring to fall, there are dozens of climbers making their way up one the established routes. Ascents have been made in as less as 2 hours and as long as 200 days, but the average party takes 4-6 days to make their way up, hauling 100 lbs of gear, food, and water for each member. Down below, tourists, friends, and loved ones park along Northside Drive and picnic in El Capitan Meadow while watching the climbers' progress through binoculars.

The low elevation and excellent weather make El Cap a great training for more difficult climbs elsewhere in the world. In fact it is the heat and dehydration that threaten the climber more than bad weather. Water makes up nearly a third of the weight that climbers carry in their haul bags (or "pigs", as they are less-than-affectionately called).

You do not have to be a rock climber to reach El Cap's summit. Several class 1 trails will take you to the summit on a long dayhike, and there are more adventurous scrambling routes as well.

Getting There

You can't miss it. Drive to Yosemite Valley and you will see the massive walls on the north side, not far from the SR140/41 junction. Drive on the south side of the road until you see a sign pointing left for park exits. This will take you to Northside Drive and El Capitan Meadow. You can park on the side of the road for as long as you like. If you are heading to Camp 4, continue on Southside Drive until the left turn for Yosemite Village. Camp 4 is a short distance west of Yosemite Lodge. Many maps still refer to Camp 4 by its previous name, Sunnyside Campground. For much more info on where to stay, how to get to Yosemite Valley, etc, check out: Yosemite Valley LC, courtesy the awesome work of mpbro

Red Tape

There are no permits or use fees required to climb El Cap, other than the standard park entrance fee. Bivies on the walls around Yosemite Valley do not require a Wilderness Permit.

When To Climb

Climbing can be done year-round, but the big walls are most often climbed Spring-Fall. Summer months can be exceedingly hot on those south-facing walls! Hikers attempting to reach the summit via the Yosemite Falls Trail in winter will find the trail closed about a few miles from the trailhead due to avalanche dangers.


Camping is allowed at the base only in designated campgrounds (Camp 4 is the closest), fees apply. Overnight stays enroute on the walls are not restricted or subject to permits. You can likewise camp at the summit without need for permit, though this is at the discretion of the rangers. Climbers are generally not expected to have permits for overnight stays on the summit, but hikers coming from the trail are. Fires are allowed (but discouraged) at the summit.

Camping info/reservations

For those looking for better (and pricier) accomodations, YCS runs all the Yosemite Lodging facilities. Everything from tent cabins in Curry Village to the 4-star Ahwahnee Hotel.

Mountain Conditions

Yosemite Climbing Link - info on permits, closures, safety, rescue, and good climbing/wilderness practices

Current road and weather conditions

Live El Cap webcam


The name was given by the Mariposa Battalion in 1851. "The native Indian name ... is To-to-kon oo-lah, the Sandhill Crane, a chief of the First People. (C. Hart Merriam in SCB 10, no. 2, Jan 1917: 206.)

"The famous cliff, El Capitan, is a Spanish interpretation of the Indian name To-tock-ah-noo-lah, meaning the 'Rock Chief.'" (Bunnell, Report, 1889-90: 9.) "Upon one occasion I asked [Tenaya], 'Why do you call the cliff Tote-ack-ah-noo-la?' The Indian's reply was, 'Because he looks like one. Come with me and see.' ... As the Indian reached a point a little above and some distance out from the cliff, he triumphantly pointed to the perfect image of a man's head and face, with side whiskers, and with an expression of the sturdy English type, and asked, 'Does he not look like Tote-ack-ah-noo-la?' The 'Rock Chief,' or 'Captain,' was again Sandino's [the interpreter's] interpretation of the word while viewing the likeness." (Bunnell, Discovery, 1911: 214-15.)

There is also a legendary explanation that is repeated throughout Yosemite literature. Galen Clark said that Tul-tok-a-nu-la is from the measuring worm (tul-tok-a-na) which crawled up the face of the rock to rescue two small boys who were beyond being saved by any other creatures of the valley. (Clark, 92-95.)

According to one source, the original English name was "Crane Mountain," not for the reason given above but for the sandhill cranes that entered the valley by flying over the top of El Capitan. (YNN 34, no. 1, Jan 1955: 6.) And finally, Hutchings' Illustrated 1, no. 1, July 1856:3, called it "Giant Tower."

- Peter Browning, Yosemite Place Names

Big Wall Routes Overview

This table is not meant to contain all routes established on El Cap, but to give a flavor for what is available. The information is compiled from a variety of sources, and the ratings given are not consistent between source - so do more research before selecting a route! Those routes marked with an asterik (*) denote the five popular trade routes on El Cap.
West Face
Reach for the Sky5.11, A41989 Jim Beyer
West Face5.11c1967 Herbert, Robbins
Mr. Midwest5.10, A3+1985 Russell, McDonald
Realm of the Flying Monkey5.10a, A31985 Bosque, McDevitt
Mirage5.9, A41976 Bridwell, Schmitz, Pettigrew
Lost World5.10, A3+1975 Folsom, Anderson, Warburton
Squeeze Play5.10, A3+1982 Corbett, Edmondson, Albuschkat
Hole World5.10, A41990 Eric Kohl
Southwest Face
*Lurking Fear5.13b (or 5.10, A3)1976 Bircheff,Pettigrew
West Buttress5.10, A31963 Kor, Roper
For Your Eyes Only (aka Octopussy)5.9, A3)1988 Dan and Sue McDevitt
Timbauktu Left5.10, A31988 Franco Perlotto
Never Never Land5.9, A41978 Hawkins, Chapman
Aquarian Wall5.9, A41971 Bridwell, Schmitz
Winds of Change5.10, A351991 Jensen
Wings of Steel5.10+, A341981 Jensen, Smith
Horse Chute5.9, A31974 Porter, Burton
Horse Play5.9, A31984 Grossman, Harrington
Dihedral Wall5.9, A31962 Cooper, Baldwin, Denny
Cosmos5.9, A41972 Jim Dunn
Excalibur5.13a, A4-1975 Porter, Burton
Bermuda Dunes5.11c, A4+1984 Schneider, Barbella
The Heart Route5.9, A41970 Kroger, Davis
Pacemaker5.9, A41982 Bosque, Corbett, Barnett, Siler
Verano Magico 1985 Gallego, Gallego
Son of Heart (aka Heart Woute)5.10, A3+1971 Sylvester, Wreford-Brown
Sunkist5.9, A41978 Price, Bard
Jolly Roger5.10, A51979 Cole, Grossman
Magic Mushroom5.10, A41972 Burton, Sutton
*The Shield5.9, A3+1972 Porter, Bocarde
Dorn Direct5.9, A41977 Yaniro, Olevsky
False Shield 1984 Charles Cole
Turning Point 1984 Steve Grossman
Muir Wall5.10, A31965 Chouinard,Herbert
Salathe Wall5.13b (or 5.11,A3)1961 Robbins,Pratt,Frost
Triple Direct5.9,A21969 Bridwell, Schmitz
Meditterraneo 1981 Gallego x 4
Grape Race5.9, A41974 Porter, Johnson
The Nose5.13b (or 5.11,A2)1958 Harding,Merry,Whitmore
Southeast Face
The Central Scrutinizer5.11c, A4+1988 Grossman, Ladin
The Real Nose5.10, A41984 Cole, Grossman
The Reticent Wall5.9,A5Gerberding,Stowe
Tribal Rite 1978 Carter, Bard
Genesis5.11b, A4+1989 Englekirk, Brand
New Dawn5.9, A41972 Chouinard, Pratt, Hennek, Jones
*Mescalito5.9, A41973 Porter,Sutton,Burton,Nelson
Hockey Night in Canada5.10, A31980 Beckham, Flavelle, Lane
Space5.10, A4+1985 Charles Cole
South Seas5.8, A4+1979 Price, Row, Thompson
Pacific Ocean Wall5.9, A41975 Bridwell,Westbay,Fiske,East
Ring of Fire5.10+, A51995 Jensen,Smith
Sea of Dreams5.9, A51978 Bridwell,Bard,Diegelman
North American Wall5.8, A31964 Robbins, Frost, Pratt, Chouinard
Wyoming Sheep Ranch5.9, A5+1984 Slater,Barbella
Heartland5.10, A41987 Barbella, Brand
New Jersey Turnpike5.10, A4+1977 Hawkins, Kauk, Bard, Burton
Gulf Stream5.9, A41993 Gerberding,Harpole,Smith
Atlantic Ocean Wall5.10, A51986 Middendorf, Barbella
Iron Hawk5.9, A41978 Bard, Kauk
Native Son5.9, A4+1987 Shipley, Johnson
Scorched Earth5.11, A51987 Leavitt, Slater
Aurora5.8, A51981 Mayfield, Child
*Tangerine Trip5.9, A3+1973 Porter,St. Croix
Virginia5.7, A31992 Clance, Bosque
Lost in America5.9, A51985 Child, Leavitt
Zenyatta Mondatta5.7, A51981 Bridwell, Mayfield, Row
The Shortest Straw5.10, A3+1990 Rick Lovelace
*Zodiac5.11, A3+1972 Charlie Porter
Surgeon General5.9, A51990 Kohl, Shipley
Lunar Eclipse5.10, A41982 Barbella, Schneider
Born Under a Bad Sign5.10, A51979 Price, Washick
Plastic Surgery Disaster5.8, A4+1991 Eric Khol
Bad Seed5.9, A4+1988 Russell, Johnson
Bad to the Bone5.9, A41984 Smith, Painkiher
Eagle's Way5.10, A41976 Chapman, Graham, Orey
On the Waterfront5.9, A51986 Bosque, Corbett, Schneider
High Plains Dripper5.11, A51989 Kohl, Humphrey
Pressure Cooker5.10, A41990 Eric Kohl
Get Whacked5.10, A51992 Eric Kohl
Waterfall Route5.10, A41975 Teske, Polk
Chinese Water Torture5.11, A41981 McConachie, Smith
Snake 1983 Franek, Walace
East Buttress5.10b1953 Steck,Siri,Long,Unsoeld
The East Ledges DescentA0

External Links

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-2 of 2


Corax - Sep 29, 2005 10:15 am - Hasn't voted

Untitled Comment



alex_vega - Apr 23, 2006 7:47 pm - Voted 10/10

Hi Bob!

Alpinist Tomaz Humar from Slovenija as first noAmerican solo climbs one heaviest direction in the world "Reticient Wall" in El Capitan
VI.,5.9,A5 in fifteen days!


Viewing: 1-2 of 2