Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 37.73420°N / 119.6367°W
Additional Information Elevation: 7569 ft / 2307 m
Sign the Climber's Log

Overview

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

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

Etymology

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
Routes Difficulty FA
Reach for the Sky 5.11, A4 1989 Jim Beyer
West Face 5.11c 1967 Herbert, Robbins
Mr. Midwest 5.10, A3+ 1985 Russell, McDonald
Realm of the Flying Monkey 5.10a, A3 1985 Bosque, McDevitt
Mirage 5.9, A4 1976 Bridwell, Schmitz, Pettigrew
Lost World 5.10, A3+ 1975 Folsom, Anderson, Warburton
Squeeze Play 5.10, A3+ 1982 Corbett, Edmondson, Albuschkat
Hole World 5.10, A4 1990 Eric Kohl
Southwest Face
Routes Difficulty FA
*Lurking Fear 5.13b (or 5.10, A3) 1976 Bircheff,Pettigrew
West Buttress 5.10, A3 1963 Kor, Roper
For Your Eyes Only (aka Octopussy) 5.9, A3) 1988 Dan and Sue McDevitt
Timbauktu Left 5.10, A3 1988 Franco Perlotto
Never Never Land 5.9, A4 1978 Hawkins, Chapman
Aquarian Wall 5.9, A4 1971 Bridwell, Schmitz
Winds of Change 5.10, A35 1991 Jensen
Wings of Steel 5.10+, A34 1981 Jensen, Smith
Horse Chute 5.9, A3 1974 Porter, Burton
Horse Play 5.9, A3 1984 Grossman, Harrington
Dihedral Wall 5.9, A3 1962 Cooper, Baldwin, Denny
Cosmos 5.9, A4 1972 Jim Dunn
Excalibur 5.13a, A4- 1975 Porter, Burton
Bermuda Dunes 5.11c, A4+ 1984 Schneider, Barbella
The Heart Route 5.9, A4 1970 Kroger, Davis
Pacemaker 5.9, A4 1982 Bosque, Corbett, Barnett, Siler
Verano Magico   1985 Gallego, Gallego
Son of Heart (aka Heart Woute) 5.10, A3+ 1971 Sylvester, Wreford-Brown
Sunkist 5.9, A4 1978 Price, Bard
Jolly Roger 5.10, A5 1979 Cole, Grossman
Magic Mushroom 5.10, A4 1972 Burton, Sutton
*The Shield 5.9, A3+ 1972 Porter, Bocarde
Dorn Direct 5.9, A4 1977 Yaniro, Olevsky
False Shield   1984 Charles Cole
Turning Point   1984 Steve Grossman
Muir Wall 5.10, A3 1965 Chouinard,Herbert
Salathe Wall 5.13b (or 5.11,A3) 1961 Robbins,Pratt,Frost
Triple Direct 5.9,A2 1969 Bridwell, Schmitz
Meditterraneo   1981 Gallego x 4
Grape Race 5.9, A4 1974 Porter, Johnson
The Nose 5.13b (or 5.11,A2) 1958 Harding,Merry,Whitmore
Southeast Face
Routes Difficulty FA
The Central Scrutinizer 5.11c, A4+ 1988 Grossman, Ladin
The Real Nose 5.10, A4 1984 Cole, Grossman
The Reticent Wall 5.9,A5 Gerberding,Stowe
Tribal Rite   1978 Carter, Bard
Genesis 5.11b, A4+ 1989 Englekirk, Brand
New Dawn 5.9, A4 1972 Chouinard, Pratt, Hennek, Jones
*Mescalito 5.9, A4 1973 Porter,Sutton,Burton,Nelson
Hockey Night in Canada 5.10, A3 1980 Beckham, Flavelle, Lane
Space 5.10, A4+ 1985 Charles Cole
South Seas 5.8, A4+ 1979 Price, Row, Thompson
Pacific Ocean Wall 5.9, A4 1975 Bridwell,Westbay,Fiske,East
Ring of Fire 5.10+, A5 1995 Jensen,Smith
Sea of Dreams 5.9, A5 1978 Bridwell,Bard,Diegelman
North American Wall 5.8, A3 1964 Robbins, Frost, Pratt, Chouinard
Wyoming Sheep Ranch 5.9, A5+ 1984 Slater,Barbella
Heartland 5.10, A4 1987 Barbella, Brand
New Jersey Turnpike 5.10, A4+ 1977 Hawkins, Kauk, Bard, Burton
Gulf Stream 5.9, A4 1993 Gerberding,Harpole,Smith
Atlantic Ocean Wall 5.10, A5 1986 Middendorf, Barbella
Iron Hawk 5.9, A4 1978 Bard, Kauk
Native Son 5.9, A4+ 1987 Shipley, Johnson
Scorched Earth 5.11, A5 1987 Leavitt, Slater
Aurora 5.8, A5 1981 Mayfield, Child
*Tangerine Trip 5.9, A3+ 1973 Porter,St. Croix
Virginia 5.7, A3 1992 Clance, Bosque
Lost in America 5.9, A5 1985 Child, Leavitt
Zenyatta Mondatta 5.7, A5 1981 Bridwell, Mayfield, Row
The Shortest Straw 5.10, A3+ 1990 Rick Lovelace
*Zodiac 5.11, A3+ 1972 Charlie Porter
Surgeon General 5.9, A5 1990 Kohl, Shipley
Lunar Eclipse 5.10, A4 1982 Barbella, Schneider
Born Under a Bad Sign 5.10, A5 1979 Price, Washick
Plastic Surgery Disaster 5.8, A4+ 1991 Eric Khol
Bad Seed 5.9, A4+ 1988 Russell, Johnson
Bad to the Bone 5.9, A4 1984 Smith, Painkiher
Eagle's Way 5.10, A4 1976 Chapman, Graham, Orey
On the Waterfront 5.9, A5 1986 Bosque, Corbett, Schneider
High Plains Dripper 5.11, A5 1989 Kohl, Humphrey
Pressure Cooker 5.10, A4 1990 Eric Kohl
Get Whacked 5.10, A5 1992 Eric Kohl
Waterfall Route 5.10, A4 1975 Teske, Polk
Chinese Water Torture 5.11, A4 1981 McConachie, Smith
Snake   1983 Franek, Walace
East Buttress 5.10b 1953 Steck,Siri,Long,Unsoeld
The East Ledges Descent A0

 

External Links

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-3 of 3
Corax

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

Untitled Comment

Freerider

alex_vega

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! Cheers,Alex

JohnSteeds - Jul 1, 2019 7:43 am - Hasn't voted

Camp4.com Broken Link Correction

Correct link: https://www.camp4.com/loving-it-to-death-traffic-jams-on-el-capitan/

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Children

Children

Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.