July 24th, 6:14pm
Look closer. There’s a tiny little speck on the face of El Capitan. Is that a person? How did they get there? You’re watching one of hundreds of climbers each year who test themselves on the 1-5 day ascent of this imposing cliff face.
At the El Portal taco night, we talked to Ken Yager about the long legacy of climbing in Yosemite. Ken is the president of the Yosemite Climbing Association, who works to preserve the legacy of climbing here, and organizes the Yosemite Facelift, the largest organized volunteer cleanup of any national park every September.
When Ken first visited Yosemite with his parents, he walked up to the base of El Capitan, and thought “I have to climb this.” After completing his first ascent in 1972, Ken later moved to Yosemite to keep scratching this itch. The great granite cliffs, the easy access to climbs, and the stable weather, all make Yosemite an incredible training ground for climbers. Climbing started here in 1933, and at the time, had no commercial support in the US. Climbers like Warren Harding and Royal Robbins did so for the passion for the sport, living in Camp 4 for free in the winters, sometimes eating cat food to survive. They were here to chase that feeling, of focusing only on the next route, the next hold to inch your way up a rock—what Ken calls, “a true vacation.” This golden era created a counterculture that would develop new equipment and new techniques that would go on to influence rock climbers all over the world.
Curious visitors can stop by the “Ask A Climber” program every day from 12:30-4:30p on the El Capitan bridge. You can camp in the infamous Camp 4, and imagine the energy in the air as new routes were discussed; new ‘problems’ were solved. But Ken’s work isn’t done. The Yosemite Climbing Association is working towards creating a Climbing Museum in Yosemite. They’ve collected thousands of artifacts and photographs to share this story. Now all they need is a home.
To learn more and support the Yosemite Climbing Museum, visit:
Photo below by Sean Shapiro Photography