There are two distinct major climbing areas within Yosemite National Park, which are Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, both of which offer superb climbing on excellent granite rock.
Yosemite Valley is the most famous rock climbing area in America, which is dominated by the granite big walls of El Capitan, Half Dome and Sentinel.
El Capitan at 3,300’ (1,000m) is the largest continuous wall in the United States, and its towering face dominates the north side of Yosemite Valley. There are many big wall routes on El Capitan with The Nose being one of the best known climbs in the world, which is graded at 5.9 C1 or 5.14a free. The route is long, sustained and flawless, with over 31 pitches of steep, exposed and strenuous climbing throughout. Therefore the route requires total commitment with most parties spending anywhere between 2 or 4 days on the route.
The above photograph shows the 3,300’ (1,000m) face of El Capitan, which provides the best big wall climbing in the United States.
The above photograph shows the iconic Half Dome wall, with routes over 800’ (250m) long.
However it is possible to enjoy rock climbing in Yosemite Valley without having to send any nights out on the route. There are many routes between 500’ to 1,500’ (150m to 450m) long at places such as Cathedral Rocks and the Royal Arches, with routes offering every type of climbing at all grades. There are also many 1 or 2-pitch routes, of which some of these are sport routes. However the valley is famous for its granite cracks that dominate the majority of the routes. Therefore most of the routes are traditionally protected though the occasional bolt is used where appropriate. Throughout Yosemite Valley there is an abundance of boulder problems with over 700 recorded problems, with the area around Camp 4 providing some of the best known and classic problems.
The rock climbing at Tuolumne Meadows is totally different to that in Yosemite Valley. At around 5,000’ (1,600m) higher it has a distinctive alpine feel, with its giant golden domes and peaks, pine trees and lakes. The climbing here is all about sharp angular cracks, endless granite knobs, and incut edges. There is also a wide variety of climbing, ranging from 14-pitch traditional climbs to single pitch sport routes, and lots of excellent bouldering.
When to climb at Yosemite? Generally the best time to climb in Yosemite Valley is in the spring and autumn with the summer usually very hot. However the summer can also be the best time to climb the longer and higher routes plus there is extra daylight at this time of the year. Tuolumne Meadows is totally different as this area is only accessible during the summer, once the snow has melted away. Due to its high altitude of 8,000’, it provides ideal climbing conditions during the summer, especially when Yosemite Valley is very hot.
There are numerous guidebooks covering the different type of climbing to be found in Yosemite. The Yosemite Valley Rock Climbing Guidebook describes over 750 of the best free routes in Yosemite from 5.4 to 5.14 (F3 to F8c), with everything from single pitch routes to 1,000m+ routes on El Cap. The Yosemite Valley Free Climbs describes over 230 excellent rock climbing routes ranging from 16-pitch trad climbs on El Cap to single pitch sport routes. The emphasis is on routes in the mid-grade range of 5.4 to 5.9 (French 3- to 5) though some harder classics are also included.
Yosemite big walls guidebook covers 64 of the best routes on El Cap, along with Half Dome and Washington Column amongst others. Yosemite big walls – the complete guide covers over 300 big wall routes, with many of these off the beaten track. Yosemite sport climbs and top ropes covers the single pitch routes, with the bouldering covered by Yosemite Valley Bouldering guidebook.
The Yosemite Valley Free Climbs guidebook describes routes from 16-pitch trad climbs on El Cap to single pitch sport routes.
The Tuolumne Free Climbs guidebook describes routes from 14-pitch trad climbs to single pitch sport routes at Tuolumne Meadows.
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