Revealing Routes on El Cap

Routes: Southwest

The enormous wall left of the Nose is characterized by good rock and an abundance of less-than-vertical rock. The wall was the scene of most of the early routes on El Cap, since crack systems are obvious and ledges many. The routes vary in length from 550 to 900 meters (1,800 to 3,000 feet).

Lurking Fear VI, 5.10, A3
D. Bircheff and J. Pettigrew, 1976 
This direct route up the West Buttress is one of the easier big-wall routes on El Cap, with long stretches of relatively easy climbing. Proficient parties do this route in a long day; the record is about nine hours.

The Salathi Wall VI, 5.13b (or 5.11, A3)
R. Robbins, C. Pratt, and T. Frost, 1961
Dozens of bolts and scores of fixed pitons have been added to this route since the epic first ascent, tarnishing a climb done in impeccable style by masters of the craft. Shame on those who defiled this route! Nevertheless, with its slabs, pendulums, jam cracks, roofs, and famous headwall, the climb remains one of the most varied and desired on El Cap. Most parties will bivouac twice; speedsters can try to break the record of nine hours.

The Shield VI, 5.9, A3+
C. Porter and Gary Bocarde, 1972
This route was one of the first "half routes" on El Cap; these are climbs that begin partway up an existing route. In this case the first ascenders climbed 275 meters (900 feet) up the Salathi Wall, then headed upward into virgin territory. Higher, the team encountered a fearsome, dead-vertical wall, apparently devoid of cracks, and here Porter placed 35 successive rurps into a hairline crack. This was one of the gutsiest leads yet done in Yosemite, and the pitch is even today sought out.

The Nose VI, 5.13b (or 5.11, A2)
W. Harding, W. Merry, and G. Whitmore, 1958
As the most historic Valley climb, the Nose still attracts an enormous number of climbers. As late as 1969 only 20 ascents had been recorded; nowadays 20 ascents a month take place during the prime season. Regardless of this overcrowding, the upper part of the route, with its clean, soaring dihedrals, is one of the most aesthetic places imaginable. Incredibly, the route has now been done in about four and a half hours—but most will take two or more days.

Article © Steve Roper, 2000.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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