Climbing & Canyoneering: Top Destinations
If heading out to Pakistan's Karakoram range is too much of a commitment, and if getting dragged with skis and a kite across the Arctic to Baffin Island's or Greenland's towering spires just sounds too cold, big-wall climbing and Yosemite are a naturally made pair. Driving into the Yosemite Valley from the west is guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor. No matter how many times you've seen it, El Capitan, with its 3,000-foot face, inspires awe and unbridled fear from the moment the bottom third of the cliff rears into your windshield as you round a bend in the road. As one climber and author, Daniel Duane, puts it, El Cap is so big that laying your hands on it is like touching the side of a planet.
Half Dome is no sissy either. Lost Arrow Spire soars out of the side of a cliff right next to a raging waterfall. In short, Yosemite's big-wall options are almost limitless. (Check out www.supertopo.com for great guide books and tips from the pros on big-wall climbing.)
At first, just getting to the top of one of these monoliths was a huge accomplishment that redefined the boundaries of the sport. Then, with new routes in short supply in the ensuing years, climbers began emphasizing style—instead of using rock-damaging hardware like pitons, enthusiasts switched to less intrusive gear like cams and nuts. Then came speed climbing. The original El Cap ascent took months to complete. Now people can do it in three hours.
Big-wall climbing and speed climbing demand a certain level of competence that comes from years of rope work and scaling thousands of feet of rock. Efficiency is the name of the game here. Even then, most people find climbing these kind of demanding routes 99 percent work and 1 percent honest-to-goodness fun. But the rewards are clearly worth it. How better to feel alive than to wake up on a hanging ledge 2,000 feet off the deck, swimming in a sea of granite?
Hans Florine, a California-based climber, has been up El Capitan at least 100 times, including having bagged its summit from the ground up three times in one day. You can book a trip up El Cap with this legend through Go With a Pro guiding services (www.gowithapro.com). Along the way Hans can give you tips on how to speed up your own climbing, or how best to pull off a typical siege on any big wall. You can also contact Hans directly at email@example.com, with "guide request" in the subject line. He charges about $1,200 per person per day for big-wall climbs.
Sierra Wilderness Seminars offers courses on big-wall siege tactics designed to help improve efficiency, demonstrate hauling methods, teach you how to pick a bivy site, and impart other essential skills to make your own big-wall adventure both safe and fun. The company charges about $400 per person. The group also conducts guided big-wall climbs in the Sierras with a maximum ratio of one guide per two clients for $1,475 for one person or $1,200 each for two (888-797-6867, www.swsmtns.com)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication