A place forever intertwined with the history of rock climbing, and has remained relevant in the climbing universe after many decades. While access, culture, and the valley floor are completely different when compared to the days of the Stonemasters, the source of inspiration remains the same. Through rock-fall and epics, The Valley constantly reminds us that it will remain untamed—regardless of how many millions visit.
The boulders are still hard.
The slabs are still run-out.
The walls are still badass.
Yosemite is still awesome.
It isn’t the hub that it was in the 1960s, but how could it be? The reality of Yosemite is a human one, ripe with change. If we as climbers are willing to accept this and change with Yosemite, we too can tap into the spirit of adventure that lingers on in the birthplace of American rock climbing.
Yosemite Valley is a big place. The Yosemite valley floor is not a big place in comparison to the traffic it gets from climbers and sightseers alike. This traffic can cause overwhelming congestion. That being said, it is manageable. Here’s what we think can help maximize your time in Yosemite, and have you hooting and hollering with nonsensical joy as much as possible.
An amazing part of climbing is that it allows us an intimate medium to become familiar with big and wild environments. This is often both humbling and inspiring: seeing a wall that makes you feel puny, embracing that puniness, and embarking on an adventure that seems larger than life. Yosemite embodies this facet of climbing. It has been an arena of adventure for decades. Before you enter The Valley—at which time your face becomes stuck to the window of your vehicle with a dropped jaw—it is a good idea to plan your adventure. The churning-stomach style of motivation will inevitably come if you stare at the walls long enough, and motivation without purpose is nothing. With this in mind, ask yourself honestly where your stoke lies. Though it seems obvious, it’ll be that stoke that fuels you in moments of wild position and doubt. Therefore, it is important to be doing something that your heart is behind. The beauty of Yosemite is that it has whatever you want: testpiece boulders, cruisy classics, big hard walls, and remote opportunities for adventure. It is there, and you should be too—as long as you’re psyched.
Figuring out what rock you want to be on and then maximizing your time on that rock is an obvious way to optimize the fun that you have in Yosemite.
Don’t ask yourself what you think you can do. Or what is within your limits, what other people are doing, what seems too scary. Ask yourself ‘What rock do I want to be on?’ and ‘Why am I going to Yosemite?’
Only you can answer these questions, but here are some resources to help you follow the stoke!
For the best beta and guides check out https://store.yosemitebigwall.com to get the most up to date guidebook from the legend himself, Erik Sloan!
Yosemite is a wonderful place to show up with a crash mat, shoes, and a chalk bag. You’ll have the opportunity to try hard and also meet wonderful people in the process. The style can vary from thuggy sit-starts to wild slabs that will bring out your inner wizard! Some of the classics are a little polished, but the movement remains spectacular—albeit a little more demanding. If you don’t have a pad, The Mountain Shop at Half Dome village sells and rents pads for a fair price. If you are balling on a tight budget you can always make friends with the trail mix offering at Camp 4, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding some psyched folks to pebble wrestle with. Bouldering can also make for a convenient warm up activity before you embark up the walls! Mountain Project is a helpful free resource for Yosemite bouldering, especially the GPS feature that allows the user to find the location of problems without using cellular data. Below is a small sample of the great problems in Yosemite … it is meant to be a starting point for both your research, and hopefully some exploratory jaunts through the forest.
Bachar Cracker (V4), Camp 4 Boulders. An overhanging crack from hands to fingers. ABSOLUTE GOLD!
Initial Friction (V1), Camp 4 Boulders. It feels a lot higher than it looks when making the last few moves. A great introduction to Yosemite slab: if this problem has you saying “I like!” like you’re Borat, walk down the trail and get on Kauk Slab. Inspiring and magnificent!
Deliverance (V8), Lost Boulders. Do I have a preference for steep cracks, even if I’ve not seen them? Don’t be silly and go climb this boulder!
No Holds Bard (V7), Sentinel Boulders. Steep and technical crimping to a sloper exit. A weird form of bliss.
Cocaine Corner (V5), Camp 4 Boulders. There’s a glorious jug up there for all to see—and the keen to grab. Follow the namesake chalked rail!
The Mountain Shop employees and the returning flock of Yosemite climbers each season are great resources to kick-start an amazing bouldering experience in Yosemite. Don’t be afraid to start conversations and aim for the top of those boulders with gumption!
Single Pitch Routes
Scattered crags with varying difficulty make Yosemite a great place to crag on single pitch routes. The vistas are incredible and the rock is fantastic. This is a great way to test out message board partnerships before you commit to a wall: warm up in the valley, and simply spend a day. Any moment on a rope in Yosemite reveals the majesty of the place, and it carries with it an infectious urge to rise to the occasion of the setting. There is something for you at the crags of Yosemite, hopefully this inspires you to find it.
Awesome easy crag:
Swan Slab is a convenient place to dust off the cobwebs or break into leading traditional climbs. It’s only a few minutes walk from Camp 4, which means the crag is rather busy. Evenings can be quite nice at Swan Slab as the temperatures decrease and the crowds thin out. If you don’t mind climbing beside others, this is a wonderful place to get your feet on some granite splitters. Be sure to check out Grant’s Crack. This finger splitter is fun, not to mention good practice for moving on solid finger locks with small feet.
Cookie Cliff and the Cascade Area are crags that feature traditional routes ranging from 5.10–5.12, but there are exceptions at each crag on both ends of the grade range. Cascade hosts the classic test piece Meltdown (5.14c) as well as easy, rambly, albeit run-out traditional climbs. Cookie has an enigma in the retrofitted Cookie Monster (5.12a), as well as the classic Chuck Pratt offwidth Twilight Zone (5.10d).I haven’t climbed much at Cascade and never at Cookie so I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have had friends tell me it’s pretty good.
You probably aren’t coming to Yosemite to clip bolts—but if you are, there are bolts to clip! The Public Sanitation wall was recommended to me at one of the many campfires to be had at Camp 4. Supertopo has written an entire guidebook on sport routes in Yosemite. A well-researched guidebook from a reputable source AND the always-trustworthy campfire discussion can’t be wrong, but maybe you should be the judge!
Classic single pitch climb:
One of the most famous routes in the world, Separate Reality (5.11d) is picturesque: a splitter roof crack perched high above the Merced River. The classic photo of Wolfgang Gullich soloing Separate Reality is tacked to gym walls the world over. With each hand jam nearing the lip there is a feeling that you’re living out your dreams. A cut of the feet and taste of the exposure is fuel by means of feeling alive. Separate Reality lives up to the hype, and another rappel will bring you to a nails hard, beautiful splitter: Tales of Power.
Generator Crack (5.10c) deserves an honorable mention as a Yosemite must do. This roadside offwidth will either give you a lot of confidence for the monster, or encourage you to pack an extra pair of pants. Godspeed!
Take these recommendations with a grain of salt, as it is hard to curate the best from such a long and stacked list. The many fantastic day adventures of Yosemite Valley are more than primers for walls, they’re world class in their own right. The higher you go up the Valley walls, the more palpable the Valley’s magic. Nat and I have attempted to compile a list of trade routes, moderates, testpieces, and unsung heroes, but as stated before: go and find out for yourself! Treasure each moment spent on the rock and enjoy every run-out, shoe squeak, and grovelling chimney as much as you possibly can. Those instants of grit will soon be laughter around a campfire, and a source of inspiration.
Awesome climbing, and a potential queue! Start early and don’t forget to pack your patience!
For more detailed information on the free climbing available, check out Erik Sloan’s book Yosemite Free Climbs, available in local climbing stores and online.
Depending on where you’re coming from, the amount of gas station coffee needed to get to Yosemite will vary. Getting to the Valley is relatively simple though, when compared to staying in the Valley. Accommodation is the first hurdle to jump while on your way to dancing up a dream route! The options are:
– The Majestic Yosemite Hotel: First you’ll want to rob a bank so you can afford to stay there.
– The Pines Campground: If you jump the gun and reserve a spot before your trip, this is a great option. US$26 per night hurts a little bit, especially if you’re Canadian. Vehicles are limited to two per site but unlike anywhere else in Yosemite you are allowed to sleep in your vehicle. Sharing a site with some friends can keep the cost down and the psyche high.
– Camp 4: The Camp 4! Wonderful bouldering, hilarious bathroom graffiti, a killer free goodies wagon, and a place laced with inspiring history.
A new pilot program that launched May 2019 means campsites will be available only by daily lottery, one day in advance, via recreation.gov. There is a non-refundable lottery fee of $10 per application for up to 12 people. There’s a bit more fine print with this new lottery business, you can check it out at here. It’s still a steal at $6 per night though.
There is also a 30-night camping limit within Yosemite National Park in a calendar year; however, May 1 – September 15, the camping limit in Yosemite is 14 nights, and only seven of those nights can be in Yosemite Valley or Wawona.
Sleeping on the “Wall” tends to be a great way of getting off record, besides you’re going to Yosemite to climb right?
There have been whispers in the wind about a good set of curtains and a can do attitude being all you need to stay in the Valley under the radar. If you hear a knock, hide under your blankets and go prone! That being said, you’re playing with park ranger fire and risk hefty fines, as well as expulsion from the park.
– Tuolumne Meadows Campground: Tuolumne ROCKS. As far as the camping goes, the campground is open July to late September. Half of the sites are dedicated reservation-only sites, with the other half being first-come-first-served sites. More whispers in the wind have told that in the shoulder season the parking lots in Tuolumne have served well the stealthy dirtbags looking for early starts. Once again though, the boys in green could strike at any time! Stay woke!
– El Portal: Located outside of the west boundary of Yosemite National Park is the El Portal camping area. If you’re planning on staying in Yosemite for a long period of time and are living in a vehicle, this is by far the most reliable way to do it. The roadside pullouts outside of the gate can get busy, but you can rest easy without worrying about being woken up by a flashlight, a knock, and a stern “we know you’re in there.” This peaceful rest comes at a cost: a thirty-minute commute, that can be extended during peak season traffic. You’re saving money by not paying for camping, but are spending time in your car and money on fuel.
No accommodation situation in the valley floor is perfect, and there are pros and cons to consider with each place to stay. Ultimately, if you have the cash and ability to reserve in a timely manner, The Pines is a great choice. Camp 4 has a unique scene and some really, really fun bouldering. El Portal has longevity and security. Keep things in perspective, and remember that accommodation is simply a means to an end. Don’t fret too much about where you’re staying in The Valley. Remember, your goal is to spend as little time on the valley floor as possible!
Maybe if you’re single and smooth you can get a date with a local staff member… The staff tents are nothing fancy, but they are heated and dry. Good Luck!
Sleeping in your vehicle is a bold gamble, especially during peak season. Don’t forget El Portal is a safe option for van dwellers and a short drive from the heart of the Valley. The rangers are law enforcement officers, i.e. cops! Keep this in mind.
How to get around
Navigating Yosemite’s roads can take some practice: one-way streets, heavy congestion, and tourists stopping mid-road to take pictures of trees. Driving isn’t always the way to go. For most of your “day to day” travel a pedal bike will make your life simple. That being said a bike can only go so far, and the crags of Yosemite are spread out and elevated. If you’re in the heart of the Valley and aren’t constantly carrying a haul bag, a bike is a great option.
Yosemite has a free public shuttle that runs a loop connecting all the main areas and campgrounds. Not only will you get stares riding the bus donning full big wall gear, a haul bag and portaledge over your shoulders, you may actually get turned away. It is a great resource for running errands and getting around with relative ease though. The bus runs about every 15 minutes, thus making it slightly inconvenient. There are trails all over Yosemite that can be shorter and faster than taking the road.
Driving is manageable, especially if you’re avoiding peak hours and are saturated with patience.
You can get water in lots of places including Camp 4. Ice can be a little more cruxy. There is the costly option of buying it at the shop or El Portal Market. You might be able to find an ice machine that will keep your coolers cold. Yosemite Valley Lodge (shared parking with Yosemite Lodge Food Court) has an ice machine outside. Full disclosure, it may take a scouting mission to find. Be sure to keep a low profile.
Buying food in Yosemite is expensive. You can dodge this burden by spending a rest day in Mariposa and stocking up. Closer to the park, one place to pick up the odd snack is the El Portal Market. It has a surprising good selection, and is actually cheaper than the grocery store in Yosemite. Plus they have $1 mini pies. $1 pies. Pies. Yes.
On a random note, be sure to stop and take in the valley. There is a reason millions visit each year. The “touristy” things can be powerful, the tunnel view being a great example. There is more to life than climbing (barely), and the high country of Yosemite delivers with beautiful hiking. Solitude with unbridled nature is available in spades
As for all National Park in the USA, you will need a Park Pass to get in. The best price point is the annual pass. US$80 for all National Parks for a year, covering both your spring and fall trips.
Many climbers arrive in the Valley partner-less. Blind climbing dates are common and relatively easy to come by. If you are in need of a climbing partner, Camp 4 is the place. The public bulletin board is typically littered with partner requests. Blind date big walling is feasible, but it may be wise to feel out the belaytionship with a day of cragging. Be positive. Be keen. Be safe. Worst-case scenario: you have a great day out with someone and never climb with them again. It is highly recommended you arrive in Yosemite with a partner and a plan. If not possible, you will still have fun!
The Yosemite Kit
When you travel almost anywhere, you will probably forget something. Having the following key items will make your life smoother, warmer and a little cleaner.
First off, Yosemite granite bites. Your fingers will take a beating and that precious skin that’s needed for the send will run away quickly. Tape and skin repair is a mandatory tool for success. But you knew that already.
In the day, you can be rocking tees and shorts, but at night it gets cold. Like, very cold. Especially during early spring and late fall. The biggest puffy you can get is probably a good idea.
Most other essentials can be picked up somewhere in Yosemite, but you will pay a premium.
WiFi / Power
You can charge up and contact loved ones outside the bubble of the valley at Degnan’s, or the lodge across from Camp 4. Camp 4 also has an outlet, but finding open space may be difficult.
Time to clean up
The walls are a gritty place, and The Housekeeping Camp combats the grit well! Pee runs rampant on the walls… I had an unfortunate evening with a friend while sleeping on Free Rider last year. Around 2am the golden shower began, ending a litre later. Getting peed on is manageable! We went down the next morning and hastily made our way to the Housekeeping Camp, followed by showers at Half Dome Village.
Half Dome Village is the place to shower. Late in the evening it can be free, but if someone is at the desk it will cost $5. Reiterating earlier themes, scope it out and be stealthy!
The article was co-authored by Nic Vissers and one of Nic’s climbing partners, Nat Bailey. Nat has the world’s largest stoke and is a total crusher. He can be found working at Squamish’s one and only Zephyr Cafe all summer, saving up for winter climbing trips.