El Cap: The Biggest, Grandest Piece of Rock in Yosemite Valley

el capitan

“Climbing is all about flirting with the impossible and pushing the boundaries of what you think can be done,” says Tommy Caldwell who, together with another professional rock climber, Kevin Jorgeson, made history by completing the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall in January 2015.

The Dawn Wall is a notoriously difficult section on the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. That’s the one shown in the picture above. It is the steepest, tallest, blankest section of El Cap.

El Capitan is considered the largest granite monolith in the world, being formed from a single chunk of granite.

Masood and I had the chance to admire this imposing rock late last year, so when I first read the news of these two rock climbers, I immediately got interested and followed their progress.

PHOTOGRAPH BY COREY RICH, BIG UP PRODUCTIONS/AURORA PHOTOS

 

yosemite valley

Would you believe that I haven’t edited this picture except for adding the frame? El Capitan is the granite rock on the left. This is called the Tunnel View.

Summer is when Yosemite is most busy, specially during school break. We visited during autumn which, as I have observed, isn’t really the best time to visit because the water levels are very low, with waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) containing little or no water, and also because Yosemite is not known for having spectacular fall colors because most of the trees are evergreen. The best thing about visiting in October-November is that students are back in school, making the park less crowded.

yosemite valley in fall

I walked a few steps back to capture this photograph of the same place so that you may see excited tourists taking in the breathtaking view of the valley. The weather was great – the air crisp and pleasantly cool, the sun nice and mild.

So we stood there, an hour before dusk, admiring El Capitan. We have joined a dozen or so other tourists on a day-trip to Yosemite. Our driver/guide was a friendly young man who was very knowledgeable and passionate about everything California related. He let us borrow his binoculars and pointed out three of the climbers who were half-way through scaling El Capitan.

el capitan in yosemite

“That is crazy!” said the eyes of the Japanese lady who did not speak English. She and her husband were the only tourists on the bus with us that did not speak English. Although the couple appear to be enjoying themselves, I couldn’t help but feel sorry that they could neither partake in our friendly conversations nor understand the interesting facts our guide was sharing with us.

I walked towards the Japanese lady, handed her the binoculars, and asked her to look through it. I pointed toward El Capitan and made an effort to explain that there were people climbing the rock. My hand gestures may seem ridiculous but it successfully conveyed the message and the lady was definitely astonished and amazed with what she saw. Later, she gave me her warmest smile.

el cap

A typical ascent can last from seven to ten days, but here’s a fun-fact: you can actually get to the summit by hiking 13 kilometers up the back. That’s how the family members and reporters got to the top to meet the rock climbers who made history.

I had a classmate back in university who spent 90% of his free time climbing rocks. I thought his hobby was crazy considering that we hardly got any free time away from books and classrooms, plus how did he, on a student budget, even manage to afford traveling and buying ropes and the paraphernalia needed for the rock climbing?

While I’m sure I won’t be climbing any rock formation that is more than three feet high, I can’t help but sometimes admire the courage and determination of those who do it. We all have different goals and dreams in life, and these people love what they do and they work and practice hard to achieve their goals.

There are, unsurprisingly, those who think rock climbing is dumb. There are hilarious comments left on NY Times, for example:

“Tom Cruise did something like this for that movie Mission Impossible, not sure if it was the I or the II, but he definitely made it look easy. I actually canceled my own trip to El Capitan after seeing that film, and instead went bow hunting for lion in Kenya. Maybe this year I’ll give it the old spin.” – Patrick

4 comments

  1. That view is one of the prettiest I have ever seen 🙂
    We were there a few years ago, wouldn’t it be a coincidence if we had the same guide? I remember he was very passionate and full of interesting facts too!

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