A Beginner Climbing In Yosemite

Back in 2012, John and I took our first trip to Yosemite National Park. I've heard Australians pronounce is oz-i-might. Let's try it together this way instead, Yo (like Yo dude!)-sem-it-eee. See, now it doesn't sound like some strange mix of Vegemite.

We were about to move around the world to Australia. This last minute trip was planned along with John's parents. I am so grateful that we decided to take this trip. It's one of my all time favorites. If you haven't noticed yet, John and I are climbers. John thinks about climbing while he eats, dreams and works. I may not be that much of a fanatic, but I love what climbing has taught me about nature and how I can choose to interact with it. Yosemite is America's living heritage. It shows glacial time scales, struggles between human relations, generational tourism and campaigns for environmental ethics. Not least of all, it is breathtakingly beautiful. I can't describe the effect that this visit has had on my life.

This post, however, is about climbing.

Everyone hears about climbers going up the famous El Capitan. My personal favorite is the story about Lynn Hill rocking up and being the first person to free climb The Nose. A lot of the climbs in Yosemite are done in a style called 'aid climbing.' This means that they will place protection in the rock and pull on that protection to make vertical progress. When John and I finally climb a route on El Cap, this is how we will have to do it. The routes on El Cap are so difficult that it takes world class athletes to be able to climb up the rock without pulling or resting on anything man made. Both of these types of climbing, 'free climbing' and 'aid climbing', involve using ropes and placing gear in the rock to protect you in case of a fall. The difference here is whether or not the climber pulls on the protection to advance up the route. Lynn Hill has been a huge role model for me. She seems like a person who has spent her life trying new things and respecting nature along the way. Here is some footage of her climbing The Nose:

Wow! So one day, John and I hope to do a big wall climb in Yosemite. On our trip in 2012, we decided to go for something a little less daunting.

Photo by  Chris McNamara

Royal Arches is a great single-day outing. John had been lead climbing for about a year prior to our trip. I had never been on a multi-pitch climb. That means the climbers split up the climb into sections (pitches) because the route is longer than the length of a rope. On a multi-pitch route, the leader starts climbing, finds a good ledge or protected area to set up a belay station. They install climbing gear into the wall in order to anchor themselves to that spot. Then the second second person climbs up to meet the leader. That completes one pitch of the route. The two people continue in this way, one person climbing and then belaying the other person up to them until they reach the top of the route.

I love this type of climbing! John and I had to learn a lot about how to keep ourselves safe, what to do in an emergency, how to watch out for changes in weather patterns. On a day at the crag, you can just come down quickly and hike out to the car if something goes wrong. On a multi-pitch route, there is often no way to bail until you finish the climb.

If this sounds like fun, but maybe you're not ready to spend a week sleeping, eating and pooping on a wall 3,000 feet off the ground. Then I would highly recommend giving the Royal Arches a try. At a mere 1,400 feet, Royal Arches was a fantastic day out. If I remember correctly, it was a bit stiff for 5.7 (true to Yosemite sandbagging). It has a few cracks, on proper lay-back crack that I wasn't prepared for at the time. Don't judge, I was a novice climber in 2012.

A good portion of the climbing is made up of easy traverses and scrambling. Our day finished with 10 (give or take two) rappels to get back to the valley floor. This was such a wonderful way to avoid the tourists and see the whole valley.

If you're a solid 5.7 (Yosemite) or 15 (Ewbanks) lead trad climber and are confident in rapelling/abseiling but aren't quite ready for an 8,000 foot wall, then check out the Royal Arches. The best route description can be found on SuperTopo.