Climbing El Capitan? Yosemite’s Divisive Permits for Overnight Climbers Here to Stay

Climbing El Capitan? Yosemite’s Divisive Permits for Overnight Climbers Here to Stay
El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park is a magnet for climbers, who often camp overnight next to the wall during their ascent. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Tribune News Service

By Grace Toohey From Los Angeles Times

Yosemite National Park has made permanent a divisive overnight rock climbing permitting system aimed at protecting wilderness and monitoring visitors as the sport has grown rapidly in popularity.

Following a two-year pilot period, the permits are now officially required for those attempting “big wall” climbs like El Capitan or Half Dome, which are so difficult they typically take more than one day to complete—meaning climbers must camp along the rock face. Permits are not necessary for single or part-day climbs.

While the permits are free and unlimited, the process has drawn disdain from some free-spirited adventurers over the last few months. Park officials wouldn’t immediately confirm when the new permit system officially went into effect, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported it was earlier this month.

“The community is split on whether they want to register for permits or not,” said Leslie Chow, a rock climber who also volunteers at the Yosemite Climbing Assn. “Being who our community is, a lot of people don’t like rules and it does have some repercussions—it’s not spontaneous anymore—but welcome to the 21st century.”

He also called it an equity issue, as any other overnight visitor in a designated wilderness area has to get a backcountry permit. But maybe more importantly, he said, it will help with management of the climbing routes and surrounding regions.

“El Capitan has become so crowded with climbing, we’ve seen as many as eight parties on the nose at one time—they’re stacked up,” Chow said. “It’s also part of data gathering: Are there things we can do to improve the climbing experience?”

The climbing association is working with park officials to offer the permits at its museum and shop in the nearby town of Mariposa, so climbers don’t have to make two stops.

“The permit system helps climbing rangers better understand use patterns on big walls,” according to the National Park Service. “It will also increase compliance with existing regulations and minimize impacts to wilderness character through improved education.”

Climbers can self-register for the permits, which require them to pack out any solid human waste or trash, prohibit the use of motorized drills, and regulate where fires can be lit and how long ropes can remain on rock surfaces.

“Big wall” climbing developed in Yosemite in the 1950s, according to the park, and has soared in popularity in recent years. It gained even more publicity following release of the 2018 documentary “Free Solo,” which showcased climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to summit El Capitan’s giant granite face without using ropes.

Copyright 2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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