Climbing El Capitan in Yosemite
About El Capitan
El Capitan is undoubtedly one of the most iconic rock formations in the United States. Located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, the summit offers spectacular views of the Valley, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls.
The monolith boasts an impressive 3,000-foot-tall vertical wall, famed for challenging even the most advanced rock climbers, such as Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. Though El Capitan has dozens of marked climbing paths, each route is exceptionally challenging and should only be attempted by master climbers. Hiking up to the summit is a far more approachable task.
Those planning to hike up to and descend from the summit should expect a long, strenuous, and rewarding 10 to 15-hour journey. The length of this hike is just shy of 19 total miles.
While it is possible to hike up El Capitan as a day hike, the trail tends to be a popular backpacking route for campers. It is recommended for even advanced day trailblazers to start their hike before sunrise to avoid difficult travels during dusk on the way back down. The most popular path to the summit involves hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail.
What to Bring for the Hike
El Capitan experts recommend day trippers bring a water filter for refilling bottles in on-trail streams, a headlamp for potential travel in darkness, warm layers in case temperatures drop, and a cellphone in case of emergency. Cellular service is spotty, but available in areas.
The hike is exceptional for fans of solitude, as the trails do not tend to get particularly crowded.
Where to Park
For the easiest access to El Capitan, it is recommended that hikers take the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This can be accessed by parking at Camp 4. In some months, advanced registration is required. Explore nps.gov to book your trip prior to arrival.
The El Capitan Hiking Route
Experienced El Capitan visitors regard the Upper Yosemite Falls Track hike as the best trip up to the summit.
The Upper Yosemite Falls Track is the most heavily trafficked trail to El Capitan, which offers a sense of security for more junior travelers. It is also the most scenic, and provides exceptional views of Yosemite Valley along the way. This track is steep on the way up, and somewhat slippery on the way down. It is not recommended for hikers with injuries.
The initial climb requires traversing a mixture of sand and semi-uneven steps. This portion of the journey is not too difficult, and offers the opportunity to look around and enjoy the scenery while hiking. About halfway up the trail, visitors will experience an astonishing view of Yosemite Valley and the Sentinel.
The second half of the trail up is widely regarded as relentlessly steep. It is encouraged that travelers take frequent breaks to avoid tiring out too soon in the journey.
The Upper Yosemite Falls Track leads hikers to the path to Eagle Peak. While it is by no means required to visit Eagle Peak, it is the highest of the Three Brothers rock formation and offers unparalleled views of Yosemite Valley. It sits just East of the El Capitan summit. It is key to note that this climb is not recommended during the winter months, as snowfall can envelop trail markers. The path to Eagle Peak is shady, not too slippery, and a bit easier of an uphill climb. Visitors enjoy the shady respite of the dense forest. The path is intermittently narrow, and periodically requires hikers to scale up large and flat rocks. This area is wonderful spot for a lunch or rest break.
In the final leg to the El Capitan summit, the trail ebbs and flows in elevation, hiking through rocks and forest. There is a small creek about 1/2 mile from the summit, and it is recommended that hikers with water filters stop to refill their water supply.
The summit is wide and spacious. It is the perfect place to soak in gorgeous views of Yosemite Valley while celebrating the accomplishment of completing a challenging hike.
Finally, the descent is considered to be just as difficult as the hike up to the summit. It is important to prepare, rest, and relax before climbing down. The climb down is a bit flatter, but smooth paving can cause hikers to slip on the way down. It is recommended that hikers take their time and traverse down the trail slowly.
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