The Big Kahuna, the Mother Ship, Ground Zero, whatever you call it, El Capitan dominates the landscape in Yosemite. Short approaches, and miles deep, perfect cracks are the norm. Climbing the Nose of El Cap should be every climber’s goal. It’s that good! Most folks spend three to five days climbing El Cap for their first time, and rarely climb harder than 5.8 on the wall (bigwall climbing can be much more difficult than cragging, because you carry two ropes, and face other logistical and vertical challenges). Go For It!
The Finest. The cream of the crop–classic splitter cracks for miles! Mostly sunny, though the West Face gets shade till early afternoon.
Approach: Take the obvious trail just west of the intersection of Northside Drive and El Cap Crossover to the base of the Nose. For routes to the east of the North America Wall, park at the large turnout on the right of Northside drive ~500’ east of El Capitan Meadow. Hike directly up the talus field above, aiming for the start of the route Zodiac. If you have a particularly heavy load, you may want to use the standard approach. Bear boxes are located at both this turnout and at El Capitan Bridge.
Descent: The fastest and most popular descent is via the East Ledges. It is an easy climbers trail with a few rappels, but don’t try it in the dark for the first time. Walk east, along the rim of the southeast face. Just after the top of Zodiac (a flat ledge at the cliff edge with a few bolts and a small pine tree), take an informal trail that leads away from the cliff edge and crosses the drainage of Horsetail Fall. Follow this trail until it reaches a short 3rd class section above a gigantic slabby dropoff. Traverse left on a slabby trail, to a bushy trail that hugs the wall. This trail ends at a large slab that faces the “Wild Dikes” formation on the left. Move down a short 4th class section in front of the Wild Dikes and walk skier’s right across the drainage. Scramble more or less straight down, until you reach a ledge with a small pine tree. Four rappels bring you to a large ledge above a drainage. Scramble east down some 4th class and take the climber’s trail back to the El Capitan Picnic Area. The descent takes 1.5-3 hours. Alternatively to the East Ledges, you can walk 0.25 miles to the summit of El Cap and follow the Eagle Peak and Upper Yosemite Falls trails for 8.5 miles to Camp 4.
Approach most El Capitan routes by parking on Northside Drive by the meadow directly below the cliff.