Nat Geo explores Yosemite’s climbing culture

Yesterday we posted a story on five ways to explore national parks without using a vehicle, and one of the items that made the list was a suggestion to go climbing in Yosemite National Park. As noted, Yosemite is one of the greatest climbing destinations in the world, with towering granite walls that attract the best climbers from across the globe, something that National Geographic discovered recently when they visited the place.

Writer Mark Jenkins went on assignment in Yosemite Valley for a cover story in the May issue of Nat Geo. While there, he discovered some amazing athletes pushing their skills to the limit on Half Dome and El Capitan, two of the most well known and iconic big walls in the rock climbing universe.

Chief amongst these athletes (NG calls them “superclimbers”) is Alex Honnold, a 23-year old who has made Yosemite his personal playground over the past few years. Back in 2008, he stunned the climbing community by free soloing the 2140-foot tall Half Dome. For the uninitiated, when someone free solos they are climbing with just their chalk bag and shoes, and no ropes of any kind. For an encore in 2010, Honnold tackled both Half Dome and the 3000-foot El Cap, back-to-back, in just 8 hours.Honnold isn’t the only great climber that frequents Yosemite however, and Jenkins found a number of them on his visit. He reports that one morning while walking through the park’s notorious Camp 4, a popular site for climbers, he heard over a dozen languages being spoken, which is a testament to how popular the region is with the rock climbing crowd.

Jenkins, who first climbed in the valley back in the 70′s, discovered that things have changed dramatically since he climbed there. He found that amongst today’s climbers, it is all about speed, and they’ll eschew certain gear, such as backpacks, helmets, and other items, just so they can move more quickly up the rock face. This is quite a departure from the old days, when climbing legend Royal Robbins first climbed Half Dome. Back in 1957, it took him, and his partner, five days to complete the route. Today, Honnold can do it solo in just a little over 2 hours.

The full National Geographic article is available online by clicking here. It offers some great insights into the climbing world, which can be a bit mystifying for those who don’t “get” it. The story is actually a good read for climbers and non-climbers alike, holding up well to Nat Geo’s usual high standards. The article is also accompanied by a gallery of great photos that were shot for the story by by Jimmy Chin, one of the best adventure photographers working today. They capture the spirit of climbing in Yosemite very well and can be found here.

[Photo credit: Mike Murphy via WikiMedia]