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El Capitan

Located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end, El Capitan is one of the most iconic rock formations in the world.

El Cap in Spring

El Capitan in spring

At more than 3,000 vertical feet of sheer rock granite, El Capitan is a beacon for visitors, a muse for photographers and one of the world’s ultimate challenges for climbers.

Best time to see it? Any day of the year. In winter time the swirling mists of the valley give El Capitan an almost mystical quality. In spring you can enjoy the lush meadows surrounding the base of El Cap and picnic in the shadow of this beautiful giant.

Best view? Inspiration Point by foot. Tunnel View by car.

Most knock-your-socks-off, one-of-a-kind El Capitan moment? During the last two weeks of February when conditions align perfectly and the setting sun turns the waters of Horsetail Fall into a dancing fire of light. Often called the “Firefall” this stunning mirage of water and light creates a beacon for photographers from all over the world.

The formation was named “El Capitan” by the Mariposa Battalion when they explored the valley in 1851. El Capitan (“the captain”, “the chief”) was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as “To-to-kon oo-lah” or “To-tock-ah-noo-lah”.  It is easy to see why this imposing rock face is known throughout the world as “the Capitan.”

El Capitan is now one of the most popular formations in the world for climbers. “El Cap” has two main faces, the Southwest (on the left when looking directly at the wall) and the Southeast. Between the two faces juts “the Nose”. The Nose was first climbed in 1958 by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 47 days and was altogether an 18-month project.

You can experience Yosemite climbing with the Yosemite Mountaineering School which caters to first time climbers and experienced climbers alike.


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