Learn and Explore
Writing this last chapter has been difficult and painful. It involves do's and don'ts, obligations and responsibilities. Most climbers are individuals who love freedom--they climb because it makes them feel free. We may expect then, that having others suggest how they ought to climb will rub wrong. There used to be so few climbers that it didn't matter where one drove a piton, there wasn't a worry about demolishing the rock. Now things are different. There are so many of us, and there will be more. A simple equation exists between freedom and numbers: the more people the less freedom. If we are to retain the beauties of the sport, the fine edge, the challenge, we must consider our style of climbing; and if we are not to mutilate and destroy the routes, we must eliminate the heavy handed use of pitons and bolts." — Royal Robbins, Basic Rockcraft, 1977.
Property left unattended in Yosemite for longer than 24 hours is considered abandoned and may be impounded. However, the National Park Service recognizes that there are circumstances when it is impractical for climbers to return to fixed ropes within 24 hours. In such cases we ask that you leave ropes and equipment in place only as long as you are actively using the lines and tag your lines with your name, contact number, and date fixed. .
Stashed gear, food, water, and fixed ropes in particular, take away from the sense of risk and adventure that climbers and other Wilderness travelers expect to experience. Most of Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness and must remain “without permanent improvements or human habitation… with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”
Wilderness, and climbing in particular, is not intended to be convenient or easy (ironically that’s why many are drawn to it). Please do your part to maintain Yosemite’s wildness. In 2001 volunteers and rangers removed over four thousand feet of trash rope from Yosemite’s walls, not including a few thousand feet of junk rope from the Heart Ledge rappels by conscientious climbers.
Permits and Sleeping on Big Walls
A wilderness permit is required to camp anywhere in Yosemite’s Wilderness. However, an exception to this rule is made for climbers sleeping off the ground on multi-day routes. But, it is not permitted to sleep at the base of El Capitan, Washington Column, Leaning Tower, Liberty Cap, or any other walls in Yosemite Valley. Camping at the base of the NWF of Half Dome or other backcountry walls is allowed with a valid wilderness permit.
All food, drinks, toiletries, and other scented items must be stored properly at all times to protect Yosemite’s bears and other wildlife. (Learn more about food storage while climbing.)
Yosemite’s wilderness permit system attempts to achieve two goals: limit the number of people in the Yosemite Wilderness to ensure a more pristine wilderness experience, and educate wilderness users how to minimize their impacts while in the wilderness.
As climbing grows in popularity, impacts from the sport increase, and the need for education grows. Currently, the number of climbers and their resulting impacts are not seen as large enough to warrant a permit system, but this question is open to debate.
“Why can’t we sleep at the base of El Capitan?” For the same reason visitors can’t just sleep anywhere they want in the park. In order to protect Yosemite while letting people enjoy it, the National Park Service restricts camping to certain areas and limits the number of campsites in those areas. Wherever you camp, minimize your impact; carry out all trash, store your food appropriately, build fires only in legal campsites with established fire rings, bury your human waste at least six inches underground or pack it out, and leave no trace behind.
Human Waste and Trash
It is illegal to throw anything off a cliff in Yosemite.
When climbing, all trash, including human waste, must be carried down from the cliff and disposed off appropriately.
“What should I do with my extra food and water at the top of a climb?”
Anything thrown from the wall, no matter what the size, is litter and can potentially injure people below. Haul bags thrown from the wall have nearly struck climbers on the ground (really) and have been mistaken for falling climbers multiple times. Planning to pick it up later is NOT an excuse. If it leaves the road with you, it should come back to the road with you.
Most climbers planning to spend more than a day on a climb know they need to bring a “poop tube.”
Tips for vertical relief
Go to the bathroom in a paper bag, and then put that bag in some sort of container to carry off the cliff (a difficult process at hanging belays, but one that can be mastered with practice, determination, and flexibility).
What to use?
Bottom line: use something, anything. Everyone has their own technique, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
Where do I empty it?
However you haul it, getting it to the summit is only the first part; it has to come down as well. The summits of popular big walls in Yosemite are often littered with stinking tubes. Carry your tube down and empty it into a pit toilet like those at the base of the East Ledges descent from El Capitan. Paper bags are fine to go down the drain but plastic bags are not (they clog the pumps used to empty the toilets).
Yosemite Valley boasts some of the best bouldering in Yosemite and the sport continues to grow in popularity every year. With increased popularity comes increased impacts.
Here are some things you can do to help out:
Slacklines are popping up all over the place. The National Park Service worked with local “slackers” to create a slackline policy:
Anyone who has spent any time learning the art of slacking knows how damaging these lines can be to trees. There are many ways to pad and protect the anchor trees (carpet, sticks, sleeping pads, haul bags, clothing, etc.), but make sure whatever you do is working.
Bolting Policy and New Routes
Drilling protection bolts for climbing is permitted in Yosemite as long as it is done by hand. Motorized power drills are prohibited. The National Park Service does not inspect, maintain, or repair bolts and other climbing equipment anywhere in the park.
Beyond this simple rule, there is a strong community bolting ethic in Yosemite. If you plan to bolt a new route or alter an existing one, talk with local climbers who are familiar with Yosemite’s route history and traditions before permanently altering the cliff face. No one wants to see the rock damaged by bolts being placed and chopped.
“Gardening” (the name given to removing plant life from cracks) is not allowed in Yosemite. Many climbers remove the occasional bit of grass or leaves to place protection or find a finger-lock, but this is nothing compared to the serious damage done establishing a new area.
The damage caused establishing a new route is far greater than that caused by each subsequent party. If you are considering establishing a new route ask yourself, “Is this route worth the damage it will cause?” “Is it a classic line that others will enjoy climbing, or I am simply interested in putting up my own route?” “What will climbers fifty years from now think of this route or this bolt?” There are thousands of established routes in Yosemite already–maybe try a few more of those before making a new mark on Yosemite’s Wilderness.
Most of the Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness, and motorized items, including power drills, are not allowed in these areas. In addition to this Congressional mandate, the park has an interest in limiting the impacts from climbing while enabling climbers to enjoy the park. The resulting rule allows climbers the unusual privilege of permanently altering Yosemite’s granite cliffs by adding bolts in the location of their choosing, but inherently limits the number of those bolts by requiring that they be hand drilled.
Last updated: November 2, 2020