Five for All Time

A brief survey of El Capitan's most mythic ascents and a sampling of the rock's approximately 100 other routes, plus storied features on The Nose.

Oct 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

1. Salathé Wall
Yvon Chouinard named this 36-pitch route after his hero, John Salathé, the Swiss-born blacksmith who pioneered big-wall climbing in America and forged the first hard-steel pitons—even though neither Chouinard nor Salathé was the first to climb it. Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Tom Frost first clambered over the final headwall in 1961 and, sharing Chouinard's high opinion of Salathé, chose to formalize the name.

2. The Nose
In 45 days over the course of one and a half years, Warren Harding, 34 at the time, along with a changing roster of partners, placed 700 pitons and 125 bolts before reaching the summit via The Nose on November 12, 1958. Thirty-six years after this first ascent, Seattle resident Lynn Hill, 33, climbed it without mechanical aid in less than one day—still the fastest free ascent of The Nose.

3. North America Wall
Golden-era (1950s) Yosemite climbers didn't find the loose and flaky black diorite of the southeast face as appealing as the white granite of the southwest face, so this route was not climbed until 1964, when Royal Robbins put together the best team in the Valley: Chouinard, Frost, Pratt, and himself. Named for the shape of the discolored rock, it was the first route done without fixed ropes—and as a result raised the bar for good style.

4. Muir Wall
Shortly after Chouinard and T. M. Herbert put up this route in June 1965, Robbins chose the most dull and tiresome way to repeat it: solo, reclimbing every pitch in order to remove the pitons he'd placed minutes earlier. "I began to hate the climb," he wrote later. Nonetheless, the nine-and-a-half-day ascent remains one of the most inspiring feats in Yosemite history.

5. Pacific Ocean Wall
Even after Jim Bridwell, Billy Westbay, John Fiske, and Fred East first summited Pacific Ocean Wall in 1975, Camp 4 rock rats considered this the biggest challenge of the decade because of the unstable belays, spotty protection, and necessity for sophisticated aid tools. Today, routes such as Wyoming Sheep Ranch, straight through the North America diorite, and nearby Lost in America are among the hardest climbs on El Cap.

6. West Buttress
7. Mescalito
8. Sea of Dreams
9. Wyoming Sheep Ranch
10. Tangerine Trip
11. Zodiac

a. Sickle Ledge
b. Stoveleg Cracks
c. Dolt Tower
d. Boot Flake
e. Great Roof