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Planning for El Capitan

Big Wall Episode #1 - Logistics

Big Wall Bible


The lightest but most useful thing you can take up a big wall is knowledge. Welcome to a resource that will help you be successful in getting up big rocks. Big walling is a big topic so we broke it into bite-size "pitches" with a video to START each one. The aim is to have lots of videos, photos, and written content in each section, not just of our stuff but your stuff as well. See HowNOT2 contribute your beta below.

Our courses are A-Z content in blog format, glued together with an overarching blog we call a textbook. A blog format is easy to read, easy to update, and easy to translate. Be sure to begin at the TEXTBOOK and at the end of each episode we'll point you to the next.

The number one thing that can cause you to bail and fail on a big wall is poor planning, getting late starts from difficult Yosemite logistics, bad weather, or bad partners. This is definitely NOT why you are looking at this course but it is 100% the MOST IMPORTANT rudder that will steer your ship.

  1. Season and Weather

  2. Picking your partner

  3. Topos and Routes

  4. Big Wall Permits

  5. Where to sleep and park

Weather Or Not To Climb


Yosemite's best conditions are in the Fall (Early September thru early December) but in the Spring (March thru May) you might get good weather, it's just that the rain can be more unpredictable, especially if planning 2 weeks out. Zion has similar weather but keep in mind you CANNOT climb that sandstone if it recently rained. It will damage the rock because it is so fragile.

Apparently, you risk going extinct if you don't like having sex when people are watching. Peregrine Falcons live high on the cliffs to be left alone until these hairless monkeys showed up out of nowhere. Apparently, they are sensitive during nesting season and make babies better when we aren't yelling off belay next to their nests. They win the raddest bird award because they are the fastest animals on earth. They are bouncing back from not existing in Yosemite and Zion to having about a dozen-ish nesting pairs. Climbers have helped the park monitor and protect this species and we need you to do the same. RESPECT PEREGRINE CLOSURES. This typically starts in March and can vary when it ends, but typically it's mid-July. About 20% of Yosemite is off limits and 80% of Zion's climbing routes are closed, though a few areas remain open, most notably the Temple of Sinawava in the upper canyon.




Let us interpret the forecast for you. A 10% chance of rain means 100% chance small droplets are coming. A 90% chance means you will be canyoning on your wall. Choose your timing wisely. If weather is sporadic and you have time, you can plan on fixing a few pitches and humping loads to the base so when a 2-3 day patch of good weather happens, you can have momentum and stoke. After sitting out 5 days of rain in the Yosemite Lodge's cafeteria, you'll have big wall blue balls and it makes getting on El Cap that much better.

Take heat seriously. If your wall is in the sun long enough on a hot day, you can't drink water faster than you lose it. 100F in the valley can feel like 200F on the wall. You can fix pitches and hump loads at night or super super early but don't be on the wall when it's hot.

REAL FORECAST EXAMPLE FROM 9/6/2022 - 9/9/2022:

NOT climbing weather


Finding and choosing a climbing partner.

Are you monogamous in your belaytionships or do you like hooking up El Capitan with just anyone? The saying "who you do something with is more important than what you do" is also true for big walls. You can have a grand ol' time even if you don't get to the top with the right person and a terrible time while sending it. However, you don't want to just pick your favorite person. They have to be super safe enough. Otherwise you could get a STD... Severely Timely Descent (that's the best we could come up with).

Where to find a partner

Things to look for in a partner

  • A resume: if they've done two multi-pitches and you've done 2 walls, don't jump on anything too serious with them. You want someone who matches or compliments your resume. Sharing stories of rad epics can usually tell you what someone is capable of, or help you learn how many pathological liars are out there.

  • Low sugar competency: can they do everything safely when they are bonking? Are they bipolar when they haven't eaten? Can they put a rope in a grigri correctly or even do a complex anchor building with no sleep for 36 hours? Unless you are really good at logistics and live in a unicorn wonderland, you and this potential partner will get very very tired climbing a wall and you want to make sure they can still function.

Don't trust anyone fully you just met. At the bare minimum, hike up an 80lb load at 4 am and fix two pitches before getting your permit later that morning to find out if you want to do the rest of the climb with them. Some people can sound pretty good and have all the gear, but then you watch them put a rope in a grigri and you start getting more red flags than a bull in a pen. Ideally, you go climb a few easy days with them and find out if you are down to go risk your life and a precious week off work with who met.

Don't Pick The Nose

Topos and Maps

For the love of the Captain, please don't pick The Nose as your first route. If you think you are that amazing, go smash out a climb on Washington Column in a day FIRST, and then the next day go for the Nose. The first 6 pitches wander 1000ft sideways making hauling and following more complex. This slows the newbs down substantially and gets in everyone's way.