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Climbers Are Mixed About Yosemite’s Evolving Big Wall Permit Program

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El Capitan's 3,000 ft wall.

El Capitan: 3,000 feet of sheer granite from base to summit.
Tom Robertson / Shutterstock

Now, climbers must register to do the Nose on El Cap, Half Dome, Washington Column, Leaning Tower, and a few others. Not everyone is happy about the decision.

“This is a huge deal for Valley climbers,” says climber and writer Peter Beal. “It interferes with trip planning and on-site decision-making, and was implemented with no public comment or waiting period.”

To address the comment and public outreach issue, the Park Service hosted virtual town hall events starting September 7, 2022—including this year’s Facelift event on September 22. Another event will be coming up on November 12 at the Bishop High Ball-Cragging Classic.

“How we will address the issue in the future depends on what we learn from public comments happening now and park managers’ analysis of the cost-benefit of various options,” says lead climbing ranger Jesse McGahey.

Climbers on granite wall
Daniel Melendrez

“Most of Yosemite’s big walls begin in designated wilderness,” McGahey explains, “but due to the variables involved in this activity, a wilderness permit system for overnight walls has not been implemented in the past. We’re completing our two-season pilot but have not decided if we will require permits in the future.”

He said the range of options includes:

  1. Going back to no permit requirement.
  2. Self-registration year-round with additional outreach and education efforts.
  3. Self-registration during the off-season and in-person during the high season.
  4. A hybrid of self-registration, in-person pick-up in peak season, and a print-from-home using a system such as for frequent wall climbers.

“I was on top of El Cap last week and saw positive changes,” says McGahey. “I haven’t seen any fire rings, and I didn’t discover any illegal caches.”

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