Virtual Climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan: it doesn’t matter if you’re afraid of heights!

When I was MUCH younger, I climbed Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas. It’s a huge dome of pink-colored igneous rock that, while steep in some areas, doesn’t require actually climbing to reach it’s curving cap. It’s a hike, and one doesn’t want to do it in really hot weather, but I remember I enjoyed the effort. Like I said, I was MUCH younger.

I have never–and at my current age, will never–actually climb a mountain, or anything that requires ropes and hooks and cams or whatever all that gear is called. I don’t like heights (well, the Enchanted Rock is curved rather than sheer, gradual rather than abrupt), at least not the kind that leaves the world below looking like a gigantic plummet waiting for me to slip. So I was really interested when I saw that Google Street View had completed a virtual climb with real rock-climbers up the sheer face of El Capitan. Once again they have created an opportunity to see a place and engage in an activity that I would never otherwise experience.

El Capitan (Spanish for The Captain or The Chief), is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Literally a granitic monolith, the formation is about 3,000 feet from base to summit along its tallest face. The top can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail located next to Yosemite Falls, and proceeding west. However, because of its vertical aspect (which I refer to as sheer) El Capitan is a popular challenge for rock climbers.

The virtual climb provides an actual cameraman (Tommy Caldwell) who is a climber, too, scaling the face of the formation with the climbers seen on camera. We don’t really see him, but the shots verify that he shared in the exhausting work of the climb, straight up!

I found an introductory video (4:01 minutes) that explains how the virtual tools on the tour work so the viewer can participate in the climb. Check it out here before you go to the full virtual experience. It might take a moment for the intro to run, so give it a minute of patience. Once you’ve watched the intro, you’re ready for the tour.

Some explanation (and a few visual sweeteners first). As expected, the climb starts at the base of El Capitan and goes up from there.

The photo provides the name of the location, and the turquoise-colored box titled “Explore” takes you into that virtual moment.
White dots on the right of the screen move you up the formation a photo at a time. Start at the bottom.

When you start the actual tour, you’ll see a line of small white dots along the right side of the screen. Each dot represents a point where you will have a 360-degree view of a given location in the climb. In the photo (example at left), the location of the climbers is named, and a turquoise-colored box titled “Explore” takes you into the virtual moment. You’ll see a few more white dots embedded in the photo that provide “descriptions” for items related to the climb.

The blue line shows some of the route, and blue points indicate where photos were taken.

Here are photos of some of the views from the climb:

Lynn Hill reaching for a hold.

It’s cool to be half way up and do a 360 view. You’ll see the climber, the rock face, and the outward view from that point.

A scary view!
Night on the largest ledge available.
Climbing the “Changing Corners”
Small tents hang from hooks that keep them on the ledge.
Alex Honnold relaxing on the “Texas Flake”
Sprinting to the finish tree at the top of the climb.
A confident leap by an expert.

The climbers seem fearless, using fingers and toes to cling to the sheer wall, leaping and scrunching up narrow ways. They depend on the security of ropes, carabiners, harnesses, and more, as well as their fellow climbers.

The top most dot on the right side of the screen gives you the chance to see 3 more exploratory views. Take time to look at those.

This is “Pitch 19”. Takes my breath away.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the El Capitan delights, go here to take the tour. Take your time, enjoy the view, grateful that you can do so without the exhausting effort or the fear of a fall! And thanks to the intrepid climbers and cameraman who did the work!

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