Road Trip America – Boy Meets Rock, Niko and El Capitan

One of the gargantuan icons of Yosemite National Park, El Capitan is a towering hunk of granite glory that is coveted by climbers around the world. As we passed by the giant on our way into the valley each morning, Niko gawked at El Cap with an open mouth and glistening eyes – it’s his ultimate dream to climb the beast. Personally, a 3-day climb up a 3,000 foot face of granite does not sound like the recipe for making me a happy camper, but it’s impossible not to respect the daredevils who ascend El Capitan.

On our way out of the park one day, Niko and I stopped near El Capitan to get a closer look at his dream. As we trekked along the trail that led towards the base of the monolith, we came upon an older couple who were peering up the giant wall through binoculars — it could only mean one thing: climbers. Barely able to make out the tiny specks with my naked eye, I used my camera zoom to focus in on the two figures perched high above the tree line. Check out the photo above: those red and gray dots to the right of the tree are two climbers on their way up El Cap’s tormenting face. Wow.

Niko convinced me to veer off the beaten path and journey through the thickets down a rugged little trail frequented by climbers. It led us past fallen trees and scurrying quails before introducing us to the granite monolith that Niko had always dreamed of touching.

We were fortunate enough to have made this pitstop while a group of men were beginning their adventure up The Nose, the infamous route that Alex Honnold soloed in less than six hours. (Check out an awesome video of Honnold on The Nose here!)

For mortal climbers, it typically takes around three days to complete the ascent of The Nose. That means roughing out the valley’s spontaneous afternoon storms while dangling thousands of feet in the air, sleeping on portaledges, and hauling up days’ worth of food and water during your climb. Crazy, right?

El Capitan is a truly impressive rock formation renown for its classic fame throughout the climbing community and beyond. Any trip to Yosemite National Park would be incomplete without a making a stop to take in the glory of this beautiful granite giant.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

Every climber shares a united dream: climbing at Yosemite National Park in California. After ditching Moab a few days early due to relentless rain, our crew shifted gears and headed out to the land of El Capitain — with a new addition in tow, our new British buddy Paul, who traveled with us from the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Utah throughout our entire time spent in Yosemite.

We were a few weeks shy of the seasonal opening of the Tioga Pass, so we were forced to scoot north, then west before entering the park. From the moment you pass through the Ranger’s Entrance Station into the great land of Yosemite, there is a deep, undeniable connection to everything around you. The gushing Merced River, the curled baby fern blossoms, the snarky blue Stellar’s Jays that tended to cock their heads in apparent disapproval of everything we did.

Not a bad first impression, eh? As eager as we all were to get our hands on some Yosemite granite, we couldn’t help but pull off at a scenic overlook to admire the stunning valley. Check out iconic landmarks El Capitan and Half Dome off in the distance. Believe it or not, that group shot was entirely candid – Paul’s hand on hip and all. On our way back to the car I made friends with a little mammal buddy, who kindly posed for a few shots.

Whether you’re a climber, hiker, photographer, or simply enjoy the natural wonders that our country has to offer (and has graciously protected thanks to fellows like John Muir), Yosemite National Park is truly a destination that you absolutely must visit within your lifetime. My parents took me on a few weekend trips to the park while we lived in San Jose, California, and I regret not taking full advantage of my blessed situation. I could have been climbing these sweet spots a decade ago, instead my twelve year-old self complained all weekend about how I would have rather been hanging out with friends – ugh.

This trip, I vowed to make up for lost time and took full advantage of the park. We hiked, climbed, ate, conversed and explored our way through the valley for a week. All the important stops were made: splashing around Yosemite Falls, climbing and sleeping at Camp Four, spotting bears in meadows, traversing no-trespassing areas in Curry Village, spotting Half Dome, hiking to the base of El Capitan, bouldering in front of the Awhwanee Lodge – and everything was documented for your viewing pleasure.

I must have taken about a million shots of the waterfalls, but can you blame me? From hundreds of vantage points throughout the park, the falls kept peeking out from the treeline, just waiting to be photographed. I’ll share more when I give you a full post about wading through the frigid streams fed by the falls, but for now enjoy two photos from Curry Village. The first is of a dogwood blossom, which quickly became one of my favorite trees. The white ‘petals’ are actually modified leaves, which house the true tiny yellow flowers in the center. The second photo is just two ladybugs doin’ the dirty – couldn’t help myself.

There you have it: an introduction to Yosemite National Park. Didn’t get your fix of granite, creatures, climbing and nature? Fear not, this entire week will be filled with tales and photos from our time at Yosemite. Enjoy!