There is little doubt that Yosemite National Park is a Mecca in the climbing world. A place where pros come to test themselves and regular people–who can be pretty damn good climbers in their own right–come to see the granite wonderland that is Yosemite. During summer nights, camp cities pop up as climbers from around the globe prepare to scale routes on gigantic features like Half Dome or El Capitan. For not just its climbing, but its culture, there is no place like Yosemite.
That’s why I set out to meet and document climbers visiting the park who aren’t there to set a speed record or scale anything without ropes. What are real people, who have real jobs and just want to climb in their free time doing in Yosemite? Here are a few of the climbers I met along the way.
Finding partners in Yosemite can sometimes be tough. That’s why you usually bring your own. And why it was so cool to meet father-daughter team, Daniel and Hannah Duane. “It’s definitely easier as a kid in the gym to get strong really fast,” says Hannah. “I could be like ‘Oh, I want to go do this gnarly route’ but then also I don’t have the technical skills to run the rope systems. It’s cool to have someone who can teach you all that (and push you).”
Climbers are an honest bunch. They see the world as it is. Leon Diependaele, from the Netherlands, made sure he had his sponsor’s sticker well in view to make sure they got credit. “A good friend I climb with a lot has some gear sponsors and likes posting videos or pictures about what we’re climbing,” he said. “He mentions his sponsors in those videos but forgets to mention that I’m not sponsored by those companies so I figured I should give my own sponsor some credit.”
The climbing in Yosemite is so challenging. It can really get in people’s heads. “I wasn’t planning on climbing here,” says Bend, Oregon’s Missy Swearingen. “On the drive down, it was ten hours, I was like ‘alright, we’ll do it!’, even though I’m so afraid of rope climbing. It gives me the hibbie jeebies to climb with a rope. When I get alone with the rock, alone with my mind, I start catastrophizing. I haven’t found a way to combat that psychologically yet.”
The male to female ratio in the park is tilted way to one side so it’s not often you see a pair of female climbing partners. “There’s not a lot of female pairs,” says Connecticut’s Libby Henry. “There are mixed-gender pairs, but there is a really weird dynamic in those pairs. A lot of the time it’s guys dragging up less experienced girlfriends.”
Many people come to the park for the culture as much as anything else. “Beforehand I was so worried about where I would stay and being caught (by park rangers) and whether or not the Yosemite dirtbag dream was still possible,” says British Columbia’s Jaron Pham. “Turns out it is. And I was stoked to realize that!”