Amateur philosopher, writer
yosemite big wall climbing on el capitan

Yosemite NPS is implementing new Wilderness Permit requirements for overnight big-wall climbing routes. Photo: Yosemite NPS

The Inertia

It used to be that the gnar-levels required to do a big-wall climb in Yosemite were selective enough that there was no need for a permit or reservation system such as that required for regular camping on the valley floor. Not so any more.

As climbing has exploded into a world-recognized (and practiced) sport, Yosemite has become a Mecca, where climbers from all over the world come to scale the famous routes up features like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows. Starting May 21, climbers looking to do an overnight climb – required for many routes such as “The Nose”, which ascends the prominent face of El Capitan and can take a group of experienced climbers two to three days to complete – will need to apply for a Yosemite Wilderness Permit beforehand.


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Yosemite National Park is calling the new permit system a “pilot program” which is “being implemented to better understand how park visitors use Yosemite’s big walls and to help improve climbing wilderness ethics and reduce negative human impacts associated with overnight big wall use.” Climbers doing a day climb will not be required to obtain such a permit. During the two-year pilot, there will be no limits on the number of permits issued, and they will be free. Permits can be requested From 15 to four days before a climb, and will be approved or denied within 48 hours. This is, I would assume, is the main complaint for most who are unhappy with the decision (see the comments on the Instagram post above), reducing the spontaneity and sense of freedom that many come to Yosemite to experience.

That being said and climbing aside, Yosemite is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., and as such sees a high level of human impact. The spontaneity and adventure compared to the regulation required to keep the park naturally beautiful is a tough balance to strike, as national parks like Yosemite are meant to be shared, but must be preserved for future generations to enjoy as well. “The impacts of your actions may seem insignificant, but when multiplied by the thousands of people who climb here every year they can have a significant, long lasting effect,” the announcement page reads. “Your help is needed to ensure that Yosemite remains a beautiful and healthy place for the future.”


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