Route: El Capitan (CA)

Submitted by Jason Hardrath… on Thu, 07/04/2019 - 01:03pm
California, US
14 mi
Vertical Gain
4,600 ft

The sharp, recognizable features of El Capitan are an icon with global reach. The Yosemite Valley and all the wonders it holds are a world class travel destination. Among them all, it has been this granite monolith that has most called out to climbers from around the world.  It was the 1950s when Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore made their assault on “El Cap” that took 45 days, over 18 months. Finally completing their first ascent on November 12th, 1958. 

Since then times for climbing these 3000’ vertical feet have gotten faster and faster. Speed climbing records for the route up “The Nose” date back to 1975. You can look at the progression of speed climbing through history here.

Progress of the runners challenge:

In June of 2019 being inspired by the releases of “Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo”, Jason Hardrath proposed a “runners vs. climbers” FKT where the runner would start at the bottom of “The Nose” route and race up to the same tree the climbers tag as their finish, but taking a long 9.8 mile route up past Yosemite Falls to get there. At the time, it seemed more reasonable to establish a 14 mile, TH-TH round trip effort from Camp 4 to the summit of El Capitan and back, since runners are more used to these parameters for an effort.

But in November 2020, after being inspired by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell’s landmark 1:58:07 breaking of The Nose Speed Record, Ben Koss took on the challenge of starting at the correct base of “The Nose”, running down the road, through Historic Camp 4, up the Yosemite Falls Trail to the summit of El Cap, then ran all the way past the summit, scrambling down to tag the “famous tree” that all of speed climber efforts have tagged over the years. He had successfully “out run” the climbers with a time of 1:54:55.  See his GPX file below for the runners vs. climbers “Nose Ascent” variation. The base of the climb is at (37.7288, -119.6368) and the correct tree is at (37.7300, -119.6356). See photos to aid in visual identification. You may need to do a little scouting to find these correctly.

Route Directions:

The TH-TH route is the standard "runner" route.  Time starts and finishes at the edge of the pavement in the Camp 4 parking lot positioned at the start/end of the trail. Follow the signs for Upper Yosemite Falls (this includes taking a right at the 0.10 mile mark) until you are up the initial switchbacks by mile 3...then follow the signs for El Capitan like you see in the photos below! There are little bench like cairns at the high point of El Capitan, which is the turn around.  Then reverse back to parking lot!

Nose Ascent:  No, not the 31 pitches of 5.9 / A2!  But a way for a runner to challenge the exact time on the most famous rock climb on Earth (1h58m07s by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, as of end of 2020).  You start at the base of the rock wall where the Nose route begins, and finish at the tree that marks the end of the climb.  Run the most direct / fastest route, cutting through Camp 4, to the Yosemite Falls TH.  Then follow the above route to the high point, but continue another ~1/2 mile, descending 500', to the famous tree (see 4th picture below).  You really need to scout this to know where you're going, and be sure not to overshoot or you will end up back where you started in a big hurry! This route is 9.8 miles with 4600 feet of elevation gain.

Further Research: