Social Distancing, Popular on El Cap

“Until the law was passed the crowding on El Cap was stupid,” one climber said.

By Duane Raleigh | April 1st, 2020

Gotcha, April Fools!



The California Department of Public Health order that requires humans to stay at least six feet away from each other to slow the spread of the coronavirus has had an unintended consequence: El Cap climbers like it.

“Until the law was passed the crowding on El Cap was stupid,” says Jeremely Walker, 47, who has climbed the Big Stone’s classic line the Nose 97 times. “Last November I did the Nose and we were literally playing Twister with another team. We had to share pee stances. It got bad when the wind was up.”

Social distancing in Yosemite National Park
Social distancing, El Cap style.

According to National Park Service data, traffic on El Capitan has only increased since Warren Harding first scaled the monolith in 1958. While two years would pass before “El Cap” received its second ascent, by Royal Robbins in 1960, the rock is now climbed some 12,000 times annually. “I visited a Walmart on Memorial Day,” said El Cap veteran Walt Whipley, “and it was a break from El Cap. Up there, people weren’t respecting your personal space. Speed climbers were the worst. One dude climbed right over me, grabbed me by the belt and pulled my pants and underwear down. Anything to knock off a second.”

Due to the crowding, the Park Service had considered implementing a registration process and placing limits on the number of climbers who can tackle El Cap, similar to the system now used on North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, where outhouses had to be installed partway up the mountain to combat an outbreak of typhus due to crowding.

Now, thanks to the new California state law climbers have to stay relatively far apart, limiting the number of people who can be on the rock at one time, and a rankling permit system seems backburnered at least for the near future.

“It’s too bad it took a virus to spread us all out,” says Whipley, “but we’ll all now be able to have a richer experience up there in the wilderness, just like Harding.”


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