The Giant rock formation known as El Capitan in Yosemite is something of a phenomenon. The giant granite monolith is at the center of Yosemite's attraction and is sought by millions of rock climbers from all over the world. It is one of Yosemite's iconic images and among the most photographed. even at a distance, it makes one feel really small. When we drove closer, I felt the feeling of a dwarf standing near a mountain. It is hard to imagine one piece of rock standing at the height this rock stands. Not to mention how vertical it is.
It is hard to get perspective on its size, as I mentioned, it does make one feel really small. An 80 ft high tree on the edge of the rock looked like a small match stick sticking out of the rock. I guess one comes to Yosemite for vistas and features like this.
We saw hundreds of rock climbers preparing to climb it, while others were midway through it. The park's rescue team was active around El Capitan with as many climbers on the rock. It blew my mind to see people risk their lives to climb the rock, at nearly 8000 ft tall, it is flat and white and unbelievable that one would dare it.
Too early for the rock climbers to begin their ascents. We had a thunderstorm and showers the day before. But, Camp 4 rock climbers were preparing for the summer events, doing practice climbs along the base. Permits are required for El Capitan because climbing it requires an overnight stay. Climbers are now regulated and cannot leave behind climbing spikes in this monolithic rock of granite, commonly believed to be the world's largest rock. Anyway, here are some ground view shots taken in April 2013
El Capitan stands 3,593 feet from base to summit, making it the largest single monolith of granite in the world. Standing as guardian for Yosemite Valley, it overshadows most of the many other sites within Yosemite National Park. This location within the park is noted as a rock climbers dream come true. Climbers can be seen with the aid of binoculars, weaving their way up to the top. Experienced only, would be the guideline for this ascent.
Yosemite Valley is popular for good reason. It's a stunningly beautiful place. If you could just manage to get rid of the other million people loitering about, it would be paradise. While we spent most of our two weeks in the park mostly away from the Valley, there is not way to totally avoid it and really you should not do that anyway. It's something that has to be seen and if you do it later in the afternoon, you can avoid some of the crowds, at least those that are day tripping.
Do yourself a favor and use the park's free shuttle bus and just get on and off where you like. You'll spend a lot less time than you would trying to find a parking spot.
One of the top sites in the Valley is El Capitan. This 7500 foot sheer rock formation is a favorite of climbers who scale the vertical face. You can hike to the top via a long trail from the Valley or an easier one from Tioga Road.
El Capitan is said to be the world's largest single piece of rock. Because of it's unique uniformity throughout and the lack of fractures, 'El Cap' is a unique place to see the process of Exfoliation. That's where the outer surface literally pops off. The rock is held together by the great weight of it's mass. The exposed surface facing the valley has very little weight pressing against it, so it occasionally pushes itself off.
When that happens, there is a large pop or bang or explosive sound and rock comes tumbling down. Usually, it's small pieces. But in the 1990's several thousand tons of rock fell. It landed just feet in front of a Park Ranger's car. He had stopped to see what was causing the popping sound, when the mountain let loose. If he'd have been driving, he would have been in the middle, under tons of rock.
El Capitan dominates the Yosemite Valley! Geologists think the majestic El Capitan was created 96-102 million years ago.
This giant block of granite stands over 3,000 feet high. It's a popular site for climbers, who come from around the world to test their skills.
GEOLOGIC INFO: El Capitan is comprised of a particularly tough 'granitic' rock. Although it appears to be of solid granite, there could be fractures behind and parallel to the cliff face. Granitic rocks originate deep within the earth while it is under great pressure from overlying rock, which can be miles thick.
I suggest the best viewing site for this mega monolith is at the end of the Wawona Tunnel. There you'll also see Bridalveil Falls.
For more geologic information see: Yosemite National Park/Rock Formations in Yosemite Valley; Roadside Geology of Yosemite Valley by Garry Hayes; The Geologic Story of Yosemite Valley by N.King Huber.
At the base of the valley, at one of the turn-outs, tourists stand observing the wonderful granite rock known as El Capitan. Those who come equiped with binoculars however can also find and observe the climbers. During one day, I observed four different pairs of climbers on different routes up the rock face. I've done this several times, and believe me it's not easy. The view finder on your zoom camera won't be good enough. One needs a good pair of binoculars just to spot the beetle sized figures on the face of the rock. I have 42x binoculars that are better than the average pair tourists bring, and I have to be very steady and patient. But, I also look along the veins and crevices looking for the places where mountaineers are typically spotted. After I spot climbers with my binoculars, I take my 12x zoom and point and shoot. I also shoot using my 36x digital zoom as any picture is better than none. These images have been cropped and enhanced for the best that I can do with my point and shoot super zoom digital camera. The first image shows the general view, and the second or third shows a crop of the figures that's likely a little grainy.
I haven't yet climbed El Capitan, and since I am more than four score years I doubt that I will have the chance. However there is much pleasure to be had watching others make the effort. I suggest that, besides your camera and possibly binoculars, the best thing to take is a folding armchair. It will pay big dividends over time and make your experience at El Capitan truly enjoyable.
From almost anywhere in the valley you will be able to see the shear granite rock face of El Capitan. From the base of the valley it protrudes 3,593 feet (1,095 m) and is claimed to be the single largest monolith of granite in the world. It is a climbers paradise for those of you who have the propper equipment.
There are several places just off the valley roads where one can park, open up the sun roof, relax, admire the gorgious block of granite that is El Cap, and then try to spot the climbers. Since El Cap is perhaps the busiest climber's rock in the world, there are always climbers somewhere on its face. Most people can't spot them because binoculars are necessary from most roadside locations, so don't forget to bring binos. Even with a good pair of binos, it can take careful study of the huge rock expanse. I've got a 36x (12x optical) with image stabilization on my digital camera, but it took a combination of spotting with the binoculars and a lot of luck with the camera before I could get even semi decent images. Professionals would need a big lens worth many thousands of dollars to do this work. I shoot quite a number to get just a few semi-decent ones. Check my results. Click on the photo to the left to expand and compare images. The climbers still look like beetles climbing in these low-resolution images created for the website. The General View image of the mountain is optically zoomed quite a bit, and provides a good reference for the optical challenge I had to face for the other images. Recently, I had a VT friend on the forum insist that digital zoom was unnecessary and that any image taken in full optical zoom can be later cropped and zoomed in Photoshop. Here, climber images show a considerable need for magnification and digital enhancement to even locate where the climbers are positioned. So, while I'm a fan of good glass and optical lenses, this is one situation where that extra digital zoom push was necessary to even get the shot. Good luck with your binoculars and camera. It also helps to have good software for additional image enhancement, as I had to adjust contrast, brightness, tone, and of course, sharpness for these images.
El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world, coming in at over 3,500 feet tall. As you're entering the Valley, you're likely to see the traffic pulled along side the road before you actually see El Capitan. It's an impressive site, and one of the signature attractions of the park. I actually think you get some better views of this as you leave the Valley, but it's a wonderful moment when it first comes into view - you know you're in Yosemite.
The is the largest granitic monolith in the world. You can stare at it, or hike up the other side, or watch climbers through binoculars, or climb it yourself. But if you climb it yourself, set some time aside. Inching up the vertical face takes over a week. (Nowadays, there are relatively comfortable "hammocks with a cage" that you can take on the climb to sleep in.)
El Capitan rises 3000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley as the largest granite monolith on the face of the earth. Although it does not truly look very large from Taft Point or Sentinel Dome on the valley rim, it dominates when you drive in the valley, especially as you enter yosemite Valley on Southside Drive. The sheer face of El Capitan attracts climbers, expecially to the famous Nose of El Capitan. Bring binoculars to spot climbers. El Capitan is a rock that has survived the scrouing of glaciers to become one of the most beautiful granite monuments in the world.
Yosemite's granite outcroppings, Half Dome and El Capitan are the most prominent features of the valley floor. There is "controlled" climbing permited on El Capitan, but we were not lucky enough to see climbers working their way up the immense granite face of El Capitan. Just a few of the views of El Capitan you can see from the valley floor and tunnel view point.
You'd have to be blind to miss "El Capitan" during your visit to Yosemite - this is one bloody big rock! It looms 3593 feet above the valley floor and the almost vertical cliff face measures in at 320 acres - one of the largest pieces of exposed granite in the world. To climb it takes most people 3-5 days, although the record is 3 hours, 24 minutes! To get a sense of how ridiculously HUGE El Capitan really is, head to El Capitan Meadows and try to spot some climbers - you'll probably need a pair of binoculars for this exercise!