El Capitan is a 7,573-foot high vertical rock formation that is on the north side of Yosemite Valley. I have always marveled at the giant, naturally made rock, but it wasn’t until the middle of March in 2018 that I was able to finally come face-to-face with the famous wall that I had seen so many times online.
After a long day exploring the park, our research team pulled our trusty Dodge truck that had carried us down the west coast over on the side of the road and decided that there was no excuse not to get a closer look at the famous, natural skyscraper of Yosemite. We hopped out, helped each other load up our gear, and lifted our chins towards the sky in order to see the top of its rounded peak with our hands gripping our backpack straps tight to our chest.
We headed north through a covered forest and started hiking towards El Capitan’s rock face. We had noticed that there was no definite trail, but there was enough room between each tree to make our own. There were giant rocks the size of cars scattered amongst the forest, with other round rocks of varying sizes peppered around them. We had learned that these rocks had been tumbled over the years in water from melting glaciers in the national park, making them as smooth as the balls used in a game of billiards, and somewhat frustrating to hike over.
Because there was no specific trail, we continued to weave in and out of what we thought may have been the past remains of a stream, trying to find our way to the famous rock. I remember that I kept looking up and couldn’t see anything but trees and a grey background ahead of us. Unlike most hikes where explorers can summit at a peak and are able to overlook a grande vista, this hike ended in a simple rock wall. By following its cool gray tones, our team finally emerged from the forest and found ourselves in an open area overflowing with round rocks of all kinds.
I had noticed that other hikers had started stacking the rocks on top of each other to build small towers, which elegantly complemented El Capitan as if they were natural beads that added a jewelry effect to the wall. Stepping forward, I noticed that there were vein like streams falling down against the rock like tears. There were areas where a complete side of El Capitan was covered in a thin sheet of water pulled by gravity.
I remember placing my entire palm against the rock and feeling it’s cool hard body. I let the water run over my fingers while humbly standing at the base. Looking up, the tip of El Capitan was curved forward, making it fully draw the sky to a visitor down below. The grey clouds moved across its bald head with ease, giving it a moody yet inviting presence. It’s smooth, giant walls reminded me of what a major accomplishment it is to be able to climb the massive attraction and make it back down safely.
This experience may seem small, but it really proved the details in the beauty of Yosemite and made my team take the downhill walk back to civilization feeling a sense of wholeness that fully encompassed the entire park.
Would you like to meet El Capitan yourself? Take a look at our Northern California Wilderness tour.