The Daredevils of Yosemite

In the grand peaks of California’s eastern wilderness, a new generation of super-climbers is pushing the limits of adventure – with no rope to save them from error.

A true cliff-hanger

In California’s Yosemite National Park, a new breed of daredevil climbers practice the sport of free soloing — rock climbing without a rope and relying solely on hands and feet wedged into the cracks to ascend the park’s massive granite obelisks. When the 2,130-ft tall Half Dome (pictured in the distance) was first climbed in 1957, it took Californian Royal Robbins and his teammates five days to reach the top – and that was with the aid of ropes. Today, free solo climbers summit in just a few hours. Pictured is free solo climber Dean Potter ascending a route on Yosemite’s Glacier Point. (Mikey Schaefer/National Geographic Stock)


Over the rainbow

Climber Kate Rutherford jams her hands into fissures of a climbing route called Freestone, close to the roar of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America at 2,425ft. In Yosemite, 83 climbers have died during climbs since 1955. Free soloing leaves no room for error. (Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Stock)


Granite Titans

Yosemite’s peaks are sheer vertical cliffs thousands of feet high, rising above the fog and dwarfing the hundred-foot pine trees in the valley below. About four million people visit Yosemite every year, though only a few thousand of them are climbers. They venture to the park to measure themselves against its giants, including El Capitan (left), a prow of stone 2,916ft tall. To climb in Yosemite is a rite of passage. (Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Stock)


A bold ascent

Kevin Jorgesen, a climber since the age of 12, clings with fingertips to the face of El Capitan. On the right is the Thank God Ledge — a 40ft-long sliver of granite on Half Dome and the only way to get beyond the Visor, a massive roof that looms over Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face route. Most people crawl, but Alex Honnold (pictured), who became a celebrity in 2008 when he first climbed the famed route without a rope, prefers to face the 1,800ft void beneath him. (Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Stock)


A tent with a view

Climbers live in portaledges – tiny tents suspended from the wall – when working on a route. Jorgeson (left) and his companion can live in a portaledge 1,500ft above the valley for up to two weeks; the best amenities in their studio in the sky are a French press for coffee and iPhones (charged with a solar panel). (Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Stock)


Final descent

Climbers BASE jump from Half Dome before hiking down the back of the mountain. Like those who made the pilgrimage before them and those who will follow, these thrill seekers come to Yosemite to test themselves against the parks granite Titans. (Jimmy Chin and Lynsey Dyer/National Geographic Stock)


Straining to reach

Climber Cedar Wright grips with chalked hand the roof of Gravity Ceiling on Higher Cathedral Rock, located on the south side of Yosemite Valley near its entrance. Like many professional climbers, he trains relentlessly to keep fit. Unlike some European professionals who enjoy generous corporate sponsorship, most American climbers barely get by financially. Many earn just enough cash to crash in their vans and eat beans and rice. Because of visitation limits at Yosemite, many live full-time in vehicles at the park. (Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Stock)

BBC Travel




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