Free Solo Climbing in Yosemite – No Ropes

Yosemite Climbing

Photograph by Mikey Schaefer for National Geographic magazine

On a bright Saturday morning in September a young man is clinging to the face of Half Dome, a sheer 2,130-foot wall of granite in the heart of Yosemite Valley. He's alone, so high off the ground that perhaps only the eagles take notice. Hanging on by his fingertips to an edge of rock as thin as a dime, shoes smeared on mere ripples in the rock, Eminem blasting on his iPod, Alex Honnold is attempting something no one has ever tried before: to climb the Regular Northwest Face route on Half Dome without a rope. He's less than a hundred feet from the summit when something potentially disastrous occurs—he loses the smallest measure of confidence.

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By Mark Jenkins

Teddy Roosevelt Quote on Preserving Beautiful Places

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.

President Teddy Roosevelt, 1903

Ten Years Ago — Hiking to the Top of Half Dome in Yosemite


On September 21,1995, Ann and I hiked to the top of Half Dome. The hike is not easy: 17 miles round trip with an elevation increase of 4,800 feet from Yosemite’s Valley Floor.

We started early and arrived at the last ascent around noon. The last 500 yards to get to the top of Half Dome consist of a pair of cables about 4 feet apart on a steep, slick rock face. The cables are mounted on parallel pairs of steel poles that are embedded in the rock, about 10 feet apart. Wooden boards on the upper side of the steel poles provide traction on the slope.

As we approached the cable route, Ann started getting cold feet about climbing the slope. I really needed to convince her to go all the way because I planned to propose to her when we got to the top. I pointed out that a couple who looked to be about 70 years old had started up. She reluctantly agreed to continue. We each grabbed a pair of gloves from the pile and started climbing.

When we got to the top we walked over to the view from the steep side. Here’s what we saw.

After we had lunch, I popped the question. Fortunately, she said yes — she was quite surprised.

The hike down was tough. The rocks are slick from the dust and grit — your feet can slip easily, especially when the legs are sluggish.

It was a great way to start autumn, one of those days I’ll never forget. Thanks to Chet and KO for recommending the climb.

Here’s a link with some more pictures of the hike to the top.

Note: None of these pictures are mine. Thanks to the people who posted these pictures on the web.