The rules (and their reasons) while climbing in Yosemite

Fixed Ropes

The Rules

Property left unattended in Yosemite for longer than 24 hours is considered abandoned and may be impounded. However, the National Park Service recognizes that there are circumstances when it is impractical for climbers to return to fixed ropes within 24 hours. In such cases we ask that you leave ropes and equipment in place only as long as you are actively using the lines.
  • Fixing ropes to get a head start: if you decide to fix ropes partway up a route before beginning your ascent, do so only immediately before beginning your climb and remove them once you commit to the route.
  • Fixing ropes to “work” a route: If you plan to return to a route regularly, leave your ropes in place only when you are actively working the route. (This does not include taking a week off to rest.)
  • Established fixed ropes: Ropes like those sometimes found below Heart Ledges on El Capitan are not maintained or condoned by the National Park Service.
  • Mini Traxion Lines: Same rules apply; If you fix a line for training, remove it the same day. As a courtesy, do not leave ropes or gear on popular routes that might be an eyesore or an inconvenience to other climbers.
The Reasons
Stashed gear, food, water, and fixed ropes in particular, take away from the sense of risk and adventure that climbers and other Wilderness travelers expect to experience. Most of Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness and must remain “without permanent improvements or human habitation… with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”
Wilderness, and climbing in particular, is not intended to be convenient or easy (ironically that’s why many are drawn to it). Please do your part to maintain Yosemite’s wildness. In 2001 volunteers and rangers removed over four thousand feet of trash rope from Yosemite’s walls, not including a few thousand feet of junk rope from the Heart Ledge rappels by conscientious climbers.

Permits and Sleeping on Big Walls

The Rules
A free wilderness permit (available at any of Yosemite’s Wilderness Centers) is required to camp anywhere in Yosemite’s Wilderness. However, an exception to this rule is made for climbers sleeping off the ground on multi-day routes. However, it is not permitted to sleep at the base of El Capitan, Washington Column, Leaning Tower, Liberty Cap, or any other walls in Yosemite Valley. Camping at the base of the NWF of Half Dome or other backcountry walls is allowed with a valid permit.
All food, drinks, toiletries, and other scented items must be stored properly at all times to protect Yosemite’s bears and other wildlife. (Learn more about food storage while climbing.)
The Reasons
Yosemite’s wilderness permit system attempts to achieve two goals: limit the number of people in the Yosemite Wilderness to ensure a more pristine wilderness experience, and educate wilderness users how to minimize their impacts while in the wilderness.
As climbing grows in popularity, impacts from the sport increase, and the need for education grows. Currently, the number of climbers and their resulting impacts are not seen as large enough to warrant a permit system, but this question is open to debate.
“Why can’t we sleep at the base of El Capitan?” For the same reason visitors can’t just sleep anywhere they want in the park. In order to protect Yosemite while letting people enjoy it, the National Park Service restricts camping to certain areas and limits the number of campsites in those areas. Wherever you camp, minimize your impact; carry out all trash, store your food appropriately, build fires only in legal campsites with established fire rings, bury your human waste at least six inches underground or pack it out, and leave no trace behind.

Food Storage while Climbing

Bears actively seek food left by climbers at the base of climbs. Do not leave any food, drinks, toiletries, or trash at the base of the wall. All food must be stored in an allowed bear canister or hung well up the cliff face (if you can reach food without climbing gear, so can a bear).

Each year, bears rip into numerous haul bags and packs at the base of various climbs. Every time they get food from a haul bag or backpack, they become more conditioned to human food. Help us break this cycle! Store all scented items properly at all times!

The Rules and Reasons
Never stash food unless it is properly stored: either in an allowed bear canister (available for rent at any wilderness center for $5) or hung well off the ground on vertical rock. If you can reach your food (or the rope tying it off) without climbing gear, it is not stored properly.

This includes daylight hours! If you are cragging at the base, the same rules apply: carry your food with you or rent a bear canister for $5. (Do not hang your food in a tree–it’s illegal and useless.)

Remove all food, drinks, toiletries, and trash from your car. Food lockers are available at the El Capitan Picnic Area (Manure Pile) and on the south side of El Capitan Bridge. Please do not lock these shared lockers.

If protecting these animals isn’t enough to motivate you, maybe a citation will do the trick. If your food is stored improperly, you will be cited for improper food storage (fine of up to $5,000).

Human Waste and Trash

It is illegal to throw anything off a cliff in Yosemite.

The Rules:
When climbing, all trash, including human waste, must be carried down from the cliff and disposed off appropriately.

“What should I do with my extra food and water at the top of a climb?”
Don’t leave it for the next party. It may be painful to pour out water you hauled three
thousand feet, but our goal is to to leave Yosemite’s cliffs exactly as we found them so the next party can experience them the same way… even if that means being thirsty.


The Reasons:
Anything thrown from the wall, no matter what the size, is litter and can potentially injure people below. Haul bags thrown from the wall have nearly struck climbers on the ground (really) and have been mistaken for falling climbers multiple times. Planning to pick it up later is NOT an excuse. If it leaves the road with you, it should come back to the road with you.

Most climbers planning to spend more than a day on a climb know they need to bring a “poop tube.”

Tips for vertical relief

The Basics:
Go to the bathroom in a paper bag, and then put that bag in some sort of container to carry off the cliff (a difficult process at hanging belays, but one that can be mastered with practice, determination, and flexibility).

What to use?
Bottom line: use something, anything. Everyone has their own technique, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • For the classic “tube,” attach screw caps to each end of a large PVC pipe. Glue one end shut, and tape on some webbing for easy hauling. Durable and reusable, but it takes time and a hardware store.
  • If you’re short on time but not funds, commercial versions are available (check the Mountain Shop at Curry Village). Dry bags work as well, and there are even a handful of commercial kits available to replace paper bags.
  • If you’re short on time and funds, anything from a five-gallon bucket to reusable plastic containers can work in a pinch. These are durable, possibly reusable, and cheap.
  • Abandon the “tube” altogether in favor of a single use solution: water bottles. Once you’ve emptied a water bottle, make a vertical slit down the side, toss in your bag of business, and cover the slit with duct tape. Cheap and one less thing to carry.

Where do I empty it?
However you haul it, getting it to the summit is only the first part; it has to come down as well. The summits of popular big walls in Yosemite are often littered with stinking tubes. Carry your tube down and empty it into a pit toilet like those at the base of the East Ledges descent from El Capitan. Paper bags are fine to go down the drain but plastic bags are not (they clog the pumps used to empty the toilets).

Bouldering

Yosemite Valley boasts some of the best bouldering in Yosemite and the sport continues to grow in popularity every year. With increased popularity comes increased impacts.

Here are some things you can do to help out:

  • Take the time to find and follow established approach trails when hiking to bouldering areas.
  • Never cut or break tree limbs, remove excessive lichen, or damage vegetation to establish a boulder problem. Maybe some problems weren’t meant to be climbed… and there are many more still left that don’t necessitate gardening.
  • Keep bouldering areas clean. Pick up your trash, even the little stuff (cigarette butts, tape, wrappers, etc.)
  • Think twice before putting down the pads. Bouldering pads protect our ankles but trash fragile plant life. If the area looks fragile, maybe find an extra spotter and skip the pad.
  • Do you really need to chalk up again? Try to minimize chalk use and clean off chalked holds when possible, especially on overhung routes where rain doesn’t hit. If you tick holds, clean the marks when you’re done.

Slacklining

Slacklines are popping up all over the place. The National Park Service worked with local “slackers” to create a slackline policy:

The Rules:

  • All lines must be constructed so as to protect trees from any damage
  • Lines may remain in place within the Camp 4 boundary for the length of the owner’s stay
  • All lines constructed outside Camp 4 must be removed when not in use
  • Lines must not be constructed on oak trees in Yosemite Valley
  • Stay educated on closures related to Peregrine Falcons

The Reasons:
Anyone who has spent any time learning the art of slacking knows how damaging these lines can be to trees. There are many ways to pad and protect the anchor trees (carpet, sticks, sleeping pads, haul bags, clothing, etc.), but make sure whatever you do is working.

Bolting Policy and New Routes

The Rules:
Drilling protection bolts for climbing is permitted in Yosemite as long as it is done by hand. Motorized power drills are prohibited. The National Park Service does not inspect, maintain, or repair bolts and other climbing equipment anywhere in the park.

2015 Yosemite Superintendent’s Compendium states:

Fixed or temporary rock climbing anchors, but not climbing ropes, whether used for ascents or descents may be left in place indefinitely. 36 CFR § 2.22(a)(2) Rock climbing is a well-established visitor activity in the park. This exception to 36 CFR 2.22(a)(2) is intended to allow safe rock climbing while minimizing the overall impact of rock climbing on the resource and other visitor groups. Unattended anchors may be removed and turned in as found property.

You can find the full compendium here: Superintendent’s Compendium

Beyond this simple rule, there is a strong community bolting ethic in Yosemite. If you plan to bolt a new route or alter an existing one, talk with local climbers who are familiar with Yosemite’s route history and traditions before permanently altering the cliff face. No one wants to see the rock damaged by bolts being placed and chopped.

“Gardening” (the name given to removing plant life from cracks) is not allowed in Yosemite. Many climbers remove the occasional bit of grass or leaves to place protection or find a finger-lock, but this is nothing compared to the serious damage done establishing a new area.
New Routes:
The damage caused establishing a new route is far greater than that caused by each subsequent party. If you are considering establishing a new route ask yourself, “Is this route worth the damage it will cause?” “Is it a classic line that others will enjoy climbing, or I am simply interested in putting up my own route?” “What will climbers fifty years from now think of this route or this bolt?” There are thousands of established routes in Yosemite already–maybe try a few more of those before making a new mark on Yosemite’s Wilderness.
The Reasons:
Most of the Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness, and motorized items, including power drills, are not allowed in these areas. In addition to this Congressional mandate, the park has an interest in limiting the impacts from climbing while enabling climbers to enjoy the park. The resulting rule allows climbers the unusual privilege of permanently altering Yosemite’s granite cliffs by adding bolts in the location of their choosing, but inherently limits the number of those bolts by requiring that they be hand drilled.