Yosemite is the indisputable cauldron of American climbing. In its deep valleys and amongst its soaring granite walls, generations of climbers have forged their craft, distilling from its cracks and faces the tools of a climber’s arsenal. Every year the infamous reputation of Yosemite’s Camp 4 draws in climber’s from across the globe, eager to test themselves on classic climbs and perhaps leave their own unique mark on “The Valley”. Having traveled to Yosemite for the first time in 2012, Paul Swail found the pull of a return visit too hard to resist.

[caption id="attachment_26212" align="alignnone" width="900"]Looking fresh on one of the early pitches. Looking fresh on one of the early pitches.[/caption]

“May this year saw me return to Yosemite with a couple of good friends, Quin and Stevie. We’d made the decision to climb the nose together after a few beers on New Year’s Eve! I had climbed it with another good friend in 2012 in a single push of just under 17 hours, and the idea of repeating it, this time over a few days, hauling our water (beer), food and sleeping kit, seemed very achievable…boy was I wrong!”

[caption id="attachment_26213" align="alignnone" width="900"]That oh so heavy haul bag. That oh so heavy haul bag.[/caption]

 “Firstly the weight of a single haul bag for 3 people for 5 days is nearly impossible to move on the ground, never mind haul up El Capitan.  Leading every pitch and hauling every pitch is pretty tiring – just the overall faff that goes with getting your two pals organized, as well as simply moving, is quite time consuming.  After 2 days of effort we arrived at Dolt Tower around 400m up the nose. I can remember that when I did it in 2012 it took 3hrs 15mins to that point!”

[caption id="attachment_26214" align="alignnone" width="900"]Paul getting a refresher in aid climbing technique. Paul getting a refresher in aid climbing technique.[/caption]

“When we made the decision to bail the lads were pretty gutted…as was I, but I knew what was ahead of us and it was much more sensible to turn around and look at doing something else in the valley.  Having already ticked a lot of the harder classics such as Astroman and The Rostrum, it was a great chance to drop the level a bit and get stuck into some of the lower grade classics.  The three of us enjoyed climbing on ‘Nutcracker’, a classic 5.8 and the amazing 11 pitches of the East Buttress of El Cap (5.10).”

[caption id="attachment_26215" align="alignnone" width="900"]Just one of many unbeatable Yosemite views. Just one of many unbeatable Yosemite views.[/caption]

“Quin, who works as a professional yacht photographer, then jumped ship and boarded a flight for a photoshoot in the Caribbean. This left Stevie and myself with a few days to get on something good. Numerous suggestions were thrown about but with our fairly limited aid climbing experience we opted for the slightly shorter 12-pitch Prow on the Washington Column.  It is graded C2F which means it can be aided without using a hammer and also means that it relies upon fixed copperheads – tiny little bits of soft metal that have previously been hammered into seams on the route. With all of this info, we knew it was going to be a good adventure!”

[caption id="attachment_26216" align="alignnone" width="900"]Relaxing on the portaledge. Relaxing on the portaledge.[/caption]

 “We went with 3 days of provisions, a portaledge and plenty of good tunes.  To be honest it turned out to be very chilled out and the aid climbing was fun.  It is generally referred to as ‘vertical camping’ and it had a super mellow vibe.  The pulling on copperheads, fixed pegs and the odd skyhook move was definitely “exciting” but you were never going to fall too far. I could see myself getting well into a bit of aid climbing – especially when you can do it whilst catching up with good friends and really enjoying the moment.”


“Even though we didn’t get to the top of the Nose, which was our primary goal, Yosemite was still an amazing place to enjoy good company, have a wee micro-adventure, sleep under the stars, laugh and generally enjoy traveling in a very beautiful part of the world.  Yosemite has the tendency to lure you back time and time again and I am already planning my next trip.”