05/09/2022

Yosemite Wilderness Climbing Permits: What You Need to Know

On May 7, 2021, Yosemite National Park (YNP) announced a new two year pilot program requiring Wilderness climbing permits for overnight big wall climbs in the park. Later this summer, the National Park Service will conduct a public comment period during which the climbing community can provide feedback in order to shape the future of the program.

Yosemite National Park, ancestral lands of the Bishop Paiute, Bridgeport Indian Colony, Mono Lake Kootzaduka’a, North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California, Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, and Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk. © Francois Lebeau

We believe that this new program is well-intentioned, and that park officials are acting in good faith to conserve the vertical environment as well as the unique climbing experience. We also have heard the concerns of the climbing community and the Access Fund is committed to working with park officials to address issues that unnecessarily hinder big wall climbing in the park.

The Facts

  • All climbs that include an overnight stay on a wall in Yosemite must have a Wilderness climbing permit.
  • Climbers must obtain permits 2-15 days in advance, and the permits must be picked up in person until October 31; after October 31, permits will be available by self-registration.
  • If you have a climbing permit, you do not need an additional peak-hours reservation to enter the park, but you must request a climbing permit reservation 2-15 days before you enter the park.
  • There is no fee associated with this permit; it is free.
  • There is no limit on the number of permits the NPS can issue, meaning there is currently no quota system driving this permit process.
  • If you are doing a day climb, you don’t need a Wilderness climbing permit.
  • Visit the Wilderness Climbing Permit information page to review specific details about how and when to obtain a permit on the National Park Service (NPS) website.

    The Big Picture

    All of Yosemite’s big walls—including El Cap, Half Dome, and Leaning Tower, to name just a few—are within designated Wilderness, and are therefore subject to the highest levels of conservation. Every other national park in the United States that has Wilderness climbing requires backcountry permits for overnight climbs. Also, every other recreational user in Yosemite, such as backpackers, are required to obtain a permit for overnight camping.

    Climbers have long enjoyed unfettered access to Yosemite’s big walls, and we understand that this may be a difficult change for some. On a larger scale, we are seeing a national trend toward more permits and reservation systems on public lands in order to manage and mitigate the impacts caused by the incredible growth in outdoor recreation. Without a doubt, these new systems impact our lifestyle as climbers.

    That said, some level of climber management and education is necessary to protect Yosemite and other public lands. For perspective, Yosemite climbing rangers have observed several egregious Wilderness violations, including cases of improper human waste disposal, abandoned trash and equipment, fixed lines being left for more than two weeks on numerous climbs, filming without a permit, unsafe food storage, and illegal use of a power drill. With this new pilot program, Yosemite climbing rangers seek to connect with big wall climbers, and provide LNT and Wilderness climbing education that protects this unique climbing experience.

    “I believe that the climbing rangers are core climbers and are genuinely interested in improving the big wall experience and environment,” says Yosemite big wall climber Tommy Caldwell. “The initial pilot program proposal is well-intended but possibly not optimal. I do think we need to do something about the impacts to Yosemite’s big wall climbing experience, and I am interested in working with the park to fine tune a process that will educate climbers on how to climb El Cap in a sustainable manner.”

    “I believe that the climbing rangers are core climbers and are genuinely interested in improving the big wall experience and environment,” says Yosemite big wall climber Tommy Caldwell. “The initial pilot program proposal is well-intended but possibly not optimal. I do think we need to do something about the impacts to Yosemite’s big wall climbing experience, and I am interested in working with the park to fine tune a process that will educate climbers on how to climb El Cap in a sustainable manner.”

    The Implications to Our Community

    There are both positive and negative implications to this new pilot program, and Access Fund is working with park officials to address the issues that unnecessarily hinder big wall climbing within the park.

    The positives: Climbers with big wall permits will no longer need separate reservations to enter the park. All other park visitors are still required to purchase reservations in advance during peak hours, and reservations are not always available. Climbers with big wall permits will be allowed to camp one night in the backpacker campground on both ends of their big wall climb. Climbers will also receive Leave No Trace (LNT) and preventative search and rescue education, as well as up-to-date beta on how many climbers will be on each route.

    The drawbacks: As currently structured, the permit program will hinder spontaneity of big wall attempts between April 30 and October 31. During this timeframe, the NPS is requiring that permits be requested at least 2 days in advance and that climbers pick up permits in person (self-registration will be available at the Valley Visitor Center after October 31). These requirements can make it more difficult to find a safe weather window for a big wall ascent and require climbers to arrive at the park at least a full day prior to climbing to pick up the permit during office hours (hence the allowance to stay in the backpackers campground). In addition, despite the fact that there are no quotas or fees associated with the pilot program, the NPS could impose a fee and/or some form of quota in the future to manage crowding on the wall, however currently that is not their intention.

    Later this summer, the NPS will open a public comment period during which the climbing community can provide feedback on the system. Access Fund is continuing to closely monitor this pilot program in its second year, and will encourage the climbing community to engage with the public comment period when it opens. Sign up for advocacy alerts below to stay up to date on all things climbing advocacy, including when the public comment period opens.