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Yosemite Opened on June 11, we dashed in and climbed the Classic Royal Arches Route

on top of the royal arches

“This was my first time multi-pitch climbing and first time ever climbing in Yosemite” — Willie Morris, a recent transplant from New York City to Mariposa, California.

On Friday, June 12, a day after Yosemite opened back up, a group of us made an afternoon ascent of the Royal Arches route, a 15 pitch 5.7 A0 regarded as one of the all-time classics. Our strategy was to climb in three independent teams and join at the top to walk off North Dome Gully via a notoriously exposed climber’s trail. A storm was expected late that afternoon; we hoped to beat it. 

Our urgency to climb in the park so soon after opening was to get there before crowds arrived and do the popular routes before they were filled with other climbers. Visiting Yosemite right now is incredible — due to the lack of people and cars this winter and spring, the trees look greener; coyotes roam the valley floor, and everything looks more vibrant.

We’re all local climbers who’ve been chomping at the bit to get back in the park since it shut down in March. Some of us reside in Mariposa, located 45 minutes from the Park’s gates. Others live in the communities bordering the park.

This winter my friends and I taught the basics of movement to recent Mariposa transplant Willie Morris on the boulders in the foothills. Nearby we have one 10-foot long crack to practice on, a couple of traverses, and a few top ropes. The crew at Skydive Yosemite—the co-owner, Paul Wignall, has been my climbing partner since 1996—and I taught Willie what we could on those small blocs. The first chance we got we took Willie up the Royal Arches, a park favorite. He was nervous at first, which is to be expected. We spent enough time with him to make him feel a bit more comfortable.

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We expected to be caught in a storm, which would just make things more exciting. We didn’t expect it to be so severe, but we were prepared. Having climbed in Yosemite for nearly 30 years, the Skydive Yosemite crew and I know our way up and down that route, having lapped it dozens of times. Willie just had to hang on for the ride. 

Willie’s a recent transplant from New York City. He’s a serial entrepreneur and before he met us he’d never climbed outside, though he did frequent his local gym. This winter he and his two business partners purchased 2,000 acres in Mariposa to build the world’s first electric vehicle rally park (EVP). Their land is located next to the local airport, home to Skydive Yosemite, which is how we met him. 

The climb took us roughly three hours.  Pitch after pitch, Willie got to put his new climbing skills on the various hand and finger cracks throughout the route. The final stretch was a 100-foot featureless slab traverse. Though low angle, it has zero holds and relies entirely on friction to cross. But Willie crossed it knowing he had two choices — sit still and get wet, or run and stay dry. 

While winds whipped around us, a dark cloud of falling rain was making its way across the valley toward us. We knew in minutes it would rain. 

Willie sprinted across the slab, making it over right before it got wet. We reached the rim of the valley as lightning cut across the sky. Hail followed and the falling rain made the rock slabs slippery. We huddled under a boulder for a few minutes, then made our way down the gully. We broke out the rope twice during the descent, one as a guy line across an expanse and another time to rappel the final stretch of rock in the gully. We made it back to the cars parked at the Ahwahnee Hotel close to 10 pm. Normally this lot is full, with many vehicles also in overflow parking in the valet area. But that night, with much of the park facilities still closed due to COVID-19, there were few cars. 

“And that’s that, just a fun little GoPro adventure clip from this weekend,” Willie said as he wrapped up the video below. 

“For your first time climbing in Yosemite, that must’ve been one of the most amazing experiences you could have,” Paul says.