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Yosemite to Implement Big Wall Permits in Trial Two-Year Program

“Despite the low-key face that’s being put on this ‘pilot,’ this is a huge deal for Valley climbers"

climber on zodiac Photo by: Chris Van Leuven

In an announcement that received immediate pushback from climbers, earlier today the Yosemite National Park Service announced that starting on May 21 all visitors planning to camp overnight on a big wall will require a permit. The implementation, which is a pilot program, will extend for two years. This permit is in addition to the recent announcement by the Park Service requiring visitor permits to enter the Park. That permitting system also begins on May 21. 

No sooner had the Park Service posted the news on social media than the public comments poured in. 

“Despite the low-key face that’s being put on this ‘pilot, this is a huge deal for Valley climbers,” wrote climber and writer Peter Beal. “It interferes with trip planning and on-site decision making and was implemented with no public comment or waiting period. Park visitors deserve better than this, and climbers, whose lives may depend on decisions affected by this system, deserve far better.”

Wayne Willoughby climbing Zodiac on El Capitan. Photo Chris Van Leuven

Previously, climbers have not needed a permit for walls. Last year an overnight parking permit was briefly required for all visitors due to Covid-19. This year wilderness permits are required for walls.

Lead Climbing Ranger Jesse McGahey told me in June 2020, “Most of Yosemite’s big walls begin in designated Wilderness, but due to the variables involved in this activity, a wilderness permit system for overnight walls has not been implemented in the past.”

Wilderness permits are already required for anyone camping in the Yosemite backcountry, and now that requirement extends to climbers. Starting later this month and under the new guidelines, wilderness permits will be required for overnight big wall climbing. 

NPS postedDuring this pilot, wilderness permits for climbers will be free and there will be no quotas or limits on the number of permits available. The pilot will help climbing rangers better understand use patterns on big walls. The pilot will also increase compliance with existing regulations (e.g., proper disposal of waste) and minimize impacts to wilderness character through improved education. You can request a reservation 15 to four days before your planned climb. 

Gripped reached out to the Yosemite Climbing Rangers for comments, but our calls, texts, and emails have not yet been returned. 

Additional information is available here.

Lead photo: Chris Van Leuven