Yosemite (Ahwahnee) THROUGH THE YEARS Mason Osgood, AAC + Len Necefer, PhD, Natives Outdoors

Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee in the language of the Ahwahnechee, who originally inhabited the area) has long been a bastion for American climbing, from the first ascent of the NW Face of Half Dome (Tissaack) to the first free solo of El Cap (Tutocanula). The AAC has been there nearly every step of the complicated (and sometimes dark) way—from guiding the establishment of the park to fighting for climbing as a legitimate use of wilderness in National Parks and advocating for the preservation and 2018 improvements to Camp 4, the iconic climbers' campground.

Help the AAC continue its efforts in Yosemite and across the country by using PROMOCODE: HONNSOLOSHIRT when you join or renew in June and receive a free “Honn Solo” t-shirt with illustration by Lynn Mandziuk. Learn more and get your free shirt!

Left: Aerial View of Half Dome (Tissaack). Right: El Capitan (Tutocanula) and the Merced River. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection

4,000 years ago - The first humans inhabit Yosemite, according to archeologists' evidence.

800 years ago - Ahwahnechee people perform controlled burns in the Valley to limit undergrowth and promote the growth of oak trees, which provide acorns, a staple to the Awahnechee's diet.

1851 - The first attempt at Indian removal by the NPS occurs: non-Indians enter Yosemite Valley in 1851 by the Mariposa Battalion, a state-sponsored militia. The Battalion makes two attempts to remove the Indian people to the Fresno River Reservation, but those attempts, along with a U.S. Army punitive expedition in 1852, are ultimately unsuccessful in removing the Indian people from the Yosemite region.

Members of the Ahwahnechee gather beside a cedar bark structure, near the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1872. Photo: National Park Service

1864 - Abraham Lincoln signs the Yosemite Grant, placing Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee) and the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove under the protection of the State of California.

September 1869 - Founding AAC member John Muir makes the first ascent of Cathedral Peak.

October 1890 - On October 1, 1890, an Act of Congress established Yosemite National Park. This park excluded the Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee) and the Mariposa Grove, which remained in control of the state of California.

Cathedral Peak circa 1930. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection

1903 - John Muir and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt spend three days camping in Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee).

1905 - Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee) and the Mariposa Grove are transferred from California to the federal government by a Joint Resolution of Congress.

President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir riding horses along a road in Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the distance. Photo: National Park Service

1908 - John Muir is named the second President of the American Alpine Club. View the full list of AAC presidents.

1913 - President Woodrow Wilson signs the Raker Act, permitting the city of San Francisco to build a dam in the Hetch Hetchy valley (hetcheci being the Ahwahnee word for a seed that they used for sustenance) in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park. John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others had fought long and hard against the dam, and though they lost the battle for Hetch Hetchy, this national debate contributed towards a growing national awareness of the need to protect natural and wild landscapes and helped lead towards the creation of the National Park Service three years later.

1916 - The National Park Service is established by an Act of Congress as a bureau within the Department of the Interior, and the NPS takes over management of Yosemite National Park.

1918 - Clare Marie Hodges becomes the first female ranger in Yosemite.

1920’s - Yosemite National Park includes Indian removal in their development plan.

September 1947 - John Salathe and Anton Nelson complete the first ascent of Lost Arrow Chimney (1,400', III 5.5 A3) on Lost Arrow Spire. Allen Steck recounts the ascent in the 2002 American Alpine Journal: "One of the most important items of equipment—without which the climb certainly would not have succeeded—were the hard-steel pitons that Salathé had crafted. ... In other ways, the climb was representative of a new era as it was the first big wall done with multiple bivouacs and hard steel pitons, and the first use of bolts for upward progress." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

Lost Arrow Spire stands proud next to Yosemite Falls.

1950 - Allen Steck and John Salathe complete the first ascent of Steck-Salathe (1,500', IV 5.10a). The 1958 American Alpine Journal described the ascent: "John Salathe and Allen Steck made the first ascent of Yosemite’s Sentinel Rock by its sheer N. face. This, undoubtedly, must be considered as one of the outstanding rock climbs in the history of the sport." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

June 1957 - Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas make the first ascent of the Regular Northwest Face (5.9, A1, 2200', Grade VI) on Half Dome (Tissaack).

June 1957 - Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas make the first ascent of the Regular Northwest Face (2,200', VI 5.9 A1) on Half Dome (Tissaack) over five days. The first Grade VI climb established in Yosemite (Ahwahnee), this ascent represents a monumental leap forward in climbing on the Valley's big walls. "Undoubtedly the year 1957 produced one of the most impressive rock climbs ever to be completed in Yosemite Valley, and one which certainly ranks with any climb completed or attempted in the world," reads the American Alpine Journal recap. Read Mike Sherrick's recollection of the climb in the 1978 American Alpine Journal.

Half Dome (Tissaack) from Glacier Point and from the east. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection
November 1958 - First Ascent of The Nose (5.9, A2, 3,000', Grade VI) on El Capitan (Tutocanula) is completed by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore.

November 1958 - Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore complete the first ascent of The Nose (3,000', VI 5.9 A2) on El Capitan (Tutocanula). The Nose was the first route up El Cap and was established over 45 days of climbing during the course of 18 months. Warren Harding's recap of the ascent in the 1959 American Alpine Journal yielded his most famous statement: "I suppose this article could be titled 'The Conquest of El Capitan.' However, as I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was conqueror and who was conquered: I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

El Capitan (Tutocanula) glowing in the afternoon California sunshine. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection

September 1961 - Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost complete the first ascent of the Salathe Wall (3,500', VI 5.9 A2) on El Capitan (Tutocanula). This is the second route up El Cap, and the first to eschew extensive use of fixed ropes. Royal Robbins describes their decision to minimize the use of fixed ropes in the 1962 American Alpine Journal: "Although the first ascent of The Nose had required a prolonged siege with thousands of feet of fixed ropes, we wished to avoid such methods if possible so as to keep the element of adventure high with at least a moderate amount of uncertainty." Read the American Alpine Journal article.

1963 - Yvon Chouinard writes an American Alpine Journal article claiming “Yosemite Valley will, in the near future, be the training ground for a new generation of superalpinists who will venture forth to the high mountains of the world to do the most esthetic and difficult walls on the face of the earth.”

1963 - Layton Kor makes the first ascent of The Kor Problem (V3) on a smooth slab near Camp 4.

October 1963 - At age 28, Royal Robbins becomes the first "rock climber" voted into the AAC (back then, mountaineers had to apply for membership). Royal's climbing resume simply says "!! YOSEMITE !!... THE MOST IMPRESSIVE LIST OF ROCK CLIMBS THE AAC HAS SEEN."

October 1963 - Royal Robbins becomes the first "Rock Climber" voted into the AAC; his climbing resume simply says “!! YOSEMITE !! … the most impressive list of rock climbs the AAC has seen.”

October 1964 - Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, and Chuck Pratt complete the first ascent of the North American Wall (2,400', VI 5.9 A4) on El Capitan (Tutocanula). This is the first El Cap route to venture onto the unclimbed southeast face, opening a new area of the wall. Read Royal Robbins' recollection of the ascent in this 2013 Rock and Ice article.

1967 - Royal Robbins and his wife Liz Robbins complete the first ascent of Nutcracker (500', III 5.8). Royal wrote in the 1968 American Alpine Journal, "Last spring my wife Liz and I did 'Nutcracker', a new route of exciting and varied but never severe free climbing. ... What is unusual about Nutcracker is that it is a 600-foot Yosemite climb and pitons are unnecessary. It can reasonably be done with nuts (artificial chockstones) and natural runners alone." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

1967 - Liz Robbins becomes the first woman to climb Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome.

1969 - The Indian Village near Camp 4 is burned to the ground in a practice fire fighting drill. This was the last native community in Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee).

November 1970 - Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell complete the first ascent of the Wall of Early Morning Light (3,000', VI 5.8 A4) over 27 days. A 1971 American Alpine Journal article detailed their infamous denial of rescue: "On November 11 the National Park Service decided [Harding and Caldwell] needed to be rescued but two days later it was called off when Caldwell shouted, 'A rescue is unwarranted, unwanted and will not be accepted.'" Despite their stubbornness and eventual success, the ascent drew criticism from other Valley climbers for the amount of drilling used to connect blank sections of rock. Royal Robbins repeated the route in February of 1971, removing the initial 300 bolts on the route. Read TM Herbert's comments on the two ascents in the 1971 American Alpine Journal article.

El Capitan (Tutocanula) shrouded in clouds. Photo: AAC staff member Jeff Deikis.

September 1973 - Beverly Johnson and Sibylle Hechtel complete the first all-female ascent of El Capitan (Tutocanula) via Triple Direct (3,000', VI 5.9 A2). Triple Direct links the Salathe Wall, Muir Wall and The Nose, climbing approximately 1,000' of each route in this order. A 1974 American Alpine Journal article by Sibylle read, "Bev mentioned she might be interested. Several men either offered 'to take me up it' or asked if I’d like to do the climb with them, but I wasn’t particularly interested in 'being taken up it'. Doing an all-female ascent, the first all-female ascent in fact, was not a significant consideration: I simply knew Bev much better than any of the men interested. Being up there with another woman can be incredibly comfortable, relaxed, and hilariously funny, but, with men, even close friends, there is always a certain pressure to prove that women can do things, as well as the tendency to whimper when things get tough and to let them do it for one." Read the full article.

May 1975 - Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, and John Long climb The Nose on El Cap (Tutocanula) in a day

May 1975 - Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell, and John Long climb The Nose on El Cap (Tutocanula) in a day. While climbing the "NIAD" has become relatively commonplace among today's climbers, it's worth noting that the team used pitons for this ascent—a significantly more time consuming method for protecting the route than today's modern cams and nuts.

May 1975 - John Bachar, Ron Kauk and John Long complete the first free ascent of Astroman (1,200', IV 5.11) on Washington Column. Astroman is the first big wall free climb in Yosemite (Ahwahnee) and proves that free climbing these walls is possible.

Trying not to panic in the infamous Harding Slot on "Astroman."

1977 - Descendants from the Southern Sierra Miwok organize the American Indian Council of Mariposa County (AICMC) to advocate for their community, which has been dispersed from the park, to be included in the park’s new master plan—including a cultural center and ability to engage in cultural practices in Yosemite National Park.

1978 - Ron Kauk completes the First Ascent of Midnight Lightning (V8) in Camp 4.

Crowd gathers to watch climbers on "Midnight Lightning" in Camp 4. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection

1980 - Considerable lobbying and deliberation lead to the inclusion of a framework for a new Indian Cultural Center in the 1980 Yosemite National Park master plan.

1984 - Ron Kauk makes the First Ascent of Thriller (V10) just outside of Camp 4. To learn more about the confusing and competitive history of bouldering in Yosemite, read Beyond the Bolt: The Past, Present and Future of Yosemite Bouldering from Climbing Magazine.

Ron Kauk climbs "Thriller" outside of Camp 4. Photo: AAC Library Photo Collection

1986 - Peter Croft and John Bachar push the "in a day" concept further by linking The Nose of El Capitan (Tutocanula) with the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome (Tissaack).

1987 - The National Park Service produces its first Native American Relationships Management Policy, committing to actively promote tribal cultures as an important component of the parks.

June 1988 - Paul Piana and Todd Skinner complete the first free ascent of the Salathe Wall (3,500', VI 5.13c). This was the first free ascent of El Capitan (Tutocanula) and kicked the door open for future free ascents on "The Big Stone". However, the ascent ended in a near-miss and injury on the summit of El Cap, as described in the 1989 American Alpine Journal: "Piana continued to haul up the bags. When they reached the lip of the ledge, they became stuck. Skinner reached down and began to pull the bags up over the 90 degree ledge while Piana hauled on the line. They then heard a grinding noise coming from the block. Piana turned to see the block sliding toward the edge. He and Skinner were directly in its path, and before they could move, 'the block ran him over' and knocked them both off the ledge." Read the full account of the incident in the American Alpine Journal article.

1991 - The AAC surveys Club members on the changing ethics of climbing in Yosemite, measuring climber attitudes toward new bolting tactics, chipping holds and bolting artificial holds to the rock. "Not surprisingly, the greatest controversy involved 'rappel-bolting' (establishing routes from the top on rappel) versus 'traditional' bolting (climbing from the ground to the top). While 71% of total respondents felt Yosemite should be preserved for traditional climbing methods, 21% embraced the idea of rappel-bolting and 8% were undecided." Read the full survey recap here.

1993 - Lynn Hill completes the first free ascent of The Nose (3,000', VI 5.14a) on El Capitan (Tutocanula). A free ascent of the route had been attempted numerous times prior to this iconic ascent, as Hill describes in the 1994 American Alpine Journal: "There I was on the third day of our journey, dangling 2,000 feet above the ground underneath the Great Roof. This was the famous pitch that no one had yet been able to free climb. Many had tried to do so, starting with Ray Jardine, who initiated the effort to free climb the Nose fifteen years before. After several unsuccessful tries to free climb past the Great Roof, Ray eventually abandoned his attempt. Since then, many other climbers had set out to make the first free ascent of this legendary route, but none had succeeded." Lynn's success on The Nose despite many other's attempts led her to famously remark, "It goes, boys." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

Climbing slow (and not free) below the iconic Great Roof pitch on "The Nose" of El Cap.

1994 - Lynn Hill climbs the The Nose on El Capitan (Tutocanula) in a day. Despite her past achievements on the route, Lynn "soon realized that she had underestimated what it would take to free climb The Nose in 24 hours," according to the American Alpine Journal. "When she arrived at the Great Roof in midday, it was hideously hot, and she repeatedly fell near the end of the traverse. Partnered with Valley veteran Steve Sutton, it was all they could do just to aid up the rest of the route that day." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

1997 - Major flooding in the Valley leads to a change in development plans and threatens a series of employee dormitories abutting Camp 4. The AAC, including climber Tom Frost, files a lawsuit against the NPS to save the campground and the adjacent climbing areas. The American Alpine Journal details the Club's decision process: "The December 1996 flood of Yosemite Valley provided the second major challenge of access and environmental policy. Despite openness and sympathy from Park Service personnel for our positions, it gradually became clear that other pressures had persuaded them to propose unacceptable plans for redevelopment that would compromise Yosemite Valley’s environment and accessibility to climbers. Whether we would be more effective inside or outside of the National Park Service tent was discussed repeatedly at our board meetings during 1997. In the end, John Middendorf, Tom Frost, and others persuaded our board to challenge the National Park Service to be true to its own mandate—'to protect and preserve natural resources'— through support of a lawsuit, an unprecedented act for our small organization. The future would clearly show how right were Frost and Middendorf to insist on such a dramatic shift from our policy of exclusive reliance on dialogue and persuasion." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

The final pitch leading to Mammoth Terraces on El Capitan (Tutocanula). From here, a 5.10 down-climb or 200' rappel drops you on Heart Ledges, a common first night bivy for climbers on "Freerider."

October 1998 - Alex Huber completes the first free ascent of Freerider (3,500', VI 5.13a). With the first continuous ascent completed in a day, Huber adds multiple variations to Salathe Wall. Freerider quickly becomes known as the easiest free route up El Capitan (Tutocanula) and opens El Cap to free climbing for more than simply "the elite." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

Left: A bivy on Lung Ledge. Right: Blake Herrington in the infamous "Monster Offwidth." Photo: AAC member Nathan Hadley

2000 - Camp 4 officially becomes eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places after the planned development in the Valley is shut down. The AAC hosts a celebration in the Valley to recognize the achievements of those who fought for Camp 4’s legacy. The 2000 American Alpine Journal reads: "This gathering was one of the finest occasions ever held in Yosemite. After several years of rumors and heated discussions about nearby construction changes that would have altered our walk-in climbers’ camp beyond recognition, the NPS announced Camp 4 was eligible to become a national historic register site. As a result, a unique celebration happened on September 25 to recognize Yosemite climbing, climbers and this sacred campground." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

AAC Education Director Ron Funderburke teaches a clinic in Camp 4 during the 2017 International Climbers' Meet. Photo: AAC staff member Sterling Boin

July 2001 - Dean Potter becomes the first person to solo The Nose of El Capitan (Tutocanula) and the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome (Tissaack) in a day, completing the link-up in just over 23 hours. It's worth noting that, just two days later, Hans Florine completed this solo link-up in 21 hours and 3 minutes, without knowledge of Dean's efforts earlier that week.

October 2001 - Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neill become the first climbers to link the Valley's three largest features (El Capitan (Tutocanula), Half Dome (Tissaack) and Mt. Watkins), completing the feat in 23 hours and 45 minutes. O'Neill writes in the 2002 American Alpine Journal, "After recovering the dropped jumar from a bush and deeming it okay, we hastily descended the Death Slabs and jogged four miles up Tenaya Canyon to our next Grade VI, the South Face of Mt. Watkins. This would be our second time on the South Face, and again we planned on only two blocks to cover the 2,000+-foot wall." Read the full American Alpine Journal article.

2003 - With help from the AAC, Camp 4 is officially placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

September 2008 - Alex Honnold becomes the first to free solo Regular Northwest Face (2,200', VI 5.9 C1) on Half Dome (Tissaack). Following the ascent, American Alpine Journal Executive Editor writes in Climbing Magazine, "Honnold said that soloing Half Dome was technically much easier than Moonlight, but overall it was a more difficult experience for him because of its length and because much of the difficulty comes at the end, with three 5.11+ pitches, including a tenuous slab, in the last six pitches." Read the full Climbing Magazine article.

Half Dome (Tissaack) as seen from Glacier Point.

2009 - The AAC partners with National Park Service scientists to provide help in collecting, cataloging and analyzing all of the lichen species in Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee). The project report reads, "Yosemite launched its lichen all taxa biological inventory (ATBI) with support from the Yosemite Fund, and the NPS Centennial Challenge Initiative in 2007. For two consecutive years, the American Alpine Club (AAC) assisted by supplying more than 25 skilled climbers. Carrying forward the vision of John Muir, who was also an AAC member, these climbers relished the chance to actively participate as 'citizen-scientists.' Their skills allowed NPS botanists to safely explore Yosemite’s spectacular cliffs." Read the full NPS report.

May 2012 - Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell take Yosemite free climbing link-ups to the next level by freeing Freerider on El Capitan (Tutocanula), Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome (Tissaack) and South Face on Mt. Watkins in 21 hours and 15 minutes. Read Alex's full recap in the 2013 American Alpine Journal.

June 2012 - Alex Honnold continues the tradition of "in a day" ascents in Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee) by becoming the first person to solo El Capitan (Tutocanula), Half Dome (Tissaack) and Mt. Watkins in just 19 hours. Read Alex's full recap in the 2013 American Alpine Journal and view the illustrations by Andreas Schmidt.

Tommy Caldwell and Kelly Cordes during an early attempt on "The Dawn Wall." Photo: AAC member Ben Ditto

January 2015 - Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson complete the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall (3,000', VI 5.14d) on El Capitan (Tutocanula), a project that took over eight years of work and stands as the most difficult free route on El Cap. Kevin Jorgeson writes about his narrow margin for success in the 2015 American Alpine Journal: "The last ten times I’ve been at this spot the result has been the same. Something has to change. I’ve decided to revert to a foot sequence from earlier in the season. The difference is subtle, but while holding the crux iron cross, from fingertip to fingertip, I feel the difference I’ve been seeking. My right foot is secure. Anxiety is replaced by confidence. Trembling is replaced by control. I’m through the crux, with one more bolt of insecure climbing to negotiate. As I grab one of the final crimps, I see the tape on my index finger saturated with blood. Doubt lasts only an instant. Moments later, everything is silent except the strong wind in my ears." Read the full American Alpine Journal article and view the photos.

Tommy Caldwell and Kelly Cordes during an early attempt on The Dawn Wall. Photo: AAC member Ben Ditto

October 2015 - Mayan Smith Gobat and Libby Sauter set the women's speed record for The Nose at 4 hours and 43 minutes, beating their previous record by nearly 20 minutes.

August 23, 2016 - The AAC partners with Outdoor Alliance to support the Yosemite Climbing Museum. AAC CEO Phil Powers writes, "Yosemite is the mecca of climbing in the U.S. and one of the world’s greatest vertical playgrounds. It captures the spirit of climbing and is rich with remarkable histories. And yet, the park lacks an interpretive center to share with the public— climbers and non-climbers alike—its stories, culture and ethics. A climbing museum or substantial interpretive center would add value to a diverse range of visitors by telling the story of the evolution of climbing and recreation." The Outdoor Alliance letter to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher describes the AAC as "one of our member organizations and a valuable partner in supporting sustainable management of climbing in parks, providing input on effective policies and promoting stewardship programs—the Yosemite Climbing Stewards, for example." Read the full Outdoor Alliance guest post by Phil Powers. Read the full Outdoor Alliance letter to the Yosemite National Park Superintendent.

2017 - Construction begins on a traditional roundhouse located just west of Camp 4, where the Wahhoga village stood before it was burned in 1969.

October 25th, 2017 - After the AAC submits comments on the Merced River Plan developments, Yosemite National Park announces an expansion plan for Camp 4, adding 25 campsites (increasing capacity by 150 people) and additional parking spaces by October 7-14th, 2018. In a 2017 Rock and Ice Magazine article, AAC CEO Phil Powers states, “I’m really impressed that the Park not only adopted these improvements but has broken ground. The new bathhouse will be wonderful. This is a campground for everybody, not just climbers.” Read the full Rock and Ice article.

June 2017 - Alex Honnold becomes the first person to free solo El Capitan (Tutocanula) via Freerider (3,000', VI 5.13a). Keep an eye out for the 2018 American Alpine Journal featuring an article from Alex Honnold detailing the preparation and the ascent.

El Capitan (Tutocanula) at night. Photo: AAC staff member Jeff Deikis
June 3rd, 2017 - Alex Honnold becomes the first to free-solo El Capitan via Freerider (Tutocanula in Ahwahnechee)

June 2018 - Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climb The Nose (3,000', VI 5.9 C2) on El Capitan (Tutocanula) in 1:58:07. Learn more about The Nose speed record from this in-depth Climbing Magazine article.

October 7th, 2018 - The American Alpine Club will host the 11th annual International Climbers Meet (ICM) October 7-14, 2018 in Yosemite Valley. This year we will have three days of education programming, host climbers available for guidance, and as always, an international cast of characters that will be crushing Yosemite. Join us for the 2018 ICM!

Photo: AAC staff member Jeff Deikis

Help the Club continue its efforts in Yosemite and across the country by using PROMOCODE: HONNSOLOSHIRT when you join or renew in June and receive a free “Honn Solo” t-shirt with illustration by Lynn Mandziuk. Learn more and get your free shirt!

Think we missed an iconic or pivotal moment in Yosemite history? Email us at info@americanalpineclub.org to let us know!

Timeline content authored by Mason Osgood, Shane Johnson and Len Necefer

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