Do you ever have days when you feel so great that you believe you can climb any mountain? For people who climb mountains as a hobby, they must have a lot of those days!

Have you ever done any mountain climbing? If not, you’ve probably done some hiking up steep slopes or had fun climbing on playground equipment.

Climbing is a popular sport all around the world. If you look around you, there’s no shortage of things to climb. From tall trees and mountains to steep slopes and buildings, people have taken to climbing all sorts of things in pursuit of fun and adventure.

The national parks of the United States offer some great opportunities for climbers. Yosemite National Park in California features a climbing obstacle that draws people from around the world every year. What are we talking about? The formidable…the famous…El Capitan!

El Capitan, which means “the captain,” is a vertical rock formation that towers over the north side of Yosemite Valley. Rising about 3,000 feet from base to summit at its highest point, El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.

It has also become one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers. You can reach the top of El Capitan by hiking a trail next to Yosemite Falls. For rock climbers, though, the real challenge is to climb straight up its sheer granite face.

There are many different climbing routes. Each route has a unique name and special challenges. All of them are considered extremely difficult. In fact, climbers once thought it was impossible to climb El Capitan.

Today, “El Cap” — as climbers like to call it — is the standard in big-wall climbing. There are two main faces that can be climbed: the Southwest and the Southeast. Between these two faces juts a massive prow called “The Nose.”

There are over 100 established climbing routes up the two main faces. Today, though, the most popular and famous route is to climb “The Nose.”

“The Nose” was first climbed in 1958 over the course of 47 days by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore. Tom Bauman made the first solo ascent of “The Nose” in 1969. In 1975, John Long, Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay successfully climbed “The Nose” in a single day.

Most climbers tackle El Capitan with the help of various mountaineering aids, such as bolts and fixed ropes. Today’s top adventurers take a different approach. So-called “free climbers” scale El Capitan’s sheer granite face without the help of climbing aids!

In addition to the challenge of free climbing, other mountaineers go for speed records. What once took 47 days and then a single day can now be accomplished in less than three hours! For example, Alex Honnold and Hans Florine set a speed record of 2 hours and 23.46 minutes on “The Nose” in 2012.

50 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (15 votes, avg. 4.13 out of 5)
  1. Thoughts: The information we gathered today is amazing. We connected this video to the video on Easter Island. We thought the music really went well with the pictures. (We would like to someday make our own videos and wonders.)

    Prediction: losing weight, a light show, using stars to navigate the world, Buzz Lightyear, flashlight, street lights, who invented the light bulb, life, headlights, fireflies, people or things “lighting” the way, lanterns, the circle of lights, simply light, fireworks, the fish that lights up in Finding Nemo, The Blue Man Group, glow in the dark paints, night lites..

    • Happy Friday, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Hess’ class! We’re glad you liked WONDERing about El Capitan today, and Easter Island, too! We would LOVE it if you shared your own Wonders, or created a video! Please share them with us at! :-)

      We are very impressed with all your AWESOME guesses for tomorrow’s light Wonder… great work! :)

    • Thanks so much, William! We’re so happy to hear that you’re enjoying Wonderopolis! We love great Wonder Friends like you! :)

    • Hi there, Rick– you’re right, El Capitan is a mountain. You can learn even more about it by reading today’s Wonder! :)

  2. Wow! I am the first to comment! I have gone on hikes up mountains, and it is very fun. Thank you for today’s wonder! I learned a lot! :) ;)

    • Hi there, Berkleigh! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us today– HOORAY! Your hiking adventures sound like TONS of fun- what a great way to enjoy the great outdoors! :)

  3. What Is Masa?
    Wonder #844 Jan. 24, 2013

    Thank you for teaching me what a masa is I would tell you but it is really really long. But whatever thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Which Bird Flies the Fastest?
    Wonder #843 Jan. 23, 2013

    The peregrine falcon flies the fastest. It is January 23, 2013 and the time is thanks wonderopolis I learned something new.

    • Hi again, Alexis! Thanks for being a great Wonder Friend, we love to hear that you’ve learned something new today! :)

  5. Hmm…. I just learned something new I think I will come to Wonderopolis every day. YAY!! I loved today’s video! The mountains looked so pretty :) <3

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Ally! Welcome to Wonderopolis– we look forward to learning awesome new things with you! :)

  6. Dear wonderopolis,
    I liked learning about the El Capitan. I also learned how big it was and how cool it was to look at. Also, I thought the video was cool!
    Jon D.

    • Hi there, Jon D! We’re glad you enjoyed our Wonder about El Capitan today! It’s an incredible mountain to Wonder about! Thanks for visiting us today, Jon! :)

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I learned about climbing El Capitan. I saw people climbing the walls. It sounds like a dangerous thing to do. I don’t think I want to climb it, but I think it is a pretty mountain.


    • Hi there, Elliot! We’re so happy you shared your comment with us today! We think it would take a lot of experience and planning to safely climb El Capitan! It is a very beautiful, indeed! :)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Today I learned about El Capitan. I learned that Alex Honnold and Hans Florine climbed the mountain. My name is Alex too!


    Alex N.

    • How cool, Alex N! It’s awesome that one of the first people to climb El Capitan shares your name! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  9. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Today I learned about how everyone will climb a moutain. Thanks for the video. I liked it, and I’ve got a question for you guys: how do you set up the tents?

    Michelle A

    • Hey Michelle, thanks for sharing what you learned today! We bet people who climb mountains regularly are also great at setting up tents! We Wonder if you can do some more WONDERing of your own about camping and setting up tents? :)

  10. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Today I learned it is hard to climb a mountain. Would you want to climb a mountain?

    Alexa D.

    • We think climbing mountains would be awesome, Alexa D! It would take a lot of patience and skill, but we’d love to climb one! How about you? :)

  11. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I thought this was a cool video. How do you think the climbers sleep on that mountain?

    Kevin Briegel

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts about today’s Wonder video, Kevin! We bet the climbers have special equipment to safely sleep after climbing! :)

    • We think climbing a mountain would be lots of fun, Wonder Friend, but intimidating, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today– we are glad you’re here! :)

    • Thanks for visiting us today, Smiley Face Girl! We are super happy that you enjoyed today’s Wonder about El Capitan! Have a SUPER day! :)

  12. Just spent an amazing morning discovering how I can use your site in my classroom. Thank you for creating this wonderful site. My guess for tomorrow would be the northern lights.

    • Hi there, Jim! We’re oh-so-happy to know that you and your WONDERful students have visited us today! Thanks for sharing your comment… we hope to Wonder with you soon! :)

  13. We loved watching the videos of the people climbing today. Many of us could not imagine sleeping over the open like they did. We were also excited to hear about National Parks because we are studying Teddy Roosevelt in Social Studies. Thanks for the great connections! Our guesses for the next Wonder included: flashlights, electricity, and light bulbs.

    • HOORAY, our Wonder Friends from Mrs. Swick’s Fifth Grade Class are here today! We LOVED learning about El Capitan, and all the amazing people who have climbed the mountain! We bet it takes a lot of strength, energy and practice to climb that mountain! Thanks for sharing what you learned and the connections you made! We’re proud of you! :)

  14. I can not belive it was el Capitan mountain. I thought it was about Mount Everest. But really interesting there is a national park call Yosemite national park. I have a question how far is mountain everest from below to the top?

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend John! We learned it IS possible to climb “the nose” of El Capitan– it’s amazing to think about! Some experienced climbers complete the climb in less than a day! Phew! :)

    • Hey there, Diavion! We sure hope that you go mountain climbing soon! Make sure you talk to an adult or parent about what mountain climbing involves– since you’ll need help and equipment. Perhaps you and your family can start by finding a state park near your house. That will help you build your climbing skills! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is El Capitan?
  • How tall is El Capitan?
  • Who holds the speed record for climbing “The Nose”?

Wonder Gallery

El CapitanVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to learn more about El Capitan? Recruit a friend or family member to help you explore the fun activities below:

  • If you live close enough, plan a field trip to Yosemite National Park to explore El Capitan up close and personal. Of course, that’s not feasible for most of us. However, you can still see what it looks like right now by jumping online to check out the live El Capitan webcam hosted by the Yosemite Conservancy!
  • Think you could climb El Capitan? If you’ve never done any mountain climbing, the answer is probably “No!” However, if you set your mind to it and prepare and train for it, we’re sure you could climb El Capitan one day. To see people climbing El Capitan in action, check out these exciting videos:
  • Can you climb any mountain? Sometimes that phrase is used as a metaphor to describe tackling any major obstacle facing you. So what challenges do you face in the days, weeks, months and years ahead? Is it ever too early to start planning to overcome the things that will stand between you and accomplishing your goals? We think not! Make a list of either short- or long-term goals. Pick one of those goals and write out the steps you think you will have to accomplish to achieve the goal. Finally, make a plan of action for how you plan to tackle each individual step along the way. Before you know it, you’ll have achieved your goal in no time. With enough planning and preparation and belief in yourself, you really can climb any mountain!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ You Can Climb Any Mountain lesson, children think about the skills and qualities required to be a good mountain climber.

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Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day will help light your way!

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