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First Ascents: Ethics and Yosemite Guidelines

First Ascents are a coveted climbing prize for many experienced climbers. The feeling of setting off into the vertical unknown, on relying on your and your partner’s wits and expertise to unlock the mysteries of the rock puzzle in front of you, are incomparable to the everyday, follow-the-line-in-the-guidebook experience. First Ascents happen all year long in Yosemite. There is always something new being discovered, or a route that was previously paid-climbed is being free-climbed for the first time, a la The Dawn Wall on El Cap. Here are some basic First Ascent ethics, as well as some rules about First Ascents in Yosemite.

General First Ascent Ethics


  1. Make Sure Your Proposed Line Looks Good: When you are new to First Ascents, looks might be deceiving, so talk to your partners to make sure your proposed line is worthy.
  2. Do Your Homework: Research your line to ensure it hasn’t been climbed before. Many old routes were not reported, or the old guidebooks were so opaque that certain climbs languish in obscurity.
  3. Don’t Fight Over It: If the route has been attempted before, but has not actively been attempted, say in the last few months, contact the party who is attempting the route before climbing on it. Work Together! Nothing brings unnecessary friction in the climbing community as people who feel like they own a section of a mountain, because they have been attempting a route on it for some time. If you can’t climb a route in a reasonable amount of time for that type of route, say a few months, then accept that others might be interested in trying it out – or buy the land that the climb sits on so that you control every aspect of your climb.
  4. Make Your Climb For The Community: Put fixed protection and anchors in the best places for all climbers – if you’re 6’ 2” tall, imagine someone 5’ 7” climbing your route, and bolt it accordingly. Think of how much fun others are going to have on your route.
  5. Place Fixed Anchors That Will Last: Rusted, tiny bolts and rat’s nests of webbing at belays is out. Appropriate-sized bolts, with rappel links at belays, designed to last a minimum of 50-75 years is the new standard. Place fewer, better anchors!
  6. Share It: Report your new route to the current guidebook authors or post about it on a climbing forum. Many climbing areas are on public lands, so the public deserves to know what you have installed/climbed on their land.
Old Bolts
Old School Belay
Modern Bolted Belay


Yosemite First Ascent Rules

  1. Climb Clean: Complete your climb with minimal alteration of the natural environment as possible. In Yosemite, it is illegal to alter the landscape in any way. In rock climbing, this is usually interpreted to mean that first ascentionists do a minimal amount of cleaning on new climbs, as it is often next to impossible to do no cleaning at all.
  2. Leave The Best Anchors: If leaving fixed anchors, only use the highest quality stainless steel hardware. Yosemite’s landscape is priceless, and we need to treat its climbs the same way. The days of going to a hardware store and buying whatever the cheapest bolts were, of saying, “they’re good enough,” is over. Strive to equip your route with anchors that are designed to last 50-75 years.
  3. Minimize Fixed Rope Use: Don’t leave fixed ropes on your climb unless you are actively working on it. Fixed ropes are considered abandoned property in Yosemite, and can be removed by the Park Service after 24 hours of inactivity. So if you leave a rope fixed for any reason, leave a note with it stating the date when you intend to return.
  4. Share Your Joy: There are tens of thousands of climbs in Yosemite, so make sure to share information about your new climb so that others can enjoy it, too. Yosemite has too many cliffs full of climbs that no one knows about.


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