Top 10 Majestic Facts About El Capitan

One of the most fascinating natural wonders in the United States can be found in one of the 3 national parks that are situated within the borders of a famous mountain range in California and Nevada.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about El Capitan, an incredible cliff that dominates one of the most popular valleys in the country.

1. It’s situated in one of the most popular U.S. National Parks

El Capitan is a famous rock formation located in the northern part of Yosemite National Park, an incredible piece of nature that covers 1,187 square miles (3,074 square kilometers).

It’s situated in the central part of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that is part of the North American Cordillera and which covers most parts of eastern California. The Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada also extends into Nevada.

The rock formation is one of the most prominent features of “Yosemite Valley,” an incredible glacial valley that has a length of 7.5 miles (12.1 kilometers) and a depth of anywhere between 3,000 and 3,500 feet (910 and 1,070 meters).

A scenic viewpoint called “Tunnel View” is located on State Route 41 and is a popular spot for you to discover EL Capitan in all its glory.

Tunnel View El Capitan
Tunnel View / Mark J. Miller /

2. The cliff stands about 3,000 feet tall from its base

The vertical rock formation dominates the landscape in this magnificent pristine piece of nature. It stands about 3,000 feet (914 meters) tall from its base to the summit.

Because the cliff is located within a mountain range that features the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney (14,505 feet / 4,421 meters), its summit is situated at an elevation of 7,573 feet (2,308 meters) above sea level.

El Capitan height
The majestic cliff / Mike Murphy /

3. The granite that makes up the cliff was formed about 100 million years ago

The granite that makes up the rock formation and which gives it its pale color is the same as the type of rock that makes up the entire Sierra Nevada. It was formed around 100 million years ago.

These have been uplifted for about 4 million years, a process that continues until today, mostly in the eastern part of the mountain range.

The distinctive appearance of both El Capitan and the other rock formations of Yosemite Valley was carved by immense glaciers, a process that started during the start of ice ages about 2.5 million years ago.

El Capitan top section
The top section of the cliff / James St. John /

4. It’s possible to hike to the top of the formation

One of the most amazing facts about EL Capitan is that you don’t need to be an experienced rock climber to reach the summit. There is a hiking trail that brings you up to the top of the cliff.

This trail starts down in Yosemite Valley, not too far from the magnificent Yosemite Falls. The trail leads you west, all the way to the summit of this huge rock.

The views at the end of this trail of Yosemite Valley and its surroundings are breathtaking.

El Capitan hiking trail facts

5. The cliff is one of the most popular spits in the U.S. for climbers

Because this is such a high and vertical cliff, it also means that it’s one of the most popular places in the United States for rock climbers. El Capitan features multiple climbing routes with the most popular one being referred to as “The Nose.”

Better yet, the rock formation is today considered to be the ultimate standard for “big-wall climbing” which in turn makes it one of the most popular climbing locations all around the world.

The Nose is located on the southeast face of the cliff and consists of 31 pitches, steep sections that required a rope to be conquered. This hobby is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

View down el Capitan face
View down the face of the cliff / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about El Capitan

The rock formation got its name in the year 1851, the year that the California-based Mariposa Battalion explored the valley for the first time.

The name was a reference to the original Native American Miwok name of the cliff which was either “To-to-kon oo-lah” or “To-tock-ah-noo-lah.” This loosely translates to “The Chief” or “Chief Rock.

7. The first ascent of The Nose didn’t happen until 1958. 3 climbers named Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore managed to climb the face of the cliff in 47 days.

To make it happen, they used siege tactics. This revolves around attaching Manila ropes onto the cliff to establish fixed pitches.

8. The first climb of El Capitan without siege tactics happened in 1960 and took a group of climbers. The first solo climber to reach the summit of the cliff was a man named Tom Bauman who did so in 1969.

Interesting el capitan facts

9. The original climbing route is still the most popular today, but the number of routes has expanded quite radically since then, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, rock climbers can choose over 70 different climbing routes to conquer this beast, another reason that makes El Capitan one of the most popular rock formations for climbers in the world.

10. The speed record for climbing The Nose was achieved on June 6, 2018, a day that Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell reached the summit at an incredible time of 1:58:07.

We’re pretty sure that this won’t be the final record because it has changed hands quite a few times during the previous decades!

El Capitan fun facts
The majestic rock formation / Little Mountain 5 /