El Capitan Never Disappoints


El Capitan, the towering stone heart of Yosemite National Park and a sweep of golden granite reaching twenty-seven hundred feet into the sky. PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK RALSTON / AFP / GETTY

I am not a climber and I do not generally favor extreme sports where someone else has to come in and clean up after an adventurer’s misfortune. I am in awe in this case, and so make an exception. It never bores me to look again at the image above. But it electrifies me more than usual when it accompanies a story like this one:

…Four hours later, that lone figure, the thirty-one-year-old professional climber Alex Honnold, had completed the first ascent of El Cap in the free-solo style. In other words, he had climbed the cliff alone and without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Had he fallen, he would have died.

The achievement had long been predicted but never quite accepted as possible. The iconic face of El Capitan—photographed by Ansel Adams, praised by John Muir as “the most sublime feature of the Valley”—has long been the proving ground for American rock climbing. It has been climbed at incredible speeds and via routes of extraordinary difficulty; a ropeless ascent was the last “big psychological breakthrough” that remained, as Peter Croft, who completed groundbreaking free solos in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, put it. There was no real competition to be the first to meet the challenge. Either Honnold would do it, or he would leave it to future generations. Or he would try, fail, and fall…

A sports writer for the New York Times titles it perfectly:


Alex Honnold at the 1,000-foot level of his free-solo climb of El Capitan. CreditTom Evans

El Capitan, My El Capitan

Alex Honnold woke up in his Dodge van last Saturday morning, drove into Yosemite Valley ahead of the soul-destroying traffic and walked up to the sheer, smooth and stupendously massive 3,000-foot golden escarpment known as El Capitan, the most important cliff on earth for rock climbers…

Yosemite, Bigger & Better


A photo provided by The Trust for Public Land shows Ackerson Meadow in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Visitors to the park now have more room to explore nature with the announcement on Wednesday that the park’s western boundary has expanded to include Ackerson Meadow, 400 acres of tree-covered Sierra Nevada foothills, grassland and a creek that flows into the Tuolumne River. Robb Hirsch/AP

The full story here. All we can say is a three-letter word (no spoiler, so after the jump):

Yosemite National Park is growing by 400 acres — the largest expansion to the park since 1949.

NPR’s Nathan Rott reports that the new addition to the park, a stretch of land along the western boundary of Yosemite, has historically been used for logging and cattle grazing.

The Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, bought the land from private owners for $2.3 million and donated it to expand the park. The purchase was supported by the Yosemite Conservancy, National Park Trust and American Rivers, as well as private donors.

“The area includes a sprawling grassy meadow, wetlands and rolling hills dotted with tall pine trees, and is known to be home to at least two endangered species,” Nathan reports. Continue reading

John Muir’s Writings About Yosemite

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Library of Congress

We posted about John Muir’s writings in the Atlantic four years ago, once we realized they were so accessible in that magazine’s archives. In that post, two years into our foray in India, we simply wanted to share our amazement that Muir had written about India as an example relevant to the case for protecting the forests of North America. We have also posted about Muir indirectly, including a lovely photo-documented post about his visit with Teddy Roosevelt to several wilderness areas that would become iconic national parks.

As we prepare for the expansion of our activities in India, and in advance of our announcement of two exciting new conservation initiatives in Mesoamerica that we will embark upon next month, I have been going back through our archives, enjoying some examples of the historical perspective this platform has allowed us to share.

Today, in the spirit of the centenary of the National Parks Service, and considering this past weekend’s visit to Yosemite by the President of the USA, it makes sense to share another of Muir’s several contributions to The Atlantic, this one specifically about the first national park (which predates the creation of the NPS):

The Yosemite National Park

“All the world lies warm in one heart, yet the Sierra seems to get more light than other mountains.”


Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely rugged, with its main features on the grandest scale in height and depth, it is nevertheless easy of access and hospitable; and its marvelous beauty, displayed in striking and alluring forms, wooes the admiring wanderer on and on, higher and higher, charmed and enchanted. Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows  Continue reading

Conservation, Technology & Ethics


Adam Ferriss

We have had the good fortune, and could not agree more with the questions raised and the puzzles presented in this opinion editorial published two days ago in the New York Times:

The Unnatural Kingdom

If technology helps us save the wilderness,
will the wilderness still be wild?


IF you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below. Continue reading

Firefall At Yosemite, An Enduring Fantastic Natural Beauty

Day after day, it seems, we find something that shocks us–something we did not know that, had we known it, we might have dropped everything to go and see. This February is coming to a close, so we will have to wait until 2017 to check this out in person, but for now thanks to the Science section of the New York Times for bringing it to our attention:


Instagram was filled with thousands of versions of the firefall. These are a few that photographers shared with us. CreditClockwise, from top left: Vincent James, @vjamesphoto; Andrew McDonald/High Sierra Workshops; Carlos Loya, @t3nthirty1; Jeff Lui, @jeffreyplui; Bethany Gediman, National Park Service; @xbirdo; Nicki Frates, @nickif24, @theoutdooradventurer; Wayne Nguyen, @potatounit; Vincent James, @vjamesphoto; Gregory Woodman, @gregorywoodman

At Yosemite, a Waterfall Turns Into a Firefall

The Power of Parks


Photographs of Yosemite National Parks composed by Stephen Wilkes. Courtesy: National Geographic

Which side are you on – the one that believes national parks are the past or to the side that sees the future in these stretches? As long as national parks figure on your maps and feature in your scheme of things, you must know that the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this year.  In commemoration, National Geographic looks at how to preserve these wild spaces:

“In March 1868 a 29-year-old John Muir stopped a passerby in San Francisco to ask for directions out of town. “Where do you wish to go?” the startled man inquired. “Anywhere that is wild,” said Muir. His journey took him to the Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada, which became the spiritual home of Muir’s conservation movement and, under his guidance, the country’s third national park. “John the Baptist,” he wrote, “was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.” Today around four million people a year follow their own thirst for the wild to Yosemite.”

Continue reading

Yosemite, Raxa Collective Promises To Tread Lightly


Where do you go, if Raxa Collective is both your work and your pleasure, when you want to get away from your normal day to day scenery–which by all means is awesome? Is there such a word as awesomer? Awesomest? Four Raxa Collective contributors have agreed to meet in Yosemite in late May to determine the awesomeness. They will hopefully share their findings in these pages at that time.  For now, vimeo just makes us all wish we were in Yosemite now.

The Natural

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite 1903

One hundred and fifty-two years after his birth, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy as a conservationist lives on in the nearly 230 million acres of land he helped place under public protection.  During his 2 terms as the 26th President of the United States of America he established 150 National Forests, 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 4 National Game Preserves, and 21 Reclamation Projects, in many cases designated the first of their kinds. Continue reading

October Air

National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 1

There must be something in the air.  Some Universal Energy of Inspiration that touches down in October, if not annually, then biannually for a brief moment in time. Or is it just coincidence that two events of such simple, yet great significance should have happened on the same date?

What had begun as an elite club for academics and wealthy travel enthusiasts was reorganized in January 1888 into  “a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”  The National Geographic Society was incorporated a few weeks later and the first issue of the magazine was published as its official journal on October 1st.

William Morris Davis, often called the “father of American Geography” was an early member and contributor who wrote the introduction to Vol.1 of the newly minted magazine.

History became a science when it outgrew mere narration and searched for the causes of the facts narrated; when it ceased to accept old narratives as absolute records and judged them by criteria derived from our knowledge of human nature as we see it at present, but modified to accord with past conditions.

The society’s historic mission has continued for well over a hundred years, extending beyond the specifics of geography to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources.”

And so we come to conservation.  Continue reading