Project overview: Share the story of the vertical wilderness with visitors through ranger-led programs about climbing history and techniques, geology and environmental stewardship.

The backstory: Yosemite Valley’s stately cliffs, domes and columns command attention and stoke wonder. Some people see the walls up close, stepping off the Valley floor to scale famous features, such as El Capitan. Most people take in the size and power of the rock from below, occasionally spotting ant-size adventurers inching up the gleaming granite.

Park managers view education as a powerful tool for protecting Yosemite’s resources, including the vertical wilderness. Through the Ask a Climber program, climbing rangers coordinate interactive educational activities that connect people on the ground with the world on the walls.

Conservancy donors have supported Ask a Climber almost every year since it began in 2009 as a partnership between the National Park Service and the Yosemite Climbing Association. Since that inaugural year, the originally volunteer-run endeavor has evolved into a popular, professional seasonal program staffed by climbing rangers who offer talks, materials and interactive media that cover the geology of Yosemite’s cliffs and domes, climbing history and safety, plants and animals that live on and around the walls, and more.

Over the years, rangers have adapted the Ask a Climber hours, activities and location to maximize the program’s benefit to visitors. Typically, in spring, late summer and early autumn, rangers set up telescopes and educational displays at El Capitan Meadow, where they can engage with people gathered to gaze at El Capitan and share safety and stewardship tips with climbers. In July and August, when the climbing season slows, rangers lead weekly interpretive walks. They also deliver presentations at campgrounds and to visiting NatureBridge students.
In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, rangers scaled back in-person group experiences and focused on online outreach.

This year: For the 2021 Ask a Climber season, rangers plan to incorporate COVID-related safety measures, and to continue their focus on producing more social media and web content so people can explore the world of climbing from afar. If safe, they’ll offer interactive activities in the park, including gear demonstrations and guided walks. Whether online or in person, rangers will share insights into the geology and ecology of the vertical wild, illuminate the role climbers play in protecting nature on and off the walls, and help people near and far connect with Yosemite’s renowned climbing areas.

Curious about climbing? Check out our Ask a Climber FAQs!

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Climbing Association.

Jesse McGahey

Climbing Program Manager, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Ask a Climber brings visitors, rangers and rock climbers together to experience vertical wilderness.”