What are the easiest climbs on El Capitan?

Alex Honnold had a death-defying free-solo climb on El Cap.Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi made the Oscar-winning National Geographic documentary, Free Solo, about the process of preparing and executing that dream.

A portrait of a dedicated rock climber with incredible mental control who was able to do what was previously thought impossible.He climbed El Capitan without safety ropes, putting himself in a situation where he was going to die if he slipped.

There are other styles of climbing El Cap that are much harder than what Alex did.

Although this compelling story rightfully captured the minds and hearts of people all over the country it sits in context of one inspiring story after another that plays out on the steep walls of El Capitan.

It is really hard to climb El Cap regardless of how you do it.Hard can take on a lot of different forms and different people approach the goal of getting to the top in different ways.

There are different routes on El Capitan.The climbing equivalent of trail maps for El Capitan, each route has its own name in the Complete Guide.These range from relatively straight-forward beginner big walls like The Salathe Wall to desperate expert-only scare- fests such as The Tempest, and from famous climbs that often have multiple climbing parties on it at once to routes that haven't even seen a second ascent.

The southwest face of El Capitan has climbing routes on the right side.The image is fromosemitebigwall.com.

Honnold's style of free soloing is an ascent that is done alone without ropes.People are confused because climbers talk about free climbing and soloing.These styles involve ropes and are more common on large walls like El Capitan.

Free climbing does not use the ropes for upward progress.The climbing is done by pulling or pushing on the rock, even if the ropes fall.This can be relatively easy or nearly impossible depending on the features of the rock.

The Golden Gate is on El Capitan.The belayer is behind her and near her left hand.Jon Glassberg has a video.

Climbers can try harder things if they have a safety rope.Climbers take a lot of falls when they work out the sequence of moves that will work for them.The pure gymnastic difficulty of a route is measured in the US by climbers.The hardest climbs were supposed to be 5.10.As climbers got better, it became obvious that the scale had to keep getting harder.We turned the dial to 11 when climbers started climbing harder than 5.10d.Climbers add 5.12 and 5.13 before putting up 5.11a, b, c and d routes.There are letter grades for each level.The world's hardest climb is 5.15d.The most technically difficult route in the world is only 45 meters long.

One of the easiest big wall free climbing routes on El Capitan is called Free Rider.He spent a lot of time freeing the route with ropes before attempting it solo.

Old climbing routes are usually followed by free climbing attempts on El Capitan.Lynn Hill made a huge splash in the climbing world when she became the first person, male or female, to free The Nose.Only a few people have been able to repeat her effort.

Tommy and Kevin were featured in the film Dawn Wall for their ascent of a visionary free route on El Cap.Dawn Wall is rated 5.14d overall, with 18 pitches out of 32 pitches total, that are technically harder than anything on Free Rider.On top of the drama of cutting-edge free climbing, add in the special kinship that is built between climbing partners.Don't forget to check this one out if you enjoyed Free Solo.Alex Honnold makes a brief appearance in the film.

Aid climbing was most common on El Capitan and other big walls.Climbers use gear in the rock to make their way upward.Let me assure you that this is not easy, if you are tempted to think so.Is it easier?Yes.Is it easy?No.Aid climbing has a different difficulty rating depending on how solid the climbing gear is.An A0 climb has solid gear, close together, but on an A5 route climbers are linking together so many marginally secure pieces that an unexpected fall could send the climber and all partners to their deaths.

For most people, covering the amount of terrain on a face the size of El Cap involves at least a little bit of aid climbing.The Nose is rated 5.14a for free climbers, but most people will climb it as a 5.8 free climb with relatively easy aid climbing through the harder free sections.

Aid climbing on the Salathe Wall.The aiders or etriers are used to make upward progress.There is a photo of Theresa Ho.

Free climbing or aid climbing with ropes is a type of solo climbing.If a climber says, "I soloed The Nose", what she means is that she climbed the route without a partner.You have to cover the same ground 3 times on a solo ascent of El Capitan.The first time is when you lead the pitch, a section of a climb.After descending down to the anchor, you need to remove all of the safety gear that you left behind while leading.You have to climb the rope again to get to the top where you can haul your gear up to your new position.

When you watch the Olympics, you will see that indoor speed climbing is completely free and climbers don't have to worry about placing safety gear.A standard course is replicated all over the world.It looks like flying when speed climbers rehearse the moves needed to climb the route in a burst of strength.El Cap speed climbing is not like that.

El Capitan's speed ascents focus on precision, efficiency and risk management.People are trying to move quickly, but the military says slow is smooth and fast is fast.Depending on the style of ascent, the climbs can take anywhere from a few hours to more than a day.

Stopping to place gear takes time, so whenever possible climbers will free any sections they can climb quickly with minimal safety gear.Aid climbing is used when the going gets hard.

Here are a few examples of how long it takes speed climbers to climb The Nose on El Capitan.The first ascent party spent 47 days on the route.A typical modern party on The Nose will take 3-4 days to finish the climb using a mix of aid and free climbing.

If it takes 3-4 days to climb El Capitan, you need to have a way of spending the night.

Climbers will spread out their sleeping bags on the ledge if possible.Sometimes the ledges are too small or sloping.

A prepared climber will carry a portaledge.The portable ledges are like heavy-duty aluminum frame cots that hang from an anchor instead of standing on legs.With one of the most amazing views imaginable, climbers can relax, cook dinner and bed down in relative comfort.

There is a climber on El Capitan.There is a portaledge behind him where climbers spend the night.The photo is from the bigwall.com.

Unlike a backpacker who can often refill his water from a nearby river, El Capitan climbers bring all the water they need with them from the ground up.It takes 48 pounds of water for two people to spend only 3 days on the route.Adding in food, cooking gear, sleeping bags/pads, extra clothes or any of your actual climbing gear will make the water and portaledge weigh in at over 70 pounds.

Almost everything that is carried up will be either drunk or eaten because of the weight of water.You can appreciate hot and cold running water in a whole new way if you serve every drop of water.

When you also have to carry the water needed to rehydrate it, there is no point in dehydrating food.On big walls, canned fruit in juice can be found back on the menu.

Climbers go up and down the route multiple times to make sure they have enough water and food along the way.For a 19-day effort like Tommy and Kevin's ascent of Dawn Wall, friends helped by ferrying supplies including food and water up to them along the way.

In addition to the weight, if the route isn't overhanging so that the haul bag hangs away from the wall, climbers also have to contend with the friction of the bag rubbing against the granite and getting caught on features in the rock.

Lighter climbers and those on longer routes often end up using pulley systems that give a mechanical advantage in order to haul unwieldy loads.

When you have to go, people always want to know.You can't bury it in solid granite and you're on a small ledge so it's not like you can disappear into the bushes.With multiple parties on the same route at one time, the only reasonable thing you can do is forgo modesty and pack it out.

You can either buy a commercial kit like the wag bag or ask your partner to look the other way while you do your business.There is a double bag.Wrap the final package in aluminum foil to reduce the smell.Store the package in a container that won't break if it is dragged up the side of a cliff.It is better than having the party above you.

It takes a lot of practice to learn to climb a big wall.People usually start in the climbing gym or on short walls to make sure their systems are efficient.Getting small things right, like the length of aiders, the slings the second person used to climb the rope, or practicing how to "lower out" if the line of gear is horizontal instead of going straight up, can make a huge difference in the amount of energy it takes to complete

Once the basic systems are set in, the next step is a small Yosemite Wall like Leaning Tower or Washington Column, followed by the climbs of El Cap.

If you want to get a head start on learning how to climb big walls, go climbing with a guide.These guides have climbed El Capitan dozens of times and are great teachers for climbers of any experience level.