The Top 100: Trying The Best of Yosemite’s Boulders

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“Go for it!” My friend Marie-Louise shouted. My spotters, Mark Heal and Alex Honnold, held their arms up in deathly silence. I stared at the top of A Walk in the Park, a 20-foot-tall V2 on the west side of the Cathedral Boulders in Yosemite. Both Mark and Alex had locked off at full extension and reached the top hold. I tried and came up two inches short. Deadpoints and jumps fall under “use sparingly; best to avoid” according to Alex Honnold’s best practices for soloing. I downclimbed a little and then stared up at the hold.

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Earlier this year, Shannon Joslin, Kimbrough Moore, and I published Yosemite Bouldering. The 460-page book contains hundreds of photos, detailed maps, personal essays, a lengthy history, and everything you need to know about climbing the nearly 1,400 problems listed in its pages. It also includes a list of the top 100 climbs, one of which is A Walk in the Park.

Tucked in the woods west of the main cluster of the Cathedral Boulders, I’d walked passed Scott Chandler’s 2008 highball dozens of times, often wanting to try it but never quite mustering the gumption for the tall orange face. When Shannon, Kimbrough, and I decided to put together a list of the top 100 problems in Yosemite, I immediately recalled A Walk in the Park. For the list, we wanted to spread out the climbs, including at least five of each grade from V0 to V13. We wanted a variety of styles, heights, and accessibility. A Walk in the Park fit into the list with its aesthetic face and guarantee for adventure. I put it on my tick list for my fall 2020 trip to Yosemite.

Below are some highlights from my time out exploring the best problems that Yosemite has to offer.

Scoopy (V0), Cathedral Boulders

Climber: Allie Papazian

Sitting just a few minutes from A Walk in the Park, Scoopy (V0) follows an adventurous granite scoop in the Cathedral area. The density, the variety, and the cooler temps of the south side of Yosemite Valley has made the boulders in the Cathedral Spires Gully an ideal place to circuit with other top 100 climbs like Get It Up (V3) and Did It Up (V4) just a few hundred feet from Scoopy. Allie and a few other friends joined me on my quest to tick off a few more of Yosemite’s best boulder problems on the trip.

So Good (V5), Cathedral Boulder

Climber: Sanni McCandless

In the mid '90s, a few climbers stumbled on a collection of large boulders while hiking up the Cathedral Spires Gully. They showed Rick Cashner, who tried to keep the boulders a secret. He would park far down the street so other climbers wouldn’t see his car, hide his face when cars passed by, and didn’t tell anyone. Dean Potter joined Cashner after a while and the pair started ticking off many of the classics. So Good (V5), The Octagon (V6), The Hexentric (V7), and The King (V6) test climbers’ undercling power, their technique, their crimping power, and their power endurance. The two were ecstatic to establish some of the best climbs in Yosemite until one day in late 1996 when the pair saw another car parked near the trail head. They walked up to the King Boulder where they saw Ron Kauk, video camera in hand, taping Jerry Moffatt on the center line of the boulder, which had been one of Potter’s projects. “He was kind of burning us of,” Cashner said of Moffat “stealing the ascent.” They named the problem Behave after the incident.

Once Upon A Time (V3), Lost Boulders

Climber: Jess Talley

Climbers began exploring the boulders below the Lost Brother in the late '90s with Marcos Nunez making the first ascent of an immaculate corner and naming it Don’t Believe the Hype after the Public Enemy song. In 2005, Matt Wilder hiked to the boulders while working on updating Don Reid’s 1990s guidebook. Wilder renamed the problem Once Upon a Time and the area became known as Candyland. A few other top 100 climbs emerged from the development there including The James Lucas Memorial Arête Problem (V3), The Diamond (V8), Changing Corners (V8), The Winged Tiger (V11), and Shadow Warrior (V11).

Shadow Warrior (V11), Lost Boulders

Climber: Chad Shepard

“I sit on the rocks and look at El Capitan and drink hot tea between burns,” says Yosemite local Chad Shepard of Matt Wilder’s modern style 2000s testpiece Shadow Warrior. A long, for Yosemite bouldering standards, 20-minute hike, the boulder offers Shepard, who has lived in the park for 21 years, a bit of quiet from the traffic and the tourist. The problem, which involves near horizontal climbing, tackles a prow on a large boulder overlooking El Capitan. “It has a range of styles; the compression moves are super fun, the holds are technical, most have to be used very precisely— marginal heel hooks, long dead points, tiny crimps, open hand slopers,” says Shepard.

Purple Barrel (V8), Housekeeping

Climber: Alex Honnold

“This may be the easiest V8 in Yosemite,” Alex Honnold said after he pressed out the mantle on Purple Barrel (V8) in Housekeeping, another bouldering area on the south side of Yosemite Valley but further east near Curry Village. John Bachar named the trail side problem after a type of acid when he did the first ascent around the 1980s. The problem has remained one of the more challenging mantles in Yosemite, a place known for having difficult topouts. The problem shares a start with Housekeeping Face (V2), another top 100 and one that took Honnold more tries than Purple Barrel.

Amazon Face (V4) Housekeeping

Climber: Alex Honnold

On the east side of the King Air boulder resides the Amazon Face (V4), a highball edging testpiece from the Stone Master days of the '70s and early '80s. Though trailside, Mike Graham’s problem sees few ascents due to the twenty-foot-plus heights and the requisite edging skills needed to make an ascent.

King Air (V10), Housekeeping

Climber: Shawn Rabatou

“When I fell my feet traveled 20 feet before impacting the pads. I was lucky not to shatter bones,” said Dean Potter of one failed attempt on the massive 30-foot arête on the boulder across from the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center. The line, which sits between two practice aid climbs, begins with a jump start to a flat hold. A few difficult moves lead to a ledge and then a second redpoint crux much higher involving either a large move to a high edge or a difficult heel hook. Potter worked on the line alone for years, erasing his chalk with water after every session. He finally sorted the crux moves and then, with Ivo Ninov, started working the problem from the ground, eventually sending in the spring of 2007. “King Air is the most beautiful boulder problem I’ve ever done,” said Potter who named the problem after the twin-turboprop planes that skydivers jump out of. “You would be hard pressed to find any line, more aesthetic.”

Watch Potter on King Air in the view below:

King Cobra (V8), Camp 4

Climber: Nik Berry

King Cobra

Yosemite’s best problems fall around the V8 range with a few classics in Camp 4 like Midnight Lightning, Bruce Lee, and the incredible corner King Cobra. Johnny Woodward had climbed the south face of a tall boulder just off the Upper Yosemite Falls trail but the stunning corner on the northside remained unclimbed until 1993 when Adam Wainwright pushed into the corner and stemmed his way up. The corner which tests even the most flexible climber’s ability to stem is a sought after testpiece that relies more on footwork and leg power than on an ability to pull on small crimps. Climbers often show off by stemming into the corner and then guzzling a 25 ounce can of King Cobra malt liquor.

Turtle Dome Rock (V0), Turtle Dome

Climber: Marie-Louise Nkashama

turtle dome

Located south of the Rostrum, Turtle Dome offers little in terms of climbing. The scattered boulders have a few V0 climbs with poor rock. Marie-Louise had come to Yosemite looking for a bit of the dirtbag experience. With little more than her climbing gear, she slept in a cave near the Ahwahnee Hotel and we went bouldering for a few days. Unfortunately, she had to get a last-minute flight back to Boulder so she could finish her school online. The WiFi in the cave wasn’t cutting it for her NYU film school classes. In exchange for a ride to Fresno, she paid for gas and did some modelling on these boulders. The chossy granite didn’t make the cut into the new bouldering guidebook but the photo with El Capitan and Half Dome in the background is definitely a top 100 view.

180 Degree Arête (V8), Cascade Falls

Climber: Alex Honnold

180 degree arete

When a snow storm blew through Yosemite, I headed downcanyon to climb on the lower elevation problems along the Merced. Often in Yosemite, it can be raining or even snowing in Camp 4 and be perfectly warm on the boulders a thousand feet lower. Alex had flashed the boulder a week before, providing me with some crucial foot beta for the arête. With a crew of Yosemite characters including Ron Kauk, Randy Puro, Scott Franklin, and Jordan Cannon, I tried vainly to high-step my foot into position on the aesthetic arête of Tim Medina’s highball 180 Degree Arête (V8).

When I split a tip on the sharp granite, I drove down the street and tried The Rift, a V8 highball that my friend Jake Whittaker first did on toprope and then was later bouldered by Tom Moulin. In the dark, I worked the moves with Nik Berry, trying again to high step my foot onto the arête. I made marginal progress on the technical arête line.

I left Yosemite that night. I had backed off A Walk in the Park a second time. I’d punted on the the mantle of Purple Barrel. I’d split a tip on 180 Degree Arête. I’d gotten close on a few other top 100 problems. Yosemite bouldering felt hard but the granite inspired me through its adversity. I drove out of the park wondering when I would return to Yosemite.

Yosemite Bouldering is available now from Sentinel Press.