Q: My friends and I can climb short 5.9 routes, but we'd like to do El Capitan by next year. Any Advice?
Maggie Scott, New Brunswick, Canada
Yosemite National Park's El Capitan is one of the world's hardest big-wall climbs. "A year is not undoable," says Graham Hubner of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, "but I'd be shooting for this in two or three years." Go underprepared and you could endanger yourselfor slow down more advanced climbers. Start building your experience by learning how to lead difficult crack climbs on granite. One of the best options in the East is New Hampshire's Cathedral Ledge, where EMS Climbing School conducts rock-leader training (www.emsclimb.com). Visit www.amga.com to find instructors all over North America. And unless you're comfortable free climbing at the cutting edge of 5.13, you'll need to practice direct-aid ascents (in which your gear supports your weight while you climb). For this type of practice, head to Yosemite Mountaineering School's aid clinic (www.yosemitemountaineering.com), then tackle some of Yosemite's one-day classics like Stone Groovin'. Before you graduate to Yosemite's biggest wall, gain experience hauling loads and bivouacking on a two- or three-day climb like Washington Column. When you finally answer El Cap's call, you'll be glad you didn't rush it.
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