EL CAPITAN, YOSEMITE VALLEY, CALIFORNIA — This sublime feature of the Yosemite Valley is not so high as some of its adjoining mountains, but from the peculiar position which it occupies it has received deservedly the Spanish title given to it, “El Capitan,” or “The Commander” of the valley. Prof. Whitney declares that it is doubtful if anywhere in the world there is presented “so squarely-cut, so lofty and so imposing a face of rock.” It projects into the valley as a promontory advances into the sea. It is 3,300 feet high, and its walls are almost perpendicular, without a scrap of vegetation on their surfaces. Opposite this is the lovely “Bridal-Veil Fall,” which plunges over a stupendous cliff, and long before it reaches the earth is converted into a mass of silvery spray, tinted at times with all the colors of the rainbow. How strange it seems now to reflect that not until 1851 had a white man ever gazed upon the natural wonders of this valley! For years it had been the almost inaccessible hiding place of savages, as well as the abode of wild beasts. The latter fact is evident from its Indian name, Yosemite, which signifies “Great Grizzly Bear.” What a title to bestow upon this most magnificent valley on our planet! Let us retain the musical Indian appellation, but forget its meaning. Few names, however, have been more appropriately bestowed than that of “El Capitan” to this bold Chief of the Yosemite. (from John L. Stoddard, Glimpses of the world; a portfolio of photographs of the marvelous works of God and man – 1892)
El Capitan (Spanish for The Captain, The Chief) is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith extends about 3,000 feet (900 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers and BASE jumpers.
The formation was named “El Capitan” by the Mariposa Battalion when it explored the valley in 1851. El Capitan (“the captain”, “the chief”) was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as “To-to-kon oo-lah” or “To-tock-ah-noo-lah”. It is unclear if the Native American name referred to a specific tribal chief or simply meant “the chief” or “rock chief”. In modern times, the formation’s name is often contracted to “El Cap”, especially among rock climbers and BASE jumpers.
The top of El Capitan can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls, then proceeding west. For climbers, the challenge is to climb up the sheer granite face; there are many named climbing routes, all of them arduous. Some of these include the iron hawk route, the sea of dreams route, etc (from Wikipedia)
- Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851
- Yosemite National Park: A Natural History Guide to Yosemite and Its Trails with Map