I am drawn to the climbing in Yosemite, especially on El Cap, as if it produced its own gravity.

Walker Emerson has spent more days on El Capitan than he can count. He has climbed the massive granite cliff from bottom to top 15 times, free climbed it twice, and spent endless days working on various routes and supporting his friends.

In this week’s Climber Spotlight, Walker tells us about the early days of his climbing career, the importance of being a well-rounded climber, and his captivation with El Cap.

Walker on the top of El Capitan. Photo: Colin Delahanty

Walker Emerson

Flight of the Challenger (5.12c), Squamish. Photo: James Lucas.

I have been climbing off and on since I was little kid. But it wasn’t until my freshman year of college at the Museum School in Boston, that a cold, depressing city forced me into climbing all the time. I visited all the local crags, and bouldered when I couldn’t find someone to go with.

One time I bought a mini traxion at REI. Thinking I knew how to use it, I set up a rope at a crag in central Massachusetts. With no one around I climbed halfway up, grew tired, and had no choice but to let go. I swung into space out of reach from the wall. Stranded, I struggled to release the traxion from the rope. Finally, a hiker came by and swung me into the wall, and then I was able to finish the climb.

Walker Emerson

Walker on El Fustigador (5.13c), Margalef, Spain. Photo: Greg Garetson

I enjoy all types of climbing.
I love to go bouldering one day and route climbing the next, it makes it easy to stay psyched and try hard. It also makes it easy to climb a lot. Climbing only one particular style can be restricting. If you must rest to recover your skin and muscles for just 5 moves, that is a lot of time wasted that you could be progressing other aspects of climbing, which in turn will make you a smarter, well rounded, stronger climber.

Watch Walker on the first ascent of a boulder problem in Yosemite he named Mufasa:

I am drawn to climbing in Yosemite, and especially on El Cap, as if it produced its own gravity. Climbing here gives me fulfillment on a long term scale. Although, cutting your tips on the granite crystals, or scraping your body up wide cracks is not my favorite thing to do. The amount of work that goes into sending a project here is huge, and that feeling resonates strongly during and after working hard for a goal.


Walker on The Nose of El Cap

Walker on The Nose of El Cap. Photo: Ethan Pringle

My advice to climbers of all ability levels is the same—mix it up. Maybe what you’re lacking at the rest on your sport project is a hand jam, or perhaps a crimp on the face to nudge you past that final section of offwidth.

My proudest moment in climbing was when I bolted a route right up the middle of Oliana with my friend Sam Ellias. It was incredible to see this project come to life. Sacrificing energy and climbing time, we worked hard to make this route the best we could. Check it out! It’s called American Hustle (5.14b).

Walker in Oliana

Walker on Paper Mullat (8b+) in Oliana, Spain. Photo: Ethan Pringle

A not so proud moment in climbing would have to be a time I sent a boulder problem that someone else had found and was still working on. And to top it off, I called it Cry Baby … not so nice.

Right now, I’m the most psyched on sending some old classic 5.13 trad routes here in California. I have also been working on El Corazon on El Cap, with 30 difficult pitches, five 5.12s, and five 5.13s. I have climbed every crux pitch and have sent two of the .13s and one hung one of the hardest.

Walker Emerson on Golden Gate

Walker logging time on the big stone. Golden Gate (5.13a). Photo: Colin Delehanty

When Walker Emerson isn’t climbing outside, he sets routes at Planet Granite Climbing and Fitness. We send a big thank you to Walker for sharing his thoughts, and we wish him the best of luck in his summer granite adventures!

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