The granite crags of Half Dome and El Capitan – the 3,000-foot monoliths that inspired American climbing pioneers such as Royal Robbins – may forever be the place where rock rats converge to earn their cragging stripes each spring and fall. No matter your skill level, if you're serious about paying homage, start out at the classic Ahwahnee Lodge. Built in 1927 with a massive granite facade, 34-foot-high ceilings, and sugar pine trestles, the National Historical Landmark inn gives you the rest you'll need to tackle timeless routes in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne, such as the six-pitch Nutcracker, a 5.8-rated (beginner-friendly) crack that Royal himself established with his wife Liz in 1967. Sign on with Yosemite Mountaineering School, the sole licensed outfitter in the park. Then hike six miles from the inn past backcountry waterfalls to the southwest face of Half Dome. Snake Dike is a spectacular 800-foot-long rib of mellow 5.7 rock that wanders to the summit, 5,000 feet above the valley floor. For a more challenging Half Dome ascent – and a taste of a classic big wall route – cast off on the 10-pitch East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, whose 5.7 and 5.8 moves (with a few 5.10c's on the fourth pitch) provide vertigo-inducing views of El Cap's planet-size walls, just across the valley. Nail it, and you've officially arrived. Reward yourself with a splash in the natural waterslides carved in the rock above Vernal Falls.
Credit: Timothy Faust / Getty Images
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