Yosemite Mountaineering School - 50th Anniversary

Yosemite Mountaineering School - 50th Anniversary

Yosemite Mountaineering School

Yosemite National Park is well known as a mecca for rock climbers. People travel to Yosemite from around the world to pursue their dreams of conquering the park’s impressive granite peaks.

“As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered, said Warren Harding, leader of the first team to climb El Capitan in 1958. “I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was.”

In addition to the vertical challenge of rock climbing, the spring waterfalls and wildflowers, high alpine meadows in the heat of summer and trails through the astonishing diversity of Sierra Nevada life zones make Yosemite an iconic destination for hiking and backpacking. The Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service (YMS), operated by Yosemite Hospitality, provides skilled instructors and experience local guides with whom visitors can test their endurance and achieve their goals, whether the top of El Capitan or the wilderness of Yosemite's High Country. 

50th Anniversary

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of YMS and the team is offering numerous adventures for park visitors to connect with Yosemite’s natural wonders. You can choose from world-class rock climbing and instruction, private guided climbs, custom and group hikes, guided backpacking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing throughout Yosemite’s extensive wilderness. The YMS is open year-round with exciting adventures for different seasons including guided snowshoe hikes to Dewey Point, backpacking to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, guided hikes on the Panorama Trail and the “Welcome to the Rock” beginner rock climbing class at Swan Slab. Leave No Trace principles and wilderness ethics continue to be a focus for students and guides. Environmental education is an essential part of their program.

How did the YMS get started? A great mountaineer, Wayne Merry was one of the first rock climbers to reach the summit of El Capitan in November 1958, and would go on to start the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service. In addition to founding the YMS, Merry was instrumental in working with the National Park Service to create the Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), which completes hundreds of rescues per year.

YMS has guided some famous people over the past five decades including teaching cross-country skiing to Charlton Heston and his entire family. Wayne Merry fondly recalls climbing Royal Arches with Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders and Tenzing Norway, first successful climb of Mountain Everest in 1953, in the 1970s. That tradition continues with President Obama and his family visiting (and climbing!) with us in 2016.

“Climbing is the ultimate escapism,” says Wayne Merry. “When you are on any difficult wall, it’s total concentration. When you can stop on the ledge and bring up your partner, you have the time to appreciate where you are—and being high on the face of El Capitan is like no place on earth. To make the first ascent on the world’s most famous rock climb was an incredible experience.”

YMS Today

YMS guides, recognized as some of the finest rock climbers in the world, have a wide variety of skiing, climbing, and mountaineering skills and experience. Leave No Trace builds awareness, appreciation and respect for the wilderness and promotes responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. All of the school’s guides hold Wilderness First Responder Certifications, and all take pride in their wilderness rescue skills. Led by YMS director and chief guide, Dave Bengston, the school operates at Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley, and at Tuolumne Meadows in the High Country. Visit TravelYosemite.com or call 209.372.8444 to book an adventure with the YMS!

Fun Facts

  • Warren Harding, leader of the first team to climb El Capitan in 1958, worked as a guide for YMS in the 1970s
  • The YMS started the cross-country ski school in 1970, which was the first on the west coast.
  • Did you know that Ned Gillette held the position of Director of Skiing for Yosemite Mountaineering School? Ned was an extremely accomplished adventurer and was a member of the 1968 US Olympic Cross-Country Ski Team. He is also a member of the US Skiing Hall of Fame.
  • Many of the Yosemite Mountaineering School guides at the time were used to accomplish the first two “top to bottom” rescues on El Capitan.
  • Numerous well-known climbers have been Yosemite Mountaineering School guides: Bev Johnson, Ron Kauk, TM Herbert, Tommy Herbert, Peter Croft, Donny Reid, Chris Falkenstein, Miles Smart, just to name a few…
  • Yosemite Mountaineering School guides first guided the face of El Capitan in May 1987 and now successfully leads 5 – 15 climbers up the face of El Capitan each year.