9-Year Old Climbs El Capitan in Yosemite

For many climbers, a trip up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is the high point of their career. After all, the 3000-foot (914 meter) rock face is arguably the most famous and iconic in all of the world, having played host to climbing royalty for decades. But where does your climbing career go when you’ve made that ascent at the age of nine? We’ll have to ask Pearl Johnson, who scaled El Cap back in September to become the youngest person to ever complete the climb.

According to Outside Online, Pearl spent four days and three nights on El Cap as she made her way up the rock wall. She climbed with her mother Janet and a family friend by the name of Nick Sullens. Pearl’s dad Phillip was on hand too, but since he is a law enforcement ranger in Yosemite, he was on duty at the time. As the trio of climbers reached the top of El Cap however, he was there to greet them.

Pearl, Janet, and Nick made their ascent along a route called “Triple Direct.” They had wanted to climb “The Nose,” which is easily the most famous route up El Cap, but it was too crowded so they made the switch. Triple Direct runs in parallel with The Nose for much of the way before the two routes merge near the top.

Both offer similar levels of challenge, which is to say they aren’t for the inexperienced. Fortunately, Pearl has grown up around rock climbing and has several other good routes under her belt. According to Outside she climbed  Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows at age 6, did the 15-pitch Royal Arches route at age 7, and completed Snake Dike on Half Dome at age 8.

According to Sullens, the biggest challenge that the trio faced on the way up was overcoming Pearl’s fear. He told Outside, “I was impressed with her wanting to keep going. If it were me at nine, I would have wanted to be out of there. Sometimes she would say, ‘I want this to be over, this is really scary.’ I would offer to bail and be down in two hours, and she would say she wanted to be there. She had a desire to pursue the goal. She wanted to climb that mountain.”

The trio completed the climb on September 16 with nasty weather moving in. As they topped El Cap, rain and hail were starting to fall, prompting Pearl to seek shelter under a nearby tree. But by reaching the top, she set a new mark for the youngest person to climb El Cap, surpassing 10-year old Selah Scneiter, who completed The Nose back in June.

Impressive stuff from a fierce and fearless young woman. Congrats to Pearl, Janet, and Nick for the impressive climb.

Kraig Becker