Rock Climbing in Yosemite
A lesson that incorporates the human challenge with the science and math of rock climbing, in addition to a virtual tour and lesson on the art of Yosemite.

Today’s Activities


Watch:  This 4 ½ minute video about some of the most renowned rock climbers in the world as they discuss the accomplishment of climbing El Capitan.

Watch:  This 6 ½ minute video of Alex Honnold as he narrates about his free solo climb of El Capitan in June, 2017.

What are the features of Yosemite that make it a destination for rock climbers from around the world? Why is El Capitan such a challenge for climbers?

Rock climbing is a sport. What sports have you tried? What sports do you enjoy? Why?


How was Yosemite Valley formed?  Summarize three of the geologic processes from this article, and describe how each one helped create the unique landscape of Yosemite Valley.

Read about the geology of Yosemite Valley:

How does physics impact rock climbers?

How do angles affect a climber’s safety equipment? What type of items do climbers use for safety?

The math of rock climbing:

What is your “ape index”?

What is the “fall factor”, and how is it related to the total distance climbed? 

Watch this simple video on erosion.

Try this fun erosion project act home to make your own valley!

Watch this video on climbing safety to learn more about the equipment you saw in the first videos


Yosemite has inspired artists for generations, and the beauty of Yosemite Valley itself might be one reason why it is such a popular destination for rock climbers.  Some of the most well-known artists in the world have created paintings of landscapes in Yosemite.

Read this article about famous artists from the 19th and 20th and their works featuring Yosemite.

Select two of the artists.  Compare and contrast their styles, the mediums they used, the time periods in which they painted, and the emotions that their paintings evoke.  What is it about each of their styles that lend to that emotion?

Now, watch this video about the making of the movie, Free Solo, by filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.  What were the challenges they faced?  How do they use film to create visual images similar to artists from the 19th and 20th centuries? 

Watch this video on Ansel Adams and discuss with someone at home: Why did he like taking photographs in Yosemite?

Did you have a favorite image? Why? 


  • Have you visited Yosemite Valley before? What were your first impressions of the valley?

  • You can take a virtual tour of Yosemite through this video.

  • Use one of the following to describe Yosemite Valley to someone who has never visited.
    – Write a haiku or poem
    – Sketch a picture
    – Write a short essay


  • Learn how to tie a “figure 8” knot. This is the most common knot used for rock climbers when they tie a climbing rope into their harness. You don’t need a climbing rope to practice tying knots; any type of rope, cord, or even a shoestring will work.
  • Research other famous locations around the world that attract rock climbers. Describe the location and the features of that area that make it a rock climbing destination.
  • Learn about how Alex Honnold prepared for his free solo climb of El Capitan by watching his Ted Talk on the subject.
  • Have you ever challenged yourself to accomplish a goal that required significant preparation? Share your goal and what steps you took to prepare to achieve it.
  • Do the workout! Here is a sample training plan to get in shape for rock climbing.

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