Yosemite Facelift: Celebrating Twenty Years of YCA

Plus five climbing photos we’ll never forget

By Timmy O’Neill, YCA Executive Director • Photos by Dakota Snider

The Yosemite Climbing Association (YCA) is celebrating 20 years of advocating for climbing access and park stewardship in Yosemite National Park. We are committed to preserving and sharing the historical, cultural and global impact of YNP climbing via the Yosemite Climbing Museum based in Mariposa, CA. The YCA also fosters community stewardship and connection through public space clean-ups via our nationwide Facelift events, molded on our annual five day flagship event taking place this year from September 20 – 24 in Yosemite.

As the current director of the YCA, I owe a massive debt to the forefather of this dynamic organization, the beloved keeper of the Yosemite climbing flame, Ken Yager. More than anyone else, Ken laid the foundation for what became the YCA, and helped shift the American climbing center of gravity to where it belongs: Yosemite Valley. After decades of work, Ken still shepherds the YCA with a guiding light to help us grow and achieve our potential.

Photo of Ken Yager outside of the Climbing Museum in Mariposa

Ken Yager outside the YCA headquarters and climbing museum in Mariposa. Photo by Chris Van Leuven

As  Ken says, “By combining history with volunteerism, the YCA is preserving our sport’s past and ensuring a future for climbing by maintaining access to climbing areas. Let’s continue to celebrate John Salathé, Mike Corbett, and all the climbers who have contributed to our rich history and work together to protect the future of our sport.”

As a young urban explorer growing up in a family of seven kids in Philadelphia, I taped pictures of mountains and adventurers on my walls. These were the photos that inspired me to spread my wings and grow into the climber I have become today. Within the original vision,  Ken and the other pioneers of YCA have always  included history-making artifacts and photography to tell the complete story.

Photo of YCA founder, Ken Yager, looking at photos in the Yosmite Climbing Museum

Ken Yager taking a pause while creating a photo display at the Yosemite Climbing Museum in Mariposa. Photo by Chris Van Leuven

To document the achievements of groundbreaking  climbers like Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, and Alex Honnold, Yosemite photographers had to conjure a dangerous blend of athleticism and artistry to put themselves in position to get the shot. From Ansel Adams to Glen Denny to Dean Fidelman to Jimmy Chin, part of the YCA’s focus is to finally bring the climber photographers who were always behind the scenes into the limelight where they belong. There are so many iconic photos from Yosemite that it’s nearly impossible to pick our favorites, but we will continue to display as many of these images as possible in our YCA museum, website, and social media feed.

To celebrate 20 years of advocacy and preservation, the YCA has curated ten iconic climbing photos that blew our minds and inspired us to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Thanks for supporting the YCA Museum, Facelift and the greater Yosemite climbing community. Here are five of the climbing photos we’ll never forget and what they brought into focus for the rest of us climbers.

Photo of Ron Kauk climbing beautiful granite.

“Peace” 5.13d, photo of Ron Kauk by Chris Falkenstein, 2009

↑ “Peace” 5.13d, photo of Ron Kauk by Chris Falkenstein, 2009

This striking line of orange and black knobs on Tuolumne’s Medlicott Dome was first tried ground-up by John Bachar in the early 90s. But Kauk would eventually rappel the line to place the remaining protection bolts and offer his revolutionary route “Peace”  to future climbing generations.

Photo from the back of Peter Croft and John Bachar after climbing El Capitan and Half Dome in a day.

“The Daily Double” photo of John Bachar and Peter Croft by Phil Bard, 1986

↑ “The Daily Double” photo of John Bachar and Peter Croft by Phil Bard, 1986

The uber-talented free climbing pioneers Peter Croft and John Bachar after climbing El Capitan and Half Dome in a day. Phil Bard snapped this “finish line” summit image after a powerful thunderstorm threatened the pair on the Northwest Face route. They made the summit … and history.

Photo of three climbers costumed up in 70s disco attire at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite

“The Stonemasters” photo by Mike White, circa 1975

“The Stonemasters” photo by Mike White, circa 1975

This was the pose that started it all. Photographer Mike White’s leg was originally cut out of this photo, but we have brought him back in with a full telling of his hugely classic, costumed and staged shot of Billy Westbay, Jim Bridwell and John Long following their history making a sub-24 hour ascent of El Capitan.

Black and white photo Yvon Chouinard squatting with an organized circle of climbing pitons in front of him

“Circle of Pitons” Yvon Chouinard by Glen Denny, 1969.

“Circle of Pitons” Yvon Chouinard by Glen Denny, 1969

This Camp IV image of Yvon Chouinard and his “Circle of Pitons” set the standard for all future climbing gear shots. Glen was the vertical Ansel Adams (having briefly studied under him) and captured climbers of the late 50s and early 60s in Yosemite. We lost Glen in October of 2022 after a long life of exploring his beloved Sierra.

A portrait Royal and Liz Robbins at the top of a climb in Yosemite

“Liz and Royal Robbins” by unknown, 1967

“Liz and Royal Robbins” by unknown, 1967

The summit bystander who captured this candid portrait of the exhausted and elated Royal and Liz Robbins probably had no idea that history had just been made. This picture was taken right after the pair’s multi-day, and first female ascent of a Grade VI via the Regular NW Face in 1967. The legendary married couple tied the knot in many ways, eventually starting a successful clothing brand.

MAIN IMAGE CAPTION: Timmy O’Neill brings his trademark hilarious energy to the annual Yosemite Facelift event. Photo by Dakota Snider

The YCA has created a limited edition set of ten images that captures the historical, magical moments of Yosemite climbing, each one signed by either the photographer, climber or both when possible; 20 total sets available. These limited edition sets will be available at this year’s YNP Facelift and the YCA Museum. Email them at info@yosemiteclimbing.org or  Yosemitefacelift@gmail.com

Read past articles on the YCA and Yosemite Facelift: 

Yosemite Climbing Association  •  Yosemite Facelift