Central Valley

Congress honors Yosemite's rock climbing pioneers

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers who blanched at a $700 billion financial rescue package have found time to honor the brave men who climbed Yosemite National Park's El Capitan peak a half-century ago.

Kicking off a round of commemorations, the House this week approved a resolution saluting three climbers who were the first to scale North America's tallest free-standing granite monolith. The resolution sets the stage for a 50th anniversary ceremony to be held in Yosemite next month.

"It's a landmark," Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said Wednesday of the climb. "It was a really big deal." The House resolution honors Wayne Merry, Fresno resident George Whitmore and Warren J. Harding, who took 47 days in 1957 and 1958 to climb El Capitan's so-called "Nose Route." Theirs was a full-blown siege, complete with sizable support crew, fixed ropes and established camps along the vertical way.

Today, climbers can race up the same route in two or three days. Some daredevils have done it in one; in July, two climbers did the Nose Route in two hours and 43 minutes.

The House resolution, too, moved speedily through what can be an obstacle-ridden path. Radanovich's office prepared the resolution at the behest of the National Park Service. The park service is now getting ready for its own commemoration of the event, scheduled for Nov. 8.

That was the date, 50 years ago, that the three-man climbing team made their final push toward the El Capitan summit.