Good Sports: Yosemite climber's mission to highlight the sport becoming a reality

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Sunday, March 17, 2019
Good Sports: Yosemite climber's mission to highlight the sport becoming a reality
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Good Sports: Yosemite climber's mission to highlight the sport becoming a reality

The big granite walls in Yosemite make the national park a playground for the world's best rock climbers.

For rock climber Ken Yager, entering Yosemite National Park is different than most.

The El Portal resident has been climbing in the park his whole adult life. He estimates to have recorded more than 300 first ascents. A day after getting his driver's license he picked up his first hitchhiker.

"He did offer to give me $20, 'here's something for gas.' And then he goes 'oh my name is Warren Harding' and he shakes my hand. I go 'I know who you are! I'm Ken Yager and you're my hero!'," said Yager.

Harding was on the first team to climb the Nose of El Capitan and he and Yager would go on to become climbing partners. But these days, Yager is best known for clean-up efforts.

"I was angry and angry and then finally I went 'You know what? I can turn this around."

Tired of seeing toilet paper at the base of climbing routes, Yager organized a three-day clean up in 2004. 120 people took part. 15 years later, Yosemite Facelift has picked up more than a million pounds of trash.

"I kind of realized we needed to get involved in these discussions and get involved in the preservations of these public lands and become stewards. It's being used as a model around the world and it's starting to take off."

Last September, three thousand volunteers cleaned up the park when Alex Honnold debuting his Oscar-winning film Free Solo.

While Yager is known for Yosemite Facelift, his ultimate goal is to open a climbing museum inside the park.

From the equipment that set up the cable route on Half Dome, to John Salathe's rope and the shoes Lynn Hill used to free climb the Nose for the first time.

He's collected more than ten thousand items from the world's greatest climbers. Right now, he's forced to store it in garages and storage units.

"It's overdue but now you pretty much can't stop it. It's snowballed."

This month, Yager got a letter of intent from the Park to establish a museum, the biggest step forward in his 27-year mission.

"And people are fascinated. Most of them will never go up on the rock there but some of them go 'Oh wow that doesn't sound as insane-because you work your way up. And then they'll go and take a class and try it out for themselves."

He hopes to have it built by the end of the year to inspire everyone who comes to the park.

"We can all push our boundaries to what level we want. Might not be to Alex's level of climbing El Cap without a rope. I enjoy seeing people get really enthusiastic about something. The joy once you communicate with them and they suddenly understand that passion that we have."