Images from Jimmy Chin and other National Geographic photographers documenting the extreme climbing culture evolving in Yosemite National Park.

IN YOSEMITE, a new generation of superclimbers are scaling routes ropeless, tightrope walking thousands of feet above waterfalls, living in “portaledges” 1,500 feet above the valley, and BASE jumping back down once they’re done.

The images and text below are featured in Yosemite Climbing, the cover story of the May issue of National Geographic Magazine. They are reprinted here with special permission from our friends at NGM. All rights reserved. Make sure to visit their site and check out the May issue for the full story and photo gallery.


Glacier Point

With no rope to save him, Dean Potter scales a route on Glacier Point called Heaven. Photo: Mikey Schaefer/National Geographic


Higher Cathedral Rock

Barely holding on with a hand chalked for a better grip, Cedar Wright ignores burning muscles to pull himself across the roof of Gravity Ceiling, a route on Higher Cathedral Rock. "I'm giving it 199 percent," he says. "But I still thought I was calm and cool." Photo: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic


Northwest Face, Half Dome

Despite the obvious risk, this spot on the Regular Northwest Face route on Half Dome is a welcome reprieve for Alex Honnold, who became a rock star at age 23 when he first climbed the famed route without a rope. (Composite of four images) Photo: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic


Climbing Yosemite Falls

Kate Rutherford can't hear a thing while climbing so close to the roar of Yosemite Falls. She can't find much to hang on to either. The water polishes the rock "like glass." Wearing tape on her hands, she has to repeatedly jam them into fissures for the ascent. Spectacular scenery makes up for the discomfort. The climbing route is called Freestone, Rutherford says, because "it's a peach of a route." Photo: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic


Thank God Ledge

This 40-foot-long sliver of granite on Half Dome, named the Thank God Ledge, is the only way to get beyond the Visor, a massive roof that looms over the Regular Northwest Face route. Most people crawl, says Alex Honnold, but he prefers to walk it, face out, since that's "cooler." The 30 seconds it takes to get across requires absolutely no technical climbing skill, but even Honnold admits it's sobering to look at 1,800 feet of air. Photo: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic


Highlining Yosemite Falls

"It feels like I'm hovering in space," says Dean Potter, perched on a highline above Yosemite Falls. Gusting winds and blinding mist make it tough to balance on the inch-thick rope 2,600 feet above the valley, but a tether attached to his waist protects him from disaster. Photo: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic


Half Dome BASE jump

Leaping from Half Dome is illegal, but in Yosemite the sport of BASE jumping is soaring in popularity anyway. Climbers say it's faster (and more fun) to parachute into the valley than to hike all the way down the back of the mountain. Photo: Lynsey Dyer/National Geographic