First Man to Climb Yosemite’s El Capitan Dies of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed yet another life, this time a legendary climber in the Sierra Nevada.

George Whitmore was a respected conservationist who famously became the first person to climb the 3,000-foot rock wall of El Capitan in 1958. On New Years Day, he tragically passed away from Covid-19 complications at the age of 89.

He was the last surviving member of the 3-person team that famously carved out the first ascent of El Capitan known as “The Nose.” The trio spent 45 days fixing pitches into the path and another 12 days to climb the rock wall. At the time, the climb of El Capitan was considered impossible.

“It’s really like walking on the moon,” author and climber John Long said of the climb in a 2018 WBUR interview. “There’s certain things that happen that … are seminal events. Not just for climbers or surfers or astronauts, but for all mankind. And that was one of ’em. It revolutionized what everybody thought was possible.”

While El Capitan was Whitmore’s name to fame, he was truly proud of his conservation work in the Sierra Nevada, helping establish the Kaiser Wilderness as well as becoming a key figure in passing the California Wilderness Act of 1984. He was also a leader in the Sierra Club, spearheading projects like stopping The Walt Disney Company from building a ski resort at Mineral King in the 1960’s.

“He was a climber but that was secondary,” said his wife Nancy Whitmore. “His love of the wilderness is the most important legacy that he has.”

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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