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Affinities: Rock Rats

A visit to Yosemite’s Camp 4, hallowed ground for rock climbers, who have been flocking here for decades to do battle with the park’s baddest boulders.


Hayley Ashburn.

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Alex Wilson.

(2 of 9)

Chris Smaling.

(3 of 9)

Juliana Petters.

(4 of 9)

Kyle Williams.

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Kelvin Nguyen.

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Rebecca Haynie.

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Tony Dimeglio.

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Sebrand Warren.

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See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

West of Half Dome and east of El Cap, on the Yosemite Valley floor, is a no-frills hike-in campground with a storied past. Beginning in the late 1940s, it served as base camp for a crew of mountaineers, among them Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard, who preferred scaling sheer rock walls to hiking winding trails.

In 2003, Camp 4 was officially listed with the National Register of Historic Places for “its significant association with the growth and development of rock climbing in the Yosemite Valley during the ‘golden years’ of pioneer mountaineering.” Today, little has changed: Passionate climbers (nine of whom are pictured above at the base of Swan Slab) jockey to be among the 210 people allowed to set up camp for a mere $6 a night.

“Modern climbing was born in Yosemite Valley, and the titans that opened the walls here all stayed here,” says Chris Smaling, who first came to Camp 4 two years ago at age 18 with just a packful of gear and $20 in his pocket. “The community is absolutely unique in both character and caliber. If you want to learn how to climb hard, you come to Yosemite, and you stay in Camp 4.”

Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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