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El Capitan in Yosemite with the obvious prow taken by The Nose in the middle
Photo by Jacopo Larcher

Farewell to George Whitmore, pioneer of The Nose on El Capitan

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American rock climber George Whitmore has died at the age of 89. Together with Wayne Merry and Warren Harding he made the first ascent of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite in 1958.


The American rock climber George Whitmore, known in the climbing world above all for having completed the first ascent of The Nose on El Capitan in 1958 together with Wayne Merry and Warren Harding, has died of complications caused by COVID-19.

Half Dome had been climbed a year earlier by Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick and, not to be outdone, Warren Harding aimed for the biggest prize of all: the most striking prow on El Capitan. At the time the huge, untouched sheer granite face was considered impossible but after the 47 days spent on the wall between 1957 and 1958, at 6 am on 12 November Harding, Merry and Whitmore successfully pulled over the rim. In doing so they established the first route up El Cap and, at the same time, the route destined to become the most famous big wall rock climb in the world.


Remembering Whitmore on Instagram, Yosemite expert Hans Florine stated "George was always humble in his description of his role in the ascent. He figures he was in the right place at the right time. But what he, Warren, and Wayne did was so utterly non-conformist and patently dangerous that those three men were special. They choose to decide for themselves what was a good use of their time. There was a million things to do other than climb El Capitan, a thousand reasons, and a million excuses to stay on flat ground. I am still stunned when I think of the gear of 1958, and the culture of the era, and how climbing that 3000 ft wall was stranger than fiction. I love those three and all the pioneers of Yosemite climbing. Amazing "World Shakers.”"

Born in 1931 in Fresno, California, Whitmore had started climbing in 1953. He was a pharmacist by profession and in addition to his climbing exploits, Whitmore will be remembered for his conservationism. A member of the Sierra Club, he helped establish the California Wilderness Act of 1984, which added 1.8 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

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