Eight-year-old boy hopes to become youngest to climb El Capitan—but is it safe?

October 27, 2022

This week, an eight-year-old boy is hoping to become the youngest climber to summit El Capitan, one of the most famous rock formations in the Sierra Nevada and located within Yosemite National Park in California. It’s widely regarded as a challenge only intended for experienced climbers, reports Good Morning America.

Sam Baker, who has been training about three times a week for the difficult climb, already has started scaling the steep vertical rock face with his dad, Joe Baker.

The elder Baker told Good Morning America his son has been rock climbing nearly his entire life, since the age of two. The father-son duo, who have been training for the past two years, plan to ascend more than 3,000 feet of granite together, aided by a team and anchors and ropes.

Sam isn’t the only young person to tackle El Cap, as it’s informally known. Selah Schneiter was only ten when she made history as the youngest climber to reach the top of El Capitan in June 2019.

Climbing El Capitan is a serious undertaking and one full of dangers and risks, leading some to question if the activity is even suitable or safe for young people in the first place. The National Park Service notes that, on average, there are 100 accidents related to climbing in Yosemite National Park every year—and climbers in the past have been critically injured or died from injuries sustained while climbing at Yosemite.

Emily Harrington, a professional rock climber, has been climbing for the last 26 years and has free-climbed El Capitan twice.

“There are various ways to get to the top of El Cap,” Harrington told GMA. “The most common and the most often [used] one is called aid climbing, which is when you use ropes and protection. You’re actually using those things in order to aid your ascent up the wall, and that’s been done by probably thousands of people.”

When it comes to Sam’s climb up El Capitan, Harrington said she didn’t see it as an excessively risky venture. “From my understanding, the way in which this kid and his father climbing El Cap, they’re aid climbing, so they’re essentially using the protection in order to ascend the wall, which is actually quite safe,” the 36-year-old athlete said.

“When I first heard about it, I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s a cool adventure for a kid to have with his father provided his motivation is there,'” she continued. “If he’s stoked to be up there and have an adventure with his dad, I see no [issue] with it at all in terms of safety and risk. It’s not a dangerous form of climbing.”

As for aid climbing El Capitan specifically, she said she likened it to “a mountaineering adventure or a vertical camping adventure.”

“The level of risk that you take on is very dependent on the style in which you choose to climb, so you can kind of make it as safe or as not safe as you want it to be, based on how you choose to climb it,” Harrington said. “But … it’s a 3,200-foot-tall cliff, so it’s a wonderful adventure, no matter how you do it.”

Joe Baker told Good Morning America that, after their first day on El Cap, he and his son were enjoying their adventure so far. “We’re having fun. This is the first night; then, we’ll have two nights after this. And then we’ll have one night on the summit. Our big days are coming,” Baker said.

Research contact: @GMA