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Midnight Lightning

When you enter Yosemite Valley, the heart of climbing in North America, bouldering is probably one of the last things on your list of things to-do. Walls, buttresses and spires with literally millions of square feet in real estate rise up like titans from the valley floor. Yet, even here – even in this great and glorious wonderland of stone – bouldering maintains a very real presence, and the answer as to why comes in large part from one single problem. It is a name you have probably heard, even if you’ve never visited the park; Ron Kauk’s baby: Midnight Lightning.


United States





First Ascent

Ron Kauk

Date of FA


Midnight Lightning

Ascent Log

ClimberSuggested GradeDate of AscentNotes
Ron KaukV8/7B1978Ron made the first iconc ascent of Midnight Lightning. He used a small crimp with his left hand to get over the mantle. Video
John BacherV8/7B1978John Bacher drew the first lightning bolt on the boulder – almost 40 years later, it’s still there. Facebook Image
Jerry MoffattV8/7B1984Jerry made his ascent on the same day.
Lynn HillV8/7B1998First female ascent of Midnight Lightning. She practiced the mantle on rope first. Video
Lisa RandsV8/7B2001Lisa made the second female ascent without practicing on a rope. UKC Article
Mina Leslie-WujastykV8/7B2012Instagram Post
Wolfgang GüllichV8/7B80s/90sInstagram Post
Kurt AlbertV8/7B80s/90s
Adam OndraV8/7B2018Adam sent the route on his flash attempt. Video

Climb Profile

The Evolution of Climbing in Yosemite in the 70s

During the 1970’s, rock climbing in the U.S. was undergoing significant changes. For many years, aid climbing – using gear to haul oneself up a cliff – had been the primary mode of scaling a rock face. At the turn of the decade, young climbers began to think outside the box of tradition, challenging themselves to imagine these same aid climbs going free.

The first free ascent of Astroman in 1975 by John Long, Ron Kauk, and John Bachar marked a turning point in Yosemite free climbing. Astroman was the first significant big wall route to have gone free, and this accomplishment, alone, was enough to merit a new definition of “possible.” Suddenly, Yosemite Valley’s coven of climbers was attacking the walls with new energy, free climbing old aid routes, and newer, more innovative lines, as well. Before long, it was enough to just be climbing all the time; you needed to train.

Ron on Kauk’ s Corner. Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows. 1984

Two dominating figures of the climbing scene during this time were John Bachar and Ron Kauk. As many other climbers in the ‘70’s, they hung their hats at the infamous Camp 4, unofficially known as the climber’s campground because of its proximity to El Capitan. 

Bachar and Kauk were among the first professional climbers to adopt a regimented training program; early iterations of hangboards and campus boards hung from wooden slats between trees, dumbells, and weights littered the ground around their tents. Eventually, they began adding another form of practice into their routine: bouldering.

The Birth of Midnight Lightning

At this point in time, bouldering was less of an individual discipline and more an opportunity to practice for larger objectives. Nevertheless, it provided climbers with a chance to practice delicate sequences and powerful movements, all just a few feet off the ground. Moreover, it was an effective way to gain the strength needed for those crux pitches, 1,500ft off the deck.

Ron Kauk on Midnight Lightning ©MIKE HOOVER

One day in 1978, John Yablonski – a friend of Bachar and Kauk – was sitting at the base of the Columbia boulder in camp 4 and thought he spied a line to the top. He told his friends about it, who scoffed, initially, believing that it was impossible. Slowly, they warmed to Yablonski’s suggestion. In the evenings, while they were waiting for dinner to cook or just to pass the time, Kauk and Bachar would try their hand at the project. At first, they were barely able to hang onto the first holds. Then, gradually, they stayed in, reaching up to find another hold, then another, and another. 

The iconic lightnight bolt, first drawn by John Bacher as Ron was making his ascent.

The problem starts on some slick crimps. After a couple of moves, you can stand up for an undercling crimp with your right hand. Left-hand goes up, feet up, then fire up to a nice hold with your right hand (dyno or dead point, depending on size). Get your feet up, match hands, then get your right hand out to a sloping ledge on the lip. The mantle shuts most people down – right foot out on the lip, left palm down, and rock yourself up. A right hand up to a crimp and stand on the lip and it’s over.

John Bacher making the second ascend of Midnight Lightning

Eventually, after 4 months of working on the problem, Ron Kauk topped out the boulder. While bouldering grades were still new, he gave it a rating of V8/7B, making it the second problem of that difficulty in the world. John Bachar quickly made the second ascent while, in the background, Jimi Hendrix – the uncontested soundtrack of the Stonemasters – and his guitar were yowling away. Kauk dubbed his route Midnight Lightning after the closing track on Hendrix’s record South Saturn Delta. Using a chalk pebble, he drew a lightning bolt on the rock.


Since that day, Midnight Lightning marked by an enduring chalked lightning bolt, embodied the monumental challenge of the ascent and soon captured the global climbing community’s fascination. As years passed, Midnight Lightning grew into more than just a formidable climb—it became a rite of passage and a symbol of the sport itself, continually attracting climbers worldwide drawn not only to its physical demands but also to its rich history and cultural significance.

Today, four decades after its first ascent, the route’s allure remains undiminished. Climbers traverse great distances to conquer this iconic boulder, all the while preserving the chalked lightning bolt, a beacon of shared passion, and a testament to the vibrant global community that is bouldering. 

A climber on the bouldering route ‘Midnight Lightning’ in Yosemite ©Mark Donoher – Flickr

In the words of Kauk, reflecting on his achievement nearly forty years on, “It was a rite of passage. And it was symbolic. Still, it is to this day… It was all timing. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have.” . Behind The Nose, rock climbing in the Valley doesn’t get much more iconic than this.

Video Library


Born and raised in Northern Vermont, Zak's parents were hardcore adventurers, and the appearance of a child in their lives did not slow them down much. Each summer, they would toss him and an assortment of gear in the truck and gun it for the American West. After his first year at college, Zak applied for a job in Yosemite National Park, and for the next decade, he worked seasonally in Yosemite and on the Sierra Eastside, doing whatever he could to be close to those mountains. Currently, Zak lives on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, piecing together a living as a climbing guide, bartender and writer.

Chilam Balam
Super Crackinette

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