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Separate Reality

Perched high above Yosemite Valley, Separate Reality is one of the first 7a+ routes in the world. This sheer rock face, with its famed roof crack, offers a blend of fear, awe, and exhilaration, challenging climbers to defy gravity and their own limits.


Trad Route


United States




20m (66ft)

First Ascent

Ron Kauk

Separate Reality

Ascent Log

ClimberSuggested GradeDate of AscentNotes
Ron Kauk5.12a/7a+1978First Ascent Instagram Post
Ray Jardine5.12a/7a+1979Photo of Jardine was on covers of magazines and climbing books.
Dave Diegelman5.12a/7a+1979Climbed on pre placed gear. Instagram Post
Louise Shepherd5.12a/7a+1981First female ascent and first onsight.
Wolfgang Gullich5.12a/7a+1986First free solo ascent. Photo taken by Heinz Zak became world famous.
Heinz Zak5.12a/7a+2005Inspired by Gullich, Heinz made the second free solo. Video
Dean Potter5.12a/7a+2006Dean Potter would free solo this route 5 times.
Will Stanhope5.12a/7a+June 2012Instagram Post
Alex Honnold5.12a/7a+

Climb Profile

The Route

The Separate Reality climb is a 66-foot traditional climbing route in Yosemite National Park, known for its unique and challenging features. The most notable part of this climb is a 20-foot long horizontal crack in its roof, which provides a significant obstacle for climbers. This section of the climb is both physically demanding and mentally challenging due to its exposure and the technical skills required.

climber on separate reality

The climb starts with a steep lieback flake, leading climbers to a position just below the roof. Here, climbers prepare for the main section of the route, the horizontal roof crack. Navigating this part requires careful movement and a strong grip, as climbers move horizontally under the overhang with Yosemite Valley directly beneath them. The route concludes with a series of demanding moves at the edge of the roof, requiring precision and confidence.

For those leading the climb with traditional gear, the recommended protection includes a variety of Camalots and hexes. The initial part of the climb can be protected with a #1 and a #4 Camalot, while the crack itself is best suited for a #3, two #2s, a #1, and a 0.75. Another method for protection involves dropping hexes into the crack from above, which is easier but requires careful coordination.

Separate Reality

Access to the climb involves a short journey from Hwy 120 outside Yosemite Valley. Climbers park near a tunnel, follow a steep path down the cliff to the top of the Separate Reality visor, and then rappel 80 feet down to the base of the climb.

First Ascent

1978: Ron Kauk

The first ascent of Separate Reality climb was achieved by Ron Kauk in 1978. This ascent marked a significant moment in the history of rock climbing, as the route was one of the first in the world to be graded at 5.12a (7a+). It was later downgraded to a 7a after a hold broke off, exposing an even better handhold, but was then upgraded again to a 7a+.

Ron Kauk making the first ascent of Separate Reality
Ron Kauk making the first ascent

The name “Separate Reality” was inspired by the 1971 novel “A Separate Reality” by Carlos Castaneda. In The Nugget Climbing podcast, Ron Kauk saw the book as a guide to rediscovering the magic and mystery of life. This sentiment resonated with the climbing community’s pursuit of adventure and exploration.

Second Ascent

1979: Ray Jardine

The second ascent was made by Ray Jardine, a year after Ron Kuak. Jardine, an influential figure in the climbing world, known for his innovations in climbing gear and techniques, successfully navigated the route’s challenges. His ascent further cemented Separate Reality’s reputation as a benchmark climb in the climbing community.

Ray Jardine magazine cover
Jardine’s ascent on the cover of a climbing Magazine

The significance of Jardine’s ascent was amplified by the widespread exposure it received, with photographs of his climb appearing on the covers of various climbing books and magazines globally, including Reinhold Messner’s book “The Seventh Grade.” This contributed to the growing allure and legend of Separate Reality in the climbing world.

First Free Solo Ascent

1986: Wolfgang Gullich 

In 1986, the climbing world witnessed a groundbreaking moment when German climber Wolfgang Güllich made the first free solo ascent of Separate Reality and one of the hardest in the world. Güllich had previously climbed the route several times with a rope, allowing him to familiarize himself with every intricate detail and movement required.

Wolfgang Gullich free soloing Separate Reality
Wolfgang free soloing Separate Reality, 1986 ©Heinz Zak

On the day of his solo ascent, Güllich, accompanied by photographer Heinz Zak, climbed the route with a fluidity and confidence that belied the inherent risks of free soloing. His ascent was a masterful display of climbing, free from the constraints of ropes and gear, relying solely on his physical and mental capabilities.

After completing the climb, Güllich reflected on the experience with a profound understanding of the thin line between life and death in such endeavors. He expressed an incredible feeling of joy and a deep appreciation for life, recognizing the significance of confronting and overcoming fears.

‘An incredible feeling of joy melts all the tension and I suddenly have the impression that it was not a game of gambling with my life; it was not subjectively dangerous. I sit in the sun on the flat summit plateau – the ‘other reality’ is now part of the past. It is the thought of death that teaches us to value life.’

The iconic photo of Wolfgang hanging from the roof of Separate Reality has become one of the most recognized photos in climbing history. 

Other Epic Ascents

Following the first and second ascents of Separate Reality by Ron Kauk and Ray Jardine, the climb continued to attract significant attention and achievements:

Louise Shepherd’s First Female Free Ascent (1981): Australian climber Louise Shepherd made the first female free ascent of Separate Reality in 1981. Remarkably, she climbed it onsight, meaning she completed the route without prior practice or falls, a notable achievement in the climbing world.

Heinz Zak’s Second Free Solo (2005): Nearly two decades after Güllich’s ascent, Heinz Zak, the photographer who captured Güllich’s climb, completed the second free solo of Separate Reality in 2005. Zak had previously felt that a free solo of the route was beyond his mental reach, but filming Güllich inspired him to eventually take on the challenge himself.

Dean Potter’s Multiple Free Solos (Starting 2006): American climber Dean Potter free soloed Separate Reality in 2006, the first of five times he would complete the route solo. Potter’s repeated ascents of this challenging route underscored his exceptional skills and daring approach to climbing.

Dean Potter Separate Reality
Dean Potter on Separate Reality

Other Notable Free Soloists: Climbers like Alex Honnold and Canadian Will Stanhope have also free soloed Separate Reality, adding to the route’s legacy as a proving ground for some of the world’s most skilled and daring climbers.

These ascents, each remarkable in their own right, have contributed to the lore of Separate Reality, making it not just a climbing route but a symbol of the evolution of climbing skill, bravery, and innovation.

Video Library


Meet Angel, a former desk-jockey turned global wanderer. After catching a severe case of the climbing (and travel) bug, she's now a world traveller, living the dirtbag dream. Highballs? Too mainstream for her taste. She's all about the thrills of lowballs, where the real action happens. Nowadays, you'll find her in Thailand, either precariously balanced on a granite slab or trading stories with Nemo and his buddies underwater!

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