YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) _ An unexpected thrill awaited tourists who visited a sunny Yosemite meadow surrounded by soaring granite cliffs with El Capitan the grandest among them.

Thanks to telescopes set up by a pair of public-spirited amateur astronomers, hundreds of people on Wednesday got close-up views of paraplegic Mark Wellman as he neared the finish of his historic ascent to become the first paraplegic to climb one of the toughest challenges climbers face.

Five telescopes and a powerful pair of field glasses, all mounted on tripods, were set up in the meadow and trained on Wellman and his climbing companion, Mike Corbett.

Struggling to the top nearly a mile from the people in the meadow, the climbers were practically invisible to the naked eye but seemed perhaps 50 yards away when viewed through a 10-inch telescope built by Jim Baumgardt, an electronics worker from Burlingame, Calif.

''That is neat. That is really neat,'' said Alisa Hunter of Charlotte, N.C., after watching Wellman and Corbett.

Another spectator waiting for a telescope to become available stared up at the imposing monolith 3,200 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley and said softly: ''Oh, my goodness.''

Up to 20 people at a time stood in lines waiting for a chance to gaze at the two men hanging from ropes and struggling upward.

''He was hanging on the rock, and all of a sudden slipped off,'' said wide- eyed 11-year-old Tony Beckett of Bakersfield, Calif., after watching one of the climbers.''He was swinging back and forth.''

After peering through the telescope, park concession worker Casey Johnson called the climb ''pretty amazing.''

His companion, Leena Conway, said they and other co-workers of Wellman, a park ranger, are ''really proud that he's doing that.''

The idea to set up their star-gazing equipment for the public occurred Tuesday night to Baumgardt and William Phelps, vice president of the Peninsula Astronomical Society's vice president who lives in Palo Alto.

''I saw it on TV last night and thought 'I have the equipment; this is really neat, and I'd like to see it,''' Baumgardt said.