Yosemite: Half a Century of Dynamic Rock-Climbing

North America Wall
By Royal Robbins
  |  Gorp.com
Page 1 of 4   |  
Hanging by a thread in Yosemite
Hanging by a thread in Yosemite (Photo © Heinz Zak)

The legendary Yosemite granite—particularly the pitches on El Cap and Half Dome—entice and inspire wallrats from around the globe. In an essay from the soon-to-be published, full-color Yosemite: A Half Century of Dynamic Rock-Climbing, Royal Robbins, a legend of the climbing world, remembers a grueling ascent on El Cap's North America Wall.

Hanging by a thread in Yosemite
In mid-October the Sierra was still in the grip of an Indian summer. The Merced had lost its earlier vitality and become a trickle amid sand dunes. The evanescent Yosemite Falls, stupendous in June, had disappeared. The oaks and maples were slow to don their fall clothing; and each afternoon haze crept up the western foothills and filled the Valley—a rare occurrence in a normal autumn.

[Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt, and myself] all felt similarly about the climb—it was not an appealing wall. It did not have the elegance or majesty of the South-West Face. The treacherous dark rock, the difficulty of retreat due to great overhangs and long traverses, the absence of a natural route, and finally the apparent necessity for many bolts rendered us not happily enthusiastic about the venture. A large part of our individual selves did not want to attempt this face. But another part was lured on by the challenge of the greatest unclimbed rock wall in North America. Perhaps it would be a greater adventure for its ogreish appearance. But Chouinard forecast our doom. His previous bad luck on El Capitan had convinced him a black cloud hung over him.

We waited for the heat to abate. The South-East Face is peculiarly a heat problem. Its concavity creates an oven sheltered from westerly breezes by the South Buttress. Dwindling time forced us to start. In mid-afternoon of October 22, with sweat oozing from every pore, we carried supplies to the base of the wall. Tom and Yvon climbed the first pitch and left a rope on it. We then passed the night at the foot of the face. Yvon hardly slept. Next morning with the sun beating upon us, we climbed upward. As Tom led the second pitch, a tiny horn supporting an aid sling broke, causing a fall. His piton held and he passed the difficulty with a skyhook. Chouinard verified my opinion of the third pitch. He called it the hardest aid pitch of his experience. A short fall was held by a RURP—the Realized Ultimate Reality Piton—a tiny, slightly wedge-shaped piton, normally only used for aid.


Published: 22 Sep 2003 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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