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First Ascent of El Cap's North American Wall Teaser

28-Feb-2013
By Royal Robbins

Robbins on the first ascent of the North American Wall. Photo courtesy of the Robbins collection.I had been thinking about the North America Wall all year or even longer. We didn’t want to use fixed ropes, but we also didn’t know if we could climb the face. After climbing Proboscis the year before, in 1963, and before that the Direct Northwest Face of Half Dome and Salathé, I felt we’d reached the point in Yosemite where we expected to get up a wall. But we didn’t expect to get up the North America Wall in particular. There were too many unknowns. For example, we didn’t know where the route went or even if there was a route—El Capitan’s southeast face lacked the continuous crack systems of the southwest face and the Salathé. Also, an El Cap route had never been established without some fixed lines. Well, we wanted an adventure, and climbing the southeast face of El Capitan without umbilical cords would be one sure way to have one.

Well, we wanted an adventure, and climbing the southeast face of El Capitan without umbilical cords would be one sure way to have one.The “we” consisted of Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and me. Glen Denny wasn’t available. We cast around, inviting Pat Ament from Colorado. He couldn’t go, so we asked Yvon Chouinard. Yes, Yvon would be our fourth. It was good having him on the team. For one thing Yvon wasn’t a Valley “regular,” having done most of his early climbing in the Tetons. So we couldn’t be accused of recruiting only Yosemite veterans. We knew, from Chouinard’s past experience, that he was a very able climber, as well as an inventor and maker of pitons. But he had something else: He had a certain self-confidence. It was hard to quantify, but he had it. And if someone believes in himself, others believe in him too. We were no exception, and we were right. On the North America Wall, Yvon proved himself worthy again and again. Frost was Yvon’s partner in business and the manufacture of climbing equipment, as well as his climbing partner on the first ascent of the West Face of Sentinel rock. I had climbed often with Tom, who was not only a very good climber, but also had a keen sense of humor. Our team was complete, and strong. We would need a strong team for this wall.

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