Half Dome

Maybe it was taken from an old issue of Summit, or from the pages of the classic Chouinard Equipment Company's catalog advocating a switch from pitons to nuts. "It" was a black and white photograph of Royal Robbins snapped in 1963, during the first ascent of the Direct North West Face of Half Dome. In that photo, Royal was camouflaged by a down jacket, white, flat cap and a beard and bandoliered by slings andpitons and etriers

Royal was standing in a four-inch wide ledge. A strand of rope arched away, leading his expression to the camera, and his face wore a calm that very few others could have exhibited if it were their heels hanging over thousands of feet of thin Yosemite Air.

The year was 1973, a time that I had no business on the Direct North West face of Half Dome. Even so, I would gaze at pictures of the great streaked face and be drawn to what, in my mind, was the only route truly located upon Half Dome's north wall. The "Direct" peaked on the very summit, at a huge overhang called "The Visor". From The Visor it fell straight down, its course delineated by a 2,000 foot open book whose left wall was itself a library of smaller dihedrals and cracks. These cracks are the most magnificent line on one of North America's greatest walls.

Finally, in May 1993, twenty years after I had used the picture of Royal on my dorm room door, Todd Skinner and I were driving toward Yosemite and a long awaited bout with the Direct North West Face.

This is the photo journey of the trip.

Text from Paul Piana's Big Walls -Breakthroughs on the Free-Climbing Frontier.

All photos © Galen Rowell. More on Galen Rowell
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All photographs Galen Rowell/Mountain Light Photography
All content on this site Todd Skinner