“Nothing contributes more to Yosemite’s preeminent grandeur than a 3,000-foot white monolith standing at the gate to the Valley:  El Capitan .  ‘The Captain’ it indeed is, for it commands the attention and respect of everyone entering Yosemite .  Its light igneous rock is called El Capitan granite.  From the south to the west buttress, four great routes lie on this fine, hospitable granite.  But the southeast face is different, for the granite is displaced in the center of that wall by brittle black diorite.  This diorite forms a crude map of the North American continent, whence the name, ‘North America Wall.’

           “Because of its grim aspect, this dark wall was left untouched while the more obvious and esthetic lines on the southwest face were climbed.  But the inevitable attraction of a great un-climbed wall finally prevailed, and in October of 1963, Glen Denny and I made several probes, reaching a high point of 600 feet.  The aid-climbing was unusually difficult.  Promising cracks proved barely usable.  On the third pitch nearly every piton was tied off short.”  (Royal Robbins, AAJ, 1965)

           In this photograph Denny leads the fourth pitch, belayed by Robbins.  Exploration of the North America Wall had begun.  We returned in the fall of 1964 for an all-out effort.

           “We half-expected (and half-hoped) others would do the climb before we returned.  But when Tom and I arrived back in Yosemite the wall stood somber and still virgin – waiting.  We all felt similarly about the climb – it was not an appealing wall.  It did not have the elegance or majesty of the southwest 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 .” (RR, AAJ)

           Roper commented on the North America Wall climb:  “If you assemble the four best rockclimbers in the country – probably the world – and stick them onto a steep, unclimbed Yosemite cliff, you may not have too many stories to tell afterward.  On October 31, nine and a half days after starting, the quartet had completed the most difficult rock climb ever done.  The exposure had been awesome - much more so than on the Nose or the Salathé – and the nailing difficulties unprecedented.  Mightily determined to avoid bolts (only thirty-eight were placed), the team performed aid miracles and made wild pendulums and traverses.  The diorite, fractured and lacking structural integrity, belied the fact that Yosemite usually had the best rock on the planet;  loose flakes and strange cracks presented special problems.  It had been hot at first; stormy later.  Still, all such things were expected, and the team simply dealt with them one step at a time.”  (Steve Roper, Camp 4)


ON THE NA WALL, the first reconnaissance by Royal Robbins, and Glen Denny to 600 feet, October 1963.  The ascent of the full route took place one year later during 10 days of October 1964, by Robbins, Pratt, Chouinard, and Frost.  The North America Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California.