“The section above was ugly.  Overhanging to the right 400 feet, the Black Dihedral was a rotten mess.  Dropped here by the leader were many rocks and huge balls of mud and grass.  Luckily, these objects fell harmlessly far out to the side of us below.

        “After dark, we reached the Black Cave , an alcove with no bottom.  Here we spent several hours stringing our hammocks and getting settled.  By flashlight Tom observed large centipedes crawling on the wall above.

        “At dawn, casually glancing over the sides of our hammocks, we were astonished at the tremendous exposure.  The ground was 1,600 feet straight below.  Suspended over space, we hung one above another, like laundry between tenement flats.”  (Royal Robbins, AAJ 1965)

        The North America Wall was the climb of our lives.  More difficult and more serious than anything we knew.  It all came together for us here.

        “Oppressive is the word for the Black Cave.  We felt we had climbed into a cul-de-sac.

        “Chuck led the overhang.  He pitoned up one side of it and followed a horizontal dike of aplite around the top.  Fascinated, we watched the lower part of Chuck’s body move sideways thirty feet across our line of vision.  Pitonage was very difficult, and Chuck’s hauling line hung far out from the wall.  When all cracks stopped, he ended the pitch and belayed in slings, thus finishing the most spectacular lead in American climbing.”  (Robbins, AAJ 1965)

        In the midst of that pitch Chuck directed:  “Send out the camera.”  He snapped this image, a composite of two negatives, of Tom, Royal, and Yvon spanning the abyss.


TENEMENT FLAT, Black Cave bivouac, Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, and Yvon Chouinard, North America Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California.  First ascent by Robbins, Pratt, Chouinard, and Frost, 10 days, October 1964.