Royal S. Robbins
THE NAME is that of an Indian
lass whose tears of sorrow for her lost lover streaked black the big face of Half Dome. So say the legends. I took Dennis Hennek’s spyglass to go up and pop an eyeball at her — the wall not the lass. Dennis had suspected it would be good. He was a natural. We both joined Chuck Pratt and began climbing near the right margin of the mighty wall, following a lazy white and black dihedral: the Zebra. The grind begins 300 feet above the ground. There sits a big flat ledge: the Dormitory. The Zebra stands upon the Dormitory, its 400 foot trajectory aimed at the southern sky. When we reached its head we had climbed 700 feet sans bolts, but then we placed 28 in two leads. We had brought almost two complete sets of hardware so one man could lead while another was depitoning. Of limited value on Tis-sa-ack, this technique may prove useful in the search for one-day ascents of big routes like the Dihedral Wall of E1 Capitan. I put in 16 bolts in a row and took a weird delight in doing so, violating an expanse of smooth rock where nothing belonged but lichen and flies. I was proud of the quality of that bolt ladder. Reaching a ledge a bit short of halfway (Twilight Ledge), we readily found ample reason to come down and did so on the fourth day. That was in October, 1968.
October, 1969: Hennek was injured and Pratt, well, Pratt had misgivings. He felt wrong and would not go until he felt right. Not superstition, just vibrations. He disliked the vibes coming from me. He did not have to do it, but I did. I could not wait and joined up with a young Coloradan, hot as a firecracker, hot as a bloody branding iron, a young football player who climbs like a fullback charging a line, dauntless and without timidity, a hard lad: Don Peterson. We didn’t get on well. I was establishment. Don would be.
At the eyeball of the Zebra Don placed a nut, then another, and fell 15 feet when they came out. He returned and nested two pins, put in a nut, pulled up some rope, and pulled the nut, pulled the nest, and plummeted 20 feet this time. He seemed to enjoy it. He went back, got the top nut in, pulled in a hell of a lot of rope and I thought, “It’s going to be a good one this time,” but before the nut came out, he reached Pratt’s bolt.
We slept on Twilight Ledge and then double dog-legged it to Sunset Ledge; another night there; then 11 bolts, a big expanding flake, a horror scene of a razor-edged jam-crack, china-shop crockery, and an overhanging edge that took seven pins and kept three until Don came along and removed them. The fourth night hanging. Don’s lead: bolts and hard free climbing up to and through a true chimney. Easy going for three leads to reach a superb ledge at nightfall for the coldest night of my climbing career. At dawn Don led up the Ramp, some ugly nailing, then the ordeal: Bolts. Bolts. Hour after hour. My turn. Boy, was I feeling sorry for myself! Poor me! Bolt after bolt. Hammocks on the sixth night, bolts on the seventh day. Hammocks again. Almost out of bolts. Put them in part way, take them out and use them again. And again! Why was I so uptight about bat-hooks? Finally the summit dihedral was knocked off by Peterson in such fine style that I couldn’t repress a grudging compliment. Then the summit overhangs: another nightmare — hour after hour feeling with fingers in the darkness, bad cracks, shifting pins, pins coming out, too steep to go down, bashed fingers. I didn’t care. I was as far along the thin edge as I wanted to go, digging it and hating it, and finally finishing it, but not enjoying it. Pratt had been right. But certainly if I had it to do over again, I would.
Author’s Note: The above account is not heavy on route description because the path, for the most part, is clear. When the track becomes obscure, one may avoid going astray by following trail signs in the form of wee bits of metal stuck on pins themselves stuck into the rock. We drilled approximately 110 holes, of which about 20 are empty and rather shallow. These are in the final blank area. Also there are a number of exhibitionistic studs: bolts with so much metal showing that it is embarrassing as well as disconcerting. The bolt ladder I had placed above the Zebra is one of the best in the world. But the one I placed below the summit is certainly the worst anywhere. I hope those who make the next ascent (God pity them) will be indulgent of the poor workmanship up there. It was the job of a desperate man.
We took the following hardware: 4 rurps, 30 assorted pins from knifeblades through small angles, 8 ¾? angles, 8 1 ?, 2 1¼?, 10 1½?, 12 2?, 4 2½?, 3 3?, 2 3½?, 1 4?. It’s the Zebra that takes so many 1½ and 2-inch pitons.
Summary of Statistics:
Area: Yosemite Valley, California.
New ROUTE: Northwest Face of Half Dome, September 30 to October 7, 1969 by Royal S. Robbins, Donald Peterson. NCCS VI, F9, A4.