Direct Northwest Face, Half Dome 5.14a or 5.10 C2+
Avg time to climb route: 3 days
Approach time: 3 hours
Descent time: 4 hours
Number of pitches: 23
Height of route: 2000'
OverviewThis is less popular and classic than the Regular Northwest Face but more dramatic, exposed, and remote-feeling. It is climbed only a few times a year compared to the Regular Northwest Face, which is ascended a few times a day during peak season. This route has many chimneys, including the laser-cut Crescent arch. The Grand Terrace is a spectacular bivy ledge perched out over the face. The free climbing is as hard as Salathé with aid as tricky as Zodiac.
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First Ascent HistoryRoyal Robbins and Dick McCracken swapped leads over five days in June 1963 to make the first ascent. This would be the team’s second big wall first ascent together, having climbed the Misty Wall on the Upper Yosemite Falls wall earlier that month. The team wore helmets – this was a first for them in Yosemite, though Robbins had worn one previously in the Dolomites – to specifically protect themselves from tourists throwing rocks from the summit.
They started by bypassing fixed lines low on the route placed by Galen Rowell and Ed Cooper, who were preparing to climb the route. Robbins was making a statement that first ascents should not involve fixed lines. But Rowell took it as more as Valley insiders (Robbins and crew) nabbing a route from Valley outsiders (Rowell and Cooper). This was one of the reasons Rowell left the Valley and mainly made first ascents in the High Sierra and around the world.
The first pitches were notorious offwidth and chimney followed by more thin cracks. Said Robbins: “I do remember using a lot of RURPs up there on the Gong Flake. We used hooks up there and later on the West Face of El Cap.” Near the top, when Royal’s wife Liz Robbins was coming to greet them during a building storm, she was nearly electrocuted when lighting struck the steel cables directly after she let go. Royal believes the Direct would be as popular as any other big wall in Yosemite if it didn’t start at nearly the same height as El Cap tops out, 7000 feet.
Other HistoryRick Cashner and Mike Corbett made the first one-day ascent in 1989. Cashner took a 100-footer out of the slot on Pitch 11 (5.11+ or 5.10a C2) when he slipped, (his largest piece was a #3 Camalot). In 1993 Todd Skinner spent 61 days working on the face, establishing, then, the hardest big wall route in the world at 5.14 (he rated it 5.13d). Tommy Caldwell fired a one-day free ascent in October 2007. He took one hour to fire the crux pitch: a 150-foot, 88 degree, 5.14 slab. There are four more 5.13 pitches on the route. Caldwell likely clipped bolts and pins on Skinner's variations that had not been used by anyone else since being placed in 1993.
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