Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome

The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome was the first Grade VI climb in the United States. It was first climbed in 1957 by a team consisting of Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas. Its current aid climbing rating is VI 5.9 A1 or 5.12 for the free climbing variation.[1] It is recognized in the historic climbing text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America and considered a classic around the world.[2]

Regular Northwest Face
The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome approximately follows the red line
LocationCalifornia, USA
Coordinates37°44′44.4″N 119°32′06.5″W
Climbing AreaYosemite Valley
Route TypeAid or Free
Vertical Gain2000'
Rating5.9 A1 or 5.12
First ascentRoyal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas, 1957.
Fastest Ascent1:22 Alex Honnold, 2012.

Although the first ascent took five days, most ascents now are accomplished in two. The record for the fastest ascent of the route is 1:22 and was set during a solo ascent in late May 2012 by Alex Honnold, who had previously recorded the first free solo ascent in 2008.[3] This improved on a longstanding record of 1:53 set in October 1999 by Jim Herson and Hans Florine.[4]


All of the major walls and formations in Yosemite Valley had been climbed by the mid 1950s with the exception of the Northwest Face of Half Dome and El Capitan. El Capitan, with its intimidating 3000 foot face, was out of the question for at least a few years, leaving Half Dome, with a much more manageable 2000 foot face, as the logical next goal.[5][6]

The first attempt to climb it was made in 1954 by Dick Long, Jim Wilson, and George Mandatory. However, they only managed to climb 175 feet before retreating.

A more serious attempt to find passage up this cliff was made in 1955 by Jerry Gallwas, Don Wilson, Royal Robbins and Warren Harding. After climbing a mere 500 feet over five days, this party, too, retreated.

Gallwas and Robbins, armed with new chrome-molybdenum pitons made by Gallwas, recruited Mike Sherrick and set off on June 24, 1957, determined this time to finish the route. Over a period of five days, they encountered repeated obstacles and they surmounted all these difficulties.

Five days after they had left the ground, they stood at the summit. Warren Harding had hiked up the backside of Half Dome via the hikers' trail for the occasion. He had been planning, along with Mark Powell and Bill "Dolt" Feuerer, to give the route another attempt, but had been beaten to it by the successful team. Nevertheless, Harding offered the triumphant team a warm congratulations.

Over the Fourth of July Weekend in 2015, a major rockfall occurred on the Regular Northwest Face, severely altering pitches 10 and 11.[7] In September 2016, Yosemite National Park Climbing Rangers climbed the route to assess its condition.[8] The rockfall left clean slabs that can be climbed via bolt ladders and a pendulum with a tricky knot-toss rope maneuver.[9] The Regular Northwest Face route tends to avoid areas that are likely to pose further rockfall hazard. However, much of the rock on Half Dome is alpine in nature, and it is often quite loose.[8] In his book, Shaded by Stone, climber and author Ari Schneider recalls a giant teetering triangle-shaped rock in the center of Half Dome looming over the approach known as the Death Slabs.[9] There is speculation that much more rock will exfoliate off other routes on Half Dome in the near future.


  1. McNamara, Chris, and Sloan, Erik. Yosemite Big Walls. Mill Valley, CA: SuperTopo, 2005. ISBN 0-9672391-9-2
  2. Roper, Steve; Steck, Allen (1979). Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0-87156-292-8.
  3. Rock and Ice. 5 June 2012. 21 June 2012 Archived 2012-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Florine, Hans. halfdome. 20 August 2004. 31 October 2005
  5. Roper, Steve. Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber. Seattle, WA: Mountaineers Books, 1998. ISBN 0-89886-587-5
  6. Roper, Steve. Climber's Guide to Yosemite Valley. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1978. ISBN 0-87156-048-8
  7. "Half Dome Rockfall -". Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  8. Geologist, Yosemite National Park Climbing Rangers and Park. "Half Dome Post-Rock Fall Conditions: One Year Later". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  9. Schneider, Ari (2019). Shaded by Stone. ISBN 978-1732348233.
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