Week 3 in Yosemite Valley, we climbed Half Dome twice. First time via South West Face of Half Dome on Snake Dike 5.7R and later in the week we did Regular North West Route 5.12.
Half Dome the highest big wall in Yosemite Valley rising above the valley to slightly more than 8000 ft. At that height, doing everything takes a little more effort even when u are shitting.
Hiking up to Snake Dike was a 4-5 hour affair, via Mist Trails about 4 miles on Hikers Trail and 2 miles on climbers trail.
We took off from Foresta Rd at about 7am and drove to the trailhead to start the trek at about 8am. It took us about 5 hours to get the to the bottom of Snake Dike. Looking for the trails and the start of the route was hard and not straight forward. It doesn’t help when there is tons of 4th Class slabs and talus fields to cross. We took our time on the route finding as we wanted to be as safe as possible. When you read on Supertopo that there are some exposed approach, u really need to slow down and make sure u are on the right track, if not you will find yourselves walking off the edge !
Climbing on Snake Dike is the weirdest experience in Yosemite Rock Climbing. There isn’t any cracks to jam your hand and feet, only endless Dikes that reminds of the back of a dinosaur. For Singaporean climbers, skipping bolts on Yishun wall is a big deal but climbing in Yosemite is all about running out. Most of the time you place a piece of protection at 3-5m apart. On Snake Dike, a run out of 10m is normal and the R is given for pitch 3 and 4 where a single pitch has 1 bolt without any gears. Meaning, the runout can be as big as 15m and the climber must not fall at any part of the route!
There was no dramas on this route, we got down the cables rather late at about 1930hrs. The sun is almost down and we blast down the 9 mile trek as fast as we can until we need to use headlamps. It took us 4 hours to get back to the car! Super long day with most of the time spent on approaching and descending.
We rested 3 days, loading up on Carbs and fats =D
On Thursday we pack our bags and left for Half Dome again. This time we headed up Death Slabs towards the North Face of the wall. Death Slabs is well used by climbers and there are many fixed ropes along the way. Due to frequent rock fall, some climbers choose to walk up to 9 mile trek and descend another 900 ft along the east shoulder to get to the Regular Route. Kelly and I thought we should save some energy since its our second big wall and we are rather inexperience.
The strategy for Regular route is, go light and fast and hopefully sleep on the wall for a night. Hence we did not bring any haul bags with us. Each of us carried a 2ol bag pack and a total of 11 litres of water with some bivy gear.
We spent the first night fixing to pitch 1 of the climb hoping to get a head start the next morning and bivy atthe base of the climb where there is still lots of melting snowing and spring was running like a tap!
The sleep was not a good one, there was some rock fall in the night making me jump out of my bivy bag and making me jittery all night long. There was a lost party walking up and down the trail behind our bivy spot all night trying to find their way, only to give up and spend a cold night sitting a couple of feet away from us.
We started the climbing on Day 2 very late at about 8am, as there was another party who were doing the route in a day and i did not want to go through all the hassle of them passing us on the wall. Our packs were very heavy and progress was slow. I soon find out that with that pack on me, i have problems freeing 5.9 on the wall and soon i was french freeing most of the cruxes of the pitches. We got to the gully or pitch 8 at about 1500hrs. I knew we couldnt make it to Big Sandy Ledge, so we bivy a night at the small ledge on pitch 11.
The night was cold and long. We could mostly sit up right or lie on each other lap to get a little rest. I think i woke up like 50 times that night. Kelly had a sleeping bag and i only have a fleece liner and the wind from the chimney is coooold.
We woke up early next morning hoping to blast to the top in one go but found it very hard to move fast on the difficult terrain. The 3 pitches of chimney was vicious, i was stuck at pitch 13 for the longest. there was this 5.9 squeeze or a 5.7 airy move. I found neither comfortable as there was no gears for 5.9 squeeze and the 5.7 airy move was just 2 pieces of smooth wall and u just have to tension ur body to get up. I struggled for about 4-5 hours to get to pitch 15 and was feeling exhausted.
We decided to bivy another night at Big Sandy at pitch 17. Fixing Pitch 18, have a good rest and blast of the next day. As the hardest pitches are at the top of the wall, i did not want to aid in the night with head lamps, it just doesn’t feel good.