Climbed with Aaron Reite and John Leo. An excellent and truly fun climb, and a really long day altogether.

Trip Report:

John was staying with his wife and son in Curry Village, so we agreed that we would get up at 4:00 and meet him in Curry Village at 4:30. We'd try to start hiking immediately, and hopefully be at the base of the climb by 8 or 8:30. This would allow us plenty of time for the climb, and hopefully would put us ahead of any other parties. We would carry three quarts of water each, and would bring purification for the hike down just in case. Since I would only have my small climbing pack, my beloved Grivel Manu, I would carry the rack, and John and Aaron would each carry a rope. The rack would be minimal, consisting of just a set of stoppers, a set of aliens, two small Camalots (0.75 and 1), and several slings and draws. I would probably keep most of this on my harness the whole time, though of course I would have the option of racking things on the Manu as well.

The next morning, everything went according to this plan. The hike, though long and strenuous and largely in the dark, was also really pretty. The most strenuous parts were around Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, though the slabs near the base of Half Dome were no picnic either. We arrived at the base of Snake Dike, on the southwest face of Half Dome, a little after 8:30. Fortunately, our plan to beat the crowds seemed to be working, as we had hardly seen another person the whole morning. We rested a bit and used “the facilities”, and then geared up to start climbing. I wanted to lead the first pitch, with its runout 5.7 friction, but after that I didn't care too much. I ended up leading the whole climb, partly because Aaron thought it was a good experience for me to have to deal with mandatory runout on such easy terrain, and partly because he was starting to enjoy not having to do any of the work. He didn't even have to belay anyone the whole day! John belayed while I was leading, and I did most of the belaying of both Aaron and John when they followed. This also meant I was leading with two ropes, but that made little difference. The main rope was my pink rope, which was connected to John, and the second one was Aaron's skinny (and relatively lightweight) 50-meter rope, which he used back when he was a sport climber.

Me on a run-out lead
Me leading up the dike
The climbing was really nothing but pure fun for me. The two crux sections, on the first and third pitches, involved nothing more than a few 5.7 friction moves, which was cake after the previous day's 5.10c friction. The difference was the runout, which made it a bit scarier, but still not too bad. I stupidly missed a bolt at the beginning of the pitch 3 crux, so I was really worried about slipping there and inducing a swinging almost-factor-two fall onto my belayer. Fortunately I didn't slip. After that, we gained the main dike, and much of the remaining climbing was a truly unique and beautiful experience. These dikes were apparently formed ages ago when cracks in the rock filled with molten volcanic lava, which subsequently cooled and hardened. The results are seams of weird, knobby, volcanic rock in the midst of vast otherwise-smooth slabs of granite. Those slabs would probably be somewhat tricky to climb, but if you stay on the dikes, the climbing is nowhere harder than about 5.4... and usually even easier than that.

When our dike finally ended several pitches later, the rock sloped off quite a bit, and got a little blocky. After a pitch or two of easy climbing on this, we got to the end of the established climb, to a point where the guidebook simply had an arrow pointing up and the note: “3rd class slabs forever.” This was no lie. At this point, we had probably ascended about like Bedouins... Like Bedouins...
...wandering through a neverending slanted desert of granite
half, or slightly more, of the vertical distance we had to gain. We still had about 1000 vertical feet to go. We unroped here, packed up the ropes and the rack, and began walking up the 45-degree slabs, feeling a bit like Bedouins wandering through a neverending slanted desert of granite. After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the top, and found ourselves on a large mound just behind the main summit. We could see many people, who probably had hiked up via the cables route, on the main summit, and a few people walking in between our false summit and the main one. The weirdest thing was the proliferation of cairns and other stone structures all around. My guess would be that some of the early climbers had set up a few cairns to guide other climbers (as climbers often do to mark a trail), and the tourist-hikers thought this was a fun idea, so they started building more and more cairns. Some of them were quite elaborate and quite high, and some areas had several cairns set up in a circle, making the whole landscape look like something not of this world, as though aliens had visited. We sat down on our false summit, and finally replaced our climbing shoes with hiking shoes. We wandered over to the main summit, and were greeted with the usual weird looks, as well as lots of people asking us how long it took us to climb up. Surprisingly, no one asked the usual question, “How do you get the ropes up there?”

Me and Aaron at the summit At the summit
Me in the foreground, Aaron peering over the edge of “The Visor”
After eating and drinking our fill, taking pictures, and gazing over the edge of the steep northwest face, we started the long hike down. The first step was to maneuver the cables route, and we were thankful that we had all brought gloves for this. The rock under the cables was extremely polished from so many people having hiked up and down it, so we found the cables quite necessary. The rest of the descent was pretty easy and uneventful, and it seemed to move quickly, although it still took us about four hours altogether. We hiked back into Curry Village at about 8:00 PM, just as we had hiked out: in the dark, wearing our headlamps. Altogether, we had been out for about fifteen hours: nearly four hours hiking up, six hours climbing, a good rest at the top, and about four hours hiking back down.