Chris Hey, one of the students from the January 2013 week long AST2 at Hilda Lodge, put together this fantastic video. Note the Size 1 avalanche that dusts the videographer’s feet part way through.
Chris Hey, one of the students from the January 2013 week long AST2 at Hilda Lodge, put together this fantastic video. Note the Size 1 avalanche that dusts the videographer’s feet part way through.
This year, we’ll be adding more Mindfulness Training to our courses.
Current research about the brain is showing that the better we learn to regulate our bodies before making important decisions, the better our decisions will be. Although we’ve known for many years that human factors contribute to avalanche accidents, we’ve been scratching our heads how to teach human factors so that avalanche students will be less prone to making mistakes. Perhaps this new knowledge about the psychology of the brain will help us when playing the avalanche game.
P1: Should I bring my long underwear bottoms? It feels cool right now at 3:45 a.m. I’m wearing the long underwear under my pants, but I know I’ll likely warm up as soon as I start ascending the fixed line which goes to the top of Pitch 1 (P1).
I decide to take the long underwear off and leave it behind. Later I will regret that decision. Instead I throw my ultra-light down jacket in the pack. Later I will be thankful for that decision! I start ascending the 9.2mm rope with my light weight ascending rig I’ve designed that only adds another 6 ounces to my pack. The ascending gear will sit in the pack for Pitches 2-17, but will be needed again for the ZigZags on Pitches 18-20. Ascending Pitch 1, my headlamp lights the way. I pull up with my right arm gripping the Petzl Basic Ascender, then pull the rope through the Petzl Microtraxion with my left. Several times I switch right and left so as not to get too tired. There is a long way to go up the face of half dome. I’m starting to wake up in the pre-dawn. Soon enough, we’re sorting gear at the top of the pitch. Wayne led P1 yesterday afternoon and I got to follow, very happy to have climbed this 10c pitch clean. Hopefully all my training will pay off.
p2/3: I’m trying not to drop anything. Everything we brought is well thought out and will be needed during the day. It’s still dark as Wayne leads off. The start of P2 is an overhanging finger crack, graded hard Yosemite 5.9. 22 pitches to go. Soon the climbing eases a little and he’s moving well. I get to watch the dawn start to slowly but steadily brighten the sky. It’s incredibly beautiful and I’m overwhelmed by the realization that this is finally it, I’m climbing the face of Half Dome, my long standing goal of the last 10 years. I’ve climbed this route once before, in 1993. It was my first big wall climb, and we spent 3 days getting from the ground to the top. At some point, I started dreaming about going back to do the climb in one day, with a light pack, and trying to free climb as much as possible. This route has an incredible amount of beautiful climbing, pitch after pitch of splitter cracks, chimneys, and face moves up an almost vertical wall, intersperced with reasonably comfortable belay ledges conveniently located just less than a rope length apart. Soon Wayne has gotten to the top of P3, successfully linking P2 and P3. As I start to follow, I’m still using my headlamp to help light the way through the solid holds, cracks, and corners.
P4: It’s light enough now to put the headlamp away. I silently wonder at what point of the climb will we be needing our headlamps again? Our goal is to summit before nightfall, but it’s a long way and this might take longer than we hoped for. Wayne starts up P4, which begins with an overhanging crack under a roof that leads to face climbing past 3 bolts, all graded 5.11 in difficulty. We aid through this section by pulling on gear. It would be too taxing for us to free climb this part. All of a sudden, I’m startled by the whooshing sound of a base jumper in a wing suit that has likely escaped park service attention by jumping off the summit of Half Dome in the dawn light, eventually pulling the parachute as he drifts back down to the valley floor, a journey of almost 5000 vertical feet. It’s a surreal experience to see that happen, just a few short weeks after Dean Potter’s basejumping accident. Wayne is now at the top of P4 and it’s my turn to climb. I pull on gear through the 5.11 section, which leads to an incredible hand crack behind a flake. It looks so classic, but harder than its supposed 5.9+ grade. I was eyeing this up from the ground yesterday after our approach hike. We approached via the Death Slabs route, a much faster and more direct way to the base of the face of Half Dome than the hiker’s trail which goes around the back past Vernal and Nevada Falls. The climbing is beautiful and I’m having success, even though at home, this part of the climb would certainly be rated 5.10. This is somewhat typical of climbing grades in Yosemite. Many of the these climbs were first done in the 50’s and 60’s, when the limit of free climbing was 5.9. Some of those bad ass climbers were climbing 5.10, but called all the hardest climbs 5.9. Some of those climbs have been upgraded to reflect their true 5.10 difficulty, but many classic Yosemite climbs maintain the 5.9 grade.
P5: Our strategy includes leading the route in blocks. Wayne led P1 – P4. Now it’s my turn to lead on the “sharp end” (climber lingo). If one falls when following, they only fall a short ways due to the stretch in the rope. When leading if one falls, they fall twice the distance between themselves and the last piece of protection placed in the rock. I’m feeling good after having free climbed all but the short 5.11 section at the beginning of P4. And although P5 is “only” graded 5.9, I save a little energy by pulling on a couple pieces of protection on a steep bulge part way up P5. It’s part of the alpine strategy to move quickly and save some strength for the long day ahead. This doesn’t detract from my climbing experience, so I pull on another piece of protection later in the pitch, then move back into free climbing to the anchor.
P6: This is the second pitch of my lead block. It involves more great climbing, but it’s not as sustained in difficulty as the first 4 pitches. I’m able to move quickly and very soon, I’m on top of P6. When I climbed this in 1993, this was the high point of our first full day of climbing. Today, we’re here and it’s still early morning!
My goal of coming here to do this climb as a one day mostly free ascent has been at the top of my dream list for more than 10 years. I didn’t want to attempt it until I felt I was really ready. I also needed a partner who was ready, and fast! The process of getting ready has been a blast. Leading up to the actual ascent, I thought, “even if I don’t get to climb Half Dome, the process of getting ready has already been so worth it.” Last October I began a sabbatical from my job as a Mental Health Clinician with children and their families. In November, I made a trip to New York to visit my dad and also fit in a climbing trip to the Gunks in upstate NY with my old pal Wayne Burleson. Wayne taught me my 1st climbing class in 1981 while we were attending M.I.T. At the end of our visit, I popped the big question, and he answered yes, “sure I’ll climb the NW face of Half Dome with you.” Really?? After all these years of thinking about it, this might turn into a reality?
P7: I remember struggling with this pitch in 1993, especially finding the right route. But this time I was better prepared. The internet helps in terms of gathering pertinent information. I spent a lot of time scouring the net for information that would be helpful in terms of gear needed, route finding, and even some helpful strategies for making the aid climbing more efficient. I cruise the initial two steep bulges. The climbing eases, but it’s tricky to find the correct way to go as I’m supposed to traverse right. There are very limited options for placing gear and the rope drag is making progress more challenging. I’m aware of time, so I try not to get slowed down, eventually finding a reasonable place to belay.
After my trip to New York in November, I come home. Although I’m thinking about climbing, I don’t do much as ski season kicks in and my work as an avalanche educator/ski guide/ski patroller picks up. Luckily, my friend Sparky to keen to at least do a weekly bouldering session at my indoor wall. Ski season is the worst I’ve seen in 14 years and the icy conditions help cause a knee injury, which turns out to be a torn meniscus. I sadly quit skiing after mid-February and wonder how much the knee will impact my climbing.
P8/9: By setting the belay beyond the normal location for P7, I’m in a better position now to try to link P8 and P9. It’s still unclear which way to go, and after starting up a gully, I suspend gear placements in order to prevent rope drag. I’m now traversing high over some ledges and as a way to better focus and make sure Wayne is aware of my predicament I yell down, “basically free soloing here”. The climbing wasn’t much harder than 5.2, but a fall would be deadly. Most of the time I find climbing to be reasonably safe, but there are occasional predicaments which require focus and precision to prevent disaster. I successfully make the unprotected traverse and soon find my way up P9 to the base of the famous Robbin’s Traverse. While belaying Wayne up to my ledge, I have a little time to take in the view and reflect on everything that got me here. Soon I’m overwhelmed by emotion and start to cry. I’m really here, I’m really climbing Half Dome. It’s not just a plan for sometime in the future, it’s happening right now! I’m grateful for this awareness. The tears lead to laughter and as Wayne climbs up, he wants to know what’s so funny? I do the man thing and brush it off casually saying, “oh, I’m just having a moment”.
The crappy ski season leads to an early spring, and I find that mountain biking is pretty good for my knee. It still hurts, but each tweak of the knee sets me back less than the previous one. Also, rock climbing doesn’t seem to cause too much damage either, so at least I’ve got a way to train. Biking and climbing are a good combination. Half Dome will require climbing strength but also good general fitness for the hiking and the endurance of doing an all day climb. At one of our bouldering sessions I float the idea of a spring Yosemite climbing trip to Sparky. With the generally dry weather happening all over the west, especially California, it may be a great spring to climb in Yosemite in April. We leave Rossland in early April and make stops at Frenchman’s Coulee and Smith Rocks on the way to the valley. We’re surprised by the lack of crowds upon arrival and have a pick of campsites in the climber’s campground, Camp IV. We have 12 days to climb and we sink our teeth into some of Yosemite’s plentiful classic moderate crack climbs. After a few days of building a base and a rest day, I try to step up my game and am able to onsight Outer Limits and Lunatic Fringe, both rated 5.10c. I can feel myself getting stronger over the course of our stay. We also have a great time together and enjoy the social scene of Camp IV. Our campsite seems to attract numerous other interesting characters and there are many great guitar jams around the campfire.
P10: I lead out with a few free moves up to the 1st bolt of the Robbin’s Traverse. This is where I’ve garnered some useful information that speeds things up. I clip a quickdraw to the 1st bolt, then clip a shoulder length sling to the top carabiner, pull on the draw, step into the sling, and up I go, ready to clip the second bolt. The process is repeated for 10 bolts, and then I lower halfway down, cleaning the top bolts, and make a pendulum to the right, setting up the next belay. Wayne cleans the pitch using a similar technique and bam, we’re at the ledge on top of P10. 10 Pitches by 10:00 a.m. Looking good so far!
After the Yosemite trip in April, I am able to keep the training momentum, combining strength in the gym, with endurance on the mountain bike. I’m also able to fit in some long days on the rock. On May 15th, I celebrate my 56th birthday by climbing a route I first put up in 2003 on the same day, called Birthday Crack, a beautiful 5.11b granite crack. By the end of the day, I’ve done 7 laps on this overhanging 25 metre climb. Our area doesn’t have huge walls like Yosemite, but I’m able to simulate big climbs by doing many pitches over the course of a single day. My friends Jordy and Dave help me by coming along for some of these endurance tests. I’m having fun with this goal in mind and feel supported by all my friends who seem to get caught up in the excitement.
P11: This pitch starts with some exposure, leading out right over an almost blank wall, with a few small features to hold. My last piece of gear, although good, is back near the belay. I make progress by getting 1 ½ fingers in an old pin scar and then step high to a small flake. Once through this section, I feel exhilirated and shout out to Wayne that I used that pin scar with three different finger positions as I moved past it! These were perhaps the hardest moves I’ve done on the route so far.
I manage to get in several long training days during my last week at home leading up to my return trip to California that will include my Half Dome climb. I tire myself out and even cancel a final training day, as I knew that what my body most needed at that time was some rest. My excitement always grows before a big trip, but is tempered by mixed feelings, as it is also hard to leave behind my biggest supporters, my wife and two daughters.
P12: This will be the last lead pitch of my bloc, which started on P5. I move up an unprotected chimney and then get good advice from Wayne on a way to transition left, out of the chimney, to the start of a beautiful 5.11 corner/crack. Once the climbing gets more difficult, I shift into french free aid, using a similar technique as in the Robbin’s Traverse of P10, but placing my own gear in the crack. At the top of the crack I clip a final fixed piece of gear and tension traverse hard right, into a cool offwidth crack which leads me to the belay. Wayne cleans the gear from the pitch and congratulates me on a fine bloc of lead climbs from P5 to P12!
For this trip to Yosemite, I take a flight from Spokane, WA to Oakland, CA. My friend Mark Blanchard picks me up at the airport on May 27 and after stopping for first rate produce at a farm stand in the Central Valley, we drive up to Yosemite. I’m happy with getting some quality food as good nutrition will be important in helping me during my final week of preparation before the Half Dome climb. It’s really kind of Mark to help me out with transportation and being my climbing partner for the first 3 days in Yosemite. We do some awesome routes together, including a rarely climbed gem called Phantom Spire. I’m feeling good!
P13/14: It’s now Wayne’s turn to lead again, and he’s faced with some very physical chimney climbing in a long link up of two pitches. The P14 section requires full commitment to the chimney technique with the back on one wall and feet on the opposing wall. Another piece of useful information I learned was for both partners to take off their backpacks at the bottom of this section and get Wayne to haul them with an extra loop of rope he drops once I get in position. This really helps, as the chimney technique is precise, with few features on the rock, using opposing forces to inch upward. I’m happy that Wayne led this section. Chimney’s are not my strength. I had practiced a tough chimney climb the week before with Mark called Cookie Right and it kicked my butt. I feel relieved that I am able to climb today’s chimney with a little more grace and somewhat less effort.
After Mark went home, I had a rest day in the valley, but needed a partner for two final days of training/climbing prior to Wayne’s arrival. I left a note on the Camp IV message board that I was looking for a partner. At the last minute, I ran into our friend Cliff that Sparky and I had met in April and lucky for me, he was also looking for a partner. We climbed a couple short hard routes at the base of El Capitan one day and then did a longer easier route on the Glaicer Point Apron the next day. I had to restrain myself from climbing more as I knew that my best strategy was to taper my training and take it easy.
P15: After following P13/14, I was pretty tired and thankful that I could rest while Wayne led P15. This is one of the advantages of leading in blocs. There are more rests in between pitches than when alternating leads. P15 involved another steep physical pitch of fist crack inside the last section of chimney. Wayne eventually climbed out the top of the chimney system and when I reached him, the sun was just coming around the mountain, lighting up the face.
After my two climbing days with Cliff, I took another rest day to fully recover. Cliff met up with another partner to go do the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral Rock, a really hard long Yosemite testpiece. At the same time, two other guys I had met in my campsite were starting up a 48 hour ascent of the Nose on El Capitan. On the afternoon of my rest day, I was starting to get pretty antsy. I used my energy to organize gear for the Half Dome climb and play a few tunes on Cliff’s guitar that he seems to always leave in my campsite. Wayne won’t be here till tomorrow morning. We’ll do our final packing before starting up the approach. Before making dinner, I take a short jog to burn off some of my nervous energy.
P16: This is yet another stellar pitch of hard 5.9 crack climbing up a soaring pinnacle. I really enjoy the climbing and position. The little bit of sun we had has now been obscured by thickening clouds. The temperature feels quite cool and now I’m wearing all the clothes I had in my daypack which is barely enough to stay warm. The cold keeps me alert. Every pitch has great climbing and I’m still feeling energized.
The morning of the approach I’m up at 4:00 a.m. I’ve been trying to wake earlier and earlier over the past several mornings in order to prep my body for a 3:00 a.m. start on the morning of the climb. This morning I woke when my friends returned from their climb of the Nose. They were exhausted, but exhilirated from the climb. Soon enough I’ll get my chance to push my limits and attempt to fulfill my own dream.
P17: Wayne leads up P17, known as the Double Crack Pitch. He smartly ran P16 across a ledge in order to allow me to belay near the start of the double cracks. It’s wide (#4 Camelot), but there is a hand rail near the back of the crack that allows a combination of layback with offwidth technique. Wayne comments on how difficult this part feels. As I start to follow, our first rain begins. The rock quickly becomes wet and slippery. This dampens my ability to free climb and I end up having to hang on the rope a few times. Darn! I was pretty proud of how I had been able to free climb just about everything, with the exception of the few aid sections so far. I wonder how much rain we’ll get. The top of P17 has several nice ledges called Big Sandy, which is a popular place to sleep when doing the climb in more than 1 day.
In 1993, it took me two full days to get here. Today we made it in 11 hours and without any bivy gear, it’s important for us to continue onward. The next section, called the Zig Zags, has the hardest sustained climbing on the route. Wayne says there is an alcove at the top of P19 that might offer protection from the rain if we need to spend the night on the wall. I hope it won’t come to that. It’s only 3:00 p.m., and for now the rain has eased. Up we go!
Wayne arrives at 6:00 a.m. on the day of our approach. I make us some breakfast and we divide the gear we need into our two backpacks, which includes all the rock climbing gear, overnight camping equipment, and food. We park his rental car at Curry Village and hop on the Shuttle Bus, which brings us right to the Mirror Lake trailhead. It’s a beautiful clear morning and soon it will be hot in the sun. If we hike fast enough, we’ll stay inside the shade of Half Dome as we hike up the approach to the face, which is known by climbers as the Death Slabs. I’m not sure if anyone has died here, but it’s a serious route and we take additional precautions including wearing our helmets. There is 4th class and even some 5th class climbing that has fixed ropes to help climbing up, hand over hand style. I’m wearing approach shoes, which are like running shoes, but have a slightly stiffer sole as well as sticky rubber to help grip.
I’ve used these occasionally in the past, but really appreciate them today on this approach. It’s also important to keep one’s focus through the difficult climbing, especially with a 50 pound pack on one’s back. When I find some areas that are secure, I take time to look around and notice the very beautiful wildflowers as well as our stunning position at the head of Yosemite Valley. It’s a wonderful place. Our timing is perfect, as we’re staying about 30 minutes ahead of the advancing sun/shade line. The last two fixed ropes are probably the most difficult and I find it easier to take my pack off for a short section and haul it up once I get over the steep bulge. Wayne seems to manage a little easier than me, and we work together to make sure we both get up safely. As we begin to climb underneath the massive face of Half Dome, I see other people near the base of our route, and wonder if they’re also planning to start up. It feels good to finally lay our heavy packs down in one of the bivy areas, where we’ll spend the night. It turns out that the other climbers were just packing up. They did the climb yesterday and didn’t get back to camp until 4:30 a.m. They said there were six parties on the route yesterday. Wow! At least we’re the first group to be here in preparation for an ascent tomorrow. Wayne and I organize our gear and prepare to climb the 1st pitch which is now in the afternoon sun. Wayne makes good time leading P1 and I get to follow the steep pitch which ends in a thin finger crack. At the top of the pitch, we leave most of our rock climbing equipment and rappel down a single strand of rope, which we have fixed to the anchor. It’s time for making some dinner and getting ready to bed down for the night. Another group has arrived and fix their own rope to the top of P1. We agree that we’ll start at 4:00 a.m. the following morning and they’ll start approximately 45 minutes after us, to space us out a little. They’re planning to take extra gear with them as they expect that they’ll likely need two days to ascend the route. There is a saying in the mountaineering world, “if you bring bivy gear, you will bivy!” Although it is safer to have bivy gear in case you need it, carrying the extra weight slows a party down enough that spending a night on the wall becomes much more likely.
P18/19: The plan is for Wayne to link these 1st two pitches of the Zig Zags using french free aid technique. Then after fixing the rope, I will clean P18/19 using my lightweight ascender system. While I am cleaning, Wayne will self belay up most of P20, a technique used by speed climbers known as “short fixing”. But plans don’t always work out, and Wayne is finding that after 12 hours of sustained effort, he’s losing energy and slowing down significantly. I catch myself also feeling tired and have to snap myself back to consciousness while I’m belaying on the relatively comfortable ledges of Big Sandy. I hold the rope with two hands for extra security. Wayne is relying on me to catch him in case he falls. The rain has stopped, but I’m watching storm cells move through, especially to the north of us. Wayne calls down that he’s not sure how far he can go. He’s running out of gear and running out of energy. After what feels like a long time, he finally yells, “off belay.” He said he’s too tired to continue with the short fixing plan. I need to step up and it’s time for me to employ my secret weapon. I don’t normally drink caffeine, so when I pop a caffeinated energy gel into me, I now feel energized and start cleaning the pitch using the ascender/microtraxion system. It works great and I’m cruising up. Wayne was able to get all the way to the top of P19…good job! I see the alcove he was talking about. It looks like a dark and depressing place to spend the night. Wayne feels more rested and we’re keen to keep going up!
P20: Wayne is moving faster and makes quick work of Pitch 20, the last of the Zig Zags. P18/19 slowed us down, but maybe we can gain some momentum again. I’m excited as I clean P20, especially aware of what is coming next.
Wayne and I sent numerous emails back and forth in the months leading up to the climb. Everything was discussed, from who would lead what pitch, to how much water we would carry, to making the plan to descend in our climbing shoes, saving weight in our day packs we would carry on the climb. My preparation has been happening over several years, as doing this route in a day has been at the very top of my bucket list of climbs to complete at some point in my lifetime. Many rainy days at home were spent looking on the internet for useful information to strategize how to climb the route as quickly and efficiently as possible. When Wayne and I began to discuss our plan for who would lead what, my #1 request was to lead P21, also known as Thank God Ledge. When I climbed the route in 1993 as a 3 day Big Wall climb, hauling all that overnight gear, food & water, I also got to lead P21. The pitch starts with a traverse across the ledge, which becomes too narrow for most people to walk, and I employed some crawling and eventually dropped my feet over the edge and hand traversed the crack at the back of the ledge with my feet on micro-edges, stepping across the sheer face, which drops 2000 feet to its base, and almost 5000 feet to the valley floor. I was so excited in ’93 when I got across the Thank God Ledge, not realizing that the most difficult part of the pitch was yet to come! To get to the belay, a couple difficult face moves lead to a flaring offwidth crack. At that time, I was a horrible offwidth climber and struggled for close to an hour, getting enough nerve to complete the offwidth, with the last gear placement well below my feet. We eventually got up the route, but P17-23 took us all day, and we we ended up spending another night on top. Camping on top of Half Dome used to be allowed back then. That episode was one of several that motivated me to eventually learn how to climb those wide cracks. A number of years later, I took a rock climbing camp at Veedauvoo Rocks, with master offwidth climber Craig Leubben. Since that camp I now try to take every opportunity I can to practice climbing any crack wider than 4 inches, even though I often have to convince my climbing partners. Most climbers hate wide cracks, but I’ve learned to really enjoy them. Craig’s techniques have helped. In planning for Half Dome, I knew I had an old demon to slay, and if I could lead the P21 offwidth in good style, I would be redeemed!
P21: Wayne did an awesome job with his leader bloc though the physical pitches of P13-20. My turn and I’m super amped as I work across Thank God Ledge. I am once again overcome with emotion, fully realizing our position and acknowledging our monumental accomplishment so far! Now I’m really having fun, crawling across the ledge. I shout out in glee, “I’m crawlin’ like a baby!” Wayne gets me to pose for a picture when I get to the middle and am forced to drop my feet over the edge. I crawl back onto the ledge and then begin the next section which starts with those hard face moves. I’m focused and move up cleanly. “How will I do on the offwidth?” My last piece of protection is now well below my feet. I establish a right foot heel/toe jam and throw my right shoulder into the flaring crack getting a reasonable chicken wing with my arm. I move my left leg up establishing a knee bar spanning the crack and push down with my left palm. Now I can move my right foot up into another heel/toe cam, establish a right arm bar, and then move the left foot up to it’s own heel/toe position. Now shimmy the body up, up, up, and out! I’m done. I did it! Yes! What took an hour in ’93, I was able to do today in less than 5 minutes! I’m whooping it up, letting my exclamations escape into the thick evening air high on the face of Half Dome. This is so much fun!
P22: It’s Wayne turn “on the sharp end,” as we’re just alternating leads on these final 3 pitches. I read that many parties have trouble with this pitch. It requires some hard face moves and big reaches between bolts on aid. I get to follow on belay and find it challenging. I sure am glad the rock is dry as these moves would become perhaps impossible if the rock were wet. Although I can see that it’s still raining in the distance, we’ve been dry since we started up P18. We’re lucky, and as I make it up to the belay, the sun pops below the cloud layer, just above the horizon, giving us an incredible display of evening sunlight on the high face of Half Dome.
P23: I’m still feeling exhilirated by this climb and am excited to get the final lead which involves a fun traverse under a massive roof and some interesting route finding over several steep headwalls. I’m aware of the growing rope drag and try to sling out my gear to avoid getting stopped before the top. It’s starting to rain again, but it doesn’t dampen my spirit and excitement for getting to the top. I reach the final belay point and quickly try to pull up the rope to belay Wayne in the waning light. Communication is difficult and unfortunately we get delayed a little as I get fooled into thinking I’ve got Wayne tight, but the rope drag is so intense that it takes several extra minutes for me to figure out that I’ve gotta pull through more rope so Wayne can start climbing. Soon enough, Wayne is moving up, and with the light of day almost completely gone, he reaches the summit and we’re celebrating our amazing day of climbing the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome!
The Descent: It’s pretty surreal to be the only two people on the summit of Half Dome in almost complete darkness. My brain is still revelling in the climb, thinking about all the amazing climbing, Thank God Ledge, the ZigZags, the chimneys, the hard face moves on P11, the Robbin’s Traverse, the splitter flake on P4, watching dawn envelope Yosemite Valley, and everything in between. Of course being on top is also bittersweet. It means that the climb is over. The journey to get here was so involved, and so fun. It included 23 pitches of classic granite rock climbing, a tough approach up the Death Slabs, the anticipation in the last days leading up to the climb, the long training days, laps on Birthday Crack, the April trip with Sparky, years of planning and dreaming. It’s all behind me. But still, it is pretty cool to be standing on top of Half Dome. I’m feeling pretty proud of us! Good thing that I’m so excited, and still have some energy. It’ll take us almost 2 hours to descend back to our camp. Now, “where is the start of the Cable Route to get down?”
Many people have climbed the Regular NW Face of Half Dome over the years. However, we were some of the last people to climb this route, which was established by the first ascensionists in 1957. On the night of July 2-3, 2015, four weeks after we climbed, a massive rock fall came off the face, tearing away features that made up parts of the 11th and 12th pitches. Most people are avoiding going up there now due to the potential of further rockfall. The face of Half Dome will get climbed again some day using much of the old route, but a new route will need to be established and new bolts will be required, as the ledge system that was part of the old route is completely gone. Even in the usually slow geologic passage of time, nothing is permanent. We’re thankful that no other climbers got hurt during the rock fall event. An unusual summer rain storm kept climbers away during that fateful night of July 2-3. I feel very fortunate that Wayne and I had our time on the mountain and that the mountain gods gave us safe passage.