The history of the "Death Slabs" below half dome


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 1, 2013 - 01:00am PT
the full description from Roper (1971 "Green" guide)

Half Dome -- From Mirror Lake
II, class 3. First ascent unknown. Barriers of cliffs and slabs block easy access from below, but those with good routefinding ability can find ropeless passage. In general, keep to the left. From the base of the 1,800-foot northwest face, walk up and left over talus and brush to the trail. Allow four or five hours to reach this point.


Big Wall climber
Jan 1, 2013 - 11:21am PT
This piture was taken after it took me and steve 4days to get lines fixed and bags at base of tissasack. I belive the slabs add to the routes rating
Credit: mark Mcgoveney
Death slabs for sure!
I bet the base of stoney has seen about the same amount of ju
Nice work guido. Must have been tuff.

Somewhere out there
Jan 1, 2013 - 11:41am PT
She was barely hanging on by the time I ran back to grab her.

Classic Werner.

"Hey Merry, you try an keep up with me on the aptly named "Death Slabs". We're gonna be going up some treacherous territory, way off the trade route. but you'll be fine. your with me I am a legend!"

 So, I guess the only question I have after skimming the first page is. Have there been any deaths on these slabs?

Maybe a morbid curiosity, maybe just wondering how the name came about.

Mountain climber
portland, Maine
Jan 1, 2013 - 12:25pm PT
I think North Dome Gully has seen more deaths then any other down climb in the Valley. Known as the "other death slabs"

Social climber
Jan 1, 2013 - 12:32pm PT
hey there say, guido...
oh my... thanks for the history note there and sharing your

also, oh my, werner... and merry...
glad to hear that all is well and you both made it back...


Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Jan 1, 2013 - 12:38pm PT
It's only 3rd class but the route finding is a little tricky. Providing you stay on rout, and are fit enough to quickly scramble through the exposed sections, the "Death Slabs" are routine. Get off route over oi the right and it can turn into a nightmare with the chances of getting "cliffed" high.


Jan 1, 2013 - 12:51pm PT
Off top of my head there's 3 deaths that I can remember on the death slabs.

They were never called the death slabs.

These modern climbers came up with this bullsh!t name.

It was always called the slabs to half dome approach.

The Korean climbers 2 winters ago go caught in a nasty slush avalanche there.

We started to climb up that night to the injured Korean and had to turn back because more slush avalanches were coming down.

The Korean climber had to be helo evacuated the next morning.

A touron followed the first fixed line at the bottom once and proceeded to wander straight up from there and got ledged out once.

There's a lot of traffic on those slabs now a days and pretty hard to get lost on them.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 1, 2013 - 01:09pm PT
from A Climber's Guide to Yosemite by RM Leonard and DR Brower (Feb. 1940)

Half Dome -- From Mirror Lake
First ascent unknown. Donald Buchanan, Yosemite, has made more than 20 ascent of this route. The first barrier is a 200-foot cliff stretching along the entire base. This can be passed by an easy gully at the W. end. Upon reaching the ledge on top of the cliff, traverse E. to polished massive granite at angle of 35 to 40 rising just W. of the water-course. The principal problem is to avoid brush without getting onto rock of too high an angle. At the base of the tremendous overhang there is an easy route to the Clouds Rest saddle. There is water at the base of the main face in all seasons.


Jan 1, 2013 - 01:27pm PT
So, I guess the only question I have after skimming the first page is. Have there been any deaths on these slabs?

In September 2005 we watched the recovery of a solo climber who died while off route to the right of the standard approach. He apparently set up an anchor system to rap down to his bags, and some sort of catastrophic failure occured.

Trad climber
Pine Grove
Jan 1, 2013 - 02:02pm PT
The first and only time I've ever been up there I was traversing under the exposed slab when I heard some rocks coming down.
I didn't see anything big at first and then all of a sudden I caught a soccer ball sized rock out of the corner of my eye heading strait for my head. I started to duck and move out of the way when a fraction of a second later the thing struck my backpack ripping it from my back and spinning me around twice. My waist strap was still attached and it took me down for a ride. Felt like I got hit with a cannon ball. It hit so violently the shoulder strap tore a muscle in my shoulder I still have problems with. That was at least 5 years ago.
Wish I'd have gotten that on video. We had a good laugh then continued on finishing one of the best routes I've ever done in a day. We walked down the 1/2 dome trail back to the valley.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Jan 1, 2013 - 02:19pm PT

A bit of spray but still an impressive story. Big rocks come toward ME I tend to return to camp rather than carry on.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jan 1, 2013 - 02:32pm PT
Soccer ball? How 'bout refrigerators and microwaves? . . . ;-)

Credit: Reilly

RattyJ, spray on dood, full credit - I woulda turned around.

Jan 1, 2013 - 03:11pm PT
In September 2005 we watched the recovery of a solo climber who died while off route to the right of the standard approach.

You meant to the left of the standard approach.

He was several hundred yards to the left.

Another party was using that false approach also that day and discovered him hanging upside down dead with massive head trauma from his fall.

They called YOSAR and me and Merry climbed up to him.

We believe he fell the day before ......

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Jan 1, 2013 - 03:18pm PT
I was climbing the death slabs on the day he was recovered, humping loads to Tis-sa-ack with Moose Mutlow. Moose had to bail early that afternoon and turned around. When I saw the chopper, I thought for sure it was for him...

Boulder climber
Jan 10, 2013 - 01:31am PT
Dec 31, 2012 -
Went up the "Death Slabs" this October ...
I was curious if you guys were on an assignment, or what?

Trad climber
the crowd MUST BE MOCKED...Mocked I tell you.
Jan 10, 2013 - 01:45am PT
Reilly, where's that photo from? Heinous!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jan 10, 2013 - 01:53am PT
"...but those with good routefinding ability can find ropeless passage."--Steve "The Non-Roper" Roper

Translation: it's really Class 4++.

I never heard anyone in the world call them anything but too much work, let alone Death Slabs. Try lugging a rack of iron in addition to the H2O up that slip n' slide and be in a good frame of mind at the end.

And down several quarts of water already. There's a river on the other side, geez.
Erik Sloan

Jan 10, 2013 - 02:44am PT
Wow, Rhouter--I passed you that day hiking but don't remember the helo!

Despite what anyone experienced earlier on, like Werner says in 2013 you would be hard pressed to lose the slab trail, the class IV trail that is. I know cause I've taken many a Valley neophyte up for a trip up the cables, climbing the rock next to the fixed ropes they were ascending in my approach shoes assuring them that it was 'super safe and easy ;)' On one trip on a a busy Saturday in '08 with 200 people in line on the cables we didn't see a person till we hit the shoulder. (the proudest newbie send though is model Paul's ascent of the slabs with a gaggle of supermodels while on crutches with a broken leg!).

The biggest difficulty I see is people miss the start of the slab approach trail from Mirror lake. It is a couple hundred feet past the dam(which is just a manmade pile of rocks now) and not very obvious. There is a part of an old trail just before the trail and I think that suckers folks up right earlier on. If you are doing the real slab approach it is easy walking until you are at the first fixed rope several hundred feet above Mirror Lake.


Zurich, Switzerland
Jan 10, 2013 - 05:53am PT
I climbed North Dome with Le Bruce in Spring 2011 - witnessed a group of enormous car-sized blocks fall straight down the face of HD, impact near the base then continue to crash all the way down the death slabs.

Anyone on the approach that day would have been wiped out. Here is a pic with the first dust-cloud appearing just after impact (the cloud finally filled the entire death-slabs approach gully).

Dust cloud at base after several large blocks fell down the face.  Spr...
Dust cloud at base after several large blocks fell down the face. Spring 2011. Large rock pieces continued all the way down death slabs - terminal for anyone that was unlucky enough to be there that afternoon.
Credit: Fishy

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Jan 10, 2013 - 11:37am PT
Seems like spring-early summer is the worst for rockfall. Any confirmation on this?
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