Half Dome Regular Route TR 7/29/09


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Trad climber
Currently Nomadic
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 2, 2009 - 04:45pm PT
(this is the first time i've tried to embed images, so I'm not sure if it'll work - for many more pictures go to http://picasaweb.google.com/tyler.williams);

The four of us were largely silent as we trudged up the Mist Trail, backs bent under the pigs. I think we were all short on extra breath for discussion, and lost in thoughts of the past decisions and circumstances that had brought us here. Rewind back to April – a serendipitous collusion of events had opened up a 2 month period of time, which I hoped to spend in Yosemite and Tuolumne, hopefully culminating in a glorious and stylish ascent of the Nose, which I had been dreaming about since I first started climbing 15 years ago. During the past 2 months we ended up doing a huge amount of great climbing, acquiring a huge amount of gear I never thought I would own, and dragging ourselves up 2 walls (South Face of Washington’s Column (of course), and the West Face of Leaning Tower). At some point reality interceed and we realized (a) the Nose was not the route to do in the 104 degree heat that was sweeping the valley during our 1 week window of time and (b) although we were in a much better position than we were 2 months ago, none of us felt nearly ready for the big stone. Thus, a plan formed – when Carling flew in, we would blast out a few big free routes and then test ourselves on the regular route on Half Dome – It promised to be out of the blistering heat for most of the day, and was in the sweet spot for length and difficulty – all of us could contemplate the task ahead of us, and it was right in the grey area between exciting and petrifying.

the four of us at happy isles

Fast forward to two days earlier: the four of us tested our readiness on the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral. That probably deserves its own trip report, but wow – what an awesome, sustained, burly route. Very full value. The valley was around 102 that day and we ran out of water on pitch 8. We followed the Supertopo route until the upper pitches and then finished using the Reid topo based on the discussion in the forum. I am pretty sure we were on route on the upper pitches, but it didn’t look like that route sees much traffic. The final “5.9” handcrack was a dousy! I felt that the route was like taking Braille book, stacking it on top of Higher Cathedral spire, and then putting Deimos on the very top! As it turns out, I think this route was great prep for the free pitches on Half Dome, though maybe a bit harder. The next day was spent lounging by the Merced and wrestling with second thoughts while staring at the foreboding face of half dome. “It can’t be that bad – it just goes up the broken corner most of the time right?” After much discussion, our uncertainty slowly congealed into resolve, and we got down to the business of sorting gear, getting food and filling water bottles. After our experience on the NE buttress of Higher, we prepared for the worst and allocated 4.5 liters per person per day.

Hillary on NE Buttress

Which brings us finally back to the mist trail. We had decided on the mist trail over the slabs, since we didn’t plan to do too much the first day, just fix a few pitches and get some rest before launch. Plus the slabs looked horrendous and after nearly crapping my pants on the “4th class” leaning tower approach, longer and mellower seemed pretty good to me. Thankfully, it sounded like the spring was running, so we didn’t have to carry that 35 extra pounds of water. (aside – that spring is absolutely amazing. The most convincing suggestion that a god exists)

We left the cars around 9AM and got to the base around 1PM. We had decided that 2 parties of 2, occasionally acting as a team of 4, would be the best combination of sharing the work and actually getting to climb. Thus, Hillary and I climbed the first two pitches and fixed them with our haul and lead ropes while Scott and Carling relaxed, filtered water, and had lunch. Somehow BOTH of our “steripen” water purifiers managed to stop working, so we had to use iodine for the final 20L or so. I lead the first 10c pitch, mostly free except for pulling on a piton with some slung cord at one point and a cam at another point. Hillary followed in good style, and led the next pitch over a little roof into a cool stem box with double cracks. So far, 1/10th of the way up, the climbing had been tons of fun and not too hard. After fixing our lead line, we rapped back down and Scott and Carling took over, pushing up the top of the fourth, using our lead line to fix 2&3 together and their lead line to fix 4. The next day we would all jug to the top of pitch one where Hill and I could then recover our haul rope and push ahead. So far, Half Dome was fun and mellow.

Hillary following p.1, Scott and Carling filtering water

Around the time we finished fixing pitches, an “in-a-day” party had arrived from the slabs, and we decided that it was best if they used our ropes first in the morning to get a jump start on their big day. We planned to be on the rock by 4:30, so they planned to start up around 3:45. We all hit the hay pretty early, trying to start with a decent night’s rest. Half Dome had other plans however – right as dusk was turning into night, we heard a rock of who knows what size rip through the night air and smash into bushes somewhere near us. At this point helmets went on, the other party grabbed their sleeping bags and moseyed down further from the face, and everybody started silently calculating probabilities. As everyone was finally starting to doze off, it even started to rain. Around the time I was considering getting up to get out the bivy sacks, it started to taper and finally trickled to a stop. A night of uneasy sleep was thankfully ended by Scott’s alarm at 4AM.

I think it is Hofstadder’s law that says, “Everything takes longer than you think – even when you take into account Hofstadder’s law.” This pretty well characterized the next two days of effort – accordingly, it took longer than planned for breakfast and bag packing, and then with sorting out the fact that between our two parties, three of our four ropes had been used to fix pitches, I shouldn’t have been surprised when it was 8AM before I was at the previous day’s high point on pitch 4. However, we made quick work of the next 4 pitches. I lead 5&6 – some fun finger cracks and jumbled corners, and Hillary took 7&8 – easy ground punctuated with bulges and steep sections. Near the top of the 6th, the “in-a-day” party passed us as they retreated from their highpoint on pitch 8. Apparently, spooked from the previous night’s rockfall, they both got very little sleep and weren’t feeling up to another 15 pitches. We were feeling good though, on track to get to Big Sandy around 8PM.

Somewhere around pitch 5, I heard what sounded like a HUGE rock ripping through the air off of the summit. When I looked up, the rock had a human shape, tossed out a parachute, and whump! Stopped mid-flight and floated down to the valley. Awesome!

Hillary jugging the robbins traverse

Things started going south around pitch 11. I thought the 5.9 traverse was pretty stiff and in my wigged out state forgot to put in a directional for cleaning one of the pieces so after Hillary got up I had to rappel down and retrieve it. As I got back to the ledge, dark clouds swirled above us, the wind picked up, and a light rain started coming down. Somehow it was now around 5PM and I was getting a little worried about our pace. Maybe all of the bag lower-outs and traversing jugging was slowing us down? Just as I was considering getting out the bivy sacks as the clouds darkened, they parted and quickly we were under blue skies again. Now that it was around supper time, we realized that we had skipped lunch and had only eaten a fruit leather between us, so we took a short break to drink some water and scarf a PB&J.

After suffering through the squeeze chimneys on NE buttress, I opted for the aid route on pitch 12, but that “step left” was pretty hair-raising in my approach shoes. In fact the whole 5.6 chimney was interesting! While easy enough to do in my guide tennies, the exposure was crazy – looking down into bowels of the chimney on one side and 1000’ of exposure on the other and then hugging the corner to get into the C1 section, I was pretty gripped.

Meanwhile, a few pitches down, Scott was feeling similar I’m sure, as he forgot to check the topo for pitch 11 and wandered off right onto thin face moves after the 5.8 traverse and ended up taking a decent sized fall onto a small TCU.

At this point, the sun was getting noticeably low in the sky and I was inspired with a new sense of urgency to launch into the frightful chimneys, which had been staring us down ever since pitch 8. Luckily, the climbing was relatively easy, but the exposure on the 5.7 airy chimney made the thing a pretty serious endeavor.

at the top of p. 14

At this point, it was around 7PM and Scott and Carling, who were about 2 pitches behind at this point, were getting very worried about pace and asked if we could fix a rope on the pitch 13-14 link up. This was fine, but required that I wait for them after leading pitch 15, which at this point required a headlamp. I fell into a half sleep at the top of 15 as I waited for Hillary to get our haul line back as Scott finished jugging it. Considering the time, we agreed to fix pitches 16 and 17 up to big sandy. This ended up being pretty key, as Scott’s headlamp had nearly stopped working. It’s functioning had been reduced to getting 1.5 seconds of light whenever the button was pressed, which is only slightly better than not working at all. As I was working on leading pitches 16 and 17 in the dark, he was having a heroic go of it up pitch 15 using his headlamp to take a snapshot of the holds, make a few moves, and repeat, up the 5.9 fist crack. Due to the defunct headlamp and building delirium, he ended up only clipping 80% of the pieces he placed into the rope!

As for myself, I was possessed by an acute case of sewing machine leg on the double cracks on pitch 17 up to big sandy. Hillary had left directionals on pitch 16 so that Scott and Carling could safely jug it, leaving me with half a rack and 4 slings for pitch 17. In the dark I had walked past the 5.9 lieback to the base of a dead vertical, forbidding 6” splitter crack with lieback crack in the back. I repeatedly moved up it a few moves and came back down to the safety of the ledge. “There’s no way this is 5.9” I thought, but at this point it was approaching midnight on our 19th consecutive hour of climbing, so 5.9 was starting to lose its meaning. Luckily I had the clarity of mind to go exploring and found a straightforward lieback only ten feet left. Dispatching with this brought me to the double cracks, which didn’t look too bad. The only problem is that I only had one piece that would work and one sling to use on it. Luckily I was able to keep pushing the #3 camalot up the middle crack as went, until about halfway up I made too many moves in a row and the cam was now hopelessly below my feet. No turning back, I pushed through the remaining double crack section to a small stance. At this point, I was confronted by a dilemma – to my right a medium ledge lead out into the darkness, ending in apparent oblivion. Above, the double cracks continued at what appeared to be hard 5.10 or harder. I had a few pieces left that looked like they might fit, but the cracks looked pretty serious. I pulled out the wrinkled photocopy of the topo, which provided no guidance – up double cracks to a ledge at which point you move right. Did I have to go up these double cracks too? Mostly out of fear of the cracks above I decided to go exploring to the right. I crawled along the ledge and discovered that it did not end in oblivion, but in Big Sandy Ledge! Yay! 1AM and I was finally there. Only 5 hours later than expected.

Very soon, Hillary was up and we were rejoicing, until we realized the flaw in our plan – by fixing our ropes, we wouldn’t have the contents of our haulbags until Scott and Carling got to the ledge, and they had recently slowed down quite a bit. So there we sat, shivering, until about 4AM, at which point I was fairly worried, frigid, and sleep deprived. I rappelled down our fixed rope to 16 to see what I could do to help. When I got there I understood the reason for the delay, Scott was both fairly delirious and without headlamp. Lowering out the haulbag in the dark, they had rappelled pitches multiple times to deal with multiple serious rope snags and stuck haulbags. When I arrived at the belay, Scott was attempting to detangle a rope cluster using his one-second headlamp, taking snapshots, working out in his head what to do, verifying with another snapshot, and then de-knotting it by feel. I knew Hillary was getting seriously cold, so I wanted to get the haulbag with warm things up to her, so I traded Scott headlamps and hauled our bag up to Big Sandy. We watched the sun rise as Carling hauled the final bag up, and settled in for a few well deserved hours of sleep.

After a mere 3 hours, waking up at nine, we continued the upward progress, this time with Scott and Carling in the lead. We linked 18 and 19, which were easy due to all the fixed gear, but fairly awkward.

Hillary on big sandy ledge

Pitch 21 turned out to be surprisingly terrifying. Does nobody else find Thank God Ledge a bit hairy? It doesn’t even get a rating in supertopo, but Carling, a confident 5.10 leader, backed off of it, and Hillary thought it was the crux of the whole climb (although she has a physical handicap as her upper body pushes her back a few inches more than the rest of us.)

"Thank God" Ledge

Scott ended up taking his first aid fall on pitch 22. Inspired by a need to use our new gear, he was keen on using a cam hook on the C1+ traverse. Standing on a marginal TCU, he blindly placed the hook out left in the seam, gave it a weak bounce test, and stood on it. Once on it he was able to see what he had done – the hook was halfway twisting out, holding on a small crystal of granite. It was too marginal to move back to the TCU, which was pretty marginal on its own, so the only hope was getting to the bolt, gleaming a few feet away. Two steps up the aid ladder and he was almost to the safety of 3/8 inch of steel, then pop! Pop! Both of his pieces blew and he pendulumed back down to the belay. Nothing worse than a little road rash had happened though, and he went back up and substituted the cam hook with a bomber TCU (I found an offset alien worked great).

Unfortunately, Hofstadder’s law was still in effect, and we watched the sun set at pitch 22. I was last up, and since Scott and Carling fixed our rope to the top and we were able to jug the last pitch. At the “top” we set up a TR to the actual top and shuttled our gear over the 4th class mantles. It was midnight before we were finally done and in our sleeping bags on top, sleeping the beautiful sleep of “victory.” Or maybe the beautiful sleep of 44 hours of activity punctuated by a 3 hour nap.

We were awoken around 5AM by cries of “Woohoo! We made it!” and “OMG is that the diving board?” Soon after, we heard the call of the Merced and were soaking our feet and eating and drinking to our hearts content, feeling dazed and a bit hung over, but satisfaction of digging deep and finding what was needed. As our friend Nate would say – “bosses, all around.”

the foursome on top

sunrise over mt. watkins

Russ Walling

Gym climber
Poofter's Froth, Wyoming
Aug 2, 2009 - 04:52pm PT
Hey there say! Really good job... !!

(some of the pics are the right size, and some are pretty small.... maybe check your links?)

EDIT: they all look good now! Thanks
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Aug 2, 2009 - 05:55pm PT
Sounds like it was quite the adventure!

Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Aug 2, 2009 - 06:04pm PT
Cool TR folks!!!

Great photos
east side underground

Trad climber
Hilton crk,ca
Aug 2, 2009 - 07:49pm PT
The spring, is it in good shape? looks like it from the photos.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Aug 2, 2009 - 08:29pm PT

Trad climber
Currently Nomadic
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 2, 2009 - 09:19pm PT
Not sure how strong the spring flows regularly, but I'd say it was a "healthy trickle"
nick d

Trad climber
Aug 2, 2009 - 10:03pm PT
Wow! Great TR! I got cold, wet and scared just reading it.
Thanks for posting up.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Aug 2, 2009 - 10:07pm PT
AWESOME send, folks!!!!
Great TR too!

Crestline CA
Aug 2, 2009 - 11:02pm PT
Perfect for a first big wall style grade 6... lots of stuff going wrong and the schedule out the window... now that's real wall climbing! You have gained valuable experience and learned some great lessons we all do at one time or the other. TG ledge is pretty scary dude so don't give it a second thought... I crawled with my right arm down in the crack and my right leg on the ledge... good stuff!!
Congrats are in order for all... now imagine what an ordeal the Nose would have been instead of the Reg!! This is why people should work their way up through the grades instead of just going for it on the Captain. Thanks for the pics and the descriptions... great stuff for sure!!
Tom Evans
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
nowhere, I'm headed for certain doom
Aug 2, 2009 - 11:17pm PT
Dig it...Hofstadder sounds like a cousin of Murphy, yeah, YOU know that guy.
Good job.

Trad climber
primordial soup
Aug 2, 2009 - 11:34pm PT

thank god ledge is a sweet piece of real estate!

Boulder climber
San Diego CA
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:23am PT
great TR i hope to do half dome one day
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:27am PT
cool, i added a link to the Route Beta page http://www.supertopo.com/rock_climbing/route_beta.php?r=ybharegu

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Aug 3, 2009 - 03:33am PT
Wonderful TR, all. You've helped to motivate for another trip up at 58 (or, more likely, 59 because it will take at lest that long to get in shape).


Gym climber
crimping through the start of the Generator
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:07am PT

Perseverance and sweat win again. Nice job!
Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:33am PT

Trad climber
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:50am PT
Way to send. Thanks for writing that up.

Trad climber
Boston, MA
Aug 3, 2009 - 12:35pm PT
Fantastic TR and nice job on the hard-fought send.

Much more than I could do. Someday, I hope!

Thanks for sharing!


Trad climber
Aug 3, 2009 - 01:15pm PT
Wow! maybe best TR ever?...excellent writing.

I've been thinking for a while about doing this route, and your account of it is incredibly helpful.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 39 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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