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Half Dome


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
Adventures with Elliot Robinson: Learning Kung Fu on Snake Dike

by Zay
Sunday January 6, 2019 1:04pm
No one has heard of Elliot Robinson. “No one,” in terms of perspective. Truth is, no one has really heard of Peter Croft, Jim Bridwell, or most of the otherwise-legendary figures in the history of our cult. But even within this sect, no one has heard of Elliot Robinson.

No one, unless you are from Monterey, CA. As the Director of Social Services, he was a very high profile character, often appearing in the local news. They burned him at the stake for taking custody away from neglectful parents, and they burned him again when they didn’t (and the children died). He constantly walked a razor’s edge of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”


No one, unless you spend time at Sanctuary Rock Gym, where a handful of aspiring adventurists can often be heard sharing stories of great epics. Bushwacking, death marches, benightment, unplanned bivvies, excellent climbing, terrible climbing, ruining a brand-new 4x4 vehicle, first ascents, first free ascents, first ascents on lead…

… all of them, sharing stories about their adventures with Elliot Robinson.

The goal of my next few trip reports is two-fold: to spread a little of a local legend, and to spray about my personal experiences with him. I know Elliot couldn’t give two shits about being famous, and I have no delusions that my writings will actually make him so. If anything, these are just good stories, and if only a few people read them and enjoy them then I can say they were a success.

Logically, I should start from the beginning, to my first (and by far, most powerful) experience with Elliot…

Learning Kung Fu on Snake Dike.



I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I look over at Charles, the manager, to see if he notices. He does, and of all the things I expected him to shout…

“If anyone is interested there is a fifty year old bald man free soloing the crack machine in a business suit.”

...was not one of them.

Sure as sh#t, he had walked in in full business attire, suit, tie, slacks, and some nice f*#king shoes. In one hand was a chalk bag, and in the other was a pair of climbing shoes. He was met with some enthusiastic hello’s as he sat down, ripped off his business shoes, slipped into his climbing shoes, and walked straight up to the janky wooden crack machine of Sanctuary Rock Gym.

As I sat there, slack jaw, I instantly saw an opportunity. This guy is somebody.

When he came back down, I mustered up some courage and asked, “Can you show me how to do that?”

“Oh yeah! Come check this out! So you put your hands in like this, and your feet in like this…”

As the blood began to ink out from the back of my hands, we chit chat. To my delight, he seems absolutely stoked to talk to me about climbing. I quickly learn that he used to climb a lot in Yosemite, and even has a few first ascents, but has only just gotten back into climbing after taking almost twenty years off.

I tell him about myself, still in my chrysalis, having barely been climbing a year. I had only climbed in Pinnacles and, by far, the two biggest things I had done were Machete Direct and Son of Dawn Wall (both six pitches). I should also point out that my friend Liz basically guided me up Son of Dawn.

I had never climbed in Yosemite. I grew up in El Portal, but climbing entered my life way too late. I remember watching my dad and Ron Skelton climb the Dike Route on Pywiak dome when I was around five or six years old. This was a personal pilgrimage with daddy issues.

So we pull out our phones and add each other on Facebook.



Flash forward a few months, and two whale watching trips cancel, leaving me with two free days unexpectedly. After scratching my head for a minute, wondering how I’m going to rally a last minute partner for Pinnacles, I suddenly remember my conversation with Elliot. When I get home, I type up the following message and send it at 4:21PM:

“Hi Elliot! I was just talking about Yosemite with some friends today and then I remembered you saying something about wanting to do a day trip out there one of these days and I was WONDERING if you were interested in doing that still? I happen to have the next 2 days off, and a bunch of cash to burn on gasoline and coffee... and Degnan's Pizza! Or maybe Mariposa Pizza Factory... anyways I understand that tomorrow/monday would be very last minute... i assume the welfare thing is monday through friday for you??? anyways, i would love to break into the park one of these days and get on some real granite and see what the world is like outside of Pinnacles National Park! Please think of me next time you're itching to get out there I'll pay for gas, beer, and pizza. My number is 209XXXXXXX”

After sitting around the house for a bit, reading my Pinnacles guidebook, my phone buzzes. The text reads something like,

“Wow! I can’t believe I get service up here! I’m on the Diving Board of Halfdome right now. Gonna sleep here tonight and thinking about third classing Snake Dike tomorrow…”

Third classing? What the hell does that mean? Maybe that means there is an alternate route. By now, I’ve heard of Snake Dike and I understand it’s bad ass, so I prod…

“No way! That’s cool. I’d love to join you but I don’t want to crowd you guys.”

“It’s just me. Tell you what, a partner might actually be kinda nice. If you can get here tomorrow morning with a rope and six quickdraws, we can make it happen!”

I remember looking at my watch… somewhere around 6:30pm. Yosemite valley is 3 ½ to 4 hours away.

Once in a lifetime…

“Babe!” I call my girlfriend, Alix... “... this is something I have to do.”

I gather all the information I can. Free topo from Supertopo, approach beta, some mountainproject comments about the approach, gear…

… they say to bring cams. I don’t have any cams. But I do have a set of nuts and tricams that I bought of someone for hella-cheap. I’ll bring those just in case.

7:50pm, I’m out the door. I fire of a text to Elliot: I’m on my way.

Leaving Monterey.
Leaving Monterey.
Credit: Zay

As I’m cruising up Highway 1, admiring the sunset over the bay, Elliot responds with a picture of Half Dome from the diving board. The same sunset emblazons the Northwest Face. Under the picture, he types: “Motivation.”

Motivation
Motivation
Credit: Zay

I make it to Mariposa in 2 hours. I’m so psyched that I even decide to stop at the pizza factory for a quick beer and see if anyone I know is working.

Down the hatch, and down the hill.

11:30pm, I’m pulling over in El Portal for some rest. Three and a half hours, WITH stopping at the Pizza Factory for a beer! I crawl into the back of my truck, and finally experience the beaten-to-death-tale of struggling to sleep through excitement.

Three hours later, I wake up. It’s just after 3:00 AM. I know the approach is long, that it’s my first time, and that I’ll be carrying all the gear… best not to keep Elliot waiting! I drive into the park, and stop at Happy Isles. I pop open the back and grab my gear: Six draws, Six lockers, an ATC, a handful of slings, a set of nuts and tricams, and my fat f*#king 10.3mm 70M rope.

Having grown up here, I know where the Mist Trail starts, and I thank God for this fact as I walk through the darkness and find the sign.

3:50AM, I send Elliot a text: “I’m starting up the Mist Trail.”

It’s eerie. There is no one around, not a soul. The moon is a little more than half full, and this allows me to keep my headlamp off whenever the trees break. I haven’t been up the Mist Trail in almost ten years, and I am beside myself staring up at Illilouette Canyon.

Credit: Zay

Every few minutes, I hear the snap of a twig and look back expecting a mountain lion to punish me for hiking alone in the dark.

I try moving fast. Elliot would be waiting. But by the time I hit Vernal Falls Footbridge, I realize that I had only made it 0.8 miles and I was already pretty tired. Sh#t, “This is going to be a long day.”

As I gain the Vernal Falls footbridge, I find myself gazing in absolute wonder, and horror, at Vernal Falls.

This was the Spring of 2017. May 14th, to be exact. California had just received, by far, the most rain and snow from the previous winter that it had in well over 10 years… and Vernal Falls, was raging. Staring up at this moonlit avalanche, the words “intimidating” and “ominous” came to mind. The fall itself could barely be seen through the thick cloud of angry mist that guarded it.

As I made my way up the stone steps, mist turned to rain, turned to monsoon. I could not believe just how much water was flying around. Wet, and loud. Water collected along the steep walls of the narrow canyon and flooded its way back down. Water ran over my feet.

“If you die, dad would be pissed,” I said to myself, alone, at 4:30 in the morning. Dad was a ranger in the Park, and a swift-water-rescue trainer with YOSAR. Considering everything he had told me about how stupid people get themselves killed, I resolved that I was at least educated about how stupid I was being, and that I would proceed with caution. Fast, but as carefully as possible. One slip, one off-balance stumble, and the raging waters down my left side might as well be a black hole.

Word of advice, if you ever find yourself blinded by water droplets shining from your headlamp, take the headlamp off and hold if by your waist. I did not think of this as I resorted to just turning the f*#king thing off.

Moonset over the Mist of Nevada Falls, shortly after Vernal.
Moonset over the Mist of Nevada Falls, shortly after Vernal.
Credit: Zay

Now, I could go on and on about how epic the approach was for some first timer, all alone in the dark… but I suspect some readers might be thinking “are you going to climb or what!?”

So I’ll jump ahead, just a bit…

Figure this one out
Figure this one out
Credit: Zay

As I am finally making my way up the talus on the south side of half dome, I think about how insane it is, what I am doing. The sunrise was breathtaking, and here I am all alone scrambling out of the Yosemite Backcountry, up the top of a goddamned mountain.

I felt like I was in some Karate movie… some young grasshopper hiking up to the summit where I would find some old guru balancing on a rock upside down.

I was going to learn Kung Fu.



Finally, I see him. This small figure crouching over a cliff, staring down at me with a giant smile on his face that I could see even from three hundred feet below.

“I’m amazed!!!” He belows, “I can’t believe you came!!!”

After I finally join him, we hug and chat for a second.

“Anyone up here?” I ask.

“Nope, just us. Anyone coming?” -Elliot.

“I didn’t see anyone.”

“Sweet! Let’s go check out the Diving Board!”

“Hang on,” I say.

I have a problem.

My knee hurts. A lot. I roll up my pants and see that it is swollen badly, and dark purple. I know right away what’s wrong. You see, I have a bad history of infections, and it appears a small abrasion from leader fall at Pinns has decided to pick today to fester.

“Do you have any ibuprofen?” I ask.

“You bet. I always bring ibuprofen.”

Lesson number one.

Credit: Zay

The diving board blows my mind, I’ve never been up here. I’ve never been this close to half dome. Looking at the Northwest Face from here, then down the valley… I stare at Royal Arches, North Dome, Mt Watkins, Glacier Point… I was seeing these formations as if I had never seen them in my life. I’ve never looked straight down and overhanging three thousand foot face without a handrail, I’ve never f*#king climbed here.

I have come to learn Kung Fu.

“So how do we want to do this?”

“I can lead the whole thing if you want.”

“I’m happy swinging leads.”

“Wanna take the first pitch?”

So that’s how we set it up. I will take pitches one and three, I’ll link five and six, and pitch eight. I was riding a wave of confidence that was founded on fatigue and ignorance… and perhaps a handful of ibuprofen.

I had never even placed any of these f*#king tricams.

Ground Control To Major Tom, Commencing Countdown, Engines On...
Ground Control To Major Tom, Commencing Countdown, Engines On...
Credit: Zay

After smoking a cigarette, Elliot points the way up. I confirm with the topo, and begin my climb. Cruising up the little corner, I find that Yosemite Granite is very, very different than Volcanic Breccia. Not just the texture, but there are cracks! Good cracks! This is fun.

At the roof, I place my first tricam, extending it with a double runner. After yanking it a few times and confirming I placed it exactly how some book told me to, I down climb some distance and perform my first ever friction traverse. How bizarre!

My friend Mila taught me how to climb at Pinns, and her words were echoing in my head:

Zay heads up Pitch 1.
Zay heads up Pitch 1.
Credit: Zay

“Trust the rubber.”

I move left and up, and surpass the roof. Almost two years later, I can’t remember if I placed another tricam… but I do remember being really, really, stoked at the anchor bolts.

Soon, up comes Elliot, happy as a clam. He swings the lead, moving out right, then up to the next anchor. Off belay. Belay’s on. Climbing…

Elliot taking off Second Pitch, I Believe...
Elliot taking off Second Pitch, I Believe...
Credit: Zay

Now I’m up, third pitch: The Crux. I know, I know, 5.7, big f*#king deal. But remember, this is my first climb in Yosemite, and we are talking friction climbing here!

Zay on Third or Fifth Pitch
Zay on Third or Fifth Pitch
Credit: Zay

I look down. Always look down, that’s why you climb. Already, the view is otherworldly. We aren’t just rock climbers, we are f*#king astronauts and we are going up the tallest goddamned mountain on Mars, baby!

Trust the rubber, a few fluttering breathes and heart beats later, and I’m the next anchor.

Credit: Zay

Credit: Zay

All smiles from Elliot, He swings his lead up the dike uneventfully. I begin to wonder how easy this is for him. Everything about his demeanor is like we are just hiking... with taking turns.

I’m on Mars.

He’s eating an ice cream bar on a warm day.

Soon I’m up the dike and ready to swing leads.

Now, I’ve had some experience with being run out on easy terrain, so I’d like to think that I handled myself pretty well…

But for, perhaps, the one guy reading this who HASN’T done Snake Dike, one of these pitches has some fifty to seventy five foot runouts.

5.4 climbing... 75 ft run-outs… somewhere those two stats blend together to create something that at least could be described as “a moderate experience.”

And soon, here I am, staring down fifty something feel to my last bolt, strangling this knobby dike, staring up and cursing the sun for blinding me.

Where is this f*#king bolt!?

I look down to Elliot, I’m a full pitch and a half above him. I yell something down to him about not being able to see the bolt… wondering if I missed it, and he yells up something like, “Just keep going!”

“Okay…”

To better paint the scene, it is windy and it is cold. Both Elliot and I are still wearing our jackets and beanies. I welcome the warm protection that my backpack adds to my backside. All the peaks of the High Sierra that surround us now are blanketed in snow. I look down again…

Okay, looking down isn’t ALWAYS a good idea.

I’m not just imagining being on another world, I AM on one. I’m on f*#king Pluto. Everything is upside down. This rope isn’t going to catch a fall, there isn’t enough gravity! I’m floating upwards, and this rope is preventing me from drifting off into space.

As I float upwards, there it is. Such a pretty thing, shiny and chrome, just another ten feet. A little more… come on… don’t slip now!

“It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing…”

How can people talk so much sh#t on something so beautiful.

Clip.

Okay, I swear to God, I wasn’t THAT scared. Pretty scared. Maybe a little gripped… okay I was scared… but I wasn’t incapacitated with fear or anything…

I swear.

Before long, Elliot is hiking his way up the dike. I am feeling a little embarrassed, and I remember apologizing for that taking so long. He shrugs is off.

“It’s all good. You did fine.”

Off he goes. And soon I follow up the dike.

As I prepare to swing the next lead, I remember looking at the topo and being a little confused about which way to go. I can see where I need to get to, somewhere up and left about fifty feet or so.

“I think I can just punch it straight up on this friction slab here…”

“I think you should go right, then up and over.”

Lesson two, always listen to Elliot.

“Nah, I think I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.”

Credit: Zay

I start to head up the blank, fiction slab. The higher I go, the steeper it gets. I feel like a spider trying to climb out of a bathtub.

Eventually, it is obvious that I can’t go any higher.

I look down to Elliot. He is at least thirty feet below me, with no gear between us. I look to the dike feature on my right, and conclude that I can not get to it directly from here. I need to downclimb.

If i wasn’t scared on the 75 ft runout, I was scared now. Downclimbing friction slab is terrifying. My breathing is so shaky it almost makes me fall. A shaky foot supports a lowering body mass, an even shakier foot reaches down. I test my weight transfer with a semi-intentional foot slide to judge the friction. I am losing faith in the rubber.

But down I went, just the same. Now I’m really embarrassed. This guy must be thinking, “this is the last time I ever bring a newbie on a climb like this.”

Like any stupid hominid, I say something with hollow confidence like, “Ah well, it looked so doable from here,” too insecure to just say flat out, “that was dumb. I should have listened.”

If he was annoyed, he did a great job hiding it.

Up and over I go, and soon I’m on a ledge. I feel like I should belay from here, but there are no bolts. I’m too stupid and uneducated to judge whether or not I can- or should- build an anchor. A quick conversation with Elliot concludes that that is probably the best spot to belay, indeed. I can just sit down and use my body as an anchor, and belay from my harness, bracing myself against a rock.

Credit: Zay

As he arrives, he gives me a “good job.” At this point, we just did eight pitches, but I don’t feel comfortable going unroped to the summit, based on the mini roof above us. We agree that the ledge is good enough that even if Elliot falls while leading, I can lean out right and the rope will hook over this smooth hump of rock… I will be safe, and hopefully the rope won’t break.

His confidence quiet positivity have no trouble convincing me that this is a sound plan.

Elliot grabs the gear, and heads up, placing a tricam in a crack. Barely a minute later, he calls off belay, and soon I follow him up.

By now, we can unrope. We do a little organization, and commence the death march up to the summit.

Credit: Zay

---

Now, the story doesn’t end there just yet. But I’ll wrap it up as quickly as I can.

There was snow over most of the summit.

Credit: Zay

This was my first time up half dome.

Credit: Zay

It was mother’s day, and in celebration, I wore a hawaiian shirt that she had made for me.

Credit: Zay

Credit: Zay

I called my mother and told her what I had done, and she laughed, “You know, your father likes to point out that he’s never gone up the cables; he’s only ridden in helicopters up there.”

The hike down was excruciating, even after taking another handful of ibuprofen, I needed to take a rest every hour.

Credit: Zay



Just passed Little Yosemite, we came upon a bear not thirty feet from us, and the FIRST thing I thought was not “Oh wow a bear!”

Credit: Zay

It was, “Oh sweet Jesus.” This means I could sit down for a while.

We made it back to the car sometime around 10pm, I had promised Alix that I would be back by Monday morning. It was Sunday night, and I left Monterey Saturday Night… a Snake Dike day trip…

...not quite.

I got to Mariposa around 11pm, and was so tired, and my leg hurt so bad. I pulled over to sleep in the back of my truck. I didn’t even think to call anyone, as most Mariposans are dead asleep by 10pm.

In the morning, I couldn’t bend my leg. The swelling and purple had grown from my knee, half way down to ankle.

I drove all the way to Monterey, and didn’t stop until I was at the hospital.

I went back to the E.R. two more times, every other day. Despite increasing the dosage of antibiotics, the infection continued to spread.

“Yeah, you’re spending the night.”

I spent two.

Sitting there, bored out of my mind for two days, hooked up to an I.V. of antibiotics… they changed the bag every hour or so.

Among the things I did to pass the time, I watched a certain youtube video probably twenty times.

“Of Choss And Lions,” with Cedar Wright, Alex Honnold, and Maury Birdwell.

In the video, there’s this song where Cedar and Maury charge this new line up a rock in Africa. It gets stuck in my head, and I can’t help but sing the two lines I know from the video while I’m in the shower…

To this day, whenever I hear that song I am instantly teleported to staring up at Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, down The Valley… hiking in the dark alone… climbing 75 feet above a bolt, kicking steps into the snow on the descent of Half Dome...

I found out the name of the song years later. It’s by a band called Alberta…

“Proving Ground.”

“I know, I know it aint’ no secret,
“That I, I always bite my nails
“Anytime I’m bored or when my reasons
“To get old knock me off the trail.
“So come on, we gotta keep on leavin’
“Or comin’, dependin’ on where it’s at.
“It aint nothin, it aint nothin I can’t deal with…
“I put my tie and suit on, again, I’m gonna take it off
“When I’m through and done.”

Credit: Zay

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Zay
About the Author
Zay is a climber from Monterey, Ca.

Comments
Zay

climber
Monterey, Ca
Author's Reply  Jan 6, 2019 - 01:52pm PT
Added some pics.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jan 6, 2019 - 03:04pm PT
Out by the Astrophysics buildings and Jim Collins' Psycho Roof stairca...
Out by the Astrophysics buildings and Jim Collins' Psycho Roof staircase.
Credit: E Robinson
I know Elliott from when he used to builder at Stanford in the 80s!
He's always been an "adventure climber" - big fun!!
Thanks for sharing your recent adventure with him.
skywalker1

Trad climber
co
  Jan 6, 2019 - 03:31pm PT
Bravo! Thanks for the write up. Felt like I was there!

Cheers!

S....
hellroaring

Trad climber
San Francisco
  Jan 6, 2019 - 03:32pm PT
Right on! So yeah I am the one guy reading this who has never done the route, however, I am well aware of the long distances between those “shiny chrome things” on the dike. Need to do it someday if I could only ditch the crowds. Guess that means a less than ideal time of year. Met you once on the east side of Pinns in the parking lot while my partner was chatting you up. I like reading your trip reports...
Zay

climber
Monterey, Ca
Author's Reply  Jan 6, 2019 - 03:47pm PT
Hey there, say, Hellroaring, I remember seeing a message from you about climbing at Pinns, but I responded super late i believe and I think I messaged u back but it probably got buried. Thanks for the read, if you ever need a partner please feel free to let me know.

As for crowds, we were insanely lucky it sounds, to have not seen another climber. Probbly have decent chance on a spring weekday...
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Jan 6, 2019 - 03:55pm PT
WOW!
L

climber
Just livin' the dream
  Jan 6, 2019 - 05:44pm PT
Excellent TR, Zay! Thanks for the great photos and write-up.

My husband and I climb at Sanctuary so it's nice to put some (famous) names to the faces.:-)
Inner City

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Jan 6, 2019 - 06:08pm PT
Nice report thanks. Snake Dike was my first climbing experience of any type. It was quite a day for me as I recall. So much granite everywhere!
NutAgain!

Trad climber
https://nutagain.org
  Jan 7, 2019 - 05:59am PT
The spirit I love about climbing adventures comes shining through! Long live the stoke!

I chose that climb to do with my wife the day I asked her to marry me. We waited most of the day at the base for a conga line to dissipate... she was napping in full sun at the base, and I wandered off to explore the diving board for the first time. Amazing place! We were on the summit alone for a glorious sunset when I asked her. It was cold, and she was hustling ahead to get to the cables before dark and I had to call her back, and mumble something about getting something from my pack so I could surprise her on my knee. Gold and pink mist were swirling up around us as the last rays of sun cast all in a warm amber glow. As good as it gets!

And a fine route that I look forward to getting back to again. Thanks for refreshing my memories. The slabs on this route, especially the 1st pitch under the roof and then later traversing up and left to the dike, those get my attention every time. And I relate to the “strangling the crystal” feeling when run out a bit on the dike :)

Great reportage, and I look forward to hearing more in the series!
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Jan 6, 2019 - 07:59pm PT
Hoooray Zay, that was an awesome TR and made my day.

apogee

climber
Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
  Jan 6, 2019 - 08:25pm PT
I've had the pleasure of a short jaunt on the Machete Traverse with Elliot and my good buddy Peter Carrick- Peter has regaled me with endless tales of Elliot's adventures. You were in great company!
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jan 6, 2019 - 09:54pm PT
So great! Thanks for posting up! That type of trip is pure magic++!



mtnyoung

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
  Jan 7, 2019 - 08:49am PT
Great report Zay; especially nice to see the interaction of different generations of climbers.

I suspect we'll be seeing more?

the Fet

climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
  Jan 7, 2019 - 10:08am PT
Love it.
E Robinson

Trad climber
Salinas, CA
  Jan 7, 2019 - 01:03pm PT
Awesome times, great memories and a fanastic read! (And a tinge of genuine humbleness.) Still amazed that you actually made it there that morning Zay!!! The adventures continue!!!!
limpingcrab

Gym climber
Minkler, CA
  Jan 7, 2019 - 01:53pm PT
I like your writing style, more please!
Zay

climber
Monterey, Ca
Author's Reply  Jan 7, 2019 - 09:50pm PT
Thanks so much for the kind words everyone, they mean a lot to me as someone who occasionally likes to play writer.

L, I just read your story the other day about Ed H in the bar (or was it just the room all along???), freaking epic. I think it might have inspired me somewhat to try capturing the legend that surrounds "just one of those characters." So thanks. I hope to meet you at Sanctuary before they close their doors forever, in a few weeks.

You cant miss me, I'm the obvious weirdo.

Inner City, that is f*#king insane to be able to call Snake Dike your first climbing experience. I know some people find it trivial, but even now I still revere it as an excellent alpine adventure.

Apogee, I showed Elliot your comment last night and he brightened up at that. Also, he reminded me I had the pleasure of meeting Peter at Elliots. Super cool dude.

Mtnyoung, thanks again. Definitely going to be a few more...

I think the next one will be about YPB...

Corporate slacker

Mountain climber
Mountain View, California
  Jan 7, 2019 - 10:40pm PT
I've done the Snake a couple of times. Once with Randy Stout'man' in the 70's, once solo in the early nineties. Recently now with my son in September we attempted but we got blown off quite literally. Knocked over by 65 gusts and had it by then. We didn't make the third pitch cause the party above us, guy and his girl friend dropped one of their rappel devices and it took then some time to figure it out, there was also a party of 3 above them which got off route and took a quite awhile to figure out how to complete. The winds kept getting higher so we backed off. I was rappelling/down climbing the edge of the arch from the top of pitch two when I got blown over on to my back and slammed my helmet against the face. I rapped down two old bolts about thirty feet apart and had my son rap down, clear the first bolt and we walked off. Just picture in mind here, that this is a kid that had climbed in Yosemite one time with me and has a great love for all things Game station/Xbox, computer controlled mayhem. When we got down to Little Yosemite I casually said, "Well David, We've got to come back and get that mother." He looked at me with disturbance and said, "You can, I'm not" Yes I'm a little chagrined that he carries this attitude with him but he did thing the experience was 'Rad' as he put it. Better weather with maybe just a little more kid planning may work wonders for a future trip with him but then again he might be done.
The Snake Dike stories that come out of this site have always intrigued me. Zay, yours is another good one, thanks for the mems.
Al_T.Tude

Trad climber
Monterey, CA
  Jan 7, 2019 - 10:43pm PT
First time I saw Elliot at Sanctuary Gym he was motoring up a textured hand jam. He freely shared beta, but I didn't have his massive, powerful guns to follow his lead. It was apparent at first blush that he was a focused, very positive, generous person. Your story matches up with my initial assessment of his personality.

I've made 23 trips up The Dike, a few at night, last winter on a bluebird February day in a t-shirt! Jim Bridwell's vision never ceases to please. TFPU!
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jan 8, 2019 - 10:14am PT
Great story and write up Zay! What an adventure. You should be proud. Its a proud line on the proudest of formations. Way to grind it out and have a story to tell.

Reminds me of one of my first times up it a few winters ago on New Years eve. Here's the link if you're interested.

http://www.supertopo.com/tr/The-Gift-New-Years-Eve-and-A-Long-Day-on-Half-Dome/t11321n.html

Thanks for posting up! Keep the adventures coming.

Scott
doctorstatic

Trad climber
Watsonville
  Jan 8, 2019 - 06:22pm PT
You are so correct. Elliott is a gift to the climbing wold. He was my finger crack coach on Pinky Paralysis (including penalty slack). Still a fantastic buddy.

Although I'm not a fan of bushwacking and ticks, I do look forward
After summiting the Nose in '89?
After summiting the Nose in '89?
Credit: doctorstatic
to my next adventure with Elliott.
mtnyoung

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
  Jan 9, 2019 - 08:17pm PT
This is a really, really fine trip report. The author went to a lot of trouble to create it. I hope no-one minds if I give it one little bump to the top.
steve Annecone

Trad climber
Eldorado Springs, Colorado
  Jan 11, 2019 - 01:04pm PT
Nice story! Elliott was an offwidth master back in the day, probably still is. He taught me most of what I know about climbing wide cracks in the 80s when we lived at the Waverly House in Palo Alto. So glad to hear he is back at it!
larryhorton

Trad climber
NM
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:44am PT
Thanks, Zay, for a truly exceptional trip report on youth, wonder, and enthusiasm on Snake Dike!

Climbed it in 1990 with my wife at the time. This was her first climb. She did great, and we had the rock to ourselves—until the summit, of course. The only time I saw her gripped was when I took this shot of her out on the overhanging summit slabs. Your story, NutAgain!, reminded me of this photo of a photo.

"Gold and pink mist were swirling up around us as the last rays of sun...
"Gold and pink mist were swirling up around us as the last rays of sun cast all in a warm amber glow."
Credit: larryhorton

You brought back the magic of this superb granite frolic, Zay!
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Jan 16, 2019 - 10:21am PT
I finally got a chance to sit down and read your TR. Great job! Both on the adventure itself and on the write-up.

I remember Elliot from the 80s/Waverly House days, too. Buildering at Stanford and the hideously painful crack machine sessions at Waverly House...

It's nice to see him in your photos.
Scrubber

climber
Straight outta Squampton
  Jan 16, 2019 - 01:01pm PT
Thanks for a great TR! Loved your writing. Definitely took me back to my noobie days.

K
E Robinson

Trad climber
Salinas, CA
  Jan 17, 2019 - 09:00am PT
Hey Phylis !
little Z

Trad climber
un cafetal en Naranjo
  Jan 18, 2019 - 08:47am PT
great read, cool photos bump
mooch

Trad climber
Tribal Base Camp (Riverkern Annex)
  Jan 18, 2019 - 09:02am PT
Nice TR! Elliott is an awesome human being! Love his sketches too. Photos from last weekend.....

Dah Man!
Credit: mooch

Chillin' with the villians...Elliott, Jay, Jennifer, The General and Loomey.
Credit: mooch
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Jan 18, 2019 - 11:47am PT
Thank you for taking the time to write-up your experience & share it.

A fine, fine trip report.
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Jan 18, 2019 - 05:08pm PT
Hey back at you, Elliot! I found you on FB so I sent a friend request. Let's climb together sometime! I live in Southern California now, but I climb in Red Rocks and on the East side of the Sierra a lot.

Was it you who I was climbing with one time in Tuolumne who said to me, "Wow, you are old enough to be my mother!"

Well, I'm still old enough to be your Mother and I'm still climbing! Climbing keeps you young. Glad you are back to it!
xoxo, Phyl
E Robinson

Trad climber
Salinas, CA
  Jan 18, 2019 - 06:09pm PT
Zay, now I'm strangely motivated to put a trip report within your trip report. Looking through old stuff I came across this story by Greg Murphy of our first climb together. I'm guessing it was in March 1987. It was a very wild day.

Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
-------------------------------------------------------------

The Kor-Beck in Winter by Greg Murphy

I first met Elliott bouldering at the Golden Dawn Gate Wall in Berkeley one day. We discovered that we had a mutual friend in HJ, and talking led to the suggestion that we head to the Valley some weekend and do a few routes. Amid thin moves punctuated by Elliott’s phrases like, “horringus”, “Way Gingus” and “Flingus”, I gathered that he was up for it, though clearly I’d be needing a dictionary of sorts. We stopped at his car to exchange phone numbers and he waded through gobs of garbage to get his address book. For some reason he was quite proud of his address book. I guess he held it to be some kind of evidence which substantiated a well-organized lifestyle.

Later that week, despite dire weather predictions of a big wet system stalling on Yosemite for the weekend, we decided to take our chances and make the trip. Friday night we packed my stuff into his car and drove off. Elliott kept me occupied by having me calculate his miles per gallon for the last five fill-ups from information which was illegibly scrawled on matchbook covers and chalk wrappers. After this task, I settled down to a beer while he relaxed with a huge cup of coffee and some wildly electric-colored donuts. The rest of the trip passed without consequence as conversation concerned itself with the usual slandering of climbers better than us. We hit the Valley sometime after 1 a.m.

The road construction past El Cap meadows, and more recently the rockfall near Rixon’s Pinacle, necessitated the re-routing of outgoing traffic past Middle Cathedral. This inadvertently created one of the most amusing roadside entertainments since eating roadkill (or road pizza, if you’re from Montana). Large orange pylons had been placed along this stretch of road to mark two-way travel and become bumper fodder for caffeine wired drivers. The feeling of wild reckless abandon while driving down the wrong side of the road hitting twenty of these small orange sentinels (a personal record) defies description. Nor is this the only manner by which to put down these mute surrogate rangers. Other methods include, picking up the first available pylon and batting down the rest, or simply running them over and dragging them along until the smell of burning rubber from under the car becomes toxic enough to warrant their removal.

After having hit the requisite number of pylons (with both doors), we slept at a site Elliott’s friends were staying at. At 4 a.m. or so we were driven into the cramped Rabbit by a slushy rain as we both forgot a tent.

The next morning we woke up to a nasty grey drizzle. My neck felt like I had performed “Leavittation” with my head due to the uncomfortable Rabbit bivvy. My first cognizant thoughts turned to coffee and we ended up in the Four Seasons for breakfast. Motivation was about as low as the cloud cover but we discussed route possibilities. The funny thing was, the more coffee we drank the more inspired we became. And we drank a lot.

We figured we should be able to squeeze something in despite the weather. Justification for climbing in the rain came by way of Scotland where, we reasoned, they do this sort of thing all the time. Quickly discarding Astroman or Pegasus as options, we settled on the Kor-Beck route on Middle Cathedral. Why we even considered a twelve pitch route on a day like this I’ll never know. However, this choice did have the obvious advantage of enabling us to squeeze in a few more pylon kills. After several more cups of coffee we set off.

We started climbing by noon or so by which time it had begun to snow lightly. This was the exotic dimension we were both psyched for, a little adventure brought to the typically secure climbing routine of the Valley.

I led off the first pitch just as two guys with puzzled looks sat down on a wet rock at the base of the climb to witness the spectacle. I figured if there’s one thing more feeble than climbing a dismal route in the snow, it’s watching someone else climb a dismal route under these conditions. This made me feel a little better about our undertaking. Elliott took over the next lead as our fans abandoned us. They seemed a little disappointed over not having witnessed any skidders.

Although the route was wet, the moderate cracks were easy enough to deal with. We made fairly rapid progress up the first five pitches. The storm however, had increased in intensity and with our clothing completely soaked, our fingers and toes would get really cold while belaying. I would space out on belay watching the cloud ceiling drop and enjoy the sense of remoteness and isolation I felt while shouts of, “This is full-on, way burliest”, would drift down. Big time Alaska points were being racked up as conditions deteriorated. Nevertheless, at no time did we need to resort to aid.

When I led of the seventh pitch, the snow had finally begun to accumulate in substantial amounts on the route. In many places I would have to brush snow off the face and out of the cracks with my gloveless hands before I could continue. Small avalanches rumbling down the face every so often would clean snow off the rock saving me the trouble. Reaching the ledge at the top of the pitch I opted to belay instead of traversing off right as the snow was piled high there and the footing was insecure to say the least. I was ready to give up at this point; it was after 4:30, darkening rapidly, I was soaked, and my fingers and toes were frozen. Elliott, however, figured it would be safer to finish the route than rappel at night. I had a hard time figuring how climbing four more pitches, scrambling across the Kat Walk, and rappelling down the Cathedral Gully in total darkness and heavy snow would be safer. But since Elliott had been stuck out overnight on several other climbs, I guessed he had more experience in these matters and we continued on.

The next pitch turned out to be one of the wildest leads I’ve ever had the good fortune to belay. That is to say, I was relieved that I didn’t have to lead it myself. Up went Elliot into the gathering gloom. Desperate moves and tenuous pro characterized the first forty feet, above which he disappeared into the fog. I tucked my head into my jacket, packed a little shelf for myself in the snow, and began to run in place in an effort to keep my feet warm. Every so often I would hear a muffled, “Watch me!”, and so I would dutifully gaze heavenward into the greyness (a useless gesture but performed out of habit) and check to see if the rope was still in my numb hands.

Unbelievably he stuck it out and after about forty minutes he made it to the belay. This meant only one thing, I would have to clean the pitch. With the pack on my back and fingers and toes that felt no sensation at the tips I flailed madly. In an attempt to calm myself, I gained a marginal stance on a small ledge but promptly slipped off sending me again into windmill mode. By the time I managed to get to the belay, I was hating life. I arranged myself at the belay, flung off the pack, and put on my dry Lava Domes in a desperate attempt to restore feeling to my toes. I told Elliott there was no way I could lead the next pitch so I readied to belay him once more. I watched with an oddly detached sense of amusement as he treaded up the blank slabs only to slide back the ten feet or so to the ledge while bringing down a modest slab avalanche of snow. Elliott looked wildly possessed as he tried to claw his way up the featureless snow covered section of rock. After three of these attempts, I reeled the frantic Elliott back to the belay. At this point I think he realized the merit and rationality of descent.

While Elliott calmed down and warmed his hands, I found suitable anchors to rappel from. I got out our only headlamp and started down. Unfortunately, the lamp had no headband so the first one down had to rap with it in his teeth. So now even my teeth were getting cold. The first rappel was an endless tangle of knots, snow and the occasional manzanita bush. I cursed the memory of Kip Stone’s perpetually kinked and tangled ropes and somehow held him personally responsible. I thought that seven more rappels like this would be a nightmare. And so it was. I skidded all over the snowed-up face completely out of control on the iced-up ropes. I got to a ledge, tied in somewhere, and shivered as Elliott came down as gracefully as I had. Problems continued on the next pitch as I inadvertently went past the proper belay and ended up tossing a sling around a dead branch and clipping into that. I was in a shallow dihedral now and when Elliott came down it served to funnel all the snow down on to me. It buried me up to my shoulders and I wondered how dead that dead branch was, now holding the additional weight of approximately one ton of snow.

Elliott took over leading the next several rappels so I could relax a bit and let my brain go on autopilot for a while. Following the next rap, the heel of my shoe got caught on a rock and was pulled off my foot. I was amazed it stuck in the snow at an impossible angle preventing the ultimate footwear whipper. With a quick lunge, I was able to grab it before it fell. Wiping the snow off my sock, I tied the shoe a little tighter this time and headed down. Judging from the amount of noise just off to our left, significant amounts of snow were constantly being flushed down the gully between us and the Sacherer-Fredricks Route. Hearing those loud rumblings so close to us was somewhat disconcerting, but we were relatively safe out on the rib that forms the Kor-Beck Route.

Elliott continued to do a fine job of leading down and placing decent anchors with fingers that were stiff with the cold. I followed unavoidably bringing down mountains of snow that had nowhere to go but straight down onto the rappel stance. That’s gratitude for you. With my own clumsy hands I accidently dropped a Friend and sadly watched it disappear into the darkness. Seventy-five feet lower on the same rappel, I miraculously spied a tiny bit of red sling sticking out of the snow on a small sloping ledge. I elatedly clipped the prodigal #1 ½ back into the gear sling. “Clean living pays off”, I thought to myself. This little bit of good fortune picked my spirits up a wee bit and I continued to the belay. This feeling was short lived, however, as I arrived at the belay I saw that we would be rapping off two Friends next.

Elliott was getting pretty tired so I took over going down first and setting up rappel anchors. This gave him a chance to warm up. The sound of the snowplow on the Valley floor told us that we didn’t have that far to go. With a profound sense of loss I bid an almost tearful farewell to the gear that served me so well in the past, promising to return in the near future. Two more rappels brought us forty feet shy of the ground. I suggested we leave the ropes in place and high-tail it to the car. An incredulous Elliott turned to me with a look of shock and disbelief, shook his head, and simply said, “Poor style”. Of course, he was completely right. I was ashamed of myself for even suggesting it and apologized for my temporary lack of self-control. We hauled the ropes down and recklessly slid the 5.6 face to the ground. With huge grins on our faces, we congratulated ourselves for our mild epic and postholed through the snow to the car. We made it to the car by 10 p.m., nearly four and a half hours after starting our descent.

Once inside the car my only thoughts were concerned with getting on dry clothes and getting warm. I rummaged around in the back of the car only to be interrupted by a frantic, “Get the door! Get the door!” I turned around anticipating some kind of fatal accident in progress but instead saw an orange pylon approaching rapidly on my right. I was just able to get a piece of it with my door. I certainly had to admire Elliott for his presence of mind.

Back in the Mountain Room Bar we gained instant celebrity status (for stupidity I imagine, but didn’t ask). Elliott went to town re-enacting the details of the whole affair since he seemed to know everyone there. I sat down near the fireplace, sipped a hot drink, and, smiling to myself, thought, “That wasn’t SO bad; might even consider doing another route with him again sometime.
-------------------------------------------------------------

On the route

Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson

The next morning

Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Credit: E Robinson
Zay

climber
Monterey, Ca
Author's Reply  Jan 19, 2019 - 07:52am PT
Elliot,

I think that just might deserve its own thread... no it definitely deserves its own thread! Thats insane. Mr. Murphy is one hell of a writer.

Or... perhaps the fabric of spacetime has crumbled... and I should just put YPB and The Whites IN this thread as you have added Kor Beck... hmmm
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Jan 19, 2019 - 09:31am PT
That is a great TR, Elliot!
E Robinson

Trad climber
Salinas, CA
  Jan 19, 2019 - 12:03pm PT
Okay, I supppose I can give it its own thread. Best not mess too much with the spacetime continuum :-)
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Half Dome - Snake Dike 5.7 R - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Snake Dike follows an amazing feature to one of the most incredible summits in Yosemite.
Photo: Chris McNamara
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Half Dome - Tis-sa-ack A3 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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The first part of the route is hidden.
Half Dome - Direct Northwest Face 5.14a or 5.10 C2+ - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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Blondike is the red line and Two Hoofers is the Blue Line.
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