Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1

  • Currently 5.0/5

Half Dome

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Half Dome NW Face - The Good, The Bad, and The Obsession With Bivying on Big Sandy
Monday March 5, 2012 2:06am
Big wall lesson number one and meeting some cool people on the NW Face of Half Dome.

It was one of those moments when you’re there at the base of a long route and a mountain of doubt about the whole thing begins to pile up around you. Alex’s face reflected the same disappointment and concern that I felt. Looking back, I’m certain he saw it on mine, as well. Probably more so. Because of that morning’s events we were stalled and it was uncertain whether our supplies for a lightweight day-and-a-half climb could be stretched for an additional day. If not, how could we continue? As is typical for a wall climb, water was the main issue.

After we thought through what seemed like a dozen or so different options, we spread out all of our food and water, tallied the calories and quarts per day, faced the reality of the arithmetic, and made the call. It would be even less than the amounts you’d normally carry to blunt the inevitable wasting process, but it might be enough for us to dodge hypoglycemic shock and kidney failure. As we racked up a short time later, I asked Alex what he thought about our new situation. I expected he might lash out against the circumstances and the perpetrators and then proclaim that we should just get on with it. But there was no negativity at all, and he just focused on the “let’s do what we came here to do” part. With a little more enthusiasm and some blue face paint, his pronouncement to venture forth would have risen to the level of William Wallace’s “they’ll never take our freedom” speech. Well, sort of.

To be precise, I think Alex’s actual words before crossing our own Rubicon were “We have a new plan and I’m excited to be positive about the new plan. Why not send?” Later he reflected that these were probably his most positive words ever. If you knew Alex, you would say that this was undoubtedly true. Not because he’s a negative person, but because he never sounds like he’s speaking from a script, nor has he ever been known to let loose with phony inspirational chatter.

The situation we now found ourselves in had developed just a few hours earlier. There in the pre-dawn darkness at the foot of Half Dome an unanticipated event occurred that threatened to derail the grand climb we had planned and trained for for so long. It seemed as though quickset concrete had begun to pour around us and we had to act before it mired us down and anchored us to the ground. But more about that later.

Our story started the day before when we had patiently hiked in the long way with wall gear and food and water for two days. At first we were amazed and then almost giddy when we found the start of the route quiet and queue-less. We gratefully set off to climb and fix the first three pitches prior to the next day’s long anticipated effort. As we fixed our two ropes and began descending to the ground to bivy, we allowed ourselves to begin harboring a cheery, and at the same time unrealistic, hope. Maybe we actually would find ourselves in solitude, grinning and hooting without the pressure and hassles of other parties inevitably vying for position on this beyond-popular route. In the growing glee we forgot to knock on wood. A party of three appeared at the base.

Cesar introduced himself and his partner Jorge and explained that only two of them were climbing and they planned to knock off the route in a day, as he had done several times before. In the course of the conversation, we warmed up to each other. “Still not too bad,” we thought. This was, after all, the Regular Route on the northwest face of Half Dome.

However, before we finished talking to Cesar, three more, Andreas and his two partners, appeared. The gist of what Andreas told us was that they also planned to complete all twenty-three pitches in a single push with their leader belaying both seconding climbers simultaneously, making them nearly as fast as a party of two.

Even though “all” Alex and I were hoping to do was to reach the Big Sandy bivy the next day, it was still seventeen pitches, including the three we’d already fixed, on the less-than-optimal-to-haul Regular Route. Yes, the air was slowly hissing out of our balloon, but we began to amicably compose a workable plan. While Cesar and Andreas translated the in-English dialogue for the benefit of their rope-mates, I felt a portion of my disappointment with the crowded circumstances ebb as it was supplanted by a growing satisfaction with the amiable cooperation of the group.

We all agreed that, before first light, Alex and I would ascend our fixed ropes. Cesar’s party would go next, followed by Andreas’ team. Each would pass us as they caught up to us. They would likely be able to accomplish their in-a-day ascents, and we would still have a shot at bivying the next night on Big Sandy, which was a highlight of this route that we had always insisted we would treat ourselves to. Maybe we’d lose about an hour in the passing process, but if we started a little earlier, we could live with that.

As we spread out our bivy sacks on the ground and layback to gaze up at the fading light on the vast face, I felt the usual apprehension that creeps up on most of us before a big climb. But swirlingly mixed with this electricity there was also the weighty disappointment of the crowded situation combined with a rising contented feeling that we had diplomatically worked out a way for everyone in this accidental multinational enterprise to have a fair shake at realizing their Half Dome aspirations.

Half Dome NW Face
Half Dome NW Face
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

Certainly similar situations are common at the foot of this landmark wall. Without doubt, on this very spot, number upon number of similar dramas had played themselves out, some turning sour, others progressing with friendly cooperation.

As the group rested that night in their various bivy spots, the view above was half blacked out by the massive face. The other half was only sparsely studded with stars due to the harsh wash of light from a full moon positioned somewhere to the south of the great dome’s summit. Below, in the shadow, I stirred off and on like normal, adjusting position in the stillness, occasionally watching the night sky for a few minutes, then dozing off. When the full moon emerged over the rim of the face far above, it poured light directly on us and I stirred more frequently. But something altogether different woke me maybe two or three hours before dawn. I became aware of a faint and distant unnatural sound. A tinkle. And I knew right away that this normally reassuring sound was from the swaying climbing rack of an approaching climber. I think I even discerned that more than one sling-full of nuts and cams was responsible. But it did not emanate from any of the group at the bivy site. Instead the sound was clearly coming from the direction of the approach path that descends from Half Dome’s shoulder to the base of the face.

Within a minute or two we’d all become aware of it. Intruding headlamps were close now. There were four. Without acknowledgement and with little delay, the new arrivals set to the opening pitch in two ropes of two. Their arrival initiated the unanticipated steady flow of concrete that I referred to earlier.

From their gear and their conversation, we discerned that they were intending to complete the climb in a day. And although their wordless presumption that they were entitled to take to the rock ahead of everyone else struck me as astonishingly rude, initially I thought they should be fast enough that, by the time any of us could be ready to go, they’d be at least a couple of pitches up and no real harm would be done. Either Cesar or Andreas, or perhaps both, suggested to the four that they should let them pass if they caught up to them. Alex and I saw that the others would be ready well before us. We had a haulbag to pack, so we agreed they should start when they could. Again, we figured that anyone who intended to climb the twenty-three-pitch face in one day should be fast enough to stay ahead, if they had almost an hour’s head start.

But before long it became apparent that the two ropes of two were not going to be fast.
“What do I do on this part?”
“You’re okay, Jess, just follow the two cracks to the right.”
“I think this cam is stuck.”
As dawn came on and everyone was not yet off the ground, the sense that we had been pissed on intensified.

As our plan crumbled and we realized that our chances of reaching Big Sandy that day were evaporating, I could feel the pinch of our circumstance develop. With our limited food and water, was there a way to continue somehow? Would we have to resupply? Would so much time be lost that we would not now be able to do the route we had set out to do with our limited time in the valley? Reaching the Big Sandy bivy today was now out of the question. This was the point where we had to shake off the anger and disappointment, take stock of the new situation, devise an alternate plan, pronounce “climbing”, and get on with it.

As I described earlier, we began the water and calorie tally with all of our food and water spread out on the ground at the base of the route. Once the decision was cast, we milked additional water out of the puddle, which was exactly how the celebrated spring at the base of the wall looked in dry September. Then Alex held forth with his now famous speech and we set off up our lines spanning the first 300 feet.

We jugged with all of our food, extra water, and sleeping bags. We’d heard that rodents scavenge for food at the commonly used third belay cache point, so had left none there overnight. No bivy sacks. No sleeping pads, or other luxuries. Everything for both of us had to fit in the relatively small Quarter Dome haul bag that we had left above after fixing the previous day.

We could take our time now. Our new plan was to reach the sloping bivy at pitch 6, the spot just before the route trends right across the face towards the Robbins Traverse and then the chimney system. We could have made for the small bivy at pitch 11, but we’d heard that the blocks that made up this ledge had collapsed.

Jugging low on the route
Jugging low on the route
Credit: Alex M

Covering the ground from the top of our fixed lines to the top of 6 went smoothly and we arrived at the sloping “ledge” early in the afternoon. For a bivy ledge, the site wasn’t ideal, but it turned out to be better than it initially appeared. Sufficient anchors were arranged and a minor scoop or two on the sloping ramp were discovered that would help keep us in place without too much struggle during the night.

Sloping ledge at pitch 6 bivy
Sloping ledge at pitch 6 bivy
Credit: Alex M

Next we fixed the seventh pitch. Finding decent anchors for a fixed line took a little searching, but we had time. Once that was done we arranged things at the bivy spot, lounged, gazed up and across the amazing wall, and watched the shadows lengthen, the sun set, and the lights above and below mark their usual paths.

During the night we heard someone, far above or below us, it was hard to tell, coughing or groaning loudly, like they were in pain. We wondered how the nine who had started out ahead of us had fared. It seemed like they should have reached the top, but we had no way to know.

The night on our sloping ledge wasn’t bad considering its two-way slope and the warnings you sometimes hear about it being inhospitable. A couple of pebbles may have dropped onto our bags during the dark hours, but nothing more.

We awoke in the early morning dark, packed the bag, and got going. This was going to be the long day and we felt like there was a lot of terrain to cover in the next eleven pitches to Big Sandy. The blocky fourth-class ledges on pitch 9 took some care and Alex minded the bag carefully across to avoid dislodging missiles. Next came the long-anticipated pendulum of the exciting and historic Robbins Traverse. The exposure of this pitch lived up to its reputation, but executing the swing and latching the belay ledge went smoothly. Alex followed and joined me on the small belay stance. Unexpectedly, the next lead just off the belay at the start of pitch 11 seemed scarier than the pendulum because of its exposed position and greasy smears.

Looking across pitch 9 4th class
Looking across pitch 9 4th class
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

Chimney system from pitch 6
Chimney system from pitch 6
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

One pitch before the chimney system, we hopped across the rumored collapsed ledge at the end of pitch 11. It was intact but it wasn’t so much a ledge as it was a collection of blocks seemingly wedged by climbers behind a large up-opening flake. These kinds of flakes are common on the face and perhaps even define the character of it. A student of Yosemite once described how the successive detaching of huge flakes created the wall in its current form and how the continuing detachment of those presently in place would unveil the future surface of the northwest face. Merely by peering behind one, a climber could possibly glimpse a yet unborn Half Dome face that his grandchildren might one day climb freshly upon.

At this ledge Ion and Iker, two Basque climbers, caught us. They were climbing the route in a day. Are we the only ones who imagined how cool it would be to bivy on Big Sandy? They continued up a variation of the first chimney pitch while we took the more common aid corner that leads into the main chimney.

Here Alex started a block of pitches that included the chimney pitches and the two that follow and lead to Big Sandy. Once out of the chimneys the light began to change. For a pitch it was golden. Then when we were one pitch away from our destination the rock turned orange and then briefly red. Alex reached the bivy ledge before dark, but I would have to follow that one partly by the light of my headlamp. Neither of us thought the layback and wide crack part of this pitch was a gimme, and I can see why some people might want more than one big cam here. We only brought one and Alex placed it and moved it up a couple of times as he passed the wide part.

Zoom view up wall from pitch 6
Zoom view up wall from pitch 6
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

While Alex was finishing this pitch I heard an odd buzzing sound. Basejumper? Whatever the source was, it went past us unseen and the sound faded as it continued on for the longest time. There was no sound of a chute popping open. A period of quiet. Then BAM! What must have been a falling rock, whizzing in free fall without touching the face smashed violently into the ground over 1000 feet below. Where did that come from?

When I scrambled onto Big Sandy, Alex had the bivy anchors mostly setup. Like people say, Big Sandy ain’t all that big, and it ain’t all that sandy. Not like comfortable sandy. For the two of us to stretch out we had to use two offset spots and pad places with rope, haul bag, whatever. It was clear to both of us that this was not a place where a crowd of people would be able to bivy in comfort. We had fun, though. Food that tasted pretty good here we probably would have foregone most other times and places. It would’ve been nice to have arrived here sooner, but we were happy we’d reached it and had it to ourselves, which was what we had hoped.

We’d hauled everything up here just for this bivy, so we relished our perch. No one else was anywhere to be seen on the wall. Ion and Iker had said that a party from Chile was somewhere low on the face and, from activity we’d seen below earlier in the day, we guessed that they were probably at about pitch 11, though we heard no one. Also, earlier in the day we observed a party or two preparing to bivy at the base of the wall. They were engaged with a foraging bear. It was not always clear who was chasing whom, but eventually the bear wandered off. Perhaps the light fare he found with the climbers was disappointing compared to typical valley campground smorgasbords. From the comfort of our ledge I remembered the falling rock at twilight and figured it was too far to the right to threaten anyone on the ground.

In the distance, someone among the Glacier Point sunset watching crowd must have seen light from our headlamps and they began beaming flashing sequences directly towards us. We answered some of their light flashing signals, being mindful not to flash dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot. Then we watched the procession of car headlights stream away from Glacier Point as people made their way back to campgrounds and lodges for the night.

After getting settled in it only took a few minutes to string some glow stick party lights through the anchor system for ambiance. A couple of stogies were fired up and we reflected on how great this spot was compared to one of the pay campsites far below in the valley. Soon the cigar smoke began to mask the dried urine stank that had accumulated here during the climbing season.

The day’s events were rehashed – the wacky rope antics of the Robbins Traverse pendulum, Alex carrying us through the chimney system, and our grateful success with getting the haul bag through numerous obstacles and choke points. A news item we’d seen on a climbing website just prior to traveling here was also a topic of discussion. It had reported that Alex Honnold, who had previously soloed the Rostrum and Astroman, had free soloed this very Half Dome route just a week prior. The notion of covering this ground unroped blew our minds, of course, and we had not even seen the Zig Zags, Thank God Ledge, and the finishing slab yet.

We relaxed and enjoyed the fruits of the labors we’d expended to get here. There was some anticipation about the next day, like always, but it was only six pitches to the top and we felt like the main effort and the most challenging day, time-wise, were behind us. Throughout the night we relished the cliff dweller’s view of the sky and the valley far below. The temperature was maybe around 50 degrees and the air was calm.

The Zig Zags appeared just above us as the first light of the morning illuminated the high places while the valleys were still in gray shadow. Those famous zig zagging cracks reaching up to the Visor, which now seemed so close, would take some effort. It was obvious how difficult they must have appeared to the four-day-tired team of Jerry Gallwas, Royal Robbins, and Mike Sherrick on the first ascent. The light also revealed a curious green bundle stuffed behind one of the flakes that make up the Big Sandy ledge system. We guessed it was some sort of emergency sleeping bag stowed for anyone who might desperately need its danky insulation against the night.

Big Sandy
Big Sandy
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

After packing the haul bag yet again, and psyching up, Alex combined the next two pitches and belayed and hauled from inside the Alcove, one of the classic places on the route. Not only is this incredible niche completely invisible until you reach it, but the exposure from its lip takes in the whole height and breadth of the face, down to Big Sandy and beyond.

Belay in the alcove
Belay in the alcove
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

Next I stepped out of the alcove and worked up through the last Zig Zag pitch which ended at a small stance as Thank God Ledge came into view, looking just as you’d expect. That narrow catwalk that you’ve seen in photos hundreds of times reaches way out to the left, promising to lead you out from under the menacing Visor above. At this belay there are a couple of anchors about shoulder high. Your feet are on a little stance and when you lean back on those anchors your butt is poised over a lot of air below.

View down from the alcove
View down from the alcove
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

While Alex was following I looked over my shoulder and saw first one climber and then another pull over onto Big Sandy and sit down for a break a couple hundred feet below. Clearly they were doing the route in a day and they must have been moving along well.

Alex reached the belay, grabbed gear, and pulled up onto Thank God Ledge. His ledge crossing strategy was the standard walk, shuffle, drop down, scoot, then stand and walk again approach. Occasional onlookers peered over the rim of the face above. It was the time of day when throngs of hikers would be reveling on top of the dome. Someone yelled down with an accent, “Climbers, vaht langvage do you speak?” This seemed like an odd question and we were somewhat befuddled by it, but we just continued on with what we were doing.

Alex on Thank God Ledge
Alex on Thank God Ledge
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

After grunting through the short squeeze chimney that leads from the end of the ledge to the belay stance, Alex realized we had committed our solitary hauling blunder for the climb. He did not have his end of the haul line. In the hurry and anticipation before setting off across the ledge, we had neglected to make sure he was trailing the haul line. After some yelling back and forth to decide on a solution, we determined I would bring the end of the haul line across the ledge to a point where Alex could drop down a length of lead line to bring up the haul cord. Then I’d go back across Thank God Ledge to the belay, release the bag, and follow the pitch again. Three trips across that mega-classic feature in one climb! How lucky can you get? And how often does it get crossed from left to right?

I got back to the stance to release the haul bag and was lowering it out when one of the guys I’d seen below on Big Sandy arrived at the belay next to me. They were moving fast. We shared a couple of points in the anchor while he brought up his second. He asked, “Hey, is your partner’s name Alex?” I replied that it was and he said his name was Alex, too. “What’s your last name?” Sometimes you know the answer before you ask the question, but I did anyway. “Honnold”, he said, kind of with a polite question mark accent on the end as if he was thinking, “Is that relevant?”

I told him we’d seen the reports about his recent accomplishments in Zion and Yosemite, including the Half Dome solo. He humbly and almost embarrassingly said thanks. It’s awkward to bring up stuff like that, but it seems reasonable and truthful to acknowledge the skill and experience it takes to climb at that level. Plus, those kinds of grand strokes inspire many of us to work harder to be better climbers. And besides, what better place to bring it up than pitch 21 on Half Dome?

Shortly we were joined by his partner Chris. After I suggested that they should pass us Alex asked if we were sure about that and added “You guys need to get off this route.” I thought, “Man, we must look like awful, like castaways, or something.” But they passed quickly saying their goal was to get to the pizza deck before closing time. I’d guess they climbed the route in the neighborhood of three hours.

I crossed Thank God Ledge again and caught up with the Alex on my rope. He recounted to me how he had watched the Alex on the other rope climb the 5.12 slab pitch, the second to last full pitch on the route. On this pitch he had reached one of the bolts that is an aid point for most people on the route and exclaimed, “There it is. That’s the Lord of the Rings carabiner. On the solo it was calling out to me, telling me to save myself, to put my finger through it.”

Looking across Thank God Ledge <br/>
&#40;Climber: Alex H&#41;
Looking across Thank God Ledge
(Climber: Alex H)
Credit: TripleS_in_EBs

The Alex on my rope then led through that pitch, and then the last little bit to the top. It was cool to hang out at the last belay stance on the wall and take it all in before moving over the last few feet to the rim. By the time we were both over the last step and on top of the broad Half Dome summit, no one else was there. We smiled, shook hands, and felt the weight of uncertainty drop from our shoulders and the sweetness of success and accomplishment sink in. The late-in-the-day colors were washing over the high country as we marveled and coiled the rope. Then we began to wonder why those last six pitches had taken so long. The haul line epic accounted for some of it. We weren’t sure about the rest of it.

Since we were short on water we decided to not bivy on top, but instead made our way down the cables to recover our gear at the base of the wall and then make for the Little Yosemite backcountry camp for the night.

Carrying the gear down the cables was definitely different than when you’re just carrying a Snake Dike rack. Maybe the fact that we’d been on the wall for a couple of nights was a factor as well. When we reached the shoulder the day was waning and I started out for the base of the wall alone to retrieve the bivy gear we’d left there before the climb. There was no need for both of us to go since it was basically only a couple of packs and our bivy sacks that were waiting to be fetched.

When I got to the bivy area at the base of the wall the sun had already set and the light was going to last maybe another twenty minutes. A Korean party and a Swiss party were there getting ready to call it a day. I saw a chance for some fun.

As I strolled down towards them in approach shoes, headlamp at the ready on my head, hands still taped, I pointed up and asked if this was the start of the Regular Route. The Swiss crew answered yes. Barely pausing, I looked at my watch and said, “I think I got time”, switched on my headlamp, and began climbing the first pitch of the route. Five wide eyed Half Dome suitors stood at the base of the wall with their jaws agape, probably thinking they were about to witness a marvelous feat or some ghastly tragedy. After going up twenty feet or so, I looked down at them with a grin and broke out in laughter. The Swiss bellowed. The Koreans just blinked without expression.

I down-climbed, collected the gear, chatted a bit, and wished them a good ascent. The Swiss were still smiling when I debarked up the path. The Koreans watched but didn’t return my wave. I’d do it again, if I had the chance.

After sweating my way back up to the shoulder, I arrived in the dark to find Alex constructing a bizarre collection of cairns. Dehydration was taking its toll. We packed everything up into hike mode and started down to Little Yosemite, recounting everything along the way.

The next morning Alex and I carried the same stuff we’d been toting, one way or the other, for the last three days back to the valley. We plunged into the river, put on clean clothes, and went to the Ahwahnee where we lingered over a lunch that tasted like a fine dinner. Retiring from the dining room we strolled out to the patio into the sunshine. Alex said, “No way!” when I nudged him and nodded toward an older, light gray haired gentleman who sat at a table sipping wine with his wife. When she excused herself from the table we stepped up to compliment him on his fine route up one of the defining features of the American west. Mr. Robbins entertained our intrusion and politely congratulated us with a thoughtful observation, “Congratulations, it’s a fine summit.” I wondered if he thought the ump-teen thousandth ascent was passé, or if perhaps he mused for a moment about his twenty-second year and pined for the day when he was up there pioneering on the face that stood so prominently above us at that very moment.

Over the next couple of days we bumped into Andreas and his friends at Curry Village and with Cesar and Ion and Iker at the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria. We also crossed paths with Alex and Chris lounging in Alex’s van by the Church Bowl. Here’s what we learned about their experiences. Alex and Chris, who were nowhere to be seen when we reached the top, did indeed make it back to the valley in time for pizza. After “rest bouldering” for a day, Alex was pushing for an as-free-as-possible ascent of Zodiac. Chris was insisting on at least another rest day first. If Alex won the argument it would be Half Dome valley-to-valley one day, rest day bouldering the next, and then on to Zodiac the following day. What was Chris complaining about?

After eight or nine pitches, Cesar and Jorge passed the 2x2 group that had butted in, but by then they had been slowed enough that they did not make the top. They bivied sitting in an improvised rope seat at the stance just before Thank God Ledge. It turns out that the groaning sound we heard at the pitch 6 bivy was Jorge having an asthma attack during the night, hundreds of feet above us in the dark. When we commented about the awful bivy they’d had, Cesar said something like, “Not that bad. I’ve had worse.” Cesar was cool and we were glad we’d met him, even though the circumstances had gone lame.

Andreas and his team also passed the slower group on the route. They too were delayed long enough such that they did not make the top that day. Big Sandy was their stopping point, which they shared with the party of four. Yep. Seven people on BS. BS is short for Big Sandy, also for not “big enough for seven”, also for …

Andreas and his partners were equipped with “light sleepers”, as they put it. They had their act together. Their packs were small, but they had enough to be safe. To get through the night, one of the four in the other group had used the musty, green, flake-stowed sleeping bag, and was probably first to the showers back in the valley the next day.

Ion and Iker made the top in a day. Later in their trip they bagged the Triple Direct.

The buzzing sound I’d heard at the end of the day just before reaching Big Sandy? We heard later that it was indeed a rock, but it impacted closer to the bivy site on the ground than I’d suspected. A fragment of granitic flack from the exploding rock tagged one person in the forehead causing a wound that required stitches. They were out of the fight before ever getting on the wall.

Reflection. Yeah, we felt like we were stomped on at the start of the climb. We were well prepared. We had made a workable plan with Cesar and Andreas. But the butt-er-inners had, well, butt in on everybody, and for awhile we thought we were done. Yet we gathered ourselves, refocused, and pushed on through the circumstances, which is, after all, the big wall thing to do. Then later, seeing events in retrospect, it dawned on us that some of the best experiences of the climb would not have happened if that initial, disappointing delay had not occurred. We might not have had Big Sandy to ourselves. We would not have met Alex and Chris and Royal Robbins, and Ion and Iker. And we wouldn’t have befriended Cesar and Andreas, if we hadn’t all been pissed on. Plus we would not have learned the first and most important big wall lesson to the degree that we did without that experience. That lesson? When something doesn’t go as planned, always regroup, solve the problem at hand, and find a way to press on.

In life, when somebody tries to squash me so they can get ahead and then tells me how much better off I am for it, I always think of that line, “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.” In this case we did get pissed on. But we pressed on, and things worked out better than we imagined. Perhaps better than they would have otherwise. I like to think that was not so much because we got pissed on, but because we pulled ourselves together and got on with what we were there to do. The climb we had dreamed of, planned for, prepared for, and worked for, and didn’t easily give up on became more than just a topo with ratings and pitch descriptions. Good thing it did. And when we sat there amid the glow of party sticks on Big Sandy looking out at the lights and smiling through the mingled smell of urine and cigars, maybe we were just beginning to see that in a big and real way.

Well, that’s the campfire story part of our climb. It’s the part you never expect is going to happen when you’re researching the route, deciding on the rack to carry, and choosing what goes in the haul bag. Now, for the part you always want to hear when you’re planning your own trip and you read other people’s trip reports: the technical details. The “what should I expect and plan for” part. I understand that perspective because I’ve been there in the planning stages. It’s funny how, after the fact, that part seems less important and the story is the gold you hold onto. Anyway, here’s a brief synopsis of what we thought was notable pitch by pitch. Pitch numbers are as per SuperTopo.

Approach. We took the Mist Trail/Muir Trail approach. We carried two backpack style packs with an empty Metolius Quarter Dome haul bag strapped onto one of the packs. To avoid carrying a lot of water weight up the Mist Trail, we waited to fill water bags and bottles until beyond the top of the falls. The climber’s path from the shoulder to the base of the wall is not well-defined in places, but it’s not too hard to find and follow.

Bivy. There are a number of obvious bivouac sites at the base of the wall from which to admire the impressive sight above. Even though it was September, water was obtainable from the spring at the base of the wall right where the first pitch starts. By this time of year the spring was more of a puddle, but water was scoopable. Not sure if it’s always this way in September. If it’s dry, there’s a spring adjacent to the hiker’s trail between Little Yosemite and the Half Dome shoulder, if you know where to look.
Pitches 1-3. We thought the climbing on these was better than what you often hear. Fixed to ground with two 60 m ropes. We were warned not to cache food at the end of pitch 3 due to wall critters.
Pitches 4-6. Mixed free, aid, and French free. Not remarkable. Sloping bivy at pitch 6 was better than expected. We heard it’s not a particularly safe spot due to potential rockfall.
Pitch 7. Do not follow the ramp too far to the left. Routefinding to belay not obvious. Belay spot not obvious. Took some doing to establish haul-safe anchors.
Pitch 8. The routefinding was still not obvious, but perhaps there are a number of ways to go over this broken ground. Belay and haul anchor took some arranging.
Pitch 9. Much care required to avoid knocking off loose rock on this ledge when moving on this pitch to start of Robbins Traverse pitch. Pitch goes right past base of pitch 10, then diagonals back left and up to anchors. If hauling, the second really should accompany the bag across the blocky ledges on this pitch.
Pitch 10. Bolt ladder to pendulum. Execute pendulum as per SuperTopo description. The webbing on the pendulum point may be ratty. Second can swing over to belay also if leader doesn’t clip too many of the higher bolts. Cool but small belay stance at end of pitch.
Pitch 11. Free friction moves off the belay did not seem easy. Wandering nature of pitch not easy for second to jug. A bivy among the blocks at the pitch 11 belay looked reasonable.
Pitch 12. We took the aid corner option on the left. The step left from the chimney to the aid corner was more than a step and seemed a little tricky. Back cleaning in the aid corner was the way to go.
Pitch 13-14. Linked these two pitches. Good crack climbing leads into chimney. Not as much fixed gear as expected from topo description. If hauling, second should stay close to bag to maneuver it past obstacles.
Pitch 15. Excellent pitch. Fist jamming and chimneying in the chimney.
Pitch 16. Out of the chimney system now. Good corner pitch leads up and right.
Pitch 17. Walk and scramble down and right to start of double cracks. Alex walked a #4 Camalot up the cracks for a few moves. A couple of these cams would be useful here, but most people talk about only taking one. Look for an inside edge in the double cracks. This pitch tops out on Big Sandy. It’s a nice and interesting spot on a multi tiered ledge system. Roomiest ledge on the route. Enjoy it.
Pitch 18-19. Linked two of the three famous Zig Zags. Seemed awkward getting into the start of pitch 18 from Big Sandy. Maybe it was our position. The second may have trouble cleaning a few pieces. Clean haul. Pitch 19 ends at alcove. Cool place.
Pitch 20. Interesting step out of alcove to start pitch. Much old fixed gear. This pitch had more fixed gear than any other pitch on the route.
Pitch 21. What can you say? Thank God Ledge is so classic. There are a number of ways to cross it, but standing and shuffling works for most of it. You can layback the start of the squeeze chimney that leads up to the belay.
Pitch 22. One or two aid pieces here take some tinkering so that’s probably where the C2 and C1+ comes in. Not sure why the bolt lines are arranged the way they are. It seemed like a single diagonaling bolt ladder would have been simpler.
Pitch 23. A not so great TCU “protects” the free moves just off the belay. This pitch leads to the blocky ledges just below the top of the face.
Pitch 23 1/2. Not a pitch really. You just mantle and scramble up a few ledges and then, oddly, suddenly, it’s all behind you. If not hauling you’d just skip this stop or take the alternate pitch 23 finish that drops down left and then up. What a great summit! Amazing!
The cable descent. The cables require more care and concentration when you’re packing wall gear. Take your time. Maybe stop now and then to admire the high country panorama.
Counting a day to get to the wall and fix, and a day to finish the hike out, we were out from September 14 to 18, 2008.

Overall, we had some general perceptions and observations of the route. Given the length and reputation of the route, there did not seem to be many pitches of the kind that just put a big smile on your face, the kind that make you grin because the climbing is so fun. There were some, but not as many as we expected. Maybe we took it too seriously and were too wrapped up in the timeline and the logistics of getting where we felt we needed to go.

We also felt like more anchor building and reinforcing was required than we expected from the topo and given the popularity of the route. There were not a lot of two or three bolt anchors. This anchor concern would certainly be less of an issue for a route-in-a-day team that was not using anchors for hauling.

Also, to reiterate a point commonly heard about this route: hauling can present all kinds of problems, if you take too much and do not use care when hauling. It’s best to not leave the haul bag to chance when there are traversing pitches, obstacles, and chimneys. Be patient and thoughtful, use the lower out line, and have the second stay with the bag when the situation calls for it.

And why do people have to leave so much junk on the route? We estimated over twenty abandoned water bottles, several piss bottles, bits of trash, etc. It’s not everywhere, but it seems like it sometimes. We can do better. Most of us do. But it only takes a small proportion of climbers to clutter things up. We love these places, don’t we?

It’s an understatement to say that Half Dome is an incredible formation. It is more incredible than you can imagine, even after seeing a hundred photos. Plus its situation wild and high above the valley gives it that unique alpine feel that really distinguishes it from climbs on the valley cliffs. Whether you follow Snake Dike, cast off on the Northwest Face, or take some other route, get up there and enjoy it. It’s beautiful. Have fun.

We put together a compilation of photos and video from the climb that is posted in six parts on Part 3 is a historical perspective.

  Trip Report Views: 13,748
About the Author
TripleS_in_EBs is from Poulsbo, WA

ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Mar 5, 2012 - 04:59am PT
That was good.

Mountain climber
Telluride, CO
  Mar 5, 2012 - 04:59am PT
Man, that was a friggin novel! Seriously though, what a thoughtful, well written trip report. I haven't even had a chance to watch the videos yet. Thanks for posting. Congratulations on the climb.

Austin, TX
  Mar 5, 2012 - 11:05am PT
Really good report, very inspiring, thanks a lot!

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Mar 5, 2012 - 11:51am PT
Drive on Ranger, Drive on!! (old military term..)

Really well done, and a great write up.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Mar 5, 2012 - 11:53am PT
Very enjoyable.
Thanks for taking the time
to write it up!

Oakland, CA
  Mar 5, 2012 - 02:04pm PT
The Lord of the Rings biner. Liked that.

Thanks for the TR. Did you find yourself actually waiting at anchors much b/c of other parties?

I also thought sleeping on Big Sandy was a highlight - such a peaceful spot. The quiet eyrie above the valley.

And why do people have to leave so much junk on the route? We estimated over twenty abandoned water bottles, several piss bottles, bits of trash, etc. It’s not everywhere, but it seems like it sometimes. We can do better. Most of us do. But it only takes a small proportion of climbers to clutter things up. We love these places, don’t we?

With a haul bag, I'm guessing you grabbed as much as you could and hauled it off? We carried a pack, filled it with as much trash as would fit plus clipped on some more.

Not to sound holier-than-thou for people who don't haul other's trash, but while we have no control over the as#@&%es who leave garbage on route, we do have the ability to do something about it.

Social climber
  Mar 5, 2012 - 02:10pm PT
Awesome trip report. Thanks for taking the time to do that. Well written!
the Fet

  Mar 5, 2012 - 02:25pm PT
GREAT writing. You discussed a lot of great things that are often glossed over but really make up what makes the experience special.

The ability to see that when the people who cut you off meant some great moments is a great way to look at things.

It's often the rude folks who cut you off claiming they are fast, aren't fast. I was cut off once and told they were fast but a couple belays up the second made the mistake of telling me it was the leaders first Yosemite aid lead! WTF, you pass us then have the beginner go up and take a 2-3 hour lead? I think Karma got them though and they ran out of water and suffered. Things usually work out.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Mar 5, 2012 - 02:39pm PT
Excellent TR!
Big Sandy is way comfier when there's a good layer of snow on it.
Thank God isn't.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Mar 5, 2012 - 07:33pm PT
Big adventure. Great write up. Glad you got to rub elbows with some heroes. That's always a trip maker isn't it?
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Mar 5, 2012 - 08:06pm PT
Your report brought back some nice memories. Half Dome was my first overnight climb, which I climbed at the end of a three week long trip to the Valley that, as a 16 yr. old, I ran away from home to do (parents and home life were awesome; I just knew my folks wouldn't let me live in the Valley over the summer).

I climbed it with two other dudes, 18 and 19, one of who--after 30 yrs.--just tracked me down on the Supertopo (posts as choo choo). We ended up bivying at the top of 6 too since another pair, Ed (Sampson) and Eddie, hoped on just before us and bivied at the top of the 11th. We almost made it to the top the following day but ran out of daylight on that long 4th class ledge below the top, where we ended up spending an uncomfortable bivy.

Your trip evoked alot of subtle memories--the lights and campfires popping up in the Valley far below, the exposure, Big Sandy, all great stuff. Thanks for taking me back.

  Mar 5, 2012 - 08:25pm PT
Oh Yeah!
Thanks for writing that up.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Mar 5, 2012 - 08:32pm PT
Good work sticking it out, hanging in there, and sending. I was fearing you were going to bail given the clusterfukk at the beginning.

You were there first, and had the ropes fixed. Yet you were concerned about your food and water supplies lasting. Did they?

Personally, I would have negotiated. When the other guys came and said they wanted to climb fast, I would have tried to negotiate something to everyone's benefit. Something along the lines of, "OK, we'll let you guys go first, but you have to jug our ropes and take off fast." OR "You can go first, but we're concerned about running out of food and water. Could you spare us a can or two of ravioli and a couple litres of water?" Something like that.

I don't like to repeat routes, and am fortunately only climbing more obscure ones these days, where I don't have to fight the queue. I believe it to be the Better Way.

Nice send, guys. Great writing.

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Mar 5, 2012 - 08:38pm PT
Cool read tfpu! I'm glad you guys were still able to have a good climb even with the cluster of dumb people.

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Mar 5, 2012 - 08:58pm PT

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Mar 5, 2012 - 11:32pm PT
This looks like a good adventure, and I admire your ability to keep things in perspective and not let stuff outside your control spoil the psych. I would be excited to watch someone climb 5.12 slab anywhere, but to see it from that vantage would be magic!

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Mar 5, 2012 - 11:44pm PT
that was a GREAT write up.

what a climb!

Poulsbo, WA
Author's Reply  Mar 6, 2012 - 03:36pm PT
Thanks, everyone, for your interest, the compliments, and taking time to read the TR.

we have no control over the as#@&%es who leave garbage on route, we do have the ability to do something about it
You're right. Yeah, it's a good idea to cart out trash when we can. Thanks for the reminder. I was trying to remember, and I asked Alex about it, and we have a hazy recollection of crushing some bottles and dropping them in the haul bag. We DO remember that we refrained from handling the piss bottles. A long stick with a grabber is going to be needed to reach that stuff in the bottom of the alcove. Or maybe lower someone down there head first !! Rock, scissors, paper for that one.

And, no, we were not held up at the belays by the other parties. They all had a decent head start and were climbing in-a-day style, so they stayed out ahead of us. When we were passed by Ion and Iker, they passed on a parallel pitch, so no problem. However, Honnold and Chris held us up for about 35 seconds, so they owe us.

When the other guys came and said they wanted to climb fast, I would have tried to negotiate something to everyone's benefit.
I like your suggestions about negotiating. That's one to keep in mind. Sort of related: the non-climber guy in Cesar's party gave us a bit of food and helped us with gathering water from the "spring". He didn't have to do that, but he volunteered it.

Thanks again for checking out the TR.

Trad climber
Central Coast
  Mar 6, 2012 - 03:59pm PT
ahhh brings back memories of flexing pitons and bears.
what a wonderful route, even if the lower portion is a bit of grunt.
Good on ya.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 6, 2012 - 09:29pm PT
Awesome Tripple S, way to make good of a frustrating situation.

Thanks much!
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  Mar 6, 2012 - 09:33pm PT
Thanks - a good story, with a happy ending!
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Mar 6, 2012 - 09:38pm PT
Good stuff!!

Trad climber
b-town, wa
  Mar 7, 2012 - 02:37am PT
so... i was as happy to read this as it appears the rest of you were. to be honest the comments were so nice that my intial thought was to get on here and blast.... LIARS!! you never met Royal Robbins the FA of the very first big wall, after completing your very first wall on the first try and then at the hotel in the bar!! LAIRS!!, and you didnt met ALEX HONNOLD! after only a week earlier he did the first free solo of that very same wall! "lord of the rings biner" my BLAH BLAh BLAH... yeah and i was gonna just send that message out there. you guys were all to nice. because honestly ive felt the "love" on this site once or twice before. but thanks everybody, royal was right, it was a fine summit. and blair knew just how to tell the story. so thanks blair. you are one of the all time climbing partners! i really mean it.

Trad climber
b-town, wa
  Mar 7, 2012 - 03:10am PT
oh! i almost forgot, somebody asked or commented about watching a climber lead 5.12 slab that. so here's the story, and Alex Honnold & Chris Widner can bust me if I tell a lie.

Chris came over the lyeback first, and i remember it threw me, because i had no idea any other parties were near us. but up his head poped. he smiled, which is always a good place to start when youre about to pinch a belay ledge. if i remember correctly he didnt make like he was gonna jump on my gear, he was very polite, a real pro. (and i dont mean that like a sponsored climber) but he told me blair had let him pass and if blair gives a guy a nod who am i to bunch up my whites about it. in quick step his partner was on his way. chris saw the script on my jacket, and asked about it. it turned out we had both worked for the same gym at one time or another. so we ha-ha about that experience, and then a second head pops up from thank god ledge.

are you kidding? guess not, who would cut off this guys face to get the fans. must be the deal. you guys have all read the interviews, hes quiet, hes polite, hes humble... yup, i can agree and its no show he put on to get the movie check. fast and effecient these cats swapped belay and off he went.

5.12 slab. looks like terror town. and i love slab! ive bailed out 5.13 sport climbers on easier slabs, its one of my strong suits. but this thing doesnt have holds. pure friction. Alex moved up it like he was playing on diedre in squamish. i never saw him pause just very move paced, controled, and enjoyed. but heres the kicker. chris starts talking to him about his solo. and Alex just recounts the story... on lead half joking about it being hard. and just when he finishing making another move he looks up!

"NO WAY!, it's still here", he then tells us about how this carabiner the week before was calling like the demon ring to hobbit kid. but he never touch it. he gets to the bolt and before tossing on a draw and clipping, hes snatches it up and says "This is my Trophy!, im keeping it!" to be honest i was a little bummed, blair and i were cleaning the hell out of fixed gear on route. but, he did get to the booty first so whos bitchin'. he kept climbing and finished the pitch. the entire time he was in ear shot he and chris kept their casual conversation going. at one point he stalled then said something equivalent to ereuka, as he grabbed a "hidden" hold of polished glass?

they moved quick, we never saw them again on route. but he never looked like he had to try. it was ridiculous to watch. im a big fan of the history of climbing, and this guys on his way. the legends, it like gravity just stopped trying. he wasnt climbing half dome, he was pulling it down, looking it in the eye!

funny thing though, when we saw them again in the vallet, which i kinda feel like a tool for just stomping up to his van. again very nice guy, even though i just jumped uninvited into his living room... i told Alex the story of Peter Croft on the Rhostrom, and how he had to go back and move the sling...good story you guys should read it, if you havent already. well Alex hadnt hear that one. he laughed, "that's some ethics", "yeah i dont need to do that..." he and Chris were nice guys, solid climbers, nice to have met them.

Trad climber
  Mar 7, 2012 - 02:59pm PT
Were there any Germans to do battle with on this climb? They often seem to be the crux of many a route in the Valley.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Mar 7, 2012 - 03:33pm PT
Great work, great route, great TR.

Thank you very much!


Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  Mar 7, 2012 - 04:37pm PT
Way to handle bad climbing etiquette in stride, adjust plans on the fly, persevere and send! Congrats and thanks for a great TR.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Mar 8, 2012 - 06:07am PT
F*#kin-A, way to go

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when those Swiss and Koreans watched you start climbing.

Rockfall is frightening, I quit sleeping at the base of walls when my buddy was almost killed by rockfall sleeping at the base of Lost World.

I soloed the West Face of the Leaning Tower in the winter of 1980, and ran into Warren Harding in a snowy Lodge parking lot in the morning after I topped off. Karma or Coincidence? What do you think about your meeting with Royal?

Karma or Coincidence?

Trad climber
b-town, wa
  Mar 8, 2012 - 01:32pm PT
Blair and i did a lot of talking about how we were on a very weird nexus of half dome trip. seeing and meeting all those people. why it happened like it did? dont know. guess it was just supposed to.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Mar 8, 2012 - 02:32pm PT
Were there any Germans to do battle with on this climb? They often seem to be the crux of many a route in the Valley.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
  Mar 9, 2012 - 09:55am PT
Really well written trip report which gives a nice account of what climbing a classic big wall is like these days!

Matt M

Trad climber
Alamo City
  Mar 9, 2012 - 11:36am PT
Great report and proud day boys. I remember when you called me from the TOP and told me where you were. Awesome send. Miss getting out with the WA crew. Great memories of trip with you two! Have to do the next "Leap Trip" again soon! climb on!


Poulsbo, WA
Author's Reply  Mar 10, 2012 - 12:38pm PT
To address a couple of questions and comments from above:

First, in case it was not obvious, the Alejandro above is the Alex from the TR. I love his first hand account of Honnold padding up the 5.12 slab and the runnning dialog between him and Chris as he went.

Alex also fielded Sierra Ledge Rat's question about Karma, etc. We were struck by the various convergences that occurred on that trip. We talked about most of them in the trip report. It was uncanny that we met up with Honnold a week after his solo right at TGL and the slab pitch, and then when we saw Robbins a day later we were just going "You've got to be kidding."

Were there any Germans to do battle with on this climb? They often seem to be the crux of many a route in the Valley.
This question was written by my friend Jim who was ribbing me here because he is a freaking magnet for Germans. I can't count the number of times (almost every time) I've climbed with him when climbers from Germany appear on a route, often with unpleasant consequences. I have to reiterate though that Alex and I were happy to befriend Andreas and his team, who were all from Germany. We had a good time hanging out with them before and after the climb and Andreas sends me news of his further climbing adventures from time to time.

Rockfall is frightening, I quit sleeping at the base of walls when my buddy was almost killed by rockfall sleeping at the base of Lost World.
Yeah, Sierra Ledge Rat, I second that. Last year I was on Dolt Tower looking down at a swarm of people gathered directly below at the base of the wall. There's not a lot of loose rock on Dolt, but there is some, and it wouldn't take much more than a little misstep to accidently tap one off. I thought, "Man, I'm never going to stand directly below someone who's up on a wall like that."
I still wonder sometimes about that rock that zipped past us on Half Dome. Clearly is was sizeable, but where did it come from? At times I do get a picture in my mind of someone trundling it off the top at the end of the day thinking that noone but them is around to notice. It could have just been spontaneous, but who knows?

Matt M: Thanks for checking in. We miss seeing you too. I like the idea of going to the Leap again sometime. I trust you're still finding ways to enjoy and make the best of the Texas sandstone. Are you still putting off Half Dome until your old codger days? I'd like to go with you, but if you wait too long I might be looking like this guy.


Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe, CA
  Mar 9, 2012 - 06:54pm PT
WOW! Congrats guys on a huge accomplishment and thanks for taking us along on the journey. Fantastic TR!

Trad climber
  Mar 10, 2012 - 01:00am PT
Great TR. Congrats on getting it done even with the traffic/crowd.

Poulsbo, WA
Author's Reply  Mar 13, 2012 - 04:09am PT
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when those Swiss and Koreans watched you start climbing.

It was funny to start with, but also fun to see the contrast between the Swiss guys and the Korean pair. The Swiss group was hooting it up and shaking my hand thanking me for the comic relief in broken english. It seemed to make their day. I couldn't tell whether the Koreans thought I was some weirdo that they best keep their distance from, or maybe some odd hiker who had lost his way.

Sport climber
Forli' Italy
  Aug 9, 2012 - 07:25am PT
Fantastico!!!! Questo racconto fa sognare......

Jim Henson's Basement
  Aug 9, 2012 - 09:44am PT
Awesome TR. Giving it another bump.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Aug 9, 2012 - 11:33am PT
Excellent TR and excellent lessons for life.

Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
  Aug 9, 2012 - 12:33pm PT
Nice adventure. Attitude makes or breaks a trip. You sound like a lot of fun to climb with. Savor.

Jim Henson's Basement
  Aug 9, 2012 - 07:21pm PT
Another bump.. this is worth reading and there's some boring crap that needs an eviction off the first page.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Aug 9, 2012 - 08:30pm PT
Nice report. Besides the approach, crowd management on the NW face can be the crux along with plenty of other "the cruxes"



Social climber
  Aug 29, 2012 - 09:02pm PT
Thanks for the report. Well done and way to maintain a good attitude in a not so good situation....A couple of thoughts...Junk on the route. I would bet that most of the people leaving stuff on the route are not those that hold the ethics of the area in common...Out-o-towners...whatever...perhaps it would be worthwhile to translate the local ethical concerns into a few languages....

I found the decision to allow the four latecomers to pass informative. If I am in the same situation I will ask when and how fast they had climbed a similar good answer...go to the back of the line and impress me as you pass....

Social climber
  Aug 29, 2012 - 09:08pm PT
at le bruce: Great Call on the trash! I used to waste time, spiritual/emotional energy on wondering "why don't...." and then I just picked it up and marveled at how easy it was without all the angst and preachiness! I was picking it up before too but was oobviously wasting my time worrying about why?

Trad climber
  Aug 30, 2012 - 11:14am PT
Great trip report. That was so good that now I don't have to do it.
Terry in Tacoma

Social climber
  Aug 30, 2012 - 12:11pm PT
Great TR. This route seems to sucker people in that think they are fast climbers. Its hilarious how often Big Sandy has grumbly in-a-day climbers, haha.

mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Aug 30, 2012 - 02:23pm PT
Should by rights be named Big Sandbaggy Ledge. You should contact a literary agent. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, but you got'er done and Larry the Cables Guy would be proud to shout a beer for you boys.
Andy Fielding

Trad climber
  Aug 30, 2012 - 09:33pm PT
Loved the detail in this account. I stood on Half Dome (via Snake Dike) when I visited this year. Having read this TR I just know I have to get back to the valley soon. Thanks for sharing this was a real inspiration.

Trad climber
ontario canada
  Sep 2, 2012 - 10:43am PT
excellent read-way to make it happen-seems your chance meetings of Honnold and Robbins was your good karma for dealing with the other parties so well

Big Wall climber
Salt Lake City
  Sep 2, 2012 - 04:25pm PT
I'm at work and just read the entire trip report, 51 comments included. Thanks! Glad you guys had a such a good day.

Trad climber
Bonn, Germany
  Sep 2, 2012 - 06:54pm PT
Awesome TR! Really felt like being there with you guys. Also watched the videos... I always admire the climbers who manage to photograph and film their accents, myself I suck at it. Going to Yosemite in a month, now even more psyched.

As for Alex Honnold, I now have an impression that he's like some kind of omnipresent ghost of Yosemite. If you challenge yourself enough, he'll appear to greet you. Last year me and one buddy (also called Alex :) went to climb the Grack, got lost on the approach and found ourselves on some scary runout friction slab. Another party raps from above, and the leader asks "how are you guys doing?... what are you guys doing?" - "Well, we were trying to climb the Grack, but somehow I suspect this is not it" - "Haha, yes, this is definitely not the Grack" - "Wait, are you Alex Honnold?". He just smiled. After a brief chat they rapped down. We finished the pitch and also went down, it was getting late. Alex waited at the bottom until we started descending, don't know maybe his partner wanted to climb the first pitch of the climb (it turned out to be the Hall of Mirrors) or maybe he wanted to check that those noobs (us) don't get themselves in trouble. Same story BTW, things haven't worked according to our plan, but turned out to be even better in the end.

Poulsbo, WA
Author's Reply  Oct 1, 2012 - 03:18am PT
Thanks to you all for the compliments.

And I like this idea from uhhuh.
"If I am in the same situation I will ask when and how fast they had climbed a similar good answer...go to the back of the line and impress me as you pass...."
I'll have to put that one to use in the future.

It's interesting to reflect from here in 2012 on the Honnold encounter. "Only" four years ago Alex wasn't as widely recognized as now, and it was not clear how he might build on some of the impressive accomplishments he had under his belt at the time. Who would have guessed then that, in the next few years, he'd do the El Cap/Half Dome/Watkins triple in a day and then in a day by himself, Phoenix solo, Nose speed record, etc.? Makes me wonder what is still ahead.

That's one of the great things about climbing. The process. Firing the imagination, conceiving a goal, then going out to see if you can do it.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Nov 16, 2012 - 10:30pm PT
Great story. Thanks for reporting. What a zoo! I did that route over twenty years ago, and we considered ourselves lucky to have a party over a day ahead and one over a day behind--so no stress. I can imagine wanting to just give up--but you didn't. Still, it's stories like this that keep me away from the Valley and why I've only done a few big walls. If you want a quiet experience, go for the NW Face of Quarter Dome. The approach is SO nasty, no one goes up there--at least that was the case back in the day. I was nearly in tears by the time we go to the base. Brutal. Great climbing, however, and moderate if you don't free the hard stuff. Best of luck on your next wall.


Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
  Nov 17, 2012 - 03:02am PT
You seem like a fun guy/gal to climb with! The joke on the sweds and Koreans! Had me rollin!

I nominate you to write all the TRs on supertopo!

Big Sandy Glowstick Cigar Party? BSGCP? Dude...awesome.

I have had two entertaining experiences on the wall with Alex. Watching him learn to aid climb, while he was totally hamming it up with quotes like "wtf are beaks!? Do I have any of those?" (looking at a set of 5 small cams and a few draws for a rack) and "camhooks??? Ya just lever em in there right?" (on A3)

...and my favorite: "hang on fellas, I'm gunna dyno to your haulbag." (Zodiac, looking on a 30-40 footer onto a fixed head and one tipped green alien between the belay. Calm as could be)

Priceless coffee drinking entertainment.

It's fun meeting Alex on the wall cause he is genuinely interested in my story..."7 days by yourself? ...whoa..." ;)

Your TR is almost exactly how I've imagined my first trip up NWFD will go :) If I'm lucky. I never did imagine that I'd have to reverse the Thank God Ledge since we forgot the hauline though! Wacky!

When something doesn’t go as planned, always regroup, solve the problem at hand, and find a way to press on.

Right on bro, you found it. The Precious!


Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Dec 3, 2012 - 07:47pm PT
BUMP! Cool videos and a cool TR. Man I want to climb this right now!!! Go away winter

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  Dec 5, 2014 - 04:13pm PT
Half Dome - Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The Regular Northwest Face.
Photo: Mark Kroese
Other Routes on Half Dome
Half Dome - Snake Dike 5.7 R - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Snake Dike, 5.7 R
Half Dome
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Snake Dike follows an amazing feature to one of the most incredible summits in Yosemite.
Half Dome - Tis-sa-ack A3 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Tis-sa-ack, A3 5.9
Half Dome
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Half Dome - Zenith A4 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Zenith, A4 5.8
Half Dome
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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.
Direct Northwest Face, 5.14a or 5.10 C2+
Half Dome
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The Direct Northwest Face.
Half Dome - Blondike 5.11b R - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Blondike, 5.11b R
Half Dome
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Blondike is the red line and Two Hoofers is the Blue Line.
More routes on Half Dome