Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1

 
  • Currently 5.0/5
Search
Go

Half Dome


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
My First Big Wall, RNWF of Half Dome, with a Stranger

by Mei
Friday August 19, 2016 11:14am
Today is going to be special. I am on my way to Yosemite to climb Half Dome. It will be my first big wall. And, I will be climbing it with a total stranger.

Half Dome, viewed from Washington Column
Half Dome, viewed from Washington Column
Credit: Mei

I tried to post my report here, but the full report does not post, and even the Edit does not save the change once I put the full content in. There must be something that's throwing off the Supertopo code. I'll have to redirect you then:

http://www.mxi2000.net/mudworm/2016/07/regular-nw-face-of-half-dome

  Trip Report Views: 4,935
Mei
About the Author
Dreaming big...

Comments
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Aug 19, 2016 - 11:22am PT
sometimes I've included symbols that cause problems...
I'm not sure if there is a line limit, I didn't think so..
Pcutler

climber
Iowa
  Aug 19, 2016 - 11:56am PT
I love that the 'rope throw' is the accepted technique for this route now.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Aug 19, 2016 - 12:38pm PT
The reason it did not post was because it contained the URL of a banned site.
If you edit the URL like I did below (or better yet, use an overlay from a different source), it posts.
(If you want to repost, I'll delete this).


Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

My First Big Wall, RNWF of Half Dome, with a Stranger

Today is going to be special. I am on my way to Yosemite to climb the Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome. It will be my first big wall. And, I will be climbing it with a total stranger.
I have left the Bay Area early this morning and now parked outside of Arch Rock Entrance Station, where I am about to meet my partner. Having planned to document this historical ascent, I turn on my newly purchased GoPro when I step out of the car. I hold it in my hand while walking towards him and his wife. Here is our introduction:

Oops, I have held the GoPro backwards pointing at my arm pit. But look at this little guy; can you blame me for confusing the front with the back side?

zgoproCube
(A very cubic GoPro cube and a very round Buddha.)

After some gear sorting, my new partner, Juan, is in my vehicle along with his backpack. We are headed into the park. We have a little more getting to know each other to do, but I'm pleased that he is as tall as he has promised. After all, that's really the main reason why I have teamed up with him.

A few days ago, I realized that I did not have a plan for this weekend yet. A short post on Supertopo caught my eye. Some guy was looking for a partner to climb Half Dome with and he didn't even list any credential requirements. Hmm… this could be my opportunity?

I casually emailed him asking if he wanted to do it in one push. I didn't mention that it was only because I didn't want to use the bathroom on the wall, but I did warn him that I was a wall climbing rookie with pretty much zero experience. Surprisingly, I heard back from him saying he was tempted and wanted to plan it for the next weekend. He must be desperate. It turns out, their US visas are just about to expire and they must leave in a few days after a three month visit.

We did get on the phone three days before we met, me with my up-to-date list of questions in hand for the interview.

1. Will you vote for Trump?

I had no interest in engaging in a political discussion, but a "yes" answer would definitely cut the interview short right then and there. However, with Juan, I skipped the question. He is an Argentinian from Spain living in England, or something like that. No matter how you shuffle those three countries, the question wouldn't apply. Lucky him!
(I'm pretty sure I just lost a few readers.)

2. What have you climbed in Yosemite so far?

I have sent him links to my previous trip reports via email hoping to give him a glimpse into my climbing (to this day, I believe he never read them, which made his commitment even more impressive). I wanted to hear his. I think he mentioned Snake Dike. He also mentioned the Nose, a multi-day ascent. Well, not that long ago, I went to check out the Nose the first time. Despite running into Hans Florine at the base, right off the start, I got off route and did a "not recommended" (as shown in Topo) first pitch and the second pitch of Muir Blast. That is the bolt ladder to the left of the 2nd pitch of the Nose. On the bolt ladder, I realized how frustrating it was with my short frame combined with a negative ape index.

shortracoon

So many bolts were a few inches out of reach despite top stepping (sometimes, even with me stepping on the bolt below). It was then I reached my own conclusion that aiding is a game favoring tall and skinny people.

When I related my experience to him, he answered, "oh, that's never a problem for me. I'm 6'4"."

He is 6 foot 4!!!

I tossed my questionnaire into the recycle bin, never mind the remaining 10+ questions, and cut my interview short right then and there. "Okay, I'm in."

Moving along as planned like clock work, at 9am, we are parked in front of the Majestic Hotel, and set out on our trek up the Slabs approach. When I pulled my pack out of the trunk, I saw that the GoPro mount on the helmet broke off. So much for documenting the historical ascent! I put the little guy in my pant pocket. I'll just have to hold it in my hand to shoot any footage.

IMG 1955
(The Slabs approach is not all slabs.)

There are some good beta online about the Slabs approach. At this point shown in the above picture, there are two ways to go. Left, you wander a bit and ascend a series of four separate short fixed ropes. Right, you ascend one tall fixed rope. We opted to go right — do it once and be done with it. This video is a short film of Juan pulling himself up the fixed line. I get nervous watching it.

Dictated by my short-leg pace, we reached the base of the climb at noon. After a leisurely break, we started climbing the bottom pitches. The idea is we fix ropes as far as we can. This is a good place to mention that two days ago, Juan had run up the Slabs with three ropes (1 80m and 2 50m double ropes) and some of his climbing gear. I thought he was nutzo! I did a solo day trip the Saturday before to scout out the Slabs approach when I had nothing else to do, but I only carried an extra gallon jug of water up with me. (Yes, I knew there was spring at the base.) It is very reassuring to see that the stranger you are about to climb with is a nutzo workhorse.

Today, we have brought up my 60m rope, which would be our climbing rope for tomorrow. With four ropes, we fix six pitches with each of us leading three. That a quarter of the total pitch count. Aid climbing is like cheating. We might as well cheat all the way.

On this climb, it again confirmed my observation I made when I played around on the bottom pitches on the Nose — the number grade ratings on aid climbs don't really mean anything. Pitch 4 on this climb is rated 5.10a or C1 according to my topo. Pffft, 5.10a my butt! I pull out the aiders for the bolt ladder.

Otherwise, everything seems to be clicking nicely, including the spring at the base of the climb. I have brought an inline filter, but after two squeezes, I lost patience. For the rest of the trip, we fill our bottles with liters and liters of spring water, without filtration nor treatment. The water tastes great! Neither of us died as far as I can tell.

It's not until we hit the bivy I realize that I'm actually tired, from the hike and the climbing on this hot day. The weather forecast for the weekend has been in the triple digits, and even at night, it's quite warm, almost too warm for me to be comfortable.

weather20160723Saturday (Hot!)

Shortly after I dozed off, my alarm goes off. This is the ascent day. I start jugging up our fixed lines at 4:20am. (I sense that I just lost another reader here. You know who you are.) Juan will jug after me and toss the three extra ropes down. He's doing more work than me, but hey, he is 6'4"! To be honest, I'm not sure how much time it really saved us with the extra fixing because the second has to deal with pulling up the ropes, coiling and tossing them. Not to mention carrying them up and down and approach and descent. Well, we did it, but I will not bother with it next time.

After he joined me at the top of Pitch 6, I set off on the easy terrain and soon, I am at the base of Robbins Traverse bolt ladder (Pitch 10 in my topo), where we switch roles. It was on this pitch that I had to do my first lower out, which I remembered in panic that I had never learned how. I received job site coaching from Juan — he talked me through it. On my second lower out on the route, I immediately made a mistake by forgetting the step to unclip the rope before lowering out. Don't think I'll make that mistake ever again!

IMG 1983
(Half Dome shadow selfie)

Pitches 11 and 12 have been altered by the massive 2015 rock fall. Juan executes the now-mandatory rope toss maneuver and gets us over. Time to switch leads again (at top of Pitch 12) because there are three pitches of chimney above us. While I'm a newbie at aid climbing, I take up the slack in leading wide. May I casually mention that in the past few months, I've onsighted Twilight Zone, and had 2 for 2 successful leads on Ahab? That's not to say I'm not scared of wide climbing. I am still terrified, but when I climb with out-of-towners, I often feel the obligation and responsibility to step up — the Europeans especially hate the wide crack climbing in Yosemite. I arrive at Big Sandy, top of Pitch 17 in three long pitches. It's only 12:40pm. We seem to be doing well without much rushing.

For your reference, here are the landmarks on the route:

RegularRoute Overlay yosemite_bigwall
(Credit: yosemite_bigwall_com)

I fix the rope, relax, and text my spray victim, "Big Sandy!" That's all it takes. No concern about a proper time, and no need for context. Within seconds, "nice job!" pops up on my screen. It makes me smile. At this moment, life is good, and I just shared that joy with another person who I trust will feel genuinely happy for me. Although I call him my spray victim, in reality, I know he will never misinterpret my celebration of progress, big, small, or even tiny, as egotistic spray. As someone always full of self doubt, I treasure every little achievement, and he understands that. He always congratulates me without any judgement or belittlement even if he has accomplished a lot more BITD and most likely in a more admirable style whether by choice or by circumstance. He never forgets to remind me that a gym 5.12 is like an outside 5.9. A true friend. I hope everyone has at least one spray victim in his/her life. I'm extremely fortunate to have one.

Big Sandy must be a time sink because my photo taken when Juan started up the next pitch shows a time stamp 1:45pm. We have been warned — climbing slows down after Big Sandy. And the sun is upon us now. Juan leads the Zig Zags. It must be some tricky aiding from what I can tell. I am thankful he's handling it. After three pitches, I then take the Thank God Ledge pitch because of the squeeze chimney at the end. The ledge traverse and the chimney are a lot of fun to do. I stop midway for a Honnolding pose. Hope Juan has captured it with his phone camera, and hope someday, I will see his photos.

IMG 2006
(Juan on Thank God Ledge.)

After that, Juan takes over the aid lead all the way to the top. It's on the last bolt ladder pitch (Pitch 22 in my topo) that people might need to do hook moves. Although we have hooks on our rack, Juan has no need for them. In his words, "I'm able to reach." Oh, those beautiful words!

We are both on top at 7:20pm, exactly 15 hours after the launch this morning. We certainly did not break any record, but we achieved our goal — finished the route in light. We linger at the top to reorganize the gear and rope, and take summit photos.

IMG 2013
(Two strangers top out on Half Dome.)

We first make a detour to the base to retreat the tossed ropes and bivy gear before returning to the hikers' Half Dome Trail for a very long descent back down to the valley floor in the dark. Despite having lost one (50m) rope to the bush midway up Pitch one, we still have three to carry down with us, along with our climbing and bivy gear. My ankles have been sore for an entire week after last weekend's trail run down the Half Dome trails, and they are in pure agony now with the heavy weight. Juan is carrying even more weight. I can now say without hesitation that the crux of this whole affair is the long descent. Next time, I'll take the Slabs down. We return to the car way past midnight, extremely tired, but without a twisted ankle. Big success! We say goodbye when I drop him off back at their van.

Two strangers, less than two days, and one big wall.

Before I reach home in the afternoon, I stop to get myself a foot and body massage (after taking a shower at the climbing gym of course). To the lucky people who live in the South Bay (Cupertino area), who have easy access to all the cheap massages, if you've never treated yourself, you are really missing out big time!

kitty-gives-a-back-massage-o

Epilogue:

So, did I get lucky as far as climbing with a stranger goes? It certainly felt that way. It was a leap of faith to set a goal this big with a total stranger. And we delivered. We each led half of the pitches and complimented each other with our own personal strengths. Most importantly though, we had a fun time. I've heard stories how partnership goes sour on a big wall. Well, if we were strangers before the wall, we are now friends on Facebook. That has to mean something, right? Right? (I've only been on Facebook on and off for a year and am still trying to figure out what "friends" mean there.)

I remember seeing a couple of discussion threads recently about choosing the right climbing partner. I didn't get to read most posts, but the topic got me thinking. Looking back, I have always been lucky in this aspect.

I've had some best climbing experiences with strangers. 11 years ago, I flew to Denver, got picked up by John (a teacher on a summer break) and went on a 9-day road trip to Vedauwoo and Devil's Tower. I answered his climbing partner call on Denver's Craigslist (report). Last year, I met Gary when I was desperately searching for a teammate to participate in a 24 hour climb-a-thon. 5 minutes after we shook hands, we started our 24 hours of non-stop climbing, shared lots of laughs, and won our division (report). Two months ago, David from France answered my partner call posted to Camp IV bulletin board and we ticked off a long list of killer free climbs in 10 days (report).
Most strangers I hooked up with were a one-time deal. I won't feel sad about it. That's just life. With 7.4 billion life trajectories happening all around us in this world, any intersection, however brief it is, is already a rare gift. The fact that you, my reader, is reading these words strikes me with awe and makes our relationship just that much more special. I appreciate this brief moment of intersection in our two life trajectories. Hi, bye, my friend, and have a wonderful journey!

Back to choosing the right climbing partner… If he's 6'4", just go for it.

Okay, that was just a quick tip. I do have more thoughts on that, but I have to wrap it up now. I need to go back to watching Olympics before it's over. The gymnastics is always amazing to watch. I hear that Little Miss Meow just scored a 10.

catjump
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Aug 19, 2016 - 12:32pm PT
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1805680&msg=1805680#msg1805680
Mei

Trad climber
mxi2000.net
Author's Reply  Aug 19, 2016 - 03:33pm PT
Ahh... Clint, thanks for pointing that out. I was not suspecting.

No need to repost. You already have all the text here. If people want to see the videos, pictures, and links, they can click on my link for a full experience. If they don't, they miss out the GIFs.

johntp

Trad climber
Punter, Little Rock
  Aug 19, 2016 - 05:29pm PT
Back to choosing the right climbing partner… If he's 6'4", just go for it.

Works if you are jugging. Can screw you if you are not. I'm 5'-8" and used to climb with a guy who was 6'-1". Cleaning his leads left me hanging on crap holds to remove his pro.

Thanks for a good TR!
briham89

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Aug 19, 2016 - 10:53pm PT
Woohoo! Nice send!
greyghost

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV
  Aug 20, 2016 - 12:51am PT
Nice. I met the guy I climbed this route with in the men's bathroom at Camp 4. Hooked up, did the line and never climbed more than a couple days after then... lost touch. I remember we did Reed's Direct and my glasses came off on the second pitch when my partner whipped the rope. Cut the trip short right there
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  Aug 20, 2016 - 03:21pm PT
Nice climb; nice report.

Cat catching lunch and sticking the landing: perfect 10.

[http://www.mudncrud.com/gallery3/var/albums/Cats/Cat-GIFs/catjump.gif?m=1470888510] This video is in the original post along with other pictures.
Flip Flop

climber
Earth Planet, Universe
  Aug 20, 2016 - 07:40am PT
Love it!
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Aug 20, 2016 - 08:53am PT
Hey Peter-man, you know what I'd do if I won the lottery?


Whatchooo just did! TFPU!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 20, 2016 - 11:54am PT
Really nice write up
Thanks!
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  Aug 21, 2016 - 05:24am PT
I just remembered that a big part of the Regular Route, the lower section of the left facing flakes on the main face, fell off last year, but that this is not part of the current story. What's the way past the missing bits? Is this what what the lowering-out comments are about?

neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Aug 20, 2016 - 08:57pm PT
hey there says, Mei... wow, thanks for the share...
will go see ...

thanks again, :)


edit:

wow, love the kitty cat stuff, :))
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Aug 20, 2016 - 09:54pm PT
Great tale, as ever Mei thanks!
Mei

Trad climber
mxi2000.net
Author's Reply  Aug 21, 2016 - 09:32pm PT
Thanks guys! Glad that you liked the report.

I just remembered that a big part of the Regular Route, the lower section of the left facing flakes on the main face, fell off last year, but that this is not part of the current story. What's the way past the missing bits? Is this what what the lowering-out comments are about?

I think only two pitches were altered by the rock fall. The rope toss might just have started here. See North West Regular on Half Dome goes . I wonder how long it stays this way.

I've collected a few more cat GIFs since. Need to climb something so I can write a trip report to fit them in. Now I wonder why other people climb...
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Aug 21, 2016 - 10:46pm PT
So much fun to read, Mei. Thanks!
Jim Herson

climber
Emerald Hills, CA
  Aug 23, 2016 - 05:26pm PT
I start jugging up our fixed lines at 4:20am. (I sense that I just lost another reader here. You know who you are.)


You didn't. You lost me way before here. Like when you hiked water and three extra ropes up the death slabs for fun. You wide climbers just can't help abusing yourselves.

top of Pitch 17 in three long pitches.

Two.

Great job!
-Jim
Mei

Trad climber
mxi2000.net
Author's Reply  Aug 23, 2016 - 09:01pm PT
You lost me way before here.

I found this concept very funny.
[top of Pitch 12 to] top of Pitch 17 in three long pitches.

Two.

Wrong! Three with my short 60m rope.
Jim Herson

climber
Emerald Hills, CA
  Aug 24, 2016 - 09:56am PT
Wrong! Three with my short 60m rope.


I realize this is the political season and apparently it's a sign of strong leadership to never admit you're demonstrably wrong, but you are. It's two. You can either believe your topo or a guy who's linked it in two a zillion times (with a real rope).


mynameismud

climber
backseat
  Aug 24, 2016 - 09:59am PT
Always listen to the ropegun.
O.D.

Trad climber
LA LA Land
  Aug 24, 2016 - 10:02am PT
Way to get at it Mei! Awesome report, too.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 24, 2016 - 10:45am PT
On the bolt ladder, I realized how frustrating it was with my short frame combined with a negative ape index.

That line alone made sure you'd never lose me, regardless of any political or chronological comments. I'm 5' 5" with a negative ape index. About 45 years ago, however, I discovered that the old-style Yosemite Hammer's pick end fit an old-style Chouinard Cliff Hanger's eye perfectly, giving me almost an extra foot of reach. Since Chouinard is even shorter than I, perhaps he had this "cheater arm" in mind for bolt ladders.

Thank you for an excellent and entertaining trip report.

John
L

climber
Just livin' the dream
  Aug 24, 2016 - 11:11am PT
Looooovvvvvvvveeeeed this report!

(Especially loved the cat gifs)

Thank you!
Mei

Trad climber
mxi2000.net
Author's Reply  Aug 25, 2016 - 10:53am PT
Always listen to the ropegun.
Well, you would know. I always listened to the ropegun when I had one!

regardless of any political or chronological comments
Thanks John, but sorry I have to ask, what are "chronological comments?" I want to know what all my secret weapons are.

Chouinard is even shorter
I know many pioneer and ace aid climbers are not tall. Harding was also short, wasn't he? I also understand that if you take the time and be creative, most beyond-reach moves can be bridged one way or another. But since my first priority on a wall is always to get to a real bathroom (off the wall) before the next day sets in, time is essence. I think finding a strong free climber or a tall aid climber as a partner might just have to be my key to speed climbing.

it's a sign of strong leadership to never admit you're demonstrably wrong
I totally acknowledge your leadership. After all, you've been around longer than I have. Therefore, I'll accept your non-apology (Type #1 I believe). I understand that it wasn't your fault that I couldn't drag my 6'4" partner up with me when my rope came to its end.

And thank you all for reading and commenting!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 24, 2016 - 02:49pm PT
The "chronological comments" were about the almost alpine start, where you said you would lose at least one (apparently meaning Jim).

Yes, Harding, Chouinard and Pratt were all short. Harding was around my height, and Pratt about an inch taller. And you're right about creativity usually getting around long reaches. I was able to lead the Kor Roof using my cheater arm, but there was a fixed pin above the last bolt. I wasn't sure I could have gotten a piece in place on my own, but I found out soon enough. A bit higher were two bolts, one below a roof of about two feet, and another above it. I barely reached the second bolt using both my cheater arm and a cow's tail, only to discover that the hoizontal crack above was just slightly out of reach. I essentially threw an inch-an-a-half angle into that crack and it held, rather like an enormous cam hook 30 years before its time.

Thanks again for this wonderful TR.

John
Mei

Trad climber
mxi2000.net
Author's Reply  Aug 24, 2016 - 04:14pm PT
The "chronological comments" were about the almost alpine start, where you said you would lose at least one (apparently meaning Jim).
Ahahaha... Okay, I'm glad that I asked. Some clarification is needed here.

I start jugging up our fixed lines at 4:20am. (I sense that I just lost another reader here. You know who you are.)

Yes, I was implying Jim. #ManyPeopleAreSaying if you send him an email with the mention of "jumar" or "jug", it would end up in his Spam folder. Have you seen this?

Go
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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Half Dome - Zenith A4 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Zenith, A4 5.8
Half Dome
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The Direct Northwest Face.
Half Dome - Blondike 5.11b R - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Blondike, 5.11b R
Half Dome
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Blondike is the red line and Two Hoofers is the Blue Line.
More routes on Half Dome