Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1

  • Currently 5.0/5

Half Dome

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
RNWF 8/6/11 - First Big Wall
Friday August 12, 2011 11:50pm
Looking up at the RNWF of Half Dome, from the Death Slabs <br/>
Looking up at the RNWF of Half Dome, from the Death Slabs

Credit: Matt Leonard
Did the RNWF last weekend, my first Big Wall climb. We topped out on Saturday 8/6/11. A few thoughts and tidbits of advice:

We were a party of 3, with a haul bag. 1 had climbed the route before, and was fairly experienced on walls. 2 of us were not - both competent moderate trad climbers, and I had a solid background in rigging, hauling systems, jugging etc (I've worked as a rigger professionally).

We did the Death Slabs approach at first light on Wed, and it took us WAY longer than expected (like 6 hours). Part of this was having a friend as sherpa who wasn't a climber, and part was getting a bit lost on the slabs - but the approach was much longer and steeper than any of us expected. With heavy packs/haul bag, we found the approach pretty tiring and long. Still maybe better than hiking around - but not the easiest approach either.

Due to the long approach - we only ended up fixing the first 3 pitches (we had hoped for the first 5). 2 60m ropes did the trick. Both springs were running solid - so we pumped water for a while - about 33 liters total for the climb. We started up the fixed ropes just at sunrise - and had 2 BASE jumpers in squirrel suits surprise us overhead - pretty cool.

We were moving SLOW - largely due to hauling issues, and sorting out some rope management issues with the 3 of us. We hadn't really thought through good systems with the 3rd - so it was a mix of jugging the haul line, lowering out the bag/3rd at times, 2nd cleaning and re-clipping pieces etc. We learned some systems quick - but still only made it to Pitch 11 late for a bivy. Pitch 11 will fit 3 people, but isn't the coziest bivy ledge.

The next day, we had lots of hauling issues on the Chimneys and some traverses. Even slower moving than the day before, and we hit Pitch 16 at nightfall - getting ourselves a bit off-route. The Supertopo shows the top of pitch 16 as having a horn, with a single bolt below and right (correct belay), or a pair of bolts above and left (incorrect belay). We only saw one bolt on the left, so assumed that was the right spot. WRONG. We headed up right from, and a HUGE house-sized flake is extremely loose. The giant thing flexed under the weight of an aid move on a large (#3?) cam, and is a serious disaster waiting to happen. It spit the cam back out at us, scaring the pants of us, especially given the late hour. We eventually realized we were off route - and downclimbed to the correct belay, and made it to Big Sandy way, way, late (like 2am).

Big Sandy was a great, but short sleep, and we headed off in the am. We were moving better, but still hauling was slow and tedious. The chimney after Thank God Ledge seemed more trouble than it was worth, so we traversed further and aided around the left of the chimney. I cleaned TGL, and took a little tumble when the ledge tapers in and becomes narrower. The final pitch was trickier than 5.7 I felt - especially having to clean the traverse. On the final pendulum before heading up right on the 5.5 finish I had a cam pull - so ended up taking quite the scraper across the slab.

We topped out around 7:15pm - enough time for a bite to eat, some re-packing, and to get down the cables/steps before nightfall. A long hike back to the car, and we hit the Curry Village showers at 1am.

Booty call? We lost a Link-Cam somewhere in the middle (can't remember the pitch), our 3rd dropped a smaller BD cam at one point, and a #4 C4 should be stuck near the end of Thank God Ledge (none of them were placed by me, thank you very much!).

Great experience, I realize I probably should have trained more for it (endurance, jugging etc), and we needed to work out our rope management and systems better. But all in all, super glad I did it. And now happy to go back to some more moderate multi-pitch stuff for a while.

  Trip Report Views: 5,171
Matt Leonard
About the Author
Matt Leonard is a trad climber from Oakland, CA. Environmental activist, vegan, motorcycle rider, and dog lover.

Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Aug 12, 2011 - 11:52pm PT
Way to go! Good effort guys and it only gets easier..... then..... Yer Gonna Die!!!

Trad climber
La Cochitaville
  Aug 13, 2011 - 12:57am PT
I made my way up the reg route that night and think I have your number 4. (It sure was nicely energizing to booty a #4 as my day approached hour twenty!) I also tried to get your link cam but was rushing and it wasn't gonna come super easy. I live in the Valley and love beer. Message me at for a swap of goods!


Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 13, 2011 - 12:58am PT
Thanks for the TR. I've done the approach via the Muir Trail a couple of times, and it's also a pain with heavy packs. It took about five hours both times.

It sounds like you had a full big wall experience. In any case, you did well. Congratulations, and thanks again for the TR.


Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
  Aug 13, 2011 - 01:13am PT
is your dog vegan too?

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Aug 13, 2011 - 01:16am PT

Great stuff, Matt--any pics???

Trad climber
  Aug 13, 2011 - 01:26am PT
Got er done, nice!

Trad climber
  Aug 13, 2011 - 09:38am PT
Nice work!

3 cams... Ouch!


  Aug 13, 2011 - 10:43am PT
From your photo above you definitely are going the wrong way.

These slabs require some route finding skills.

It's not difficult.

Always look for the easiest way and not the obvious way .......
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Aug 13, 2011 - 12:24pm PT
Good work gutsing it out and figuring it out along the way.

  Aug 13, 2011 - 12:27pm PT
Nice! Thanks for posting.

Big Wall climber
a van down by the river
  Aug 13, 2011 - 10:33pm PT
LIbby you rule!

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Aug 13, 2011 - 10:44pm PT

Trad climber
Oakland, CA
  Aug 17, 2011 - 03:47am PT
good to hear you guys made it... was in the party of 2 climbing along with you guys until pitch 6 or so. We have some pictures of Mike and sister. Send me an email -- jonny2282@yahoo --

Boulder climber
  Aug 17, 2011 - 03:51am PT
you definitely are going the wrong way.

"Job security" Werner ; )
Half Dome - Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
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Photo: Mark Kroese
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