Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1

 
  • Currently 5.0/5
Search
Go

Half Dome


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome: a daylong mini-epic
Friday May 25, 2012 1:32pm
I’ve been scrambling up rock faces of various types and sizes for the past six and a half years. In the never-ending quest for progress, for bigger, better, faster, farther--more-- we rock climbers inevitably look to taller lines. Lines in famous places and on famous faces. Lines like the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (RNWF), the 2000 ft., 23 pitch Yosemite classic that I’m told all “real rock climbers” must do.

Credit: Max Neale
So, last week my friend from college, Chris Simrell, and I climbed the route. We approached via the death slabs beneath the steep face, slept at the base of the wall, and got started at 5:30am the following day. We came prepared with a single rope, a double rack of cams, a handful of stoppers, basic aid gear, 6 liters of water and a dozen or so energy bars. We also bought with us experience from previous climbs. Since graduating from college in 2010 Chris has been running it out on ice and snow in the Cascades and Canadian Rockies, and I have spent most of my free time playing on High Sierra’s granite. Together we make a reasonably experienced team and thought we could climb the route in a day.

Half Dome, we learned, requires a wide variety of climbing skills. One must be fluent in placing traditional protection, ascending fixed ropes, aid climbing, pendulums, and one must be comfortable with all types of crack climbing- from fingers to full body squeezes. In other words, climbing the RNWF requires all the basic skills and techniques a Yosemite climber needs. But neither Chris nor I are Yosemite climbers. Together, we did our first real aid climb (the Prow) just a few days before getting on Half Dome. Jugging fixed lines, cleaning pendulums, climbing chimneys and squeezes, and aid technique are all new to us. Thus, we were slower than expected on the RNWF.

Looking up at the wall.
Looking up at the wall.
Credit: Max Neale
We knew the day was going to be a race against the sun so we started in the early grey hours of morning. At 5:30 Chris and I stepped from the shrinking snowfield at the base onto rock and jugged the first 3 pitches (fixed the day before). I then led, and Chris jugged, pitches 4 through 9. We were in Half Dome’s shadow, but the sun was now up and illuminating the southern faces of the valley below. Chris and I swapped lead and he took us up the next seven pitches, which presented steeper and more complicated climbing . The crux of this middle section, and the first crux on the route (for us), proved to be pitch 12. This was the first of several chimney pitches and Chris’ first ever “real chimney pitch.” He navigated the bottom 5.6 and 5.9 sections with cautious progress and struggled through the final 5.7 squeeze. He fell, sliding and grinding to a halt, four times. “This is the hardest pitch of my life!!” he yelled. I was uncomfortable with his frustration, entertained by the real live sports action, and a bit nervous that I might have to try to get up the pitch if Chris failed. I gave him all the verbal encouragement I could. And with brilliant lieback technique Chris prevailed. Then he led us up through four more pitches to Big Sandy Ledge, where I took over for the 170ft. 5.12/ C1 pitch.

The sun rising over Yosemite Valley.
The sun rising over Yosemite Valley.
Credit: Max Neale
Credit: Max Neale
Chris in the 5.7 squeeze.
Chris in the 5.7 squeeze.
Credit: Max Neale
Chris just below Big Sandy Ledge.
Chris just below Big Sandy Ledge.
Credit: Max Neale

It was now late afternoon and the sun was upon us. I made slow progress through the aid sections: I senselessly avoided placing nuts, climbed 15ft. above the alcove belay, and lowered back down to bring Chris up. Time elapsed faster than expected. We were now racing to stay in the sun. Chris jugged as fast as he could while the shadow raced up the death slabs below. He arrived at the belay with his headlamp strapped to his helmet, we swapped gear and I took off again for the last aid pitch, which went faster and finished just below the famous Thank God Ledge. Chris passed the next block off to me, so I racked up, excited to cross the ledge, yet nervous about the 5.8 squeeze at its end. I took off walking then stooped low to hand traverse, and then got back on my feet for the end of the ledge. This is the pitch that put the unroped Alex Honnold on the cover of National Geographic. And what a worthy pitch it is. Walking across a flat one foot-wide chunk of granite 5,000 ft. above the valley floor is nothing but stunning. And is even better at sunset.

I placed a piece at the base of the squeeze, pulled up into the gloomy slot and began a brief battle that was my first ever mandatory squeeze. Fortunately there were some small crimps on the inside edges. I used those and cammed my right foot high inside and thrust my body between the bullet hard granite. Pulling, pushing, gropingly thrutching for vertical progress- I slithered upwards through the dark slot until I gained the rounded lip of an arête, then larger and larger holds, and finally I was standing on my feet. Yes!! The last crux of the route!! We only had two pitches left: a C1 aid pitch and an easy 5.7 slab finish. No big deal, or so we thought.

From the top of the squeeze I belayed Chris across Thank God Ledge. He was silent as he walked the first few feet in his approach shoes. I could see the flicker of his headlamp below. He was carrying our pack, a 30L Cilo Gear W/NWD Worksack with two pairs of shoes, puffy jackets, some energy bars, and our remaining water- not the best thing to be toting across a tiny ledge. “Up rope” Chris yelled as he cleaned the second piece I placed. Then, what seemed like minutes later, I heard him emit a loud part scream part groan and the rope came tight. I asked, “what happened?” and he yelled back, in tone that reflected the time (10:00pm) and the dropping air temperature, “I whipped…”

That’s right, he fell off Thank god Ledge!!!

(Chris later told me why: He was walking across with his chest in, face pressed against the rock, looking left. As the ledge got narrower he found that the pack was throwing him off balance. Exhaling allowed him to shuffle forward, but the expansion caused by breathing in pushed him backwards. He had to breathe, of course, and the weight of the pack eventually pulled him off... into the dark night below.)

On the next pitch I also whipped. With limited Aliens, those precious camming devices so good for Yosemite, I placed a piece too large for the only available flaring pod, and when trying to top step, the piece blew and I cheesegratered down fifteen feet of slab. That was close to 11:00pm. Our vertical progress was barred only by a tricky thin seam. We had ten feet before the final bolt ladder, before the final pitch, before the top, which were all before the descent. The essential gear (the right gear, we’ve learned, is so essential for aid climbing) proved to be a precious cam hook that we borrowed from a friend and a green Alien, the last small cam on my harness. Bolt ladder reached, I clipped up and up, and traversed over to the belay. Forty-five minutes later we scampered up the last 5.7 pitch and were both on top as the clock struck midnight. We climbed Half Dome in a day!!

On top at midnight.
On top at midnight.
Credit: Max Neale
In the next three hours we descended the cables, which had yet to be erected for the tourists, and traversed around the north side of the mountain. We found the climbers trail and followed it down to a snowfield, where we stopped. We asked ourselves: do we cross the snowfield (which lay above 2000ft above slippery wet slabs that plummet into Tenaya canyon) and hope that we find a way back to the base? Or could we have missed the climbers trail and be off route, maybe below some other chunk of rock? Uncertain of our location, unable to see beyond the beams of our headlamps, and mentally powerless without the rational logic normally found in our sober brains, we chose a relatively flat place of ground and laid down. A Superfruit Slam ProBar made our two and a half hours of shivering much better. Around 5:00am we could see without out headlamps and found that we were on the right track, and within an hour we had crossed the snowfield and were back at the base of Half Dome in our sleeping bags. We brewed up an MSR Reactor’s worth of hot tea and devoured two cans of Annie’s organic vegetarian canned chili.

Me, looking a bit haggard, back at the base making tea.
Me, looking a bit haggard, back at the base making tea.
Credit: Max Neale
During the previous 24 hours we each consumed roughly 3000 calories and 3 liters of water. Partially rehydrated and fed, we took a post feast nap. I awoke to hear Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell nearby racking up for the RNWF. Alex said, “Those people are sleeping. That’s weird.”

Response less, I dozed off again while the super duo simul-climbed the first third of the route in what may have been an hour. When sufficiently rested, we packed up and descended the slabs, rode the bus to Curry Village and devoured a large pizza and a quart of chocolate milk on the Pizza Deck. Bloody, dirty, and bone-tired, tourists looked at us like we were crazy. Though it was a mini-epic we successfully climbed Half Dome in a day, learned a lot about rock climbing, and left the valley with increased respect for people such as Tommy and Alex who romp up big walls in an afternoon.

Credit: Max Neale

  Trip Report Views: 4,850
Max Neale
About the Author

Comments
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
eKat

Trad climber
  May 25, 2012 - 01:37pm PT
VERY NICE. . . TFPU!
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
extraordinaire
  May 25, 2012 - 01:46pm PT
The sun rising over Yosemite Valley.
Cute.
Dos XX

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  May 25, 2012 - 01:53pm PT
I hung on every word. Seriously! Outstanding send, write-up, and photos.

Your time to do the route is consistent with that of a Norwegian couple my daughter and I met last week on the summit (after finishing Snake Dike at sunset...a long story) The Norwegians seemed pretty hard-core to me, and they topped out at 8:30pm after 17 hours on the RNWF -- pretty much what you guys did.

My daughter and I also had the somewhat surreal experience of going down the un-erected cables in the dark. Cool & spooky!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  May 25, 2012 - 01:53pm PT
Excellent TR, and excellent work. I look forward to more of the same.

Thanks.

John
Wayno

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
  May 25, 2012 - 01:56pm PT
You captured well the essence of climbing that great route. Nicely done.
Danholio

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  May 25, 2012 - 01:58pm PT
Strong work! I cheese greatered on that damn bolt ladder/seam pitch as well. Also almost pitched off TGL because of a big backpack. Way to send!
Phil_B

Social climber
CHC, en zed
  May 25, 2012 - 01:59pm PT
Very nice. Thanks for posting
nscherneck

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  May 25, 2012 - 02:37pm PT
Great trip report. Nice send.
simillimum

climber
maine
  May 25, 2012 - 05:48pm PT
Awesome climb and a bit hair-raising to read, as I am the mom of Max, and spent that day with Max and Chris on my mind in ways only moms know- hyper attuned to what was happening 3000 miles away and chanelling some good juju their way- knowing they would send it!
wendy pollock dc, cch
innershores.com
TunnelVisionary

Trad climber
CO
  May 25, 2012 - 07:13pm PT
Nice send Max and Chris. And thanks again for loaning us the beak when you were rappelling off the Prow. Glad to hear you got er'dun!
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  May 25, 2012 - 07:19pm PT
Great TR man!

You're both well on your way to being Yosemite climbers now. What's next?

Those people are sleeping. That’s weird.

That quote makes me laugh. Such a funny and deadpan observation. I picture his mind processing you guys laid out, feeling something weird about it, and then the decision point of making the comment to Caldwell. Not sure why this is funny to me but it's had me chuckling for about five minutes.
labrat

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
  May 25, 2012 - 07:31pm PT
Nice! Thanks for the great read!
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  May 25, 2012 - 07:38pm PT
MAXimum!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  May 25, 2012 - 08:35pm PT
Awesome trip report! I've never heard of a thank god ledge whip. Proud! How far?
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  May 25, 2012 - 08:56pm PT
Proud Adventure fellas! Way to grind it out and stay strong. Thanks for the great report. Congrats on the probable FFOTGL.

(First Fall Off Thank God Ledge)

If you want to keep your egos intact, don't read this.
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Half-Dome-with-my-daughter/t11070n.html
martygarrison

Trad climber
Washington DC
  May 25, 2012 - 09:23pm PT
Fun read Max. I have never ever heard of someone falling of TGL. I was rolling.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 25, 2012 - 09:42pm PT
That "5.7 squeeze" is shown as a "5.9 slot" in the Reid topo, which I think looks accurate.
I aided up the crack to the left, which is quite easy to do.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 26, 2012 - 02:37am PT
nice report guys
crøtch

climber
  May 29, 2012 - 03:53pm PT
Congrats on the send and thanks for the great TR. How are the death slabs currently? Are the fixed ropes OK?
Cameron

Trad climber
San Francisco CA
  May 29, 2012 - 10:22pm PT
Hey Guys!

Great trip report. My buddy (Brian Biega) and I ran into you guys at the base of the climb around 6:00 AM after you made it back down. We were around pitch 11 when we ran into Tommy and Alex or rather they ran past us! They looked like they were out for a Sunday stroll. They were curious why 2 guys were sleeping in late at the base of the climb. We let them know you had just gotten off the day before and had a long day! :) Nice to hear the details of a great climb!
傭兵

climber
  Jun 1, 2012 - 10:38pm PT
很漂亮.讚.
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Jun 1, 2012 - 11:54pm PT
Excellent!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Jun 3, 2012 - 12:59pm PT
How does it feel, to be passed like that? BIT early seventies this route was a lot different, all the aid residue at the top wasn't there and there were no greyhounds.
And it was a Sunday Stroll, just a day early.
Way to send, as they have said. Thank God you have photos, Alex doesn't.
sclaussen

Trad climber
Foster City, CA
  Jun 3, 2012 - 02:20pm PT
Great TR guys - the TGL fall is a keeper.
Jeremy Hadland

Trad climber
aptos
  Jun 23, 2013 - 10:22pm PT
Nice picture of the sun rising over Yosemite in the 3rd picture but the sun sets in the west not rises which is the direction you're looking in the picture. Otherwise great TR
steveA

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
  Jun 24, 2013 - 07:08am PT
Real nice TR.

My son and I just did it a week ago.

Most climbers don't realize that the original route does NOT go up that "5.8" squeeze at the end of Thank God ledge. The route drops down around the corner, then up a short crack to same belay.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
  Jun 24, 2013 - 09:52am PT
Nice!
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
  Jun 24, 2013 - 12:00pm PT
Well done!

Climbed ice with Chris in Hyalite in January last year. Super nice guy. Does ST gear reviews. Yikes - a whipper off the Thank God Ledge in the dark?!
OldEric

Trad climber
Westboro, MA
  Jun 24, 2013 - 01:05pm PT
Nice job Max. I did that route almost exactly 35 years ago to this day. At about 1/2 your pace. And twice your antics - neither of us whipped off of TG ledge but the poor pig did.. Did you talk to Z and D at all about it?
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
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 - 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.
Half Dome - Two Hoofers 5.12 or 5.10b A0 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Two Hoofers, 5.12 or 5.10b A0
Half Dome
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Two Hoofers follows the blue line.
More routes on Half Dome