Snake Dike 5.7 R
Trip ReportSnake Dike under a full moon
There are plenty of detailed descriptions on the approach and route - and in general, they are really good. Since there's NOT much info out there (that I could find at least) about doing it at night, I'll mostly give some info on that.
We did the route Sept 29th (Saturday). While tourist season was fading, it was Facelift weekend, so we expected some crowds. We didn't have much time, so didn't even try getting a campsite. We drove straight from the Bay Area, parked at the Wilderness Lot (near Curry Village), and headed out for Half Dome straight from there.
The moon was fullest that night, with a 6:20pm rise, and Sunset was at 6:44pm. Our plan was to have daylight for the approach, getting to the base of the route just as it was getting dark. We'd hang out at the base for a while and relax, and when the moon made it's way over the sky to illuminate Snake Dike, we'd head up. I had done the climb a few years prior, and felt comfortable finding the approach and the route in the dark, but we wanted light for the approach at least. The forecast was for an overnight low around 52, though we assumed a bit chillier up on Half Dome.
We ended up leaving the Wilderness Parking lot at 4pm (a little later than planned), and lost daylight somewhere near Lost Lake. (we did the approach that forks left over the hill near the Little Yosemite backcountry camp). It was OK - but if you haven't done the approach before, doing in the dark would be tough route-finding. The last mile or so gets a bit confusing (boulder hopping, some slab traverses, and the trail is not obvious). Apparently the route was packed all day - we ran into a party who had been waiting since noon, and the party ahead of them was slow, and wouldn't let them pass. They ended up bailing on the first pitch knowing they weren't prepared (clothing wise) to be out all night.
Anyway, we reached the base a little before 9pm, with the moon giving us some help on route-finding. We needed our headlamps very little, just to look for the occasional cairn. There was one other party at the base with a similar plan to ours. While packed nothing more than water, bars, and a puffy jacket (ok, a flask of Jameson 12-year whiskey too) - they had a serious spread. Sleeping bags, cook stove, champagne, OJ, coffee, beer, tablecloth and more. They were planning a gourmet breakfast for sunrise up top. I wasn't envious of the weight, but was envious of the sleeping bags (more on this later).
We relaxed at the base for a bit - partially waiting for the moon to get high enough to illuminate our corner, partially to relax. While we were hot on the approach (in just t-shirts and synthetic pants), we got chilly quick at base (even with Capilene top/bottom and a lightweight puffy jacket). We decided to start climbing around 10, with plenty of moonlight. We barely used our headlamps (mostly just to check anchors/belays) - the moon was plenty bright for route finding, and for all but a few moves. The topo is pretty accurate. There's a fixed piece above the roof on Pitch 1, and most bolts were pretty much where we thought they'd be. The few 5.7 friction moves felt a little dicier at night - and I might have used the headlamp a few times to find some feet placements. The dike was smooth sailing - no headlamp needed. We were really warm on the route - we dropped the Capiene to just a t-shirt and puffy, and even that was too much, even when belaying.
We finished the 5th class in about 2.5 hours, then took our sweet time on the endless slabs (another hour maybe?). Once up top - we didn't see a soul. I figured there would be some full-moon bivy folks, or people waiting for the sunrise. We found a nice sheltered alcove (a perfect bivy spot for 2 people - in a little square sand "pit" surrounded by solid boulders). We had dinner, marveled at the beauty of the Valley at night (and with the moon illuminating everything). We decided to try to stay for sunrise, and take a little nap. We dozed a little, but ultimately it was too cold to really get comfortable (Again wearing Capilene top/bottom, synthetic pants, and a puffy). Around 4am we called it - and headed down the cables. Just as we were packing up the breakfast chefs came up over the slabs. We bid them a good meal, and headed down the cables.
Once down to Sub-Dome we started to pass quite a few people on their way up to catch the sunrise. Lots of chit-chat about us "going the wrong way", then people in awe at the idea of a full-moon climb. Further down the trail (as daylight was breaking) we passed a few climbers on the way up to Snake Dike. They too were envious of our timing, and lots of chit-chat on beta and such transpired. And as we passed more people, we realized the line for the route was growing - and we were thankful we had the route to ourselves. We were back to our car a little before 8am, and went straight to the Curry buffet for breakfast. By 9am we swung by a friend's camp just as they were heading out to Super Slide, so we tossed down our bags and took a 2 hour nap before heading back to the Bay. 16 hours car-to-car, ~4 hours on the approach, ~3.5 on the climb, and ~3.5 hours on the descent. (and the rest spent hanging out, trying to nap etc)
So in summary: It's well worth doing this route at night. Totally beautiful, no crowds, unique climbing, and a fun adventure. Yes, it's a serious amount of hiking for a comparably small amount of climbing. But that's part of the whole adventure. I wouldn't suggest doing the full-moon hike your first time up there (unless you are with someone who has done the route/approach before). But it's worth a 2nd trip to do it this way - for sure.
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