Regular Northwest Face 5.12 or 5.9 C1
Trip ReportTR HalfDome in a day: Man it sher gits dark early in October
To those who thought this trip report might have included real climbers blasting the Regular Northwest Face by headlamp.....sorry. This is about two normal dudes trying not to epic on 5.7. No inspiring feats of freeclimbing aid pitches or smashing speed records here. However, I did get reeeally dehydrated, and Koby kinda hurt his MCL, both of which I will try to exaggerate severely when we get to that part of the story. So if you are still mildly interested, or have ever dreamed of clinging delicately to the historic Snake Dike as your rope swings with the gentle breeze 90 feet out from the lone bolt, by all means read on. I'll try to make the adventure sound more thrilling than it was and us cooler than we were.
THURSDAY: Eleven PM, we leave Fresno under a slate black sky. The night is warm, starless, yet full of opportunity. We are amped and in full warrior mode. We stop at Starbucks. Koby leans over and orders......not black coffee, but.........oh man I hate to put this on the internet......A Grande Vanilla Late. What? We're freakin' hardmen dude! We're gonna do 17 miles on the trail and climb two thousand feet on the Big Mamma today! We don't drink that pansy water! We are savages...You are killin' me man........ooooh....that smells kinda nice....."O.k. I'd like another Grande Vanilla Late, extra hot please. And a pumkin scone please....yeah, that'll be all thanks."
We blast into the Valley on the high created by caffeine and complex sucrose sweetener, fully ready to do battle on the Dike. We pull off at El Cap Meadow, and stand there in the chill Autum night, drawing energy from the lone headlamp twinkling somewhere above The Great Roof. Why this always inspires me I cannot tell you. Its a mixture of "man I wish I was up there right now" and ...."man I'm so glad I'm not up there right now." We drive to the Mist Falls parking lot and crash in our seats at 1:01am.
The alarm irks us awake at 3:00am. Ouch.
I have never stood on top of Half Dome. I always reserve summits for actual routes. I have always passed on invites to do the cables route on HD and the Tourist Trail on Whitney. I want my summit experinces to be earned on class V terrain. I treasure summits and have never liked the idea of dumbing down the experience by taking the road most travelled. I like to "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the road and broad is the gate that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and few enter through it." Matthew 7:13-14. Today we will take not the narrowest road to the top of this thing, but at least its one we can be proud of.
The Mist falls trail hammers us but we make pretty good time "Man I gotta stop and take off fleece."
"Dude, hold up, that Late just hit me hard..."
"Hey brah, hang on a sec...I'm chilly...I'm gonna shell up for a few miles."
We're not sure why but it takes us 5 hours to reach the base of the climb. I stop often for photo ops and water breaks. Maybe this has something to do with it. But man check out these Fall colors.
REWIND: Back at the car at 3:17am I somehow thought two liters of water sounded like a lot for an October climb. "Fast and light brah....fast and light! There's no way I need more than this Platyfull."
"Totally dude, Twight and House wouldn't let a bunch of H20 slow them down would they?....We'll fill up at Lost Lake if we to anyway."
"Hey, make sure you stick in some extra salami though."
We arrive at Lost Lake as my Platy gets to the halfway point. The amber rays of a new day collide with the Leviathan above us. The night is gone. The Beast stands above us, sinister yet welcoming in this golden light.
For a moment I forget about my thirst and my mind wanders to the route ahead. "Will I be up to the runouts? What's that first pitch really like? If I back off will Koby take the lead? How big of a penji fall is really possible on that third pitch.? What would it feel like to fall 180feet? Are you up to this? You've always wanted this route. You hate runouts. You are scared, admit it. Dude its only 5.7. Yeah, well Eichorn was only 5.4 and you were kind of gripped. You wanna go home don't you. You love this place. You love runouts. You are made for this. You are a climber. You are brave. You have to pee now cause you've drank a litre and a half of water already."
Koby breaks my moment of reverie. "Dude look at Lost Lake....its dirt...and grass.
So much for more water.
We charge ahead. Bushwacking is a bit of a subspecialty of mine, so for a while I take the lead, pausing every now and then to look back at my partner, who seems to enjoy brushwork less than I do.
The shadows seem to hike faster than we do so I follow them for a while. They take us across the exposed slabs and up the super demoralizing sandy switchbacks to the start of the route.
The Route stands proudly above now. Daring me to come see what secrets it holds. It tells me to be brave and have fun up there, but something still tells me I should be scared. Ninety feet between bolts? Eric Beck what were you thinking?
Speaking of the First Ascent team, I got a chance to meet Eric Beck a few months ago, what a great chap. I felt kinda wierd gushing a bit in front of him, but with my someday plans to climb his route, the coincidental meeting fully moved my plans to the front burner. Still, why not put a few more bolts in so that guys like me can come climb these routes without risking the mother of all cheeze graters? Later in the day I would find the answer to this question.
We hit the base of the route, I dry heave for a few minutes, Koby calls his wife on his iphone (what a sissy) and then he says...."you goood to lead for today?" Before I can muster a wet heave out of the dry ones I reply, "I'm yer Huckleberry."
Back inside my head.....................
Game on Jett. You're leading today. Get yer head in the game. Be bold. Have fun. Yer gonna die!
The first pitch is delicate but I cruise it without a single skidmark. I think I need to stop reading trip reports and detailed guidebooks. They psyche me out. I need to shut up and climb more. Koby makes the traverse and pulls over the little overhang with a grin. Is that Vanilla Late mustache or something else?
Pitch two turns out to be my favorite. Schweet little handcrack start, then a spicy runny section to a bolt, then up and onto the right hand dike. I feel invincible. I feel sticky. I'm flypaper and I know I will not fall today. The sun warms my face as I sit at the belay, fully alive and thankful to be in such a place. The South Face drops away to my left, home of Harding's route, Hank Caylors fall, and The Growing Up War. This place is magic. Finally for a moment I'm part of it. Koby comes up and we prepare for the crux. I wish I had longer arms for these belayside self portraits.
It's fairly windy so I suck on the Platy hose, getting tension.....maybe that's bad...it's only ten am. Oh well, where's that bolt? Oooh...way out there. Gotta man up I suppose. Hmm....watch me Brah....I'm cruxin here.....steady....git yer rear end down Jett....step left, again, again, clip.....hmmm.....
"Looks like I gotta go about fifty feet over to those anchors....watch me ......"
I'm Dean Potter....I'm a kitty cat...I'm light as a feather....I'm Seb Grieve on Parthian shot....."On Toprope!"
Clip. ahhhhh. Money in the bank. The crux is mine. Now I just gotta go 75 feet to the next bolt. Eric Beck you Rock!
The Dike soars above, we ride it bravely, bolt to runout bolt, lovin every minute of it. High fives at the belays. Giddy as schooolgirls, a dream coming to life. Yeah its only Snake Dike. Its lightweight for many, but its heavy and scary and real to us. We own it now. We are part of the story of Half Dome forever. We will stand on top today.
"Dude we're doin' it" Is all Koby says at the belays.
Three pitches from the top I feel a trickle in my pants? My prostate? Rain? Son-of-a.......My Platypus has sprung a leak....oh man...thats bad...I have eaten about 36 calories since starting out at three this morning. I've felt dehydrated all day long. Time for a bit of GU. mmmmmm apple spice...per---fect--but--gooo---ey. Gulp. Koby, can I borrow a sip of water?
Higher we go. El Cap slowly rises into view. We have had the trail to ourselves, but a team is approaching us and is a pitch below. Time to move.
The team catches us and it is a pleasant couple from Wales.
"Bloody great route eh!"
Theye are in their fifty/sixties, are on a two month road trip, climb 5.11, and made the approach in under three hours.
I'm now making good time and they don't seem to be mind having us ahead of them. We cruise on. The last pitches blend together as I start to feel a liitle bonky. I have no idea what this hand gesture means. Gang sign? I need more GU at this point or we're gonna be in trouble.
I GU up a couple more times and we are finally at the last roped pitch. My throat feels like I'm swallowing dry gravel every time I swallow. My lips are chapped, I'm hurtin....Koby gives me his last swig of water as we start the "Endless class II to the summit"
The leg cramps start immediately. Not little ones. The big ones. Big, ugly quadriceps cramps. Owwwwwwww! Oh man, this is bad. Then the forearms start to cramp. My hands start to curl up into twisted twigs...Owwwwwww! I look like a T-rex. I need electrolytes...NOW! Koby comes up and breaks out some massive deli salami cuts and as soon as the salty meat hits my lips all is well in the world again.
"Dude that could've been bad." I squeek. The salt has calmed the cramps but only worsened the dryness. I can barely choke it down, but I suckle on some wonderful Havarti, making little Havarti/Salami sandwiches that would make the Iron Chef proud.
We slog to the top. We hate Class II forever. I had seen it in the Supertopo but thought it would be fun. It isn't.
We hit the Summit and meet two kinda odd fellas who had come up the downed cables using homemade rope prussiks. They are enamoured with us. We are gladiators to them and they shower us with praise and sips of fresh, cold, lifegiving water. We are champions for a day. They even take a summit shot of us. Everybody has their own adventure today. They are cityboys spending three days camping and exploring. We are all cut of same cloth as we enjoy the sweet summit in the setting rays of the October sun. Man we are a long way from home.
The Welsh catch up on the summit. Bloody kind couple. We exchange summit shots.
Soon its time to go.
Holy Sh...nikes! The cables are kinda steep! I'm fairly gripped as we descend, which is kind of a buzzkill to my brave day on lead, but soon its over and Koby promises not to tell my wife I was scared on the cables.
Here's the Welsh hand over handing as the sun sets.
The last rays of the day melt into a horizon that is now out of view. Night will be on us soon. We are out of water but its all downhill from here.
The Welsh carry us FAST down the trail....great talk...fun sharing the days adventure. Night falls as we reach Liberty Cap. They hike INSANELY FAST! Looks like we're gonna make it down just around the two hour mark....no exaggerating! Then Koby's knee starts to cost him, my blisters start to slow me down, and their headlamps begin to slowly outpace us. We just got worked over by a retired Welsh couple on Holiday.
We reach the drinking fountain at the Mist Falls lookout and gorge on the water till we are swollen. The death march continues. We limp. We share packs. We hike really really slow. Half Dome will cost us. We hit the car at 9:08Pm. LONG DAY. Bloody long day. Eric Beck is my hero. Any more bolts would be a tradgedy. Snake Dike made me man up today, and for that I am thankful. The Narrow gate leads to salvation once again.
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