“I’d like to hike Half Dome, one day”, she said.
“Pfffft. Nobody hikes Half Dome anymore” I replied. “We should climb it! You can totally do it!”
Of course, this was before we’d really ever gone climbing together. Or before she’d ever been climbing outdoors. And, thinking about it now, possibly before she’d ever climbed anything at all before. But who’s counting, right? I’d climbed Snake Dike once before, and knew that if Jenn, a former collegiate swimmer, ocean lifeguard and all around bad ass, could navigate the lower portions of friction then she would have no trouble with the dike pitches above.
So we got down to business. I introduced Jenn to the joys of climbing, although I’m not so sure she always found it so joyful. There was the first outdoor climb we did, The Southwest Corner of Headstone in Joshua Tree. At night. Ooops. Might have overreached there. Cold, windy climbs that turn you into a human snot dispenser followed, but after a bit more practice, Jenn really started to get the basics down. We focused on footwork and not relying on handholds too much, and gradually it all started to come together.
Multiple days spent at our local climbing areas, a couple of trips to Yosemite where we focused on slabby friction climbs, a few climbs in Mammoth Lakes and a final tutorial in Tuolomne had us set. Game time.
Beep Beep Beep. Beep Beep Beep. 3:30am sure does come early! We were at the Happy Isles parking lot by 3:50am and on the trail by 4:10. We moved steadily but quickly and didn’t see anybody on the trail the whole way up. We reached the top of Nevada Falls as it got light, and were feeling pretty good about our progress.
On my previous ascent of Snake Dike my partner and I had BADLY missed the climber’s trail that takes you to Lost Lake. Instead, we had hiked almost an hour further down the main trail, leading us to make the base of the climb much later than intended. This put us squarely at the end of the line to get on the climb, meaning we didn't top out until sunset. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, I followed a couple of small trails off to the left shortly after the top of Nevada Falls, finding the correct route this time. We stashed two water bottles in the bushes at this turnoff, and into the brush we went!
We skirted the now very Lost Lake and started up the approach trails, stopping to have a small breakfast along the way. We still hadn’t seen anybody yet today, and were feeling good about our chances of not having to wait in line for the route. After a couple of minor route finding errors, we made the base of the route to see only one other party in the area, and they were already working on the third pitch of Snake Dike! The route was ours! We took our time and started to rack up.
I decided to take the left hand version of the first pitch, climbing up to the small tree instead of the roof. After slinging the tree I made the easy moves up to the finger crack and quickly made the anchors. When Jenn was alongside me in no time at all, you would have been hard pressed to wipe the smile off of my face. Knowing that there was really only one more tough move for the rest of the route, I had no doubt at this point that we would be fine the rest of the way. Of course, this is also when Jenn asked if we could take a nap soon! What!?!
At the 3rd pitch traverse I made sure to point out what I thought were the best foot holds, and then proceeded to continue up the dike and set the anchor high to limit any potential pendulums should Jenn slip at the crux. No problem at all though, as Jenn cruised through the moves and seemed surprised when I told her that she’d already done the hardest climbing she’d have to do all day.
“Now we just climb this ladder to the top!” I said.
Now seemingly all alone on the wall, we took our time and enjoyed climbing one of the most iconic chunks of stone in the park. We made it to the top of the dike with very few issues, and took a good rest in the large alley before the start of the NEVER ENDING SLABS! This is where Jenn really took over, and royally kicked my ass on the NEVER ENDING SLABS! They hadn’t seemed so NEVER ENDING the last time I was up there, but they sure did this time. Despite the calf and quad soreness, one of the best parts of my day was looking to my right and seeing Jenn, who I affectionately call a baby giraffe because of her apparent inability to properly control her legs when walking, scampering along next to me on her hands and feet to make sure she didn't fall.
We were pleasantly surprised when we reached the summit to see only a couple of people. Again, we took our time and enjoyed the well-earned summit, taking photos, calling Jenn’s Mom to say hi, checking out the views and telling each other how cool we were. High Five!
After a little while, we started down the cables, which were definitely not Jenn’s favorite part of the day. I think I may have heard a couple of “Seriously?!?! Who thinks this is a safe way to go?” And, “I’m writing a letter to the park!” Perhaps there might have even been a little profanity. Could have been a rabid marmot squeak though.
We hit the trail and, although feeling a bit beat up at this point, made pretty good time. We were happy to find our water bottles where we left them and made it back to the top of the Mist Trail as it got dark. This was a great time to find out that my headlamp had apparently been on in my pack all day, as the new batteries were completely dead. With just one headlamp between us now we moved slowly down the steep steps of the Mist Trail. As always after a long day, it felt great to make it back to the car, but even better to get back to the lodge (where we were lucky enough to stay thanks to Jenn’s Grandma. Thanks Grandma Jane!).
While Jenn was showering I snuck out to the store and grabbed a few beers and a bottle of champagne (Jenn’s favorite) to celebrate. After a great day of climbing it just goes to show, why hike when you can climb?