Regular Half Dome
Template:TripReportInfoBox The Regular North-West face in the Half Dome is a classic climb of the Yosemite Valley, and one of the 50 North American Climbs in Ropers and Steck book. It has all types of climbing styles from slab, finger and hands cracks, offwidth, squeeze and regular chimneys. If you don't climb 5.12c like I don't, then it has some aid climbing too.
Half Dome map: <googlemap version="0.9" lat="37.745947" lon="-119.533402" type="terrain" zoom="13"> 6#B2E2135C 37.745947,-119.533402 Steck-Salathe </googlemap>
Brian K. and I parked on the Curry Village and took the Happy Isles bus to the bridge at stop 17. That is the trail head for the Mirror lake. We took a Before picture and started walking at 6pm towards the Death Slabs. At this time of the year, the slabs are very hot, specially around 6-7pm where the incidence of the sun is nearly normal. Shortly after leaving the trail and starting the slabs proper, the heat was bothersome and the going was uncomfortable. Soon the sun was over the North Dome and the temps were much nicer. Two hours and some change after, we were at the route base, with a crisp spring flowing abundantly. This water is similar in taste to the Fern Spring. Brian fixed the first 10c pitch, which takes significantly longer than the rest of the early pitches.
Around this time, we heard a large rock fall, probably from the Porcelain wall.
Unfortunately, running water also means mosquitoes. We had dinner and then went to bed. The night was warm and the mosquitoes were buzzing all though the night. We were prepared with mosquito nets, so we didn't get bitten much. The buzzing, however, kept us up for a good part of the night.
The alarm clock sounded at 4:30am, and after breakfast, we were jugging by 5:40am with 2L of water and a puff jacket each. The temperature was very pleasant in t-shirts at 4:30am, which was predictive of what was going to be the rest of the day; too hot. The leader carried 1L of water and the follower carried the rest of the water and the jackets in a bullet bag-pack. Brian took the first 5 pitches then I took the 4 next. These pitches are mostly easy free climbing and the last two pitches traverse towards the Robbins traverse. I stopped before the Robbins traverse because Brian rather wanted to aided it than to follow it. He also took pitch 11, which was kind of awkward. Pitch 12 to 14 were now my responsibility. I took the finger crack option at pitch 12. This option climbs the 5.6 chimney to the horizontal ledge. You can protect the mantle move to the finger crack with a red alien in a crack in the chimney. There was a huge rocking chock stone in the chimney with a sling attached to it that some folks had used as pro. That looked like a worst option than no pro at all. At any rate that pitch is kind of uneventful, as there is tons of fixed junk in the finger crack, and by pulling on gear (red and yellow aliens mostly) the thing goes fast. Pitch 13 is also easy, mostly hand and finger cracks, climbing over the occasional chock stone. Some of these chock stones were precariously perched in the chimney that contains the hand and finger cracks. I can assure you some of these rocks are going to fall soon, hopefully by themselves.
Sometime around here, we saw a humongous rock slide from the Porcelain wall that destroyed countless trees and got to the trail bellow. A large plume of dust covered the Tennaya Canyon shortly after. The slide was super close to the death slabs, and looked like some rock may had gone into the death slabs. We decided at this point to descend via the trail, and not get into that rock fall path, after this second rock fall event.
I linked p13 with p14. Pitch 14 is an easy wide chimney with some fixed and some self placed. Some passages are kind of scary thou, and a fall there could have some nasty consequences, so good focus is of the essence. When Brian was following the last chimney, I lowered a rope bite for him to clip the bag-pack. Brian took pitch 15 that protected well and took us out of the thermal cover of the chimney into the rigors of the midsummer heat. At the end of p15 we were doing a fantastic time towards our goal of 12h. It seemed that we were going to be even faster than our goal time. By the end of pitch 16, the class 4th to 5.9 pitch before the double cracks it became obvious that the heat was going to be the major obstacle in our climb. Water started disappearing and we decided to ration it. I took the double crack pitch, by the end of which I was super thirsty. That pitch took us to the Big Sandy ledges where it was HOT!!! At this point we had one liter of water left, but that ended at the alcove. The initial idea of french freeing the first 2 zigzags and short fixing the 3rd was quickly abandoned in favor of surviving in that unbearable heat by moving very very slowly, to minimize the efforts. I took the first 2 zigzags at the end of which I found the alcove. It is a square hole in the wall formed by the slide of a 1m thick flake that left a 45degree incline cavity. It is cool inside and I was considering kicking there until the sunset. We decided to get out of there and I lead the next and last zigzag to the beginning of the Thank God Ledge.
After the zigzags, the temperatures started to drop, and I had the false sense that the hard part was over.
Brian took us over the ledge, which is one of the funnest and wildest pitches I have ever done. I tried to walk as long as I could. I tried not to look at the void but a quick furtive gaze took all my balance away and I was forced to crawl on my knees the rest of the ledge. Brian did the squezee at the end of the pitch and by the time I was going to start the next pitch (22, the bolt ladders) it was dark, probably around 9pm.
The next two pitches were supposed to be easy, but a combination of the dehydration, darkness and my headlamp running out of batteries complicated things. I could hardly see the bolts on the first bolt ladder at the end of which there was a red sling hanging from some where above. There I had to do a pengy to place a cam hook. I found countless places to put the hook but from none of them I could see the next row of bolts. We called a friend for beta, who told us after the cam hook, there was a green alien placement and that you just have to work towards the bolts. I found a place with a green alien placement after the cam hook, but no bolts jet. I came down and Brian took the lead. After some time he found the cam hook placement, and another green alien placement. Then he placed a bomber yellow alien on which he stood. Then in front of his nose, there was the bolt! He lead the last pitch also, which I followed without a good head lamp, most of the time feeling the rock with my hands.
We stood on the summit at 12 at night, dehydrated and tired, after 18h and 20min on the wall. We took an After picture.
We came down to the toe of the shoulder where we decided to bivy at 2am, because we would be unlikely to find the way around the shoulder of the Dome to the base. At 4am, some hikers gave us 1/2L of water to each and Brian nearly cried at this act of kindness. These guys were talking about climbing the Snake Pike, to which we didn't comment. They gave us water and we were utterly thankful, so correcting them was not in order. At 5am, it became light enough to see that we were bivying on top of many anthills. Now I could explain the twinkling feeling in my feet.
We got in 40min to the base, after crossing a big slab with many wild turkeys. We drank water for 1h, while we watched a pair starting the route. The leader was fast, and the follower carried the biggest pack ever, with 4L each. That guy was going to do the workout of his life. I wonder if they would suffer less or more than us.
We came back to the shoulder of the Half Dome and descended the trail to Curry Village. We wanted to avoid the Dead slabs after we got spooked by yesterday's slide from the Porcelain wall. We were at the Shoulder at 8am and at the Curry Village at noon, after taking a swim in the Merced river by Little Yosemite Valley. By the way, there are lots of trout there.