Snake Dike and Bishop Terrace on the CAC Yosemite Trip
I had been reading Clarence King's account of his early surveying and geological studies just after the Yosemite Valley was set aside for public use as a national park, but I quickly realized that my familiarity with the geography of the Valley was too limited to really appreciate his descriptions. My adventures in Yosemite had been primarily higher, near Tuolumne, and I could not figure out how King was looking down from near Half Dome to Cathedral, unaware that the Valley contained an altar even more magnificent than Cathedral Peak farther East, though certainly less wild. As such, I felt it would be appropriate for my first Valley climb to be up Half Dome, the major feature visible from the more alpine-style peaks to the East like Tanaya, Cathedral, and Conness, and a prelude to worship at the Valley's granite altars. Zhewei organized three campsites at Hodgen campground just outside of the Valley, and I suggested to the group that I could lead a party up Snake Dike, which Eugene Kwan had suggested to me last year and has been on my list since. After some logistical wrangling, Angela Gui and Anusha Sinha rounded out the party. After a pleasant drive up with Dustin Lagoy, Bassam Helou, and Fangzhou Xiao in my car, filled with discussion of modifications to quantum mechanics and thankfully rounded out by an opportunity to nap as Dustin finished the drives. Both of our cars arrived at around 1am, and we quickly went to sleep.
At 5 the next morning we awoke and groggily (which at least for me usually means dysfunctionally) moved gear into my car and drove to Half Dome Village, dropping off Dustin at El Cap meadow along the way. We would meet him there on Sunday. The three of us found the John Muir Trail (just described as the' Muir Trail' in the description I read-I can't believe I didn't connect that it was the very same JMT I know well!) and started an ascent that was a bit longer than I had realized-my mindset was that the weekend would involve primarily short approaches to tall walls, but fortunately these approaches have really become a highlight of the day’s climb for me. Anusha was feeling a bit tired from the lack of sleep, and we all realized we were a bit dehydrated after rushing out before the typical oatmeal or Ramen breakfast. We were ecstatic to come upon a drinking fountain next to an outhouse just after a bridge somewhat below Mist falls (If only such bounty were found every mile of the JMT! Actually, please don’t do this—the streams are more delicious and just as frequent). We drank deeply, tapped off about 7L of water between us, and continued my past Nevada Falls, where we stopped for a bite to eat and to rest a bit. There was a big crowd of hikers headed for the cables route, and though we were able to get some route-finding tips from a ranger, I was happy to leave the crowd behind as we quickly reached the turnoff for a climber's trail. From across Lost Lake, we could identify our path up a system of ledges on the South face of Half Dome, which also sports magnificent arches. After taking in the view, we started up, never getting lost but still taking some time to negotiate walks along dikes and over ledges, though wide with not much below. It was a pretty good, chill preparation for the climb.
About 6 miles and 3000’(ish) from the car, we arrived at around 1130 to the base of the climb, joining the mini party that had formed. Fortunately, Angela brought a spare ATC that I could borrow. We watched three parties start up before us, chatting with other climbers about the last time they had done the route, snacking, and closing the eyes for a sleepless nest. The views of El Capitan other surrounding mountains were spectacular. We eventually got started… but after the first 5.7 crux traversing at a horizontal crack that is less useful than it looks, a backup with the folks 2 parties ahead at the first belay caused me to chill out by a big block. We climbed most of the first three pitches at this incremental pace, which is not the most enjoyable way to get up easy, lightly protected slab, but we certainly couldn't complain as we watched the light change and move over the Valley. The second pitch had a far traverse right, where I skipped an optional belay to continue over a tenuous slab to meet up with the eponymous Snake Dike. Along the prominent vertical dike, holds abound and we made our way steadily up ladder like features, occasional bolts becoming scarcer until the pitches are essentially anchor-to anchor.
The party ahead of us, a lovely pair from Malaysia and Washington, left us behind around pitch three as a party ahead of them either arrived at easier terrain or finished. While Anusha and Angela made friends with the party behind, I made my way up the dike, especially enjoying a feature where the climb moves to an adjacent dike. Though I ended up climbing mostly on one dike, I think Anusha used her extra couple inches to climb between the two using features of each.
After the 4th pitch, the 5.7 sections are over and there are just 4 pitches of essentially unprotected 5.4 climbing (not that there had been much pro before). Anusha is a strong sport climber but hadn't led much trad, so it seemed like a decent time for her to lead—she wouldn’t need trad pro anyway and we only wanted one leader swap since we were climbing doubles.
She led the upper pitches well, despite having to build a trad anchor that we hadn't realized was was unbolted. We finished somewhat below the end of the last pitch, but just walked up the rest and coiled rope inside a massive feature of vertical walls to ledges just above and below us. We hopped the upper ledge and started up the real physical crux of the day, a 1500’(?) walk to the summit up an interminable and gradually tapering ramp. It felt amazing for me to let loose and run up to the summit, chasing the last rays of the setting sun, motivated by the chance to see the alpenglow fading on my more familiar High Sierra peaks. I was rewarded and could pick out Tanaya and some others from the first, slightly lower summit, which offered the same views but none of the crowds as on the more northern summit. As I had some summit chocolate, the sun silhouetted El cap and Angela and Anisha joined the triumphal feast.
After some pictures and making the most of the views of colorful sky and darkening river valleys plunging below, we headed towards the cables, somewhat following the lead of the two parties behind us who had finished. The cables were much steeper than I had expected or experienced on via ferrata in the alps, and I had renewed respect for the hikers who climbed them despite less experience clinging to the sides of cliffs. We got to know the 4 others on the descent pretty well and had a pretty fun time on the 8.5 or so mile hike down, chatting and sharing all of our food. Finally we arrived at the fountain by the bridge, cheering and not able to slow our pace at the end. We reached the car and got gas on the way to camp. We arrived at ll:30 pm, just in time to keep it under one day. I ate with Fangzhou for a while before heading to a sound sleep.
The next day, I climbed with Ashish, Nicha, and Tung at Church Bowl. We all wanted to climb Bishop Terrace, and though there was a line I felt tired enough from the lack of sleep and long day that I didn’t mind hanging out and chatting with friends. The climb was fantastic, a wandering and varied crack climb up nearly a full rope length (can be done in 2 pitches). Ashish followed me. Fangzhou was off hiking and Bassam was climbing with Zhewei’s car, and I was meeting them at 5 at El Cap Meadow, along with Dustin. Before then, I stopped by lower Yosemite Falls and took a dip in the pools at their base. It was bracing and refreshing.
We all happened to meet along the road to El Cap Meadow, even Fang arriving just before us at 530. We had a pleasant drive home, snacking in the car for dinner and making it back by 11. Great trip! I’m sorry to have focused so much on my own experiences on a trip that had many other people, but I found it hard to keep track of everyone and too lengthy to recount.