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[TR] Half Dome- Regular Northwest Face 6/13/2004


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Climb: Half Dome-Regular Northwest Face


Date of Climb: 6/13/2004


Trip Report:

After spying an article on climbing Half Dome in a day from an old climbing magazine, Erica and myself decided to give it a go the week before she started work with the concessionaire in the valley. This would the first big wall either of us had done and really the first multi-pitch route with aid climbing. We started aiding about a month ago and had done some long routes together in Squamish simply to get our transitions dialed and make sure we had the stamina for the climb. The Regular Route doesn’t have that much aid climbing on it, I think there are five or six pitches total where we used our aiders. Both of us are confident on 5.9 trad which is the highest grade required by the route so we figured that as long as the aiding and pendulums didn’t slow us down that much we had a decent shot at finishing in one very, very long day.


Day 1


We spent most of the morning in Curry Village organizing for the trip and storing all of our extra food in the bear boxes. We started hiking around mid-day on the John Muir Trail toward the route. This was our first trip to the Valley and we were both shocked at the 1000+ people we saw on the trail. We got into camp in the early evening and found two parties lined up for the route the following morning. One party was a guy named Todd Johnson? and his partner who were going to do a Half Dome-El Capitan linkup. They decided that they were going to leave at 5h30 and another party from Colorado was planning to leave right after them. We had wanted to start climbing 4h30 but new we would have to be just at a belay station by 5h30 so that we didn’t screw up their bid on the link-up. So we decided if we got an early enough start we would be the first party out and if not we would follow the group from Colorado. Also, we set up a line on the first pitch to save us a good chunk of an hour the following day.


Day 2


We woke up at 4h and it was still pitch black, we knew that didn’t want to climb in the pitch dark, besides that fact that we were still tired. So we decided to start up after the group from Colorado. The group from Colorado took a solid half an hour to get ready to jug at the base. Furthermore the slower of the two guys was short-dicking the rope when he jugged which meant it took him nearly as long to follow as it did his partner to lead a pitch. Finally, just before 7h we started up the ropes. It was much later than we had wanted it to be and should have reevaluated our plans for doing the climb in the day right then and there. However, our inexperience on bigwalls kept us believing that we could just dance up the thing.

I lead the first six pitches, which comprises free climbing mostly 5.8-5.9 terrain with a small section of French-freeing where it is hard 5.10. Erica took the pitches leading from the top of 6 all the way to the beginning of the chimneys. We made decent time on these pitches especially since a couple of them have large sections of 4th class traversing. The final pitch before the chimneys, you have the choice of climbing either a 5.9 squeeze or a think 5.11 dihedral. Most people choose the dihedral, as did we. This was the first true aid pitch and it became quickly apparent that we needed more practice on aid. It took Erica nearly two hours to lead this pitch. By now it was late afternoon and we knew that we couldn’t finish in a day unless we climbed the remaining pitches to the bivouac ledge in just a few hours. To make matters worse a man-eating flake snagged our rope as we were doing our changeover and it took quite a while to free it.

The chimney section on this route is amazing and went fairly quickly considering that you can link some pitches together. The protection is sparse, especially toward the top when you move out into this 5.7 airy chimney. On many pitches we had to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the party in front of us to go before we could start a pitch and by the time we reached the double crack below the bivouac ledge we were climbing in headlamps. This was suppose to be Erica’s pitch but we were both worked and I was already on the sharp end so I took it. I started up the wrong crack initially which caused me to traverse and back clean so that Erica could follow it easily. In the process of doing so I unknowing caused a big loop of slack in the rope so when I went to rest on the rope I had a healthy fall 1500 feet up in the pitch black. Finally we reached the bivouac ledge around 11h, built the mother of all anchors and tied off just 12 slopping inches from a long, long way down. We of course hadn’t brought much for warmth just a 100-weight fleece each and I only had sandals for the hike off so I shoved my feet into the backpack and shivered until morning. Worse than that we had only brought one gallon of water for the climb and already were suffering from dehydration.


Day 3


Finally the sun came up; neither of us had gotten more than an hour or so of sleep. The party from Colorado started up somewhere before 7h and we followed directly after them. We were just six pitches from the top. Three of these pitches were straightforward aid climbing while the other three were free climbing pitches. Erica took the first three. We hopped to finish by noon at the latest. But she had quite a bit of trouble with the aiding and took five hours to lead three pitches. By now we were completely out of water and just fried and could hear all of the tourons up on the visor taking pictures. But we were just a few pitches from the top so that gave us the juice to keep going. The Thank God Ledge pitch went smoothly and is definitely one of my most memorable pitches ever. After this there was a large pendulum where we had to swing out to a small crack, put a cam-hook in it and then aid off of it to a bolt ladder. Finally in the early afternoon we reached the top, pretty well wasted. The hike back down to our tent was only a couple miles, which was actually fairly difficult considering we had only had two quarts of water in the past two days. When we got down to camp we pounded a ton of water, ate our reward, a fresh mango and fell asleep at about 6h.


Day 4


All we had to do today was hike out, but the past few days had drained us so much that we felt like throwing up almost the whole way out. I think we may have been low on salt because no matter how much water we drank, it wouldn’t refresh us. Right about lunchtime we reached Curry Village, promptly dropped our packs and ordered a huge pizza and pitcher of lemonade.




We shouldn’t had gone for a one day ascent on our first big-wall ever, that is a pretty hard feat to pull off by any means. Also since we were unsure of a one-day ascent we should have taken more water and a sleeping bag. Although as Chouinard says, if you bring bivy gear then you will bivy. All in all it was a great climb and we gained more experience in a few days than we would have in a year of cragging and short routes. To do it in a day you need to be able to free climb quickly, which wasn’t a problem, but more importantly aid quickly and do the pendulums quickly. These last two were definite issues for us that more than the late start and slow party ahead cost us the day ascent.




Gear Notes:

Cams 2 x (.33-3), nuts, aiders, camhook, lots of rapid runners, 1 pair of jumars.


Approach Notes:

Approached via the longer though safer John Muir trail, it is cake though there are a few pesky bears along it.

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Sounds like errr... fun. I am sure you had a great time. The route is one of my all time favorites.


When I did the route I did not place a single nut. I think if you guys would have started at 4:30 when you had planned and not had to wait on the yahoos in front of you things would have been quite different. I too had a similar experience on the prow last year (severe dehydration). Great job though on a classic climb in the Valley.

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