Sunday, October 17, 2010

NW Face of Half Dome in a Day

After our ascent of El Cap we took a couple rest days, spent a day cragging, and decided the next objective would be the NW Face of Half Dome (23 pitches 5.12b, 5.9C1, 2000+'). We wanted to take advantage of the warm temps since the route is in the shade all day and with the extended forecast calling for cooler temps and unsettled weather we decided to go for it. We would go for a light and fast approach to do the route in a day with only 3 liters of water and a double set of cams to 2" and one 3" cam, lots of bars and one warm jacket for belays if needed. We spent last Thursday hiking to the base of the climb via the "Death Slabs". We were the first ones at the base that day meaning we were first in line for this popular route. Later that evening several more teams showed up bringing the total to five. We let one team start ahead of us as they agreed to start 1 hour before us and would let us pass if we caught them. There were 2 teams that were going to spend 2 days on the route and would start later, one more in a day team would start right behind us. Friday morning we woke up at 4:00 AM and were climbing by 5:00AM in the dark as it does not get light till almost 7:00. Will led the first 6 pitches and was learning to short fix on the fly.  I took the next 6 pitches and we were making great time, and were only 2 pitches behind the team in front of us, we never saw the team behind us the rest of the day. Will took the lead for block 3 in the chimneys, at this time the pace slowed a bit as the jugging was slow in the chimneys and Will got off route on the pitch to Big Sandy Ledge. I took the last block starting up the Zig Zags using a mixture of free climbing and aid climbing. Made it to "Thank God Ledge" and walked the plank, ended up climbing on the outside of the chimney at the end of the pitch for some scary runout face climbing, what was I thinking.  On the next to last pitch I did a penjilum and began tension traversing to avoid tricky gear placements, finally I placed a bad yellow alien, weighted it and went flying across the face, Will said I was spinning around, upside down, scraping against the rock. I quickly composed myself and went for the same moves, this time a better placement allowed me to reach the bolt. I started leading the last pitch as the sun was setting, when Will joined me on top it was 7:30PM. We had climbed 23 pitches over 2000' of climbing in 14 hours, for a huge day, on the majestic face of Half Dome. Once on top we were both tired, hungry, and thirsty and still had  a 2 hour + descent ahead of us to make it back to the base of the climb were water and our sleeping bags awaited. We stumbled around in the dark trying to find the cables descent route, tourons have placed cairns all over the place making it hard to follow the correct path. We met a guy on top who was waiting for the team behind  us, and he pointed us in the right direction. Going down the cables was painful on the hands, the park had already taken down the posts and slats for the season leaving only steal cable to hand over hand down the steep slab. At the base of the cables we struggled again to find the trail back to the base but eventually we did and slogged down dirt, talus, scree, and manzinetta back to our bivy spot. We could see the head lamps of the team that was behind us high on the route, the had a long night ahead of them. We ate what little food we had, drank water, and crashed out, completely exhausted. Will said this was the single hardest climbing day he has ever had, it ranks pretty high up there for me as well. Saturday morning we made our way down the "Death Slabs" and back to the valley for hot showers and much needed food.
Overall this was the one the great climbs for me, to cover so much terrain in a day is just plain fun!
Half Dome

"Death Slabs" approach
Sunset from our bivy at the base of the route
Me heading for the base of the "Robbins Traverse"
"Robbins Traverse" Bolt Ladder
Will enjoying one of the airy chimneys
Will climbing a splitter crack with great views of the valley

"Thank God Ledge" with the Visor above
Walking the plank on "Thank God Ledge"
Pulling into the 5.8 Squeeze Chimney
Will stuffing his face at the breakfast buffet at Curry Village

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