Monday, May 27, 2013

Half Dome - Reg. NW Face (car to car)

Regular NW Face of Half Dome was fifth completed big wall for me this spring, and probably last wall of the season. Turned out I saved the best for last! It had everything I wanted - great views, free climbing, aesthetic line and a great summit. This time, not only did we complete our first IAD grade VI climb, but did so car to car (with 16+ round trip miles on Mist Trail). In addition, we packed out a load of garbage and had a lot of fun in general.
The Man (Photo edited by Scott B.)
To give us some extra luck we brought Cheburashka, who free soloed through Thank God ledge, becoming the first stuffed animal on internet to do so.

Alex who?
For approach, we picked Mist Trail option for a few reasons:
1) After a few days of thunderstorms Valley floor was soaked, and death slabs were wet.
2) We did not want to get lost taking death slabs for our first time at night.
3) Both of us had enough cardio to not care about extra few (16) miles, and it is good training anyway.

Mist trail was easy to follow. Waterfalls were booming and both of us got soaked - Hamik got soaked because he did not have his shell on, and I got soaked because I did have my shell on while running up the stairs with a pack. Crux of this approach option was to pick the right spot where to turn off main trail in order to reach base of NW face. There are no cairns and no obvious trail that splits off. Two things to remember is not to go further than a big warning sign (as I remember) which is posted at the start of switchbacks/stairs. Also, it is helpful to follow the line of trees which skirts the base (there is a faint trail here which is not hard to follow).

Starting the route

Hamik on 2nd pitch
Views towards El Cap, North Dome etc
Our strategy was to lead and follow majority of the route free. Linking up pitches was a great way to speed up our climb. Since Hamik had a few bolt ladders and low fifth in his blocks, he also got more pitches to lead to make it fair. His first block was 1-4. With a few feet of simul-climbing he was able to link up 2nd and 3rd pitch. Fourth had one of the best thin hand cracks I have climbed in the Valley. I took over and linked pitches 5 and 6 with Hamik simul climbing through third class stretch. With more simul climbing I was also able to link 7 and 8th. By the time I was getting close to the end of 8th pitch rope drag was killing me (it is important to extend those draws!).
NW Face
Hamik somewhere on NW face
Hamik on Big Sandy
Me on Double Crack pitch

Mt. Watkins
Hamik took 9th through 11th pitch. I thought 11th had a few cruxy moves that seemed harder than 5.9. After that I took over for my final block of pitches (12-17th), first of which turned into hell. I took the 5.9 squeeze variation but went too far up before exiting. For what seemed like an eternity I was trying to inch my way up or out without any success. At last I was able to down-climb a few feet down and escape. There was a horizontal crack to place pro, before taking a 20 foot offwidth (for which we did not bring any pro) to the top. After this pitch, chimneys became much more enjoyable to climb. To be honest, I wouldn't even call them chimneys since majority of climbing here involved a mix of handcracks, stemming and chimneying.  My favorite pitches on this stretch were 15th and 17th (double cracks).
Views towards Conness
Hamik on Thank God Ledge
Hamik on pitch 22
Sunset
Took out a bunch of crap from up there
On top of 17th pitch I handed the rack off to Hamik till the top. Zig Zags had so much fixed gear, that it looked like a sport climb. It did help speed up the aid on this pitch (neither of us even tried to free it). This stretch had a few highlights - Thank God ledge for one, and 5-6 BASE jumpers that buzzed over our heads at sunset. It was an incredible experience to be on a vertical wall and witness them flying by in their flying squirrel suits. Both of us watched with our jaws dropped as one of them cleared a ridge by a few feet. We took an alternative variation to the last pitch, which provided more excitement than we wanted to have in the end of a long day. After some shenanigans we figured out where the route really goes and were happy to take our free climbing shoes off on the summit. Since we finished after sunset, the tourists were gone and we missed out on playing celebs (at least I got that treatment after climbing Snake Dike a few year back). Even though we still had to pick up our stuff from near the base of the route and hike out, we didn't care - we climbed Half Dome in a day!
Beautiful face we climbed!      

3 comments:

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  2. Oh my god not another one. Do you ever work. You must be super fit right now with all you have done this spring! You have to come up to Squamish next year and dispatch all the long climbs up here.

    I think this was also my favorite climb in Yosemite. It brings back memories for me, but memories are not enough,I have to get down there again as there is so much I haven't done.

    Great pics and trip report Vitaliy!!! Was it cold when you did it?

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    1. Thank you, I thought this route was a blast. Would love to come up to squamish some day.
      Of course I work! That's why I have to keep doing these walls in a day :)
      Wasn't that cold. Belayer wore a down sweater and leader had a shirt or thin fleece (maybe) on. We got lucky with weather this time.

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