We made it.
We made it all wrong, but we made it.
Trying to finish what we started in September last year we decided to go to Half Dome. I was to attend a conference in Seattle on 19th of April, contacted Jan and we decided to try a weekend earlier. I flew to SFO on 11.04, after a short visit in REI and Ramen in MTV we drove to the park, I mean we slept traditionally just before the park entrance so we could enter in the morning of my 25th (quarter of a century !) birthday – 12.04 – such a nice day.
We got an overnight permit, packed all the gear, food etc and hiked up Death Slabs approach to the base. This time the way up felt much shorter and easier, perhaps as we know where to go, and we were not worried whether or not there will be water source – there was snow at the base, and we had enough gas to melt the snow if necessary.
We got to the base (Strava), eat a meal, and fixed two pitches, we alternated leads with September approach, hence I got to do first few. Till now all good. It became apparent much later that we made a large number of mistakes :D.
We carried much more weight through the route. In September before being washed from the wall, we were going fast and light (well, not that fast but light). This time, we had to take some bivy gear, as sleeping on the ledge in sub zero temps in just a bivy sack was not an option, we’ve also took a tag line, as proven last time, in case we had to retreat, this was the only sensible option, we took around the same amount of food, and around 8L of water. Leader carried 5L and a bit of food, the rest was carried by follower. The packs slowed us down horribly, we should have taken instead a small haul bag and just forget the “light” part as it was not light anyhow.
First bit went relatively good, it was chilly, I was wearing tights all the time under my climbing pants, and most of the time a thin dawn sweater. When the sun hit, around 2/3pm we welcomed it with a smile and took some layers off.
We got to the “new” pitch around the same time as in September, we were slower on most pitches, but we were not slowed down by other party and one of the pitches that Jan took hell lot of time last time loosing aider etc, this time I made much quicker.
The pitch 12 IIRC – the new one, took us ton of time, both Jan leading, and then me cleaning. It was like sitting on the belay and praying for your partner to move faster and considering different options on why it’s taking him so long. There is a “knot/cam toss” to execute to get to the belay, so basically you need to lasso/toss a rope to get that stuck in a crack/between rocks to get yourself to the belay. There were signs of having a fixed rope there earlier, that was unfortunately broken. The toss alone took Jan ~20min. It was not easy, this timing was legit.
Nevertheless it took us forever, by the time I joined Jan on the belay it was already time to take our headlamps from the backpack, while still having 5 pitches to go. Every time I made any estimation on how long it will take it took longer. Pitches to the Big Sandy Ledge (bivy spot), were in theory easy, should be free climbed… yeah… well… not with 5kg of pack for a leader and not during night (moonless). Sooo it took us forever again. Fortunately we used tag line to pull followers pack, otherwise I would still be stuck in there :D. Jan lead most of the pitches to Big Sandy, I lead one or two, one I think. With a few small adventures, stuck cams, stuck packs, Ilona being freaked out that we are in a wrong spot – having miscalculated pitches and looking at the wrong spot on the topo… we got to the Big Sandy Ledge at…. 6am 😀 around 24h after we started. Now think that people do the entire route in a day, or as Alex, that and El Cap… well, we have a lot to learn.
We’ve slept 2h on the ledge, ate breakfast, and without much stress I started aiding ZigZag pitches. As Jan once said, a really fast aiding is as a really slow climber… and I’m not even regular for aiding (neither is Jan ;-P). It took me a while to get to the top, though I think I was making a steady progress. Jan took off just for the Thanks God Ledge and got us to the top. Time was passing quickly or slowly, you name it. Just before we got to the top, at the last pitch, we encountered a bit of wet rock, Jan cam-hooked a way through it. Having said that, we were SLOW, we got to the top at sunset :D, for me the adventure was more or less over, for Jan the crux was still to come.
We went down through the cables, and navigated our way down back to the base, the crux was, that the steep slabs were still covered in snow, I felt there stable and happy, Jan was certainly not. There were a few scatchy places, were, if you slipped you’d end up seriously injured if not dead. Hence the descent took us even more time. We got back, ate horrible Mac&Chesse freeze dried food and went to sleep at around 2am (Strava). Pretty epic. On Sunday we went back to the Valley (Strava), taking a deep in the stream on the way :-).
Summary of mistakes or rather tips:
- go light or suffer – we should have done it later in a year, or take a small haul bag
- aid faster
- jumar faster
- maybe practice more beforehand
- be more confident in climbing cracks, in particular in the dark :D, but on a serious note, I think that neither of us at this time of year was comfortable in leading 5.10a cracks, that would be much easier if we could have free climbed more.
- to early in a year – snow on the descent was quite horrible
- quite cold
- NO CROWDS TO APPLAUD YOU ON THE TOP, on the other hand we got some interest from strangers while packing and unpacking 🙂
Summary of good things:
- we have had the wall ALL FOR OURSELVES
- there was easy access to water
- there were no nasty and annoying mosquitos
- we were not too sweaty (not sweaty at all)
- 2L per person per day was more then enough, in higher temps I think this would make us miserable.
So we made it, I’m happy ! I shall return to do it in a day, but this needs to wait for me to get stronger and faster 😀