As part of our three week trip to the valley we wanted to climb the Regular route on Half Dome. After resting from speed climbing the Leaning Tower we geared up and got ready to hike up to the base of Half Dome. We went up the death-slab route which, although steep and pretty arduous with all the gear, was actually not too bad. There were fixed ropes in place for the steep sections that you could hand-over hand climb so the main trouble was a lack of fitness. As it was a surprise trip (only one week’s notice) my general fitness was not particularly amazing – my office-conditioned legs could not keep up with Oli – a ski racing coach when it came to strength and up-hill plodding.
Half way up we enjoyed some amazing views and after a while, and forcing through quite a lot of shrubbery with big bags, we got to the base of Half Dome. Like all the other routes on this end-of-season trip we had the entire face to ourselves (with the exception of a wing-suit flyer jumping at dusk). We didn’t want to bring up a stove, plates or cooking equipment and as we had bought burgers, sausages and baps we figured we could make a stone-based cooking arrangement.
I slept badly for some reason despite being warm enough and on a perfectly flat surface – we got up – racked up and moved to the base of the route.
The plan was to climb most the route moving-together and using a Wild-Country Rope-Man at belays to prevent the second climber pulling the leader off incase of a fall.
The second strategic decision for the route was for me to lead the whole route and Oli, being more experienced at cleaning gear, would second.
I raced up the first pitch, pretty easy climbing and I placed the minimum amount of gear for saftey in order to reduce the number of times we needed to transfer gear up to me on the tag line.
As I got around 25 meters of the deck I lunged up for an edge – my right foot on a smear however as I touched the edge with my left hand my foot popped off – a bit more polished than expected perhaps – and I fell about 30ft in a weird fall in which I seemed to lumber and slide my way down the corner. It was a pretty daft mistake; but I carried on after a mildly disappointing assessment that, with the exception of a few bumps and a cut finger, I was good to keep leading.
We got off to a pretty bad start! The first half of the route is actually very craggy/meandering – it is like a long HVS pitch – and we had way too much rope between us to do this simul-climbing. The rope drag got REDICULOUS and at the time Oli thought I was just faffing like a little bitch but the reality was I was placing gear every 10 to 15 meters and was still having to haul rope up, perhaps hold it my teeth before climbing a section.
In one section I was in such a climbing frenzy to make up lost time I went about 20m off route, climbing up very loose blocky rock, and after a while I just could not get more rope – it was totally jammed – a blessing in reality as it made me take stock of the route and my bad navigation. It did mean however down climbing the section unprotected as the rope was so jammed it would not feed back to Oli.
In retrospect the whole charade was down to poor communication; partly Oli’s fault for pushing and not listening but mainly my fault for pushing past Oli’s certainty – until he understood what I was trying to communicate. It did not help that for the duration we were at least a pitch a part – usually more. I should have forced Oli to come up to my belay and explain the issues but at the time I just could not be arsed so carried on with rope drag in a mild cut-my-nose-of-to-spite-my-own-face way.
Anyway – it all came to a head when taking a carabiner off the back of my harness, not realising the small wire of the rope-man was hanging on it, I managed to neatly roll it off the biner and drop it down the route. From there we were back to short-fixing and a much more relaxed style of climbing – it was from then on we started to enjoy the climbing again and moved well.
We were hoping to climb the route in 10 hours or so, but our bad start had totally destroyed that so we just went at a normal short-fixing pace.
We had lots of fun, I kept on leading until we got to a big squeeze chimney in which I just could not figure out how to do so I put ‘Oli-off-width-master-Lyon’ on the job. As I lowered on some old tat – it gave way – luckily it was backed up a few feet below with a cam – but always a good reminder and gave me a nice retro sling (it had managed to work itself around the edge of a chock stone). Oli dispatched the squeeze chimney quickly – at times during this pitch he was totally sideways with his legs kicking out the crack like a frog. He clipped a piton, I jumared up got back on the lead, and we carried on for a few hours.
Night fell quickly and, at a suitable spot I suggested swapping lead for a bit, after 15 hours on lead I was getting pretty tired and needed a bit of belay-time to eat some food and re-charge. It was about that time that I found how crap Oli’s torch was; he had been using a Petzl E-Lite as his main torch for the trip – light and stuff – but his one had become faulty during our trip – it had a loose connection or something which meant that 80% of the time it was off. This meant when jumaring & cleaning you had to keep shaking your head to try and get the torch to give a flicker of light in-between hanging in darkness. This obviously slowed down the progress of the second.
Oli accepted and lead the next few pitches until he found a belay spot in a square slanted hole about 15ft deep, it was probably around 11pm by now and Oli who loves a shit bivi (and another) and was was also tired thought we should try and bivi for the night in the hole. It was rediculous but I lowered him down, the bottom was pretty narrow and it would have been a bloody terrible bivi.
Despite Oli’s enthusiasm for a vertical stacked/cramped bivi I suggested we get on with the route so I racked up and took the lead again. As we reached Thank’s Giving ledge I put a couple of great cams in the corner for Oli to jumar up; I walked back and forth up and down the ledge – partly to entertain myself and partly to see what was coming (I did the last two pitches in one so did not have enough rope to short fix) – in the day time I imagine there would be quite a lot of exposure, but at night the 1000ft drop was basically irrelevant.
Oli got up, I moved fast across the ledge, up the squeeze chimney and on to the face. There are a couple of cam hook moves, and not having used one before, actually managed to pop one and take a reasonable swing which was punctuated by some course language. After that was some face climbing and not long after we were finally at the top of the route.
On the last pitch a pain in my big toes, which had been accumulating, really started to come through, I took off my climbing shoes and it was seriously painful. Wearing fairly tight rock shoes for 21 hours non-stop the pressure on the back of my nail was causing serious aggravation. To add to this the temperature being around zero or -1°C combined with the pressure of tight shoes meant blood had not been able to get to my toes for quite a while and, perhaps partly a result of previous frostbite, this caused loss of feeling in my big toes for two to three months.
We finished the route we were both pretty knackered – the whole thing had taken around 21 hours – waaaaay longer than planned but it does not really matter. The route is incredible – simply brilliant and fun climbing throughout!
At the top we walked around for quite a while trying to find the Cables to get down, but as they had been taken down for winter they were hard to find at night, we got out the wind, put our feet in our bags, I borrowed one of Oli’s many jackets and we just lay down trying to be warm in a rather chilly bivi until the sun came up.
As soon as it did we decended holding on to the cables (which were laying on the floor) and walked back to camp. I did most of it in bare feet as putting my swollen toes in to my shoes was more painful then walking on granite rubble.
Half Dome was a great route – a good learning experience; I had not simul-climbed much on rock routes before and otherwise was just brilliant climbing.