Thursday, June 12, 2003

Regular Northwest Face Half Dome, 5.9 C1

We hiked the John Muir trail to the base of Half Dome on a Tuesday, me with 30 pounds of gear and my cousin Andy with as much food and water. We took the climber's trail, just before the switchbacks and cables to the summit, to the base of the Northwest Face. We climbed the first three hundred feet that afternoon and fixed two lines back to the ground. As we lied down to go to sleep, we called our family and assured them again that we were going to have a wonderful, Disneyland of a time.

We nearly broke that promise first thing on Wednesday morning. As Andy ascended one of the fixed lines, he took his hands off his ascenders to climb. The whole wall started to move around him. I watched in, not really horror, but total amazement as a rock bigger than him came off in his hands and on top of him. The rope held and he rolled to the left, groaned and let the rock fly.

The leader of a team below us was climbing the same pitch and the 200-pound rock came close to hitting (and killing) him. I was waiting for a barrage of insults when Mikel - was his name - poked his head over the wall and said in a French accent, "Ha, ha, oh, one time I was climbing in the Alps, and HA HA, oh yes, I knocked a rock, it was SO big! Oh ho, very good ... " It lightened the moment but Andy, with a cheese-graded shirt and bloodied arm, was shook up.

When he got to the belay he took a comfortable seat and we recuperated while the other team took the lead on the wall. After an hour and a half, we took off again. I could tell it had scared him but physically he felt he could go on. The other team was moving slowly - way too slowly to make Big Sandy Ledge at 1500' that night - but we were spared the fate of spending the night in our harnesses when they gave up and decided to rapped.

By noon we were the only people on the whole Northwest wall of Half Dome and the top was about a thousand easy pull-ups away. We reached the top of pitch 11 late afternoon. We would have considered stopping there to make it a three day ascent if the bivy wasn't so narrow. It was listed as a possible bivy on the topo but Andy and I only had one sleeping bag and we needed a place where we could lie side by side.

We made it our goal to get through the chimneys before dark. That way we'd only have a couple easy pitches to climb in the dark before getting to Big Sandy. At midnight, we got there and found that only is jest is it called Big Sandy. We sat there for 20 minutes without moving, replaying the 20 hours of climbing we had just endured. Nothing I eat will ever again compare with the pasta salad we ate that night.

When we had regained our strength, we piled ropes and boots into the crevices on the ledge and lied down to sleep. Andy spent the night pile-driving me into the wall. I spent the night trying to push him off the ledge.

We started late the next day and felt refreshed. Family members hiked to the summit and waited for us. We came into view around 2 p.m. and saw them poking their heads over the edge. Everyone's head but Uncle Joe's. Apparently he was so terrified, he could only get information about what was happening by talking with those at the edge. We took the fourth class scramble around the last pitch to the summit.

No comments: