Trip report: Regular Northwest Face of Halfdome
by We didn't write this
Normally, I am psyched to see a good sunset. This one, however, was different. It started in the valley, a vertical mile below us. The trees began to fade into the night, melting away into the hazy darkness. Then, the whole valley lit up with a brilliant pink and purple pastel glow. Finally, everything dissipated. We were fucked.
On top of pitch 21, we had been storming the Regular Northwest Face of Halfdome for 13 hours.
As Walker crossed the iconic thank god ledge to join me at the anchor, I wondered how we got into this mess.
We started a day earlier, on a friday afternoon. Loading our packs with food, climbing and sleeping gear we hiked up the death slabs to the base of half dome.
We bivied under the base of the route and despite our best efforts, could not sleep. The wall loomed over us, a constant reminder of the epic that will ensue the following day.
When we woke up to siedge the wall the next day, “not psyched” was the vibe. Walker, with a concerned look on his face frankly and plainly said:
“Dude…. maybe we shouldn’t go.”
I was thinking the same thing.
There were plenty of reasons to not go. Besides the obvious fact that neither of us has ever climbed anything this big and committing, we somehow managed to only bring 7 quickdraws on a route notorious for its amount of fixed pro. The prospect of going on a 2200 wall, sleep deprived, inexperienced and ill equipped just seemed like a really bad idea.
The prospect of telling my friends “ugh… we decided not to do it..” however, was even more depressing. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and said “dude… lets just do it. YOSAR will snag us if anything goes wrong.”
It was on.
We started our climb with a single rope, a gallon of water and only one jacket between us. With only a single rope, the possiblity of bailing was ruled out. Without proper warm gear, not topping out and sleeping on the wall was also out of the question. After I led the first 2 pitches, our only option was to do the other 21 and summit, ASAP.
Walker lead the 3rd pitch and we got stuck behind another party. After passing them eventually, it became somewhat clear that if we were going to get off this thing today, I would have to do most of the leading in my faster, more reckless fashion.
The next several pitches went smoothly. I would lead, Walker would follow, hand me the gear, and I was off again. Much of the climb was lower angle 5.9 and we were making good progress. However, as we topped out pitch 17 and sat on a popular bivy ledge, exhaustion began to set in.
It was 6pm and 6 more pitches guarded the top. The sun sat playfully high above the tree line but we both knew that it would set, and fast. We had to make a choice, freeze our asses off and possibly man cuddle on the ledge or make a push for the summit and possibly get stranded in the dark. I took the cams from Walker and chose the latter.
The next several pitches went slowly due to exhaustion and we found ourselves atop of pitch 21 with the sun setting. I began pitch 22, traversing a thin undercling seam in the fading light. I rounded a corner, hoping to see a clear way to the summit. All I saw was more of the same, hairy sparsley protected traversing. Too exhausted to give a fuck, I kept going sideways because there simply was no other choice.
Eventually, after 80 feet of traversing, a clear avenue to the top emerged. By the light of my headlamp I saw a collection of ledges above which lead to what appeared to be the summit. I clipped a piton and plugged 2 cams to make an anchor. I hollered “OFFFFFFF BELAAAAAAAAY” and soon, Walker was right next to me. We topped out 20 minutes later.
We sat in the dark night sky and joyfully reflected on the adventure. It didnt matter that we were on top of one of the most desolate and remote places in Yosemite, 5000 feet above the valley floor. Sure, the descent was going to be exhausting and painful. The only thing that mattered was that the part of the adventure where death seemed like a possibility was over. And we were both psyched about that. We descended back to the base of half dome and crawled into our sleeping bags.
As we fell asleep, we saw headlamps and heard noises towards the summit of the rig. It was our friend Fernando finishing up a El Cap and Half Dome linkup in under 24 hours. Thats right, Walker and I’s gnarliest achievement, our first big wall, has been free soloed, climbed in under 2 hours and hiked after an ascent of the nose in a day. And thats the thing I love about climbing.
No matter how proud you think your achievement is, in reality, you are just a huge bitch.