This is sort of old news, but I finally got around to writing back to Rossano who asked for details of our Half Dome outing. I decided to put the details up here, where I could throw in a couple of pictures. Read on to see an exclusive image of Phil the Adventure Duck bravely traversing Thank God Ledge and one of me on pitch 17
It's funny, all this time I thought Half Dome (HD) was much bigger than it is.Hans said that HD was about the same effort as the DNB (Direct North Buttress of Middle Cathedral), but we had trouble believing it. We did decide though, that we could at least do the route in a day, if not the whole thing car-to-car.
We took Nick's advice and hiked in using the slabs approach. It was about 100 degrees in the Valley which I think is hot for anyone, but we're wimps about it. So Theresa and I disregarded Nick's advice, packed up bivy gear, some novels and a sketch book and hiked up the slabs approach in the morning while it was still in the shade, and then spent the day relaxing and reading books. It was nice and I felt calmer than in a while. It made me want to go backpacking for a week where I only cover a few miles each day and spend the rest of the time reading and relaxing. Nick threatened to never speak to us again if we bivied at the base instead of doing it car-to-car in a day, but we decided to risk it.
Another party showed up in the afternoon and fixed some ropes. We didn't want to fix partly because we only had one set of jumars, but mostly because I wanted to at least do the route in a day, even if not car-to-car. We worked it out with them that we would get up about 15 minutes before them and try to finish pitch 4 before they were done jugging the first three and ready to start pitch four. In the end, they found the jugging tough and they were slow and having some arguments, so it didn't look good. They took two hours on pitch 4, and then bailed, which was sad (they had laready put in a lot of effort). We made pretty good time for us up the rest of the face, keeping it under 30 minutes per pitch at least. For some reason, Theresa really hates 4th class terrain – she'll cruise right up 5.10, but she gets really scared on 4th class, which is what happened on the 4th class around pitch 9. Once through that, though, things picked up again. Theresa did some fine quick leads up the chimneys to get us back in the rhythm. As we were going through the chimneys, clouds came in and we had thunder booming above us, but in the end we escaped the storm. Then a little higher we heard a helicopter. It came right up to the cliff and sniffed around then took off. I was worried at first that there had been a problem with the party below us. It made me think of Rossano's story where the chopper came up and some guy held up a sign saying “Do Not Move”. Rossano and Edda had to sit there in mid-pitch waiting for the heli team to rescue the party below them.
There was a party that had bivied on pitch 11 and I could see we were catching them all day, but not quite fast enough. Unfortunately, we caught them just as they were starting up the Zigzags, which is a tough place to pass and the slowest part of the route. After that our pace slowed a lot since we aided a lot of the zigzags, but also because we waited a fair bit for the other party. Though we hit the zigzags around 1:30 or 2:00, we didn't top out until 7:00. For the record, I crawled the narrow part of Thank God Ledge as did Theresa. Only Phil traversed heroicly across without crawling (see photo in sidebar). Once past Thank God, we could slip by the other team – real nice folks – and top out.
By the time we got all our stuff packed up, it was getting a bit late and I wanted to get the gear we had left at the base before dark. I ran down the cables, evoking stares from the folks heading up, and then ran to the base. I made it down before dark and was feeling great, but by the time I humped our junk back to the shoulder and met Theresa, it was fully dark and I was totally thrashed. We hung out for a while and ate and drank and repacked before setting out down the trail and promptly getting lost. After wandering around a while, we decided we needed to go back to the shoulder and start over. So after 40 minutes, we were back where we started and it was now about 10:30. Walking down the trail, I started to feel really tired. Theresa offered to carry more stuff, and that made her feel tired too. She was tired and wanted to rest, but when I stopped I got cold and had to get up and keep going. In the end we decided to pull out our sleeping bags and grab a few hours sleep in Little Yosemite.
As we headed down, we ran into the guy from the party that had bailed. He was a nice guy and we invited him to join us for breakfast. On the way down the trail we also ran into Nick out for SAR business, and he ended up joining us for breakfast too at the all-you-can buffet at Curry Village, which is my favorite way to end a long outing. I keep wondering what that food tastes like when I'm not famished.