Yosemite: Snake Dike
Snake Dike route (red section was roped, blue was unroped)
We woke up just after 3am. Trying to stay quiet, we put on our packs and made our way out of the sleepy campground. After a mile on flat ground we started the 2000 foot ascent to Nevada Falls. The darkness revealed no other headlamps which meant that we were the first climbers on the trail. With snow forecast in the late afternoon, we wanted to avoid waiting in line at the base of the route. In the darkness, my maps.me app forced us to turn off the John Muir trail a bit too early (on the way back we spotted a cairn about half a mile up the trail) and we made a roundabout way across the lower slabs of Liberty Cap, finally descending to Lost Lake via a steep gully. A few minutes later, the nearly vertical SE face of Half Dome appeared towering above our heads.
Quick break while ascending the base slabs
Making our way up the steep slabs at the base, we climbed up a rock filled gully and then carefully traversed left over the top of the slabs. A fall here would drop you several hundred feet into the valley below. Steve and I both wore trail runners and even with the occasional raindrops falling, we got by just fine. We got to the base just after 7:30am, a brutal 4 hour approach. The clouds had drifted in and obscured the top of Half Dome. Just across the valley hung some of the dreariest looking clouds I had ever seen. Amid the fog and biting wind we decided to go for it.
Eric traversing ledges at the start of pitch 2
We took the easier 5.6 slab variation, starting from the left side and avoiding climbing under a roof. There’s a single tree to sling for protection on the slab and after that you climb onto a flake with plenty of hands. Pitch two leads out to the right on thin ledges (see pic) and then straight up past a bolt. By the start of pitch three, the clouds were starting to steam off and the sun was out. This is the crux pitch with a smooth 5.7 slab traverse and then you’re on the “dike” which has many features for both feet and hands. Since we were simul climbing, the crux came when I was still a few feet from being on the dike and ran out of rope. I then had to cling to the wall while Eric made the sketchy traverse below me, praying that he wouldn’t fall and pull us both off the wall. He made it just fine.
Steve on pitch 3
Steve on pitch 5
The next few pitches were definitely “R” rated for run-out. One bolt about every 80 feet. That’s like free-soloing a climbing gym wall and a half. Luckily the climbing was easy and none of us fell. By the 7th pitch, the wall became less steep and Eric ran the last (eighth) pitch out almost 200 feet before placing any gear. Mostly because he only had 3 cams and wisely saved them all for the belay anchor.
Quick selfie midway up the route
The climb finished in a fenced in rock formation where it was safe to unrope and climb over a small roof and onto endless slab. This part was a bit scary at first because it was possible to slip and roll off the side of Half Dome. We kept our climbing shoes on and after a few hundred feet it felt as natural as walking up a hill.
Anchor on the final pitch
Unroped and looking back down the slabs
It took another hour of walking the slabs across the top of Half Dome to meet up with popular cables route and we met about two dozen people on the summit around 12:30pm. We hung out for an hour eating salami and crackers and then snapped some photos at the summit. We looked around the valley and talked about other walls we planned to climb in the future. We started the descent down the cables around 2pm and arrived back at Upper Pines campground around 5:30pm, a full two hours before it would begin raining.