Friday, May 16, 2008

Half Dome, Regular Route

After the Nose climb we took some Degnan's Deli pizza-filled days of rest, encircled by fattening squirrels and tourists, free hybrid $500,000 shuttles, and gluttonous camp 4 routine. We grudgingly returned to climbing, visited Church Bowl for relaxed single-pitch cragging (I loved Bishop's Terrace and Terror), ran up Pillar of Frenzy for crack training and Crest Jewel Direct's first pitches for slab experience.

While at the top of the Column up there, the view was tempting. Our short memory of the big-wall suffering switched off and the rat started chewing at our stomachs as strong as ever - if a climber, what would you want to do after a picture posing session with this baby in the background?..

The Regular route, running up the estheticly vertical NorthWest face, is considered to be another valley classic, first climbed a year before the Nose by Royal Robbins in only five days. Today it is often done in one day to train for long climbs, or more by slower parties.

Our plan was as follows - approach through the lower slabs and climb the first 11 pitches on day 1, climb to top on day 2, descend on day 3. Planning is just that - inventing a future that will eat up the plan, like Cronus ate his own children. The first screw-up happened when we walked up the Mirror lake trail, haulbag and enthusiasm well secured to our backs. Bleary-eyed, we followed the well-asphalted pass to the tourist overview and then around the lake. A problem suddenly sprang up - the Tenaya Creek. A small streak on the map, it is a waist-deep, rapidly moving water flow, carring all the awakened snow down the inexorable pass to the sea. Traversing it, with our meager forces, proved a difficult matter. After thought, exploration and Renaud's experiments in the cold water up to his arm-pits at the artificial dam, we very reasonably decided to back track and change the plan. All that pain because we started the approach on the wrong side of the river - after the Mirror Lake bus stop, just before the bridge (hint hint), there is a trail braking right from the asphalted road and taking the other bank...

Our second, updated, plan that Sunday was to relax, have a coffee and a hamburger at Curry Village, spend time sun tanning and applying our intelectual abilities to making puzzles come together at the Lodge rather than finding intricate ways to traverse a river at the peak of spring snowmelt. Slab approach was put off to the evening, we would climb all 17 pitches the next day, hopefully making it up to the Big Sandy bivy, finish the rest on day 3 and descend to the valley after.

That appeared a more feasible way of addressing our undertaking, despite the painful approach that took us all the seven out of the supposed three hours and ate up all the hidden ressources of our bodies, bushwacking, struglling through the waterfalls and landslides, going up torn fixed ropes and mangled terrain to at last reach the snow band at the base of our route.

The bivy at the base was a wonderful wilderness affair, as cliché as that sounds. The spot was great - huge wall on one side, especially bewildering when the moon shows its prow over the top and richly gives away its shine over Tesaiyac's pale tears, mysterious valley down below. A lost light over the Glacier Point warmed the eye as we contemplated that last photo flash of an invisible photographer looking through the glimmering eye straight onto us, like god supervising his children, not from above anymore, but from straight ahead. It was eventually time for the pay-off after all the sherpa carrying done on the gripping approach: the stove got out of the haul bag, and the ramen started boiling and sharing that inimitable chicken smell with the world. Nothing like eating a Pepperidge Farm soft dark chocolate brownie cookie while staring over the Toulomne canyon and counting the first stars while inhaling the primaveral snow-mud-pine potpourri.

We started climbing under very auspicious circumstances. A two-party team walked down to us, just as Ren went off leading the first pitch. As they unhappily eyed our haul bag and learnt our imposing intentions of spending two days on the wall, a cunning creature approached their bags from behind. There was a reason we saw bear tracks in the snow on the way up. A yellow-reddish adolescent bear decided to try his scare powers on us. As i yelled at him, he happily continued trashing our climbing fellows' bags. Unfortunately for him, he had not yet graduated from the bear roar school and had not taken up the imposing size of his tribe. As the two men turned down on him with stones and yelling a bit more frightening than my opera-like screams, he decided to try his fortune at some other sport, - as ultimately did the two other climbers.

On that note, a ranger told us another story about a bear at the base of Half Dome, during the Free Coffee and Climbing Ranger Speach event on a Sunday morning at camp 4 (cool idea, IMO): apparently a girl had to be rescued from the same spot as she jugged the fixed line when scared by the bear there. She could not rap back down as the line was too tightly jammed by the snow!..

Climbing itself was easier than on the Nose, first part being mainly 5.9ish, on white, big-grained granite face and manageable cracks. The surprise came at the chimneys, where the first 5.9+ offwidth made Renaud come down after a struggle, and opt for the 5.11 variation at its left...Yes, if i had time to spare, i would spend a year training chimneys and offwidths in Yosemite, just for the pain of it, - but i don't,- so i swear, sweat, and grapple for holds, and make s l o w, painful upward progress, that resembles modern-day self-imposed torture - and all that only from the second's perspective!

We did successfully arrive at Big Sandy Ledges and spend another pleasant night on a big comfy bivy ledge, - especially if compared to the living on the Nose, - despite the constant sipping streaks of sand from the top (yes, that's why there is sand on this incredible ledge in the middle of a blank, vertical wall). Next day, when i saw a tourist piss from the top exactly over the Big Sandy Ledges, i was somehow less happy about all that sand, but again, tourists are butterfly-beings that thankfully blossom only in perfect conditions of warm sunshine and blue skies.

Here is Renaud, after all the painful aiding on the Zig-Zag pitches, traversing the Thank God Ledge. First you start by walking the ledge and feeling good about how great this all is and how your second must be taking great pictures from that photo belay. However the picture below comes just after the tight spot on that long ledge, where most courageous and bold leaders are bound to descend their feet and continue traversing holding on with hands only. This pitch is the icing on the cake as far as the excitement on the route is concerned, even if playing the cowardly seconding game!

The summit is much more rewarding than El Cap. You start anticipating it after the first look at the topo, with that 'tourist applause' phrase for the last pitch sticking in the mind for the duration of the climb. When we got there, there was no applause, but enough tourists to take this classic picture:

And we fumbled around enough to find this other, less popular, spot for more photosessioning, looking to the other side of the valley:

After an hour of real summit pleasure, we started down the painful John Muir trail, 8 miles of fun - with a smile at first, like this:

And less happy after miles and miles of a gentle trail. It is very beautiful though, and becomes a painful pleasure as you hike through the Little Yosemite Canyon, passing Nevada and Vernal Falls on the way. The last surprise came while passing the Mist Trail, when we finally realized the origin of the name. The picture below, taken from the Glacier Point we visited a couple of days later, shows the Half Dome that is not really a Dome, and the picturesque hike that we followed on the way down, past the two falls in the middle of the picture.

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