Snake Dike
(Half Dome on the Autumnal Equinox)

23 Sep 2006 - by Rob Yang (view roster page)

The idea of climbing Snake Dike on Half Dome had been planted in my mind in Tuolumne Meadows over the summer - I'd spent a day with Susan Holl climbing Zee Tree and Northwest Books, then doing some friction practice on Puppy Dome (mentioning Puppy Dome makes me feel so hardcore, hahaha) After talking to John Lechmanik it sounded like doing it after Labor Day might be good. So I talked Kris from summitpost.org into climbing the route with me.

I met Kris at 4:45am in the overnight trailhead parking lot in Yosemite Valley, and we sorted out our gear. As per the Supertopo guide recommendations I brought six trad draws, two cordelettes, a set of stoppers, and six cams from the black alien up to the 0.75 C4. Kris threw in a couple of slings and biners. I brought my 60m x 9.4mm rope to keep the weight down. We were set.

We headed out at 5, and hiked up the Mist trail, then up past Nevada Falls. I had the supertopo approach instructions, a topo map with UTM grid, and even a GPS. But I guess we got bored with the standard approach, because 15 minutes after turning left above the falls we headed semi-cross-country up the shoulder of Liberty Cap on something that looked like a climber's trail. This eventually put us on a shoulder of Liberty Cap around 6600', with great views of Half Dome. It looked like people had camped there. Kris unsheathed his photo cannon digital SLR and went to work taking pics of our objective.

However, we were a couple hundred feet above Lost Lake (actually more of a marsh this time of year). So we scrambled down, following some ducks, probably losing 30 minutes in the process. Oh well. The rest of the way past Lost Lake and up the approach slabs was pretty well marked by ducks.

There was one other issue - figuring out where the route started. We were the first party there (as far as we could tell), but matching the rock to the topo took some time. It looked like there were other routes in the area. We eventually figured it out, but soon other parties came up the approach and queued up.

We got our gear together and started up the route around 9:15am - with ten people waiting behind us. OK, maybe that's nothing for Snake Dike, but I wasn't really used to it ... Anyhow, Kris led the first pitch, up to a bolted belay, moving quickly enough. We decided to let a Yosemite Mountaineering School guide and his client pass us. Several of the parties behind us were from the Seattle Mountaineers.

Next it was my turn to lead. Traverse right, place cam, then up over a little roof, clip bolt, then up a dike, clip another bolt ... and then the feared and dreaded 5.7 friction traverse. I gulped, and headed for the bolt, clipped, then contemplated my next moves. I wish I was better at friction climbing .. but I managed to get past it, then belayed Kris up from the anchor bolts.

The party behind us was was much more nonchalant. The leader on that pitch was wearing approach shoes, skipped the "chicken bolt" on the 5.7 traverse, and moseyed on up, totally running it out. As happens so often in rock climbing, my jaw dropped. Wow.

From there of course the climb gets easier, until the last pitch where we actually had to place trad gear again. We swapped leads on the runout but easy pitches. Kris built a gear belay, and then I led the last pitch, placing an alien and a nut, then belaying from a slung boulder.

We changed back into our approach shoes and took in the excellent sights from 8000' - Mt. Starr-King (which was my first roped 'alpine' rock climb), the Royal Arches, North Dome, Washington Column, and well... you know. It was about 1:15pm. We then headed up the endless class 2-3 slabs up to the summit, which was fairly crowded with people. The weather was pretty much gorgeous. We must have spent about a half hour up there goofing off.

By 2:30pm we decided to start down the infamous Cables. I'd never been up Half Dome before, so I wasn't sure what the deal was with these things. Though I'd brought gloves, I stayed within the cables, which given the crowds took quite a while to make any progress. Kris on the other hand had some experience with this and took off using one of the outside cables. I didn't see him until I got to the bottom quite a while later ... (I finally did figure it out)

Once we were back in hiking mode we basically booked, and practically jogged back to the cars, but not before spotting the correct turnoff for Lost Lake. Next time the approach will be much faster.

Despite the delays, we managed a car-to-car time of 12 hours. I posted some pics from the trip to flickr.com here. Kris posted a pic of me leading pitch 2 on [summitpost page apparently deleted Nov 2010].


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