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Half Dome Redux, 7/5/11

By Jim Herson

Thomas Wolfe's iconic tale You Can't Go Home Again of universal longing for an idealized, and crushingly unattainable, nostalgic past is poppycock. Had Tom been a big picture guy he would have told the inspired re-enactment of the near death epic suffer-fest that was my first big wall. To relive my glorious parched past I simply marched my 12yo daughter up the wet, slick death slabs and watched with bursting pride as she giggled her way up the stunning NW face of Half Dome. The contrast between our first walls could not have been more stark and the flood of horrid memories long since buried out of necessity makes me think that Tom meant to write You Can But Maybe Shouldn't Always Go Home Again.

Kara's been enamored for a while now with the idea of sleeping on the sheer face of Half Dome. A beautiful, worthy dream which she had been rapidly working up to. But then Kara's climbing fell victim to soccer, homework, flute, homework, piano, homework, gymnastics, and a zillion other activities in a comically overbooked shuttle schedule in what passes for a childhood these days. Fortunately, the interminable, weekend annihilating soccer season followed by a cruel series of late season wet, snowy storms finally passed and, as is our insufferable Californian divine right, perfect weather returned and the Big Ditch dried. This fleeting break in the shuttle insanity and weather was all that was necessary for some much needed Valley rejuvenation. It was game on!

In June we headed to the Valley and over the next few weekends we had a blast on:

Enough of the prelims! With all systems go and some fine Valley classics ticked, mission control [Anne] gave final clearance for a Half Dome blastoff!

Complementary core competencies is key to any productive climbing partnership. Thus I plan, pack, shop, cook, clean, lead, haul, coddle, coax, cajole, and console and Greg drinks the beer. Similarly, my in-a-day fetish, which predictably coincided with the pack-it-ALL-out regulation, is perfectly countered by Kara's excited embrace of the poop tube! Engaging her younger brother they, in a disturbingly overly enthusiastic way, conceived and built a designer poop tube!

Kara thinks Team IKE (Ian, Kara, and Elizabeth -- her little climbing buddies who have been shredding a good portion of the high Sierra classics before middle school) should set up a lemonade and personalized poop tube stand in El Cap Meadows. I promised to run her business plan past the spendthrift Supertopo crowd but also advised her not to bet the college fund on colorful poop tubes just yet.

Thankfully therapist get paid the big bucks so I won't have to be there when the revelation hits Kara that a) your brain doesn't turn immediately to radioactive green mush upon physical contact with a boy before age 30 and b) wall climbers use jumars. I can explain. a) I don't have what it takes for the alternative and b) I'm a fundamentalist about no jumars. I wasn't always so radicalized though until after witnessing the unfortunate self-inflicted damage of Erika's jugging. So it was decided that Kara would just deal with the bit of aid on Half Dome and, well, I'm still baffled and panicked about the boy thing.

Imparting the first crucial big wall lesson of crowd abatement, we headed up the slabs on a hot July day with 30% chance of thunderstorms. Which is to say we had the stone to ourselves! Although the poop tube is an overly effective deterrent, it's actually the crushing load of the haul bag that really nixed my multiday enthusiasm. Kara was a doll offering to take some of the load. At 4'6" her carrying capacity is somewhat limited although, oddly, still considerably more than my regular partners'. To be fair, the 6'5" Chan has, on occasion, packed in his own lunch on short approaches without much prodding. The slabs to the base are steep and loose. Kara attacked them with a gusto not seen since Lenny's BALCO magic pill box.

Looking straight up from the base at the breathtaking 2,000' sheer granite face of Half Dome is one of those life affirming magical sights in Yosemite and thus anywhere. I wasn't sure how Kara would react but I was dead certain that after the hearty 3hr hike to the base she would not look up and say "Humm, doesn't look so tall." Shocked, all I could mutter was "Honey, I love you more than life itself but you are one warped little girl."

Bivied at the base and blasted off the next morning.

In more poorly thought out logic, I thought it wise to take my tiny day pack as the haul bag. The dubious reasoning being that since I hate hauling so much, if I took a small haul bag it wouldn't be so heavy so I wouldn't hate hauling so much. True enough although it only fit about 1/2 our gear so I ended up climbing with a heavy day pack which I hate even more than hauling and then hauled the other bag. Let's just leave it at the hauling scheme could use a bit of refinement. But it was hard to stay grumpy with such a joyous partner. I especially appreciated her offer to haul and when she threw her entire 65-lbs of raw ballast into the pulley, the haul line did noticably deflect some. I have no basis for comparison though since after 15 years of big walls it's too soon to say what, if anything, the 215-lb Chan can haul.

The huge snow cave at the start of the climb was all time

followed by pitch after fun pitch of fabulous climbing

With Kara doing her first aid lead on the Robbins!

Probably safe to assume that the famed Half Dome Chimneys have never been done quite in this style:

Part of Kara's pre-climb excitement was anticipating a dinner of her favorite prickly pear cactus tortillas on Big Sandy. So in one of those father/daughter moments of raw honesty as we sat dangling over a 1600' drop eating our cactus tortillas and cold refried beans, Kara turned to me and said "You know dad, cactus tortillas are a bit dry uncooked." Actually they were inedible. But with such views we couldn't help but savor the moment:

And after dreaming about it for a year, the bivy exceeded every expectation:

Next to sleeping strapped to the side of a 2,000' cliff there was plenty of pre-trip excitement about walking across Thank God Ledge, a wildly exposed and continuously narrowing ledge.

I drilled home the absolute moral imperative that Thank God Ledge must be done upright with pride. Unfortunately, reality got in the way and as she started to get to her knees I yelled:

"Wait! Don't crawl. If you walk it Rob will buy you a burrito."

"Dad, that juvenile nonsense only works on Lenny."

"Uh, good point. But still, you can do it."

"Maybe but you're too busy taking pictures and I have ten feet of slack."

"Nine. Don't exaggerate."

"Dad, would you like to see my teenage eye roll?"

"Look, you can do this. If you don't walk it it's going to be really difficult to work Christine squealing on her belly across TGL into the trip report."

"You'll manage. You know dad, if you were a bit nicer to your climbing partners your daughter wouldn't be the only one who'll climb with you."


One last excellent squeeze...

and it was summit time!

Great hike down Mist Trail with the much needed refreshing spray of the melting record snow pack:

Followed by a dinner in which Kara ate more than she's eaten in her first twelve years combined. The cactus tortillas will not be making the next trip.

Recovered in the Meadows the next day with a run up the Dike Route

before hooking up with Anne and Connor at Tenaya non-Beach (it was a big snow year)

Headed to the East side to play and climb with Marianna and Pierce Florine

And ended a most excellent week with a Team IKE reunion climb up the gorgeous 3rd pillar of Dana. Did I mention this year's amazing snow pack? Getting to the base was a challenge

but well worth the effort for some spectacular climbing

in a spectacular position


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