Sometimes when planning a climbing trip things sneak up on you- things like weather. Having planned to climb Snake Dike on Half Dome, I was slightly bummed to learn it was supposed to snow for 3 days before the weekend we were going to go. After a little convincing from my climbing partner Thomas, we drove up early Saturday morning to see how much snow was really in Yosemite Valley. In Groveland I laughed after seeing the inch of snow weather.com had predicted was really 4.5 inches. It was snowing lightly, but not enough to stick, when we arrived in the valley. We climbed to the base of the Five Open Books for a better view of half dome.
The south face of half dome, where snake dike is located, appeared dry. We packed our climbing and overnight gear so we could approach the base and see the climb the next morning. Ice and snow had formed on the steps up to Vernal and Nevada Falls. The hike took a little longer than expected but went smoothly. We established camp below the back side of half dome.
After a very cold night, we ate breakfast and packed our day packs for the climb. The approach to the base took longer than expected due to the snow, ice, and the lack of a trail. As we got closer and closer my excitement grew; the climb was largely untouched by the snow. At the base, we found the first two pitches, the hardest of the route, ran with water and were covered with some snow. Luckily these two pitches are trad, and not the crazy bolted run out that Snake Dike is known for. We swapped leads, both of us balancing through moments of friction traversing over water and crack climbing while kicking out snow to get purchase. Neither of us took a fall, but it was enough to get our adrenaline pumping. After the first two pitches, the climbing goes from 5.7 to 5.4, but the exposure intensifies. There is 75 foot run out between bolts, and you feel very high up and very exposed.
Friction traversing across the waterfall had messed with my head. I barely trusted my feet even though the dike itself was dry. At 4 o'clock, 6 pitches later, we reached the end of the roped climbing. We wandered up endless 3rd class slabs for an hour before we summited half dome with the sunset.
It was a beautiful moment to be on top. In the back of my head, I knew we were not even half way done with the night. We walked across the top to find the cables to descend before it got dark. The National Park Service took the cables down due to the snow. The cables were draped over the side of the dome instead of propped on posts. We tied prusiks around the cables and descended as it was becoming dark. The low batteries in my headlamp slowly dimmed my light and Thomas realized his headlamp was in a jacket at base camp.
We slipped and slided down the cables, taking 3 hours to descend 400 ft. In summer, tourists walk down the cables. We had little food. We were cold and tired from 14 hours of climbing. I thought we would never going to get off the cables. The long day out verged on type II fun, maybe even type III fun.
After an eternity, we reached the base of the cables and began walking to base camp. Hikers’ footprints lead us down to the trail through the snow. At 11 p.m., we collapsed into our sleeping bags. We tried to warm our hands and feet. The plan was to hike out that night since I had work the next day, but we were so exhausted we thought it would be better to take a nap to make the icy descent a little safer. We napped for 3 hours. At 2 a.m. we woke to the sound of a bear tramping around outside our tent. We decided to make some noise inside our tent and hope it went away. Luckily Yosemite bears are not like Alaska bears and they are more afraid of people. After it left, we put on our frozen boots and packed up camp.
The hike out took us a while, as we were now so tired of slipping on ice that we took every step with care. Finally at 6am, just as the sun came up, we made it back to the car. We were so excited to just sit and not have to move for a few hours on the drive back to the bay, it was all we could talk about, that and where we would stop for food in Oakdale. Unfortunately when we went to turn on the car on, the battery was dead. At this point we were too delirious and it was too ironic to really be mad. We managed to find a nice climber group from Sunnyvale at the campground and they helped us get on our way.
We ended up having a really fun weekend, with definite moments of type II fun. If not being able to walk the next day is a mark of a good weekend, then boy did we have a good weekend.