After a two and a half mile hike referred to as “The Death Slabs,” an approach gaining 3,000 feet in elevation, there stands another 2,400 feet of raw granite cliff towering over the Yosemite Valley floor. The Northwest Face of Halfdome is a 23 pitch route that climbs free at 5.12 or aids at 5.9/C2. For anyone reading who does not know what any of this means, it is simple:
Climbing the Northwest Face of Halfdome is not exactly easy. Up to date, it is the hardest physical feat of my life. I hope the following words neither sell short or boast of the send. Many have achieved far greater climbs or have climbed this particular route with far more excellence. But I loved the adventure, and even more importantly, I learned a lot along the way. So here is a taste of climbing up the granite wonder. Here is climbing Halfdome.
Sunday, August 4th
Given 70 degree weather and an encroaching darkness, Dave and I began to knock out the approach up the Death Slabs. We chased the sun for every second it would concede, but 3,000 feet of elevation gain over only two and a half miles with a thirty pound pack of gear on my back beat my chicken legs to jelly! Easier put: I was slow. The sun escaped. Night fell. Meanwhile, the presiding emotion up this grueling trail was turning to a fear that I would lack the energy in the morning to actually climb the face. Thankfully, this changed. A moment of pure encouragement, emotional refueling, and spiritual renewal awaited me at the base.
Throwing our packs down at our bivy (our campsite at the base), I dragged myself to the source of this incredible moment. 15 feet right of the first pitch of the climb, Halfdome conceals the most pure and quaint spring right out of its base. If water is a symbol of life, this spring could reveal one’s purpose. I wish I could send you each a bottle of this spectacular energy. Sitting at this spring, guzzling its gifts, thinking of all the climbers who have been given their water out of the very wall we climb, blew my mind. I was overwhelmed with how perfect that moment was. Nothing else mattered. Minutes before, I had been mentally and physically destroyed, apprehensive of the following days task, and now, with simple sips of water, I was psyched for the adventure and keenly aware to the beautiful metaphor that this spring painted of life’s purpose. Halfdome, the very climb that yearned for my attention and devotion, was willing to give me the source of life I would need to finish the task it called me to. It gave me more than water. It gave me energy. It gave me life.
I fell asleep to the stars. A years worth of reading could be written about the stars in Yosemite. For the sake of your time, I’ll leave it at this: THEY NEVER QUIT APPEARING! I think new ones came into sight until the moment I last closed my eyes.
Monday, August 5th
It didn’t take long for Dave’s wake up call to get me into a seated position. I was psyched. Breakfast. Gearing up. Filling water again. Calming down. The norm. Here we go!
The Spring at the Base
I began leading the first pitch. Early. Nervous. 5:35 am. Still warming up. The first pitch goes at 5.8, IF you stay on route. Unfortunately, a deceitful crack and a lack of good beta resulted in me heading up a very stout hand crack. Well protected by a red #1, I was pushing through to a tree that was clearly on route, but took a pretty unexpected fall before I could get there. To say the least, it shook me up! This was supposed to be a 5.8 easy pitch, the FIRST pitch of the biggest climb I had ever attempted, and I already fell!!…But I was more than safe. I had just simply veered too far right. Resulting was a quick painless whipper on that strong #1. That’s all. No big deal. I took in more life with a few sips of water, and I began again…this time, on route. Pitch 1 down. Pitch 2 and 3 linked easy.
We sat at the top of pitch 3. My rhythm was restored. We weren’t exactly breaking a speed record, but things were locking in along with the assurance that I could do this. Having chosen to lead pitches 1-9, pitch 4 would hold the crux of my block of leading for the day. Now Dave and I made the decision not to fully aid any of the climb. We would either free climb anything in our realm or French free (pull on gear) anything above our grade. Pitch 4 starts with a 5.11 lieback and turns to a 5.10c fingers section. This was it. If I could climb this, I knew I had it. And I did. Pulling on gear a few times, I was able to cruise quickly through pitch 4, keeping rhythm as we also linked pitch 5. The groove was set, and I was now fully psyched! This was gonna happen! We were climbing Halfdome!
My portion of leading ended without much other delay. I slightly got off route again while simul-climbing pitch 8 (we simuled 7, 8, and 9 for those wanting beta), but it was an easy fix and we regained a lot of time before pitch 10.
Dave took over. What can I say? He’s a champ. I won’t give as much detail for the rest of the climb, for he led the rest, but he absolutely crushed. The only hold-ups were me getting a rope stuck while jugging pitch 13, a 5.9 squeeze/chimney with a couple of snags at the bottom and Dave putting in a number 2 that walked itself into an over-cammed position on Thank God Ledge, pitch 21 (see picture below). Both would be easily avoidable the next time but good lessons learned.
We topped out to the best sunset I’ve seen here in the valley. The Valley, never having much cloud cover and engulfed by cliffs, doesn’t lend to the most breathtaking sunsets, but on top of Halfdome Monday, being above the cliffs and having a partly cloudy evening, our eyes sponged in the fiery glow surrounding our summit. And while standing on the granite peak before this splendor, I took my last sip of water. My 2 liter had lasted me perfectly through the climb. The spring had given me exactly what I needed to top out. It was time to hike down the 9 mile trail.
The Summit at Sunset
After 2 hours of hiking without water and a very physically demanding day, dehydration set in. Cotton mouth reigned to say the least. But hope was to come. Another source of water existed 1 mile from the finish. We just had to get there.
The story comes full circle. We arrived at the water filling station just off the bridge below Vernal Falls. I pounced at the spicket and was reminded of the Halfdome spring. This water was not as natural or spectacular in theory, but never the less, it was water, the source of the life I would need to hike the last mile to the valley floor. It seems the fuel we need is always right around the corner when we need it most.
Tuesday, August 6th
A shower had been surreal. Food had been devoured. And the warmth of my bed was again embraced. I was safe. The climb was complete. This was the moment of full satisfaction. I wish I could gift-wrap this feeling and send it along with the bottle of Halfdome spring water, but I am sure you too have done something in your life that has brought you this feeling of contentment.
People are built to be incredible beings. We can do amazing things. This has been said before, and I might not even need to tell most of you. But the one thing I believe I learned most from this journey, the thing that is perhaps good for all of us to be reminded of is this: When we are accomplishing the unthinkable, whether ticking off our hardest sends as climbers or attacking life with more vigor and love for our neighbor than ever before, we must remember our source of energy.
Much like the water taken from the source of Halfdome itself, the water that sustained me to the end of the climb, I feel that the God in charge of this all, the one who created that water in the first place, has called me to a purpose, and He gives me the energy I need to complete each step of the plan. All I have to do is drink.
Founder of The Network 5.12