Browsing through Roper's old guidebooks to climbing in Yosemite Bob Ayers noticed that there was a route up Half Dome near the cables. The older "Red" Roper said the route was difficult fourth class, the newer "green" Roper said "the face can be climbed without using the cables (fifth class)". This sounded like the source of a good adventure. So Bob and Chris Hibbert and I drove to Yosemite one Sunday morning, ate lunch, and at 2 PM shouldered 40 pound packs and hiked up the trail to Half Dome. Ten miles and 3600 feet of up, stretched ahead of us.
It was the first day of standard time and so darkness came early, at 5:30, just as we reached the spring just below the ridge north of Half-Dome. We loaded up our packs with a dozen liters of water and hiked on to a beautiful campsite on the ridge. It was cool on the ridge but far warmer than we had any right to expect.
It was even warmer in the morning. We hiked to the base of the cables and picked our routes. The cables themselves were "down" when we arrived. This means that they were laying on the granite, not raised up on posts as shown in the photo above. In many ways the cables are easier to use when they are down, lifting the cable adds forty extra pounds holding you to the rock.
Bob started up a flake to the left of the cables, then launched out on sparsely protected, but low angles slab above, loose granules of granite added excitement to the runnouts. He found a good belay ledge about 150 feet up. Bob also did the second pitch lead also featuring long runnouts and ending at a good ledge. Then it was my turn, my pitch had a small ceiling, and I worried about pro.
I worked up the left facing arch then made my way up to the ceiling where I got in a piece of pro. I didn't see any more places for protection above the ceiling or on a traverse to the left under the ceiling, however below I spotted a thumb-width ledge. I went down to the ledge then left along it and back up to the ceiling at a wonderful slot for protection. Then over the roof to the next belay ledge. A fun pitch!
Above us thin ice crystal clouds refracted sunlight into bright sun dogs and arcs, the top of the 22.5 degree halo had an upper tangent arc and a bit of bright blue white parhelic circle stretched out from the sun dog.
One more pitch and the slope got so low angle we could coil the ropes and walk to the summit. We took the requisite photographs posed on the visor, a ledge of rock that juts out over the face of Half Dome. We then returned to the base of the cables in time for another climb.
Chris lead the first pitch up a nice series of cracks to the right of the cables. He ended at a nice ledge. The sun had moved behind Half Dome and we were in the shade now so that it was getting colder. I lead up quickly back into the sun following cracks to some large I-bolts on the cables route. Bob and Chris followed me without using the crack! delicately climbing the friction next to it. When we reached the end. It was late enough that it was time to head down. So we returned to our campsite, picked up our packs at 2:30 PM and headed down. We finished after dark.
It was a fine day. But my legs knew we had done some climbing and hiking under pack!
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