Snake Dike (Half Dome)

September 14, 2004

Below is a photograph of Half Dome taken from Glacier Point by my friend Takehiro Okamoto during our trip there on June 21, 2002.  You can see the entire Snake Dike route quite clearly on this photograph.  It starts at the sort of crack-like feature just right of the middle "mound" of green and trees, and follows the left dike where two split off in a wishbone.

Summer 2004

A major goal for summer 2004 was to get my body into some sort of shape again after two years of neglect during graduate school.  I finally bought a new road bike to replace my Trek 2120 that had been stolen soon after we moved to Los Angeles.  Although I still had my hybrid and enjoyed riding that, somehow I was never able to really push myself on that bicycle.  After a week or so of visiting all the local bike stores and trying out various road bikes I bought a Trek 2200, rather similar to my previous bike.  For the price I couldn't find anything else that I enjoyed as much.  And I had a great time this summer really cycling again, doing longer distances and especially finding some terrific steep climbs in the mountains around Malibu.  One goal is to tour around more of Southern California and build up to doing some organized double century rides next year.

I also hiked in the mountains near LA, just like last summer doing three hikes on Wednesday mornings:  Mount Baldy (via the same loop as last year, one of my favorite hikes), San Jacinto Peak (via a different route than last year), and San Bernadino Peak (a new mountain, replacing San Gorgonio Mountain from last year).  All of them were terrific and like last year I had the trails pretty much to myself.  These hikes also served as preparation for a trip to Colorado to attempt Longs Peak again, which I failed to get past the Boulderfield of last year due to altitude sickness.  This time I tried sleeping at 9000 feet (at my friend Mike Vermeulen's parents' condo in Frisco) and hiking some easier 14ers before Longs.  Unfortunately a day or two before I arrived there was a big storm and the 14ers were covered with snow and ice at the top.  So we aborted a few hundred feet from the summit of Mount Bross, but made it up Gray's Peak fine, my first 14er climbed.  By then I didn't feel the altitude anymore and that was a terrific hike.  I was able to enjoy the Boulderfield of Longs for the first time and make it past the Keyhole to the Ledges and the Trough, but again the route got too slippery and we turned back midway up the Trough.  The wind was also extremely strong that day.  Disappointing not to make it up again, but the 2nd and 3rd class sections of that hike were great fun and I hope to try again next time I visit.

After that I thought my hiking season was over and that I would just bicycle.  However some fellow UCLA math grad students my year, Will Conley and Aaron Reite, were planning to visit Yosemite and do some climbs there.  They are both much better climbers than I am:  Aaron grew up in Colorado and is an extremely experienced climber, having done Longs Peak via the Diamond among many other things.  Will grew up in Florida and so had less climbing experience, but is already climbing quite difficult routes, far beyond my ability.  However along with more difficult routes they were thinking of doing Snake Dike, 5.7R, up Half Dome.

I fell in love with Half Dome when I bicycled to Yosemite and saw it for the first time--it's the most beautiful natural object I've ever seen.  When I learned there was a hiking trail up it I of course had to go up; before this year I'd been to the top 5 or 6 times via the Mist and Muir trails, and had hiked portions of the trails as parts of other hikes, along with doing other hikes like Yosemite Falls and North Dome that have great views of Half Dome.  The hike up Half Dome is still by far my favorite hike.  Some pictures and brief accounts can be found on my hiking page.  I wanted to do more, though--to explore all around Half Dome.  At one time I dreamed of climbing the northwest face someday, although now I feel that's something I'll likely never do.  But just scrambling up the "death slabs" to the base of the NW face, going up the Bushido Gully to the the Diving Board or around the climber's trail to the other side and so forth--these all seemed like things I'd like to try.  But most of all I wanted to climb the Snake Dike route, considered one of the best moderate climbs anywhere, and all the more special that it should go up the southwest face of Half Dome.

When Will and Aaron wanted to do this climb and said it was okay for me to come along I knew this was a chance I couldn't pass up.  Still I had a great deal of anxiety about doing the climb.  I didn't feel any worry about safety, since I knew both Will and Aaron were not only very good climbers but were also extremely careful.  My main worry was that I would somehow ruin the trip for everyone by not being able to continue at some point.  Snake Dike is well known for its long difficult approach and even longer descent, but I felt the hiking portion would be fine.  I was more worried about the climbing.  Even though I was by now in decent shape, I hadn't really climbed enough. I was only going a couple days a week, just for an hour or two at a time, to the UCLA gym with its 20 foot walls, and I could only do about 5.9 there.  That was harder than the 5.7 and below pitches of Snake Dike, but still outdoor climbing is a lot different and I hadn't done that in almost two years (Joshua Tree in December 2002).  The 5.7 pitches were friction, and I'd done 5.7 friction in Yosemite years ago (Swan Slab in 1999) and remembered it being rather scary.  So would I get stuck and not be able to do a pitch?  I'd never climbed with a pack before so that was sure to make things harder as well.  However I figured Will and Aaron could help me somehow.  More worrisome was the amount of climbing:  800 feet over 8 pitches.  I'd only climbed a trad route once in my life (at Joshua Tree) and had never done a multipitch route.  What if I ran out of energy?  Or got scared being up so high?  And then after the technical climbing there was another 1000 feet of scrambling unroped up 2nd and 3rd class slabs.  What if I found that too frightening to do?  Not to mention there was more 3rd class scrambling on the approach, and I had no idea how dicey that would be.  And then even if I made it to the top, facing only the 7 mile hike back to the start that I'd done many times, maybe I'd be too tired and sore to do that.  More worrisome was the persistent sharp knee pain that I've had descending that route.  Normally I'd bring trekking poles to help deal with that, but I didn't want to deal with hauling them up the climb.  So I'd be left hiking down with no poles, carrying climbing gear and so more weight than normal, and that could be very painful.  Fortunately, however, I've been having less and less trouble with my knees as they've strengthened as as my descending technique has improved (however bad it still is).  I found I could could descent the trails in Colorado (to be sure more gentle than the California trails) without poles, and I thought if I took some Aleve at the top of Half Dome I might make it down without too much pain.

I had plenty of misgivings, then, but the pull of Snake Dike and Half Dome was too strong.  I was planning to go to the Bay Area anyway, and it worked out well that I could stop by Yosemite just after that trip and spend a day doing Snake Dike with Will and Aaron.  I bought some new climbing shoes (slightly on the big side as I wanted them to be as comfortable as possible for a long route), a space blanket, and brought an old bicycle helmet in lieu of buying a new climbing helmet, since I wasn't sure how much trad climbing I'd get to do after this trip.  During the Bay Area trip I got a chance to climb again at my old favorite gym Planet Granite, at their Belmont branch with my former climbing partners Haijun Cao and Su-Lyn Kuok.  I really miss climbing with them there.  They've climbed a lot more than I have in the last couple years, both indoors and out, and Haijun (whom I introduced to climbing) is now far beyond me, able to do 5.11 in the gym.  Su-Lyn is also much better than me.  I was about to do about 5.10- there and had a great time climbing with them, but that was the only climbing I'd done in the last few weeks (since the UCLA gym is closed the last month or more of the summer) so I worried if it was enough or not.

Snake Dike

The photograph below, also taken by Takehiro Okamoto from Glacier Point on June 21, 2002, shows most of the terrain covered by the hike and climb.  The hike starts in the Valley and goes up the right side of Vernal Falls (the lower waterfall), then up the left side of Nevada Falls higher up.  One then goes around the far side of Liberty Cap (the small mountain left of Nevada Falls) on the climber's trail to the south face, and then around on a ledge to the SW face shown in the picture.  Then up the Snake Dike route to the top, down the cables on the other side (not visible), and then following the Muir Trail back to Nevada Falls and the Mist Trail.


My family and I arrived in Yosemite on Monday afternoon the 13th.  We'd hoped to stay at Yosemite Lodge, or in Curry Village in a wood cabin with a bath since it's a pain to deal with putting your food and toothpaste and so forth in bear lockers and using the communal showers.  However those rooms were all booked (last year we got a Lodge room that freed up a few days before we came) and we got two nights in a tent cabin.  It was sort of off season so they had a special deal and it was only $43 per night instead of the normal $68.  We stayed two nights so that I could start off early, and so that my wife and son could spend all day in the cabin if they wanted to.  September turned out to be the ideal time to visit, I think.  Although there were still a lot of people it seemed far less crowded than I remembered it being on other visits, and so it was a lot more relaxed.  The weather was better too--not as hot during the day, and also warmer at night.  Also they added a touch that was a huge improvement over the last time we stayed in Curry:  they now had personal bear lockers for each cabin, located near the restrooms.  This meant you could store food and toothpaste much closer to where you were staying and needed them.  This alone made the cabin a much nicer experience and made the extra money for your own bathroom seem not worth it.  The showers were still pretty awful, though.  But my wife went without using them and I just showered once after the climb.

While waiting in a very long line at registration I checked my messages and found that Will and Aaron happened to be in Curry eating ice cream, so I gave them a call and they met us by our cabin, number 18, the first time we stayed east of the stores and so forth, and it was in a very convenient location.  Those two had just done the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, and had done Fairview Dome on Sunday, so two North American classics already, and we'd be doing another the next day.  They were staying at Camp 4, and another former climbing partner, Cindy Chiu, had been staying in Camp 4 as well over the weekend (so I didn't get to see her at Planet Granite, unfortunately, although we did stop at her place in San Carlos to say hi before we drove to Yosemite).  I'd given her their cell phone numbers, but she left them at home and never contacted them.  So I told Will and Aaron about this, and that she'd climbed Nutcracker on Sunday.  They said "oh we climbed Nutcracker on Sunday too!" as an easy climb between the two classics.  It turns out they were a group or two ahead of her and had noticed her on the route.

We decided to meet at my cabin at 4:30 the next morning, hike the trail in the dark with headlamps, and then it would start getting light right about as we left the trail above Nevada Falls.  They went back to camp to eat there, and my family and I ate dinner at the expensive but reasonable decent Curry Village buffet.  I was tired and hoped to get to bed early, but unfortunately our cabin was a little too convenient being right next to the outdoor amphitheater which features a ranger presentation at 8pm every night.  So I tried to go to bed just as the show started, and couldn't help hearing every word.  I did learn that the smoke that obscured views for most of the day was from an arson fire (around Mariposa I think the ranger said), but that the arsonist, who had set previous fires and so was being watched, was caught.  Then I learned all sorts of facts about bats for the next hour.  Finally around 9pm the show was over and I think I managed to fall asleep.  I awoke around midnight, though, and didn't sleep much the rest of the night.  This is pretty typical when I have to wake up early for some big event, especially when I'm in a strange bed.  However it seems I can get by fine with not much sleep, at least for a day or two.

I got up a little after 4am and got things in order, and Will and Aaron arrived right at 4:30.  We went to their car to get the gear, and they had me carry the 8mm 50 meter rope.  Aaron carried a 10mm 60 meter rope, and Will the draws and cams and so forth.  I had brought along my bigger daypack and everything just fit.  We each brought 3 liters of water which was on the low side (normally 3 liters is just enough for the hike on a hot day), but it seemed it wouldn't be terribly hot this day and we could purify water on the way down if necessary.  No thunderstorms in the forecast as well, although one could never be sure.  We hoped for the best.

The buses weren't running yet so we walked the mile or more from Curry to Happy Isles and the trailhead.  We started the hike proper at 5:10am.  This was the first time I'd done the Mist Trail in the dark, and it was quite enjoyable actually, much better than the dull Longs Peak trail in the dark (or even the light).  In fact it was quite a pleasure to hike this trail with no one around for a change.  Will and Aaron were to lead on the climb, so I got to lead on the hike, which I knew well of course, so that was nice.  There was actually a little water going over Vernal Falls, but no wind and certainly no mist.  Midway up the trail next to Nevada Falls we came across the point where Liberty Cap touches the trail and we had a choice now to follow the approach between Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick, or go on to the second approach north of Liberty Cap.  Both approaches are described in the excellent Supertopo guide to Snake Dike which is available free on the web.  It was getting light so we could have tried the first approach, but Aaron pointed out that it was probably better to gain elevation on the good trail as opposed to 3rd class scrambling, so we went on.

Unfortunately it was not so easy to find the second climber's trail.  The guide said it should be about .75 miles past the Mist/Muir trail junction at the top of Nevada Falls, but we reached the junction with the trail leading to Little Yosemite (which my Tom Harrison map said was 1 mile past that junction, although it didn't seem we'd gone that far) and still hadn't seen the climber's trail.  What's more it seemed the guide should have mentioned this other junction if the trail was beyond it.  We thought of going back, but went on a little and found what seemed to be a sort of trail.  This led to a better trail, and eventually we got down to what seemed to be the real trail.  The best climber's trail must have started even further along from where we were, so I again wonder why the Supertopo guide didn't mention the later junction.

Once we were on the good trail it was quite enjoyable hiking, surprisingly easy although we knew the bad part was to come.  We arrived at Lost Lake, which as expected seemed to have no water at this time of year.  Unfortunately I didn't stop to take a picture of it.  Past that the nasty part of the approach began--lots of bushwhacking and working our way up sometimes slippery slabs.  I'd bought long pants (actually convertible, and Will and Aaron also had convertible pants) just for the bushwhacking, and I was really glad I had them.  I thought they'd also be better for climbing (it didn't really matter for this route) and easier since I wouldn't have to put sun block on my legs.  I also bought a technical tee shirt from REI for this climb since it seemed like cotton (which I always used before for hikes and climbs) would be a bad idea.  The polyester shirt was indeed far better to climb and hike in, and I'll probably never use cotton again for anything of any length.

Finally it's time for a picture.  Here's the South face of Half Dome as seen from our approach.  You can see that there looks to be a sort of ledge at the base of the South face where the highest trees are.  So we had the option of going straight up slabs (looked to be 4th class and rather scary) to the ledge, or following around the right (outside the picture) and going up a nasty brush-filled gully to the ledge.  Fortunately Will and Aaron chose the later route, which although quite unpleasant was at least not dangerous.  We then followed the ledge (also not too scary) all the way to the left and out of the picture, and it led to the final path to the SW face and the base of the climb.

Finally we reached the base of the climb after about 3.5 hours of hiking and scrambling.  I can see why people say they'll never do the climb a second time--the approach is a pain.  But kind of cool in a way, and now that I've forgotten the pain perhaps I'd do it again.... Despite the tough approach and descent the route is extremely popular, and I'd heard to expect it to be crowded even on a weekday.  So imagine our surprise to arrive and find no one there!  In fact no one came later as well, and the only people we saw all day (until the summit) were a couple backpackers back at Nevada Falls heading down to the Valley.  The weather was superb, and to have this incredible climb all to ourselves the entire day seemed too good to be true.

Below is a picture of the bottom of the route from the base.  The climb was almost all in the shade when I took the picture, but soon after the sun was high enough that the entire route was in the sun, and there was not a cloud all day.  The first pitch follows the natural feature (4th class) up to the sort of roof.  The leader puts pro in the roof using a long sling and then downclimbs a little and traverses across 5.7 friction.  You then go around the roof to the left and the first belay.  The topo recommends going a little higher to a second belay if you have a 60m rope, which was an interesting decision for us since we had one rope of each length.

The plan was for Will to lead the first few pitches, trailing both ropes with me attached to the thicker 60m rope and Aaron to the 50m rope.  I'd belay Will on my rope which he'd clip into protection, and then I'd follow and clean the pro.  Finally Aaron would follow on his rope.  Although Aaron was perhaps to lead the later pitches, he let Will lead everything.  And although I'd never belayed a lead climber before, they let me do all the belaying of Will with Aaron to watch me and make sure I was doing it okay.  It was quite straightforward and I had no trouble.  Will generally belayed Aaron from the top as well as me, but I tried once and understood what Will meant when he said it was a pain to belay using this thin rope, especially as Aaron climbed very quickly.  I got some rope burn belaying and let Will do the rest.  I had also never cleaned pro before but Will placed very little on the route and it was easy to clean, so a good first experience for me.  It was nice climbing with two people and climbing second, as it meant I was never alone at either belay.  Both helped me a lot.  Thanks to them I barely managed to avoid some stupid mistakes, the worst being that I started untying myself from the belay anchor (twice!) after Will was off belay above but before he put me on belay.  I hope I never try that again.

I expected multipitch climbing to be quite complicated but it was surprisingly simple and straightforward.  Of course that's a very good thing.  I was a little unprepared, though--in particular I should have brought some personal carabiners and quickdraws of my own (I just had my own locking carabiner and ATC).  I had to borrow one or two of what was already a small rack, so that I could attach my backpack to the anchors at a couple belays (so I could get some food out as well as my camera), and despite the larger shoes and wearing liner socks I still wanted to take my shoes off at a couple places, so I needed to hook them to my harness.  Aaron was quite prepared for all this and upon reaching the belay would immediately attach his backpack to the anchors, take off his shoes, and then pull out a belay seat so that he could relax in comfort.  Midway through, realizing he hadn't done any work except climbing, he decided to try to maintain that so that he could say he went up Snake Dike without leading or belaying once.  And indeed that happened, although he did have to put Will on belay briefly while I untwisted at one point.

Will was superb managing the two ropes, and we had no logistical difficulties.  They decided he would go to the second belay anchor of the first pitch, and that Aaron would just climb up the 4th class a bit unbelayed to handle his shorter rope length.  However the second belay station didn't really turn out to be be any better than the first station, so we probably wouldn't do that again.  All it did was make the second pitch very short.

We took about a half hour to get set up, and so didn't start climbing until around 9:10am, 4 hours after we'd started from the trailhead.  I'd expected something like 4 hours for the approach, 4 for the climb, and 4 for the hike down, so this was right on time.  I told my wife we'd be back around 4:30pm because of this, but the climb with three people, one of them quite inexperienced, took quite a bit longer than 4 hours.

Will went up the 4th class quickly and put in pro, but then found the 5.7 friction to be a lot less secure than he imagined.  This got me a bit scared--if he (who had just done 5.10c friction on Middle Cathedral the day before) found this less than straightforward, then what would I think?  He of course made it across and up fine, though.

I had no trouble making it up and cleaning his first piece of pro, but I also found starting out across the friction to be very scary.  I got some advice from Will about how far to go back down to get the best friction, and he said he'd keep the rope fairly tense.  It was scary indeed, but amazing how well the friction worked as long as you trusted it and went slowly and carefully.  I found the friction sections, despite being scary, to be the most satisfying of the entire climb.  I've always loved balance climbing as opposed to strength climbing.  I should mention that I didn't bring any chalk with me, figuring it would be useless for the friction climbing and that the dike climbing was easy enough to not need it.  And indeed I didn't miss having chalk.

I was dismayed to find very little room at the belay anchor, and indeed this would be the theme for the entire day--very cramped belay stations.  I can't imagine dealing with other parties at the same belay stations on this climb--it must be a painful mess.  So very lucky we had everything to ourselves.  Having never done multipitch I was at first very scared to put all my weight on the anchor, hanging from it, so I stood up on a feature the whole time.  But this was very tiring so as the climb went on I got used to just hanging there in my harness.  I'd never thought of it as a terribly comfortable harness, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually extremely comfortable to hang in at belays.

The first pitch alone took nearly an hour, I think, but after that we were all set up and moved more quickly.  The second pitch was short and easy, I seem to recall, and then the third pitch, which involves a 5.7 friction traverse over to the main Snake Dike itself, was supposed to be the crux of the climb.  This was a bit scary as there could be a bit of a pendulum if I fell (nicely Will didn't clip the intermediate belay bolts which helped for following a lot) but I made it across.  I think it was at this pitch that Will said he felt his foot slipping at one point (before he had a chance to put in the first piece of pro) and was worried he'd take a big fall.  But he was fine and in fact none of us fell anywhere the entire climb.  Will had no trouble leading the big runouts, and occasionally went 100 feet or maybe more past his last piece of pro.

Once you reach the dike on pitch three it's tremendously fun dike hiking for a while.  Really enjoyable 5.4 climbing, mostly just stepping up with your feet, but every now and then the feet would be a bit sketchy and what do you know, there'd be a good handhold there.  Just amazing how it all worked out.

I was surprised to find myself fairly comfortable with the height and exposure, but not so comfortable that I wanted to take a lot of pictures.  I did take a few at some places, though.  I believe the next couple pictures were taken from the bottom of pitch 4, the first pitch entirely on the dike.  Aaron took this picture of Will as I belayed, and you can get an idea of what a great climb this is.  Notice that Will hasn't placed any pro yet.

Next Aaron took a picture of me belaying.  Sadly as only Will and I had cameras, and since we were doing all the belaying work, there's no picture of me climbing.

At the top of the pitch I took a picture of Aaron starting up.  You can see the base of the climb far below.  It's hard to tell the height, but note that the trees below are fairly tall.

Here's Aaron near the top of the pitch.  I asked him to look up so this is a bit of a pose.

Most of the climb kind of blurs together in my memory, but it was all terrific.  I brought along some Gu to eat in case I felt I needed some instant energy during the climb, and indeed during the third or fourth pitch I felt a little worn out.  I ate some at the belay, and sure enough for the next pitch I had plenty of energy!  Those things work great.  I downed maybe four of them during the climb, and gave a couple more to Will and Aaron for them to try.  Foodwise I also brought three Clif bars, eating one at the base and one later on (I think at the top, or maybe it was the top of the roped part), and a turkey and cheese sandwich I'd bought at the store in Curry Village, which I ate a few bites of at the bottom of the climb and the rest at the summit.  Foodwise I had no problems.

Water was a different matter.  At the base of the climb I must have unscrewed one of the Nalgene bottle lids while getting something out of the pack, because a little later I noticed that the bottom of the pack was all wet.  Indeed nearly a liter of water had drained out.  I felt really stupid losing my water, but fortunately it was not too hot so even though the route was in the sun the entire time it was not bad at all.  The wind was quite variable, sometimes low but sometimes annoyingly strong, especially when one was trying to do friction climbing.  However it was mostly appreciated as it kept things cool.  I can normally get by with little water, and I'd just take a couple sips at each belay, and then drank a bit more at the top.  For the hike down I had about a half liter, which is less than the one liter I'd normally have, but it was less hot.  However it did warm up a bit as we descended and I finally ran out.  By then we were back near the river and could have purified water, but Will and Aaron still had a little left so I drank a bit of theirs and that was enough to make it to the water fountain near the trailhead where I could drink all I wanted.

Views during the climb were spectacular, and only got better as we got higher.  This was scenery that couldn't quite be viewed this way from the summit, so it was great to see it from the climb.  Here's an example from around the top of the roped climb, I think, showing excellent views of Glacier Point, El Capitan, and the Valley.

We weren't really sure just where to end the roped section of the climb--there are no bolts for a last belay so Will just chose an appropriate place as the rope ran out.  We ended up in some kind of cool groove between two parallel curved rock formations.  This was a good place to unrope, and surprisingly it wasn't scary at all.  We then just had to walk up 2nd and 3rd class slabs for 1000 feet to the summit.  There was plenty of friction, and normally you could just walk up (which I'd guess is the 2nd class) or occasionally when it was steeper it felt better to go up on all fours (which I'd say was 3rd class).  But nothing that felt scary, even with a pack.  We did all keep our climbing shoes on, though.  It was still quite steep and we were tired, so we'd just walk up a little bit and rest, and then continue.  I'm not sure how much of the climb was the unroped part, but I'd guess it was a little under an hour.

Finally as the picture below shows we reached the secondary summit of Half Dome.  You can see rock piles put up by people who hiked up the cable route and wanted to show how brave they were to walk over to the secondary summit.  I'd walked over there myself years ago and actually started down this ramp a little bit, wondering how far you could go before it got steep.  I knew this led to Snake Dike.  Of course I didn't go far, though.  And it was great to finally walk up it having done the climb itself.

Surprisingly again there were few people on the summit this day even via the cable route, although it was fairly late by now--after 3pm.  It had taken us about 6 hours to do the climb.  On the secondary summit we put on hiking shoes and took off our harnesses and put away the ropes.  Will left his harness and gear on, though (in fact he hiked in the harness the entire way), so that let everyone know we'd climbed up rather than hiked.  And indeed we got some people taking pictures of us and asking about the climb.  They all asked how long it took.  Aaron said he'd never been asked that question before.  But perhaps the difference with Half Dome is that people can get up just by hiking and using the cables, and they know how long it took them, so they're interested in comparing that to climbing.  We just told them 6 hours which of course didn't include the approach.  We told them we came up the SW face, but probably no one really understood that and they thought we came up the sheer NW face instead.  Fine by us if they think that....  Aaron and Will started to get psyched about actually climbing the NW face someday soon.  I'm envious.

We stayed on the summit for about an hour, I think, eating food and relaxing.  We got one hiker to take a couple pictures of us on the summit, and here's one of them.

Here's a picture I took of Aaron and Will having fun on the summit.  What a supurb day.

I had told my wife we'd be back by 4:30pm and it was clear we were going to be back much later, so I borrowed Aaron's cell phone and left a message for her (she had my phone but it was turned off) saying we'd be back around 7:30 or 8.  I figured she'd try to check messages when it got late, but realized she probably didn't know how to retrieve them.  So I felt bad that she'd worry a bit.

Sometime soon after 4pm we finally started down.  The rock under the cables was even more slippery than I remembered--it's getting extremely polished from so much use.  It was fun to go down them again.  Then followed the steep switchbacks.  I warned Will and Aaron that they could be slick from the sand on them, and then soon after managed to slip myself and fall on my butt.  I caught myself fairly well with my hands and was unhurt, but I did cut my left thumb which I noticed when I saw some blood on my pants.  So I bandaged that up and we continued.  We ran across a few people as we hiked down, including a group of students we'd seen at the top.  They turned out to be UCLA students, so that was a good coincidence.  We told them we were math grad students and one girl said she'd be taking Math 3C this Fall, but none of us will be TAing that.  We never saw them again and it was dark by the time we reached the trailhead, so I hope they brought flashlights.

We reached the trailhead at around 7:40, so about 3:30 to go down, so about the same time I took last year, and carrying more weight (and of course I was the slowest).  I'd taken some Aleve at the top and although I had a little knee pain going down it wasn't bad at all.  So terrific to be able to make the descent without my hiking poles, and without much pain.

I turned on my headlamp when we reached the road.  I felt fine and just wanted to walk back to Curry Village, which I figured would be faster than waiting for the bus, but Will and Aaron were happy to take the bus if possible.  There actually was one bus stopped at Happy Isles just as we arrived, but it drove past us and seemed it was done for the night.  I'd thought the shuttle buses ran until 8pm, but I wondered if they stopped at 7pm instead.  Looking at the web now, it says they run until 10pm, but maybe the frequency is very low.  There did seem to be a bus with some people in it as we arrived at Curry Village, but I'm glad we didn't wait.

I made it back to our cabin just before 8pm, where I found my wife had indeed not gotten my message and was a bit worried.  But all was well.  We washed up a bit and then all had pizza together in Curry Village.

In summary, a fantastic climb, certainly by far the best I've ever done and I'll be lucky to again do something as great.  I may well do it again someday, and perhaps I can get to the point where I'd feel comfortable leading it myself.  My son had fun climbing around the small boulders in Curry Village the couple days we were there, so I hope I'll be able to take him climbing some day soon.


Total Time: 14.5 hours (5:10am to 7:40pm), trailhead to trailhead
Hiking Distance: 13 miles (about 1 mile was 2nd/3rd class scrambling) + 2 miles Curry Village to trailhead and back
Climbing: 1800 feet (800 feet roped class 5; 1000 feet unroped class 2/3)
Total Ascent: 4800 feet (4000 feet to 8800 feet)