Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hodgepodge 31/365 - Snake Dike

I have written elsewhere about my first climb and about climbing at Joshua Tree. Last night I watched the documentary Valley Uprising, about the history of rock climbing in Yosemite. It brought back fond memories.

One of the best climbs I ever did was Snake Dike on the backside of Half Dome, an easy (5.7) multi-pitch, mostly bolted route. Here's the description from the website SuperTopo:
"Snake Dike is the easiest technical climbing route to the top of Half Dome, the most recognized rock feature in the United States. Half Dome boasts an unreal summit, 5,000' of rise from the Yosemite Valley floor, and amazing views of the Yosemite and the High Sierra. This dramatic setting, combined with clean and exposed climbing, makes Snake Dike one of the most glorious moderate climbs on the planet. The long and aesthetic approach will take you past two beautiful waterfalls, through the backcountry and past an isolated lake to the southwest toe of Half Dome. The route climbs an 800' salmon-colored dike that wanders up the dramatic southwest face of Half Dome. The combination of a six-mile hike to the base, eight pitches of climbing, and a nine-mile descent back to the Valley makes a full-day adventure."
The "full-day adventure" is true. We set off early (immediately after the Curry Village bagel-and-coffee stand opened) from our campsite in the Valley, but by the time we arrived at the base of the climb, we were already third or fourth or maybe fifth in line—which doesn't sound too bad, but because this is an "easy" climb, you get beginners, and the first pitch is a little tricky, so . . . it can take a while. Waiting in the sun, I developed a headache, but someone had some Ibuprofen (the first time I heard the term "vitamin I") and soon I was good to go—though we didn't actually get on the rock until mid-afternoon.

Pitch 2. Photo by Paul Souza.
The climbing is straightforward, with a scary friction traverse on pitch 2, which I led, and otherwise lots of upward-trending runout (up to 75 feet between clips) on the pink "dike" for which the climb is named. Once we were on the route, especially once we gained the dike, it went quickly enough, I guess (I don't really remember!). It's supposed to take 3–4 hours, which sounds about right. The last few hundred feet are "class 3": a long trudge up the granite slabs to the top of the dome.

Looking down the cables.
Descent is via the famous Half Dome cables, which we arrived at shortly before sunset, having stopped to enjoy the amazing views from the top. Our nine-mile hike back was therefore in the dark, with headlamps. The most surprising thing about the descent was the large number of millipedes (Californiulus yosemitensis) that littered the trail. I had no idea millipedes were nocturnal, nor, until just now, that the ones we saw are called Yosemite millipedes! Learn something new . . . 

C. yosemitensis. Photo by Mark Leppen.
It's been a while since I've been climbing. I miss it. But I mentioned it to some friends, one of whom is pretty gung-ho, and . . . we might make an excursion to a nearby climbing area soon. I would love that.

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