Gumbies on Half Dome: a Regular Northwest Face Trip Report
Yosemite National Park,
July 15-19, 2007
By: Tad Hunt, with help from Derek Lee and Patty Phan
Pitch by Pitch Beta
We were about to embark on our first real bigwall experience. Patty and Derek had climbed Washington Column twice before and bivied on Dinner Ledge. The second time I joined them up to Dinner Ledge and rapped back down to the ground because I needed to be at work the next day. Good experience, but not really preparation for the climb we were about to jump on. We left the Bay Area late in the evening, and hit the road, arriving at Hardin Flat around 11PM, where we crashed for the night. I figured I would have a hard time falling asleep, flush with anticipation and nerves, but I didn't have any trouble and was out like a light.
Woke up early, cooked breakfast, and headed into the Valley. I took turns with Derek switching between carrying the haulbag and his huge heavy pack. Lucky Patty got to carry almost an equal size load, including the Florescent Green Poop Bucket.
After packing up The last few things on the pig, I started hiking at about 7:00 AM. I humped the pig up to the top of Vernal Falls. Derek caught up to me somewhere about half way up the endless staircase. My ass muscles (Glutes) started hurting about 5 minutes out from the parking lot, even before I started the uphill battle on the trail. Lesson #1: The haul bag with about 65 pounds of gear in it is very uncomfortable. I was so glad to get the pig to the top of the falls and give it to Derek in exchange for his 65 pound pack. No less heavy, but more comfortable.
After chatting with the tourists ("you guys are crazy!"), we took off up the trail with Derek in the lead. I caught up with him before Nevada Falls. We took another break at the top of the falls, and Derek continued with the pig across the flats past the backpackers camp, and part way up the steeps on the far side. Then I took over and humped it up to the '2 miles to half dome' trail junction. Derek took over again, and carried it the rest of the way to the saddle.
We waited there for our friends Jeremy and Dan Truong to meet us with some extra gear they were kind enough to carry up. Jeremy led the way to the base, down the climbers trail with me following. It seemed to take forever, but we finally made it. The afternoon and evening was spent filtering water, cooking dinner, and figuring out our plan of attack. Originally we were going to fix three pitches following the hike, but we were wiped out, and there were a bunch of other parties busy fixing or planning on blasting off early in the morning.
The spring at the base was running and is just left of the bay tree at the start. You can't miss it! The water was nice and cool. We ended up pumping 8 or so gallons, 6 of which we stowed away in the pig.
The route was pretty crowded. There was a party of 3 Spaniards from the Barcelona area planning a two day ascent, a party of two (Chris and Nicole) who fixed three pitches today, and another party of two guys (Ken Zeemack and Doug Sprock) that arrived up the Death Slabs minutes after we dropped our packs.
We decided to go last in line on Sunday to start fixing, and not blast off until Monday. The other parties negotiated amongst themselves, with Ken's team going first, followed by Chris and Nicole, followed by the Spaniards. Chris and Nicole had 3 pitches fixed so they passed Ken and Doug who only had 1 pitch fixed.
We started up following three other parties. The team of three Spaniards planned to start around 5:30AM or so, but they didn't get off the ground until about 6:45 AM. Their third climber didn't clear off of the P1 anchors until about 8:30AM. We started climbing shortly thereafter, around 8:45 AM. Derek took the first pitch, and the adventure commenced! Our plan was to climb and haul the first six pitches, then and rappel and fix on the way down. Things went mostly according to plan. The sun was pretty low by the time we climbed and hauled to the top of P5, so we decided to stop there. We left most of our gear there. Derek went first, and fixed the ropes on the way down. Patty went second, and I went third. We finally landed around 8:45PM as the twilight faded. We left the pig and most of the gear (except a few cams and slings to backup the rappel anchors) at the top of P5. Using an auto-block backup was key to safely rapping the skinny 8mm static line.
It took a bit of practice to get the hauling efficient. On P1, Derek set the anchor too low, the system had a twist, and the ascenders had little clearance to slide on the rope before hitting the cliff edge. He also forgot how to set up a 3-1 system. Derek had a hell of a time hauling on P1 because we had not yet learned know how to build a good anchor to haul off of.
I went second on the first pitch, and I didn't start climbing the second pitch until around 11AM. P2 was enjoyable, though I pulled on gear pretty extensively after I got past the initial easy section. No shame here! Our goal was to get to the top in any way possible. Hauling wasn't too bad on P2, although we were doing 1-1 hauls, and the second had to unstick the bag a couple of times. We should have been doing 3-1 hauls to make things easier while the bag was heavy. We started using the Spanish Burton later in the game when Patty helped us remember how to rig it, and it made a huge difference. We didn't really return to 1-1 hauls until the final push when the haulbag was much lighter.
P5 was also a fun lead, again with some easy climbing off of the belay to a 5.9 section where I again pulled on gear. By the time we all arrived at the top of P5, the sun was nearing the horizon, and we decided it would be best to rappel instead of climbing up to P6. This was our first exposure to the beautiful orange sunset painting the rock that would be our partner for the next few days.
The day began at 3:45AM when we groaned awake. We ate breakfast and started jugging the fixed ropes by 4:30 AM. This was the first time we had jugged so far, and the first time on fixed ropes without enough slack in them to tie backup knots. Our solution to replace the backup knots was for the first two (Derek followed by me) to back ourselves up with a Gri-Gri below the lower ascender, and the third (Patty) to tie knots as usual as she unfixed the bottom ends of the rope and brought them up with her. The Gri-Gri method is almost as safe as tying backup knots, with the exception that the Gri-Gri probably would not catch an upside-down fall. On the plus side, once we got about 15-20 feet from the anchor, the Gri-Gri self fed, so we didn't have the hassle of stopping to pull the slack through or tie knots. Jugging 550 feet took us quite a while, but we finally made it to our stash of gear at the top of P5.
Around midday, when I realized how slow we were going, I asked my partners "so... What's the turnaround point? When do we decide to bail? Time and Pitch?". Sensing for themselves that it was a long way to Big Sandy, they stonewalled me: "We'll decide later"... "Let's just see how far we get." ... "We're not going down!". Of course they knew that once we were even higher, the chances of turning around dwindled, and that I would be committed by then. I'm glad they blew me off, it ended up being an awesome climb, even if it did take us over twice as long as expected!
Patty started P11 just as it was getting dark. She noticed Derek was really tired (another lesson: keep eating and stay hydrated throughout the day) and decided to take the hard C2 aid pitch. Patty first tried to go up the right facing corner just to the right of the belay ledge. She ran out of holds and pitched off taking a 8 foot fall. She then went further right, aiding off a bad piece to get across the face. She then headed up and eventually got in a bomber #0.75 Camalot behind a flake. She moved left into the right facing corner and placed the red Omega Pacific Link Cam. She then set the red Zero, and back cleaned the link cam. While trying to place the link cam again, the Zero popped and Patty went flying down, taking a 20 foot whipper. Her nerves were shot and she almost gave up, but after a breather, she exclaimed "I got greedy and used my hands in the good crack!". She tried again and was able to set a bomber nut. She finally made it to the ledge and I seconded and Derek followed a bit later.
Patty gave an amazing performance -- continuing after two falls (one big whipper!) the hardest aid pitch on the entire climb, and she built a great double anchor system (one for hauling, one for us) up on the bivy ledge. Derek's comment: "Patty was a rock-star on P11!"
Whoo. What a long day. Our goal was P17, Big Sandy, but we barely made it to P11 by 11PM, where we bivied. I had a hard time cleaning P11, because I didn't know how to use the easy aiders to clean a traverse (another lesson: lengthen the straps which will uncross your feet and take the weight off of the lower ascender). I was also pretty sketched out and tired from the long day. I had a hard time transitioning from the vertical jumaring, to climbing the horizontal ledge system at the top. I remember asking Patty how hard the traverse was, and how good the piece at the start of the traverse was (#1 or #2 camalot I think) since I was about to clean the piece below it, while hanging on it, and it was the only thing keeping me from a huge pendulum if it pulled while I was on it. Did I mention that I was sketched? Patty said the right things to keep me calm, and once I committed to free climbing up onto the ledge, my sketched-ness disappeared, and it was indeed pretty easy.
By the end of the day, it was clear that we needed to put Patty in charge of rope management whenever possible. She was so much better at it than Derek and I. At anchors that Patty built, we never ended up with tangled ropes that needed re-stacking and they always fed out to the leader cleanly. This was not usually true for Derek and I. We would usually have to re-stack the ropes once or twice, and fight with tangles around the haul line and the other ropes seemingly endlessly.
I definitely lucked out on the bivy ledge. I had the flattest spot. Of course it had it's drawbacks... My head and shoulders were in the end of the chimney, which wedged them in tight. I kept waking up because my shoulders were falling asleep from the pressure. And, did I mention that I got the 'piss-smelling-spot'? No? Yup, I got to sleep with the smell of urine all night because we all pissed off of my end of the ledge. I can't really complain though. I put on my Ipod, and was asleep long before the first song ended. Patty got the short end of the stick on the bivy spot on this ledge. I took the spot closest to the chimney, Patty took the center, on an uneven rocky area, with a big hole between it and the wall (termed the pit of despair) that we filled with all of our loose gear and then shoved the pig in on it's side. Better than the hole, but not particularly comfortable! Derek got a mediocre section at the other end of the ledge. We probably got around 6 hours or so of sleep, before we were up and at it again.
Another long, long day. Derek really enjoyed the chimney climbing, and everything went well until we ended up with a rope management nightmare in the upper chimney after running out of rope running P13-P15 together.
The first problem was that the haul line ran in the chimney for P13-P15, when the haul beta recommended hauling outside the chimney (very good advice). So we spent a while flicking the haul line back and forth trying to get it out of the chimney. Eventually, just as we were about to give up, we got it out.
That wasn't the end of our difficulties. The third's jug line (mine) also ran in the chimney, and since Patty cleaned all of the gear for Derek to use on the next pitch, (since we naively thought he would be climbing before I got there) my rope didn't travel safely enough for jugging. After some flicking that got us nowhere except for lodging the rope deeper in the chimney, Derek eventually had to rappel down the face far enough to flip the rope out then jug back to the anchor.
The long jug on P13-P15 varied between pretty easy (back against another chimney for the first part), followed by a very steep steep vertical-to-overhanging section, followed by a practically free-hanging section near the top, right before I came up-and-over into the top of the chimney.
As usual we had a big clusterfuck of ropes all tangled up and snared in cracks below the pig. Patty was still working on them when I got there, and then wouldn't you believe it, but my rope got stuck in the same cracks. I had to down-jumar about 5 feet (turns out this would be good practice for later) barely had it cleaned up and untangled it from everything else before it was time for me to start jumaring. By the time I climbed to the top of P16, it was full on dark, and we still had one pitch to go to Big Sandy. We were pretty psyched now though, because we were so close to our goal for the day.
Derek had an awesome and bold lead on P17: the double-cracks. He climbed by the light of two headlamps (luckily, I brought an extra). It starts with a class 4ish downclimb from the belay onto a big flat ledge before the real fun. The crack begins with a wide (tipped out #3.5 Camalot which gets better higher) crack that you layback by pulling on recessed holds, right above the ankle breaker ledge. The first problem was that the #3.5 was in our anchor. We didn't realize this until Derek was on the ledge after the downclimb. Doh! Luckily, I was able to replace the #3.5 with the #5 and send the #3.5 down to him on the zip line. He walked it up as he went, as that was the only piece that worked there. It was tipped out for the first 10 feet. The #4 would have been bomber. Because of the way the climb went (a traverse right-and-down before going up) chances are that a fall anywhere in the first 30 feet of the crack would result in a ledge fall.
Derek really enjoyed this pitch, so much so that he kept going up when he should have bailed out to the right up a ramp onto the bottom tier of Big Sandy. He ended up on a small ledge above Big Sandy, and had to climb down-and-right back to the anchor. I went second on this pitch, and after getting a belay on the downclimb from Patty on the static lowerout line (which she kept tight so there to avoid a possible shockload), I jumared up the crack to Derek's high point, before realizing that in approach shoes, the topout and subsequent downclimb onto Big Sandy would be pretty sketchy. I then down-jumared about 15 feet (another lesson: what a pain in the ass!) to the ramp, and self belayed with the ascenders up the ramp to Big Sandy. This turned out to be a good idea anyway, because I was able to use some of gear to direct Patty's rope it from getting wedged in some cracks.
Finally by the time we all arrived on Big Sandy, it was after 2AM. We were too tired to cook dinner, so we downed some snacks and then crashed. Since Patty had the worst bivy spot on Monday night, she had first pick, which was the top ledge the furthest away from the edge. I got the bottom tier: the most exposed, but flattest ledge. Not a problem! I was asleep the moment I turned on my Ipod and settled down. I think the top tier turned out to not be so comfortable, because as I settled down, Derek called down asking if there was any room on the bottom ledge. I replied in the affirmative, with the caveat that I got the flattest section They elected to stay where they were. Yeah, and guess what, I had to sleep on top of a dried up puddle of urine. Some dickhead pissed on the bivy ledge instead of off the edge. Asshole. Luckily (if you can call sleeping in a urinal lucky) it wasn't too bad, because it was after all -- Big Sandy. I scooped up a bunch of sand (tiny granite flakes, really), and spread it over the urine, which worked pretty well. Anyway, I was so beat that a flat spot was luxury!
Morning arrived way too soon. We're awake and moving by about 6AM, after a roughly 3-4 hours of sleep-like-the-dead. We skipped breakfast, instead just munching on some nuts and energy bars. I belayed Derek back up his off-route traverse from the night before, so he could clean the remaining gear. By the time we started climbing P18, it was about 8AM. Patty belayed Derek as I re-packed the haulbag, which was noticeably lighter and emptier with the all of the crushed water jugs.
We were down to just under 1 gallon of water left in the haulbag after filling the water bladders and the Nalgene. We also added a tea bag and cran-razz energy drink mix to the Nalgene. If you try this, note that it doesn't taste great, but it gives you a nice cran-buzz. Since we weren't expecting to spend another night on the wall (who were we kidding? How long could 6 pitches take, anyway?) I packed the sleeping and cooking gear low down in the haulbag, and kept our coats and the food near the top. This turned out to be a good choice.
P18-P20 were fairly straightforward aid (for us) pitches. Derek had a difficult tension traverse on P18, which he backcleaned enough that Patty didn't need to lower out, and Patty had a traverse under a roof on P19 just off of the belay. She enjoyed her pitch so much that she kept going past the end, and didn't realize it until she was about 30 feet into P20. She lowered back down to the alcove, and built a clean but cramped belay. I jumared to her high point (this time remembering how to clean the traverse on the easy aiders), and then clipped directly into a piton and a fixed nut while Patty put me on belay and pulled up the slack. Compared to the previous day in the Chimney's we had full sun exposure after 2PM and it was getting hot. The alcove was a nice shelter from the sun.
P20 was a lot of fun. The aid climbing was very straightforward and the rock was great. I had a scare near the top, when I had to go from aid-to-free to step up into the belay. I detached my right easy aider from the last piece, and then took it off of my foot. I then unclipped my left aider from the piece and clipped it to my harness, then took it off of my foot. I made the free move up the crack, and then got this sinking sensation in my stomach. "Oh Shit!", I thought, "I didn't clip my right easy aider to anything after I detached it". I looked down from a fairly strenuous position, and there it was -- pinned between the rope and the rock. With some careful downclimbing and pulling on gear, I was able to barely reach it. Phew! Hauling was easy on this one. I actually had the haul bag at the belay, and the ropes all stacked before Derek arrived after cleaning the pitch. Yee-haw!
As the day wore on, ominous thick dark clouds were building up over Tuolumne and Glacier point, blowing westward down the valley from behind Half Dome. It looked like the two banks of clouds were connected somewhere behind the cliff Blue sky remained above us all day though, so we got lucky, but we were apprehensive most of the afternoon and evening.
Next up was P21, which starts with a traverse across Thank God Ledge, followed by a squeeze chimney. Derek started out walking across the ledge, but before long was inchworming his way across. He started climbing shortly before Patty finished jumaring up to the top of P20, and she had the #5 Camalot needed for the chimney. He gave it a good shot anyway and then decided that the #5 was necessary. Patty was at the belay by this point, so we sent it over on the haul line, being careful to keep the haul line out of the rope-eating-ledge below Thank God Ledge. There must have been at least 10 cut ropes hanging off of that thing.
By now, we yet again were well along into the beautiful orange light, which meant darkness soon. Derek hurried up the rest of the chimney uneventfully. Since we were running out of daylight and dark clouds threatened, we figured it would be faster if I followed and Patty jugged. Somehow (it made sense at the time, I swear!) I ended up with Patty's daypack, perhaps because it was smaller, so we figured it would be an easier grovel up the chimney with it. In any case, I quickly followed, stopping on the ledge just long enough to take a photo on the way across. I started inchworming early on, and was moving along fine, until the crux of the traverse. While trying to clean the #3 Camalot, I got it jammed in the crack. After a couple minutes of futzing around with it in a fairly strenuous position I decided "screw it, we have another one left, and we've gotta get moving. Besides the next pitch is a bolt ladder, and the last pitch is just 5.7. I'll buy Derek a new one". So I left it and kept going, finishing the traverse uneventfully, and then grunted my way up the chimney with a pause or two while I huffed like a locomotive to catch my breath. Let me tell you, climbing a squeeze chimney with a pack on is hard work!
Just after I arrived at the belay, we realized that I had Patty's headlamp (in her daypack, of course!). Doh! By now it was pretty much twilight, the beautiful orange glow had faded, and she still had to do a huge lowerout for the pig and then for herself. By the time we had the pig hauled far enough for her to start it was full on dark. She had to do the lowerout and the subsequent jug (which included unsticking the pig from the chimney) in the dark without a headlamp, and we didn't hear nary a complaint. There's a term for someone like that: hardcore. Patty certainly earned the title many times over on this climb.
Our systems were finally starting to come together. Derek was off and climbing within a gear exchange and a rope stack or two after I arrived at the belay, just before the twilight faded so much that the colors were gone. I actually belayed and hauled at the same time, and tried to keep the haul line from getting tangled up in Derek's lead line, and Patty's jug line. Belay-belay-belay... Holler to Patty to check on her progress... Haul-haul-haul... Holler to Derek to check on his progress... Stack-stack-stack. Shuffle... Repeat. Oh yeah, and from time to time, look at the view. We're finally -- on Day #3, as darkness claims us -- getting our systems dialed... Well, that's what it looks like until you hear this next part.
As dusk turned into night, all of the clouds threatening clouds disappeared, and small little puffy clouds appeared in the valley below us. The temperature started to drop and the wind picked up.
Derek had an mini adventure on P22. Initially traversing a little too far left off the belay, then finding a missing bolt (the fourth of five) in the first ladder, and learning how to use the easy aiders to aid climb. Yes, that's right, for some reason we decided to not only exchange my pack with Patty's, but Derek also had her aiders, and she had his. So that jugging in the dark with no headlamp I mentioned before? Yeah, that. She had to do that with the sucky-fall-off-your-feet aiders. Did I mention that she is hardcore? Anyway, back to Derek. We brought a cheater stick, so he was able to clip the top bolt with a bit of work. Next up was a short pendulum, to a move that the super topo says this about: tricky cam hook or offset nut move. So, according to Derek, the cam hook was bomber, and now he trusts them much more. Before long he was moving on up the second bolt ladder.
While Derek was on the second ladder, Patty arrived at the belay after unsticking the pig from the chimney (which sent it on a nice swing over to the belay) and groveling her way up. What a sight she was, as I got her a headlamp -- ropes stacked and hanging all over. She looked more like a rope monster than a human! Anyway, as you can imagine, we had a bit of rope stacking to do to untangle the mess. I would hazard a guess that this restacking took at least an hour or more. In the meanwhile, Derek had made it to the belay and was ready to haul in short order. He pulled up the slack in the haul line, but we had him hold off hauling until Patty jumared to a point above the haul line because the ropes were crossing.
Eventually we had the ropes untangled, and Patty moved off the belay and began cleaning the pitch. Once she got high enough, I started lowering out the pig as Derek hauled. Our haul beta assured us that this was an easy haul, just lower out the pig and haul away. Reality is never so easy. If you plan to haul this pitch, keep in mind that about 15 feet left of the belay, there is one downward pointing flake/horn, and wouldn't you know it but we got the haulbag strap jammed up about 10 inches behind it (not that we knew it then).
It went something like this. Envision the position. Three climbers in the cold, windy, darkness on the side of a cliff, about 100 feet apart hollering back and forth:
Derek: The Pig is stuck
Derek: [after hauling the shit
out of it, I know because I could hear strange grunting noises from
time to time] still nothing, it won't budge with me bouncing it on
the lowerout, and Derek hauling with all his might.
Derek: Uh... how do I do
Tad: Uh..... Setup a mini 3-1
haul in front of it with the ascenders
Patty: [Arriving at the bag] Yo
dudes, it's stuck under a lip, you have to lower it
Patty: Shit! The strap is
jammed about 10 inches up behind a downward facing flake. It's
impossible to get the pig unstuck without lowering it!
Patty: OK, I'm gonna come
up now... Wait! I could cut the strap!
Big lesson learned here, and one that Patty picked up on right away. When the pig gets stuck, do not ever haul the shit out of it. Be prepared to lower it off of whatever it is stuck on. Hauling it as hard as possible takes all of the stretch out of the haul line (even static lines have quite a bit of stretch to them), and make it nearly impossible to get tension off of the haul system in order to lower the pig. Also, (and we didn't think of this at the time so it's a damn good thing we didn't unlock the Traxion), make sure you have a backup prussic on the tension side to hold the weight while you unlock the haul, otherwise the pig will go for a fast ride down to the end of the haul line, then rip the belay right off the wall.
Thursday began sometime while we were on P22, dealing with the stuck pig. The story left off with the pig finally breaking free thanks to Patty's thinking (I would say quick thinking, but hey... it took hours to unstick that thing!). By then it must have been well into the early morning hours.
After the pig arrived at the belay, and my line was fixed, I setup the lowerout and then tore down the anchor. I was moving pretty slowly at first, being very careful to setup the lowerout with help from Patty talking me through it from above to make sure I didn't screw anything up. This is was the longest lowerout yet for me, although I think at least one of Patty's was longer. While my headlamp was very dim, at least I had one!
After the lowerout, I pulled the rope, coiled the rope, and hung it from my harness before I started jugging. The jug was pretty steep, but uneventful. I was glad to make it to the small ledge that Derek and Patty were on.
We were definitely into the coldest part of the night by now. The small wispy clouds below us hovering over Yosemite Valley turned into chilly cold clouds rushing up the face past us. The only saving grace is that the wind wasn't howling, so I never got too cold.
When I got there, they both looked completely wiped out. At least Derek finally had a wind shell on, so he wasn't quite so cold. We were all operating at about a tenth or normal speed. I offered to lead the final pitch, which turned out well. After racking up, I took off my wind shell, and left it with Patty because she was extremely cold.
I was excited to lead this pitch. The first part of the pitch is a very slabby slab protected with a tiny crack along the bottom of a roof. It goes at something around 5.7, and has a few fixed pitons. Since I was so tired I aided this part. Luckily we had plenty of tiny gear with us because I needed it, including a micro nut in a sketchy placement where the crack switched from horizontal to vertical. We had only a single micro nut, so after I made the next placement I backcleaned it in case I needed to use it later. After the initial section, the difficulty eased off and I was able to get in some bigger pro. Bigger meaning up to about the red Wild Country Zero.
Eventually, I had to switch from aid to free to finish up the slab. It ends on a long ledge with a piton, just after you come out from under the roof. I stopped there, and consulted the topo. Hmm. Which way to go? It looked like up-and-right would go, but left-and-down was also an option. I hollered down to my partners to see if they knew, but they didn't have any better ideas than I did. Suddenly, I saw a light above. There were tourists up on the top, looking over the edge! "Yo, nice night eh?", I hollered. "Yeah!" I received in reply. I thought I was looking for a pendulum, or possibly a traverse to the left, but at least now I knew where the top was! The topo shows an arrow pointing down-and-to-the-left at the end of the roof, so I clipped the piton and went left.
The ledge was about a foot wide, and I must have walked it at least 40 feet, over some grass and mossy sections, before it jogged down steeply. Hmm. I thought, this can't be right. Back up to the Piton to reevaluate. I decided that my original up-and-right thought must have been correct after all, so I plugged in a cam, clipped it, and unclipped the piton. The rope drag was already pretty bad, and I thought that the piton would make it worse. Up I went, eventually finding a stuck cam right before topping out on a ledge.
I followed the ledge over into the corner and stopped to evaluate my next steps. The rope drag was horrible, and I still had the “mantle move” left to do. I could see it, climb up under a roof, then mantle onto another ledge. Wait a minute, I could actually start to see some stuff that wasn't illuminated by my headlamp! Dawn was practically upon us! The horizon was starting to glow.
I strenuously pulled up about 25 feet of rope and left it in a pile at my feet. Then I plugged in a cam or two and climbed, pulling the mantle (which was quite fun), and and doing some more scrambling around a boulder sitting atop the next ledge up. I was pretty sure that this must be the top, but I couldn't find the bolt shown in the topo (it really is there, Patty and Derek found it later).
"Whooo!!! Yeah!!!" I hollered down, I'm on the top! "Whoooo!" echoed back in reply. Now I just had to build an anchor. Hmm.. no cracks... no bolt. Now what? Eventually I noticed that the next ledge up had some huge broken blocks on it, so I clambered up there, pulled and pulled with all my might to get some slack, and slung one with the rope to build the anchor. This took a while, and by the time I was ready to belay Patty up, I didn't need my headlamp anymore.
Eventually the anchor was built and extended back onto the ledge I was on before. "Patty, belay is on!" I yelled down. "Climbing" wafted back up, and then shortly thereafter "up rope"..."UP ROPE!". The rope drag was so bad that I couldn't feel her at all. What I thought was the last of the slack -- wasn't. Pulling up the slack was so hard that I eventually resorted to basically putting her on a haul, with an upside down jumar on the rope to pull up the slack with. Even so it was hard work, and I was down to my T-Shirt by the time she arrived at the belay.
While hauling Patty's rope up (not the same as hauling Patty!), one of the tourists scrambled down to our ledge and gave us PB&J sandwiches.... and a jug of wine! The sandwiches hit the spot (even though Patty's got stolen by a critter when we weren't looking!), but one small swig of the wine was enough for me to say "woah!, that's enough of that!".
Finally, Patty was at the top, and just Derek was left down on the face. Patty built a haul anchor, and we decided that I would haul, figuring the hauling would be more difficult than belaying Derek up. I took up the slack, and Derek lowered out the pig and up it came. Anyway, after some sillyness with Derek rapping down from the anchor or some such thing, and trying to climb back up, (but giving up because the rock was all wet -- remember those clouds? as the sky brightened all that moisture condensed on the rock), and jumaring instead, he was on his way up. Patty was having a hell of a time pulling up the slack, even using the haul system I setup to bring her up. So, we switched places and I belayed and she hauled.
Shortly after 5AM, Derek finally topped out and joined us. I left the belay at about 2AM, so the last pitch took 3+ hours for us to climb and haul. It started getting light just as I reached the belay. According to the sunrise calculator I later consulted, that must have been about 4:19AM.
We hung out at the top for a while chatting with the tourists and basking in the sunlight, happy to be on level ground again. Topping out at dawn was awesome, and made the struggle completely worthwhile. It seems your memory becomes selective the moment you get to the top. I was psyched, where for the past few days I was worked, and miserable half the time.
Our work wasn't yet done however. Now Derek and Patty had to we had to marshal the pig down the cables, and I had to hike back to the base to pick up all of the gear we left down there. I packed up a load in my daypack, taking as much as I could fit, including a rope. Patty and Derek took the rack everything else in the pig. I headed down, and was at the base by about 10AM.
While down there, I ran into a party just getting ready to fix the first few pitches. They congratulated me on the ascent, and graciously refilled my water bladder with some water they had just finished pumping. I packed up the gear, noticing that there was a green C3 sitting on top of Derek's backpack, in full view. I thought that somewhat strange.
As I started back up the climbers trail, I ran into two climbers that gave me high fives in congratulations. It turns out that they bivied at the base, and started up at first light. They listened to us holler back and forth all night, and said something like "you guys did awesome, you held it together, nobody panicked, you stayed safe, you're all still friends, and you made it to the top!".
That's right, you heard correctly -- they started up at first light on Thursday morning, and were back down at the base by around 10AM the same day. That climb that we started on Sunday? They did it in 4 hours. It took us 4 days (depending on how you count)!
I later found out from Supertopo their names are Jon and Dana. If climbing Half Dome in 4 hours wasn't enough, they finished the day by climbing the Nose on El Capitan, doing the both of them in a total of about 18 hours!
As if that wasn't enough, they also returned all of the gear we left on the route! Remember the #3 Camalot I got stuck? They handed it back to Derek and Patty at the top of the cables, along with a nut we got stuck, and some other stuff we left for the lowerouts. If that weren't enough, that green C3 I found on Derek's pack, that's a cam we dropped sometime Monday, that they found at the base. Awesome guys, returning booty gear like that!
I hiked back up to the saddle, and relaxed for a couple of hours while I waited for Derek and Patty to work their way down the cables. Turns out that they started a bit too late, and the cables were already clogged with tourists. Patty belayed Derek down on the outside, and eventually we were all back together.
We hung out there for a while, then repacked the pig and the backpacks with fairly equal loads and headed down the trail. I started with the Pig and humped it down to the river. I could walk because I wanted to get to the river and jump in before the sun got too low. I made it there, stripped down, and jumped in. Ahhh. luxury. I swam around for a while, then climbed out and dried off. Shortly afterward, Derek and Patty showed up dropped their loads and jumped in. The river was extremely refreshing, and exactly what we all needed to recharge for the rest of the hike.
I traded the pig off to Derek, and we headed down the Muir trail. No staircase for us on the way down. Somewhere below Nevada Falls, I took the pig because it was hurting Derek's back. Then we decided it was getting late, and we wanted to get down faster to make it down for dinner in the Valley. So we all started running. I don't remember who started it, but once we started we didn't want to stop. I ran with the top heavy, un-balanced pig leaning left and right. The tourists must have been stunned to see us. 3 grungy, dirty, climbers, running down the Half Dome trail after 6 days in the backcountry, still wearing the same clothes we started in. Running, mind you, with 65 pound packs on our backs!
We made it back to the parking lot around 7:15PM, and ended up eating dinner at the bar because the cafeteria was closed and the Mountain Room had a 45 minute wait.
After dinner, Derek drove around the Valley for a while, looking for a campsite. Derek was pretty much falling asleep driving, and we couldn't find any open sites. So I took over, and drove us out to Hardin Flat, where we crashed around 11PM, making for roughly a 40 hour nonstop day.
We forgot our food in the bear box in the Half Dome parking lot, so we drove back to the Valley, arriving early enough to eat breakfast in the cafeteria. After breakfast we picked up the food from the bear box and drove home. Lucky we got home early enough because it was Danielle's birthday, and a bunch of friends were all meeting for dinner to celebrate! What an adventure!