Trip Report: Running it Out on Snake Dyke

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Driving home from our climbing trip up the Snake Dyke on Half Dome, I was asked to summarize our trip in one word. Runout.

Climbing Snake Dyke in YosemiteWe left camp at 6am to start our epic day of hiking, bushwhacking, trail-hunting, worse bushwhacking, climbing, and eventually more hiking by moonlight. In our early morning grogginess, we decided to pack very light and only take exactly what we thought we would need…

This naïve underestimation of what we needed for the day caused us to have a very long and strenuous trip.

The hike in along the Half Dome trail was hands down the easiest part of the trip. Spirits were high and we were all smiles. Soon after the point where we left the main trail to follow the climber trail, the going got tough. With minimal and ultimately useless approach beta from our guide book, we became utterly lost. Rather than following the cairns that clearly marked a trail, we decided that following the vague directions of the guide book was a better idea.

We followed a small, unmarked path that approached the base of Half Dome by pushing our way through a seemingly endless wall of bushes. Upon reaching the base we rejoiced, thinking that the hard part was over. All that was left was to traverse across until we reached the start of our climb…. But thirty minutes of traversing the base revealed that we were very far off route from where we really needed to be.

9511f214-c0a3-4250-8a85-7a609c74a415So began our precarious descent away from the base of the mountain. Bushwhacking this time around was exponentially worse and it was clear that it was taking a toll on everyone’s morale.

Questions of if we were going to continue began to rise. We regrouped and decided that we weren’t about to get shut down by a few bushes. After another short period of wrestling with shrubbery, we finally stumbled upon the fabled ‘sandy’ switchbacks that were mentioned in the approach notes.

At this point, we were all too happy to be on the right path to care that the switchbacks were absolutely not sandy at all. We only lost the trail one more time before we finally reached the start of the Dyke itself.

The route was fairly populated for a Thursday. and we had to wait for several climbers to begin before we could make our start. The climb was more mentally challenging than physically.

The climb was more mentally challenging than physically. This was our first multi-pitch climb and my second time leading a route outdoors, as well as my first time using trad gear. As you can imagine, leading all eight pitches felt like one massive mental crux. The one

b1c00680-23b5-46d0-be03-89937751b015The one thought that was racing through my head was ‘You’re not going to fall.’ Most, if not all of the pitches are run out anywhere from 25 to 100 feet with about 4 total bolts, minus the anchors, for the entire 800 feet of climbing.

Once topping out at pitch eight, we gathered our equipment and began the equally terrifying 1400-foot free solo scramble to the top of Half Dome.

At this point, our under-preparedness was taking its toll. We had run out of water, and it was getting colder and darker. Topping out right after sunset, we knew that we were in for a long, cold walk nine miles back down to the car.

Of all things that we thought we were not going to need, leaving our jackets behind was the worst decision. A grueling five hours of frozen, zombie-esque stumbling down the mountain finally had us back to the car. A total of 21 and a half hours and 25 miles from car to car, our suffer-fest was over.

My advice for anyone thinking about Snake Dyke for the first time; don’t underestimate how long this trip will take you. Plan for a long, 20-hour day and bring the proper equipment to hike back out in the dark.

That being said, I strongly recommend this climb to anyone with a thirst for adventure looking for a way to step out of your comfort zone! As difficult of a time that we had, I personally had one of the most fun climbing experiences in my life so far. Half Dome’s Snake Dike lit my fire and made me even more stoked for my future in climbing and my dreams to someday conquer the Yosemite big walls. The mistakes and triumphs that we experienced through this trip have given me an unforgettable lesson in trip preparation and have left me stronger and smarter than before!

By Gavin Hettick. Gavin works at The Studio Climbing in San Jose. Swing by to swap stories of your first outdoor lead!