From the Land of Corn to the World of Granite

By: Nick Bahr
Date: 24 July 2021
Route: Snake Dike, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA
Team: Nick Bahr and Andrew Scott

When I found out I’d be working in California for the summer, I was immediately psyched to get some solid climbing done while I was there. Lucky for me, my now roommate, Andrew, would also be out there. Before the summer even started, we started making ambitious summer goals. One day at UB, Andrew proposed tackling Snake Dike, a classic Yosemite climb on the southwest face of Half Dome. When he brought it up he casually mentioned it was pretty run
out. This made me hesitant at first, but after looking at it on Mountain Project and Youtube, I decided it couldn’t be that bad. (Wow look at this bozo underestimating Yosemite climbing with zero experience in the valley.)

Two months into the summer and we had already gotten on plenty of California rock together. We bouldered at Castle Rock and practiced gear climbing/multi-pitch on some easy routes in Tahoe. I had visited Yosemite once to do some bouldering but didn’t get on anything serious. When a weekend opened up for both of us we knew it was time to go after the big one.

We left on a Friday afternoon and drove across the state. After parking just off the road near the park entrance, we went straight to sleep. We both knew the next day would pose an immense challenge.

Wakeup – 4:30 am
At the sound of our alarms, we both got up and silently started to prep. I packed up my tent, ate a quick breakfast, and hopped into the car. Neither of us had slept that well, but we were now wide awake. As we drove into the park, the darkness faded away and we began to see the valley walls rising on either side of us. Personally, the thing that really blew my mind in the valley was not the iconic faces, but how many relatively “unknown” rock faces there are to climb there. Of course, El Capitan and Half Dome were insane to see in person, but there were also so many other slightly smaller, but still incredible faces that I had never heard of or seen in climbing media. It was crazy to me that so much climbing potential could even exist in one place.

The Approach – 6:00 am

We were not alone as we started on the trail. Because the approach is the same as the Half Dome Cables hike, quite a few early risers headed up the trail alongside us. The approach is a 6-mile hike with 3000 ft of elevation gain. It’s a serious hike, especially carrying all of our food, water, and gear. I did not pace us properly, and we were both a bit gassed after the first 4 miles of steep terrain. We slowed down a bit and eventually turned off the main trail onto a less traveled climber’s trail. We followed the trail for a while but eventually lost it about a mile in. At that point, however, we could see our destination, so we scrambled our way through the final 3rd class sections and arrived at the base of the climb.

The Climb – 10:00 am
Pitches 1 and 2:

Before we started, we paused to eat a meal and pull
out our gear. We flipped a coin and Andrew won the rights to lead the first pitch. It is a 5.7, easily protectable, 130’ pitch. We roped up, and Andrew started up the face. He worked through some slab nerves, continued past the
traditional belay, and finished at an optional bolted belay
another 30 ft up. I followed his lead and continued past him onto another 5.7 pitch. It starts with an interesting traverse before moving up onto the first dike. These dikes criss-cross the face and we followed several during our climb. Once on the dike, I cruised through some smooth juggy pulls to the next set of anchors. Andrew followed up shortly, and it was time to get on some more serious stuff.

Andrew Racking Up for Pitch 1

Pitches 3 and 4:

Pitch 3 is the most challenging of the route. It contains the crux, a 5.7 friction slab, and is immediately followed by the beginning of the 5.4 runouts on the main dike. Andrew and I swapped leads and he headed out onto the slab traverse. This hard first section really worked him and we spent a decent amount of time here. When I followed, I could see why. Not only did it feel like every foot placement would immediately blow, but Andrew had also worked a bit lower than the standard route, putting his hands on the normal foot nubs, leaving absolutely nothing for his feet. Once through this section, Andrew hopped onto the main dike of the route and began heading up. A little ways up he clipped a bolt and then ran out the 5.4 to the next anchors. I followed, relatively quickly, and it was my time to get on pitch 4.

Pitch 4 was where it got real for me. It’s a 5.4, 140 ft pitch on the main dike. 5.4 sounds like a walk in the park, but the pitch is more challenging than it seems. The polished dishes covering the dike are a bit slippery and there are sections without the best spots for hands. The climb largely depends on finding good feet, stepping high, and trusting that your foot won’t slip. According to our topo, this pitch had a bolt about halfway up, but I couldn’t see it from where I stood. I knew this one was the most runout, but I figured I’d be able to get some additional protection in somewhere. I set off, comfortably working my way up the dike. As I got higher, I began to look for somewhere to place some gear. The rock, absent of any cracks, gave me no real options. I decided to keep climbing, figuring I’d find something a bit higher. Eventually, I found myself high above the anchor, at which point my standards for quality protection had decreased dramatically. A quarter of the way up the pitch I attempted to sling a couple of chicken heads. However, they were barely incut and would require me to fall on them perfectly downward for the slings not to slip off. That was if they even stayed on as I continued further upwards. After spending too much time trying to make something work, I realized it was not
worth it. Any other time I would never consider that level of protection any good. Then, however, I was desperately trying to sling some junk, wasting energy and becoming distracted from the climb, just because I was nervous. This was not the move. I took a deep breath and turned my focus to the climbing itself. Now, instead of desperately looking for any possible protection, I just focused on the movement, making sure I placed each foot well, weighting it, and standing up comfortably. Soon enough, I looked up and saw a bolt near my hand. Awesome! I clipped into it and the hanger immediately spun. Oof. After taking a deep breath I got back into the same rhythm. This period of time passed very quickly, and I don’t really remember much of it. Eventually, I found myself at the anchor. I clipped the bolts and then asked Andrew to take and let me breathe for a minute. That’s when it really all hit me. The first thought I had was, “Wow, I did not enjoy that”. Sure, I had the ability and was able to comfortably climb under the pressure, but that level of risk was not something that I liked. It was very interesting, because up until this point I had always been raising the bar, but this was where I realized where my limit is. I am not a fan of poorly protected climbing. Andrew followed me up, chill as always, and started to prep for his next lead.

Pitches 5 – 8

Pitches 5 through 8 went smoothly, but we slowed down a lot as we grew more tired. All four pitches are 100+ ft, still decently runout, and mostly 5.3 or 5.2. Andrew led 5 and 7, and I led 6 and 8. While our progress was slow, we were moving upward. Eventually, we found ourselves at the finish of the technical climbing. We were now just a scramble of 3rd and 4th class terrain away from the top.

The Scramble and Topping Out – 7:00 pm
For the final 1000 ft scramble, we huffed and puffed our way up the steep slope in bursts. We would push ourselves until our legs burned and then sit for 5 minutes. Then we would point out our next sitting spot further up the slope and push ourselves until we reached it. We finally reached the top of Half Dome around 7 pm, just as the sun was setting. We ended up spending about an hour on top taking in the view. It was as glorious as it gets. We gazed over the valley as the light faded away. Looking over the edge we spotted another party just finishing the classic northwest face, a much harder, more vertical route up the main Half Dome face; a goal for the future.

The Descent – 8:00 pm

We were exhausted, and after all that, we still had a 9 mile hike back to the car. We got down the Half Dome cables just before dark, but soon our only light source was our headlamps. The good part was that it was mostly downhill, the bad part was that we ran out of water. The focus of the hike quickly became just getting to the closest water station. It was rough, but we made it back to the car.

Completion – 12:00 am
At that point, it was midnight. According to our topo, it should take between 9 and 12 hours to do the whole hike and climb. It took us 18 hours. At least there was only one other party on the route all day, so we didn’t slow anyone down except ourselves.

In conclusion, Snake Dike is a top-notch adventure experience that I would highly recommend to the right person. However, I would suggest working your way up to it better than we did. We only did a few 3 pitch climbs outside of the valley to prepare. I would recommend doing some better protected multi pitch in the park before tackling this one. That way you are used to the exposure and friction slab climbing before you get on this route. Lastly, and more generally speaking, don’t underestimate this climb or any other. Educate yourself and talk to people who have climbed them before. I honestly went into this climb underprepared for the risk level that I found myself in. Make sure you don’t do the same.

Shout out to the climbing club for making this possible by allowing us to borrow gear and by turning me from a complete beginner freshman year to someone who could successfully take on a challenge like this. Specifically, shout out to Matt and Grace for taking me outside, Shao for teaching me how to lead, and Packy for getting me on gear. I learned everything from upperclassmen taking the time to bring me along and show me how it’s done.

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