Snake Dike - March 8, 2003

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.74610°N / 119.5319°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 8, 2003
Bob leading the 2nd 60m pitch

After seeing David's gorgeous Half Dome photo from Glacier Point at the end of January, my first thought was "what a gorgeous sky" and my second was "looks like time to climb Snake Dike!" I thought the low 2003 winter snow level made perfect sense to attempt a winter ascent of Half Dome. I knew Bob had attempted Half Dome several times in previous winters so I floated the idea with him and sure enough he was excited to check it out as well. Both Bob and I had previously been up Snake Dike once before, both in 2002 but on separate trips. Although we had discussed this in January and Bob's first available weekend was February 7-9, I had 3 weekends of ice climbing planned already so it wasn't until March 8 that our schedules would align for this climb. As it turned out, we made the approach, climb, and descent without ever seeing a soul - anywhere. Quite amazing really considering that there were 20+ people on Snake Dike when we each did it in 2002. I've even talked to people who had to wait 5 hours at the base of the route before climbing! Thankfully there would be no waiting or crowds on this trip.

I arrived at the Upper Pines Campground at around 9:30pm at which time Bob had just slipped into his sleeping bag. A quick brushing of the teeth and I was ready to sleep as well. In the morning, we left before sunrise and took the horse trail up to the JMT bypassing the traditional trailhead. Our first decision came at the Mists Trail junction. The Mists Trail was closed for the winter with "Rockfall Danger" listed as the reason, but we both decided to head up that trail anyway. When we got to the bridge, Bob noted how there's usually much more water passing through. Our next decision was whether to hike between Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick or go around Liberty Cap. We both opted to take the shorter route between the two domes. Although Josh and I had taken the use trail from the Mists Trail into the woods, I didn't remember where this was so we used Bob's beta which was to continue up until you run into Liberty Cap's face before turning left. Then we got to our first challenge, a hard snow field traverse. It was only about 15 feet wide so we didn't want to get out our crampons and axes. I went first and simply ran across before slipping and sliding to the other side. Then Bob came across. Of course, we took photos of each other here ;-) Then it was up between the domes and over the back side of Broderick to Lost Lake. We thought about hiking across the lake before scrapping that idea and taking the normal trail to the base of the route. I was a bit shocked to see the remnants of a forest fire all around the base of the route and we agreed it must have happened in late 2002 and been caused by a climber.

At this point the weather was simply amazing, warm with little wind and no snow. Instead of heading straight up under the roof this time like I did the first time, we headed up just below the roof to the left by a small tree where we set up the first belay. Going this way reduces the first pitch from 5.7 to 5.5. We discussed who wanted to lead and I had no problem letting Bob lead the first 3 pitches, consisting of the first two pitches and our first simulclimb pitch. Bob had been very interested in simulclimbing the route and had picked up 4 Tiblocs for just that purpose so I wanted to see how it worked. The first pitch went by fast but I paused at the 5.7 friction crux on the second pitch. I'm not sure why since the first time I just went by this section without thinking. I think it's probably because Josh had continued climbing up to a belay station further up and Bob had stopped just 8 feet across at the beginning of the dike - too much pressure ;-) In any event, I made it over and we started getting ready for the simulclimb. I had 1 Tibloc so that brought our count to 5. As Bob started heading up, I reconfigured myself into a hanging belay and watched him lead out the full 60m 9mm rope before following up. I'd have to say that simulclimbing is totally different than belayed climbing. Basically you are almost always moving and covering a lot of ground, there's no time to really stop and just hang out. You also get almost no time to look down to enjoy the scenery. The first time I looked back, I couldn't believe how high we had gone. By the time Bob ran out of Tiblocs we had ended up on a small ledge just an easy half pitch from the top of the route. Bob threw in 2 nuts for a directional anchor and headed up to finish the climb. I pulled out 1 nut but couldn't get the second one. Realizing that I had intentionally left my nut tool behind I searched for an alternate solution, finally using my Swiss Army knife to get the nut out. The length of time it took to get the nut out caused some confusion but once it was out, I climbed up to finish the route. We ended up finishing in 3.5 pitches including one long running belay.

Then it was off with the harness and class 3 slabs to the summit plateau where we ran into a large snowfield. We changed into our boots and headed up to the summit proper. After snapping a few photos, Bob headed down to check out the Cables for our descent while I had a Subway sandwich for lunch and then headed down as well. We saw where the posts had been removed and stashed up above before walking down the cables with some prussik back-ups. When we couldn't lift the cables out of the snow anymore, we set up a 30m rappel, strapped on our crampons, grabbed our axe, and rapped down the face before walking another 30m down to the shoulder. On our way off of Shoulder Dome, we lost the trail in the snow before going cross country and intersecting the trail just above Little Yosemite Valley before hiking down the Mists Trail back to our cars for some pizza dinner. Wow, what a day and what an awesome climb!

The following day we did some class 3 scrambling on Grizzly Peak before intersecting the Sierra Point Trail, reaching Sierra Point and continuing up until we ran into 5th class rock before turning around. Neither of us were familiar with any trail on Grizzly Peak so we were not only shocked to find it but guessed it had been abandoned. On the way down, we took the trail and found a rock slide that had destroyed a portion of the trail before running into someone who told us the trail was abandonded about 10 years ago. Some research on the Internet later said that the trail was abandonded about 40 years ago. In any event, Sierra Point is a gorgeous location with amazing views of Liberty Cap, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Illilouette Falls, Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and North Dome - quite amazing really. Highly recommended short hike if you don't mind some class 2.


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