Team Tuberculosis on Half Dome
The sticky glob of phlegm finally came forth and landed on the ground.
I wanted to admire the hard work of my lungs, but we were jogging.
Yes, jogging up the first part of the approach for Half Dome- packs
on and it being only 6:20 in the morning. What had I gotten myself
into. There was Bruce, Brutus, Sir Bruce of Wyde, trotting up the trail
several yards in front of me. There I was, slowly dragging my already
tired and sweaty body. I could already feel the tweaking muscles not
quite recovered from a summit of Rainier just five days earlier.
We were on our way to the Salathe route on 1/2 Dome. Six(turned out to
be seven) pitches with a 10b crux roof and an "R" rating for bad skimpy
pro. I felt way out of my leage(I was!). I hadn't climbed a thing all
year. Just one day of some top roping about a month and a half ago. But
Sir Bruce had offered and I just couldn't resist. Being home from Seattle
for only two days, I was out again. I guess this is what impending marriage
can do to a man... :) don't tell the wife to be about this comment.
Eventualy the pace "slowed" to a fast walk as the trail started to steepen.
I was still valiently trying to keep pace with Mr. 44 magnum rope gun(great
name Greg). We were passing all sorts of tourists. Mostly they just stared
blankly at the two saps hacking they're way up the hill. Both Bruce and I
are still recovering from sparing with colds recently. This was fun. Nothing
like a brisk hike to clear the lungs.
We trudged along and found ourselves at the first belay and a nice pool of
freshly melted snow water at 9:30. We had made *good* time. Good for me
at least. Bruce didn't seem very phazed at all. He didn't waste any time
and was already headed up the first easy 5.5 pitch before I could even put
him on belay. Quickly I rushed and had him on about 20 feet before reaching
the next belay. A quick stash of the extra gear and another swig of the cold
melt water and I was on my way to adventure. Up the blocky corner I went to
Bruce at a nice stance.
The topo for the next pitch mentioned a 5.8 crack up to a 5.7 hand traverse to
some 5.9 up a ways to a belay. Hmmm, looked a little confusing. After 20 or
so feet, I traversed over. I think this pitch can be done a number of ways,
but none of them match the description too well. I ended up in a wide flaring
off-width sized crack. It would have been easy to lieback my way up it but
I was having some serious rope problems. The was a nice pinched off crack at
the start of the flare that kept sucking in the rope. Had I just gone for
the lieback I can imagine getting about five feet higher into a desperate stance
only to find the rope hopelessly stuck. I was forced into off-width stance-
one hand in awkward arm bar mode, the other clutching the rope keeping it
running free. After 15 feet I was able to clip a piece and force the rope
on the outside of the slot. Then after much grunting I extracted my body
from the flare and was in lieback mode. Finally able to move I headed up the
rest of the flare. Now I was just at the base of the 5.9 face moves that were
supposed to be the last 30 feet of the pitch. But I didn't have anymore rope.
As I said, the pitch didn't match the topo too well. Off to the left I saw
what might have been the "5.7" hand traverse. I dunno, it looked a lot harder
than 5.7. Nothing for the feet. So unable to really do anything else, I
set up the belay(did I mention this route is R?). Not the most solid belay
I've ever set up but it would do. Bruce cruised the pitch- as he would the
whole climb. We swapped the rack and he headed up the thin face moves into
the first crux of the climb.
The next 165' of the climb consisted of some of the most strenuous 5.9 climging
I've ever done. The pro consisted of body weight aid placements in shallow
pin scars. The mighty Brutus casually sauntered up the pitch shoving brass
nuts and clipping screamers to the really bad pieces. Luckily, I had a set
of aliens- we took the four smallest sizes. I'll say it again, these are THE
pieces for valley cracks. Nothing else seems to fit quite as nice in old
shallow pin scars like aliens(no I don't have stock in CCH). I was happy that
I didn't have this lead when it was my turn to clean. I believe that it was
Frank Sacherer and Bob Kamps that had the first free ascent of this climb.
We remarked that this was definitely standard "Sacherer 5.9." It was well
worth every decimal number it had. My left foot ached. The best jams along
the pitch were just big enough for about one and a half knuckes of the last
three fingers with the left foot toe-ing into the corner and the right foot
smearing on the face. What a great pitch.
I cannot say the same about the belay! One quarter inch star-drivyn bolt
and a couple of small pieces(some brass maybe a number two stopper). Eegads!
I didn't know the R rating was for the belays! :) Ahead was the technical
crux of the climb. Another thin corner of pin scars(10a) and then a nice
10b roof. We had already established that I would not be leading this pitch.
Bruce and I exchanged ends of the rope and he headed up the delicate pitch.
The scars were even shallower on this pitch than the last. The pro was worse.
Everything had a screamer attached to it- all six screamers we had saw service
on this pitch. As Bruce neared the roof I heard a scream of delight. There
was a rest spot. As I found out, just barely a rest spot- more of a small
edge that you could stand on that counted as a rest when compared to the
rest of the pitch. Bruce climbed up and found a fixed pin beneath the roof.
Clipping that he looked above and found another fixed piece just over the
lip- clip. Back down to the "rest" spot. Then he was off and around the roof
in about 4 moves- impressive. After another couple of moves he was at the
"belay." The belay turned out to be anothe 1/4" star drivyn, and two lowe-
balls!!! Oh yeah, and a completely psychological tcu that was basically
useless. What a joy. After setting things up, I was ready to wimper my
way up this pitch. After my performance on the 5.9 below, I was worried about
the 10b above. I moved cautiously but steady not wanting to flame the arms
before the final moves. The jams from below had now deteriorated into pinky
"smears" in the corner. Once or twice, the jams opened to accept a whole
knuckly of one finger- Yeeee-hay! I got to the rest spot sucking wind.
I could see Bruce peering over the lip.
"I hope I can pull this off."
"No problem, you can do it."
I worked up under the overhang. Left arm around
the lip into a precarious jam. Not only was this thing hard, the rock was
a scaly mess of decaying granite inside the crack of the roof. I hesitated,
I could feel the burn. No time to waste- a steady stream of beta flowed
from Bruce, "High step to that sloper on the other wall."
My left foot was now even with my head, sweat was pouring from my hands
stuffed in the crack. In short, I was in a state. Grunting the whole
way, I actually got my hips above my foot smearing on that wonderful
sloper. "Go for the hand jam, the hand jam."
A quick reach to a bomber full hand slot and I was over the roof! I had
actually managed to pull this damn thing off. Then I saw the belay- not
one of those inspiring moments in life. We were on a roll, but now I was
even more gripped about the next lead. I couldn't see where to go. Again,
the topo mentioned going up then traversing right on 5.9 unprotected face.
Bruce and I agreed that it would most likely be best to traverse right off
the belay than going up- it looked grim higher up. We decided that I should
do this lead first climbing 15 feet up the crack above to set a piece and then
doing the traverse with more or less of a top-rope. Then Bruce would follow
facing a big pendulum.
I don't think I've ever mentioned that I absolutely SUCK at face climbing.
I'm not so good at any kind of climbing, but I'm especially bad at face.
I climbed up, set a piece, down climbed to the belay and that is when the
whining started. I muttered over and over how bad I hated face climbing.
Bruce, true to form, offered all sorts of encouragement. Out the traverse
I started. I wish I had a magnifying glass to spot the holds. I only had
about 15 feet to go to get to a knobby less angled section of rock, but the
way proved troublsome for me. Withing inches of the knobs, I lost control.
I was gripped and I was weak. I was especially weak in the mind. I found
myself in a contorted half lieback move that I wasn't prepared to finish.
I let go, penduluming back towards Bruce and that shitty belay. At least the
alien above held. I was dejected. I felt awful. I shouldn't have let go.
A serious moment of weakness. I hung there for a few minutes hating myself
for blowing the moves and then tensioned my way back to the point of peeling
off. It was only now that I noticed just out of reach the completely bomb-
proof two inch pin scar just above the knobs. One move from my high point
and I had the slot and I was on the knobs. What a lame ass I was. Over to
the ancient bolts. Clipping in long slings and screamers I looked above for
the way to go. Two dikes both unprotected loomed above. At leaste the angle
wasn't bad anymore. Bruce and I chated on which way to go and I chose to
go up and left. Another quarter incher was stickin half way out about 30
feet above. I walked along the airy dike(this was actually kind of fun)
clipping the bolt with yet another screamer. A few moves later I was at
a decent stance and an okay belay. I was ready to bring Bruce up. From
the belay his rope ran dead horizontal for over 40 feet. It would not be
a pretty fall. Bruce said that he had rigged some sort of back clean
self protected traverse that I didn't want to know about. He worked the
traverse with a semi-self belay with a prussik on the rope. Nice bit
of technical rope work on his part. I was happy to have been on lead instead
of screwing with a funky belay. Turns out his "pro" consisted of two knotted
slings jammed in the shallow groove of the last belay- OUTSTANDING!
From here the climb becomes easy again. Bruce headed off the 5.5 arching
corner above. The pitch was dispensed with quickly and I was on my way.
At the belay we made a quick transfer and I was off on the last 5.4 pitch.
Soon I was at the end of the rope only another 40 or so feet from the unroping
spot for snake dike. We yelled back and forth and decided to just simul
climb the last bit of low 5th class terrain. Up to the pine tree I went
and sat down and set a quick sanity belay to bring Bruce up the final stretch.
Now all we had was 3rd class friction- FOREVER- to the top and another 9 miles
out to the car. We tried to head up in our rock shoes but both of us stopped
after 10 feet to put the tennies back on. My feet were screaming. I've got
to remember to clip the ingrown toenails BEFORE heading out to climb.
Up at the top of half dome we once again began passing the tourists. We
exchanged banter about climbing up the "wrong" side of the dome with the
various tourists that wanted to know why we had all that funky gear with us.
A quick tank up with some more snow melt at the top and we were off down the
real crux of the climb. This was my first trip up half dome and I've heard
some interesting things about the cables down. After having done them, I
don't like them! Period! We actually found better footing by going on the
outside of the cable route. The inside is just far to polished. I even
lost traction with my 5.tennies on. Once again, passing tourists all the way
down the cables we caught the trail and started to hustle towards home.
It seemed to last forever, my body was tired, I was sunburned and I was hungry.
13 hours after leaving the truck, we were back down. Quickly packed, we
were sitting in the lower falls parking lot eating crackers with cream cheese
and smoked salmon(Bruce never fails to amaze) drinking cold beers and cooking
the most yummy tacos I've ever eaten. :)
What a hell of a day. After being well satiated on food and drink we headed
for the camp site running into Gnar-Gnar girl herself Inex Drixelius. Seems
as though she had her only little adventure on the Kor-Beck route up Middle
Cathedral route herself, but I'll leave that one for her to tell!
Once again, the regular wreck.climber types have not failed to provide a
great adventure and even better conversation and laughs. My thanks again
to Bruce for taking me on such a great climb that I would never have been
able to enjoy otherwise.
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