Regular Northwest Face, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley California

Introduction

The following is a detailed pitch-by-pitch beta taken from our, Mark Carroll and my, ascent of The Regular NW Face route on Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.  We did this climb during the first week of May, 1992.  I don't believe this is the best time to climb Half Dome.  It was probably too early in the season and we simply got lucky.  We're east coasters and didn't realize how bad the weather can get up there early in the season.  Ignorance is bliss.  But, we did have the entire wall to ourselves.  How often can anyone say that about Half Dome?

The way we climbed it, the rating was VI 5.9 C1.

The following information is probably out of date, although I have received email which helped me fix errors and keep this somewhat current.  Feel free to send updates to .

 

WARNING: Attempting to climb this route can get you injured or killed. Conditions of the route will and do change. Loose blocks fall, handholds break, fixed protection becomes unfixed and weather changes. Good judgment is your only safeguard against trouble. Information contained in this document should NOT be depended upon for your safety.

Downloadable MS Word file now available.  Click here.

Approach and Other Tips

Hike up from the Curry Village parking lot past Happy Isles to hook up with the Muir Trail. Follow the Muir Trail past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Campground to the junction of the Half Dome Trail. The shoulder of Half Dome is about another 2 miles from that point. The total hike from the valley to the base of the route is about 9 miles and is strenuous.  This approach takes more time than hiking up the slabs from Mirror Lake, but is probably safer.

If you bivy on the trail partway up, go at least past Vernal Falls (1 mile above Happy Isles) and get up early, horse tours start from the valley at around 6:00 AM. Excellent bivy sites are found on the shoulder of Half Dome just when you leave the main trail to skirt the base. Bivy sites also exist at the base of the route, but be careful of rockfall. There is usually a large snow bank at the base of the cliff until early summer (depends on the year).

Look for the sign, at the beginning of the rocky and sandy switchbacks, that says "do not go beyond this sign if there is a thunderstorm anywhere on the horizon...". At this point drop down right along the face for a few hundred yards until you are at the first pitch.

There should be water at the base of the route and along the climber’s trail which leads along the base, as long as there is snow runoff.

Pitch 1

Climb up the prominent crack system for about 50 feet, using a bay tree for progress, to a ledge with a bolt on the left and a pin on the right. Continue up the crack system for about another 90 feet or so to a small ledge on the right with fixed anchors (1 bolt, 3 pins). The pitch takes small to medium gear. The upper crack goes at 5.10c or C1 and has a few fixed pins. Easy hauling to the right of the crack system.

Pitch 2

Step left off of the belay back into the crack system and climb immediately over a steep section (5.9) into a shallow alcove. Climb up to and through a slot (5.9). Follow the crack system to a fixed belay on the left below some broken looking rock. 90’ pitch, takes medium wires. Difficult hauling through the slot.

Pitch 3

Weave slightly up and left and back right to a short right facing corner (5.8) directly above the 2nd belay. Climb the corner and face above to a belay behind a flake and below a right facing corner/arch. 70’ pitch. Medium difficult hauling.

* Don't go too far left when starting this pitch.

Pitch 4

Aid (C1) or free climb the arch (5.10+) to the base of a short bolt ladder leading up and slightly right. Follow the bolt ladder (C1) to a long reach to a piece of ratty cord hanging out of the bottom of the crack.  (The climb was retro-bolted after our ascent.  Most, if not all, of these ratty cords, bolts, long reaches and fixed junk have been replaced with big, new bolts.)  Long reach to the cord. Now either free climb the right facing flake/crack at an awkward 5.9 or aid at an easy C1 for about 70 feet. Step left across the top of the flake to a short crack leading to the belay with fixed anchors. 110’ pitch. The flake/crack takes 1.5 to 2 friends and 1, 1.5 and 2 tri-cams. Easy hauling once the pig is past the arch. Avoid letting the rope swing into the flake/crack while jugging the pitch.  We got our rope stuck here.

Pitch 5

Work up and left along a loose ramp to a short flare. Climb the flare (5.9 or C1) to lower angle rock. Follow the corner above past one difficult move to a large sloping ledge with fixed anchors. 90’ pitch, medium/small gear. Medium difficult hauling especially if the bag gets hung up on the shallow corners/grooves above the previous belay. The second should attempt to move the pig out onto the face on the left once hauling has begun.

Pitch 6

This is a very long pitch which ends up short (with a 50 meter rope) of the big sloping ledge at fixed anchors. Step off left up an obvious right facing corner. The corner starts off easy (5.5) and becomes loose, steep and dirty for about 30 feet (5.9 or C1). When the angle lessens, continue up the corner/groove (5.6/5.7) until you have about 10 feet of rope left. You should be at a couple of fixed pins about 10 feet short of the big sloping bivy ledge. Medium difficult hauling on this pitch. Avoid hauling the pig over the 2nd’s fixed line. Continue up to the large ledge above. Excellent bivy, use spare rope to flatten out any inconsistencies in the ledge. Two bolt fixed anchor.

* I've been told that the pitch 6 bivy tends to get a lot of rockfall, after we spent the night there.

Pitch 7

Start off the far left end of the bivy ledge and follow a shallow left facing corner/ramp up a low angle face until it ends after about 20 feet. Head up and right across the low angle face with no protection to the steep headwall at a short steep corner facing right. Do not climb too high on the left, the slings above and left are off route. Climb the steep wall (5.5) with good holds past a large block, turn right and climb another short headwall on good holds to a belay with fixed slings around a few sturdy bay trees.  Back them up with gear. Medium hauling, 100’ pitch. Avoid at all costs crossing the fixed line and haul line. Some sharp edges exist toward the top of the pitch.

Pitch 8

Step right off the belay and follow indistinct corners, ramps and bulges up and slightly left to a belay (5.4/5.5, 140 feet) on a nice ledge with fixed gear, ten feet short of reaching the main wall. Difficult hauling, the 2nd should try to stay with the bag.

Pitch 9

Climb down to the right reaching the main wall. Continue far to the right passing 40 feet underneath the "Robbins" bolt ladder on the next pitch to reach a 4th class ramp/corner system leading back up left to a belay at the base of the bolt ladder. Long pitch. Use of a tag line for the haul bag is recommended. Medium hauling once the pig is lowered out. Try to keep the haul line and tag line from being caught and snagged in the loose class 4 pitch. It's probably better to follow this pitch by climbing it, rather than jumaring it.

Pitch 10

Up the bolt ladder using long reaches at times. Make the pendulum point as high as possible to make the swing as easy as possible. There may be a fixed biner at the pendulum point. Lower out until you are about 2 feet below the small ledge system on the right. Swing over and grab the large side-pull bucket ( obvious). Work over another 10 feet to a good small ledge with excellent fixed pins (many). Easy hauling once the bag is lowered out.  80 feet, C1.

Pitch 11

Climb out right around the corner about 10 feet to a shallow left facing corner using tension or difficult free climbing. Climb the difficult shallow corner system (5.9+++ or C1) up and slightly left to a long narrow ledge (TCUs, small wires). Place good directionals and head right along the ledge to an obvious fixed belay station before the 20 foot high step is reached. Medium easy hauling after the bag is lowered out on the tag line. This noted in the guide book as a good bivy. I suppose if you were exhausted, you could sleep anywhere. Not a comfortable looking bivy, but sheltered.  90 feet, 5.9 C1.

 

*  I have received a few emails describing the pitch 11 bivy as anywhere from pretty good to outstanding.  It must not be as bad as it looks.

Pitch 12

Climb over right and up a short chimney. Continue right along the 2nd tier of the bivy ledge until you can place gear up and right to protect a move back left into the prominent left facing corner. Aid up the corner on medium cams and large wired nuts (C1) to fixed anchors (90 feet) on Arcturas. Swing around right to a short squeeze chimney (5.6/5.7, tie off a chockstone for protection) 20 feet to sparse fixed anchors in a short chimney at a sloping ledge. Medium difficult hauling after the pig is lowered out. Make sure the pig does not get hung up in the 5.9 death chimney to the right of the aid corner. Lower it out all the way onto the clean face under the pitch 12 belay.  120 feet, 5.7 C1.

Pitch 13

Climb straight up into a chimney that begins after 30 feet of 5.8 hand crack. Grunt up the chimney 90 feet to a prominent left facing undercling flake/block in the chimney. Either undercling or stem around the block (5.8), two fixed pins halfway out behind your head. Continue up to a stepped ledge in the chimney system with some fixed gear. Long pitch (140 feet) with good gear (medium/large cams and some fixed gear), but very strenuous due to the grunting nature of the chimney moves. This may be the most difficult hauling on the entire route. Keep the bag inside the chimney because of the pig eating flakes and corners on the outside. The 2nd will have loads of trouble trying to keep the pig from being hung up inside the chimney. The jugging on this pitch is hell, try using chimney technique for your feet while using the jugs as handholds. Also, watch for the haul bag/haul line running over the fixed line. Be patient on this one.

Pitch 14

Climb the short and very shallow chimney with a hand crack in the back, through the bulge above (5.8, 40 feet). Climb up to a bolt and belay or continue through pitch 15 (recommended). Pitch 14 is very short (50 feet). Hauling is not bad. Get the pig on the outside of the chimney for hauling.  50 feet, 5.8.

Pitch 15

Combine this pitch with pitch 14.  Continue up the chimney to it’s end (5.8, 20 feet). Climb up a right trending ramp (40 feet, class 4) to a belay with some fixed pins. Medium hauling on the outside of the chimney below the belay. Use a tag line to lower out the haul bag.  60 feet, 5.8.

Pitch 16

Climb up the class 4 ramp to the right until the angle increases. Layback, jam and stem the final 20 feet of this left facing corner (5.9 or C1) to a spectacular belay on the left with sparse fixed gear. Medium Easy hauling. The second should try to stay with the bag while jugging. 100 feet, 5.9.

Pitch 17

The "Double Crack" pitch. Climb down and right quite a distance (50 feet, class 4) to the obvious wide and shallow crack starting at a narrow ledge (possible bivy here). Climb this crack for twenty feet (5.8 layback/jam) to a small ledge and a fixed pin. Protect this section with either a #4 Camalot or small wired stoppers in the back of the crack. Holds in the back of the crack allow for more secure climbing. Step right to a inside corner facing left with a crack on the left face. Climb up this until you can escape out right on a ramp leading to Big Sandy Ledge (excellent bivy). Once the pig is lowered out, the hauling is medium difficult. Total pitch length is about 120’. The second should follow this pitch by climbing it. There are two reasons for this: First, the pitch has GREAT free climbing on it. Second, It’s a pain to follow this pitch on jugs.

"Big Sandy Ledge" is neither big nor sandy, but it does offer a fantastic bivy with a great view. The lowest ledge is best and has one fixed bolt. The ledge has plenty of cracks for placing extra gear.

Pitch 18

This is the first pitch of the infamous "Zig-Zag Cracks". Begin climbing in a right facing arch a couple of ledges directly above the bolt on Big Sandy Ledge. Look for fixed gear, pins and wires. This pitch follows the bow of the arching corner to it’s top (standard Chouinard hook will come in handy just before the tension traverse) where a tension traverse right to a flake and a fixed pin lead up another 10 feet to a good belay with much fixed gear. 140 feet, C1 or very difficult free climbing. This pitch eats many very small to medium sized wired nuts. Back clean or bring lots of extra small wired nuts. Fixed gear pops up just when you need it. East hauling. Great place for photos.

Pitch 19

Number 2 of the Zig-Zags. Climb up a short right facing chimney to a small roof. Step/undercling right and follow right facing corners over the roof to a hole with many flaky blocks and a couple of fixed pins. Continue up the overhanging right facing corner another 25 feet. Pullover a bulge into the "hole" for the belay (medium cams on this pitch). This pitch is the shortest of the three Zig-Zags and is about 60 feet long, C1 or very free climbable 5.10. The "hole" will be obvious, it looks like a slanted elevator shaft with garbage at the bottom and is about fifteen feet deep. This would be the best place to ride out a storm on this part of the climb. The belay will have a fixed pin on the right and a fixed friend (#3, I think) on the left. Moderate hauling, try to keep the bag away from the flakes on the face.

* With either 50m or 60m ropes, the three Zig-Zag pitches can be combined into two long pitches.  Climb through to midway up the second Zig-Zag pitch to a good stance and a gear belay with some fixed pins.  Continue to Thank God Ledge for the next pitch.

Pitch 20

This is the third and final pitch of the Zig-Zags. Climb out the left side of the belay hole. This pitch is similar to the first Zig-Zag pitch. Follow the right facing corner/arch to its top. The crack in the corner tapers down from about #3 Friend size to small wired stoppers at the top. At the top of the corner, tension right around a corner to a small ledge with a fixed pin. Continue up a right facing corner, past an overhang to a point where you can step around left to the belay just down and right of "Thank God Ledge". This is a long pitch, 140 feet, C1. One fixed pin and my stuck #2 friend will greet you at this belay. Easy hauling, wait for the 2nd to jug past the pig. Do not stop before the tension traverse to belay at fixed anchors above on the left. It will cause you to climb an additional short pitch.

Pitch 21

"Thank God Ledge". Climb left across this narrow ledge for about 50 feet to it’s far end. There is a two to three inch crack in the back of this ledge for protection. Free climb (5.9) or tension left and up into a short pain in the butt, 5.6 slot. At the top of the slot, move left to where you’ll find fixed gear for the belay on a sloping ledge. 100’ pitch, mostly traversing left (5.9 with maybe some C0/C1). The haul bag must be lowered out on this pitch. The leader and the second must work together to keep the bag clear of the loose ledges, block and flakes below Thank God Ledge. Hauling is difficult because of the logistical hassles. The 2nd may want to climb this pitch rather than jug it.

* It seems the consensus on the chimney rating is about 5.8.  We still think it's only 5.6 and awkward.  You be the judge.

Pitch 22

Free climb straight left off of the belay until you reach the fixed pin ladder (25 feet, 5.6 face climbing...great photo opportunity). Follow the pins up and slightly left, using l-o-n-g reaches and top-stepping at times, to a ledge system beginning at the left end of the visor (C1). Follow this ledge/ramp system down and left about twenty feet to a belay with 3 fixed pins. Pitch is about 80 feet long, 5.6 C1. Easy hauling after the bag is lowered out.

Pitch 23

Follow the class 4 ramp down and left for almost a full rope length to a good ledge with fixed anchors around the corner. Place gear for the 2nd, some fixed gear will be found along this pitch. Medium hauling after the pig is lowered out a full rope length. The 2nd should (down) climb this pitch.  It's easier and faster than jugging sideways.

Better way (P23):  Go straight up from belay.  Short 5.8 slab to short 5.6 corner leads to the top.

Pitch 24

Step left off of the belay to fixed pins and bolts leading up and right. Climb over a dike/ramp trending right to a bolt. Climb straight up from the bolt to a fixed pin in a right facing corner, on top of a large block. Follow the very easy corner system up and right until you run out of rope on a very large sloping platform 30 feet below the top (160 feet, 5.6 friction/face climbing). Difficult hauling due to the low angle. For the 2nd, low angle jugging. have fun.

A moderate mantle leads to class 3 block hopping up and right to the summit.

* Before you haul, walk back left until you are directly above the final belay. Haul from there.

Descent and Other Tips

Be careful descending the cables from the summit. If you are the sucker carrying the pig, you may want a belay.

Bring a cheater stick (or tape two nut tools together). If anymore bolts or pins disappear on these bolt ladders, you may have to place a new bolt or make an extra long clip.  You probably don't have to worry about that now, with the re-bolting done. Also, bring a hook or two, because you never know when one will come in handy. 

We only drank 1.5 liters of water/person/day on this route. The sun doesn’t hit the face until about 2:00 PM.

Gear List

  • 1.5 sets micro/brass nuts

  • 2 sets wired nuts

  • 1 each Tri-cams (#0.5-#2) or extra Friends (#0.5-#1.5)

  • 1 each of the three smallest TCUs

  • 1 set of Friends (#0-#3.5)

  • 1 set of Camalot Jr's

  • 1 set of Camalots (#1-#4)

  • A hook or two (you never know)

  • Plenty of runners and biners (20 full length runners/50 biners)

Conclusions

The approach may be the physical crux of this route. It took a lot out of us. We fixed the first two pitches and started up the following morning.

The first eight pitches are not even on the main wall. The climbing is actually on a kind of buttress to the left of the main wall. The 6th pitch is probably the most nasty, having loose and dirty climbing. It’s also easy to get lost on some of these pitches (in particular 3, 7 and 8). The ledge at the top of pitch 6 is a good bivy. Use ropes and extra clothes to fill out the lumps in the ledge.

The "Robbins Traverse", pitches 9, 10 and 11, is great climbing. The pitch 11 bivy does not look very good. It has a lot of blocks on it. The chimneys are strenuous to climb, haul and follow. Potential bivy 2/3 of a pitch below Big Sandy Ledge. Great bivy at Big Sandy Ledge. The Zig-Zag cracks offer the most spectacular climbing on the route...lots of exposure. You’ll hear tourists above you saying stupid things (how’d you get up here?...duh).

Good luck and stay tied in.

 

Copyright Scott Ghiz, all rights reserved.
15692-3-2-6-12-15