Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome
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|Type: ||Trad, 23 pitches, 2200 feet, Grade VI|
|Consensus: ||5.10b/c C1 [details]|
|FA: || Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas, June 1957|
|Season: ||mid-April to late October|
|Submitted By: ||Nathan Furman on Jan 25, 2007|
Big granite, big aspirations...
Wanna feel like a hero? Here's how.
Get your gear and partner in order. Do an excruciating approach up thousands of feet, passing hundreds of knackered tourists from all over the world. Although a few will recognize you as a climber, most will look at you like you're a bit off in the head for shlepping an enormous, orange plastic backpack up the several million steps. And in many ways they're right, for you're about to pull off one of the most spectacular climbs on the face of our fair planet.
After you get your ropes and anodized knick-knacks settled at the base and take your last pee, cast off! A sea of rock; steep corners and blank faces; evening light and morning shadow; torn hands and no water to spare. Ledges that are just a little too small; gravity-defying rodents scamper about your face/head/neck and chest in the dark hours of the night looking for a wee delicacy.
At some point you're near the top. They probably see you first, because They are always there, looking down, looking out. They exclaim in surprise and are honestly stunned. They cheer, and jeer, and all of a sudden you realize you're the center of attention like rarely ever in your life. You're a hero.
Then you top out. Your partner jugs. You haul a bag that is, finally, light. And the questions come. Food and water are offered, and goddamn it, it tastes GOOD. The light is amazing. The view incredible...the elation is darn near making you float, and the reality of the brutal descent isn't even enough to dampen it a bit. Congratulations!--wasn't it worth it?
Most of the climbing is very moderate--cruxes are short. Route finding is involved but not difficult, especially with a Supertopo. Difficulties are substantial but can be solved via smart thinking and tenacity.
The Routefinding Crux --For me it was pitch 22. As the topo suggests, there is a smattering of bolts all over the darn thing. Trick is, it's hard to determine which bolts to use and which to forego. Seems as though folks have bolted different variations and knowing which bolt to pendulum to and which to pendulum from is a nit bit tricky.
The Technical Crux--Color me stupid, but the 5.8 squeeze at the after the Thank God Ledge traverse is something that no man or woman should need to endure.
The Psychological Crux--The aforementioned Thank God Ledge Traverse lives up to its billing. You won't forget it. Watch your rope drag, too.
The Physical Crux--Let's just say it rhymes with "falling" and "crawling" and it sucks the life out of you even faster than it sucks out the energy. Go light, or suffer.
Follow the John Muir Trail for about 7.5 miles until you get to the shoulder. Follow the climbers' trail downhill along the base of the climb for about 25 minutes. Identify the base of the route by picking out a bay tree (looks more like a bush) about 70 feet up in the middle of the first pitch.
There is a spring at the base of the route that runs from June to August, although it sometimes runs longer. It seems that about 50% of folks treat the water. The spring is great because there is no need to hike excess water to the base of the route.
2 sets of nuts
2-3 sets of cams to a 3.5".
Aliens are great on this route, but not as valuable as they are on many other Yosemite walls (there are less flaring pin scars).
There is fixed gear all over the place: ancient cams, stoppers, pins, and shiny bolts.
Most of the belays, especially down low, make use of fixed pitons and bolts and are pre-equalized with old rope as a rap-station. There are a few natural belays, most notably the top of pitch 7, which makes use of an oak tree that is a fair bit too small for comfort. It can be backed up though.
|Photos of Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome Slideshow
Nevada Falls on the Approach
Looking into the Sierra from the top.
Looking down valley
Looking up at pitch 13/14. Most of this is pretty...
A lazy afternoon at Big Sandy. Big Sandy is plent...
Andy up on pitch 2 (I think).
Andy scampering up pitch 8. This is the pitch rig...
Euan and Keith on the belay ledge for the last pit...
Leading up the last pitch, underneath The Visor.
BETA PHOTO: Looking back along Thank God Ledge
BETA PHOTO: Half Dome NW Face Regular route - Free Topo
On Thank God Ledge (Aug., 2002).
The NW Face in afternoon light.
Kevin Brown racing up the bolt ladder on pitch 10 ...
Steve Cox scrambling up the 4th class choss on pit...
BETA PHOTO: Detailed photo showing the route taken by the NW F...
When the face first comes into view coming down fr...
Steve Cox hand traversing Thank God Ledge. I foun...
Thank God Ledge, Half Dome. Photo: Bob Horan Colle...
Bob Horan starting up Regular Route, circa 1978.
SC ace Buddy Brasington in the chimneys
Not too bad of a bivy if you don't want to share B...
Behold the crazy tourist train. July '07
Brandi on the jugs for the Robbins bolt ladder dur...
Climbing the first Zig Zag pitch
photo by Scott Be...
Thank God Ledge!
Photo by Scott Bennett
On top after climbing the Regular NW Face
One of the pitches way up there
photo by Scott Ben...
Climbing the pitch above the Higbee Hederal
Committing to the 5.9 optional free variation sque...
Crawling along Thank God Ledge
BETA PHOTO: Hi-Rez version of the Free climbing topo
JA Hero Climbing on P17.
Nearing Big Sandy Ledge, P17.
Thank God Ledge, P21.
Nearing the end of Thank God Ledge.
Spectacular exposure on Thank God Ledge.
How I choose to remember Half Dome
On the approach
Waking up on Big Sandy
Starting out on Robbins Traverse June 1976.
Thank God! June 1976.
|Comments on Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome
|By Nick Storm|
From: Lander, WY
Jan 25, 2007
Thanks Nate for the great story and description...inspiring and funny. I will be a hero someday! I attempted a solo in mid-july last summer with a hand-drawn topo and not much beta on the route. Needless to say, I didn't know about the spring at the base. Yes, unfortunate, but true, I carried 5 gallons of water plus all the gear for the climb up the backside. See the photo for the results of such a ridiculous idea. Your info (and better research on my part) will help next time.
From: Sacramento, CA
Feb 21, 2007
You might try getting in touch with Micah Dash. He lives here in Boulder.
From the 2004 American Alpine Journal:
Half Dome saw more free attention this year , and the original 5.11d rating for the ZigZags is apparently a sandbag. First, Micah Dash and David Bloom made possibly the first all-free (entire team) one-day ascent. Dash rated the last ZigZag pitch at 5.12b/c or “Boulder Canyon 5.13b.”
|By Euan Cameron|
From: Redlands and Mammoth Lakes
Feb 22, 2007
rating: 5.9 C1
The zig-zags are doable but they are technical and sustained - no doubt about it they are hard. There is a fair amount of fixed gear in place which makes it easier, but your still need to place a fair amount of gear.
The zig-zags aren't the only hard part on the route. I climbed the route last year, freeing as much as we could, but it was beyond my onsite ability carrying bivvy gear as we climbed. Keith and I climbed every pitch, if the second had jugged with a bigger pack it would have been much better.
I've posted a topo with some info of your free options.
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Apr 2, 2007
Does anyone know which pitch was the original "undercling pitch", where said formation fell off about 10 years ago? I think it was pitch 13 or 14.
I remember it took us something like 3 hours to aid the three zig-zag pitches. Then this one-day team appears behind us, and French frees all three in like a half hour! This was rather impressive, and led me to have new found respect for French free skills.
From: Ft. Collins, CO
Apr 9, 2007
Solid French free skills are a must if you want to climb this in a day (unless you happen to be a bad ass free climber or capable of blasting through C1 aid). Our party of 3 did it in a day with the good fortune of having the route to ourselves - if crowded it would have been a much bigger challenge. We also spent the night before at the base and didn't sleep much due to bears rustling around very near us. We had our food hung in the trees, but that didn't provide much sleeping comfort laying there in bivy sacks. The next day on the route we could see the bears scavenging around our bivy spot, so beware. We went up the death slabs and back down the main trail - the slabs are without a doubt the best way if you're comfortable with pulling up fixed ropes and scrambling.
|By Jonathan Howland|
May 10, 2007
Taking issue with the previous remark, which disinclined (but didn't dissuade) me from attempting this route in a single day/push: I'm a (merely) competent free-climber and hadn't aided anything but a bolt ladder or two in 26 years (and still haven't). My good fortune -- an 11.5 hour ascent of the route last Sunday, 5/6/07 -- was hugely abetted by a partner who is competent-plus (places minimal pro and quickly) and fast, who led the chimney pitches and the Zig Zags, and yet: I led 6 of the 16 pitches we did the route in (70 meter rope, a little simul-climbing), and each of us free-climbed all the 5.10 and easier pitches apart from the second Zig Zag, which Jason mostly freed and I jumared.
This is to say, it's do-able in a day. The physical crux of the route is the squeeze chimney. The psych. crux is time, with the chimneys a close second.
I have more suggestions about HDiad for ordinary climbers, including detailed rack info.
|By Kevin Stricker|
From: Evergreen, CO
May 10, 2007
Hint. Don't Squeeze....stay on the outside of the squeeze chimney for a much easier and better protected option.
|By Scotty Nelson|
Jun 21, 2007
I think you meant "Thank God" ledge, not "Thanksgiving Ledge".
Thanksgiving Ledge is on El Capitan.
From: Ft. Collins, CO
Jul 11, 2007
My apologies to Jonathan for overstating the single day push. It's definitely very do-able and I'm glad I didn't dissuade you. It's just a long route and you have to keep moving. Nice job on your ascent!
From: city, state
Jul 16, 2007
This is one of finest routes I have ever climbed.
|By Sean Cobourn|
From: Gramling, SC
Aug 6, 2007
Route is much easier if you hire a mule to carry your stuff up to the rock. Some may call it cheating, I call it smart.
From: Petaluma California
Aug 30, 2007
I thought the RR on half dome one of the all time great routes too.
I found the end of the first pitch of the Zig Zags hard--probably about 12 A. I onsighted the rest of the Zig Zags--I didn't think it was harder than mid 11. We did the route in 7 hours, around 03; car to car in 14 hours.
From: Sacramento, CA
Oct 29, 2007
I would add that the "death slabs" approach is not really that bad and way faster than the grueling 7.5 mile thing around back.
Nuts are NOT necessary on this climb due to the fixed stuff. Doubles to #3 camalot felt very comfortable. We pitched it out without simul-climbing, aided the zigzags and some of another pitch down low, and made the route easily in daylight. I was a confident 5.10 leader and my partner was a confident 5.9 leader.
Apr 14, 2008
rating: 5.9 C1
Did the Technicolor Crux in a pouring thunderstorm. Feet were skating so bad that my partner said he had to "lock off and look away."
Memorable. Chossy in places. Heads up for missiles. I agree about the Death Slabs. The hike is humongous.
|By Bowe Ellis|
From: Taos, NM
Jun 17, 2008
rating: 5.9 C1
This is one of the three climbs in California that make me miss California. Without a doubt a classic, not for its rock (which is actually lesser grade for Yosemite), but rather for its line, its variety, is location, and its remarkable doability.
The best advice I received before climbing the RNWF is do it in a day and leave the wall gear at home. This also was the silliest advice, realized around pitch 14 when night was upon us and all we had were some space blankets. But this turned out to work and the frantic feeling of Day 1 gave way to an ease in Day 2 as we tackled the Zig Zags. This would be my recommendation to anyone - go light, but take enough water to survive 2 days. Skimp on everything you can, or else the chimney and endless traverses will teach you misery.
Some other suggestions:
Be competent at 5.9 lead, lead what you can, and yank on anything else . This is an alpine climb.
Fix ropes the day before - we fixed P1-P3, I believe. Then jug before dawn.
Take the 5.7 airy chimney - look for the bolts.
Use some French free. A great example for this is pitch 12.
Have a partner with a sick sense of humor. Remember, this is fun!
|By Dean Hoffman|
Sep 24, 2008
Any word on the spring? Still running?
|By rob rebel|
From: boulder, co
Sep 29, 2008
Spring dried up on September 24th this year
|By Colin Simon|
From: Boulder, CO
Feb 6, 2009
The airy chimney can be protected with bolts? Bolts on the outside face? Isn't it tough to reach outside when you're...inside?
Big bros then are pointless?
Also, consensus on nuts? Some people say none, I would think at least 1 full set, with some tiny stuff for the zig-zags.
I've heard bivvying at the base of the face is dangerous/scary as shit because of rockfall. Is there any alternative other than getting a wilderness permit and staying in Little Yosemite Valley?
Also, are the death slabs that dangerous if I've got jumars and my pack isn't too heavy?
|By Euan Cameron|
From: Redlands and Mammoth Lakes
Feb 7, 2009
rating: 5.9 C1
The main chimney pitches have lots of fixed (pegs) gear and take plenty if you climb inside them. I carried two sets of nuts and a two sets of cams and had plenty of gear - didn't need any big cams.
If you are going to bivvy one alternative is to bivvy at the end of pitch 6, it is actually a pretty good site for two, and you beat the crowds in the morning.
From: Vacaville Ca.
Feb 8, 2009
Colin, big bros would be totally pointless. I didn't use anything bigger than a #3 BD C4 and only had one at that.
The chimney pitches are mostly splitter hands, fixed gear and small stuff. I know, splitter hands/chimneys??? You'll see, you won't need anything bigger than a #2 in there.
Bring a set of offset micro nuts, they are very usefull on the zig zags, especially if aiding. The DMM peanuts are my small nut of choice, I've whipped on the smallest one. You won't need the tinyest of tinyest micro nuts, (like the BD micros or HB brassies).
The bivy at the base isn't that bad. Don't use the bivy sights within 50ft of the wall. Those are the crater zone bivy sites. Use the ones down amongst the trees.
The slabs approach isn't dangerous unless you make it that way. Providing the ropes are all there, stick to the left side when up in the "slabs" area. The trail's easier and you don't have to cross the steep talus above potentially knocking bowling balls down the slabs. That's the dangerous part, stick close by your partners and if someones ahead of you, put some distance between you and them or catch up really quick and walk with them throuhg the loose crap. Most of the route is a stroll through the woods. Only a short section has steep, wet slabs where veering off course would be dangerous. Luckly the trail's easy to follow. Needless to say, don't go at it at night unless your really familiar with it. The approach and decent should take about 2 hours at a moderate pace.
May 30, 2009
rating: 5.9 C1
"Shoulder" approach safety issue!
I was up there on 5/19-5/20. I approached via the John Muir/Mist Trail and descended to the start near the cables at the shoulder. There is still a big snowfield to cross just before you drop down to the NW Face proper, maybe 300 yards from the route's start. Currently, there is a rope fixed to a tree on the uphill side (side nearer the cables, not the start of the route). The rope runs across the snowfield in a traverse and appears to be fixed as a handline on the downhill side. WARNING- the rope is not fixed on that downhill side. If you attempt to rely on it as a handline, it will fail and you will pendulum down the snow toward the abyss. The rope needs to be fixed on the downhill side with a bolt or other gear. If you are going to be in the area with that gear, please consider fixing this potential threat to unsuspecting climbers.
I posted this in the Nor Cal forum also.
|By Joe Stern|
Jun 25, 2009
A few other thoughts on this incredible route:
1. Bring a bivy sack or tent body for camping at the base - if being excited about the upcoming 24 pitches doesn't keep you awake at night, the mosquitoes sure will!
2. Get a wilderness permit for the bivy at the base (from the Wilderness Center near the Ansel Adams Gallery) and take a bear canister with you. It's a little bulky to pack up the slabs, but it's the right thing to do.
3. Climb the thing in a day, sleeping at the base the nights before and after.
4. Rack for a moderately paced in-a-day ascent (we aided the hard parts): single set of smallest cams, double blue tcu to #3 camalot. Didn't need nuts, but obviously they can be placed.
5. Crux of the route for me seems like the bolt ladder pitch above thank god ledge (the second to last pitch of the route). Bolt placement requires either a hardish (>5.9) couple of slab moves to reach a higher pendulum point or a tricky (>C1) few traversing aid moves. This is the only section of the route where I haven't yet (after doing the route twice and climbing both options described above) found a 5.9 C1 method.
Edit after another ascent in 2012: #1 is questionable advice. No bugs in late summer/early fall and the weight of a tent/bivy might not be worth it anyway. #5 is also questionable. This time around, aiding the upper bolt ladder pitch seemed really chill and straightforward (C1).
|By Scott Bennett|
From: Colorado, etc
Oct 8, 2009
Some more free climbing beta:
This is a spectacular big wall free climb. There are 4 crux pitches, all checking in right around 11d/12a, and all with different styles. If you want to onsight, don't read any further.
-The first free variation starts at the 2-bolt belay right before the 5.11/A1->bolt ladder pitch on the regular route (P4). From the belay, traverse left, past an old bolt (11a), then up a dihedral. There's a wide spot here, a #4 camalot is very useful(11b). Belay just below the obvious Higbee-Hedral boulder problem. There's a fixed pin at the top of the 12' steep corner, with plenty of tat hanging down so that you can clip it for a top rope. A few moves of strenuous stemming lead to a sloping mantel (11d/12a). At this point, you can drop a loop of slack back down to your belayer and haul up the rack for the rest of the pitch, allowing you to have nothing on your harness for the crux. The remainder of the pitch is fun 5.11, mostly liebacking and stemming, trending right and rejoining the regular route midway through its 5th pitch.
-There's a long free variation around the Robbins traverse and bolt ladder. Continue up the prominent corner/gully system past the Robbins for about another pitch length. Make an exposed 5.10 traverse past some large loose flakes, and then downclimb a strenuous 5.9 corner (I thought the downclimb was harder than the traversing part, so maybe it's closer to 5.10). The downclimb drops you back onto the regular route, on the large ledge below the chimney pitches. There is some fixed gear with a biner at the top of the downclimb, the second should leave this clipped for top rope pro. With a 60m rope, you'll need to belay at the base of the downclimb (instead of the bolts 20' further along the ledge) in order to have enough rope for the second to make it down. With a 70m, you can belay at the bolts.
-There's a few variations to the first chimney pitch, which supposedly had some tight 5.9 squeeze on it. The crack to the left of the chimney can be climbed at 5.11, and apparently the short traverse back to the main route can be done free at a similar grade. I have not done any of these options.
The best way on this pitch, in my opinion, is to start up the chimney (easy and spacious at this point), and then traverse deep into the chimney towards a body-sized window a little ways in. Step through the window and pull up into a splitter finger crack (5.10)! Climb this until it veers off right, then make a short, face-y traverse (also 5.10) back left to the regular route. This variation is excellent, well-protected, and airy.
-The remaining chimney pitches and some easy traversing pitches (easy to simul) lead to Big Sandy ledge and the start of the ZigZags. The Zags are the meat of the tough climbing.
The first pitch features clean finger crack climbing for a while (11a) to a good stance. From here, battle up a short, thin, pinscarred layback to a distinct crux move (12a). A plethora of fixed nuts protect this section. Above here, one more hard move is encountered: a reachy 5.11 face move (the aid route tension traverses here).
-The second Zag is probably harder than 5.10 (as given by some topos). I'd say 11b. The crux of this pitch is pulling over a small roof. This can be combined with the previous pitch, as long as your careful with drag.
-The third ZigZag gives you two options: straight up the aid line (12+?), or out right on another thin crack (12a). The easier way goes right just off the belay, underclinging with good, but strenuous to place small gear (an extra blue or green alien is nice here). The difficulty eases as you turn from underclinging to laybacking, but there's a crux coming higher (when you're nice and pumped). As the angle of the corner eases, the crack pinches down and you have to make some thin moves. Above here, rejoin the regular route for some 5.10 crack climbing to the belay before Thankgod ledge.
-The final bit of hard climbing comes on the slab/bolt ladder pitch after TG ledge. Climb the steep slab with small, slope-y holds past the closely spaced bolts (11d). After clipping the bolt with all the tat (the one the aid route penji's off of), you have to make a short run to the next bolt (10' or so, a bit exciting). From that bolt, continue up to a horizontal crack system, then traverse easily left on it to the belay.
One more wandery 5.8 pitch and you've sent!
Jan 15, 2010
I think my life goal is to do this climb...
Mar 4, 2010
Thank you Royal!
When we did this route. It was our first bigwall, the adversity that was faced fatigue and dehydration was our own faults. Which also pushed us farther than either thought was possible.
That said. The climbing was spectacular and seemingly neverending. Which is a good thing.
|By Colin Simon|
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 17, 2010
Go with singles for camalots 1, 2, and 3. I'd go light on the nuts as well (nothing smaller than medium nuts, like a #9 BD). Heavier on the quickdraws and alpine draws. Also a camhook was nice if you're aiding.
Aug 25, 2010
the spring is still running as of 8/24/10
From: Bellingham, WA
Sep 16, 2010
i read some posts about the 5.9 squeeze chimney being the crux. I climbed the route yesterday and found all the chimneys to be well protected. I forget what pitch it is, but at some point you have the option between 5.9 or "airy" 5.7. I did the 5.7 and found it very enjoyable with good fixed gear.
A purple c3 took a body-weight placement for the "C1+" on the 2nd to last pitch. I found the crux was actually reaching to clip a piece of tat hanging off of one of one of the penji points on that pitch... i stretched for 5min while high stepped in my aider before I could reach it... bring a medium hook if you're less than 5'8'', unless i am missing something (boulder-strength possibly).
I don't remember why I brought 2 #4 camalots, but I never remember placing more than one of them... If i were to do it again, I'd think about leaving the #4 behind... only one spot in particular where it was convenient.
|By daniel c|
From: San Francisco, CA
Nov 10, 2010
Here's a link to our trip report. Part photo documentary, part mega beta pack, part Big Backpack Strategy handbook should you be interested in doing it in that style. Tons of photos of the Death Slabs and the climbing route. Enjoy!
|By Mark Wenzel|
Nov 12, 2010
I recall thinking "eff the squeeze", and just pulled out into a layaway and fired off the ten feet or so. Also, no need to crawl the ledge as there are thin edges about three to four feet down that turn it into an easy hand traverse.
I think we were the last party to climb the flake before the bolt ladder / pendulum, I recall cracking the flake pretty badly as I reefed on the top... thought I was going to crush my belayer before casting both of us to the valley floor. We did it in late October, the flake finally fell that winter.
|By Fat Dad|
From: Los Angeles, CA
Jan 13, 2011
Given the historical nature of this route, the page should be amended to include the names of the first ascent party: Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas. Climbed over five days, starting on June 24, 1957. Rated the first Grade VI in North America, though subsequently downgraded to a Grade V. The first ascent party was greeted at the top by Warren Harding, who had made an earlier attempt and was ready to try again with Mark Powell and Bill "Dolt" Feuerer before Robbins and party snagged the ascent.
Jul 7, 2011
Most fun I've had since the Dead stopped touring. Don't haul a bag! What a pain in the ass that turned out to be. I felt some of the fized gear on this route was pretty manky, but most of it can be backed up where necessary.
|By Matt Desenberg|
From: Wells, Me
Oct 23, 2011
Finally climbed this over the summer. Really fun; easy aid stacked on top of an alpine rock route. Half Dome is one of a kind!!
|By Jim Reynolds|
Dec 15, 2011
I opted for the 5.9 squeeze over the 5.7 airy chimney. It was definitely the most intense part of the entire climb. There was no protection the entire way and it was HARD, not to mention painfully sustained.
I would not recommend it unless you are very proficient at squeeze chimneys. In comparison, the 5.8 after Thank God Ledge is a walk in the park. It is awesome if you like that kind of stuff though
Mar 7, 2012
FA: Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas, Mike Sherrick, 7/1957
FCA: Doug Robinson, Dennis Hennek, Galen Rowell, 8/73
FFA(except last pitch): Jim Erickson, Art Higbee, 1976
FFA(complete): Leonard Coyne, Dennis Jackson, Doug Lorrimer, 5/1979
Sep 11, 2012
Spring still running as of 9/5/12 despite the dry summer. We didn't think it would be and carried 50 lbs of water up the slabs, which was brutal and hot. Had the route to ourselves. Simply an amazing and humbling experience that reminds me that I need to be in better shape!