The ‘thank god ledge’
Said to be ‘one of Americas best climbs’ and known around the world more famously as North Face logo, Half Dome is an iconic mountain and the shear north face gives some incredible climbing. We chose to do the route in expedition style taking 3 days hauling our gear giving ourselves more time on the face. It is possible to climb the 23 pitches in a very long day but you end up being very committed and if you dont finish you spend an uncomfortable night bivvying on a small ledge with no gear. We were pleased with our decision as 2 guys, trying in this style started the route at the same time as us, finished after us and gave a whole new dimension to the term suffering.
The first day involves a long walk up to the base of the route with heavy loads of around 60kg. Fortunately there is a spring running at the base so you don ‘t need to carry all the 20l of water. We fixed 3 rope lengths so we could make a running start the next morning and bivvied in an incredible spot underneath the shear face of half dome. It was a little nerve racking at night with the occasional rock falling and the raccoons scurrying around, stealing our food. The 2 guys attempting it in a day turned up in the evening and introduced themselves. We were impressed by their style and we thought that we should have tried in a day.
We made an early start around 5.30 to climb the 17 pitches to sandy ledge about 3/4 of the way up the face. We let the other guys go first as they were totaly comitted and needed to be fast, however it became apparent that they were nowhere near fast enough to be attempting to climb like that. After 5 hours of climbing the initial smugness from the 2 guys not having to haul a big sack turned to the grim realisation that they would be sleeping out on the face without anything warm, no food and not enough water for a 2nd days climbing. We all carried on climbing some great pitches mixing free and aid climbing. Mason and I should have been slower than the others as we had to haul our sack after climbing a pitch, but we were faster, waiting 20-30m each belay! We realised we weren’t going to get to the sandy ledge and would have to find a smaller ledge for the night.
Around 6pm we found a small and uncomfortable place to spend the night and decided to stay there instead of pressing on into the night like the others. Its much harder, slower and scarier to climb at night so we decided to wait till morning and carry on in the light. Not long into the night we heard a full on epic occuring, one of the guys was having a ‘Life and death’ crying and whimpering at the end of the rope for over an hour, hearing him shout up to his partner after an hour of struggling that he was ‘still at the belay’. We thought a helicopter would have to be called but eventually the whimpering died down, they must have got moving again and they must have found a ledge for the night.
After a couple of hours climbing the next day we caught them up and eventually passed them. They had shivered throught the night but were fine and they could carry on dehydrated, cracked lips and sun burned. We shared a little precious food and water with them and pressed on. The climbing on the 2 nd day is outstanding with massive exposure and the famous ‘thankgod ledge’ which you shuffle along back to the wall with a 600m drop below your feet. Probably the most memorable pitch of climbing I’ve ever done. After a few more pitches we topped out to great views of the sun setting. We finished any remaining food and water leaving some for the guys behind.
Just a long walk back to the car carrying huge packs completed a really enjoyable few days big walling. We had climbed the route well, in good style safely and enjoyed the experience immensely.