Half Dome via Snake Dike

16 Jun 1999 - by David Ress

It was the Stoic that suggested we climb the Snake Dyke, and, while I had to immediately agree, I had some initial reservations. The route had a reputation for being seriously runout, and my friends came back speaking of a hideous approach replete with brush covered and exposed death slabs. And, just the notion of climbing a lesbian reptile done in granite was a bit daunting. What if the darn thing didn't like being climbed upon by a smelly male climber and started to writhe a bit? I blanched at the thought!

It was Gatorgal who saved the day. When she expressed interest in the endeavor, I was quite thrilled. Her gender and reptilian credentials seemed likely to soothe the Snake Dyke enough to allow us all safe passage.

Thus, it was with a happy heart that I set out with my two friends to engage the great Dyke. We left at 6:15 AM from near Curry Village. The approach proved to be surprisingly straightforward. We followed the Mist Trail until it came close to the base of the Liberty Cap. It was then easy and pleasant to follow a use trail along the base of that formation all the way around into the chasm between Liberty Cap and Mt. Broderick. In this chasm, we encountered a small stream, and a short bushwhack, but the going was generally quite pleasant to Lost Lake where we picked up a very well ducked use trail that aimed directly toward the bulk of Half Dome. Diligently following this generally obvious trail brought us directly to the base of the climb. The trail takes the highest line possible on occasionally 3rd class ledges to reach the SW shoulder of the dome. The entire approach took us very nearly four hours.

Remarkably enough, we were the only people at the base of the Snake Dyke. There are quite a number of prominent extrusive dikes on the rock in this area, but the grand Snake Dyke herself is the most outstanding. We looked over the the route topo, racked up and took off. I took the first lead, and, like an idiot, attempted to follow the silly route marked in the guidebook. This was a mistake, that cost me several minutes of wandering around to establish some kind of protection for a runout leftward traverse. While I was nervously fiddling around, three other teams suddenly showed up, and practically ran up alternate routes around me. Two of these fast teams started farther to the left, climbed straight up to a small tree, and then diagonaled rightwards to reach the first belay. This was by far a more sensible, less runout version of the first pitch.

Unfortunately, the third party wasn't so fast. While the two fast pairs of climbers disappeared rapidly, this party was no faster than our own, so we waited for over half an hour for them to get out of our way. I hoped that they didn't anger the Dyke!

I got off route on the second pitch, getting myself seriously runout on 5.8 friction, but the consolation prize of this foolishness was that I got to climb the very bottomost tail of the Snake Dyke. After the thin friction, I found her knobular contours to be a sensuous pleasure. My massage must have been acceptable, because the great Dyke did not writhe or wiggle as I finally came into the belay. Gatorgal followed up, and for a novice, she had remarkably little trouble with the slab. The Stoic came up last, and now we all were all riding the Snake Dyke!

The remaining pitches were largely runout but very easy. It was a lovely warm day with fabuous views of the Valley and environs. The Snake Dyke was, despite my fears, undisturbed by our gentle ascent of her knobby integument, and she offered a most remarkable line of ascent. The hardest pitch of the Dyke itself (5.6) had the best protection, offering several small cam placements and slingable knob or two. I highly recommend bringing a set of the four smallest CCH Aliens (or equivalent) on this route.

As reported by the route topo, we were able to unrope at the top of the eighth pitch, and proceeded to slog up the remaining 1000' of elevation on 2nd class friction. On a hot day, this could have been hellish, but, for us, it was a very pleasant bit of a workout. We reached the summit at about 5:15 PM, taking about seven hours to do the climb.

We took a half hour to do the usual summit stuff, clambered down the cables, and tried to make time back to the Valley. Gatorgal and the Stoic were much faster than I, but I did my best with worn our remnants of articular cartilage. We stopped a few times to make up for deficits in water and food that had accumulated during the climb. We reached the car at bit before 9:15 PM, happily avoiding the need for headlights. The Valley was in disarray because of the very recent rockslide from above the Glacier Point Apron. We were tired, starving, mildly dehydrated, and deliriously happy -- the usual state of climbers returning from a wonderful day on the rock!


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