Snake Dike: Hail and High Water

13 May 2001 - by Ron Karpel

The 4 of us, Joan, Bob, Maxym and I were hiking up the climber's trail between Liberty Cap and Mt. Broderick, as we found 2 Danish climber heading toward us. Where are you headed? To Half Dome they answered, the Snake Dike rout. It was kind of funny, 2 groups headed to the same place going in the opposite directions. We set them in the right direction and as they were faster then us, they quickly disappeared from our sight around Lost Lake. These 2 friendly guys ended up with a center role in our story.

We got the base of the climb in good time, and the first pitch looked easy, so Maxym jumped to lead it just to discover that the 5.7 rating was well justified for the smooth traverse below the roof. Still, he made it look easy and pulled to the big crack above. I took the lead from there for all but the last pitch. The second pitch was well protected. The third has a delicate traverse move which was well protected, at least for the leader, until it reaches the dike proper. There the excitement began.

I was thoroughly scared on the first long runout, but as the climb continued and I got a couple of runout pitches under my belt I got a bit calmer. The key was to work methodically and to pay attention to every move, particularly to my feet, and stop every few moves and scan for bolts. It would have been a bummer to overshoot the only pro I had in a whole pitch.

I felt the first drop of rain as Maxym approached me at the top of the 6th pitch, but it quickly stopped, so we continued on for the 7 and 8 (which is also the last) pitches where the drizzle returned. But it was still not too bad, and we felt we are getting good traction with the rock, so we decided to continue up the third class slabs, but with a running belay. We made a quick progress, but so did the rain which intensified and hit us with hail as well. At some point the whole face looked like a raging river. Over one side, a small water fall had formed where the water was jumping down a short wall, and all the emulsion pockets were filled with water. Still, we were getting good traction, and Maxym was doing a great job setting pros as we were going up. We were finally on the top without a slip.

Just as we though out troubles were over, we realized we have a new one... BZZZZZZZ. Maxym said his beard was feeling funny, and I heard a buzz behind my head. We grabbed our packs, and ran to the lowest point on the summit. I was concerned the gear in my pack would act like a lightning rod, so I held it as close to the ground as possible. Once at the saddle, we set on our packs and waited. What is the insulation value of a wet pack full of climbing gear anyway? We never found out, the buzzing stopped and soon after, the electrical storm had dissipated.

The cables and the rock face underneath where particularly wet and slippery, I had to switch back to rock shoes, which again did a terrific job providing traction on wet rock. With all the excitement we forgot checking the time until we were safe on the dirt trail, now a little before 4 PM, and back by the cars a little after 6:30. But where were Joan and Bob?

We need to return to our Danish friends. They got lost again on the way to the climb only to show up at the base between the arrival of our 2 rope teams, and they insisted to keep their turn after Maxym and I. We explained that our plan was to climb in 2 teams, 1 rope each, so in case we needed to bail out, we had 2 ropes. The Dans had 2 ropes and agreed to help us in case we needed to bail out. Just as I got the "on belay" from Maxym for the final and 8 pitch, the leader of the Danish team popped over the top of the 6th. The weather was getting foul at this point, so, yelling across 60 meter he asked if we wanted to bail out. I said that the last set of bolt are at the top of his pitch, and he should bail out now if he wanted to. We were too high and were going ahead.

The next time we saw the Dans it was 7:45 PM on the road leading from Happy Isle to Curry Village. They told us that after spending some time at the top of the 6th pitch they decided to bail out, and they helped Joan and Bob down too. Once at the base, they quickly made the hike back down. Joan and Bob turned out took the scenic rout and got back to the cars a little before 10:00. Funny thing, had we started driving from Yosemite at 7 PM I would have expected to be home by midnight. Leaving at 10:00 PM and taking no breaks, I got home by 1 AM.

Participants, Joan Marshal, Bob Suzuki, Maxym Runov, and scribe Ron Karpel.

It occurred to me that it may not be cleared from my original message why Bob and Joan chose to rappel the rout while Maxym and I continued. With the Danish pair between us, the gap grow so by the time the weather turned bad, Maxym and I where at the top, off the climbing route, where one would normally unrope and walk to the top of Half Dome. Joan and Bob were still on the dike proper where wet rock would make it practically impossible to continue. So rapping down was their only choice. They had only 1 rope, so they needed the Danish team's second rope for the rappel. For Maxym and I to rap down form the top of the route would have require leaving a lot of gear behind.

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