By The Dome's Early Light: Half Dome

14 Dec 1997 - by Rich Calliger

Dec 13-14 "Winter" climb of Half Dome. Mike Rinaldi, Rich Calliger.

We arrived Friday afternoon at Yosemite National Park and immediately scouted the winter route up to Half Dome (Around Mist trail and dog-leg over Nevada then to the Dome.) The route looked well-compacted and a little icey but doable. We made some new friends on the somewhat deserted trail and shared a fire and conversation before our early turn-in that evening.

Weather promised to be perfect- and it was- 55 deg F and no wind. Clear skies arrived Saturday morning as we met at our pre-planned meeting spot of Sunnyside CG at 6:10AM. After an hour waiting for the no-shows we hit the trail grumbling over the unnecessary burn of daylight.

The weather kept improving so we unloaded some gear from our summit packs before leaving- but kept the ropes, harnesses crampons, and some great-looking prussiks Mike fabricated that I could not wait to try.. The climb was shaping up to be a most excellent winter adventure. However, I unfortunately decided to leave my gorxtex back at camp with some other stuff.

After two and half-hours we encountered the end of the compacted snow trail and ran into 4-5' drifts over ice. Mike made it thru ok but I got spooked as I sank into the snow and started sideway slipage (I hate rock climbers sometimes, to quote a previous trip report!). Having left my gortex I immediately got soaked in the 3-4 foot post-holing as I uncerimoniously did a short sitting turn around. I retreated and started a warming fire and got my self dried out. By that time I burned too much light and we headed down. We reconoitered and bouldered below Vernal Falls looking for an alternate trail & stream crossing up the north side to no avail.

The snow climb however was refreshing and enjoyable and we nursed our slight sun-burns as we heard the reports that it was raining pretty hard in the Bay Area! We exchanged phone numbers with our new friends and planned a climb together soon.

We vowed to complete the climb next weekend but are skeptical that such great weather conditions would be repeated so soon! Mike returned Sunday, I stayed another day and retuned Monday with many iced over trees breaking up the boring drive from the storm that night. Snow chains were required on 120 prior to and over Crane Flat area out to the west entrance, but 4WD handled it great.

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