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Half dome falls to team kaukulator

By Steve Klish

On Tues. afternoon, July 2nd, Tom, Kristin and I left Berkeley for the valley. Tom and I were going to attempt the regular northwest face of half dome while Kris was going to find a climbing partner in camp 4 for wed.-fri, then meet us on top on Sat. We were pretty nervous...our first grade VI!

We woke up early on Wed. morning and made the hellish 8 1/2 mile hike to the base of the climb, with about 3000 ft. of elevation gain. I took the three ropes and the wall rack while Tom took the haul bag, food, and bivy gear. The hike in took us 6 1/2 hours, and after spending over an hour figuring out where the route starts, I headed up and fixed the first pitch, a long A1 pitch. We hung our food and managed to get in only about 5 hours of sleep for the 2nd night in a row. It was amazing that no climbers were around, although there appeared to be two parties up on big sandy ledges that night.

The next morning, a group of two showed up who wanted to make it to pitch 6 that day, while we were aiming for pitch 8 or 11. It was a long day, the route finding was a little tricky, and the hauling was a real pain in the ass. We had 21 liters of water! The sun was setting as Tom led the eighth pitch, found a belay (i think there may be 3 possibly different belays there) and I jumared up in the dark. We decided to bivy on a ledge about 40 feet below us so I rappelled down while Tom lowered the haul bag, which unfortunately turned upside down. This was real bad since it was so full we didnt have it cinched down real tight, and we lost one empty water bottle and one stuffsack of non-essentials. We were very lucky, if ANYTHING else had fallen we would have had to retreat. We had canned tortellini and peaches for dinner, and tried to go to sleep around 11 but the bivy was very uncomfortable and we basically got no sleep that night. We only had bivy sacks and no sleeping bags, and I got real cold that night. My shivering must have been real bad b/c without asking me what was up Tom gave me his jacket to wear.

So on no sleep, we woke up at 4:30 and got things going. Pitches 9 and 10 are fun traverses to the main face of half dome, and pitch 11 takes you up to another bivy sport. The party below caught us, and two other parties were on the lower section, and a speed 1-day ascent team passed us. Pitch 12 was fun for tom, then I led the exciting and very scary chimney pitches 13 and 14 as one pitch and it kicked my ass. Hauling was still very difficult. Tom led 15 well, I led 16 and got a camalot stuck which we never retrieved, and Tom led 17 just before sunset and I jumared up to big sandy in the dark, freeing the haul bag along the way. We also fixed our haul line there for the party behind us, and we all settled in at big sandy. Dinner that night was nutter butters and two cans of fruit.

We decided to let the other party head up first the next morning into the zigzag pitches, 3 pitches which is the hardest aid climbing on the route. They fixed that pitch for us to jug, but before we headed up we got passed by Hans Florine and Peter Coward, who were trying to set the speed ascent record (and i think they succeeded)! What took us 2 days to get to big sandy ledges took them 2 hours! Finally, I got on the lead for pitch 19 which was hard and slow for me, and Tom decided he was climbing faster so he took the next 3 pitches b/c we were starting to slow down two parties behind us (who were way cool and understanding about our slow progress and the difficulties of passing us in that section). Meanwhile, Kris was leaning over the top and yelling at us and getting people to take pictures of us to send to her.

Tom aided 20 then climbed the thank god ledge pitch, pitch 21, which was crazy. It is a fifty foot ledge that goes left, that gets so narrow you have to crawl on your hands a knees then drop of it and traverse with your hands for a few feet, then somehow haul yourself back up on the ledge. This is followed by a heinous offwidth squeeze which kicked my ass when I follwed it. Pitch 22 again went to Tom, a short bolt/piton ladder. Then we opted to bypass the easier pitches 23 and 24 for a more direct pitch to the top, which I managed to french free by pulling on gear to swing myself as I traversed left. I summited around 7 and we had Tom up there by 7:30. Kris was a champion, she carried up 6 liters of water, dinner, and a bottle of wine. So we relaxed on the summit for half an hour, snapping some pictures, and we were blown away that we had just climbed half dome. That night we hiked down 4 1/2 miles to little yosemite valley campground, and this time I had the haul bag on my back and once again got my ass kicked. Then dinner, salmon and cheese burritos with some excellent red wine. Unfortunately, Kris had neither a bag nor a bivy sack, so even with her wedged between me and Tom that night she got to shiver really bad, so at about 4 in the morning we decided she was too cold and we should get the gear and continue the hike down to warm her up. Not quite the nights sleep you would want after coming off a wall and four nights of averaging 4-5 hours of sleep. So we finished the hike, showered at curry camp, then hit the $20 per head Sunday buffet brunch at the Awhanee hotel and ate for about two hours.

So as you can see, the climb took alot of work over 3 very full days for us, but was relatively smooth sailing except for almost losing the contents of our haul bag and finishing up some pitches in the dark. I would definitely say that it was the greatest adventure of my life.

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