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Beta on the Regular NW Face Route, Half Dome

Detailed Beta by Scott Ghiz (Ghiz@aol.com)


My partner "Mark" and I climbed "The Regular NW Face Route" on Half Dome,May
4 - May 6, 1992.  The following description is based on the condition of the
route at that time.  We have included our own "Notes" regarding our
experiences good and bad.  We hope you find this beta informative and

This "beta" is written from the view point of a mediocre climber who wanted
to simply get up the thing.  This information is targeted for the climbers
who plan on a multi-day ascent and who plan on aiding some, most or all of

The overall rating based on the way we climbed it:  The Regular NW Face Route
(VI 5.9 A1).

WARNING:  Attempting to climb this route can get you injured or killed.
 Conditions of the route will and do change.  Loose blocks fall, handholds
break, fixed protection becomes unfixed and weather changes.  Good judgment
is your only safeguard against trouble.  Information contained in this
document should NOT be depended upon for your safety.

Pitch-By-Pitch Detail

Hike up from the Curry Village parking lot past Happy Isles to hook up with
the Muir Trail.  Follow the Muir Trail past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and
Little Yosemite Campground to the junction of the Half Dome Trail.  The
shoulder of Half Dome is about another 2 miles from that point.  The total
hike from the valley to the base of the route is about 9 miles and is
extremely strenuous.  The hike includes numerous switchbacks.  This approach
may be easier than hiking up the slabs from Mirror Lake and is definitely 

If you bivy on the trail partway up, go at least past Vernal Falls (1 mile
above Happy Isles) and get up early, horse tours start from the valley at
around 6:00 AM.  Excellent bivy sites are found on the shoulder of Half Dome
just when you leave the main trail to skirt the base.  Bivy sites also exist
at the base of the route, but be careful of rockfall.  There is usually a 
large snow bank at the base of the cliff until early summer (depends on the

Look for the sign, at the beginning of the rocky and sandy switchbacks, that
says "do not go beyond this sign if there is a thunderstorm anywhere on the
horizon...".  At this point drop down right along the face until you are at
the first pitch (about 1/3 mile).

There should be water at the base of the route and along the climber's trail
which leads along the base, as long as there is snow runoff.  Bring a water

*Note - We flew out from Newark, NJ and arrived at the San Francisco Airport
around 2:00 PM.  By the time we got the rental car (mini-van), bought food
and water, and drove out to the valley it was late.  We arrived in the Curry
Village parking lot at 10:00 PM.  We started hiking in at 11:00 PM.  We got
lost while trying to find the start of the Muir trail.  By 1:00 AM, we were
about a mile above vernal falls.  We had been awake for almost 24 hours. We
slept on the trail.  I didn't get much sleep.  We were walking by 5:30 AM.

We got lost approaching the shoulder of Half Dome.  We dragged our gear
almost to the summit of the dome before realizing that we were too high. We
got to the base around 4:00 PM and fixed two pitches.  There was nobody on
the wall (there was a party with a lot of fixed lines on Zenith, way to the
right of us). Another party wanted to start up our ropes the next morning so
they could reach Big Sandy Ledge for their first bivy.  We said OK.  It was
dark by the time we got to our great bivy site on the shoulder of Half Dome.
 I slept well that night.

In the morning, we filled the water bottles from the spring at the base of
the route.  We had to climb a 20' high snow bank at the base to reach the
first pitch.  We were jugging at 8:00 AM.  The other party bailed before they
ever left the ground.

Pitch 1

Climb up the prominent crack system for about 50 feet, using a bay tree for
progress, to a ledge with a bolt on the left and a pin on the right.
 Continue up the crack system for about another 90 feet or so to a small
ledge on the right with fixed anchors (1 bolt, 3 pins).  The pitch takes
small to medium gear.  The upper crack goes at 5.10c or A1 and has a few
fixed pins.  Easy hauling to the right of the crack system.

Pitch 2

Step left off of the belay back into the crack system and climb immediately
over a steep section (5.9) into a shallow alcove.  Climb up to and through a
slot (5.9).  Follow the crack system to a fixed belay on the left below some
broken looking rock.  90' pitch, takes medium wires.  Difficult hauling
through the slot.

Pitch 3

Weave slightly up and left and back right to a short right facing corner
(5.8) directly above the 2nd belay.  Climb the corner and face above to a
belay behind a flake and below a right facing corner/arch.  70' pitch.
 Medium difficult hauling.

*Note - Mark got lost starting this pitch.  Don't go too far left.

Pitch 4

Aid (A1) or free climb the arch (5.10+) to the base of a short bolt ladder
leading up and slightly right.  Follow the bolt ladder (A1) to a long reach
to a piece of ratty cord hanging out of the bottom of the crack.  Long reach
to the cord.  Now either free climb the right facing flake/crack at an
awkward 5.9 or aid at an easy A1 for about 70 feet.  Step left across the top
of the flake to a short crack leading to the belay with fixed anchors.  110'
pitch.  The flake/crack takes 1.5 to 2 friends and 1, 1.5 and 2 tri-cams.
 Easy hauling once the pig is past the arch.  Avoid letting the rope swing
into the flake/crack while jugging the pitch.

*Note - A party of three showed up.  They were going to fix the first two
pitches that day and follow us up the wall, one day behind us.  They yelled
up to me asking "where's the spring?"...They were standing in it.

Pitch 5

Work up and left along a loose ramp to a short flare.  Climb the flare (5E9
or A1) to lower angle rock.  Follow the corner above past one difficult move
to a large sloping ledge with fixed anchors.  80' pitch, medium/small gear.
 Medium difficult hauling especially if the bag gets hung up on the shallow
corners/grooves above the previous belay.  The second should attempt to move
the pig out onto the face on the left once hauling has begun.

Pitch 6

This is a very long pitch which ends up short (with a 50 meter rope) of the
big sloping ledge at fixed anchors.  Step off left up an obvious right facing
corner.  The corner starts off easy (5.5) and becomes loose, steep and dirty
for about 30 feet (5.9 or A1).  When the angle lessens, continue up the
corner/groove (5.6/5.7) until you have about 10 feet of rope left.  You
should be at a couple of fixed pins about 10 feet short of the big sloping
bivy ledge.  Medium difficult hauling on this pitch.  Avoid hauling the pig
over the 2nd's fixed line.  Continue up to the large ledge above.  Excellent
bivy, use spare rope to flatten out any inconsistencies in the ledge.  Two
bolt fixed anchor.

*Note - We spent our first night on the wall here.  We had planned to get to
the pitch 11 bivy.  Good thing we were slow, the pitch 11 bivy sucks.  We
fixed two pitches from here and started jugging the next morning at about
6:30 AM.

Pitch 7

Start off the far left end of the bivy ledge and follow a shallow left facing
corner/ramp up a low angle face until it ends after about 20 feet.  Head up
and right across the low angle face with no protection to the steep headwall
at a short steep corner facing right.  Do not climb too high on the left, the
slings above and left are off route.  Climb the steep wall (5.5) with good
holds past a large block to a belay with fixed slings around a few sturdy bay
trees, back them up anyway.  Medium hauling, 100' pitch.  Avoid at all costs
crossing the fixed line and haul line.  Some sharp edges exist toward the top
of the pitch.

Pitch 8

Step right off the belay and follow indistinct corners, ramps and bulges up
and slightly left to a belay (5.4/5.5, 140 feet) on a nice ledge with fixed
gear, ten feet short of reaching the main wall.  Difficult hauling, the 2nd
should try to stay with the bag.

Pitch 9

Climb down to the right reaching the main wall.  Continue far to the right
passing 40 feet underneath the "Robbins" bolt ladder on the next pitch to
reach a 4th class ramp/corner system leading back up left to a belay at the
base of the bolt ladder.  Long pitch.  Use of a tag line for the haul bag is
required.  Medium hauling once the pig is lowered out.  Try to keep the haul
line and tag line from being caught and snagged in the loose class 4 pitch.
 The 2nd should be belayed across this pitch, do not jug.

Pitch 10

Up the bolt ladder using long reaches at times.  Make the pendulum point as
high as possible to make the swing as easy as possible.  There may be a fixed
biner at the pendulum point.  Lower out until you are about 2 feet below the
small ledge system on the right.  Swing over and grab the large sidepull
bucket (pretty obvious).  Work over another 10 feet to a good small ledge
with excellent fixed pins (many).  Easy hauling once the bag is lowered out.

Pitch 11

Climb out right around the corner about 10 feet to a shallow left facing
corner using tension or difficult free climbing.  Climb the difficult shallow
corner system (5.9+++ or A1) up and slightly left to a long narrow ledge
(TCU's, small wires).  Place good directionals and head right along the ledge
to an obvious fixed belay station before the 20 foot high step is reachedE
 Medium easy hauling after the bag is lowered out on the tag line.  This
noted in the guide book as a good bivy.  I suppose if you were exhausted, you
could sleep anywhere.  Not a comfortable bivy, but sheltered.

Pitch 12

Climb over right and up a short chimney.  Continue right along the 2nd tier
of the bivy ledge until you can get gear up and right to protect a move back
left into the prominent left facing corner.  Aid up the corner on medium cams
and large wired nuts (A1) to the fixed anchors (90 feet).  Swing around right
to a short squeeze chimney (5.6/5.7, tie off a chockstone for protection) 20
feet to sparse fixed anchors in a short chimney at a sloping ledge.  Medium
difficult hauling after the pig is lowered out.  Make sure the pig does not
get hung up in the 5.9 death chimney to the right of the aid corner.  Lower
it out all the way onto the clean face under the 12th pitch belay.

Pitch 13

Climb straight up into a chimney that begins after 30 feet of 5.8 hand crack.
 Grunt up the chimney 90 feet to a prominent left facing undercling
flake/block in the chimney.  Either undercling or stem around the block
(5.8), two fixed pins halfway out behind your head.  Continue up to a stepped
ledge in the chimney system with some fixed gear.  Long pitch (140 feet) with
good gear (medium/large cams and some fixed gear), but very strenuous due to
the grunting nature of the chimney moves.  This may be the most difficult
hauling on the entire route.  Keep the bag inside the chimney because of the
pig eating flakes and corners on the outside.  The 2nd will have loads of
trouble trying to keep the pig from being hung up inside the chimney.  The
jugging on this pitch is hell, try using chimney technique for your feet
while using the jugs as handholds.  Also, watch for the haul bag/haul line
running over the fixed line.  Be patient on this one.

Pitch 14

Climb the short and very shallow chimney with a hand crack in the back,
through the bulge above (5.8, 30 feet).  Climb up to a bolt and belay or
continue through pitch 15 (recommended).  Pitch 14 is very short (45 feet).
 Hauling is not bad.  Get the pig on the outside of the chimney for hauling.

Pitch 15

Continue up the chimney to it's end (5.8, 20 feet).  Climb up a right
trending ramp (40 feet, class 4) to a belay with some fixed pins.  Medium
hauling on the outside of the chimney below the belay.  Combine pitch 14 and
15.  Use a tag line to lower out the haul bag.

Pitch 16

Climb up the class 4 ramp to the right until the angle steepens.  Layback,
jam and stem the final 20 feet of this left facing corner (5.9 or A1) to a
belay on the left with sparse fixed gear.  Medium Easy hauling.  The second
should try to stay with the bag while jugging.  90' pitch.

Pitch 17

The "Double Crack" pitch.  Climb down and right quite a distance (50 feet,
class 4) to the obvious wide and shallow crack starting at a narrow ledge
(possible bivy here).  Climb this crack for twenty feet (5.8 layback/jam) to
a small ledge and a fixed pin.  Protect this section with either a #4 Camalot
or small wired stoppers in the back of the crack.  Holds in the back of the
crack allow for more secure climbing.  Step right to a inside corner facing
left with a crack on the left face.  Climb up this until you can escape out
right on a ramp leading to Big Sandy Ledge (excellent bivy).  Once the pig is
lowered out, the hauling is medium difficult.  Total pitch length is about
1'02.  The second should follow this pitch by climbing it.  There are two
reasons for this:  First, the pitch has GREAT free climbing on it.  Second,
It's a pain to follow this pitch on jugs.

"Big Sandy Ledge" is neither big nor sandy, but it does offer a fantastic
bivy with a great view.  The lowest ledge is best and has one fixed bolt.
 The ledge has plenty of cracks for placing extra gear.

*Note - We got here just as the sun went down.  Mark led this pitch and I
followed while storm clouds were swirling around.  I was pretty scared.  I
though we would be stormed on for sure.  Once the sun went down, the sky
cleared up dramatically.  The moon came around the corner around midnightE
 It was so bright that I could have read a book.  It was too bright, I
couldn't sleep.

We were climbing the next morning at 7:00 AM.  The party of three had reached
the pitch 6 bivy late the night before.  They bailed later that morning.  We
were alone on the wall.

Pitch 18

This is the first pitch of the infamous "Zig-Zag Cracks".  Begin climbing in
a right facing arch a couple of ledges directly above the bolt on Big Sandy
Ledge.  Look for fixed gear, pins and wires.  This pitch follows the bow of
the arching corner to it's top (standard Chouinard hook will come in handy
just before the tension traverse) where a tension traverse right to a flake
and a fixed pin lead up another 10 feet to a good belay with much fixed gear.
 140 feet, A1 or very difficult free climbing.  This pitch eats many very
small to medium sized wired nuts.  Backclean or bring lots of extra small
wired nuts.  Fixed gear pops up just when you need it.  East hauling.  Great
place for photos.

Pitch 19

Number 2 of the Zig-Zags.  Climb up a short right facing chimney to a small
roof.  Step/undercling right and follow right facing corners over the roof to
a hole with many flakey blocks and a couple of fixed pins.  Continue up the
overhanging right facing corner another 25 feet.  Pullover a bulge into the
"hole" for the belay (medium cams on this pitch).  This pitch is the shortest
of the three Zig-Zags and is about 60 feet long, A1 or very free climbable
5.10.  The "hole" will be obvious, it looks like a slanted elevator shaft
with garbage at the bottom and is about fifteen feet deep.  This would be the
best place to ride out a storm on this part of the climb.  The belay will
have a fixed pin on the right and a fixed friend (#3, I think) on the left.
 Moderate hauling, try to keep the bag away from the flakes on the face.

Pitch 20

This is the 3rd and final pitch of the Zig-Zags.  Climb out the left side of
the belay hole.  This pitch is similar to the first Zig-Zag pitch.  Follow
the right facing corner/arch to its top.  The crack in the corner tapers down
from about #3 Friend size to small wired stoppers at the top.  At the top of
the corner, tension right around a corner to a small ledge with a fixed pin.
 Continue up a right facing corner, past an overhang to a point where you can
step around left to the belay just down and right of "Thank God Ledge".  This
is a long pitch, 140 feet, A1.  One fixed pin and my stuck #2 friend will
greet you at this belay.  Easy hauling, wait for the 2nd to jug past the pig.
 Do not stop before the tension traverse to belay at fixed anchors above on
the left.  It will cause you to climb an additional short pitch.

Pitch 21

"Thank God Ledge".  Climb left across this narrow ledge for about 50 feet to
it's far end.  There is a two to three inch crack in the back of this ledge
for protection.  Free climb (5.9) or tension left and up into a short pain in
the ass" 5.6 slot.  At the top of the slot, move left to where you'll find
fixed gear for the belay on a sloping ledge.  90' pitch, mostly traversing
left (5.9 with maybe some A0/A1).  The haul bag must be lowered out on this
pitch.  The leader and the second must work together to keep the bag clear of
the loose ledges, block and flakes below Thank God Ledge.  Hauling is
difficult because of the logistical hassles.  The 2nd may want to climb this
pitch rather than jug it.

*Note - For the "classic photo" of this route.  Move the belayer/photographer
about 6 feet above the belay so your camera angle is looking across "Thank
God Ledge" rather than looking up to it (from the standard belay).

Pitch 22

Free climb straight left off of the belay until you reach the fixed pin
ladder (25 feet, 5.6 face climbing...great photo opportunity).  Follow the
pins up and slightly left, using l-o-n-g reaches and top-stepping at times,
to a ledge system beginning at the left end of the visor (A1).  Follow this
ledge/ramp system down and left about twenty feet to a belay with 3 fixed
pins.  Pitch is about 80 feet long, 5.6 A1.  Easy hauling after the bag is
lowered out.

Pitch 23

Follow the class 4 ramp down and left for almost a full rope length to a good
ledge with fixed anchors around the corner.  Place gear for the 2nd, some
fixed gear will be found along this pitch.  Medium hauling after the pig is
lowered out a full rope length.  The 2nd should climb this pitch...easier and
faster than jugging sideways.

Pitch 24

Step left off of the belay to fixed pins and bolts leading up and right.
 Climb over a dike/ramp trending right to a bolt.  Climb straight up from the
bolt to a fixed pin in a right facing corner, on top of a large block.
 Follow the very easy corner system up and right until you run out of rope on
a very large sloping platform 30 feet below the top (160 feet, 5.6
friction/face climbing).  Difficult hauling due to the low angle.  For the
2nd,  low angle jugging. have fun.

A moderate mantle leads to class 3 block hopping up and right to the summit.

*Note - Before you haul, walk back left until you are directly above the
final belay.  Haul from there.

Other Tips

Be careful descending the cables from the summit.  If you are the sucker
carrying the pig, you may want a belay.

Bring a cheater stick (or tape two nut tools together).  If anymore bolts or
pins disappear on these bolt ladders, you may have to place a new bolt or
make an extra long clip.  Also, bring a hook or two for the same reason.  You
may have to place a hook with a cheater stick if that ratty old cord is
broken on pitch 4.

We only drank 1.5 liters of water/person/day on this route.  The sun doesn't
hit the face until about 2:00 PM.

Gear List

1.5 sets micro/brass nuts
2 sets wired nuts
1 each Tri-cams (#0.5-#2) or extra Friends (#0.5-#1.5)
1 each of the three smallest TCU's
1 set of Friends (#0-#3.5)
1 set of Camalot Jr=92s
1 set of Camalots (#1-#4)
Plenty of runners and biners (20 full length runners/50 biners)

Conclusions and Observations

The approach may be the physical crux of this route.  It took a lot out of
us.  We fixed the first two pitches and started up the following morning.

The first eight pitches are not even on the main wall.  The climbing is
actually on a kind of buttress to the left of the main wall.  The 6th pitch
is probably the most nasty, having loose and dirty climbing.  It's also easy
to get lost on some of these pitches (in particular 3, 7 and 8).  The ledge
at the top of pitch 6 is a good bivy.  Use ropes and extra clothes to fill
out the lumps in the ledge.

The "Robbins Traverse", pitches 9, 10 and 11, is great climbing.  The pitch
11 bivy isn't very good.  It has a lot of blocks on it.  The chimneys are
strenuous to climb, haul and follow.  Potential bivy 2/3 of a pitch below Big
Sandy Ledge.  Great bivy at Big Sandy Ledge.  The Zig-Zag cracks offer the
most spectacular climbing on the route...lots of exposure.  You'll hear
tourists above you saying stupid things (how'd you get up here?...duh).

Good luck and stay tied in

Beta by others

: >My climbing partner and I are planning to climb Half Dome, via the 
: >Regulatr NW Route, in three weeks.  Actually, we plan to climb it in three 
: >days, but we are going to start three weeks from now.  Anyway, we need any 
: >and all information regarding the climb.  This includes:
: >
: >   1.  Any apecialized pro needed, i.e. Big Bro's, clip sticks, etc.
: No.

: >   3.  What is the traffic like on this route?  We plan to start on 
: >Thursday, so hopefully we will be the only party on the route at that time.

It was also my first Grade VI; 14 years ago.  We did it in Sept., day after
a storm.  TWENTY-ONE people hiked up to start it that day!!!  Thru some
wheelin' & dealin' we managed to start first.  No one on the wall above us
due to the storm.

: >   4.  We plan to bivy at the top of pitch 11 and pitch 17.  Is this a 
: >realistic game plan?  What are the bivy's like?
: I think you should plan for two days instead of three, bivy after pitch 17.
: The climb is easily doable in a day for 5.10+/A0 climbers with some stamina.

I agree.  We stayed at the top of 17; fixed a pitch and still had plenty
of daylight.

: >   8.  Any anecdotes, or gear that you wished that you had, but couldn't 
: >get once you were 1000' up?

Plenty of doubles (or triples) for the zig-zag pitches.

Consult "50 Classic Climbs". No special gear (i.e. hammer, pins) is needed. A single set of Friends to #4 with double #2.5,3 , along with wires + TCUs will do it; lots of biners + runners/draws for the many fixed pins. No belay seats are needed. Before mid-June '93, there will be a big snow cone at the base. We hiked up in the am, and bivvied at the end of p6, then made it off the next day; many folks do it in a day. Hauling will slow you down and wear out your bag, plus it will knock rocks onto the folks below. So we jumared with a pack instead (no sleeping bags in the pack, so mid-summer is best for this strategy). To save our toenails, we led pitches in blocks of 4 or so; that way the second could jumar in boots instead of in rock shoes. Bivvies: p6 - fine for 2 people p11 - narrow but level Big Sandy - *** until someone eventually defecates onto it Free crux: optional, up to you. p4? 5.9/5.10a hand is hard. Aid crux: first pitch off Big Sandy. On the next pitch, belay low to avoid getting the rope caught in the crack. True crux: getting onto the route. Everybody plans to hike up and fix 2 pitches. Consider going to p11, p6, or even p3 instead of fixing. Other beta: - water should be available from springs at the base the whole summer - do the aid version on p12 (vs. 5.9+ wide) - on p13, the "undercling" described in 50 Classic Climbs has fallen off. - a pitch can be saved in the chimneys on p14-p16 by belaying high. - the last pitch (slab) would be hard in the dark Bivy sites: Top of Pitch 3: Excellent spot for 1, OK spot for one more Top of Pitch 6: Good for 4 or more if crammed. Slopes so have everything tied in or put away. (good to do at all sites) Top of Pitch 8: OK spot for one (slopes), 150 feet below is good spot for one more (flat but narrow and exposed) Top of Pitch 11: OK to Good for 2 on lower tier. (has rats) OK to Good for 2 on upper tier. (rocky) Top of Pitch 17: Big Sandy. Good to Excellent spots for 4 A3 sections: Pitch 22: Its only A3 if a pin is missing, otherwise easy A1. Pitch 23: Straight up from the belay is about 15 feet of 5.8 face climbing to the arch. There are pins in the arch and the free climbing rating is 5.8 also. I have no idea why this was given an aid rating. General: The route was cleaned up (rebolted, etc) in fall of 92. I don't know what they did to the fixed pins. Pitches 7 and 8 have tricky route-finding problems. Try to get a verbal description from someone. A lot of rock has fallen out of the chimney section and some loose stuff remains so be careful. The classic Undercling section on pitch 13 is gone. I have done the chimney pitches before and after the rock fall, and think its a little harder now (5.9) I would add this: After pitch 6, the route leaves the huge dihedral between the main face and the broken buttress on the left, and wanders right and up onto the face. The topo doesn't quite make this clear.
Subject: Half-Dome Approach/Descent Well, the hike out is trivial. Walk down the cables on the Northeast side and follow the endless stream of tourists for 8.5 miles back to the valley floor (one highlight: the most lucious babes I've ever seen in Yosemite are found on this trail... alas they are typically attached to some dude though). The approach is hard. You either go up the mist trail past Neveda Fall (the upper fall) and then turnleft (North) and walk cross-country toward the south face of half dome, or you can go up one of the gullies between Grizzly Peak and Mt. Broderick or Mt. Broderick and Liberty Cap. The first option is the easiest to avoid getting lost since you see Half Dome right away so you can't get too off-track. >(I have heard it is quite long) Yeah, it's about 9 miles the long way and 7 the short way, and you're gaining over 3000'! It took us 3 hours hammering; Bill could probably do it in 2. >I suppose it would be too much to hope for to have no one at all on >the route huh? (Re: Snake Dike) Yes, this is very unlikely. But if you do it on a weekday, there is a chance. You should start early (5-6am) so you will be first on the route; then you will move so fast that you won't see anyone else in all likelihood. The summit will be a mob-scene of course.

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