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Half Dome In A Day, October 1997

By Mick Schein

"I can't believe I'm doing this again" I mutter as we start the arduous approach to Half Dome on a flawless autumn afternoon. Only last year a sudden and intense snow storm had forced a retreat from pitch 12 on my first one day attempt. Reversing the pendulum, frozen fingers and endless raps in the snow were still fresh in my memory. Some people never learn.

We decided to skip the slabs approach and do the leisurely 8 mile jaunt. We'd bivy below the shoulder, get up early and fire the damn thing. The forecast was for perfect weather.

4 A.M. Coffee slowly brings me to life. Speed is safety. No unnecessary gear. That means hiking down in climbing shoes, 1 liter of water each, a few Stoker bars. Absolutely no bivy gear. Minimal rack, one rope.

Thrash through the Manzanita to the base. We are greeted by a team of mid-westerners with mohawks, with a huge amount of gear. A European speed ascent team has started up already, but the second is jugging with a huge pack. I start climbing by headlamp.

I set up the first belay off to the side because of fixed lines, haul bags and the Europeans occupying the belay stance. Mark climbs quickly to me and I prepare to blast off on my next lead. The Euro with the huge pack eyes us curiously, asking where our gear is. "This is it" we reply.

I climb past the belay with the 60 meter rope and make the next one. Now we've left our companions behind and have the wall to ourselves. I'm feeling pretty good about our choice of climbing fast and light. Then I notice the cloud bank outside the valley. Probably just fog or something I tell Mark. "Yup, just fog."

We switch leads, and make good time to pitch 6. Here we switch again so I can lead through the traversing weirdness to the pendulum. I've done it before and it's easy to get off route. At the pendulum I notice that our "fog bank" is now at the mouth of the valley and looking rather evil. "Reversing the pendulum with one rope will be difficult" I mention to Mark. "It's cool." Whatever, our momentum propels us forward. Combining the pendulum pitch with the next results in serious rope drag. I fight my way onto the narrow bivy on pitch 11, ready to swap leads.

Mark takes over, quickly dispensing with the thin crack to the base of the chimney. As he climbs I watch El Cap become shrouded in storm clouds. By the time I reach the belay we are engulfed in clouds. The Euros far below are retreating. This is the exact spot we retreated from last year. Suddenly it begins to snow. Mark appears oblivious to our predicament and begins arranging the rack for his next lead. "Mark, the weather seems to have changed." "No problem" he says as he leaves the belay. At the next belay in the bowels of the chimney the weather has deteriorated further. Howling wind combined with snow and very little visibility. The smugness I felt earlier about going fast and light has disappeared and I'm getting really cold. We're somewhat protected in the chimney, so we wait. Mark declares that the same thing happened last week, then it cleared up. I'm skeptical.

We decide to continue, if things get worse we can rap back into the chimney for protection. A cold miserable night it would be.

I join Mark at the exit of the chimney system and begin a wet lead across to Big Sandy. At Big Sandy a hint of sun comes through. It's early so we sit and eat a bit of food. As we move up through the Zig Zags the weather improves. At the beginning of Thank God Ledge I'm basking in sunshine and taking in the view. Mark leads across, laughing uncontrollably at one of the most spectacular pitches we've ever climbed. I take the last leg, getting on top just as the sun goes down and a cold north wind starts blowing.

We quickly move down the cables, feeling an incredible lightness after another excellent adventure.

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