Climb: Snake Dike in a Day

The tale of the tape

Total hiking (approach plus descent): 14+ miles // 4,000′ vertical gain/loss

Total climbing (roped and final 3rd class slabs): 1,400′

This climb is often called Snake Hike, and for good reason – you spend a lot more time walking than you do climbing! Going car-to-car is a long day on your feet, and a great way to tune-up for longer days in the mountains.

The approach is found in plenty of guidebooks and websites, so I’ll spare repeating it. The only piece of advice I’ll give is the final bit: walking towards Little Yosemite Valley (perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 mile before the LYV sign), there is only one place where the trail meets/crosses a solid granite slab descending from the small ridge on walker’s left. Turn left here, slip through the notch, gain a highpoint, and sight Lost Lake. Work towards Lost Lake – in general losing elevation before you begin to traverse. From Lost Lake the trail becomes more distinct until you hit the talus. For my money, the slabs are the way to go from here. If you’re wearing approach shoes, just pick a low-angle-looking section and gun it. If you’re wearing boots or trail runners, it’s worth putting on climbing shoes.

Half Dome from Lost Lake - Approach slabs are seen on left

At the top of the obvious slabs, choose either a leftward traverse on a well-defined climber’s trail, eventually turning back on itself to gain the final 100′ or so to the base (easily sighted from a distance as the cluster of trees on the shoulder of the dome) – or climbing some easy 5th class ledges directly up and towards the aforementioned trees. The start of the route is obvious as it has a few trees on the right side and a small (2′) roof.

The route itself is straightforward except for one section: the 5.7 friction stepacross. At the second belay, you need to gain the LEFT dike – DO NOT continue straight up towards the right dike. There will be a very small dike about 15′ above the belay moving up and left towards the BIG dike you obviously want. This small dike, as a further enticement, has a bolt quite near it. DON’T get suckered in to clipping this bolt and taking this dike (that is if you want to climb the 5.7 – feel free to go for it if you’re feeling frisky). Instead, stay well below the dike on semi-obvious small dishes for a friction foot traverse. There’s a bolt about 1/3 of the way across to the big dike that’s easily missed, so keep your eyes open.

Runouts? Honestly, I’m no hero, and I never noticed them in the two times I’ve done this climb. You would have to be totally inattentive or actively let go in order to fall on any of the dike pitches. Pay attention and don’t let go.

Seconding up Snake Dike

From here on out you’d just about have to try to get off-route. Follow the dike up. Efficient parties will unrope after the first seated belay – your feet/achilles are likely to be screaming and this will be a MAJOR milestone on the climb.

After this, all that’s left are several hundred feet of seemingly endless 3rd class slabs to the summit. I think this is the crux of the whole day! People seem to talk a lot about wether to stay right or left, but I just go with whatever looks low-angle and it’s always seemed to work out well.

3rd class slabs above Snake Dike

View downvalley

We were lucky enough to hit the summit just after the cables were closed because of rain/lightning danger and literally had the whole summit to ourselves.

From here, you take the cables down – totally surreal to be the only person on the cables when the number is often >100 – and start the knee-brutalizing trip back down to the valley.

View down Half Dome Cables



Climb: Tuolumne meadows

4:43 am, I’ve woken from a dream in which a friend has told a stranger how to get in to my apartment (I have no secret way, no hidden key, nada. but then again, dreams aren’t supposed to be rational).

I like waking up and remembering my dreams. It kind of strikes me as a quaint notion, having the luxury of laying in bed and remembering the virtual reality you were just inhabiting. Most days the alarm wakes you, you know your schedule doesn’t allow for rumination on the beauty or tragedy of the story your brain was just telling itself, and so you get up and move along – that dream lost to the ether forever.

But this is different. It’s still dark out, it seems ea AAAAHH AAAAHH AAHHHH AHHH.

Damn, it was 4:43. My alarm was set for 4:45. Well, there’s nothing quite like spending a Sunday cannonballing it up to Tuolumne. Screw the dreaming – I can have nightmares of runout slabs all day!

Tuolumne Meadows

We had tentatively decided on a late season push for the regular route on fairview dome (.9, 8 pitches). It roughly follows the line of sun/shade in the picture below, cutting up and right once the prominent bulge is gained.

Fairview Dome with Cathedral Peak in the background

So with no other cars at the pullout, we turned up the Led Zep (highschool throwback, anyone?) and started to rack up. Or rather, started to rack up after 2 minutes of just standing there and realizing just how cold it was. The car’s readout said 38. I’d bet it may have been a few degrees south of that – the streams visible on the way through the meadows were all frozen solid.

Still, we’re ambitious, getty antsy as the end of the season draws near, and perhaps just a little stupid. We racked up for the quick approach (under 10 minutes) and were _glad_ that it was uphill.

The regular route is known to be wet. This obviously wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t wet, per-se. More snowy and frozen. The first pitch starts atop some slabs, slabs at this point basically snowed over. The first pitch’s crux is in a seeping corner, a seeping corner at this point more resembling an ice climb.

And I’ve mentioned that we’re stupid, yes?

We were definitely casting verbal dice for the lead.

Bob: soooo, do you want this pitch? I think it’s about 200′ to that tree up there.

Me: hey man, I didn’t really have my heart set on it. I actually wanted the 5.7 fingers to heaven pitch, so I mean, I don’t want to snake this one from you

Bob: Dude, it’s really no problem. Do you want it?

Me: Mumbling and kicking steps in to the snowpack

So the lead fell to Bob.

[Thanks Bob, you’re my hero and always have been]

I got the pleasure, however, of standing in snow for while Bob led this thing. I’m CERTAIN that this is a cruiser 5.9 fingerlocks pitch when it’s not a full on ice runnel. Reality: it was a full on ice runnel.

Holy shit this thing was slick as snot on a doorknob (and how’s that for an anachronism?). I do not hesitate to document the fact that bob stood in a sling to gain a hanging snowfield and then proceeded to cut finger pockets for 8 feet with his nut tool. Grim. Bob gave me a heads up as he began to huck dinnerplates of ice down, clearing the last 30 feet of crack to allow for some semblance of confidence in the gear he was placing.

200 feet and 2 hours later, I was on belay.

The bottom 100′ was cold and not so fun, but it was all there. When I got to the snowfield I was certain that the whole thing was going to sheet off underneath me. I would not wanted to have been on lead with this thought. I too deployed the nut tool in service of upward progress, snagging a bomber hook on a lip. I’ve never done a mixed climb before…

Bob was his usual sarcastic self, but he was still talking in full sentences, so I knew he hadn’t been 110% skeeved. Nevertheless, a 2 hour lead had taken the wind out of both of our sails. Our lack of confidence in avoiding an epic – any snow on the descent slabs would have been less than fun if we summited around dusk – combined with the view of Daff dome baking in the sun, made for a pretty easy decision. We fixed one rope, I passed my windbreaker to bob, rapped, ran to the car, grabbed the second rope, chugged back up to the base, attached the line for Bob to haul, and made my way back to the base to take in the most psychadellic display of aerial spiderwebs you can imagine.

From the Fairview icebox, we made our way to greener and sunnier pastures: the flank of Daff Dome. I’d done some stuff on Daff but never seen this little cragging area.

We finished the day with

Alimony Crack (5.8, 1 pitch): which felt really easy at the grade. Super easy hand jamming leading to a long low-angle finish.

Fingertips (5.10b, right side variation, 2 pitches): Awesome climb. I’ve not done much thin face climbing in California, but this immediately reminded me of one of my favorites: Arctic Breeze at Lover’s Leap (5.10a, 1 pitch). This one will leave dirt under your fingernails for the rest of the week, because that’s all you’re using to hold on. Fingernail crimps and rand smears for 180′, all with 5 bolts plus an intermediate anchor. This is one of those climbs that, to a nobody like me, is a true testament to the guys that bolt these things. How the hell could you do 45 minutes at one of these stances with a hand drill? Incredible.

Great Circle Route (5.9, p.1 / 5.10a p.2): An easy 50′ 5.7 crack leads to 25′ of runout face climbing above, two bolts to an anchor. This is probably a really proud climb for someone who is climbing/leading right at this level. We bagged it without the 2nd pitch to avoid rolling in to SF after midnight, but it looked way polished up there. I was suprised to see that one bolt at the p.1 anchors had been replaced but one old spinner remains. Not a setup I’d toprope off of.

Fantastic alpenglow on the way out, leaving us with a view of another meadows climb nabbed earlier this season: Tenaya Peak.