American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Contiguous United States, California, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Peripheral Vision

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Half Dome, Peripheral Vision. On July 17, Karl McConachie and I completed the first traverse of Half Dome’s northwest face (VI 5.11c PDH). It is a line we had talked about since our ascent of Same as it Never Was in 1986, but just never got it together. Karl, however, knew it was a great line and wasn’t about to let it slip away. He was so inspired, in fact, that he completed a reconnaissance of the first six and a half pitches solo during the summer of 1994. With a tremendous amount of scoping, he had pieced together a very aesthetic and natural start, linking features few people could perceive that required minimal drilling. Only five pendulums exist on the entire route, three of which are on pitch three, the “Buku Haiku Traverse.” One of the pendulums takes place on an overhanging wall—for sure, one of the most technical swings in Yosemite, 60 feet down, wildly bouncing in space to a series of hook moves followed by beaks and heads. Of course, all must be back-cleaned to regain that 60 feet. Later in the pitch, Karl spent nearly one hour trying to get a single placement—a #0 RP, hook and blade tip equalized—from a fully stretched horizontal position that he had managed during his recon. He refused to drill and eventually succeeded. This will certainly get drilled by future, less capable parties, but it will be a shame.

Spurred on by the recent girdle traverse of El Capitan, I teamed up with Karl to complete the route. It begins on Bushido and finishes on the northwest shoulder, where one can walk off to the cables. It is a truly outstanding climb of 18 near-60-meter pitches with all but a few feet being new ground. We spent nine nights on the wall and a total of 12 days. Fifty-five holes were drilled, of which 20 were for belays. It follows for the most part a very prominent line that is quite visible from the Valley floor. The route involves excellent climbing that can be just as exciting for the second as for the leader. In fact, I took numerous 20-footers cleaning pitons, which were easiest to remove while standing on. Very little gear was left fixed. This is a grand tour, especially if you want to see all the routes on the Dome.

Jay Smith

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