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North America, United States, California, Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy Dome, Resurrection and In Memoriam

Hetch Hetchy Dome, Resurrection and In Memoriam. Hetch Hctchy is the next canyon northwest of Yosemite Valley. From Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne River flows west into what used to be the “other valley.” A bit smaller than Yosemite, but every bit as beautiful, Hetch Hetchy was composed of 1,000-2,000' foot walls of golden granite, waterfalls, meadows, animals, and of course native people. But it was stripped away from them, as a reservoir was built in the 1920s to provide water for San Francisco. Some say Congressional approval of this catastrophe caused John Muir to die of a broken heart. Now the empty walls fall away into the dark cold waters and the lost world below. Needless to say, if you’re open to it, Hetch Hetchy carries a heavy vibe!

About eight years ago, when I was hiking through the area, it became apparent that at some point I would have to engulf myself on one of these mystical walls. One line in particular stood out. The line runs straight up the center of Hetch Hetchy Dome. About 1,800' high, the system splitting the golden headwall near the top of the dome is one of the most perfect lines I have ever seen. I later learned that Galen Rowell had done a route up this wall, and knew it had to be this line. It was, but at 5.9 A3. Since my goal was to free-climb the wall, I wasn’t as crushed as I could have been.

In May Brian Ketron and I set out to free the line. The first 1,100' are vertical or less. The wall is then crossed by a massive ledge system and capped by a 700' headwall above. We thought we would explode up the lower wall in a one-day push, freeing everything and fixing ropes to the upper wall, but were stopped at 800' by an unavoidable and unfrecablc bolt ladder. We retreated and reevaluated, and over the course of many days linked a line up the lower headwall in 10 pitches, at 5.12a, half on run-out face and half up nice cracks. The crux was a bolted slabby arête. This new lower-wall route shared only about one pitch with the old Galen route, which turned out to be a blessing, as it followed a more direct line and provided better free-climbing. With more work we managed to link up the upper wall at 5.12c, the crux being an overhanging layback that led into a less-than-vertical, way-thin, slippery seam. The rest of the upper wall hosts a 5.9 pitch, a 5.11b, two 5.11+ pitches, a 5.12a, and a 5.10c final pitch. On the upper wall we stayed mostly on the original aid line, with only slight variations. With the prep work done and the entire wall fixed with ropes, we rapped, went home, and returned a week later for the first free ascent. Ketron and I completed the route in two days, both freeing every move, while Shawn Reeder jugged the lines above us and photoed the ordeal. Resurrection (17 pitches, V 5.12c) is five stars and the nicest free climb I’ve ever done. Pro: One full set of stoppers and one full set of cams from #00 Metolius to #3 Camalot.

In late June I returned with Jake Jones and freed the original line on the bottom wall up to the bolt ladder, then traversed into Resurrection to establish In Memoriam (11 pitches, IV 5.11d), which probably rates three stars. Pro: One full set of stoppers and one full set of cams from #0 Metolius to #4.5 Camalot. Both routes can be rapped with a single 70m rope.

Sean Jones