I had a Facebook message this week from a guy called Blair about climbing Half Dome. I get a lot of emails like this, this blog some tinder for stupid/noble adventures like this! What stuck out was a picture of Blair crying on the summit! Ace! So I asked Blair if he could share ten things he learnt on the climb so that other big wall fools can make their own!
1. I wished I knew how to lock off a munter hitch properly. Around pitch seven the timewarp truly began and after lowering out the haul bag. I went to return my belay device to the back of my harness. I clipped the krab to the rear gear loop but as the gate snapped shut I realised the wire loop on the belay device wasn’t captured in the krab. I looked on in horror as the blue wild-country stitch plate catapulted off down the face of half dome. I had a bit of a wobbler but soon remembered the munter hitch I’d taken the time to learn (It’s important being stressed by AK’s blog) only I’d been lazy and not learned how to lock it off. Later on whilst carrying out the traverse of my life my lack of knowledge almost caused the disaster. I lowered myself out across the newly exposed face (after rockfall in 2015) from left to right but realised the tail of the rope wasn’t long enough to get me directly underneath the anchors above (at the start of the chimneys). I looked up and right across the face to a set of bolts about five metres diagonally up from me and realised if I locked off the munter hitch lower out then jugged up I might be able to reach them and then re-rig the lower off and carry on lowering until I had got under the anchors and ready to jug. So stupidly I put a slip knot in the tail of the rope, put a krab through it and attached it to a gear loop. I jugged up but needed to keep lowering out to reach the anchors so I took the krab off and out of the slipknot but the slipknot had pulled into a tight loop and was now being pulled toward the munter hitch. To my horror and surprise, the slipknot passed through the munter hitch and started travelling toward the lower anchors. There was no way I could let that knot get stuck in the anchors as it would never have squeezed through the maillion so I had to get it back. Jumar off and on to the rope with the taught slipknot on it and slowly pulled the knot back toward me until I could get it undone. I eventually got it out of tension and undone, phew I was sweating profusely now. I jugged a little more and finally attached directly into the new anchors re-rigged the lower out and carried on. The rest of the group couldn’t see me and had no idea what I had just had to do but I made it to the next belay exhausted and shaking. Halfdome IS scary.
2. I wished I’d known to never ever use accessory clips for anything important. Not long after I’d dropped my belay device I was handed one of the radios. Communication on a big wall is hard but is absolutely essential especially when the leader is running out 60m ropes right to the end and you can’t see him. I clipped the radio onto a loop by my shoulder on my backpack to keep it safe and out of the way. Only 15mins later I went to radio Ed (the leader) and couldn’t find the radio. Had I clipped it to my backpack or not? Had I given it back to Silvia? I don’t know but it was gone and none of us knew how. Val mentioned that accessory clips can do this. Just easily become unclipped. We were radioless and this proved to be a big problem on the last pitch when we were exhausted and everything became very confused.
3. I wish I’d known to always carry a handful of maillons. You never want to leave behind your shiny snap gates when you are trying to lower out. Get some maillions to sacrifice (and a bit of your own personal cord and a knife if you can).
4. I wish I’d known how dehydrated I was going to become. To the point where my lips were cracking and bleeding and when I could finally pee it was like green jelly. Always take a rehydration bladder with you that is easily accessible. No matter if your freezing your tits off or boiling hot (which you will be all the time even on a north face, whilst being stood at a belay for hours or jugging up) you are going to be losing a lot more fluid than you normally would be. And in that bladder make sure you stick a couple of those hydration tablets that come in a tube to replace the salts you sweat out.
5. I wish I known to take a variety of snacks that were EASILY ACCESSIBLE. On the middle day of climbing half Dome we started climbing at around 5 am and didn’t finish until 2 am. The pitches were big and scary and we had to just keep on moving until we got to big sandy ledge. We didn’t stop for lunch or to eat at all properly. I had half a dry cinnamon bagel and a handful of jolly ranchers to keep me going.
6. I wish I’d known how hard this wall would push me mentally. Right to the limits. I’m a 29-year-old man and I’ve never been so close to crying so many times in my life. Don’t ask why because most of the time I just didn’t know. But by the time I reached the top I was blubbering like a child with grief, relief, happiness to still be alive. I wasn’t sure.
7. I wish id known how tough jumaring can be. Slabs are easier, vertical jumaring is hard. But the best technique I found to be was just to go steady, not move the jumars too much and just go steady weighting and unweighting each foot. Keep your head down look at the rope and keep ongoing. Moving the jumars up too much will just tire you out quicker, you need to keep some in the tank or you’ll never make it to the top!
8. I wish I’d known that packing factor 50 sunblock wasn’t such a bad idea after all. You know the kind that surfers and cricket players use that has zinc oxide in it. Get some of that and put it on your nose. Also, don’t forget your sunglasses and make sure you have clothes that cover you up if it gets really hot. We spent the entire afternoon of day one on a ledge with the sun beating down on us, while ed and Silvia fixed the next two pitches. Sunburn and heatstroke can be really serious you don’t want to get it on a big wall.
9. I wish I’d known how weird it was to return to the valley after five days of being face to face with granite. It was strange to see humans with all of their idiosyncrasies and how obscene things seem when you finally come back to ‘civilisation’. I’m not sure how you can prepare for this, especially when people were asking us if the haul bag was our tent and not really understanding what we had just done and how glad we were to be alive!
10. I wish I’d know how much of a good idea it was to pack that climb on hand balm. Thanks to my fiancée’s brother Ashley for possibly your oddest but most useful present I have ever received. A week or so after getting back to earth the exposed part of my fingers, mainly my fingertips decided to peel off, climb on was useful for keeping them moisturised and for returning my cracked lips back to normal.
One final thing. Half Dome is a beast, and that was a seriously arduous adventure. We wondered if Half Dome likes having people climbing all over her and we decided she’s not too keen.