Half Dome (8,840ft) and Moraine Dome (8,005ft)
Eric and Matthew
January 27-28, 2018
I flew down to California on Friday afternoon and we were soon driving east from the bay area. The goal for the weekend was to climb half dome, camp in the backcountry, and get some backcountry skiing in. It would be tough to accomplish all of these goals, since skiing required snow, but snow would make half dome more difficult.
It was a very low snow year in California, but luckily a storm rolled
through earlier in the week and it looked like there might just be enough snow near Half Dome to get a few turns in. The snow on Half Dome would make things tricky, but we planned to bring harnesses and prussiks to tie in to the summit cables on the ascent.
By Friday night we reached a comfortable campsite in the national forest just outside Yosemite national park.
Saturday we drove into the park, picked up our backcountry permits, and were soon hiking up the half dome trail. In the
summer time it’s nearly impossible to procure a permit to hike up half dome, but in the winter time no permits are required. Granted, the hand-rail-height cables that are up in the summer are dropped down in the winter, but as long as you bring harnesses and prussiks, you can tie into the cables and it’s perfectly safe to
climb up to the summit.
We hiked up the trail with huge packs, passing a few other people before eventually reaching snow line a few thousand feet up. The snow was thin, and not deep enough to put the skis on. We hiked past Nevada Falls, then dropped overnight gear in the woods around 2pm up along the John Muir Trail. We continued up the half dome trail as the snow got deeper, following a set of footprints up to a small hilltop near the base of the cables.
The footprints stopped at the cables, and it was apparent we were the first ones to attempt the summit in a while. The final climb looked steep, and was almost completely covered in snow, but the cables we exposed. We put the harnesses on, attached our prussiks to the cables, strapped on microspikes, and started up.
We made fast progress, only being slowed down to transfer our prussiks over the intermediate connection points on the cables. The microspikes helped us avoid slipping on the icy sections. By 3:30pm we were on the summit, and had a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley. It was a rare privilege to be on the summit of Half Dome on a sunny weekend with no other people around. I had been here in the summer in 2007, and there were literally hundreds of people summitting that day.
We walked around a bit, drank some water from snow-melt pools, then descended back down the cables. By dusk we were back at our campsite, and we made a nice fire to pass the evening.
On Sunday we packed up the skis and set off in search of some snow to make some turns. We’d scouted out a north aspect on Moraine Dome that looked promising, and we made it there within an hour. There was just barely enough snow to skin up to the summit of Moraine Dome without scratching down to the ground.
We skied down from the summit, then walked back up a gentle slope and got a few more practice laps in. Around 11am we needed to turn around, so hiked back to camp and then all the way back to the valley. I caught a late flight that evening and made it back to Seattle.