What has happened to Half Dome’s Northwest face of Half Dome?
July 7th, 2015.
A popular climbing route at Half Dome in the Yosemite National Park may have been altered after part of the iconic granite monolith’s face collapsed last week, officials said Tuesday.
Climbing rangers were assessing changes to the Regular Northwest Face climb after a triangle-shaped slab of rock, roughly 200 feet long and composed of relatively thin granite, tumbled off Half Dome, park geologist Greg Stock said.
While large, rock falls of this magnitude are relatively common at the park, Stock said, and occur about once a year in a process known as exfoliation. Water, ice, earthquakes and plant growth could trigger unpredictable falls.
“It wasn’t huge by rock fall standards,” park spokeswoman Jodi Bailey said.
Most of the major rockfalls in Yosemite are the result of a geological phenomenon called exfoliation, in which layers of granite, under extreme internal pressure, are pushed outward to the point of falling.
“Basically, Half Dome is layered like a deck of stacked cards,” Stock says. “Exfoliation is a process of those layers falling away to reveal the next layer in the cliff face. What causes them to fall, however, is hard to determine.”
This is the section that talks about REPAIRING THE ROUTE:
Repairing The Route
Recently, Justen Sjong and Jim Herson, two seasoned Yosemite climbers, attempted to find a new path across the rock scar. They began scaling Half Dome on July 27, but quickly retreated when they discovered just how unstable and scary the rockfall zone remains. Sjong posted a picture of it on Instagram.
“It’s amazing how clean the break was,” Sjong says. “There are still a few large blocks waiting to come off at the top of the breaking point. … I was nervous with the size and current activity. We bailed at that point.”
It’s still possible to reach Half Dome’s summit, of course. An “easier” eight-mile (12.8-kilometer) hike, popular with Yosemite visitors, culminates in a scramble up a structure made of cables and steps installed on the eastern side of the peak.
Climbers, however, would prefer to reach the top via the challenging, steep, and long Northwest Face. This route is a rite of passage for Yosemite climbers, and the idea that it might no longer be climbable was enough to bring two climbers from Southern California out to Yosemite, to see if they could do something about it.
Joshua Reinig and Howard Ballou weren’t going to let one of their favorite climbs vanish. At the end of July, Reinig and Ballou spent five days working to pioneer a new path up and across the rock scar.
They slept in a portaledge, a hanging platform tent, below the scar—a precarious position that was abnormally dangerous in the wake of the rockfall. Loose gravel from the fresh rockfall rained down on them, while the entire cliff itself trembled as blocks shifted and settled.
“At night we felt the wall vibrating pretty heavily,” says Reinig. “That definitely added to the excitement.”
To overcome the rock scar, the pair installed a series of bolts, into which climbers can clip ropes and equipment. This so-called bolt ladder will act as the bridge across the rock scar, and is considered a compromise to keeping the route open for climbing.
“Although we all know this is not the ideal way we would like to climb up there,” wrote Brendan Latham, Yosemite’s climbing ranger, in reference to the new bolts, “the section that has to be re-connected is super steep and blank.”
Who are Reinig and Ballou? This is an interview that you can read
to find about them and what they did. They discovered a potential new path on the Northwest side, which wouldn’t require additional bolts, around the rock scar to its right. However, going that way, at least right now, proved to be way too dangerous due to some looming, loose blocks. For example, Reinig described several blocks the size of washing machines teetering on ledges.
And voila!, two months after the rockfall that affected the Northwest side climb, a full ascent was achieved.
Matt Leavenworth pulls onto the “Thank God Ledge” on the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, above the missing section. Photo: Alex Saunders.
Two months ago, a massive chunk of the Regular Northwest Face—the most popular route on Half Dome in Yosemite—disappeared overnight. Pitch 12 was wiped out, as well as the upper half of Pitch 11, following the Robbins Traverse, and the bottom of Pitch 13.
Unaware of the rockfall, the first climber to reach that section reported finding the anchors of Pitch 11 hanging in a sea of blank granite, unreachable, where a belay ledge used to exist.
Once word spread, a few curious ventured up to the missing section to see if it would go. Yosemite District Ranger Jack Hoeflich and longtime Yosemite janitor Zach Mulligan placed a new anchor for Pitch 11, left of the original, and attempted to get through the blank by drilling a seven rivet ladder, according to Erik Sloan, author of the Yosemite Bigwalls
The rivet ladder ended in the center of the blank section.
The new rivet/bolt ladder. Photo: Alex Saunders.
The Bivi Brothers, Joshua Reinig and Howard Ballou, came next. They extended the “sketch rivet ladder,” as Reinig calls it in a SuperTopo post, with five 3/8-inch bolts to a “rather ridiculous pendulum.” They had only planned for five days on the wall, and despite their efforts, ran out of time and retreated.
Then Alex Saunders and Matt Leavenworth stepped up and climbed it.