Following the Snake: Dike climbing on Half Dome

Published by Alpin_Rise , 17 November 2014, 20h37.

Region: World » United States » California
Date of the hike:15 June 2014
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: V- (UIAA Grading System)
Via ferrata grading: F
Geo-Tags: USA   Yosemite National Parc   US-CA 
Height gain: 1500 m 4920 ft.
Access to start point:Happy Isles Trailhead. The Yosemite Shuttlebus stops right there.
Accommodation:Serveral in Yosemite Valley. The only one worth its money is the legendary Camp 4. To camp somwhere near the start of Snake Dike, you officially need a wilderness permit.

Climbing Half Dome is a dream for almost everyone visiting the Yosemite Valley. Once you see that incredible granite monolithe from the right perspective, the question "why?" is already answered.
"Climbing" Half Dome means to most people standing in a line for the (in)famous regular route via "the calbes" - if you were lucky enough to get one of the sought after permits. This regular route is a long dayhike summing up 1400 m (4800 ft) gain and about 24 km (15 Mi) roundtrip distance,  described on several times: klick klack, kluck.

Since I first read about the world famous "Snake Dike" in the Half Dome West Flank, it became my dream to climb that incredible rock feature once in my lifetime. That dream came true in Summer 2014, thanks to my climbing partners I met in the legedary Camp 4. Since no permit or other bureaucracy (!) has to be done for any climbing route in Yosemite , we just packed our gear and went for it. Just a short summary: the climb earns its good reputation all the way - I never climbed on such a fantastic piece of rock before!

... one of the most glorious moderate climbs on the planet!

The quote above is from the Supertopo guidebook and describes the climb (in an american fashion...) pretty well; I won't go into details as there's already a whole lot of information on the net about Snake Dike, just google. In the following a few photographic  impressions and hints on the route.

We did the climb in two days; nevertheless the route itself is not too long and in alpine scales it makes a good daytrip for aspirants in good phisical shape. All together consists of a 6-miles hike to the base, then an eight pitch climb, some "endless" slab walking to the summit  and a 9-mile descent back to the Valley. This will take you anything from 8 to 14 Hours or even two days.

The approach to the base is  easy to find with faint traces all over, we took the easier but slightly longer variant via Lost Lake, reaching the start via some 3rd class ledges, some cairns indicate the best way.

The climb itself starts with the - in my opinion - hardest passage, polished 5.7 friction climbing under a small roof. After a fantastic flake and a cool traverse you reach the first dike. The "crux" traverse to the second dike seemed to me not that "hard", I found it easyer than the first pitch and would grade it 5.6. Then you simply follow the fantastic, 800 foot long dike in unique climbing to its end. Just a few easy slab pitches lead to the "endless" inclined slabs, where you unrope and finally make it to the summit plateau.

Gear: I recommend to go as light as possible: A 60m rope may be usefull, but 50m is also fine. Take 3 or 4 small Friends/Camalots (0.3/.05/0.75) and a small set of rocks. 5 Quickdraws are enough.
Protection is sacre on the dike itself: you have to run out around 50 ft several times, but holds are good and the climbing is a "no brainer". In the upper part, gear can also be placed unterneath the dike. What surpised me more was not the quantity but the poor quality of fixed protection: I was stunned to find some very old, scary bolts especially on the belays in such a popular route - I would not feel comfortable hanging there with a bunch of people. I hope they will be replaced soon.

Don't forget to take enough drinking water, the relayable last source is Merced River (filter/desinfect!) and enjoy the climb. 

Descent is pretty easy via the cables, but can be crowded. Be carefull when it's wet, as the rock is completely polished. There's an advance in that fact: If you've got free passage you can grab the cables and just slide down on your shoe soles!

A very good over-all Snake Dike descrition including a topo can be downloaded on

A last remark: I would love to climb that route again. Since I know some famous Swiss hikr that moved close to that climbing paradise and would probably join me? We'll see...

Hike partners: Alpin_Rise


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Comments (4)

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Sent 17 November 2014, 21h55
Toll konntest Du Dir diesen Traum in wunderschöner Landschaft erfüllen! Aber, dass Du nebst paar Friends auch eine kleine Gruppe von Felsen mit nehmen musstest hätte ich nicht gedacht;-)

Google Übersetzungen lassen immer wieder schmunzeln.

Liebe Gruess

mde says: Super!
Sent 17 November 2014, 22h48
Definitely one of the must-do climbs on planet earth! Thx for the nice report and pictures.

Cheers, Marcel

danski says: Wow!
Sent 18 November 2014, 19h54

MicheleK says:
Sent 19 November 2014, 01h52
wow - amazing! I must go back and attempt!

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