The classic profile of Half Dome, recognizable worldwide, sits over the east end of Yosemite Valley like a distant guardian. Glaciers cleaved the dome clear in half, leaving incredible slab climbs on the sunny southern aspect such as Snake Dike (5.7) and Southern Belle (5.12) to amazingly steep lines on the NW face. The namesake route (the "Regular" route) on the NW face is one of many aid climbers' first objectives, but it makes for a great, adventurous free climb as well.
Even the hiking route up to the summit visor, via the cables, is classic, and it is no wonder why this formation was used for the North Face's logo.
Half Dome takes a bit of work to get to. There are generally two approaches used by climbers:
1) Hike up from Happy Isles up the Mist Trail through Little Yosemite Valley (approx. 8 miles to the shoulder of Half Dome).
2) Head over from Happy Isles past Mirror Lake and hike up the "Death Slabs".
Option 1 is smooth hiking and clearly the way to go for the south facing routes. Option 2 is significantly faster (for the NW face), in both directions, but requires skilled route finding, very steep hiking, and use of fixed lines.
Wanna feel like a hero? Here's how. Get your gear and partner in order. Do an excruciating approach up thousands of feet, passing hundreds of knackered tourists from all over the world. Although a few will recognize you as a climber, most will look at you like you're a bit off in the head for shlepping an enormous, orange plastic backpack up the several million steps. And in many ways they're right, for you're about to pull off one of the most spectacular climbs on the face of our fair plan...[more]Browse More Classics in CA
When descending the cables on a crowded day you may find it easier to clip into the cables with a binner attached to a sling then step outside of the cables. Use another sling and binner to clip past the poles so that you are always clipped in.
I have done both approaches and absolutly recommend the "Slabs." There were only 2 slightly tricky parts: 1) Finding the right start...the spot where you leave the trail was very inobvious when I did this a few years ago. Maybe it is better now. 2) There is a spot near the end where the route seems to get blocked by a steep wall on your right. At first we actually climbed this darn thing only to figure out that the correct way to go is around a corner to the right. There is a hidden fixed rope (or two) ver that way and provides quick access to the long slpoe that brings you to the base of the wall. Chris Mac's topo is pretty good, and we figured it all out without checking it out first. I have also gone down this way and it wasn't bad at all. The best part about this approach is that you have STUNNING views of the whole wall that almost seems to hang over your head the whole way. If this is your first wall it will make you think "...um...gee...what am I getting into?" Have fun!