1st Ascent
Black Pyramid

Cruising the Zodiac
Chamonix: To Climb
or Not to Climb

Climbing in Autumn

Yosemite Classics For The Rest Of Us
Snake Dike on Half Dome and the East Buttress of El Capitan

[East Buttress 13 Pitches]

Snake Dike
If you're tired of reading about ultra classic rock climbs that are "only 5.11," or harder, you're not alone. Today's modern classics—amazing as they are—tend to require superior fitness and focus. Such climbs are great for those who train regularly and can manage lots of time off, but what about the rest of us? Here are two timeless Yosemite classics that won't turn your knuckles red or your adrenaline brown, but will leave you with lasting memories of great climbs.

The first, and the easier of the two, is Half Dome's Snake Dike. Many people call it "Snake Hike" because of the 12 miles of hiking that go along with the five pitches of mid-fifth class climbing (there are a few 5.7 moves down low, otherwise it's 5.0 to 5.4).

"Follow a sea of chicken heads straight up, using a few fixed pins for protection. This is one of the best 5.7 pitches you'll ever do: steep, exposed, but simple..."

The best way to do the route is to start early and get the hiking over with before it gets too hot. There are two approaches: the Mist Trail, which is steep and mindless, and the direct route. The latter approach requires some very specific directions. Ask around at Camp IV for the beta, otherwise take the Mist Trail to the cutoff by Little Yosemite.

"The Bivy"
Regardless of how you get to the base, the climb is easy to find, and irresistible. The dike, which is about three feet wide and more than 600 feet long, stands out like the ridge on a Rhodesian Ridgeback. The climbing is pure joy. As you waltz up the dike, you enjoy the security of golfball-sized orange knobs. On both sides of you, the glacier-polished slab looks like it would require the skill of a 5.11 friction climber. But you're in a different world, a world of abundant, friendly holds in an endless sea of granite. But, while the holds are abundant, the protection is, uh, let's say, sparse. There is an occasional bolt, but mostly it's 5.0 climbing with bolts for belays only. Since the climbing really is easy (trust me, I'm not sandbagging), the best thing to do is just forget about the runouts and groove on the continuous, rhythmic, aerobic movement. And keep in mind the climbing gets easier as you go up. After four or five pitches the angle kicks back, allowing you to unrope and enjoy what the topo calls "Class 2 forever" (key word: forever).

You'll know that you're approaching the summit when you spot throngs of hikers who are earning their "I Climbed It" T-shirts by ascending Half Dome via the famous "Cables" route (your descent). After a quick 7.4 mile, 4800-foot drop to the Valley floor, you'll be sipping cold beer and staring up at the summit, saying "I was just there." Allow six to 10 hours for the car-to-car roundtrip. The climb is worth it for the views alone, and the dike is one of the most amazing natural features you'll ever touch. Regardless of how you do the climb—belaying at every pitch, simul-climbing, or solo, Snake Dike offers something for every climber. Don't miss it.

El Cap
The second classic is the East Buttress of El Capitan, the easiest route on The Big Stone. Unlike most of El Cap's nerve wracking nail-ups, the East Buttress of El Cap is a moderate (5.10b) Grade IV free climb that can easily be done in a day. You can be up and down the route in the time it takes the average party to advance three pitches on The Zodiac. Even though The East Buttress is not a real El Cap route, it offers something for everyone. It's a 13 pitch odyssey up the right side of North America's most famous big wall.

The approach is simple: hike up the talus field directly below The Zodiac, and veer right when you get close to the base of the wall (45 minutes). The route starts on the west side of the ridge in—what else?—a chimney. But, unlike most 5.9 Yosemite chimneys, this one isn't too grunty and is easy to protect with a standard rack.

"Peer down The Dawn Wall (just east of The Nose), a butt-puckering 3000 feet sheer drop that will either cause you to worship Warren Harding or wish your parents had never met..."
The second pitch starts off with a reachy 5.10b crux (bolt protected), then deposits you into a super clean 5.9 groove—a very memorable pitch. Easier and somewhat loose climbing (5.0 to 5.6) takes you to the ridge proper, allowing you to gain several hundred feet in a just a few minutes. As you continue to climb the buttress, staying as close to the true ridge as possible, you'll find a wonderful hand crack that leads to a comfortable belay ledge (end of pitch 7). This is a great spot to take in the view and grab a bite to eat.

The eighth pitch (5.9) takes you up and left, testing your hand jams and footwork along the way. At this point, you switch from climbing on a ridge to a face. The exposure and views are exhilarating. It's easy to avoid the 5.9 offwidth on the 9th pitch by face climbing to the left, using fixed pins and a bolt for adequate protection. Once you finish the 9th pitch, you've got the climb in the bag: the next four pitches are 5.5, 5.7, 5.7 and 5.5, respectively. Despite the easy ratings, don't let your guard down too much. The climbing is still steep, exposed and requires some route finding skill.

East Buttress
The best pitch on the route is the 11th. It starts with an airy traverse toward a knobby headwall, a great photo opportunity. After heading right for about 30 feet, follow a sea of chicken heads straight up, using a few fixed pins for protection. This is one of the best 5.7 pitches you'll ever do: steep and exposed, but simple. Keep meandering up the wall until you reach an obvious belay ledge with loose talus. The climbing eases a bit for the next two pitches, and before you know it, you're on the top.

If you've never been to the top of El Cap, and if time allows, ditch your gear and scurry to the top of The Captain. This quick, 15 minute hike allows you to peer down The Dawn Wall (just east of The Nose), a butt-puckering 3000 feet sheer drop that will either cause you to worship Warren Harding or wish your parents had never met. In any case, the climb and the spectacular setting will make it a very memorable day. Descend via the East Ledges.

Mark Kroese, Correspondant

[East Buttress 13 Pitches]

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