Snake Dike Beta

The following is a reprint of my very lengthy reply to some questions I received about climbing Snake Dike on Half Dome (with some editing from its original form). Please remember that these are nothing more than the recollections and recommendations of a mediocre climber and should be only be used by competent climbers capable of assessing the accuracy of the information presented and appropriately using it at their own risk. Snake Dike is certainly a dangerous climb with many very lengthy runouts and minimal gear. Don't get on it if you aren't sure of what you are getting into. I climbed this route in 1991. I can't speak to any changes to the route since then.

*2001 update: Here's a great link for Snake Dike information. Go to Chris McNamara's Supertopo page and download the free Snake Dike Supertopo in PDF format. Supertopo just keeps getting better and better!

. . . glad to answer your questions. These are all just my opinions, so take them for what they are worth.

Snake Dike is one great route! It should be the way all climbers reach the top of the Dome (as opposed to the cables).

Having said that, you do need to know that the "crux" is the first pitch. You've got a 5.7 runout on pure friction and it is scary since a fall might be a grounder after you bounce down the wall. Once you get to the good crack, it's casual. Pitch two [or three if using the original belays in the Reid topo] has some more 5.7 friction, but it is much less scary since there is no ground fall potential. The upper pitches are quite runout. I recall that pitch four or five is almost a rope length and has one spot at mid-pitch to clip to a bolt. That's around 70-80 foot runouts. However, the climbing is very easy at this point and you can feel solid (as long as your mind doesn't go on you).

Yes, you really only need nuts and runners (quickdraws for the bolts and shoulder length runners for belays). As I recall, I did use a big hex right off of the first belay stance (optional higher belay), but it is not necessary. Small to medium stoppers will work great. I got so used to running it out that I didn't bother placing them even when I could (a couple of spots near the top of the climb).

I recommend the higher belays for both pitch one and two. That way you don't have to set up a nut belay at the end of one. If you do this, you can start with your belayer low until you get past the 5.7 friction and to a good stance. Then have your belayer move up high enough for you to get to the bolts at the dotted #1. If you have a long rope you may not need to do this. I believe the "straight rope don't clip" on the Reid topo in "Yosemite Select" is for the purpose of reducing the potential for a bad pendulum fall for the second or reducing rope drag if you use the solid circle belays (or maybe even rope length problems?). I'm not really sure since I used the alternate belays and clipped in there.

A party of four will be a problem. We tried a party of five, and three rapped off after pitch one. The problem is that the higher belays are stance belays and it gets crowded really fast. It is ideally a two person climb, leapfrogging leads or having a single leader. You could consider going as two teams, but that adds at least one rope (the lead party would still need two ropes in case of a forced rap). The speed of the climb is very much related to time at the belays. Since there is no gear to place while climbing, it goes really fast. I led the whole climb as well with my sister as my partner. It is a much more mental than physical climb.

I would recommend getting a back country permit for Little Yosemite and staying the night. Basically from LY, you hike toward the south corner of the dome, keeping Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick on your left. You then scramble up the talus and loose stuff to the start of the climb. If you get to LY early in the day, just hike over to the south corner and see where you will be heading the next day. That first part of the hike is actually quite level. Going directly from the big valley to the climb really cuts down on your margin for error. Bear boxes are in LY; none elsewhere. And there are bears who will find your food and tear your gear apart to get it! (My sister-in-law wishes she had remembered that cookie she put in the top of her pack.)

A few more suggestions for what they are worth:

Have fun, climb safe, pray often,

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