Speed Climbing Fall- Half Dome

Going For The Triple-Link-Up In

Yosemite, But ‘Falling’ A Bit Short

Dave Turner: Going for the Triple-Link-Up in Yosemite, but ‘falling’ a bit short

The ups and downs of Yosemite speed climbing



The plan seemed simple enough. Get as fit as possible and try for the BIG Yosemite enchainment. My friend Josh McClure and I wanted to climb the ‘Triple Link-Up’, climbing El Cap’s Nose, Half Dome’s northwest face, and Mount Watkins’ south face in a single day. This 75-pitch day had been done once before by Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neil, in a super respectable time of 23:23. Whoa. The bar was set, and our goal was to climb the three routes in 23:22! Could we do it? Who cared! We just knew that we would have a blast trying, and we were psyched.

My fastest time on the Nose was about 7hrs flat, and Half Dome was around 5hrs. I had never climbed Watkins. Well, I tried once. After carrying all my stuff to the base one day two years ago, the following day I wiped out hard on my mountain bike and broke two ribs. It wasn’t meant to be that day, and I had not returned to Watkins since.

It seemed that if we could shave some time off the Nose and Half Dome, get to know Watkins, and dedicated ourselves; it would be possible to pull off.

Actually, Josh and I had never climbed together, but had known each other for about five years. Both him and I enjoy speed soloing, and we knew we would get along just fine, so we decided to go for it. Our first mission was the Half Dome/Nose link-up to get warmed up and learn each other’s styles.

We started hiking to Half Dome in the afternoon of the 22nd of September. After resting at the base for about 45 minutes, we started up the route around 6pm. About four hours and twenty minutes later, we high-fived on the top, and started our run down the ‘Death Slabs’. We carried all our gear down with us, hopped on our bikes at Mirror Lake, and bombed down the hill towards my van in Curry Village. Ashley was waiting for us with a large pizza, and after taking our harnesses off, we left the Orchard parking lot on our way to El Cap.

Wouldn’t you know, as soon as we pulled out of the Orchard, a Park Ranger pulled in behind us, and started to follow real close! By the time we were passing by Yosemite Falls, his back up unit caught up to us, and then red and blue lights flashed in the rear view mirror. After more than twenty minutes of wasted time, they had absolutely nothing on us, and let us on our way. During this evening meeting with the Rangers, I said nothing about what we were doing, as I suspected they might drag it out just to mess with us. Welcome to Yosemite.

After a few pieces of pizza and some electrolytes, the whole Ranger episode was quickly fading from my memory as Josh and I made our way across the trail to the Nose. He started his block first, and as the sun came up, he was handing the rack over at the Grey Bands. The upper pitches flowed by one after another, and soon I short-fixed him on the final bolt ladder to the summit. A high five at the tree, a coiling of the rope, and we were on our way down.

Our time was not great, 17 hours and 54 minutes, but we were not really gunning it either. We knew we could go much faster, and after all, this wasn’t such a bad time for the El Cap/Half Dome link up, considering it was the first climb we had done together! Ashley was waiting for us at Manure Pile parking area with the van, and as we ran down the trail to meet her, we were already making plans to climb two or three days later on the Half Dome/Watkins link-up.


After two days of rest, we started back up the Death Slabs on our way to Half Dome once again. An hour and a half on the ‘trail’ and we were sipping from the spring at the base of the route. We decided to try a bit harder, and climb to the top in under 3:45 if possible. Josh raced up the first 17 pitches with me simul climbing beneath him, and short fixing when the pitches were a bit harder. Running the P.D.L. (Pakistani Death Loop) at all times while short fixing, we reached Big Sandy Ledge much quicker than our previous ascent. Without a pause, I took the meager rack from him and started up the Zig-Zags. We were on an awesome pace, and it seemed we would top out in about 3hrs 10 minutes if we kept it up. I short-fixed him on the first two Zig-Zag pitches, and as I led the third, he arrived at the belay and put me on as I neared the end of the pitch. It seemed like we were hauling ass, we were running it out and really going for it. A hastily placed cam went in, and as I aided from it, it popped without warning! I went flying through the darkness as my headlamp illuminated granite racing past in the wrong direction- downward bound! Eventually the 9.1mm rope started to arrest my giant whipper, but not soon enough. As I slowed, my right foot made direct contact with a sloping ledge, and it snapped. 19 ½ pitches up, and I was hurt. Damn.

My first reaction was to batman back up the rope to my highpoint piece, about 50+ feet above me. Once I saw what caught me, I laughed. It was some mystery sling tied into who knows what, deep in the crack. I had fallen a long way and was now injured. We had to get off the wall, and going down was not an option. My ankle was swelling up, and I knew time was of the essence. At that point I had to make a choice- either give up the lead and jumar out for the last 3 ½ pitches, or finish my block to the top. Both options would be very painful. I aided the last of the third Zig-Zag, and short-fixed Josh. I crawled across Thank God Ledge and heel-toed with my left foot up the off width above Thank God Ledge and short fixed Josh again. I one-foot aided the next bolt ladder, and penji’ed to the final pitch. One last PDL on the final 5.7 under-cling pitch (extremely painful) and I was hip belaying him up from a block on the top.

He raced up the last pitch, and we stopped the clock- 3:41 with a broken ankle! I removed my climbing shoe to check out the damage, and my ankle was the size of a grapefruit. I loosely put on my approach shoe while I still could, and as he coiled the rope, I started to hop, hobble, and crawl to the cables descent route. Using the cables as supports, I made it to the bottom of the Dome, but it became very obvious that I would not make it down with my ankle in the condition that it was. Two climbers who were lost and looking for the slabs descent way too high, had a cell phone, and we called the Ranger in Little Yosemite Valley. We asked him to bring up some crutches for me to hobble down with. Two hours later he arrived, did an assessment, and recommended a rescue. I declined, took the crutches, and ten hours later I arrived at my bike at Happy Isles.

In the end we were bummed about my ankle, but this type of incident can happen while climbing fast. I am just happy that after a whipper that big, things didn’t turn out much worse.

The Triple Link-Up will just have to wait until November….


Dave Turner

Take a look at my plans for 2014, it’s going to be huge!