Galactic Hitchhiker

Galactic Hitchhiker

Why do you climb?  Does it light the fire in your belly?  Does it make your heart beat faster?  Do you seek adventure, or stay in your comfort zone?  For me, I know that the bigger and harder the better, and I’d rather be on the rock with an amazing friend, than anywhere else on earth…

So, what did that mean for this adventure?  It meant climbing with Roberto, of course!  Last fall we were both out of shape from studying too hard and not having the opportunity to get on real rock as often as we like.  Instead of seeking out the hardest thing we could find, we decided to try the longest!  It was time to finally get on Galactic Hitchhiker, something that had been on my radar for 5 years but I never got around to it.  It’s a 39 pitch monster ascending Glacier Point from the apron to the summit.  There are some “pitches” near the top that are literally hiking, but I figure it’s a good 3500’ or so of real climbing on the route.

We were racking up before sunrise for our adventure.  The goal of the route is to top out before the crowds leave the lookout on top of Glacier Point.  That way you can hitchhike back to the Valley without taking the knee destroying "4 Mile Trail" back down.  It's one of the longest routes in the entire Sierra with a sub 10 minute approach and a 3 minute "descent", which involves walking up to the lookout, if done properly.  Unfortunately, being relative Yosemite noobs, we immediately chose the wrong trail out of the parking lot and got "lost."  Lost is relative, and we hiked straight up a wooded hill and still managed to be at the base in about 10 minutes.  We were laughing at how trivial the approach was for such a huge route!


We correctly guessed the base of Goodrich Pinnacle, which is roughly the first 1000' of the route, and cast off on the low angle granite.  We soloed the first two pitches, found a ledge, and roped up.  Roberto had the rack and took off up the route.  Unfortunately, we were a little too flippant and were using the topo for GH instead of the Supertopo for Goodrich (which we had with us...) and he almost immediately got off route pulling the roof a ways up in the picture.  Trying to reverse his moves, he ended up whipping and ripped out his last piece, a red Link Cam, which I had just reviewed.  It was in a weird pod, placed as well as possible, but it torqued the thing out.  The stem was bent funny, and it looked a little beat up, so it was suspect the rest of the route which didn't help since our rack was already relatively meager.  (Side note: It looked mildly beat up, so it was sent into OP for testing and it pull tested to 18kn without failing).

Unfortunately, his fall was about 30', and since the route trended right then left, I believe that the rope flipped him upside down and he hit is head pretty hard.  I don't think he let on how hard he had hit it, but I lowered him and took over the lead since he wasn't quite feeling up for it at that moment.  I attempted the same roof, realized it was off route at some point, and looked far down and left to see an anchor and thin climbable and protectable cracks.  I successfully reversed the moves, admittedly a little scared since the only piece I had was the same one that had ripped on Berto, and made it back on route.  Standing on that little ledge, I pulled out our now annotated Supertopo and double checked to see if we were on route:


As you can see, he accidentally went the ONLY way that has "No!" on the topo....  Oops!  Also, he told me later that he was seeing stars, also annotated on the topo.  Great way to start a 3500' route, right?  Oh well... P = G!  The show must go on!

After we were back on route, the pitches started dropping like flies.  One memorable moment was the crux of Goodrich.  It's so smooth that my shoes were squeaking and I just palmed down for the traverse as opposed to looking for holds.  Since the route was so low angle, Berto brought his good camera and shot a ton of cool photos.  FYI, this picture is a little rotated; see the horizon.  Also, you can see the sun reflecting off the rock in the bottom left of the picture it's so slick!  This was definitely 5.10 climbing, by they way!

I stayed on the lead til we topped out Goodrich Pinnacle since Berto was still a little shaken up by the fall.  He didn't let on how bad the fall was until we were sitting on the top of the Pinnacle.  He admitted he was feeling a little nausea, which between that and the stars meant that he probably had a concussion.  Below is a video we shot while taking a short food and water break on the top of GP which is a spectacular ledge in a sea of granite.

Post video, the climbing resumed.  Below is a picture of Berto on Goodrich as I cast off up the face.  Pitch after pitch fell away as we motored our way up the massive face.  Far above was the "Oasis" and the steeper headwall.  The quality of the climbing didn't really diminish at all like I expected it to.


The climbing never got hard, unmanageable, or scary, until around pitch 18-20.  We'd heard that it could use some bolts both for belays and anchors and that the first ascentionists have given their OK for bolts to be added.  Unfortunately, lining up a drill turned into a clusterf**k and we ended up heading up the wall without one.  It was for the best, since Berto's concussion slowed us down some and we wouldn't have had time anyways.  I've since bought a drill, so maybe next time?  A picture from the base of pitch 18 looking down the route.  Berto is a speck on the rock as we head into the steeper headwall above for the next 20 pitches:


I got a little lost around pitch 19.  I was probably off route.  I built a belay, brought Berto up, and had to do about a 60' easy 5.10 runout off the anchor to regain the route and the next belay above.  At one point, I knew I was off route looking at a factor 2 fall on the anchor, not sure if I headed up for 40' if I'd regain the route proper or still have no gear.  I remember looking over at Berto and just telling him something along the lines of, "I'm kinda scared... soft catch if I fall?"  Keeping it interesting.  I successfully regained the route and pitches kept dropping like flies, still almost all high quality.  Knobs, cracks, slabs, corners, face, a little of everything.  Each crux has a bolt at it, so you can easily do the route at about 5.10a A0 if you want.  The cruxes are very short and contained and easy to pull through.  The route is so long that your view of Half Dome just keeps getting better and better as it peeks out above it's right shoulder:


Eventually we hit the upper lower angle terrain before the final headwall.  We unroped and walked for a while.  I had adopted a new shoe strategy for this route, and decided to go light.  I brought vibram five fingers so I wasn't lugging big bulky shoes up a 3500' route, which was quite nice.  I'd highly recommend the strategy to lighten the load.

Berto was feeling a little better later in the day, and took over more of the leads.  I was lucky enough to snap this beauty: (Do do do do!)


Most of the other photos are Berto's.  He brought the good camera and did most of the photography.  THANKS!!!

On the final headwall, I lead the crux pitch: 5.11c thin face on pitch 37.  I really wanted the onsight, so I resorted to shenanigans.  I tried some moves with the pack on, but it just wasn't working.  I could feel the weight pulling me backwards.  Finally I clipped the pack to a bunch of slings and hung it on the bolt at the crux.  Then I committed to a full all points off dyno to a tiny edge and barely latched it with three finger tips.  I then did a move or two to a larger hold, reached down and grabbed the bag again.  The trick worked!  I hauled the other pack for Berto, and amazingly the only fall we had all day was when we got off route on our first roped up pitch!  We had both gotten the proper route clean!  Woot!

I mentioned this before, but I think that it should be mentioned again.  The quality of the climbing on this route stayed really high from base to summit.  We really enjoyed the route, and were stunned that it didn't deteriorate in quality as we got higher.  The guys who did the FA did a fantastic line finding a great sustained line up such a large face.  Go get on it!

We topped out 11 hours after starting at the perfect time: sun setting on Half Dome and tourists by the hundreds on the summit as we pulled over the final lip of the climb:


We had plenty of people to ask for a ride back to the valley, so we snapped some hero summit shots and enjoyed the sunset ourselves.  And by the way, they're called "Tourons" because they're not smart enough to frame Half Dome in the picture you ask them to take:


Berto snapped a few beautiful shots of HD, much better framed, and we started scrounging around for a ride back to the valley.  An hour or two car ride later, we were back at the valley floor with dinner waiting for us.  Thanks Angelina!


Make sure to flip through the pictures below because Berto got some great ones!