Basket Dome - Milestone

from forum posts by The Warbler:

Sometime in the mid seventies, after Bridwell did Straight Jacket on Basket Dome, he told me about a long straght in crack system on the wall right of that route and near the arete of a massive right facing arch that dominates the southeast face of Basket Dome. He was really excited about it at the time, and said he thought you might be able to faceclimb to it, or that I might be able to.

Went up the Snow Creek switchbacks 30 years later to scope it out. Schwacked almost all the way to the base and saw potential for a start. Couple days later walked up Tenaya Canyon and way up the talus past Half Dome with some glasses and my camera. Began to see a line from the lowest point of Basket Dome up through some disconnected features, to three giant ramps that switchbacked nicely toward the crack system Bridwell told me of. From the end of that three hundred foot crack a weakness appeared to lead for five or six lower angle pitches to the top of the dome. Careful inspection of the photos I took that day led me to believe a route was there, and that it might not even be that hard.

There is a route there now, but it's kinda hard.

It took my partner Sean Shannon and I three trips to the Valley and some twelve days of climbing, bolting and working the route, before it was ready for a ground up ascent,

Not a ground up "trad style" ascent but more of a redpoint. With a trad flavor. We did start at the ground and climbed up, for two days, on the final ascent.

We tried to do a true ground up ascent, but what I was hoping to be 5.9 or easy 5.10 pitches at the start turned out to be four good 5.11 pitches in a row. Thin face crux on the pitch off the ground. Pure crack in a bombay flare, tight hands to rattley fingers to offsize pod on pitch two. Arches style thin, relentless, 11.d edging on pitch three. A tricky routefinding problem with a vertical step on pitch four.Two days of climbing and the hard looking part was still way the f#ck up there.

Rapped to Valley, went to SAR cache, got six static ropes from Werner and a ride back to our car at Porcupine Flat, hiked back to the rim, bivied, and rapped 1000 ft down the top of the climb to check it out, and determine if it would be doable. Living in San Diego with a wife and kids kinda takes the adventure ability down a notch or two.

Looked good...real good, but hard. The "hand cracks" Bridwell told me about were arrow cracks, with a few fingerlocks here and there. The rock was excellent, the position the cracks took spectacular.

Returned a year later, rapped down and did the upper five pitches, starting at the last belay on the crack, perched on the lip of a forty foot roof at the end of the massive 600 ft arch. What was to be pitch fifteen was 5.11 face right off the belay followed by linking small corners and arches up a rolling slab to a splitter crack finish and a good ledge.

Pitch sixteen meanders after a steep lieback flake, to a mantle, that places you below an 11d slab with three bolts, some dime edges and not much else, that gets you to a flake system, the belay comes after 180 ft.

Pitch seventeen has two easy 5.11 sections and ends liebacking a four inch thick flake separated from the wall by three or four inches. Super clean. The belay is standing on the flake where it becomes a thin ledge with a deep clean crack behind it.

The flake system continues up and right toward the summit of Basket Dome, but pitch eighteen follows the plumb line of a Tuolumne style black streak. All bolts, one cam in an overlap near the top of the 10.a pitch. Sweet slab climbing, perfect rock, way up there.

The belay below the last pitch is positioned below the steepest bulge in that zone and the climber mantles a big ol diorite knob with a stopper behind it, clips a bolt and does some thin 11a moves in a stemmy bowl to immediately easing rock and a big belay tree nearly at the dome's summit.

On the drive home we decided to do whatever we had to do to link these upper five pitches with the lower four we did a year before.

Our third effort we allowed ten or twelve days in the Valley. The ramps I had hoped to follow in the center section of the route were ruled out due to a thirty foot long, eight foot high blade of vibrating stone sitting with its ass end on the ramp and its snout cantilevered out in space. We found a route around this obstacle, that led us up into the bottom of the huge arch, and happily to a perfect bivi ledge atop pitch eight.

From our previous high point of four pitches we did a short 5.8 pitch to the base of a vertical straight in, straight up thin crack -120 ft 11.d. A desperate flared barndoor lieback start to pumpy fingers and hands, then up a steep stem corner with tiplocks to an exposed flat belay ledge positioned in the center of a 200 foot long arete.

Here the crack of pitch six becomes a ramp/hand traverse that turns the arete and leads back into a deep bowling corner that is the start of the huge arch above. This 5.10 pitch finishes on a handrail traverse with exciting distance between cams to a stance below roofs and a vertical corner.

Pitch eight (11b) liebacks a thin crack to hands through a roof, then up a steep leaning offsize with a bomber edge to more roofs, and finally the bivi ledge.

Two gnarled scrub oaks, each with a sleeping spot below, share an inspiring view of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, and a view straight up the unclimbed arch.

Pitch nine downclimbs a ramp to the left, down mantles a ledge, easy 5.11, to an easy ramp that rises to the arete of the arch and an airy three bolt belay.

Pitch ten is bouldery hard 5.11 moves sideways off the belay to a 1 inch thick flake that miraculously winds its way forty feet up the steep wall toward the three hundred foot crack system. The belay is atop the end of the flake.

Pitch eleven is the route's crux. Desperate face climbing left off the belay reaches the crack after twenty five feet. Good jams and fingerlocks disappear after twenty feet, and the angle steepens.

At this point we made a decision that will surely be controversial. The crack would take A1 arrows or A3 stoppers. At the time the 00 cams had not come out, and even those would have been hard or impossible to place in the leaning crack. We bolted it, rather than fix pins. Given the length of the route and the diffculty of the climbing on the pitch (12b) in comparison to the majority of the route's climbing, we decided it was the way to go.

After the pitch's 12b sequency, super thin crux, are forty feet of sustained 5.11 high body tension moves ending at a diorite knob that allows a shakeout. More thin crack leads to a band of giant holes that march across the face in a quartz band. Rather than follow the crack into the holes, the route exits left to the far left hole, a six foot high mini cave with a sandy floor.

At this point two parallel cracks are leaning at about a 30 degree angle, roughly paralleling the arete of the arch that was exited far below, and inching closer and closer to the edge as they rise. The cracks become unclimbable where they pass through the bulge above the holes, but some thirty feet higher again become climbable.

Fortunately, the far left hole belay positions the leader within a few steep moves of a dike that pops 3 inches out of the wall. A mantle places the boots on the lip of "The Crack Sniffin Dike". An exciting sixty foot 5.11 traverse brings the leader back to the coveted crack and a two bolt belay.

Pitch thirteen (The Hangnail Pitch) begins with good fingers for twenty feet to the end of that crack. At this point the crack system is double, so the leader moves down and right (5.11) to the neighboring splitter. Here his feet are about ten feet from the lip of what has become a forty foot roof below (the arch). Eighty feet of continuous, leaning 11d arrow crack with 00 cam pro brings the climber to the belay and even closer to the roof's lip. This amazing, laser straight splitter is the only flaw in the slab for nearly two hundred feet to the left. The leader should carry some prussiks on this lead as a fall and a pulled piece could mean a Touching the Void situation.

Pitch fourteen is easy 5.10 and becomes almost horizontal at it's end, with the leader's feet at crack level and protection placed by leaning over and peering into the crack at your feet. The belay is at a point where the four pitch crack system, "The Bridwell Cracks", finally disappears around the lip of the arch's roof.

The last 5 pitches I've already described.

Every belay on this route has two stainless bolts. All bolt protection is stainless, 90 bolts total. Six pitches have no protection bolts. Three pitches have all bolt protection. Most of the bolts on this route were placed on the lead, but not all. Some hero could have certainly done the route ground up, but we were happy to do it as we did. It's a good, hard, classic route, Great variety, quality rock, awesome positions and exposure, a line that starts at the very bottom of the dome and follows a mostly obvious route to the summit.

The final ascent we did with a bivi atop pitch eight. The days were getting longer and hotter, and we didn't want to be on the crux pitch in the midday heat. Because we had been working the route, we were able to stock water on the ledges, making hauling easier. We bivied on the Valley rim at a beautiful site behind Basket Dome near the stream that falls down it's East gully. An hour descent put us at the base, and we waited til 11:30 to allow the 11d third pitch to be in the shade. Arrived at the bivi just at dark. Summited the next day at sunset. No falls.

The way to do this route is in a day if possible. Bivi on the rim, leave your sleeping gear, crack it to the base, send the route and return to camp, a fifteen minute walk from the topout. Rapping off above the dike pitch would be tricky, so it's a committing challenge for a one day ascent. Spring has the advantage of water in camp and at the base. Car to camp is two hours. The topo should be in Reid's new guide. The cracks and the upper part of the route are easily seen from Mirror Lake near Basket Dome's skyline.

"Milestone" V 5.12b 19 pitches FA Sean Shannon, Kevin Worrall May, 2004

view from below - photo by Simon King

[Milestone] starts at the tiny snow patch at the base of Basket Dome. It's just above the waterfall that drops below the east gully, from the photo's perspective. It climbs straight up into the bottom of the gigantic right facing arch, then exits left where the arch starts to lean hard. There's a 300 ft long splitter arrow/finger crack paralleling the arch's arete that ends at the lip of the arch where it becomes a 50 ft roof. From there, 5 pitches of slab and flake climbing follow an obvious line to the top. 19 pitches, 5.12b, 14 5.11 pitches. 2 day ascent after much work. Best FA I've ever done.

[It] took many days of effort over three years, and we walked along the base of that dome several times, after descending the gully behind it. Not the gully under Basket Dome's east face, but the one that drops toward Snow Creek. It's a good way to the base, with minimal bushwhacking. The BD gully is heinous, at least with a hundred pound pack.

Milestone on Basket Dome - Longest, hardest, FA I've done. 2004, I was 49 years old, and I probably won't do anything longer than that again. Starts at the lowest point of the dome and ends nearly at the summit. A very independent line, all free, 12b, with 19 all new pitches. Not ground up, but we sure felt ground up after doing it.

Look at the line - the upper crack and flakes, 10 pitches, are visible from Mirror Lake. As far as finding the route goes, You basically start at the very bottom of the dome, about 200 ft west of the stream. you have to 3rd class up some easy steps to a big ledge with some scrub oaks and an obvious right facing corner above it. To the right of that corner, pass three bolts right off the ledge, and from there on, the route is obvious crack systems. Anywhere there's a choice of routes, a pro bolt or belay bolts will show the way, all the way to the top. 7 pitches are all gear, 2 all bolts. 14 5.11 pitches, 1 5.12b pitch (#11).

We approached this route from a new perspective - it's a hybrid sport/trad route. Most of the bolting was done on lead, but some was off the rope. We started with pure and lofty goals, doing the first four pitches groundup, but the scale and difficulty of the route, combined with our mutual time constraints, forced us to compromise and work it top down.

There are 90 bolts, all stainless, every belay is a two bolt belay, a few are three, except the top, which is a tree. My expectation is that if the route ever gets popular in the distant future, a one day ascent will be the way to do it, and those belays will help speed the ascent, and conserve gear for the leader. The nature of the belays almost all call for bolts to be safe and comfortable anyway. They would facilitate a retreat also.

Speaking of retreat, rapelling from above the twelfth pitch would be tricky because of the huge arch below. We planned a two day ascent and bivied atop pitch 8 after a mid day start. A fine bivi ledge, by the way, tucked back in the bottom of that massive arch. The second day was all day, involving the route's cruxes, and 11 pitches.

The ultimate way to do the route is to hike out and camp on the rim, in late spring, after the road opens. There's a stream running then, it's not too hot, and the days are long. Alpine start from camp, 1.5 hr descent to the base, send the route, and return to your camp that night. Out the next day. No hauling, just lots of hard climbing. Pitches 17, 18, 19 would be doable with a headlamp, Pitch 16 is 11d face.

Bring 5 of each of the three smallest cams, nothing bigger than 4", doubles of everything else.

view from Half Dome - cropped from photo downloaded from

view from Half Dome - full resolution of route area