Skiers Complete Landmark Descent of Yosemite’s Half Dome

Not a trip for the faint of heart

Half Dome
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Jason Hogan/Unsplash

Some rock formations are known for their natural beauty; others have become famous due to their distinctive appearances. Half Dome in Yosemite National Park has earned its fame for just how imposing it is. Its peak is 8,800 feet above sea level, and an 1865 report described it as “probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” Ten years later, one George Anderson proved that wrong by reaching the summit.

Getting to the top of Half Dome is one thing; getting down is another. In 2000, Jim Zellers became the first person to descend Half Dome via snowboard. And now, a pair of ambitious men have accomplished a similarly imposing task: making their way down the incline on skis.

Jason Torlano and Zach Milligan made their way down the upper part of Half Dome — from the summit to the bottom of Mirror Lake, situated at about 4,000 feet above sea level. A new article at The Guardian explores just how they did it. The initial concern was making sure conditions were right — Torlano determined that there was snow atop Half Dome, then hiked up with Milligan. They camped at the summit and made their way down early the following morning, leaving at 3 a.m. to avoid potential avalanches.

The descent sounds utterly nerve-wracking, with drop-offs of over 1,000 feet. Torlano also used climbing gear to circumvent “death slabs” — a term for the large stone patches which lacked any snow at all. Milligan had one close call with a ledge, nearly falling off before getting himself back on a safe path down.

All told, it’s an impressive accomplishment — and one that sounds absolutely terrifying to pull off.

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