60°F
weather icon Clear

2 skiers defy death in descent of Yosemite’s Half Dome

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Two skiers navigated a thin layer of snow with no margin for error down the precipitous shoulder of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and alternately skied and rappelled back to the valley floor in an unusually daring feat.

Jason Torlano, 45, and Zach Milligan, 40, completed the descent in five hours Sunday by carefully carving their way in crusty snow and using ropes to rappel several sections of bare rock known as the “death slabs” beneath the iconic face of Half Dome, the Fresno Bee reported Thursday.

“If you fall to your left or right, you’re definitely dead,” said JT Holmes, a professional free skier who is a friend of Torlano’s. “If you fall down the middle, you have a small chance of not falling to your death — but it’s a maybe.”

Snowboarder Jim Zellers is believed to be the first to descend the 800-foot (243-meter) upper section on the shoulder of the dome in 2000. But no one is known to have attempted the entire 4,800-foot (1,463-meter) descent from peak to valley.

Torlano said he had been dreaming about skiing the dome since his family moved to Yosemite when he was 5 years old.

He first climbed Half Dome as a youngster, clinging to the same cables tens of thousands of visitors do every year to ascend the final steep pitch up the rounded side of the polished granite feature. He advanced to become one of an elite group of climbers to scale the sheer granite face using ropes only to catch his fall at least a dozen times. He later became a ranger in the park.

“It’s just always been there,” Torlano told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve been attracted to Half Dome for as long as I can remember.”

After also serving a stint in the U.S. Army, he settled down with his wife and children in a community near Yosemite. He specializes in using ropes to work in high-altitude and dangerous settings.

He said he tried to ski down Half Dome each of the past three years, but called it off after finding unsuitable snow. This year, an early February storm filled Yosemite with fresh powder, including about 2 to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of snow at the peak of Half Dome.

He rented a friend’s small plane Feb. 19 to study the snow conditions and possible route before calling Milligan, a rock climbing buddy, to join him.

Milligan said he initially planned to only film Torlano skiing, but decided to make his own descent by carefully side slipping down on skis. He said things quickly turned dangerous when he skied over part of one of the cables and lost control before he used an ice ax to stop his slide and was able to right himself.

“I was just trying to stay in control and stay alive,” Milligan said. “You’re on that spine and you don’t have a lot of room for error.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Prince Philip is laid to rest — GALLERY

The widowed British monarch, setting an example amid the coronavirus pandemic, sat alone at the ceremony, dressed in black and with her head bowed in prayer.

 
More Chicago protests erupt after fatal shooting of boy

Newly released video that shows a Chicago police officer fatally shoot a 13-year-old will be key evidence when prosecutors consider a case against the officer and are confronted with both the emotions surrounding the chilling footage and legal precedent that makes it difficult to bring charges against law enforcement.

California begins allowing vaccinations for everyone age 16 and up

As California started offering vaccinations to everyone age 16 and over Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged more residents to sign up for appointments and not let apprehension over inoculations get in the way of protecting themselves against the illness.

Men arrested, charged in large California recycling scheme

Six men have been charged with running a recycling fraud scheme that trucked tons of trash from Las Vegas casinos into California in order to collect state redemption money, authorities announced Wednesday.

US poised to punish Russia for hacking with sweeping sanctions

The Biden administration is preparing to announce sanctions in response to a massive Russian hacking campaign that breached vital federal agencies, as well as for election interference, a senior administration official said Wednesday night.

Pause continues as advisers seek more details on J&J vaccine

The clots occurred in strange places, in veins that drain blood from the brain, and in people with abnormally low levels of clot-forming platelets.

1 dead, 12 missing from capsized ship off Louisiana

Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson III said time was critical in the rescue effort, especially because more rough weather was in the forecast.

No charges for officer in Capitol riot shooting, prosecutors say

Prosecutors said Ashli Babbitt was part of the mob that was trying to get into the House as Capitol Police officers were evacuating members of Congress from the chamber.