On Sunday, while you were doing anything else, two guys who live near Yosemite Valley, Jason Torlano and Zach Milligan skied the iconic shoulder of Half Dome, continuing all the way to the valley floor below, descending thousands of feet until they reached the frozen shores of Mirror Lake. This is the first time that’s ever been done. At least once before, Half Dome itself had been skied, but not all the way to the valley’s bottom.
Torlano is a longtime first descender of ski lines throughout Yosemite. He is a badass. A skier with the talent to be “swimming in sponsorships,” according to friend and pro adventure skier JT Holmes, Torlano is a former Yosemite park ranger, a US Army vet, and a guy who spends big chunks of time as a volunteer medic overseas with the Free Burma Rangers. He’d been scouting a Half Dome line for years, finally deciding this weekend that the snow would allow it.
Milligan is not a skier with the talent to be swimming in sponsorships; in fact, he doesn’t consider himself a skier at all. He’s mostly a climber who thought it would be neat to accompany Torlando, maybe snap some shots of him from Half Dome’s peak, but not ski down himself. Maybe. Or maybe he would.
The two hiked to the base of Half Dome on Saturday, woke at dawn on Sunday, trudged to the top of the dome and looked down. Torlano had tried this before, abandoning the ski because of poor snow. Milligan clicked into his skis and figured, what the hell. He edged down and nearly tumbled to his death.
Milligan drifted into where the cables are bolted for climbing the peak during summer months. He tripped over some piece of the cable infrastructure and went down, frantically stabbing at the mountain with an axe to gain purchase. “I was able to get my ice axe in and not die,” he told the Fresno Bee.
After that, Milligan sideslipped his way down while Torlano jump-turned.
At the “death slabs,” huge hunks of granite climbers use to reach the top without cables, the pair had to rappel down. Once past the slabs, it was relatively smooth skiing to Mirror Lake, where they surely encountered awestruck day hikers.
“I just couldn’t believe we pulled it off,” Torlano said.
For more, including a video, check out the Fresno Bee’s coverage, here.
Top photo: Mathilda Khoo/Unsplash