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They Skied, Rappeled Down 'Death Slabs' for a Half Dome First

Jason Torlano, Zach Milligan seem to be first ones to ski entire 4.8K feet from peak to Yosemite Valley
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 1, 2021 11:35 AM CST

(Newser) – 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, per the AP. 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. "If you fall to your left or right, you're definitely dead," says JT Holmes, a professional free skier who's a friend of Torlano. "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 have been the first to descend the 800-foot upper section on the shoulder of the dome in 2000.

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But no one is known to have attempted the entire 4,800-foot descent from peak to valley. Torlano said he'd dreamed of 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 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 he decided to make his own descent by carefully sideslipping down on skis. "I was just trying to stay in control and stay alive," he said.

(Read more Half Dome stories.)

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