In the ongoing search for beautiful albeit weird terrain, Jim Zellers earned first-snowboard-descent status on what is arguably the world’s most famous rock, Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, on March 13, 2000.
Jim wasn’t really concerned with the legalities of his feat, which coincidentally took four years of patience waiting for the right storm to bond enough snow to the polished granite east face. Post event, a Yosemite official was asked if snowboarding off Half Dome is legal. “We don’t allow BASE jumping off any of the rocks in the valley,” said the media-relations representative. Backcountry snowboarding, however, is legal, and since Jim and photographer Richard Leversee did the death-defying (read: nutcase) descent without an overnight bivy, no backcountry permit was required. “I mean, the rock is part of the backcountry, right?” said Jim, while recounting his secret mission he had dubbed “The Half-a-Brain Project.””Hmmm,” said Jim, considering the possibilities of BASE jumping the dome. “That probably would’ve been safer.”
True. With more than 2,000 vertical feet of exposure, had the three-inch veneer of snow failed, or an edge slipped, he would’ve plummeted at a terminal velocity, to his death in Tenaya Canyon or Little Yosemite Valley.Riding adjacent the cable route where summer hikers pull themselves up, Jim was solo on the face last March. Twenty years earlier, skiers Eric Perlman and Bob Bellman attempted the route, but were forced to down-climb granite sections due to lack of snow, and belayed each other with a sturdy rope down the steepest section. Nobody has admitted to challenging the rock since.
Jim and Richard didn’t bother bringing a rope because Jim’s intention was to ride the dome free of aid, top to bottom, 840 feet to the saddle.But what about rescue possibilities? “If it avalanched or he slipped, a rope would’ve been useless. Maybe a spatula,” said Richard wryly while recounting his duties as stealth cameraman and trusted comrade. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed, but Jim nailed it.””Really,” said Jim, “it’s just a big jib with big consequences.” Understatement of the year, not to mention he “jibbed” it on a split board.