Sunday, July 28, 2013

Half Dome July 2013

In February 2013 my SO an I went to Yosemite National Park. I fell in love with the wondrous scenery and all the amazing nature that I was able to see. In Yosemite you are offered an abundance of waterfalls, beautiful glacierized mountains, iconic nature formations, and this amazing thing called Half Dome.

View of Half Dome from the Valley Floor
I then found out that people climb Half Dome. I instantly wanted to take the challenge that thousands of people do every year. I talked to a friend about how I wanted to do this crazy hike and she immediately signed on to do it. We dragged our SOs into doing it with us. We then found out that you need to sign up for a lottery to get a permit to hike Half Dome so we all did and, luckily, one of us got it.

Days before our hike was supposed to start, I was obsessively checking the weather. Various sources kept saying that there is a chance of thunderstorms. I was very anxious about this and was really worried that we wouldn't be able to do the hike. My SO kept reassuring me that it will be ok. We decided that we would hike up until the ranger, who checks for permits, and if she gave us the ok, we would go up. That is exactly what we did and luckily the weather forecasts were wrong and the weather was beautiful.

Forward to July 27th, 2013. It was the day for our group of 4 to hike. We decided that we needed to go to bed early because we wanted to start the hike around 4 AM. We all "went to bed" around 10:00 PM the night before. I could not sleep because of the anxiety of finally hiking the dome. Thus, I only got 45 mins of sleep (not a smart idea). When I finally was able to fall asleep around 2:30 AM, the next thing I remember was an alarm clock going off at 3: 20 AM. At this point I was sleep deprived but I didn't care. "Power through" was my slogan for most of this trip. We all got up, got ready, and left our hotel at 4:40 AM.

(5:30 AM) We arrived at the trailhead parking lot (after getting slightly lost in the dark) to start our ascent up Half Dome. At this point, everything seemed easy. The first way-point on the hike is the Vernal Falls footbridge. This was our last stop for purified drinking water and flushing toilets.

The view of Vernal Falls from the footbridge

The next part of our journey was to go through the famous Mist Trail. This trail is very arduous and strenuous. It's probably one of the hardest hikes I've ever done. The payoff in doing this trail is that there are two beautiful waterfalls to admire while you are hiking up. You are literally walking up thousands of granite makeshift stairs.

Part of our group making it up the "hell" stairs
The first waterfall we were greeted with is Vernal Falls. These falls give off a nice mist (hence the name), which helps a lot when you are sweating and panting while working your way up the granite stairs.
Vernal Falls
After we got to the top of Vernal falls, we took a break. There is a nice flat area where other hikers were taking a rest as well. We got a nice break here because it is flat for a mile before you get to Nevada falls where the makeshift granite steps begin again.
Nevada Falls
After we got to the top of Nevada Falls we were all pretty tired and the lack of sleep was finally getting to me. I took an energy shot and ate some beef jerky, which helped a lot. We took our last available "not-in-nature" bathroom break and started to trekk on. After this point, the hike was pretty boring through Little Yosemite Valley. The trail was sandy, just like a beach, and we decided to walk off the path because the sand was annoying us. This part was fairly flat until we got to the area before the sub-dome, which was the last obstacle before Half Dome.

We reached a point where we saw a ledge and some pretty cool views. This was right before we got to the ranger. We decided to eat lunch here so we would have food in our bodies before we got on the cables up Half Dome. I really love food, but while you are hiking, food is really the least on your mind. We all brought different things to eat. My SO and I had wraps I bought at Safeway. One friend had tuna fish and crackers and the other friend brought fried rice. Yep, fried rice in one of those Chinese take out boxes. I'm pretty sure she made a mess with her rice on top of the mountain.

Our lunch view prior to the sub-dome
When we finished eating, the four of us felt a lot better with food in our stomachs. The next highlight in our journey was meeting up with the ranger right before the sub-dome. The ranger literally just sits there with an iPad and checks the validity of hikers' permits. If you don't have one, they make you turn around. We were then greeted with this sign that points out the dangers of what we were about to do.

"Dangerous" indeed
Five hours into our journey we finally made it to the subdome. This is another part where you are climbing up a bunch of granite steps that are pretty steep and slippery. I actually found this part fairly intimidating. I slipped on many of the steps. It was scary going up the stairs without a guard on the side of the cliff.

About an hour later we finally reached the bottom of the infamous Half Dome cables. The pictures do not do it justice. The climb up is 400 feet in vertical elevation. When I first heard about these cables and saw pictures, I didn't think it would be that terrifying to be standing next to them. Pictures really do not show you how vertical and how high the climb is.

The infamous Half Dome cables

At this point, we took another break. I then found myself shaking and my body numbing. I was having a panic attach and I realized I lost blood circulation to parts of my body. This got significantly worse when I got to the bottom of the cables to start our ascent. I told my group that I didn't think I could go on. My hands were frozen and I felt like I couldn't move them. They all told me to take a break and take a breath. They told me that I couldn't turn back after everything we just did and kept reassuring me that I would be ok and that they would be there with me. There was a group of guys, who had just finished their descent, who were also very reassuring to me. After many deep breaths, reassuring advice from the hikers who had descended, and my friends' encouragement, I finally put on my gloves and started my ascent up the cables.

While on the cables I kept my eyes locked on my feet and the rock in front of me. I was still scared shitless, but at this point I couldn't have a panic attack. I was already climbing up the cables. The cables are literally what is keeping you alive. I was hanging on to them with all my might because you are pulling your whole body's weight up this granite formation. The only bits of relaxation while being on the cables was the wooden planks placed every 20 or so feet. These wooden planks made the climb much easier than it would otherwise be. Every time I got to the wooden plank I instantly felt relieved, but only for a split second. The first section of the cables was ok, and then you get the middle and it's very steep and there are sections where there are holes in the granite and you have to find a way to step over them. The last section is the easiest because the steep incline levels off.

30 minutes later (11:45 AM), we finally reached the top.
Us at the top of Half Dome
While on top, I was able to enjoy my accomplishment, although, to be honest, I was still freaking out about having to go down. I was crying pretty hard at this point. It was partly because of the accomplishment and the fear of still having to go down. I feel that a lot of the euphoria of getting up there was lost on me because I was imagining the way down and scaring myself again. Although, as everyone who has climbed half dome will say, the views are breathtaking and worth all the craziness you put yourself through.

Being zen while on the Visor
After thirty minutes on top of resting and taking pictures, it was finally time to take the descent. My group decided to go down backwards. At this point of our journey, the cables were more congested, so we had to wait for hikers to take turns going up and down. Once I started to descend, I found that it was much easier than going up. I used both sides of the cables this time. The one thing I found nice about the cables is that every hiker is encouraging and willing to help fellow climbers. There were many instances when I was scared to get down and the person behind me would hold on to me to help support me. I found that very helpful and I am grateful for the kindness of strangers on the cables. While on the cables, we spotted a man climbing the dome on the side of the rock without using the cables. That was crazy.

Forty minutes later, I finally made it down. I cried and jumped up and down screaming, "I did it". It was literally one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life and I'm so happy to say that I accomplished it. My group was amazing to me and I'm so grateful that I have an amazing boyfriend and amazing friends that I could do this with.

Another view of the cables

When all of us finally made it down, we took another break for a snack and water and sighed at the fact that we were only half way done. Eight miles in, eight miles to go. At least the hardest part was over. At this point, we were all pretty exhausted but determined to finish strong. The second half of our day seemed the longest. Going down a mountain is a completely different experience in itself. It really takes a toll out on your shins and calves. Everything seemed easy (boring, but easy) until we got back to the Mist Trail. We originally talked about taking the Join Muir trail back, because it's easier on your legs, but longer by 45 minute, but considering how tired we were, we took the Mist Trail to save time. It definitely saved us 45 minutes, but it was tedious and scary going down all those stairs. It was also very congested with people who were taking day hikes to the waterfalls.

Finished - We did it!

(6:00PM ) 12.5 hours and 16 miles later we were done! We all did it! Best of all, none of us had major injuries. I think a couple of us got blisters, bug bites, and sunburns, but nothing bad.

That night, I passed out and got really good sleep!

This was such an amazing adventure! I can now say that I conquered the dome. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life. I was so grateful to have my boyfriend and friends along with me on this journey. As scared as I was going up those famed cables, in the end, I'm proud of myself for doing it. I probably would never do it again, but I'm glad I did it, and I can now check it off my bucket list.

Half dome stats:

On the way up:
- 7.6 miles in 6 hours, 15 minutes
- Total climb: 5200 feet
- Ascend up the cables: 30 minutes

On the way down:
- 7.5 miles in 5 hours, 39 minutes
- Total climb: 1873 feet
- Descend down the cables: 40 minutes

1 comment:

  1. Dang! This sounds amazing, terrifying-but amazing! I super proud of you guys, what a cool accomplishment!!