Monday, June 30, 2008

Half Dome Adventure: Recap

So, as you may remember, The Boy decided that for his birthday this year, he wanted to climb Half Dome. And I agreed to it. As did 7 of his friends. So, on Friday morning, we started heading up to Yosemite for what would be a ridiculous, painful, bad-ass, totally awesome weekend. And now...the recap.

At 8:30 Friday morning, my car (carrying myself, The Boy, and one friend) left Berkeley and started driving through the crazy-nasty smoke to Yosemite. On the way there, we called the park ranger folks to find out about smoke conditions in the park, and found out that it was pretty bad at the Sweetwater Campground, where we had been planning to stay. However, they said that it was not quite as bad in the park, and that we might be able to find a campsite there, at Crane Flat. Funny, since nobody told us that information when we (and by we I mean The Boy) called for weeks asking about reservations. Apparently they hold a certain number of sites for walk-ins. But they don't tell anyone about it beforehand...I guess then too many people would just show up? Hmmm. Anyway, we got there in just over 3 hours, and miraculously found two lovely campsites next to each other at Crane Flat. We set up the tents, and headed into Yosemite Village to call the rest of our group to let them know of the change of plans, and also to eat. We were mighty hungry. I also bought a pair of shorts, because, um, well, I did not own a pair of actual shorts, and we were about to hike all day in the sun. Now I own a pair of shorts. I haven't worn shorts (as in, come above the knee, not capri pants, shorts) probably since junior high. Crazy! But enough about the shorts. Though they are awesome.

Anyway, we returned to camp and took naps in the sunshine. The Boy started a campfire without matches, and we saw both a deer and a bear (which The Boy scared away, with the support of his friend, myself, and about 30 other campers. Apparently bears don't like pots and pans banging together coupled with lots of clapping - some of us did not have pots and pans). It was very exciting, especially for the friend who had never seen a bear and really wanted to. We ate spaghetti and garlic bread and salad, and hung around the campfire waiting for the other two cars of people to arrive. The first car didn't get there until 11:30pm, at which point we were debating whether or not to just go to bed. Once we heard that the third car hadn't left Berkeley until 9pm, we decided that they could just find the campsite by themselves, and we shut down for the night somewhere around 11:45pm.

I had a hard time falling asleep, as I think did most of our group, just out of nervousness for the day ahead. A few panic-ish dreams later, I woke up with our 5:30am alarm, and we started getting ready. My stomach was in such knots that I couldn't eat...which would later prove to be, um, not beneficial to my hiking abilities. I think it was the combination of nerves and not getting enough sleep, but I just felt sort of crappy for most of the morning. The morning being 5:30-7:00am. Once we got to the trailhead at around 7:15, I was feeling a bit better, but I was still unsure about the hike. I kept going back and forth about whether or not I actually wanted to get to the top of Half Dome, whether or not I thought I could pull it off physically (or mentally), and whether or not I was going to be a collosal disappointment to myself and my group if I didn't make it. Eventually (somewhere around mile 6 I think), I decided that I wasn't doing this for anyone but myself, and that if I could just make it to the bottom of the Quarter Dome, I would be happy.

I don't know what made me think I was in the kind of shape one should be in to attempt a hike like this, but, seemed like a good idea at the time? My body may not forgive me for a while, but it was an Adventure. You see, this is a very difficult hike. Listed as one of the most strenuous day-hikes around, it can be anywhere from 14-18 miles roundtrip, depending on which way you go.

And it goes a little something like this:
  • Hike 0.8 miles to the base of Vernal Falls. This is all uphill, mostly switchbacks. It is more tiring than you think it will be.
  • Then, take the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. This is many, many, many steep stone steps (about 0.7 miles of them). They are slippery because of the mist, and they are very steep. And there are many of them. Lots.
  • From the top of Vernal Falls, it's about another 1.9 miles to the top of Nevada Falls. This is more steep, steep steps. Also, more steep switchbacks. Lots of steep. You are gaining lots of altitude, and if you're like me (dehydrated, exhausted), you may lose the breakfast you didn't really eat. The view from the top is awesome though.
  • From Nevada, it's around 4.8 miles to Half Dome. You go up a few more steep, stony switchbacks, and you are probably thinking that it would have been nice to just stop at Nevada. I started thinking about how far I needed to go in order to not be disappointed in myself, which I decided was the bottom. If I could just make it to the bottom, I would have succeeded.
  • After the post-Nevada switchbacks, you get to walk on a nice, flat sandy road for about a mile, being lured into a false sense of comfort. Then it's back to the effing switchbacks. They are steep, and just when you're thinking you must be getting close, you see the 2 mile marker ("Are you kidding me?!?!? Two more miles!?!??!?). If you are anything like us, it has taken you an average of 1 hour to go 1 mile - so 2 miles means 2 hours. Which, when you've been hiking for 4 hours already, seems nearly impossible.
  • But you do it. You finally make it through the redwoods, up all the switchbacks (yeah, there are more. so many more.), up to a long flat area, with lovely trees and stones for sitting. Then you see it.
  • No, not Half Dome. Well, you do see it. But it's behind a giant (slightly smaller) dome, known as Quarter Dome (see picture - that beast in the front is Quarter Dome). To get to Half Dome, you have to first climb many large steps to get over the beast of a rock. Once you get over Quarter Dome, apparently it flattens out, into what is known as the Saddle. Then you are facing the famous cables. I did not do these things. I started to go up the Quarter Dome steps, and just pooped out. My knees were shaking, and my head was spinning, and I knew that if I wanted to make it down the ~10 miles back to the trailhead later, I needed to rest.
  • So I rested while the rest of the crew headed up the Domes. They rocked, from what I've been told. But I've also been told that it is terrifying. And from pictures like the ones on this post, I can imagine that it would be, even without frightening weather (we had great weather, for the record).
  • We began the hike down after everyone made it back down, starting our descent at around 7pm (we had two separate groups going up the cables, the first getting down as the second was going up). This meant that we had to hike in the dark for a few hours. Which was both awesome and scary. But my hiking buddy and I were fierce, and we felt like badasses the whole way. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we had no choice but to keep walking...after all, it was dark out, and we couldn't just stay there on the trail.
  • We got to the trailhead at around 10:45pm, an hour after The Boy and two friends who had decided to RUN down the crazyass switchbacks in order to catch the shuttle to the parking lot. I don't know how the heck they did it, but I'm glad they did. We could hardly find my car by driving the mile-plus from the trailhead to the parking lot at Curry Village...I can't imagine walking there and wandering around the parking lot. That would have sucked. So thank you, guys, for being unbelievably rad and running down the John Muir. You rock. The last of our group was just about 10 minutes behind us, and once I got my car, the other car went to get them. Teamwork!
We got back to camp around 11:15 or so, and collapsed into our chairs, trying to motivate ourselves to start a fire and cook the burgers and hot dogs that our friend had brought when he arrived at around 5pm. Poor guy, we had estimated an 8pm arrival time, so he had just been sitting around hoping to hear from us. Oy. But that food was delicious, and cleanup didn't take too long. Somewhere, probably around 1am (I have no idea), we fell into our sleeping bags. I can't speak for everyone else, but I slept like a rock.

Sunday morning, we made pancakes and sausage, ate leftover birthday cake (note: making a cake and freezing it = best idea ever!!! Thanks, Jennifer and The Internet!), and got ready to pack out. We stopped by Rainbow Pool for some much needed swimming in cold water. Our muscles were sufficiently numbed, and we relaxed by the water with potato chips and Oreos. A few hours later, we started the drive home...and just over 3 hours later, we arrived.

Pulling ourselves out of the car was much more difficult than anticipated, and the muscles are still sore today (Monday). But you know what? It was a fantastic trip. I had a great time, and even though my body will probably hate me for a few more days, it was well worth it. Even though I didn't make it to the top, I still did an ~18 mile hike in 15 hours and lived to write a self-indulgent blog post about it.

The view from the top of Nevada Falls

[note: two of these pictures are not mine - my camera started dying about halfway, so I don't have any pictures from the hike up. The pictures that are not mine are the 2.0 mile marker and the view of Quarter/Half Dome, and if you click them, it will take you to the websites from which they came. I'll be getting some pictures from a friend, and will maybe post some more pictures then.]


  1. well, color me impressed. my second-most-recent hiking adventure was not, theoretically, as hard as half dome, which i wouldn't ever attempt without some serious training. but even then i only got a few miles up before i got sick as a dog. i'm very proud of you!

  2. I am totally with you on the shorts thing, lol. In fact, I had to buy a pair while we were in SF!