As I passed the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen at Yosemite national park I overheard her talking with her friends. “This trail isn’t that hard, when I was training for my second Iron Man race….” I wanted to throw a squirrel at her but unfortunately I couldn’t catch one. The hike to the summit of Half Dome is considered to be the most difficult in all of the park. A little over 17 miles round trip, most people do it in a single day however I decided to split it into two and that sure was the only pace I could have managed it. Because it’s there, that’s why I did it. I can’t say I enjoy the hiking but the feeling of accomplishment definitely made the trip worthwhile.
The morning arrived as I drove into Yosemite and parked the van. I boarded a bus to the trailhead with so many other tourists who were only going a couple miles to see a waterfall. Energetic and happy with a backpack full of food, water and my trusty hammock I began at the late hour of 10:00 AM. What a surprise, the path starts uphill and never stopped going uphill except for the dreaded staircases built into the side of the mountain. I had done part of the trail before and I was proud of myself for not needing to take a break and rest as early as I did a week ago. Is that a good sign or just an illusion?
The first half of the hike is often taken by tourists. It leads from the valley floor and passes Vernall Falls and Nevada Falls, both spectacular visions to experience. Tiny animals are everywhere hoping that a human will drop some food, which happens often judging by how fat the squirrels have gotten this summer. Giant trees, granite walls dripping with water and the lack of any mechanical sound remind my of my love for nature. Even with the thousands of people walking the path every week there is no litter and very little negative impact to the environment surrounding me.
At the halfway point, the top of Nevada Falls is the main resting area for people. This is where all the sane people turn around and head back to the bottom for a nice relaxing evening with a burger or some other delicious fried delicacy. But you all know from my past adventures I’m not one of those people who make the best choices so here is where my true horror begins. I find a couple small sequoia trees and put up my hammock for a nice leisurely nap before continuing along. My lunch consisted of army rations that are vacuum sealed and about seven years old or so, literally. Stop rolling your eyes, if you know of a better way to keep a good supply of food with minimal weight or space for 2 days I’d love to hear it. Refreshed and ready, I refill my water bottles from the nearby Merced river and trek onward and upward, yes, upward again uggg.
Here is where I really start to head into the wilderness of Yosemite. From this point on virtually everyone has the same destination planned. A special permit is required so the park can limit the numbers which is nice. Everyone knows what’s ahead and we all support each other. All the people passing me are friendly and I keep in good spirits even though I’m so slow that literally every single other hiker does pass me at some point. I’m ok with that though, the most important thing is to move at your own pace. My pace just seems to be about the same speed as a rock rolling uphill.
I shall now digress to a bit of grumbling as to the trail conditions. I would have loved to be in the meeting where the wise government officials were planning the construction of the path. I figure it went something like this, let’s say Bob is the man in charge, but we shall spell his name backwards for the purposes of keeping his identity confidential. Poor Bob is just not having a good morning, his coffee was burnt, he got kicked by a horse and not a single pretty girl said good morning to him as he walked into the office. “Well Charlie this is an ass hat of a day, come on, we need to design this new Half Dome trail and I’m going to make everyone suffer so they can share in my morning’s frustrations for all eternity! The first thing we are going to do is forget about a direct route, I know it will make the trail longer but we will use the excuse that the visitors can see more nature.” Charlie laughed as he envisioned the 200 switchbacks going up and down the mountain. “Next” said Bob “we are going to make sure the route doesn’t have a single water source after the first half of the journey. They will have to either carry all the weight of that water or die of thirst all the way there AND back.” At this point Charlie started to worry about the sanity of Bob this morning. “That sure sounds like quite a challenge” he exclaimed to Bob. Well not to be outdone Bob wasn’t even close to being done, he added “wait, we are also going to install steps, thousands of steps up the side of the mountain. And not normal size steps either, they will be about 14 inches high each to strain the knees of every hiker traveling along” At this point Charlie was beginning to worry but he couldn’t Imagine it getting any worse, that’s what ya get for imagining. “Finally,” continued Bob, “we shall take small gravel and cover the entire trail with it so everyone’s shoes will be full of tiny stones and sand. There, I think that shall be enough suffering to make up for my mood this morning.” And that’s how the Half Dome trail was created, there can be no other logical explanation.
Finally I reach the end of the trail in a beautiful grove of trees where I will spend my night of peaceful slumber. The day was a wonderful 90 degrees and the nights were in the upper 70’s all week, on the valley floor. Unfortunately again my lack of planning and old age brain forgot that the top of mountains is colder once the sun disappears. I tie up my hammock once again, thank the medical gods for inventing ambien and close my eyes. The sun goes down and dammit brrrr!!! Thankful for all the time I’ve spent watching survival shows on Discovery channel I know that I can solve this. I climb out and right away yell “bear, get out of here, I’m cold and cranky, I’m not in the mood to punch another bear and you don’t want to get a face full of pepper spray!” The threat obviously worked so I peacefully went over to start tearing off branches to build a nice pine needle nest for myself. Note I said tear as of course I had no axe or cutting tool of any sort. Grrr, time for man power here! I climb back into my hammock filled with branches and I’m somewhat warm for the rest of the night.
Morning has finally arrived, I climb out and unstick all the branches from myself, remember pine trees have sap. I make my way to the final two obstacles between my poor aching feet and the summit. First the sub dome, a relentless climb of yet more stairs right up the side of the mountain with zero shade for about a half mile that seems to become about 4 by the time you reach the cables. The final portion, comes into view, I reach the top of the final step and literally say out loud “holy fuck hell !!” Sorry mom. Ahead of me are the cables I’ve read about. A pair of steel one inch thick cables anchored on the side of the mountain going straight up! I’m not taking about a gradual route of switchbacks like before, STRAIGHT UP!!
Thank you drill sergeant Ross for teaching me how to tie a Swiss seat. Basically you take a piece of rope, hammock strap, and tie an incredibly ingenious knot to create a mountain climbing harness. Using this I was able to clip myself into the cables so that if I lost hold I would be saved from certain death from the fall. I’m not exaggerating, there is a list of people that die on these cables every year! What surprised me most was not my skill and ability to go up, but the fact that I was the ONLY person that was using any sort of safety harness this morning! Ahh the dumb ass-ness of youth.
It’s a great morning, I have made it to the summit and I look down onto the valley far below. I have accomplished an incredible task for myself and my only regret at this point is that the only people I have to share it with are 3 other strangers all arriving around the same time just a few mins after sunrise. Ya hear that girls, still putting in that advertising here looking for a travel partner, ha ha. A few mins of admiring the views from the 9,000 foot summit and it’s time to be heading down the same way I came.
Poor me, I never learned how to parachute so I was unable to follow the two guys that simply jumped off and floated illegally to the bottom in just couple minutes, I was stuck with foot power. It can’t be that bad though can it, it’s all downhill right? Well yes, all down hill with my 260ish fat ass coming down on my poor feet with every step. By the time I was near the bottom still moving at a pace slower than an old lady with a walker my feet just about gave up. The river is by my side, I stagger to the bank, tear off everything and did a controlled naked fall into the 50 degree flow of pleasure and happiness. I don’t know if anyone was watching but if they were then I apologize for burning out your retinas as you witnessed that horrifying event.
Now arriving at Vernall Falls I’m at the half way point again. Yet another nap of many along the journey, more refilling of water bottles and I’m ready for the final push to the end.
6:14 PM and I’m back in time to catch one of the last busses to my van and my beloved bed, wine and dreams of a morphine drip, woo hoo!!! Two days later I’m still resting and still aching. The torn skin on my feet is finally beginning to heal and I can almost walk out the door without making the old man groan. 17.2 miles, 5,457 feet elevation gain, 18.5 hours actual hiking not counting breaks. It was worth it.