Sunday, October 05, 2008

Half Dome!

A few weeks ago I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite with my brother Jeremy. We had an amazing time and enjoyed gorgeous weather, beautiful views, and a really fun day out on the trails. I have approximately a million pictures, so here are some of the most representative that help tell the story...but I'm sure I'll post more in the coming days, they're too pretty to languish unpublished on my computer.

We chose the perfect time to hike. We'd originally planned to go in July, but the combination of short notice, busy schedules, and high hotel prices convinced us to put it off. People, late September is THE time to go. It's not too hot, but likely not too stormy, and much less crowded. We decided to hike it on a Monday, which also decreased the weekend crowds. We did see people, but it wasn't overcrowded at all. Bliss.

So we stayed in Mariposa, which is about an hour outside of the park. We got up before dawn and left the hotel about 5:40. We parked a little before 7, and after a bathroom trip and a 10-minute walk, we reached the trailhead and started our journey around 7:20. It was just starting to get light, but it was still quite cool and the first two hours were almost entirely in the shade. Very nice!The route we took was 8.2 miles one way, so it was about 16.4 miles round trip. This is the most direct route, but it has some REALLY brutal climbs, so some people choose to go the less scenic, less steep route, that adds about 2 miles onto the trip. We chose the shorter option.
Remember what I said about brutal climbs? This was the first of many, many, MANY stone staircases. At first they weren't too bad, but pretty soon the steps got higher and higher, and climbing 18-inch steps for a mile gets old pretty quickly. We were lucky the weather was good. The steps run by several waterfalls, and apparently in bad weather they get very slippery from the water and are quite dangerous and have to be shut down.

Our reward for conquering the Staircase of Death for the first 3 miles was an easy, gradual climb in miles 3-6. It was a nice change of pace, but after awhile it was kind of dusty and boring, until we broke through the tree cover and got our nice view back. We first glimpsed Half Dome at 10:15, three hours after we started our climb:Before we could get to climb the rock itself, we had another half-hour of gnarly stone steps. In some cases they weren't even steps, just steep rock face we had to scramble over. I thought this was the most difficult section of the climb, because it was so steep and we didn't have hiking poles, so there was no way to distribute some of the stress to our upper body. The surface of Half Dome is so steep and slippery, there are cables strung up between metal poles drilled into the rock face. You climb up the final 400 feet by pulling yourself up these steel cables. Gloves with a grippy surface are a must, as the metal cables are very slick in and of themselves. This picture is of us right before we began the ascent. If you look very closely at the surface of the rock behind us, you can see the cables and see a few people climbing up.

A closer view of the cables. The pictures really don't do justice to how seriously steep it is. Looking up from the bottom, it seems ludicrously steep, and I couldn't imagine how they first got the cable system drilled into place. The pictures below give a pretty good sense of how it looked. In the top picture, I'm starting the climb. The bottom picture is the descent, which felt even steeper and more dangerous than the ascent, because it was so slick. It was basically controlled sliding (with a little bit of falling thrown in the mix.) This is when I was glad it was uncrowded, because up and down climbers share the same cables, and passing people was difficult and time-consuming.

We reached the top 3 hours and 40 minutes after we started. The view was spectacular, the rock was uncrowded, and we had a nice relaxing picnic lunch while overlooking the whole park valley, 8000 feet above sea level.

The lack of security was amazing (and refreshing) to me. It felt like standing on the edge of the world. Our lunch spot was a precarious perch over a big vertical drop. Fortunately we refrained from a shoving match right then.
I'm that tiny little speck on the outcropping! We enjoyed the view (and took lots of pictures) for about an hour, then headed down. We finished the climb in 3:20, for a total of 8 hours out, including the break at the top. It was a perfect day, and I wouldn't hesitate to schedule a Half Dome hike every year.


Jason said...

Well, I certainly couldn't have done it. You're both superstars. Thanks for bringing back the great pictures.

Nancy said...

Those pictures are amazing. Wow, I'm impressed.

Monique said...

The similarity and contrast of this entry and my latest made me laugh out loud.

I'm sure all who know us will get a kick out of it.