Sunday, July 22, 2012

Road Trip Day 13: Yosemite National Park--Half Dome

Today is the day. We are hiking Half Dome. Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes at Yosemite National Park, so much so, that you have to get a permit to actually hike up the last mile or so of the trail, from Subdome on up. They give out about 100 permits to backpackers, and 300 more via lottery before the hiking season begins. They also do a daily lottery, which you have to enter two days before you hike, to hand out the remaining permits. We were lucky enough to get permits, so it was on from there. You can't turn them down!

Vernal Falls
We got up at 4:30am, cleared our campsite quickly and headed to the trail head which took us about 45 minutes to reach. We hit the trail shortly before 6am and began our climb. This hike is known to take 10-12 hours and is supposedly 14-18 miles round trip, depending on which turns in the trail you choose. The first mile is rough. It's uphill, switch backs that never end. The reward though, is a fresh water filling station at the top. From there you ascend close to 1,000 stairs that climb upwards next to Vernal Falls. Slow and steady...we just keep going. You then walk a short distance until you get to the bottom of Nevada Falls. You then ascend another 1,000 stairs, give or take, to get to the top of the falls. We passed a few people who were on their way back from Half Dome, but who had backpacked and camped  that night. They said that it was worth the reward at the top, so that was encouraging...

Nevada Falls
At the top of Nevada Falls, you are only about 2.5 miles in. The next mile or two was winding, slight uphill, but mostly flat hiking. It was a good break from the constant uphill, so we trekked on, making good time and passing many groups. The number of hikers also thinned out at this point, which was nice and made things a little easier. The next section of the trek was back into the trees, switch-backing uphill. It was starting to get warmer out, but we were drinking regularly and taking short breaks when needed. And just when you thought that you were making headway, there was a sign that read 2 miles to Half Dome. Awesome...

Hiking towards Half Dome
That was a little deflating, but we pushed on, just getting excited about getting to Subdome and beginning the final climb. We finally reached this point and realized that Subdome was another 1,000 stairs built into the rock and there was no shade cover in the now blistering hot sun. As we neared the top, a man called "Mr. Half Dome" passed us on his way up to the top for the 100th time. WOW! I was pushing myself to make it once, I couldn't even fathom hiking this 100 times! We also heard that there was a rattle snake waiting for hikers in the saddle between Subdome and Half Dome. Wonderful!
Hike up Subdome

Cables on Half Dome
After making it to the top of SubDome, you could clearly see the cables that help hikes safely make it to the top of Half Dome. In all of my research and fantastical thinking, I thought that the cables were a steady incline up and over the rounded side of Half Dome. I was wrong. And now, I was scared! I had the proper footwear, and I had my biking gloves...but I was not expecting such a steep climb in which there were railroad ties to steady you on the smooth granite surface of this cliff side. We studied from below for a few minutes and decided it was now or never. Gloves on and boots tied tight, we got on the cables and started the ascent. It was an upper-body workout if I've ever had one! It took a solid 25 minutes to ascend the cables, maneuvering around people coming down from the top and trying to hold on to the cables for dear life! What a climb!

El Cap from Half Dome
Once up top, the view was magnificent. You had a 360* view of Yosemite National Park. Blue skies above and gorgeous landscapes below. It was worth the climb and was definitely a success in my book.

Top of Half Dome
Now for the climb down. We were quickly running out of water and the sun was getting hotter...we needed to head back ASAP. The climb down was vicious. The only traction you have on the rock was the railroad ties, and those are only every 10-15 feet or so. With so many people coming up Half Dome,  you only had the one cable to really work with. By this point, my fingers were starting to blister from the cables. I took a stance of sliding down sideways, slowing, making my way from board to board. About half way down, my arms were getting tired...and I slipped. People have died on Half Dome (mostly because they tried hiking up without cables or in high winds or rainy weather) when I slipped the first time, I grabbed onto the cable with everything I had and slid my way to the next board. I took a short break and continued down. It was getting harder with more people coming upwards, but I managed to slip two more times, one time swinging outside of the cables and a guy coming up grabbed my backpack and pulled me back in. At the time, I didn't think too much of it, but looking back, I could have been seriously injured or worse. Needless to say, we made it down alive, but my hands looked like they were dying. Final count, 14 blisters that were all ripped wide open. YUM!

On top of Subdome
Top of Half Dome
We decided to get a head start on our drive for the next day and head towards Carsen City, NV so that we could get some decent food and sleep in a hotel. We needed showers and comfy beds BAD! After approximately 18 miles of hiking, we deserved it!
That was the hard part, so we started the hike back down Subdome and finally back down the trail. Within an hour, we were out of water and the temperature was over 90*. It was a long hike back down. We stopped a few times to rest in the shade, but this is not someplace you want to be without water. A few hours later, we finally got back to the watering station and drank like camels! We willed up all of our water bottles and camelbacks, and made the last mile of hiking down the trail.

The damage from the cables, GROSS!
By the time we got back to the car, we had met the 12 hour hiking time and felt dead to the world! Half Dome is feat and is not to be taken lightly. Not only the cables to the top, but the whole round-trip hike it tough. I had 4 liters or water, and that wasn't enough. You also need heavy-duty gloves for the cables. I would also recommend a harness for the cables, especially if you are afraid of heights.

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