Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hiking Half Dome ~ Yosemite National Park ~ July 22, 2015

On July 22, 2015, I hiked up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The journey actually started a few days before that though. We were unable to secure a hiking permit in advance so we had to enter into a lottery to get a permit. The lottery was held two days before the permit date and if you were selected, you would be notified the day before the permit date. My friend and I had blocked the week of July 20-24th off as our attempt week. We put in for hiking Monday and didn't get it. We put in for hiking Tuesday and didn't get it. We put in for hiking Wednesday and got it. I woke up Tuesday morning with the news that we were leaving in a few hours to start our 5-6 hour drive. We booked a hotel room for two nights in Mammoth Lakes, CA. We left around noon and started our drive. We were greeted with beautiful desert landscapes, mountain passes, flash floods, rolling valleys, and the Eastern Sierras. We made a quick stop in Bishop, CA at the famous Schat's Bakery. We picked up some yummy goodies for the road and continued on. We arrived at our hotel around dinner time. We checked into our hotel and unloaded the car. Then we walked next door to Angel's Restaurant and had a delicious dinner. After we finished eating, we went back to our hotel room and prepared our gear for the next day. We called it a night early since we were getting up at 4:00 AM. 

The next morning, the alarm went off and we hit the ground running. We were in the car and driving by 4:25 AM. Our drive was just over two hours and we arrived at the trail parking at 6:40 AM. The parking lot was 3/4 a mile to the trail head. We donned our backpacks and headed out. We stopped by the bathroom on the way. We had hoped to be at the trial head a little earlier but we were still good with a 7:00 AM start. We decided to take the Mist Trail up and the John Muir Trail down. 

At the trail head.
The trail almost immediately started climbing uphill. From trail head to the top of Half Dome there is a 4800 foot elevation gain. At about a mile in, we passed a bathroom and a fresh water fountain. This was the last spot to fill your water without having to use a filtration system. I was carrying 3 liters of water in my hydration pack so I didn't need to fill up. I did stop to use the bathroom because you should never skip an opportunity to use a real bathroom. I also decided to change from my capris to shorts at this bathroom stop. It was humid and I realized that I had overdressed. 

At the first bridge, looking upstream. 
After our quick stop, we continued up the Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls. As we got closer to the falls we realized why this route was called Mist Trail. The falls covered the area with a fine mist. We decided it was time to pull out our hiking sticks since the rocks were so wet. It was a strenuous but beautiful climb. 

Walking up Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls. 
We stopped for a quick picture in front of Vernal Falls and then continued climbing up. The climb was made a little easier by the steps that were cut into the side of the cliff and by large stones that were placed along the trail. Once we made it to the top of Vernal Falls, we took a moment to enjoy the view. The trail remained dry from this point on. 

In front of Vernal Falls.
We made our way across another bridge as we continued to climb. We could hear water rushing to our right as we climbed. Shortly thereafter, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Nevada Falls. This was the only time we were able to see the falls while on the Mist Trail. 

In front of Nevada Falls.
After a steep section of switchbacks, we arrived at another bathroom at a trail junction. The John Muir Trail and the Mist Trail joined at this point. The bathroom was closed but we decided to stop for a snack at this spot. After a few minutes of rest we continued towards Half Dome. We had reached a flat, high meadow so we were able to pick the pace up. After a mile of hiking, we came to a backwoods campground. It had a compost bathroom but no water. We stopped to use the restroom. I also stopped to clean my shoes and socks out. I was hiking in my trail running shoes and they were feeling good but I could feel some small debris that if not removed could cause problems later on. 

Once we left the campground, we started to climb upwards again. About a mile passed the campground we met a guy sitting along the trial who was checking for permits. Luckily, we had ours and were able to prove our right to be there. He verified it on his tablet and wished us luck on our way. He said that a storm was coming so we tried to pick up our pace but it was hard since the climb became really steep. After a few more miles of hiking up, we reached the Sub-dome. We were greeted with the sign below at the base. It reminded us that climbing up the dome during rain and lightning was dangerous. 

The sign that greeted us at the bottom of the Sub-dome.
With the threat of the storm, we were pushing up the Sub-dome. It was about 12:00 PM and we were getting hungry. I wanted to eat at the top of the Half Dome and I didn't want to stop on the Sub-dome and possibly miss the chance to summit. About half way up the Sub-dome, I realized that I had to stop and eat. I was exhausted and thoughts of quitting were crossing my mind. I told my friend that I had to stop and she agreed that it was time. At least we stopped with a beautiful view. 

Eating lunch on the Sub-dome.
After we ate, I felt so much better. I had my strength back and was ready to tackle this mountain. I was on a mission. Towards the top of the Sub-dome, the steps disappeared and so did the trial. We were left to scramble up granite rock.

Working my way up the Sub-dome.
We stopped for a picture with Half Dome behind us in case we weren't able to summit due to the impending storm. I knew that we were going to make it to the top of the Sub-dome but making it up Half Dome was getting really questionable.

Almost up the Sub-dome.
Once I made it up the Sub-dome, I once again had my picture taken in front of Half Dome (just in case). These pictures are deceiving because they don't show the storm clouds that were approaching.

I made it up the Sub-dome!
As I waited for my friend to join me, I looked up at the cables and began to question my sanity. They were really steep and I realized why they would not be good to be on when it was raining. We had read that we needed gloves for the cables so I had packed gardening gloves. If you had forgotten gloves, there was a giant pile of discarded gloves at the base of cables. 

Looking up the cables and questioning my sanity.
I decided it was time so I put on my gloves and started up the cables. The first few feet weren't that bad but it quickly changed. Within a few feet, I was having to pull myself up by the cables. There were 2x4s placed at almost every cable post. From the bottom I thought they were there to use as steps. As I made my way up the slope I realized that they were there to stand on to keep be from sliding off the edge. They were also a wonderful place to stand to catch my breath. We were nearing 9000 feet elevation. The amount of exertion I was giving and the altitude I was at combined to make it a very difficult climb. I was only able to go two sections at a time before having to stop and catch my breath. It seemed so small, like 10 feet, but by the time I would get to the next 2x4 I would be heaving for breath. Luckily, there were no crowds and I didn't have anyone waiting on me. That way I was able to go my speed. When I was about halfway up the cliff, I heard thunder rumble behind me. My friend was just starting up the cables and we yelled to each other. We had to decide what to do. I didn't want to be stuck on top in a thunderstorm. I looked at the storm clouds and I felt the direction of the wind and decided to continue up. I would have hated to have gotten so close to not have made it. I knew that time was of the essence so I put my head down and started back up. I was beyond exhausted but I had to do this. The final sections of the cables began to level out and before I knew it, I was there.

I made it!
The view was amazing! Suddenly I had a ton of energy and started hiking all around the top. I wanted to see it all. I looked over the entire valley. Shortly after I made it, my friend joined me on the top. What a feeling of accomplishment!

We did it!
I wanted to stay up there forever but I knew that we had to get down before the rain started. So with one final 360 degree look I started back towards the cables. 

About to head back down the cables.
I soon realized that the view going down was going to be a lot scarier than going up. I decided to start down facing forward like going down a set of stairs so I could see where I was going. Once it got steeper, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to stay that way and turned to the side. I grabbed hold of the one cable with both hands and held on for dear life. There were times when my feet were sliding down the cliff because it was so steep. My gloves were starting to disintegrate. Apparently, they were not made for climbing cables. Once again I was thankful for the 2x4s but this time it was because they kept me from sliding off the side of the mountain.

Looking up the cables from about the middle. 
While standing on one 2x4, I decided to stop and take a few pictures. I took one looking back up the cables and one looking down the cables. It was as steep as it looks.

Looking down the cables from about the middle. 
I finally made it to the bottom of the cables. I sat on a rock and waited for my friend. I ate a small mandarin orange and I think it was the best orange I have ever tasted. As she was making her way down, I started to feel a few rain drops. I called out to her and told her that I was going to continue down the Sub-dome and would wait for her at it's base. She said to go ahead. 

Going down the Sub-dome was so much easier than going up. I made great time and was quickly at the bottom. I ate another mandarin orange and talked to people as they were starting their climb up. Soon my friend joined me and we continued down the trail. About five minutes after that it began to rain. We had just beat the storm. We stopped and got our rain gear on. I had a poncho that fit over my backpack. As we were hiking down, I couldn't see where I was stepping and slipped off a rock and went down on my left knee. I ended up cutting my knee and hand and scraped up my calf. It drew blood but we laughed about it. We stopped for a few minutes so I could rub some antibacterial cream on the open areas. I decided that seeing where I stepped was more important than being dry so I packed my poncho away. The rain was also stopping so I wouldn't have needed it much longer anyways. 

We continued down and soon made it to the flat meadow again. We stopped at the campground again for a bathroom and snack break. It was about 3:00 PM and we enjoyed our short break before continuing on. Once we reached the trail junction, we saw that the bathroom that was closed earlier was now open and there were several people stopped there. This is where we started taking the John Muir Trail instead of the Mist Trail. The trail took us to the top of Nevada Falls. There were a lot of people there. We realized that most of the people hike up and spend time there. I understand why. It offered a beautiful view across the valley.

Looking out across the valley from the top of Nevada Falls. 
The John Muir Trail was a longer route down but it was less steep and had fewer switchbacks. It was also a great way to see a different part of the scenery. It gave us a great view of Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail.
We continued down. We were both starting to get sore and really tired. I felt like we were hiking at a steady pace but people kept passing us. At about 5:00 PM, we stopped for our final snack. We wanted to make sure we were down before dark so our stop was a short one. Finally, the John Muir Trail rejoined the Mist Trail just above the bathroom and water station. It seemed to be perfect timing because I had just taken a drink of water from my hydration pack and sucked a little bit of air so I knew that I had about one drink left. As we approached the water station, I took my last drink. Unfortunately, the bathroom and water fountains were closed and locked up. I knew that we had about a couple miles left but that it was downhill so I should be fine without water. We crossed our last bridge and made it back to the trail head. We stopped for one more picture on our way out. We hammed it up a bit to show how tired we were. In reality, we were so excited about what we had just accomplished.

How we felt at the end of our hike.
We passed another bathroom that was open so we used it. It also had a drinking fountain so we took several drinks before hiking the final 3/4 of a mile to the parking lot. We reached our car at about 6:35 PM. 

We had hiked 18.77 miles in 11 hours and 52 minutes. We had completed a feat that I had thought impossible. We were totally blessed. The weather ended up being perfect and we were able to hike the entire route during daylight hours. This adventure is not for the faint of heart. You cannot be afraid of heights and you must be in decent shape. I know that my triathlon training helped me be able to accomplish this task. Muscular strength, cardiovascular strength and endurance are a must. If you have those though, this hike is a must! The reward is 100% worth the effort.

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