I am asked would I do it again, move to China knowing what I do now and the experiences I have had. The answer is yes, I would. It has been a great and challenging experience both personally and professionally that I would do again. I can’t say the same of hiking to the summit of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park but I can say I did it!
History of Our Hiking
We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon the first time in 2008 (South Rim). I remember writing on every postcard and piece of paper to NEVER do this again. I was so proud of doing, something like less than 1% of visitors to the CG make it to the bottom, it was hard.
In 2009, we hiked up part of Huangshan Mountain in China, which I recently learned is the sister park to Yosemite. Todd said this one doesn’t count but it is real pretty!
I hear it is like child birth (I wouldn’t know being child free by choice) that during you say never again but as time passes you block out the horribleness of it and sign up again. In 2010 we did the Grand Canyon again. This time a rim to rim hike down the North Rim up the South of the Grand Canyon.
I trained for this hike, I was in the best shape of my over 18 life. Runners get on this running high, the same can be said about hikers and after we completed the rim to rim we decided with our sporty friends Frank & Andrea who have done the GC both times with us that we are going to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. My crazy hiker high made me commit to this and we need to do this stuff before we get too old and unable to. Todd has 10 years on Frank & Andrea and we are not getting any younger.
About Half Dome
In 1865 Half Dome was declared “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875 and we did in 2012.
“It is the one trail everyone should try before dying and it is the one trail where you are the most likely to die” – Macabre on Yosemite’s Half Dome Climb
- The summit is 8,843 ft (2,650 meters) above sea level
- 4,800 ft (1,600 meters) elevation change from the Yosemite Valley floor
- 17 miles round trip hike
- Took us 14 hours to complete the trip
Can’t Just go-Need to Win The Lottery
We decided this June is when we will go but it is all not that simple. We needed to apply for the lottery for permits to hike Half Dome. For safety reasons (which I appreciate) in 2010 the park put a lottery system in place. Allowing a total of 400 people up the cables each day to Half Dome. You had to put your application in by March and you will know in April if you won. Each of us put in as a trip leader on different dates and waited. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner! 3 out of 4 of us won the lottery on 2 different dates. We had a date and a rain back up plan for you don’t want to do this if the weather is not perfect. Half Dome is a lightening rod and can get very slick with rain. I don’t think it is a good idea to do it if you happen to sweat a lot and there is a chance it will get on the rock. That could be danger. If you have this problem, I suggest a sweatband. The 80s are back and all…
Between winning the lottery which was April and our dates in June, I had a good 2 months that I could have read up more on this adventure we were about to set out on.The last time I read the website probably was in 2010, when we declared we are going to hike it. I had 2 months to get myself mentally and physically prepared. Did I? NO! Here are some quotes from the Yosemite National Park web site I see after the fact that I should have paid attention to.
“there is nothing you can do to guarantee your safety”
“for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted”
“The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you’re out of shape or unprepared”
“Black bears frequent Yosemite’s Wilderness and are adept at grabbing backpacks from hikers and campers–during both day and night”
Now Todd and I are not a bunch of slugs. We both walk to the metro each day (that is funny right? But wait there is more..), I take the stairs from the metro platform to the outside. We workout at least 2x a week with a trainer and we do cardio often in the gym most mornings. We are just not doing as much of it as we have done in previous years (see comment about 201o) and have taken to the brunch lifestyle and a few too many dumplings living in Shanghai that we should have with this hike approaching. Frank and Andrea, well they are in their own league, we call Frank sporty Frank with reason, he does multiple triathlons and marathons a year and Andrea as well. They also ran a 10K in Sonoma the weekend we flew in. They are sporty. I was too jet lagged to get up and run plus I didn’t want to do anything to get in the way of my hiking, as in falling down. Which I happened to do in Sonoma on a wine tour, in a wine cave, I was not even drunk! I can’t blame anyone but myself for not educating myself and researching what we will be doing.
Scrambling Not Hiking
I want to share that Todd likes to call hiking, “a long walk in the woods”. I reminded him of this often when we were no longer in the woods but on the side of a 8,800 ft granite rock, above the tree line and walking up for hours. It is not just a walk. It makes the Grand Canyon a long walk in red dirt. There are not really well-marked paths to go up and I learned the term for what we did, it is not hiking, it is called scrambling. Wikipedia calls it alpine scrambling and sums it up best. “It is an ambiguous term that lies somewhere between hillwalking (hiking) and rock climbing” yup that is it.
We took the mist trail up that goes to a lovely waterfall Nevada Falls and then up to Vernal falls. It was cool to be right besides a waterfall being so close to a waterfall, you get wet from the mist (guess that is where the name mist trail comes from) it also made the granite wet and slick. Danger, danger. This more scenic and steep way is 1.2 miles shorter than taking another route, Muir Trail but brutal on knees. We did it both ways.
The sub dome (the hump looking part before the cables) is a series of switchbacks, very steep, narrow and is the edge of a rock. To add to all that fun, when you reach this point in the adventure you are tired from walking up miles up. When you are tired it is easier to fall down. There is also no longer any shade we are where no trees grow. I asked some folks who came down from the summit how was it and they said this part was worse than the cables. I would agree. The tail is not marked and it seems like you can just walk off the edge. I used my hiking poles on this section up and down which was very helpful.
What I was prepared for was the 400 ft of cables that takes you to the summit for that is what is often talked about. The cables were put in 1919 and are held up with poles at some points at a 45 degree angle. As Todd can tell from his first hand experience they are not secured to the rock. The poles lifted out of their holes and he had to put them back in. Scary and can throw you off-balance which is not good. Know the cables are secure the poles are not and focus on not letting go of the cables. There is a wood 2×4 approx. every 10 feet that goes across from one pole to the other which is very handy to take a rest on between poles. The wood is not to be trusted, for it can break and there are broken ones, making it a long climb up. The only thing you can trust is your own arms.
It is strongly suggested you wear gloves not just for blisters but to keep a good grip on the cables and of course Todd told everyone in our party to have gloves, who didn’t get gloves, Todd. It turned out to not be a problem for there is a pile of discarded gloves to choose from, some in better shape than others.
I felt like a bit of a bad ass having my pink weight lifting gloves from my trainer but a little concerned they were fingerless.
As we were rifling through the discarded pile of gloves, we came across some hikers who just came down and I asked about my fingerless gloves and they were not suggested. He gave me his sweaty used pair that were in excellent shape and his friend donated his to Todd. They were really thin but rubberized and he said they worked great. I tried not to think about how sweaty they were I focused on these gloves made it up and back and still look brand new (exception of sweat) Thank you hikers for your sweaty gloves, they got us up and down successfully. Full gloves are the way to go, you need the coverage, my fingers would have been torn up if I didn’t have the sweaty magic gloves. Although suggested to not leave gloves at the based of the cables, not only is it litter, rangers need to carry hundreds of pairs of gloves off the hill, animals like nest and eat them. Even being the animal lover that I am… if no one left gloves, Todd wouldn’t have any. I left the gloves for future hikers in such a situation. These babies were too good to not leave for someone else. I wish I thought to bring a pen for I would have written a note on the gloves that said Take Me! These are awesome gloves been up 2x.
Going up the cables was not pleasant or easy, but it was not as bad as I thought. There is only one way up and down so it requires communication with the hikers above and below you going in the various directions. Along the way folks would give advice, use one cable, use both cables, go down backwards, etc. The best advice was given by the Park Ranger later known as Ranger Adorable who checked our permits was to never let go of the cables. Good reminder as I tried various techniques to get up. As I was approached the top, people were coming down and this guy was talking photos of his hiking partner sharing the piece of wood with me. I reminded him of the advice Ranger Adorable (that is what I referred to him as, when you are scared and stress I just blurt things out) told us and that to never let go of the cables and here he was 2 hands off taking photos! My wood sharing friend, whispered to me that he is one. One what? A Ranger! I should have guessed, that is why he was wearing all green pants and t-shirt. How does that make it better? Come to find out he was Ranger Adorable’s trainer! I gave him a lecture about being a role model and to practice what you preach. Just wait until I get down and tell Ranger Adorable. I ended up preferring using both cables going up. Frank and Andrea made it up first and was up there long enough to get photos of us hitting the summit.
At the Summit
At the top we had lunch of peanut butter and bagel sandwiches, trail mix, banana chips, and tried to keep it away from the aggressive mountain marmots, the only thing that lives up there. We took a lingering rest, celebrating what we did and pondered that what goes up must come down and listened to the folks who brought their cells phones up make calls to friends and loved ones from the summit of Half Dome. Not a bad idea knowing we had to go down. As we “packed up” the hiking equivalent to “suit up” Park Ranger Adorable comes up the cables and asks people their names and if we have seen someone by some name, asks if we have seen anyone behaving strangely up there or talking about being able to fly, he then starts looking over the edge in various places. Oh no, freaky, freaky. That doesn’t sound good and neither does it when you hear helicopters. We never heard if the guy was found. It was time to go down which we wanted to slowly and safely due to being tired and the desire to not fall down and to get back before dark. Doing that in the dark, I can’t imagine.
Frank went down first, followed by Andrea, then me and Todd bringing up the rear of our party. Going down the cables was the most difficult for me. Looking down from the top, gripping the cables is where I realized, this is some dangerous, serious S&%$. At that moment I was aware of my own mortality and that of others. If I were to fall there is nothing that can be done, it is straight down and a likely chance and an un-avoidance of taking others with me. I thought what if others fell and they took me with down with them? That would be very bad. I am amazed people going down were talking to me as I was going up. I didn’t want to talk to anyone going down. I needed to focus and get control of my thoughts and not cry as I wanted to for that would be water on the rock and bad news. I went down backwards, using one cable, Andrea who I called my Mountaineering Coach was one set of poles ahead of me and would tell me what to expect of the next section if it was steep, broken wood, uneven, no wood, etc. She was awesome! I would peek through my arm to see what was coming up next on the rock but I could not look at the horizon or down.
I made the mistake a few times of looking up to see how Todd was doing, not good for that freaked me out to see him coming down.
At one point I asked Andrea is we were half way down yet for from my arm window it looked like we may be. She asked me if I really wanted her to answer that question. I knew the answer. She promised me should would tell me when we hit 10 remaining 2x4s of wood. Frank I don’t know how he did it, he was Spider Frank, he flew down the cables and he said he had a fear of heights, HA! would never guess from how fast he was. He was down so much ahead of us that he got bored and took tons of photos of us coming down and the glove eating marmots.
Andrea also went face first down as well and would have been down right behind Frank is she didn’t have me to coach through, which I am grateful for. Let me share about Andrea’s feet slip. At the bottom she shared that both her feet slipped from under her and she was being held up by her arms. I said I heard the slip… Speaking of arms when I see my trainer Sean I am going to give him a big hug and kiss for all the push ups and squats he made me do. When I complain about how it hurts and is hard he tells me it is because it is what my body needs. It paid off. My arms were so strong on the cables. It wasn’t my arms or legs that was the problem, it was how steep and slick the granite was for almost 100 years of people walking up it that freaked me out, how high we were, and the fact that if you fall you die or if lucky not dying, very broken. My arms and legs were not sore after the adventure which is amazing, my knees and back is another story. I blame old age. Sean XXXOOO you are right, it is what my body needs.
I was also not prepared for the elevation change. I couldn’t breath. Darn you Florida and Shanghai for being at sea level! I have never experienced that before. I was trying to figure out why no trouble at the Grand Canyon. Eureka! We went down the North Rim which around 8,000 ft. Down is much easier than up.
We did it! We hiked Half Dome, which I affectionately refer to as Death Dome. I am putting it on the Internet for everyone to see, I will never do it. This is a once in a lifetime and will stay that way. Why
risk falling, dying, ruin the memories of the first time.
Todd is talking crazy being back now that he wants to do it again in Vibrams. Must be the altitude sickness, time travel, and his love of Clif bars talking. This was a once in a lifetime for me, I have done it and good with it, no need to repeat. Maybe go back to the park one day and look at Half Dome, knowing I have done it. I think next I would like to go to the beach. However, being in Asia, I think Everest is next, at least to basecamp. I will need to see a Dr. about some altitude drugs (who knew there was such a thing) for that for it is 17,598 ft. 2x the height of Half Dome. YIKKEES! Gotta get on that, not getting any younger. Who is in with us?