Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Check that one!

In between my business trips, I made a quick stop.

A group of us escaped civilization and headed out to Yosemite. This is a wonderful place to me. It was probably the first nation park I ever visited on my own after college (as opposed to a family trip). I only wish I had done more outdoor activities in my twenties.

The grand plan was to hike to Half Dome and climb the cables to the top. We woke up at 5:30am thinking we'd start early and beat the crowds. It turned into a beautiful day, blue skies, wisps of clouds, and clear views in every direction. I was disappointed to find myself struggling to keep up with everyone. After hiking every weekend and going to the gym each week, I didn't expect to feel so winded. Granted the hike starts at over 4000 ft., but it was still frustrating. Later, when we stopped for a break, it was pointed out to me how heavy my pack was compared to what other were packing. I was carrying the bulk of lunch plus my 3.5 liters of water. Maybe I should practice more often with extra weight.

As always, the trail had beautiful views of waterfalls and the landscape. We stopped several times for bathroom breaks and snacks. All the hiking and heat can really make people hungry. We expected to reach the base of Half Dome in under 5 hours. Somehow, we took much longer than expected. We arrived some six hours later to this view.

The line was rather long. Like many others, we debated whether it was worth waiting in the long line. Given the recent tragedy, we were kind of hoping that maybe there'd be fewer people. (The debate that followed was an interesting read, demonstrating that there's never a perfect solution to anything.)

For me personally, there was no question of whether to wait in line to climb the cables. I've been here twice before and not finished; once because it was getting late, once because I had a sharp headache. The lines back then weren't this bad. At least, being here before helped me know how to prepare. I took ibuprofen halfway through the hike to prevent headache and brought some tough leather gloves for the cables.

We ate our lunch as we waited in line. It took TWO hours to finally take our turn climbing the cables. From the bottom, it looks much steeper than it actually is, though it's definitely not something to climb freely. Our climbs both up and down were slowed by people not prepared for the challenge.

The view at the top was fabulous. It's almost a 360 degree view of Yosemite. It's scary how close to the edge of the dome one can stand. I got about five feet from the edge but that was as much risk as I could handle. I'm not afraid of heights, just afraid of a crumbling edge or unexpected gust of wind.

As we waited to go back down, one of my friends observed, "there are people who don't realize they're scared of heights until they try and come down." The guy in front of us overheard and raised his hand and said, "that would be me." The guy kept sitting down and his buddy tried to give him suggestion to make the descent easier. The buddy also had to push him a bit, telling him things like, "you can't go down on your butt, get up."

In contrast, there were people who climbed as if this were a walk in the park. One false step, and you can fall thousands of feet. It's amazing how different people's sense of risk is. Seeing a shiny silver object roll (turned out to be some one's camera), then bounce, then hit rock and break into three pieces as it disappeared over the edge is a good reminder that there's no safety net if something happens.

We all felt great after coming down. There's definitely a feeling of satisfaction in accomplishing a feet like Half Dome. We gave each other high-fives to celebrate.

Other minor observations:

1) Squirrels - Don't feed them and don't leave your packs unattended. They know how to get into your stuff to search for food. Someone left a bag tucked under a rock overhang while climbing the cables. I spotted a squirrel who had pulled out two drink bottles and a package of Advil. They are clever.

2) On the return trail, if you have a choice, avoid the route that involves going down steep stairs - it really hurts the knees.

3) Tradeoffs in campsite selection - interior campground sites can be noisy and feel crowded; outer campground sites are more likely to be visited by bears.


Anna May Won't said...

great recap! i love yosemite too, though i haven't been in years.

love your pic too. did you get one of the view?

mini said...

wow, i'd always heard about people hiking up to the halfdome, but i never realized what it actually entailed! that sounds awesome, though. maybe one of these days, i'll make it out there :)

Pandax said...

This one's is from a friend's camera. I'll have to add a couple more when I can download my camera this weekend. So check back next week.

Did I mention it's 8.2 miles each way from the trail head (plus the extra mile to our campsite)?

teahouse said...

Wow, what an amazing photo!!