“Ouch… Wow, my legs are trashed. What time is it?” Of course, it was before 5 am and pitch black outside.
Today would be the day that we would tackle the big one, Half Dome. Not only had I been off from running for 3 months, but the miscommunication fail from yesterday meant that my already unfit legs were epicly sore. Before we even started, I knew that this was going to be a rough day. Yet, who can complain when you’re witnessing the awesome beauty of Yosemite Valley, the Falls, and Half Dome among many others? Plus, I missed the mental and physical challenge of running and this would allow me to taste that sweet suffering again. So, I got dressed and ready to go.
With my running shorts and a Starbucks scone, I settled in for the two hour drive to Yosemite Valley for breakfast. Again, the drive into the valley was a cool progression from golden grass fields, to small hills, to towering peaks. For breakfast, we hit up a buffet to try to ingest as many calories as possible; however, I felt sick and could barely eat anything. Add that to the list of hints for failure: 3 months off from running, sore legs from 10 miles of hiking the day before, and an empty stomach for the start of the hike. Things were not looking up and when they did, Half Dome was looming like a giant.
Approach to Half Dome
While climbing Half Dome is a feat within itself, we first had to hike 10K up to it. First on our journey was Mist Trail. It’s a section of granite stairs next to Vernal Falls and is obviously characterized by a steady downpour of mist. It soaks you and also turns the stairs into a mini stream of water. The contrast between the dark wet granite and the white misty water is really cool, especially when combined with the perpetual rainbow.
At the top of the falls, we took a snack break (Cliff Bars, Cliff Shot Blocks..etc – actually, thinking back, my Hammer fuel that I used for my ultra would have worked very well for this trip). And at this point, I’ll go ahead and quote myself:
The squirrels at Yosemite are so awesome.. (Twitter)
Everywhere in the park, the squirrels would come right up to you and I probably could have touched a few if I had tried. Well, once I finished marveling at and videoing the squirrels, we continued up the mountain toward Nevada Falls.
At the top of this falls and already a couple of hours in, an ominous sign greeted us “ You are one fifth of the way there.. Are you prepared?” Oh crap, I’m so not ready for this… I have been limping around the whole time on my sore legs.
Executive Decision: whatever… we got this.
So, we continued on. After passing a train of horses, we hit a flat and sandy section. This part went by releatively uneventful.. although Half Dome was looming the whole time both in actuality and mentally.
Finally, we started up an incline again with about 2.5 miles left to Half Dome. At this point, my dad and I were stopping about every 30 minutes or so to rest our tired feet and eat some snacks; it was rough and we weren’t even on the real trail yet. Around this time, I found my walking stick; it made things a little easier.
2 miles out
Here is where it started to get exciting. We began some significant climbing and got some epic views of the valley. Then, Bam! We got a glimpse of Half Dome.
Wow, that’s epic. Unfortunately, pictures unjustly communicate the sheer immensity of the landscape of Yosemite. In reality, it truly was breathtaking.. and scary. After a quick break, we started back on our journey to the start of Half Dome. Eventually, we made it with dark clouds looming in the background (which made for epic pictures).
At the base of Half Dome, we presented our permit to the park ranger and he ran us through some safety precautions, making Half Dome sound like a piece of cake. However, this illusion was quickly erased by the steep switchbacks we had to cover in order to get to the cables. Small steps, slippery granite rocks, steep dropoffs.. all combined to make a scary ascent to the cables.
When we finally got to the cables, I was already a little nervous, but my first look at the cables quickly multiplied this nervousness to pee-in-your-pants levels. Um, seriously? We are supposed to climb that and with these trashed legs? This is nuts, no way…
Okay, I’ll do it.
So we started the climb, which of course was straight up. At first, it was steep, then it was ridiculously steep, then it reached ludriciously steep! I must have had adrenaline pumping in me, because I was scared out of my mind. Every time I stopped at a wooden plank, I had to catch my breath from a combination of fear and exertion. Yeah, it was crazy epic, but it was also so scary (have I said that already?). But, when I finally reached the top, it was so worth it.
At the top is a flat area that would make for an insane picnic. However, the exciting part is walking or crawling to the edge to peer down to the valley floor !@#$%!! Looking around, I finally registered the sheer size of Half Dome and stood in awe. With a thunderstorm blowing in, it was crazy up there, so we rushed our visit to get back down as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, my dad’s legs had cramped up pretty severely, but thankfully I had some Dr. Hoy’s that seemed to loosen him up enough so that we could make it back down the mountain.
The descent was almost scarier than the ascent. It’s so steep that even with tennis shoes and dry rock, I couldn’t walk without slipping and sliding. Although I didn’t get Vertigo from descending the mountain facing forward, I could definitely see how some people do. Once we finally made it all the way down, the park ranger closed the mountain because of the storm; I can’t imagine descending the mountain on wet granite :/. So, we made it down and with a thunderstorm closing in behind us, quickly set off.
Back to the Valley
At this point, I still hadn’t let myself acknowledge that we were just over halfway done in terms of mileage for the day. Yeah, the return trip would be faster, but I knew it would also be more painful… What was left of my legs was not going to enjoy this. For the first half of the trip down, the time seemed to pass by fairly quickly as we were trying to hike away from the thunderstorm. Yet, everything hurt at this point and our water was running low. Once we got down off of the surrounding mountains near Half Dome, we powered through one of the only flat sections. Near the end of this mile or so stretch, we stopped to ice in the Merced river. Very, very good idea. I’m always surprised at how effective icing is although I’ve done it a million of times. After a 10 or so minute ice, my dad filled up his water bottle in the river (wow, tasted so good) and we continued on our way. At Nevada Falls, we opted for the John Muir trail instead of the Mist Trail.
It was a very good choice. We were able to catch awesome views of Nevada Falls shining from the rays of the setting sun piercing through the valley. After a couple of switchbacks, we encountered a couple of teenage hikers and their dad… they were lost and the sun was setting fast, not a good combo. So, we pointed them in the right direction of their camp and kept heading down. A million switchbacks later, we reached the base of Vernal Falls and got back on the trail we came in on. My legs were not doing any better. One last push to the bus and we were home-bound. On the way back out of the park, I looked out the window and noticed something very strange… the sky was glowing with a million lights. I told my Dad to stop the car and jumped out to see what was up. Boom… gazing up, I was immediately taken aback by the amount of stars in the sky. Never before had I seen so many stars or such a stunning night sky. I could have sat there for hours looking at the stars… wow, what a way to end this day.