Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life's Greatest Accomplishments

In life everyone has a list of things they want to accomplish that seem impossible to achieve.  My list is no exception.  Some of these are obtainable while others are not.  A few years ago, Kevin, Brooke and I spent 10 days in Northern California exploring Yosemite National Park and finishing our trip in San Francisco running across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The adventure begins!

Kevin and I before our run across the Golden Gate Bridge
Not quite mid-way

View from San Francisco

View from Sausalito

San Francisco 

This was not our first visit to Yosemite, but it was our first time to hike Half Dome.  Hiking Half Dome is one of those accomplishments that falls just outside the realm of reality.  However, one warm August morning we set out to turn this dream into a reality.  

Half Dome here we come!

Starting out in the dark

First a little background on the lure of Half Dome.  Yosemite's Half Dome rises nearly 5000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8000 feet above sea level.  Half Dome is Yosemite's icon and a great challenge to many hikers.  Much of the hike to the dome is an adventure into the wilderness culminating with rock climbing to the summit.  The hike is about 17 miles round trip gaining an elevation of 3800 feet.  From the shoulder, spectacular views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and Half Dome await the hiker.  Once on the summit, panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierras abound.  This hike takes 10-12 hours and if you haven't reached the summit by 3:30 pm then it's time to turn around and try for another day.  Fortunately for us, we started out in the wee hours of the morning when it was darker than the inside of a boot, so we reached the summit before this time.  

Glimpse of Half Dome with El Capitan in the foreground

The hike up to the sub-dome is very rocky and steep.  The trail weaves around several waterfalls which can be extremely treacherous due to mist and spray from the water as it cascades to the valley floor.

Brooke with 317 ft Vernal Falls in background
View looking back down The Mist Trail

Peering over the rail of Vernal Falls

Portion of the rocky, ankle twisting  trail

Once we reached the sub-dome it was time to collect our thoughts and focus on the arduous task ahead of us. The scramble up the sub-dome is time consuming because each step has to be calculated.  It was difficult to use our hiking poles because there wasn't a good place to plant them for leverage. Although this was a short distance it seemed to take an eternity. At last we caught a glimpse of our last part of the journey.  Half Dome with it's famous cables lie ahead of us.  The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without the use of rock climbing equipment.  The ascent up the cables was the most terrifying thing that I have ever done!  We packed heavy gloves to wear to protect our hands from being ripped to shreds by the metal cables.  Once between the cables, you snake up the granite surface of Half Dome.  This was extremely strenuous due to the steep nature of the trail. The park rangers say that this portion is 45 degrees, but going down it appears must steeper.  

Sub-dome trail

Kevin on sub-dome trail

Hikers on Half Dome look like ants marching in unison.  Looks steeper than 45 degrees to me!

Kevin and Brooke somehow got ahead of me on the journey up this gray slab of rock.  I got stuck behind a group of college graduates from Harvard Law School who were totally unprepared for the climb.  One young man directly in front of me was sweating so profusely that his sweat was dripping off his backpack onto me!  Unfortunately I had nowhere to go but up, right behind him unable to avoid his disgusting sweat.  You can't pass because the cables accommodate traffic going up and down all between a space of less than 4 feet.  

Time to turn around? No way!

Getting up enough nerve to start the trek to the summit

Kevin and Brooke waiting their turn

After over an hour clinging to the cables we finally made it to the top!  What a feeling being able to gaze out over Yosemite Valley and witness the beauty of mother nature. We spent about an hour at the summit soaking in all the wonder around us. 

Heart rock from the top of Half Dome (I collect small ones and photograph larger ones)

Yosemite Valley
We made it!

Kevin on the precipice of danger

Brooke and the solitude at the summit

Then reality hit.  We had to hike down the 45 degree incline, this time facing OUT with the valley and surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains before us.

Looking back at our accomplishment

Brooke hiking down the sub-dome

I thought the ascent was terrifying, but the climb down was indescribable.  A few steps into the descent, my water bottle fell out of my backpack and tumbled down toward the valley floor.  I froze as I watched it disappear from sight.  That made me think that just one slip and that could be me.  Kevin went in front of us so that in the event that we slipped, he could be our buffer.  Luckily for us, we didn't need him to be our human shield.  With only 50 feet to go, I felt my body begin to loosen up and relax as I knew we were going to reach the bottom safely.  Once at the bottom, I turned to admire our accomplishment.  But again, I realized that although we made it down Half Dome, we still had another 8 miles to hike to reach the bottom.  The sky was starting to turn a myriad of pinks and oranges which normally would be beautiful, but not when you are on a strenuous trail in the wilderness.  We reached the bottom but darkness had already settled in.  We started out our journey in the dark and ended it in the dark as well.  I felt an unbelievable relief wash over me as we drug our tired and sunburned bodies to our car.  We did it! Hiking Half Dome was a huge achievement one which I was able to share with family.  

Perspective of Half Dome from across the valley

Brooke and I with Half Dome behind
We were fortunate enough to hike Half Dome when we did because now only hikers with permits are allowed to hike this icon.  Only 300 hikers a day are permitted to hike beyond the base of the sub-dome.  These lucky individuals are selected by a lottery system. Although this seems like a small number of hikers, it is one step toward preserving the beauty of Half Dome and Yosemite National Park for future generations.


  1. This was an amazing trip! I will never forget climbing Half Dome, especially the challenge it was! And I love SF! Good memories :)

  2. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. So glad I got to see these photos!

  3. I would pee my pants having to climb that rock/mountain/boulder!!