Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Half dome in one day!

My sister-in-law, Andrea and I hiked from th valley floor to the summit of Half Dome in one day. Yep, that is 16+ miles hiking up a mountain, from 4000 feet at the valley floor, to the peak at 8800 feet. And it was an adventure.... Half Dome Half Dome is a granite rock fomrmation, located in Yosemite Valley, California. It rises over 8,800 feet above sea leval. Its distinctive flat face was created by glacial movement, creating a steep, slick hump rising out of the valley floor. It is a California icon, revered and memorialized by many artists, historians, and mountaineers. The photographer Ansel Adams created stark black and white studies of this formation. Royal Robbins summited this peak in the 1950's. North Face uses Half Dome as its company logo. In 2005 the Federal government memorialized Half Dome on the back of the quarter.
We both live in the San Francisco Bay area. We entered the lottery on the park service website at 12:01 a.m., two days before our ascent, attempting to get a spot on the cables of the Half Dome. About a year ago the park service implimented a lottery for recieving permits to summit half dome, due to safety and the crowds. It is surprising that there are crowds on this catagory 3 climb with cables, and catagory 6 without cabled hike. This hike is for real climbers, who are in very good shape and have no fear, not the hundreds of day hikers. Andrea and I are not climbers, however, we both just completed a marathon two weeks prior to the climb, we had proper leather gloves, 6 liters of water, salt tablets, and proper shoes. We were also aware of the danger, and knew that if we could not summit, that is fine. We drove up the night before the hike, pitching camp at the Hodgdon meadow campsite, a 40 minute drive away form the valley floor and trailhead. As a last minute camper, this site is the easiest to get into. Our car overheated, so the evening consisted of attempting to find coolant. I was super surprised that in Yosemite Village there is a DisneyLand of restaurants, stores, parking, fancy platform tent rentals, and a garage (for car repair). We ate dinner early, sausages over a roaring fire, bear proofed the campsite, and bedded down early, me in my bivey sack, and Andrea in her dome tent. At 4:20 a.m. our campsite was visited by a bear, snuffeling and crunching chip bags (not ours). It was fortunate he woke us up; but for him we would not have woken up early enough to summit. Things always take longer than you expect, so Mr. Bear was a lucky alarm clock. We ate, packed up the site and moved it to the next night site, unpacked, and then headed out to the trailhead, where we parked at Curry Village and took the 7:00 am bus to the official trailhead, a steep, paved path to the base of the first waterfall - Vernal Falls. The start of the Half Dome trail is at Happy Isles trailhead, and starts with the Mist Trail. There you have a choice of trails for Half Dome, either the very popular Mist Trail, which looks like the stairs to Mordor, or the John Muir Trail, which is a little longer, not as steep, and not as crowded. We chose Mordor.
At the top of the Mist trail is Emerald Pool, a deceptively dangerous pool that looks inviting. The day we were there 2 children died in this pool, wading in and washed over the waterfall. The surrounding rocks are slick, even when dry, and water levels can unexpectedly change. A squall can rain on a peak many miles away, and the water level can change in a flash, pushing a strong current over the falls.

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