Hike Yosemite, Hike Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
Hiking to the top of Yosemite's magnificent monolith Half Dome means miles of stone stair steps, miles of switch backs, chugging water continuously and then upon approaching the goal you find that you must risk your life hauling yourself up the side of HD on two steel cables at about a 45 angle before reaching the summit and the spectacular view.  After doing it in a day, up and back, I understand why it is considered a two day hike.

My son-in-law, Mike and I got a good start, passing the trailhead, Happy Isles, by 6:15 AM, Friday, July 25, 2003.  The air was cool and no threat of rain was expected.  The first mile of easy walking brought us up to the bridge that gives a good view of Vernal Falls (the photo to the left is of Mike at the end of our journey when the light was better for taking this shot).  As we continued our way along the Merced River we soon reached the famous mist trail just below VF.  Here we encountered the first challenge of the day: wet stone stair steps and not a few.  (When I speak of a challenge I don't refer to the perspective of my companion but to that of the old guy who is more than 30 years his senior.)  Mike was almost always in the lead setting a good pace because we were told that our goal should be to get to the top of both falls at least by 9:00 in order to reach the top of HD by noon or no later than 1:00.  This is so that you don't find yourself on the return trip having to work your way down wet stone steps next to a drop off and in the dark.  We attacked the stone steps with vigor since we were fresh and new to the chase.  At the top of Vernal Falls we had gone 1.5 miles.  This is a good jaunt for families wanting a short hike and a spectacular view and quite a few were there already.  We moved on quickly finding more rocks to climb all the way to the top of Nevada Falls and at that point it was only 8:00, one hour before schedule.  I must admit that the old guy had slowed down with the effort. 

Fortunately the next mile above the falls was, as we had been told, pretty flat and wooded so there was some shade.  I was glad that I had applied sun screen because the mid summer sun was feeling warm.  Near the end of this section of the hike we saw the back of Half Dome to our left and Little Yosemite camp grounds off to the right and the last chance to use "facilities." 

This was where the switch backs began and where a sign warned: "BEWARE.  If a thunderstorm is anywhere on the horizon DO NOT PASS BEYOND THIS SIGN.  Lightning has struck Half Dome during every month of the year."  We moved ahead, little knowing that a thunderhead was moving our way, unexpected and unseen.           

We trudged on for the next 3 miles of dusty switchbacks with a lot of cover from the ponderosa pine, cedar and fir.  We did see one deer (left).  Two days previous on our hike to the top of Yosemite Falls we encountered a black bear of moderate size and had to chase it away from the trail so we could pass.  There are warnings everywhere about the wildlife.  Even though they may seem friendly they are still wild.  We were told that the deer have caused more accidents than bears.  Their hooves are sharp and have been know to kill people, so its wise to keep ones distance.

As we approached the bare granite shoulder of HD we caught our first sight of our goal from a new angle (right).  We were almost there.  Before us were more stone stair steps and some scrambling over boulders and panting because we had been hiking for about 4 1/2 hours and had come from 4,000 feet above sea level to approximately 8,800 feet in altitude.  We were however pumped, having the summit in sight and knowing that we were making good time.

As we trudged our way over the shoulder we could see very clearly what kind of experience was ahead of us; the 400 feet of infamous HD cables (left).  Our wives were nervous about our making this hike because they had gotten news of a woman who fell from the cables the previous day and had to be air lifted to the hospital with quite a few broken bones.  She would probably have been killed if her leg had not gotten caught on one of the cable posts.  

At the base of the cables were piles of leather gloves left by previous thoughtful hikers.  Gloves make the ascent and especially the decent much easier (my thanks to whoever left the red gloves, size large).  Mike let me take the lead here and he waited patiently as I struggled, pulling my way up from pole to pole.  Besides having to let the ones coming down pass us, I had to stop and rest quite a few times as fatigue was taking its toll and my legs were not cooperating.  We made it up in about 15 or 20 minutes, even though Mike could have gone ahead and made it in 5. 

So here we were actually on the top of what has been a part of my dreams ever since first visiting Yosemite as a child in the late 1940s.  Here we were and the view was awesome.
"Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created."  Psalm 148:5


The old guy did, in fact, make it to the top surrounded by all of Yosemite's splendor (left).  It was 11:15, time for lunch and we were definitely hungry.  We took the obligatory pictures and after that Mike explored the vast bald head of HD while I rested.  By 12:00 we were ready for the decent.  As we started to make our way to the cables we heard distant thunder and looked up to see dark clouds moving our way.  We could have practically run down, sliding our gloved hands along the cables, if it had not been for the increase of people needing to pass us on their way to the top. 

I felt more comfortable getting off the rock and back into the woods because it was beginning to rain a little.  We never heard any more thunder as we hurried on, trying now to get back to the trail head at a respectable hour.  The 8.2 mile descent was easier than hiking up but it had its challenges.  We did see a rattle snake below Vernal Falls, the second one of the week.



We took more pictures on the way down so we could share the experience and arrived back at Happy Isles by 4:00, one hour earlier than when we had hoped to return.  The approximate 5 hours up and 4 hours down didn't seem too bad for a 16.4 mile hike.  If my companion had not stuck with me he could have gotten back much sooner.  Our back packs were a good bit lighter now for we had drunk over a gallon of water each.  I for one was glad to find a seat on a crowded shuttle bus and rest my weary bones on our way back to Curry Village and supper.  It had been quite a day, one long to be remembered.

Need I say, as a final note, that the better shape you are in, the more you will be able to enjoy this unique Yosemite excursion?  In spite of the fact that this 60 year old guy ran six miles a week, cycled and hiked in preparation, I should have done more because the strain on the legs during the nine and a quarter hours of hiking was tremendous.  I should point out that its nice to have a doctor as ones traveling companion.


                          "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."  Psalm 150:6



                       Official Yosemite National Park website:  http://www.nps.gov/yose/

                                         Some other popular hiking areas
          ■  Hiking up Yosemite Falls is a real challenge
         ■  Hiking Panorama Trail in Yosemite Valley.  Spectacular scenery.
         ■  Hiking the big island of Hawai'i allows you to see it's unique beauty up close

          ■  Try hiking Ricketts Glen in Pennsylvania where there are 22 waterfalls
          ■  Here is the most popular hike in the Mid-Atlantic region:  Old Rag, Virginia
  Hike Yosemite, Hiking Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
2003, Elton D. Hannaman
  Contact: ehannaman@pa.net

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