Half Dome…..Planning Begins

Part Two: Kathryn had taken over and we were now in full on planning mode. Where Bailey and I had approached it as a hike, no, almost a stroll, Kathryn was going to make sure we understood the importance of knowing what we were going to attempt.

She started with a route map. This was no stroll in the park. Here is the excerpt from the Yosemite guide book: The trail to Half Dome from Yosemite Valley is an extremely strenuous hike covering over 17 miles. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation along the trail that passes highlights such as Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, before reaching the cables on Half Dome’s steep granite domes. If that wasn’t sobering enough, she reminded us that it would be July, one of the hottest months in the park. We were going to need to condition, gear up and do some research.

We started with the research and soon were looking at maps of the route. The climb up Vernal and Nevada Falls wasn’t a cake walk but it was at least a trail. There would be lots of rock cut stairs, some bouldering but all in all, relatively easy. Once on top of the falls, a long hike and eventually some fairly steep trail with lots of switchbacks awaited us. Eventually, we would reach the dome with its cables to assist us to the summit of Half Dome. We figured ‘cables’ sounded easy. And then we saw the pictures.

Half dome

So, we conceded, Kathryn might be onto something. Again from the guide book: The most famous–or infamous–part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly. A little more reading had their mother trying to pull her, at best, weak support of this ‘adventure’. The book warned that though at least 60 people had met their demise somewhere in the process of this ‘hike’, only 20 were on the dome and its cables, and with proper behavior and planning, it was relatively safe. Sorry mom, sounds like we’re still on.

With research completed, it was time for outfitting our trek. In no particular order, tennis shoes were traded for quality hiking boots and heavy socks. Shorts gave into hiking pants that could be easily converted as early morning cool temps gave way to afternoon heat. Of course there would be quality backpacks to carry climbing gear consisting of carabiners and gloves for the cables, lunches and snacks and more importantly, water. Throw in a water purifier, just in case, and head lamps, it was going to be dark when we needed to start, and we were outfitted. We had by now become REI and Shepherd & Schaller’s ‘best customers’.


We now had two months to get in condition. Our conditioning started off with hikes and trail climbing at a local state park. We started adding gear and weight to our packs and the hikes got longer. Eventually, we hiked the Bear Skin Trail in Northern Wisconsin and except for an occasional glance at those pictures of the Half Dome cables, we were bordering on cocky.

Early in May, we had secured our accommodations at Yosemite Valley and had settled on an early morning start of 6:00 am. However, after a discussion with our brother-in-law, Horst Klemm, who had once worked as a backcountry ranger for the National Park Service, two suggestions were made. First, he would take us on a high country hike to a glacier on Mt Tom near their Bishop, California home, just south of Yosemite’s East Gate. This would serve to acclimatize us Midwest flatlanders to the much higher altitude at which we would be starting our climb. Second, Horst suggested that we up the departure time from the trailhead to 5:00 am to give us the time we would need to complete our summit and of course our return to camp.

We were ready….or so we hoped.

To be continued…………

Half Dome…..Our Adventure, Our Quest

Yosemite National Park has always held a special place in my psyche. From my first visit to the park in 1985 to my last trip and the story this narrative will tell, I was continually drawn back to the park. In the 1970’s, my sister moved from Wisconsin to California and found work with the National Park Service as a resident nurse in the Yosemite National Park hospital. The stories and pictures she sent back to us, pulled me west to see the park. I vowed that once I got through college, I would discover the park for myself.

Founded as a National Park on October 1, 1890, Yosemite encompasses a grove of giant sequoias, Tuolumne Meadows and the Yosemite Valley floor carved out by the Merced River. Upon entering the valley floor, you are greeted by majestic waterfalls and sheer granite walls; El Capitan, Glacier Point and the iconic Half Dome are among its most famous. The park is a haven for some of the best climbers in the world as well as amateur climbers utilizing alternative ways to reach the peaks high above the valley floor, leaving the technical climbs to the professionals.

In 1985, I finally realized my goal of visiting Yosemite. I was accompanied on that trip by my wife and my just barely one year old daughter, Bailey, who due to her diminutive size, spent much of the trip riding in her carrying frame on my back. From the moment we entered the park, the majesty of the park took my breath away. We were surrounded by sheer walls of granite rising from the valley floor and holding us captive within the canyon carved out by the glaciers of eons earlier. Everywhere we turned, we were greeted with yet another waterfall. From the slender strands of Bridal Veil Falls to the incredible power of the twins, Vernal and Nevada Falls, we were drawn into the allure of Yosemite. We knew long before we left the park, that we would return. Hiking the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls with Bailey asleep in my backpack, I made a promise to her that we would one day return and she would hike this trail with me, and maybe, just maybe, we would climb to the top of Half Dome towering some 4800 feet above us.

Yosemite 1985

In July of 1996, we were back. This time we were a family of four as my youngest daughter, Kathryn, was along for her first taste of Yosemite. Bailey, after years of hearing the story of that earlier trip to the park, was holding me to my promise. Without much planning, we had decided that Bailey and I would attempt the hike to the summit of Half Dome. After a road construction delay entering the park, followed by a fairly long hike to reach the trailhead, we began our climb. We managed the top of Vernal Falls and after another hour or so of hiking, had reached the top of Nevada Falls. This is the moment reality set in. Our first sight as we crested the trail, was a sign explaining that unless you had reached this point before noon, you should not attempt to reach the summit of Half Dome. As it was well after noon, we heeded the warning and after just enough time to enjoy the view, took a solemn oath that we would return one day and finish this adventure.

Yosemite 1996

The years passed but we hadn’t returned. Oh we talked about it. Every year as we planned our summer vacation, the topic would come up. Suddenly it was 2009, Kathryn was now eighteen, graduating high school and an avid amateur climber. As we discussed summer plans, she looked at us and stated, it’s time. Bailey and I were all in, their mother, not so much. She had been envisioning a beach somewhere but after sensing our resolve, she capitulated. The trip was planned and Bailey and I dug out the photos from our 1997 trip. One stuck out for Kathryn. It was an image of Bailey and I standing atop Nevada Falls dressed in shorts and sandals. This might explain why it took us so long that morning to get where we were in this photo and too late to finish what we had started. I still remember Kathryn’s response, “Look at you. Did the two of you do any research at all?” Sheepishly looking at each other, we confessed that the thought had never crossed our minds. And then, in that moment, Kathryn took over the expedition.

To be continued………………

It seemed like a good idea at the time….II

We have the pleasure, or should I say the obligation of an above ground swimming pool in our backyard. It is in version three of it’s thirty-three seasons. The deck surrounding it has been there in part all thirty-three years along with alot of cobbling along the way. Last fall, as we were getting ready to close it for the winter, a vote was taken as to whether it was going to continue to be this monument in our backyard. My vote was for its retirement. After all of those seasons serving as cabana boy, constantly monitoring the chemical balance, keeping the water levels right and often biweekly vacuumings, I was ready for retirement myself. Considering the fact that I seldom vacuum inside the house and only grudgingly, I was instead vacuuming a tank of water. Of course I was out voted five to one when my wife recruited my two daughters and both grandchildren to swing the vote.
Deck 8

And so I conceded the vote and prepared for closing. After struggling with a way too old structure, it became obvious that the deck, at the least, needed to be resurfaced. After a bit of investigation, it was further decided, by a one sided vote, that the rails and stairs would have to go as well. This was now a major job. Time for negotiations. It was decided, after a family meeting, that the rebuild would be done in the spring prior to opening the pool. My crew was recruited and now consisted of my two friends and neighbors as well as my son-in-law and soon to be other son-in-law. All four had been vetted and were skilled enough to make this a doable job.

Like all plans laid out too far in advance and dependent on multiple variables, we crossed our fingers and set April 16th as our start date and a wrap up by May 1st. What could go wrong? Why Coronavirus pandemic and social distancing of course. As April 1st approached, it was clear there was going to be no crew working on my deck.

Now a sane man would have thrown in the towel. If it lasted thirty-three years, why couldn’t it last another one. That is what a sane man would have done, but after a month and a half of isolation, that’s what I wasn’t. I was itching for something on which to focus all of that pent up energy. And so the decision was made. The May 1st date was no longer an issue as this virus thing had shut all plans down and my May plans were now gone. That gave me a month and a half to get it done. The materials were ordered and demolition began on April 8th, in some strange snow squalls they called grafel.
Deck 6

Demolition took the better part of four days as the old deck and rails were not really ready to come off easily. Eventually, the old deck was gone, the underpinnings trimmed back to the original frame and the rails were dismantled and removed. They now formed a big pile of debris on my lower deck, where I would continue to stumble over them time and time again as I prepared to rebuild. At this point, quarantine and social distancing was a good thing as far fewer people were subjected to the all too frequent colorful metaphors emanating from my job site.
Deck 5

The first of four truck loads of materials arrived on day five just as I was ready to start phase two, rebuild. After what seemed like four hundred trips from the driveway down the side hill to the deck area, I had managed to get the framing materials and most of the decking down to my one man construction site. I think this would be the appropriate place to remind my readers that I am, by AARP standards, old. I was clearly not in the shape I was in my twenties when I did my construction stint. Four hour shifts was the plan and on those days when I reached six or seven hour runs, my body reminded me of my misplaced confidence.

But I shouldered on. When attempting to do framing alone, one has to be creative on how to cut, hold and attach eight to ten foot long 2 x 8 planks. Without bragging, I used every technique I could and actually developed some very ingenious ways to accomplish the task. Day 6,7 and 8 saw the new frame come back up and take shape. Decking was next. Day 9,10 and 11 was used to get the majority of the deck boards laid and secured. All that now remained was the rail system.
Deck 4

As I am writing this, I have completed day 14. Except for the stairs and gate, still waiting for delivery, the deck is pretty much complete. At the beginning of this project, I was concerned that I might not even survive. Ironically, I would have avoided COVID-19 and then succumbed to my quarantine project. Now, each time I view the finished deck, I can’t help but soak in this sense of pride for the accomplishment. Not bad for an old guy.
Deck 2

Now, if only this quarantine would be lifted, we could actually have guests over and use the pool and its grand deck. Unfortunately, until that day, it remains a piece of art. An impressive piece of art but still, an empty deck begging for a post coronavirus party.
Good news, just for reading this, you are entitled to an invite to the party.

How I Spent my Coronavirus Vacation

I don’t know if they still do this but when I was in school, and vacation came to an end, and classes began again, we were tasked with our first writing assignment; “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.” Mine was usually how I baled hay, stacked the haymows, picked stones and milked cows. This when I wasn’t pulling weeds and tending to our one-hundred acre garden, okay maybe one acre garden. Most days it just felt like a hundred acres. Thus the reason when my dear wife asked for a garden in the back yard of our little house, I handed her the hoe and a bag of seeds and said go for it. Once in a while I could throw in a week at Lutheran Pioneers Summer Camp. As I grew older and got to move out on my own, it was a little less work and a little more travel and play. Eventually, it was trips with my wife and children, forgeting about lesson plans and unruly students for at least a few months of summer. The journal was now filled with road trips to National Parks, camping, hiking and long bike rides. It was filled with people we met along the way and the shared experience of crowds and tours.

So what have we just gone through, and don’t doubt for a minute that it is over. We might only be half way through this coronavirus vacation. When it started, and we were hopeful, some of us thought this would be a short stay away from work, at worst a forced seclusion with our family and loved ones, on a vacation of sorts. As it dragged on, we started to realize that we had to continue on in a very foreign environment. Where prior to this virus, we strived hard to not bring our work home with us. Now, in the midst of this distancing and closures of our offices, it seems not only the work came home with us, the entire office came home to us. Where a meeting meant leaving my desk and assembling with my coemployees, Zoom now brought their desks into my house via my laptop.

Oh there were some bright spots in this experiment. For one you only had to dress the half of you people could see from your camera angle. I find myself hoping the other people in the meeting wouldn’t suddenly stand up and show off what I was trying not to imagine. Ties and professional wear has given way to something well beyond business casual Friday. Fridays will probably become business casual sweat pants, you know, your comfy sweat pants not the dressy sweat pants you were wearing the rest of the week with a sport coat and dress shirt on the top half.

Another bright spot was all this time we got to spend with our famiy. We all finally got the chance to teach our children the right way, you know the way we did it when we went to school. How’s that working? If I believe Facebook, teachers are going to, at least for awhile, be greatly elevated in social status. Driving is easier with nearly empty streets and finding a parking spot is a breeze. My car sits idle in the garage. Where I would have put on several hundred miles a week going somewhere, I have barely logged fifty miles in the last month. You know somethings changed when the insurance company drops your rates instead of raising them. And all this while gas gets cheaper every day. If it could, I’m sure my car is weeping in the garage wondering why our love affair has suddenly ended. We just don’t talk to each other anymore.

So what have I done with my coronavirus vacation? I replaced going to a museum with watching every available episode of ‘Mysteries at the Museum’. I have visited several National Parks, virtually. Amazon, Hulu and Net flix have replaced five buck Tuesdays and Friday night fish frys. I’ve gotten projects done, some that were necessary but I had been putting off. Some that were just to get my butt up off the couch. I replaced my Zoom virtual background with a beach scene just so I could believe I actually went. And I have worn out several pairs of shoes, and the sidewalks for that matter, walking in aimless circles around my neighborhood, waving politley and staying six feet away from everyone. It’s been a strange vacation. Cheap, but strange.

Hopefully you have read this with a dripping sarcasm in your voice. I can tell you, that’s the way it was written. Unless you were fortunate enough to somehow fare better or were just more in tune with the solitude of this crisis, the rest of us have gone a tad stir crazy. My heart and my respect does goes out to those that had to risk everything and work through this pandemic. While many of us were isolated in our homes, there were countless others who soldiered on through the storm; health workers, essential business service providers, delivery people and others just hanging on to survive. Heroes all. I guess my coronavirus vacation pales when you consider the big picture, but it was fun to write about it.

I have to go now. I am going to go wrestle alligators in the everglades and then do a little swimming with sharks off Madagascar. Who needs reality when virtual is so much cheaper and hey, safer.

Stay safe, stay well and stay connected. It’s physical distancing, not social. Just think of this as a vacation from the other reality, the one we all want back.

I Need a Drink

When this is all over, this Coronavirus thing, I need a drink. Not that I can’t have one in my home and not that I haven’t. Just last night, with the temperature dropping toward the upper 30’s, my wife and I set up lawn chairs, six feet apart, invited our neighbors, no more than four, to set up their chairs, six feet away, and we shivered through a COVID 19 style cocktail party. For now this appears to be the norm for social gatherings. Save for the strange process of passing ten feet to the right and waving to anyone you meet on your walk, all other interaction has been relegated to the internet. I have zoomed and duo-ed to the point of being a disinterested third party and have listened to every classic song sung to new lyrics on Facebook. I have avoided the news like a, well…. plague, and finished my house projects well ahead of their time. I am a little worried I’ll end up creating a to do list for my neighbor’s house.

So back to my opening tirade. When this is over, I am going to spend every chance I get going out to eat in crowded, noisy restaurants. Going to drinking establishments, be they bars, saloons or even corner taverns where I can watch sports on their wall to wall TVs all the while talking to total strangers about everything and anything while sitting mere inches away from my newest friends. Isolation can be a good thing for introverts and for flattening the curve, but for me an extra extrovert, it is becoming a death sentence. Death by isolation. I saw a Facebook rendition of Adele’s “Hello” sung to COVID 19 lyrics and I totally identified. The only difference being that the singer had abandoned even the act of wearing pants while I still have mine on, at least at this point. Check in on me in another two weeks of this, and I might have followed suit or the lack of. Apologies for that visual.

There is a point here, isn’t there always? The economy is going to need an incredible boost when this is over. I for one am going to cease on-line shopping for at least a little while. I will avoid take-out where possible and I will do anything in my power to single handedly drag the economy back from the edge. I will never again complain about a crowded restaurant or a noisy bar. I will drink in the ambiance of foo foo boutiques and volunteer to go to grocery stores and even go shopping with my wife.

These are desperate times. In short, I need the old normal…..I need a drink…..preferable with friends…..lots of friends…..maybe friends with hugs.