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…………

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