Half Dome ……The Conclusion
Part Eight: Kathryn and I had been on top no more than ten minutes, when there was John coming off the cables and over the crest. True to my daughter’s character, once she and John had returned to the saddle, Bailey told him he needed to finish. In fact she INSISTED that he go back up.
They say it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. We spent the next half hour exploring the dome and savoring the view but it really was the journey that we were savoring. We had put forth a great deal of effort and determination to get where we were, and in reality, that was the accomplishment we were proud of. Don’t misunderstand me, the view was worth the climb, but the climb was worth the effort.
It was still relatively early, but even so, we couldn’t spend a lot of time on top. Besides the fact that the cables were now becoming congested, we wanted to complete the Half Dome challenge of up and back in 12 hours or less. Since we had hit the trailhead at 4:00 am, we wanted to be back down no later than 4:00 pm. It was almost noon, so we knew we needed to start back down the cables.
The descent down the cables was almost as difficult as the climb up. The cable route was now jammed with people and the progress was slow as we would be forced to squeeze alongside and then slide around one climber after another. At one point, we reached a women, frozen with fear, unable to go up or back down. We had to ease ourselves around her and with some encouragement, eventually helped her to start moving back up. With effort, we got back down to the saddle and after a quick snack and unfortunately, the last of our water, headed back for the return trail.
We had been back on the downslope trail for about an hour, aching knees, hot and thirsty. The next area where we would be able to get water would be back down in Little Yosemite Valley. There we could filter some water from the Merced River. We had been deliberate about keeping our backpacks light, that meant only what we needed to carry. Bailey figured it out. She knew John well enough to know he would not have been able to resist his one weakness, Mountain Dew. We relished those 16 ounces between us and Bailey quickly forgave John his crime of smuggling. By the time we reached the Merced, we death marched straight through some poor campers’ site just to reach the river as quickly as possible. No drink ever tasted as great as the water did at that point.
Refreshed, we soon reached the top of Nevada Falls and with another hour of hiking, finally reached the trailhead. The time, just before 4:00 pm. We had done it, 17 miles, nearly a mile of elevation and all within 12 hours. We had intended to walk the remaining mile back to camp and to then treat ourselves to ice cold drinks, pizza and ice cream. The reality, we took the first shuttle back to camp and collapsed on our cots. Kathryn said it best, as great as the adventure had been, we were so spent that she was sure we would never do that again…… It wasn’t a week later, the pain and fatigue behind us, and she was asking when would we consider a repeat. Fortunately memories of pain fade quickly but great adventures create memories that last.
Epilog: I always wanted to do a piece like this, so I took the editorial freedom and wrote it. I want to dedicate the retelling of this story to several people who made it possible.
First would be my sister Kay. Without her to have shown me Yosemite that very first time, I may never had gotten the urge to do the climb. My second dedication, would be to my brother-in-law Horst. We would not have been as prepared as we were if it hadn’t been for his help. Without his encouragement and planning, we might never have accomplished it. I only wish Horst were still here to have read the recounting of that adventure.
Finally, I want to dedicate this to my daughters, Bailey and Kathryn. They have always been my inspiration for creating and pursuing adventures. With their interest and energy, this one became a reality. With their encouragement, my retelling of it. They have kept me young and adventuresome every time I thought of growing old. It is for them that I tell the stories, so that one day they will share new adventures with my grandchildren and tell the stories of the adventures they shared with me.
Thanks for taking the time to read this…..now go find your peak to climb.