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.

Half dome beak

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.

Half Dome 2

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.

Half dome 1

Thanks for taking the time to read this…..now go find your peak to climb.

Half Dome …… Pressing On

Part Seven: This next part of the story is the most difficult for me to tell. We had already hiked over eight miles, climbed over 4000 feet and been at it for going on eight hours. As much as it took courage to climb this last 1000 feet, clinging to a one inch cable at almost vertical, it took more courage to know you had to call it quits. That to ignore the vertigo gripping you, at this height, would not only be a bad decision but a dangerous one. To this day, I am as proud of Bailey for turning back as I was for Kathryn struggling on.

As Bailey asked to be let down, I had to make a decision. We still had Kathryn hanging above us needing help. Fortunately, I caught John’s eyes and without a single word spoken, he let me know he was going to go back down with Bailey and that I needed to go up to release Kathryn’s carabiner. We were a true team at that point, willing to make decisions as a team and not as individuals. The move was tricky, but Bailey eased down alongside as I climbed up past. I scrambled up the space between us and reached Kathryn about thirty feet above. We were both disappointed but we climbed on.

Kathryn and I were now about three quarters of the way to the summit and still hanging at nearly vertical, when our third issue arose. As I was looking straight up at Kathryn some 20 feet above me, I saw her boot lace dangling as her boot had become untied. Fearing she would lose the boot or catch the lace under it as she climbed, I knew I had to get her to stop and somehow tie her boot. Kathryn pulled a maneuver I still see in my minds eye. She swung around, sat down on a small 2×4 stretched on the rock between the stanchions on her left and right, and reached down to retie her boot. To do this, she had unclipped and was now looking down between her knees at her feet and not coincidentally at the great void stretching out below us.

Horst had warned us of the effect of dehydration. He used the term “talking like a doughboy” and Kathryn was definitely sounding like a doughboy as she told me she thought she was going to throw up. Interestingly, it would be throwing down not up and on me. I scrambled up to her position, grab water and a candy bar from my pack and made her eat and drink. I could only hope this would help her. After about five minutes, I had my answer. She regained her color, turned around, grabbed the cables above her and started to climb.

We were now with in striking distance of the summit and the slope was coming down to a reasonable angle. As we walked the remaining distance to the crest, Kathryn turned to me and said “I’ll never call you an old man again. My response, “Of course you will, but thanks for the sentiment.” We had made it. We were on the summit of Half Dome! We had reached the top and our sense of accomplishment was unbounded. I will admit, there was still that reverse back down the cables to be dealt with, but for now, we were celebrating.

To be Continued ………….

Six Degrees of Separation….

We have been on Hilton Head Island for several days now and have been enjoying the ocean, bike trails and golf, though one must share the course with the alligators. And let me not fail to mention some great food and drinks. It seems the bike trails go everywhere and everywhere they go there is another great food and drink establishment.

Bike trail

Hilton Head 4

Hilton Head 2

Last night we were walking down the block headed for a quick bite when we were invited onto the local free shuttle driven by our gregarious driver, Greg. When the couple that jumped on with us heard us tell Greg our destination, they leaned in and recommended a different spot. Upon arriving at the restaurant, we introduced ourselves and asked Jim and Nancy if they would like to join us. Two hours later, after several drinks and shared appetizers, we had gleaned their life story, including the Jim’s cancer diagnosis. As we were saying our goodbyes, Nancy leaned in and said I can’t thank you enough. Not only was the idea of talking with two strangers something they had never done, Jim had not shared his diagnosis with anyone even though Nancy had hoped against hope that he could find a way. Our conversation had been a positive one and we had both enjoyed each other’s company. To know we had been there to listen, only made our meeting that much more meaningful.

But that was not to be our only encounter. Tonight we headed for yet another establishment only to find ourselves in a different one than the one we had been looking for. Four women were enjoying a lively evening at the bar across from us. Something encouraged me to ask them if this was a girl’s weekend or a night out after work. Within minutes we were in a friendly conversation resulting in a surprising 6 degree of separation experience. They were there from the Cincinnati area as part of a bachelorette party. One of the women was the mother of the bride while another was the mother of the groom. Five minutes into the conversation, upon learning that we were from Wisconsin, one of the women declared that her father-in-law was from Kimberly and her mother-in-law from Combined Locks. “Was there any chance we knew where that was?” Ironically Kimberly was my hometown! Though her father-in-law had likely attended high school with my sister, I had attended high school with his sister and of course recognized the family name. What ensued was another interesting evening meeting complete strangers and leaving as new friends.

There is a moral to these two stories. Even though there may only be 6 degrees of separation, it remains 180 degrees until you turn around and start the conversation. Hilton Head will always be a fond memory for its beautiful beaches, bike trails and golf shared with 8 foot alligators, but its lasting memory will be the benefit of being willing to talk to the stranger sitting next to you. You’ll never know just how much you have in common until you share your story.

Hilton Head 3