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 ………….

Half Dome ……Trouble

Part Six: Bailey was just above me and Kathryn above her. Suddenly Kathryn was asking Bailey to climb up behind her and unhook her carabiner. The angle had become so steep that Kathryn could not reach it and was unable to get around the next stanchion unless she could unhook the carabiner from the cable and make the switch. At this point, vertigo was setting in for Bailey. She was near her limit and was now being asked to perform this task for Kathryn. When you reach this point, even the slightest issue can push you over the edge, and that issue was on its way down the dome.

We had gotten to the cables early enough to have only a few groups ahead of us. One of those groups was made up of three frenchmen who were well seasoned climbers, having probably climbed in the Alps and considered this climb a walk in the park. They had already been to the summit and were on their way down when they had to pass us coming up. As fate would have it, they met at Bailey’s moment of decision.They stepped out of the cables and literally hopped around and down around us. In any other situation, this would have appeared comical, but not so from our vantage point. Simultaneously, from somewhere high above us, a climber had dropped their Nalgene water bottle. As it bounced and clatter down the dome, it passed right between the frenchman, dancing on the sheer edge, and Bailey clinging to the cables. That bottle never stopped its drop but simply disappeared as it fell the thousand or more feet through empty space, crashing against the rocks far below. And that was it. Bailey made her decision.

To be continued ……..

Half Dome ……. The Cables

Part Five: Kathryn made the first move. As we sat there contemplating those cables, Kathryn exclaimed that having come this far and covered so much ground already, she was not turning around without at least touching them. As she headed across the saddle toward the cables, Bailey spoke next. “You know she isn’t going to stop there so I guess this means we’re going.” And that was that. By the time we reached the cables, Kathryn was already climbing. We pulled on our gloves, grabbed our backpacks and followed; Bailey went first, then me and John right behind us.

It was then that the first mistake was committed. For whatever reason, Kathryn decided to leave her backpack on the saddle. This included her water bottle. By now, we had been walking for nearly seven hours. We were tired, hot, and though we had been trying to stay hydrated, this was not the time to leave behind such a precious commodity. But, already almost 100 feet above us, Kathryn was not coming back down. And so we climbed.

The first hundred or so feet were reasonable. The angle of climb was near 45 degrees but doable. We were getting comfortable with the cables and proficient at switching our carabiner each time we reached one of the stanchions, but that didn’t last long. At around 150 feet, the pitch increased to over 60 degrees. At this point, it was like climbing a ladder. The carabiner switch became more and more difficult. We were now reaching behind us to unhook and then re-hook on the other side of the stanchion. Every time we reached back, we got to look straight down, not just the 200 feet of cables, but all the way down the sides of the dome to the valley over 2000 feet below. And that is when our next problem arose.

To be continued ………

Half Dome ….. The Ascent

Part Four: 3:15 am, time to get ourselves going. The sun would not be up for another two hours, but we were, and with good progress, we might get to see sunrise from the top of Nevada Falls.

man standing on brown rock cliff in front of waterfalls photography

Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Pexels.com

We set out from camp by 3:30 as planned. We had put on rain slickers and donned our head lamps so we would be able to see our way as we followed the trail up the falls, but we still had close to a half hour walk to get to the trailhead. From there we would take the Mist Trail, aptly name as it follows up the south side of Vernal Falls and is blanketed with mist floating off the thundering cascade. Cut into the rock wall that created Vernal Falls, we would follow the steps of the trail up the side of the falls to a crossover point midway between the top of Vernal Falls and the spillway for Nevada Falls.

Half Dome 7

Everything was going as planned. We hit the trailhead at 4:00 am and with some degree of effort, managed the climb through the maze of rock steps in the predawn darkness. The mist would shimmer off the light from our head lamps as we negotiated the trail and then bounce back of the wet granite walls. The saying, it’s always darkest just before the dawn, was taking on a very literal interpretation. We eventually crested the top of Nevada Falls just before sunlight began to creep over the peaks and gently spill over the valley now two thousand feet below us. We took a well earned break and ate our first snacks of the day as we watched the sunrise display its artwork on the peaks around us.

The next leg of the ascent was the easiest as we hiked the three miles on a nearly flat trail snaking alongside the Merced River. This area is called the Little Yosemite Valley and for many climbers it is where they spend the night before summiting. This cuts two to three hours off the climb and allows for an earlier summiting. We simply trudged on and actually made good time through this section all the while knowing that the next section of trail would be much more difficult.

Once you leave Little Yosemite Valley, the trail links up with the John Muir Trail and the ascent up to and around the backside of Half Dome starts testing the legs. Through what seemed like a never ending series of switchbacks, the trail rose steeply for another two or three miles and twenty-five hundred feet of elevation. Eventually the trail reaches the lower part of Half Dome where another set of switchbacks awaits, this time above the tree line and set on the granite of the lower dome. It seemed to us that this leg of the climb from Little Yosemite Valley to this spot at the lower dome actually required the most encouragement. With each switchback, we would expect to see Half Dome just ahead. The reality was, more trail, more climb, and another switchback. When we finally reached the lower dome, we were near exhaustion, but at least feeling like we were getting close. Five hundred more feet of elevation and we arrived at the saddle.

A saddle is the connecting ridge between the two halves of a mountain. It is often called the false peak due to the real peak being obscured by the lower half of the face. Reaching the top of the saddle, we got our first views of the three thousand foot drops on either side of the saddle and, straight ahead and above us, the cable route. No picture can do it justice. The summit is just over six hundred feet above you at this point, but it’s the steep incline that grabs you, close to 60 degrees for over two-thirds of the route. The cables are strung about four feet apart and pass through stanchions hammered into the granite at six to eight foot intervals. Though not required, most climbers use carabiners to clip onto the cables for some sense of safety and gloves to deal with the rough steel braid of the cable itself. Both the view and the task ahead is daunting.

Half Dome 4

We are here, but our apprehension level just went off the chart. As we sit on the rocks, staring up at the challenge of the cable climb, we are asking ourselves some fairly serious questions. Are we ready to make the next move? Are we ready to clip on?

To be continued………..

Half Dome …….. Anticipation

Part Three: We arrived in California on July 6th, 2009 seemingly ready, excited and a little apprehensive. We had decided to spend several days with my sister and brother-in-law in Bishop. Bishop is located on the northern end of Owens Valley, situated between the Sierras to the west and the White Mountains to the east. Our stay here would give us time to visit but also time to get acclimated to the altitude and to get some last minute advice on our climb. During our stay, we planned on quizzing both my sister Kay and her husband, Horst, about the times that they had lived in Yosemite and more specifically about when they had made this climb we were about to attempt.

Kay and Horst were able to give us much better descriptions of the route. In our pre-planning, we had intended to hit the trailhead by no later than 6:30 am, but Horst suggested that we plan on leaving from our encampment by 4:30 am so as to reach the trailhead by 5:00 am. In the meantime, a friend of Horst was called in for more up to date info as he had recently been to Yosemite. He informed us that at this time of year the route was getting crowded and there were actually log jams on the cables making them slow but also more dangerous. His suggestion was to be at the trailhead no later than 4:00 am to beat the crowds. This meant a 3:30 am start. It was starting to look like we might as well skip sleeping all together.

On our second day in Bishop, Horst, as mentioned previously, agreed to hike us up on Mt Tom where we could get up to some higher elevations. This would test our legs, lungs and our mettle. What ensued was a great chance to not only see some incredible scenery, but the opportunity to test out our gear and our hiking ability as we continuously climbed on the trail eventually reaching the glacier at 10,000 feet of elevation. Hike accomplished, now we were really ready and chomping at the bit to get going.

Day three found us entering the park and taking the two hour drive across Tuolumne Meadows and eventually down to the Valley Floor. Our entrance to the Valley did not disappoint. There was Half Dome looming high above us, just daring us to try. After longing glances at its huge granite half dome features and Half Dome’s prominent beak like overhang, we headed to our encampment in Yosemite Village.

trees under white cliff

Photo by William Brand on Pexels.com

Our accommodations consisted of a canvas tent placed on a raised deck. We had cots to sleep on, but that was the extent of the amenities. In a way this was okay. Considering our wake up time would be around 3:15 am, we at least wouldn’t be giving up a comfortable bed begging us to keep sleeping.

five green plastic armchairs near canopy tents

Photo by Vikas Sawant on Pexels.com

Before hitting our cots, we packed all our gear and food into the bear box situated just outside of our tent. This necessity only added to our anxiety, all we would need is to be raided by a bear if not eaten by one sometime in the night. This thought alone was enough to keep us awake but we were given even more to think about when just about the time we were dozing off, a family noisily passed near our tent. As fate would have it, or stupidity, we clearly heard them drop their cooler of food only to hear the father say, “just leave it, we can’t eat it now anyway.” Oh, but we were sure the bears would be interested. Needless to say, between the anticipation, the uncomfortable cots, and every little noise that for sure had to be a bear, 3:15 am rolled around without a whole lot of sleep having been accomplished.

To be continued…………

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’.

Headlamo

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………………

They Said the View was Worth the Climb

We have been in St Lucia for all of two days. The views from our deck and likewise those from the beach are both spectacular and relaxing. We are on Island Time as they say here. Everything slows down and your perspective changes. Things that others said mattered were suddenly less important and the things that were truly important became clearer. We sometimes get the two mixed up. I have decided to let a week of Island Life help with my perspectives.

There is a peak across the bay with a fort high atop its summit. It beckons to be seen. Not from afar, but from up close. On top of it to be precise. Upon some investigation, I was told that the fort is really not that tough to reach. Seems a trail leads almost all the way and that the short climb at the end is really doable. it’s the second, much higher peak that draws your attention. A good 600 feet higher and much more exposed, it too asks you if you are up for the climb.

I have done my homework. Mapped out the trail. I have even quizzed several other guests, eventually finding someone who has made the climb. To quote him,”the first climb to the fort is easy. It’s the climb from there to the higher peak, Signal Peak, that requires some effort.” So what is some effort? A longer walk? A steeper trail? The answer was both but the encouragement was other than climbing over some rocks on the way up a “sorta” trail, it was a walk in the park. I was sold. I would take the hike with Deb in the early morning and beat the heat.

So let’s talk for a second about perspective. Should I have asked my source’s age? Definitely, as he was much younger than yours truly. Next time, I will try to consider that.

We left for the fort around 8:30 and reached the base about 30 minutes later. We huffed and puffed a little on the last 100 feet, but a short climb up a set of steps that we would classify as a ladder and we were at the summit of the fort. I must admit the view was incredible as the Atlantic stretched out in one direction and the Caribbean in the other. But there, right in front of me rose Signal Peak. It was no longer a question of can I do this, let alone should I do this, but how fast could I convince Deb that I needed to do this. The answer, five minutes with an agreement that she would quietly stay behind and read her book while I was off in search of my fleeting youth and perceived manhood.

The climb was, to say the least, strenuous, but a half hour later I was at the summit, makes it sound so much higher when you call it a summit. Was it worth it? I still had the walk down, and they weren’t kidding when they said it was a “sorta” trail. They also weren’t kidding about the rocks, let’s be honest, near boulders that had to be negotiated on the way up. They were all going to be there on the way back down. But, they were right, the view was worth the climb. I could see everything including the views you couldn’t see from ocean level, and you could see them from an entirely different perspective, one of height.

And with that, I have to tell you that the climb is really a metaphor for life. Sometimes, to get the better perspective, we need to climb. We need to climb above the noise and clutter at ground level and find a point above it all. A point where we can take in the entire view. Only there can we gain the true perspective. Only there can we get the full picture.

My view was worth the climb. Next time you feel you just can’t get the full picture, find your peak to climb and then enjoy the view.

Sure Feels Like a Travelogue

Our week is coming to an end and we will fly home tomorrow night. We will be leaving clear skies with temps in the upper 60’s and return to a recent dumping of snow and bitter cold. We will trade long leisurely walks for house bound days and snow shoveling. But we knew that was the deal when we left. And with that in mind, we definitely made the best of a great opportunity.

San Diego surpassed every expectation. Besides the incredible weather, we had surprises every where we went. Seal watching in La Jolla. Old Town San Diego with its historic streets and buildings. Balboa Park, our biggest surprise and truly a San Diego gem, with its 1400 acres and the 1915 Panama Exposition village. And lest I forget, the Hotel Del Coronado where movie stars and dignitaries have reserved its rooms since 1888. San Diego has something to offer to anyone and everyone willing to explore this city.

We wanted a quick get away and picked San Diego rather at random. We were prepared for the usual trip trip ups. You know, the less than expected accommodations, the over priced under valued tourist trap, the transportation screw up or even just bad weather. We have spent a week and never experienced a disappointment. Instead, we enjoyed exceptional accommodations, friendly people, super helpful Uber drivers and perfect weather.

We wanted to do something special for our last night so we took our Uber driver’s advice and went to Sunset Cliffs. There, with a few hundred people, we watched an incredible sunset and oohed along with the crowd as the sun slowly sank into the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. I swear we could hear it sizzle as it touched the water. And then, after a round of applause from the appreciative audience, we bid farewell to day and headed back to our hotel for one last night.

I do apologize for this shameful travelogue but San Diego is so deserving of the praise. If you haven’t already, add San Diego to your bucket list and if you have, I am betting you would gladly go back. I know I will.

It Ain’t Snowin Where I’m Goin

Being retired has its perks. One of the main ones is being able to just pick up and go. This winter hasn’t been terribly cold or terribly snowy but it’s still winter, and that means dreary days and bleak vistas. With winter offering at least two more months of the same, I decided it was time to pick up and go.

We are somewhere over Kansas on our way to California. We used a highly sophisticated process to come up with our destination. It consisted of researching the answers to three key questions. One, where do planes fly to? Turns out everywhere. Two, where is the temperature going to be higher than 60 degrees? Almost anywhere else. And three, where did the dart we threw at the map, land? San Diego. Do planes fly there? Yes. Is it warmer than 60 degrees? Yes. And so, we will have left a forecast calling for three inches of snow and seven below degrees air temperature, not to mention the wind chill, and in five mere hours will trade it for sunshine, ocean views and 65-degree weather.

It is amazing when you think about it, how small and accessible the world has become. Granted, we are not flying across the ocean to some far-off continent, though the passenger behind me will be in New Zealand sometime tomorrow, but we are crossing the U.S. in the span of a couple feature films plus commercials. Pretty cool!

This is why we work. We make a living so that we can enjoy living. Retirement, except for the age thing, is a pretty sweet gig. But having just said that, it begs also to be mentioned that it doesn’t have to wait until retirement. I mean living should happen somehow every day. We can’t take off across the country any old time, but we also don’t have to wait until we’re too old to enjoy it, to do it. Try to live a little every day and then every once and a while, fit in a chance to get away, to explore and to experience life somewhere beyond your own back yard or even better, beyond your office.

This is a bold, almost cavalier statement coming from a former financial planner, but life is like a buffet, a little of this and a little of that, but save room for dessert. We work a little, we save a little and we take some dessert now and then. Be responsible, you do need to save for a retirement at some point but live a little along the way. Maintaining balance is the key.

San Diego is going to be a lot nicer than Madison this week and I checked the weather, no snow!

Arrival San Diego