It’s hard to believe that its almost been a whole week since my last trip and I am just now posting about it! Maybe if Blogger could learn to play nice, I’d be writing away.
Last weekend I visited my favorite place in the world, Yosemite National Park. If there is a prettier place, it’s on another planet.
After catching a flight to Fresno, California, grabbing a rental car and driving a few miles, I found myself again surrounded my the surreal scenery of huge mountains, granite monoliths, enormous waterfalls, and mind boggling Giant Sequoias. Everything is on a grand scale here. And grand scale equals grand adventures!
Any length of time is never enough when it comes to Yosemite, in my opinion. However, this trip really was a short one, yet we packed in so much of the park that it was almost fulfilling. The only thing I wish I could have spent more time savoring was a walk through the grove of Sequoias.
We were able to taste all the other flavors of the park....the rushing Merced River, a drive up through the high Sierras to Tioga Pass, time in the mists of drenching waterfalls, low sunlight kissing the faces of granite giants, breathless views from high above, Glacier Point early in the morning, and a merciless hike. Most importantly, I discovered that I still have it...Bear Magic, that is! There were two sightings on this trip...a lone bear foraging in a lush meadow and a mother bear and two cubs that had just crossed the winding road. The best part? This time I have the proof of my bear magic! Yay! And though these pics may be a touch blurry, they are the greatest pictures ever, providing proof of my bear magnetism!
If you are actually reading this, you may have noticed that I mentioned a merciless hike. Let me just call that an understatement and rename it Hell on Feet! (And knees, and calf muscles, thighs, and lungs). Near the top of my List of Things to Do Before I Die has been...Hike Half Dome. I am both pleased and displeased to announce that I am both successful and a failure. Let me explain the ambiguity...
To say that hiking Half Dome is a challenge is another of those understatements. To me, Half Dome is THE challenge. Being a person who is not particularly fond of the thought of falling to my death from great heights and knowing that it is possibility on this trail is enough to keep me nervous. The word on spectacular, unrivaled views and the toughness of making the climb to achieve the view was enough to make me play mind tug-of-war with myself and decided that yes, I do want to make that summit.
The monster known as Half Dome looms over 8,000 ft. above Yosemite Valley. To make its summit you must hike a strenuous trail 8 miles that climbs 4,800 ft. (That’s quite a lot, folks!) You start out hiking up a rock staircase to the top of Vernal Fall, which drenches you despite this section of the trail’s gentle name, Mist Trail. Then it's up, up, up another set of rock steps to the top of Nevada Fall. The hike becomes drier, thus hotter here as you continue to ascend up hills and switchbacks and more rock steps and ascend more and more. Complete exhaustion overtook me as we passed the Half Dome-2 Miles sign. (Damn sign sucked what life was left in me right out, as I just knew we were about a mile from the top!) I continued anyway despite the fact that I was having horrendous views of what was ahead of me. What was so horrendous ahead of me, you ask? After climbing up more switchbacks and climbing steeply uphill, you come to an intimidating set of rock stair switchbacks carved into the back of Half Dome. (Yay! I was finally standing on Half Dome’s back!) These steps were sandy (therefore slippery) and narrow and steep and you are completely unprotected....no rails, no nothing to keep you from falling to your death if you should slip and not be able to catch yourself. I was experiencing severe vertigo from the wide open, bottomless views that completely surrounded me and nothing but the sky overhead. I could hardly take any photos here as I was terrified to look at anything but my unstable feet that were supporting my too-shaky knees. I wanted to cry. I felt as if I would never be able to come back down. I saw a dark cloud in the sky and secretly began to pray for a thunderstorm so that I would have an excuse to turn back without feeling like I was a failure. I had come this far and there was no turning back. Not after all that climbing I did!
I prayed even harder for the storm. The worst was still ahead of me and I was beginning to see it...the notorious, terrifying (for a person like me!) cables and they were getting closer all the time. These cables are necessary to pull yourself up the open, steep granite face. The cables are 400ft. in length yet have an elevation gain of 900ft! They say that it is a 45 degree pitch (which is steep enough) but I call some serious BS on this estimation. I may not be an engineer, but it appeared to be about 60 degrees to me. (Of course, my fear of sliding down a granite mountain and free falling into Yosemite Valley may cause a slight exaggeration.)
There was a quiet distant rumble of thunder. I smiled to myself. Best Friend and Slot Canyon Boy agreed that it would be better to head back down since standing on pure granite, holding onto metal cables isn’t the brightest idea during a lightning producing storm.
“Darn it! We were so close! If it weren’t for that darn thunder, we’d be headed up those cables right now.” I say aloud to Best Friend, while praising the Lord silently in my head, “Thank you God, thank you!”
One by one we each confessed that none of us really wanted to do it. We each doubted our ability...with Best Friend’s injured knee, my near anxiety attack, and Slot Canyon Boy’s confession of shakiness and vertigo.
I thought I would hate myself. I thought I had committed the unforgivable hiking sin, chickening out. But the truth is I am very proud of myself to have made it as far as I did. Climbing as steeply as we did is no easy feat. Neither was facing my fear of falling. I hiked 16 strenuous miles total with aggressive elevation change. And I did stand on Half Dome (just not its summit). I even passed a snake on the trail. And even though I didn’t want to, I would have climbed those cables had it not begun to thunder. (Seriously, not a good idea!!)
After making it back to the valley floor, we later met a Yosemite Ranger. Best Friend approached the ranger and told him where we had made it to before turning around and asked him how far away we were from the top. He told us we were well under ½ mile. That made me feel both victorious and unvictorious at the same time. Then the ranger added, “You did the right thing climbing down before a storm. No one is ever supposed to be on top when a storm is on the horizon. I have witnessed some electrocutions from lightning strikes over the years and it isn’t pretty. They were completely blown apart.” I again felt good about myself.
About 30 minutes later, I had my first bear encounter in the park. I then felt victorious.
Just one last word....If any of you should ever be talking to me about something that should be relatively easy to accomplish and decide to use the expression, “Oh, it’s all downhill from here!”please step back as I might smack you silly. Try hiking 4,800 ft. downhill for 8 miles and you’ll never think downhill is easy again.
View into beautiful Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is on the left, Bridal Veil Fall on the right and Half Dome in the back center.
Views of the Sierra Nevada while traveling along Tioga Road.
The first of many, many stairs I would climb. Vernal Fall's spray made water flow down the steps like a waterfall in itself.
In this pic. you can see just how much climbing was involved in this hike as you can see the valley and the two waterfalls we climbed past all the way to Half Dome on the left.
Awww!What a cute cub! See I told you I have Bear Magic!
Here was big mama. We were close enough to read her ear tag.
Dread was really setting in as we reached this point of the trail. Don't you think that this side view of Half Dome resembles Mt. Crumpit where the Grinch lives?
The back side of Half Dome...Just to see how far I actually made it, I was almost to the top of the hump on your right. (The stair switchbacks) and the left hump is where the cables are.
2 weeks ago