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Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:44 pm
by stripgaga
So some of you who post here regularly will probably remember my recent posts asking about the Half Dome hike mostly. I just got back after a week in yosemite. I was very excited, anxious, and more reluctant than anything about my inevitable day to hike Half Dome in one trip. I was reluctant because just a week prior, I tried to hike El Cajon mountain in San Diego, CA, which is a 12 mile round trip with barely any shade, and I had to stop and turn around only 3.5 miles in because I became dehydrated, extremely dizzy, and nauseous. If any of you live in San Diego, that hike is no joke. Just like everything I had read about Half Dome and then experiencing it, nothing I read about the El Cajon trail could have prepared me for it. Even though it doesn't gain 4000 ft. in elevation nor has steps, it has a lot of up very long and steep undulating hills. The relatively easiest part of the HD hike was going back because it was mostly downhill but since there are 3 mountains on the El Cajon trail, you have to go up and down steep hills and the way back is pretty much the same as the way there, which means more of the same steep up and down hills. Being in a desert, there was no water and the direct sunlight in 105 degree weather pretty much killed me such a short distance into the hike.

Needless to say, I was half excited for the HD hike and half dreading it. We started at around 5am and got back to camp at 6:30pm approximately. I hiked it with two friends so we all had our minds set to finish it. Our camping neighbor was a very nice friendly older couple who gave us a lot of good advice for the hike, as well as stuff to do in Yosemite in general, and he gave me extra confidence telling me him and his wife have done a lot of strenuous hikes even now in their 50s/60s.

So we set off at about 5am from the upper pines campground and probably got to the bottom of the mist trail steps around 5:30am. I've never done any kind of physical activity like this at that early an hour and for that long so once we hit the actual beginning of the trail, it started off right away with a steady incline up a paved pathway. I thought "Haha, wow, so early in the morning and I'm already sweating going up hill." We get to the bottom of the mist trail steps and start heading up. Fortunately, our neighbor said it's been a low water year so even though the waterfalls were still flowing, the wind was scarce and no mist actually got the steps or us wet so we went up to the top of Nevada falls without much danger. However, once we got to the top of Vernal Falls, we had to rest a bit. For the most part during the hike, we only took breaks if we had to for time reasons so we hiked to the top of the mist trail without breaking. Took some time then more steep steps awaited us to get to the top of Nevada fall. We ran into another couple after breaking at the top of Nevada who we ran into earlier on the lower part of the mist trail who were also going to half dome. I never saw them after that point so hopefully they made it to the top.

After Nevada fall it was a farely easy and level hike. There were a few hills but nothing major. Even though we were still walking, I felt like it was a big break to catch my breath after the constant uphill of the first few miles. We reached Merced Lake and filled up our bladders and water bottles with our Katadyn filter, which is a pretty handy little thing. Our first option was to use Iodine pills but I after researched them a bit, I felt more safe and assured going with that pump filter. And here I am, still alive with no sickness so I think it's safe to assume that it was a good investment. For me I think the half way point of the entire trail is the Merced lake. Once you pass that, you pass little Yosemite Valley and a ranger station. Past the ranger station a little bit is where the trail ends its flatness and the rest of the trail becomes a somewhat steep, long, gradual uphill hike.

Physically, I think the hike from that part right past the ranger station and LYV when it starts its long ascent to the bottom of sub dome was the hardest for me. It's probably about 3.5 miles (maybe 4, I don't exactly remember the mile marker signs) of a constant uphill which we had to take many breaks. Fortunately, I wasn't in pain yet, just that my thighs were stiffening up from the constant climb. The mist trail seemed way short compared to this last part so even though that part was difficult, it seemed to go by quicker and didn't affect me as much as this last part did.

After about another 60-90 minutes, we finally reach the granite surface right before sub dome. You go up on the granite a little bit but still walk through some trees and woodsy area before getting to the bottom of sub dome when the ranger checked my permit. I was actually really excited at this point because after about 4.5 hours of hiking, we were so very close. The view was pretty awesome at this point and I was anxious to get to the top. The ranger checks my permit and warns us they were expecting thunder showers today so if we heard any thunder to turn back. I thought how shitty it would be if we had to turn back at this point, but if it were to happen, I would definltey do what he says. However, even though there were some thick cumulous clouds far in the distance, it was evident they weren't anywhere near Yosemite or half dome for that matter.

I've read for most that the hike up the steep sub dome steps is the hardest part, but for me I think it was relatively easy. They were steep for sure and I had to take a few breaks after hiking so much uphill but after about 20 minutes, we finally make it to the bottom of the cables at 10:30am. There weren't that many people on the cables at that time, but there were a good amount of people hanging out and preparing to go up. My friends and I take a quick 15 minute break and recharge, but I was pressuring them to go as soon as possible because the longer I was waiting and looking at the cables, the more scared I was getting. I was ready to just go up and get it over with. People say it's a 45 degree angle on the cable, but damn, it almost looks completely vertical. As I as was looking at people go up, I thought "Holy shit, what the hell am I doing up here?" I thought that if other people could do it, especially older people I saw going up, then I should surely be able to. But I was also trying to think realistically that even though they are doing it, that doesn't mean that I have to do it. But I sucked it up and we started to head up. I wasn't going up completely irrational or fearful, I had adrenaline pumping and confidence, but a little fear problem stuck me half way up. I tried to focus on the rock itself and not look down. Fortunately, the cables were all upper body strength, which I had more of considering I'd only used my legs until this point. Although, being a pretty skinny guy, pulling myself up the cables was still pretty tough.

We finally make it to the top around 11:15am and I was pretty exhausted. My friends and I just post up right by the edge overlooking Yosemite Valley and take in the view. Not gonna lie, it was a pretty awesome 360 degree view of all of Yosemite and beyond. We have some lunch and rest. We walked around the dome, take in the views from the east and west, and after about an hour up, we head back down the cables. Going up was fairly difficult, but going down was somewhat easier, although I think both can be difficult depending on how tired you are. It took us almost an hour to get down because some girl near the bottom tried going up, froze about 50 feet up, and was taking up the whole area of the cables inching her way down. I can't blame her as I was kinda freaking out going up the cables, however, at this point I was getting very tired of holding on to the cables. I was starting to freak out a little bit more because it got a bit windy on the way down the cables so I was holding on with a kung fu grip. My hands began to hurt because of how long we were there and how hard I was holding on. Eventually, the lady moved enough so we could go around her and finally made it off the cables.

Now we began our descent. About a mile after subdome is when you return to the forest switchbacks and that's when the pain in my feet began to really hit me. I have ankle high boots so even though I got these particular boots because it was comfortable on the ankle and to help prevent sprains, it also contributed to sore ankles. Naturally both my feet were sore for the most part, but my left big toe is what hurt the most. Every time the front of it hit my boot, it was a pretty sharp pain, so I had to walk with a little limp and put most of the pressure on my right foot to prevent my toe from touching my boot. As a result, my right calf, knee, and foot started to hurt a lot so I switched pressure to my left toe again. During most of the hike back, everything hurt, but I was able to not think about the pain and just continue on the way home.

We stopped again at Merced Lake and refilled our water because I had ran out of everything except for 1 small water bottle on the top of HD. We spent about a half hour there resting. Once we resumed, the pain of everything hit me quick and the last half of the hike became pretty painful. The flatness of the hike until the top of Nevada Fall wasn't too bad, but we decided on finishing with the mist trail (and not the John Miur trail) to save time and just get the hike over with because we were all about ready to just fall down and die, haha. When we started going back down the mist trail, I honestly didn't remember the 2nd half of the trail leading from the top of the vernal to nevada fall being so steep. The trail was more of a steep slope than the steps I remembered doing in the morning. We finally get to the top of Vernal Fall and begin the descent down the mist trail steps. At this point in the day, this was the hardest for all of us. Our feet were in a lot of pain. My big toe was hurting so damn bad. Then my knees started shaking going down all those steps.

Finally, we make it to the end of the mist trail steps and finish on the paved pathway. That of course was our last challenge as we had to go up and down that hilly paved pathway until we finally make it back to the beginning of the trail and finish on the paved pathway back to our campsite.

This hike was definitely strenuous, difficult, and mentally challenging. I got our half dome permit shortly after I made the campsite reservation so part of my goal in Yosemite was to complete this hike so I can now say with confidence I completed what I set out to do which is something I never thought I was able to do in the first place. I am proud of myself for doing something I've never physically done before. Going up the cables was probably the hardest part for me. Even though it was a lot of upper body, the mental factor still comes into play and personally, it is damn scary just holding onto cables attached to stanchions that are only placed into the holes in the granite and could come out if pulled on on the side of a mountain.

It's very hard for me to say if I would go up it again because the next day I hiked to sentinel dome (from the taft point/sentinel dome trailhead, only a few miles) and got just as good of a 360 degree view from there as I did on half dome. If I would do it again, I would probably start an hour earlier and have a good mountaineering harness with carabiners to hook to the cables just to be safe. I don't think it hit me until I was stuck on the cables on the way down and my hands in pain from holding on that what I was doing was extremely dangerous and at any moment the wind could blow just right and my emotions get the best of me and just let go by accident, for whatever reason. The people on the cables were trying to be safe for the most part, but there were those who got scared and froze and made it dangerous for others. Other people were going up/down the cables rather fast and making it difficult to hold on in some points. Even though you're being safe, other people can jeopardize your safety on the cables.

I hope I could give you guys an accurate representation of the hike. It is challenging, both mentally and physically. I didn't really do any training or preparation before the hike except eat healthy. I did some hikes here and there but honestly there's not much you can do to prepare for this hike (if you're doing it in one day) except for get some muscles in your legs and arms do practice hikes for a few hours at a time, break in your boots, and test your limits. Some people I talked to at the top who had done the hike before treated it like it was nothing. Now that I've experienced it and know how it is and how to prepare, if I do it again, it won't be so bad, but if it's your first time, I definitely recommend some physical preparation and know that you're gonna be walking up constant steep hills. If you have the right mindset and good boots, you should be fine, just do it with caution and prepare for a long day.

Re: Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 7:55 am
by weendoggy
Sounds like a good trip and pretty descriptive. However, why oh why, did you go to Merced Lake??? I hope you just mean filling water at Nevada Fall and then taking the side trail around LYV so you miss all the campers and such. If you go to ML, that's WAY out of the way to HD. Also, did you pass the spring about 1/2 way up the HD trail from LYV? It's right off the tail and I would think it still had water at this time of year. A lot of people miss it and carry water (not a bad thing) from the Merced River to the top.

Smart to start early for a complete day hike of HD. I've done this three times from the valley and each time I think I won't make it. Missing all the "trail traffic" makes the hike a lot better and coming down I always tell people "youv'e got two more hours" when they ask how far to go. Reminds me of my kids on tirps, "are we there yet"? Yep, two more hours. :)

Re: Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 9:47 pm
by stripgaga
I don't know where you mean by the "side trail around LYV." Every thing I read, including the "One best hike - Half Dome" by Rick Deutsch, said to go the way we went. I've never done the HD hike before so I wasn't trying to find my own route for the sake of time. Deutsch said in his book if there was a dividing trailhead to always follow the trail to the left going up so that's what we did. In fact, most of the maps I saw that showed the trail route displayed the same route the same route. At this website ( ... il-map.htm), this trail route is the same route that is shown in Deutsch's book. When I was researching the trail route from this map and Deutsch's book, it looked like once you get to the top of the Nevada Fall where the Mist trail and John Miur trail meet, there's only one trail that goes up to Half Dome. When we did this hike, I don't think I saw any other trail route to Half Dome, we just followed the trail which was pretty easy to find. There were some dividing signs, such as the JMT and Mist trail, the trail to the backpackers camp, and I think some other trails that went to Clouds rest or whatever trails that split off around LYV, but obviously we stayed on the HD trail.

So where we filled up water at is the mile or so part of the trail between Nevada Fall and the backpackers camp where the trail becomes level and is pretty much adjacent to the Merced for almost the rest of the trail before you start the ascent up the switchbacks to HD, which is LYV. The Merced flows really close to the trail. Even if you look at the link I included above, it shows the trail and Merced are pretty close. When we filled up, we only had to walk maybe 40 or 50 feet from the trail. Eventually the trail moves away northeast at the backpackers camp from the Merced and the river continues Southeast, so I don't really understand why you say the Merced and the trail we walked on is so far out of the way. Everything I read on this trail said the Merced river is the main source, and possibly only source if you can't find Little Spring, to fill up on water.

As far as Little Spring goes, we didn't find it going up. Deutsch said in his book to look for a fallen tree exposing its roots, and it even included a picture, but to be honest, that area was so foresty with so many fallen branches, twigs, and trees, it was hard to find the exact one he mentioned. Once we started the switchbacks, I was trying to look for the specific one but did not find that or a water source. I just figured it dried up, even though Deutsch said it usually flows until October. Our neighbor said Yosemite didn't get much rain this year so I thought that was why we didn't see it. However, on the way back, we did actually manage to see a very small spring and it was directly on the trail. I don't know how we missed it going up because it was pretty obvious when we came back. And after rereading the book now, it matched Deutsch's description, it was only an inch to a few inches deep. I guess we could have refilled our water there as I was completely out except for a water bottle, but from there it was like 40 minutes to the Merced. I started to look around once we got to the spring and I couldn't find the exact fallen tree that was in his book since there were trees everywhere. I wasn't sure if that was actually the spring at the time, but thinking about it now, it probably was it. I was just skeptical at the time having never done the hike, I felt better filling up at a source I knew was reliable.

As far as trail traffic, we really didn't get any until the very end when we finished on the Mist trail. In fact, during the whole hike we rarely saw anyone. There were a handful of people at the very start going up the mist trail to Nevada Fall, but once we got to LYV, we saw only a couple groups of 2 and 3 here and there. Once we started the uphill switchbacks after LYV, we didn't see anyone until we got up the base of sub dome. At that point, there were a fair amount of people right before the cables and I wondered how we didn't see any of these people on the hike up. There were a lot more people on the cables when we went down and after talking to a lot of them while we were on the cables, I found out most were doing the hike in one day from the valley. So once we got to the bottom of the cables and started our return hike, we saw maybe 5 or 6 people that passed us coming from half dome so I wondered where those people were who came from the valley. The majority of traffic we ran into was after Nevada Fall. There were a lot of people doing the mist trail but that was pretty much it for traffic.

Half Dome spring

PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 11:21 pm
by dan
I've seen the spring on the way to Half Dome. In many years it's a mud-hole and I wouldn't want to drink from it unless I was pretty desperate. Desperate enough to risk getting sick the next few days over being dehydrated now.

I'd rather take good water with me. I guess it's good for many people who don't know they need to bring more than a pint (or even quart/liter) of water for the day.

Re: Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:27 pm
by stripgaga
Yeah that's the same thing I thought when I saw it on the way back. It looked more shallow than the book I had described actually. It looked like I would hit the ground as soon as I put my filter in. It was honestly very very small, maybe a foot wide. But it also looked pretty disgusting to drink from. There were a ton of twigs and dead leaves and random forest debris in it so I felt more comfortable filling up at the Merced. I ended up taking a lot of water, which was a good idea for me since I got very dehydrated on my El Cajon hike. Of course, throughout the entire trip I was pretty much only drinking water, and plenty of it, so going into the hike I was pretty hydrated. Going up I had a 3 liter bladder and about 3 or 4 extra 16oz water bottles. I finished 3 bottles when I got to the Merced, filled those up, and killed all my water except for one bottle by the time I got off the cables and back on sub dome. I had just one bottle from sub dome to the Merced, which was fine because it was a lot easier going than up. But it was still warm and kinda gross, haha.

Re: Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 4:40 pm
by SoCalCPA
When you said Merced Lake, you really meant the Merced River - Merced Lake is a lake about 9 or 10 miles up the merced river from Nevada Falls

Re: Half Dome experience

PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 11:55 pm
by stripgaga
Oh ok, well that makes sense then. I'm sorry, I didn't know there was another lake. I thought it was just one thing