Monday, June 20, 2005

A long way down

Renny relaxes on a rock overlooking a two to three thousand foot vertical drop. W, who does not suffer terribly from fear of heights, was nonetheless only able to look for very short moments at his son on this rock.

Waking up at 4:00 a.m., the family walked from Curry Village to the Happy Isles trailhead at 5:00 a.m. It was still relatively dark as WNMR began the ascent. In the hopes of motivating R and M to get up, W had bought doughnuts for breakfast. M wolfed down three doughnuts, which made him feel quite ill. The day hike to Half Dome is much hyped as a fantastic but strenuous hike featuring a 4000 foot elevation gain. The beginning of the hike features a steep three and a half mile climb to the top of two consecutive waterfalls, Vernal Falls, followed by Nevada Falls. As M struggled to climb towards Vernal Falls, it looked as if the hike might have to be abandoned. He complained of a headache and some nausea. However, he was still climbing faster than N and W. Near the top of Nevada Falls, M finally lost his breakfast. This helped him to feel much better, and he gradually recovered his strength. M and R passed one group of hikers, who described them as "bounding" up the rocks. Meanwhile, W and N trudged slowly but surely upwards. The first part of the hike lived up to its reputation. The waterfalls were tremendously powerful, disgorging a massive snowpack, and soaking WNMR thoroughly with mist. It was still relatively cool due to the early hour.

At the top of Nevada Falls the trail becomes flatter. R found a lizard, which was content to sit on his hat as he carried it ever higher for several miles. When the family turned a corner and Half Dome came into view, R and M were incredulous. They thought that W was surely joking to suggest they were actually going to climb it. But climb it they did. The trail became very steep, with only steps cut into the granite. In the end, there are cables to get to the very top. It was at this point that the lizard was jettisoned. WNMR donned gloves to hold onto the cables (one is not tied to the cables). First N and R went up, followed a few minutes later by M and W.

The cables prevent climbers from falling an extremely long distance. WNMR tried not to look down too much as they climbed it. Finally they were at the top at about 11:30 in the morning.

The family spent an hour napping and lunching on the top. N & R sat unwittingly on a large rock formation called the "Diving Board" because it overhangs a sheer drop off. The wind was extremely strong, gusting to perhaps 40 or 50 mph at times. But nobody blew off.

The descent was long. W felt his feet begin to ache, but after a rest soaking his feet in Nevada Falls, he felt recharged and headed down the Muir trail towards the valley below. NMR returned via the Mist trail. They all met with Grandma Harriet and Grandpa Mark, who had remained down below, for some pizza and beer to celebrate the hike.

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