Sunday, June 26, 2011

Half Dome Preview Trip!

Handstand at the top of the Half Dome summit!

Yesterday Brandon, Chris, Javier, Tyler and I hiked Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. Half Dome sits at about 8,900 ft. It is at least a 14 mile hike (round trip), depending on what trail you take from Yosemite Valley and is a total elevation gain of about 4,800 ft. The full hike takes most people between 10-14 hours.

This hike is completely doable, if you are in decent shape. When I say decent shape, I mean you do some sort of physical activity such as CrossFit, biking, running, lifting, etc, or you have done a lot of hiking and backpacking trips in the past.

Before I begin talking about our hike, let me brief you with my athletic experience and preparation since some people get caught up in determining whether or not they are 'fit' enough to do the hike.
  • The longest hike I did was less than 7 miles at Joshua Tree National Park. Before that, I've done a lot of hiking in Hawaii, most notably the Koko Crater Railway Trail. These trails were all less than 3 miles each.
  • I did not own a legitimate pair of hiking shoes. (Hey, I'm from Hawaii. We hike in slippers.) I bought hiking shoes 2 days before the trip (also the same day I found out/decided to go on the trip).
  • I've never been rock climbing.
  • I've been doing CrossFit for about 6 months and Yoga for about 10 months.
I was a little hesitant to go on the trip initially since I was not sure if I would be prepared enough to do the hike all the way. There was another Half Dome trip with a much larger group set for mid-July that I could go on but the probability of me getting a permit was significantly smaller. Half Dome Cable permits are required 7 days a week now and all the permits for the summer were gone within the first minute. My friend got 4 permits for this trip, and there would be 5 of us. I decided to go betting on the chance that someone will have a spare permit somewhere along the hike and if not, putting on my best sad face and begging the ranger to let me go up.

We woke up at 4:30am on Saturday with hopes to start the trail no later than 6am. When we arrived at the trail parking, most of the spots were taken so we had to park a little further on the street. We reached the start of the trail at about 6:30am. I was tired, sleep-deprived, and sore from going to CrossFit everyday of the week. Surprisingly, it was not very cold.

06:11AM: A picture of Brandon, me, and Jav about a mile before the start of the trail.

We decided to take the Mist Trail on the way up and part of the John Muir Trail on the way down if we had time. The Mist Trail was a slightly steep, but short. What made it a little difficult was that the trail was more of a down pour than a 'mist.' We got completely soaked because the waterfalls were raging! I actually brought a poncho with me but was too lazy to take it out of my bag and put it on. We all got completely soaked!

07:18AM: Tyler, Jav, me, and Chris drenched at the footbridge of Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail.

07:45AM: Top of the Mist Trail / Middle of Nevada Falls.

The actual hike to the top of Nevada Falls is 0.2 miles from the top of the Mist Trail. We decided to go there on the way back. At this point, it was getting hot. I took off my long pants and put on a lot of sunscreen and mosquito repellent. The next part of the trail had more shade and was a little more flat. However, when we entered the forest, the climbing started almost immediately and it was getting hotter. My wet shirt from the Mist Trail felt awesome.

09:16AM: We reached the Half Dome 2-mile post.

We barely took any breaks going up to avoid getting very tired. We also were very excited and anxious to reach the top. As we continued the hike, the trees became more sparse and you could see people climbing to the summit. This area also had a great view of Yosemite Valley.

09:56AM: A beautiful view of the Yosemite Valley.

From here, it was a short uphill hike to start of the switch-back stairs of Sub Dome, where a few rangers sat checking permits. Luckily for me, I made a new friend, Matt, who gave me his spare permit.

10:08AM: The 1 extra permit we needed (left) for our group! Our soaked permit from the Mist Trail (right).

We waited around for the other two group members to catch up before passing the Rangers. Note here, the rangers were denying people who did not have permits beyond this point. They were also checking permits for people going down (so if you are going to do the night hike, stay up there for awhile and go down with the crowd). The switch-back stairs to Sub Dome was completely un-shaded and very steep. I was so excited I ran up.

10:53AM: We all reached Sub Dome and the base of the cables.

Once we all reached Sub Dome, we all put on our gloves and began the 400 ft. ascent on the cables. This was very steep (50-65 degrees). Surprisingly, I thought the ascent was very easy. I pulled myself up and at certain parts helped the girl in front of me get up. I was fearless and still full of energy.

11:00AM: The steep ascent up to the Half Dome Summit.

It took me about 10 minutes to reach the top of Half Dome. I looked around in awe of the beauty surrounding me. There is actually cell phone service at the top so I was able to call my dad and boyfriend!

11:25AM: Snow was still at the top of the summit.

The top was huge! It was probably as big as a football field! The view was more than magnificent, making the hike totally worth it!

11:32AM: A beautiful view of Yosemite from the top.

There was so much to do at the top! Jav and I were still full of energy. We spent some time doing arm balances and yoga poses!

11:38AM: Handstand - Forging Elite Fitness baby!

11:43AM: Mayurasana / Peacock Pose.

11:46AM: Eka Pada Koundinyasana.

11:48AM: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / King Pigeon.

We spent a lot of time at the top! The air was so clean and the view could not get old! Some group photos:

11:53AM: Tyler, me, Jav, Chris, and Brandon.

12:00PM: Brandon, Chris, Jav, me, and Tyler with the beautiful Yosemite Valley in the background.

We spent almost 2 hours at the top before we decided to head down. Going down the cables was the scariest moment of my life. My heart was pounding the entire time and I had to keep reassuring myself that I was going to be okay. Most people think going down is easier since one could just slide down. I, on the other hand, wanted to piss in my pants. It probably took me at least twice as long to go down.

01:21PM: I could not be more happy to reach the bottom of the cables!

01:23PM: Group shot at the bottom of the cables.

The hike back felt significantly longer and we had to take more frequent breaks. It was very hot and our feet began to get sore. However, we were still determined to check out a few more scenic spots. Since it was still early in the day, we stopped at Merced River and Nevada Falls.

03:46PM: Chris and Tyler at Merced River.

Nevada Falls was RAGING when we went. I felt like I was going to fall just from the mist!

04:41PM: Me at the top of Nevada Falls.

04:42PM: The water was so intense and powerful!

We took the John Muir Trail back since we did not want to return drenched. What's another 1.5 miles when we have hiked 16 miles already? At this point any downhill part of the trail had a big impact on my feet. It felt like I had a ton of blisters.

After walking approximately 24 miles, because of all the detours we made, we finally reached Curry Village at about 7:15pm. My legs felt like jello and I could not have been more happy to take of my shoes and put on my slippers.

Our route, parsed by Google Earth and extracted from Chris' GPS watch.

I highly recommend the hike! I do not think it is as intense as most people claim it to be. A lot of it is just mental strength. Next time I will know not to pack so much. Light-weight breathable clothing, poncho, gloves, camera, 6-8 protein bars, and 2 liters of water is enough. The spectacular view at the top and along the trail is enough motivation to keep going. In fact, I cannot wait to do the hike again in mid-July, in the dark, so we can catch the sunrise as the top!