Sunday, June 18, 2006

Half Dome

We just returned home from a fantastic Elenbaas family vacation in Lake Tahoe, California. The excuse for the trip was Marv's 55th birthday. Marv wanted to do something exhilarating and challenging for his birthday. We decided on doing the very tough half dome hike in Yosemite. Lake Tahoe is a somewhat nearby resort area that the whole family could enjoy for the week as 6 of us spent a day doing the Half Dome hike. Here is half dome looming over Yosemite Valley.

Half Dome is one of the most amazing hikes in the US and probably the world. It offers breathtaking views of beautiful Yosemite valley, multiple waterfalls, huge cliffs, and much of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hike itself is a physical challenge as it 17 miles round trip with a mile of elevation gain. Marv wanted to make a statement as he turned 55 that he's still very young. Marv has hiked Kilimanjaro and to Mt. Everest Base camp so we could compare Half Dome to those famous mountains. The rest of the group was Derek, my dad, Steve, and James.

Unfortunately for us, the main road to Yosemite from Lake Tahoe was closed so we had to take a much longer route, meaning we had to leave at 2:00 am on Tuesday to do the hike. We drove 5 hours and started at about 7:00 am on the cool, sunny morning. The hike starts out very punishing by going directly into a hard climb and bringing us to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

I did this hike in 2002 when the Sopers spent a few days in Yosemite so I had a good idea what to expect. So this time with the Elenbaases I made sure we did it right by bringing enough water and starting early enough in the morning. Last time we were very dehydrated and ended up having to come down part of the way in the dark. Knowing what to expect I could just enjoy the the hike and take in the scenery. Here are some great views of the first 3 miles of the ascent.

My memory severely failed me for the second half of the hike. I thought the last 5 miles of the climb were pretty easy until the very end. Actually, after a half mile flat stretch they became just as punishing as the fist 3 miles. But my real memory lapse was how extreme the final stretch is. Here is what we saw as we approached the dome:

There is a section of steps cut out in the rock that rise sharply up above the trees toward the dome. This section is a real nail-biter as the uneven steps fall away to a painful death on both sides.

Then comes a plateau that takes you to the side of the dome.

The sheer rock wall goes up at a 45-50 degree angle for 500 vertical feet and you have to climb it with only the aid of some loose cables. Again, a fall would lead to a very painful tumble to your death. As we climbed I remembered how amazed I was last time that more people don't get seriously hurt doing this hike.

Marv was a rock. He marched right through the nerve-wracking final ascent to celebrate at the top.

The summit is awesome as it looms over miles of Yosemite Valley. But my favorite part is that you can walk to the edge of the "half dome" and put your feet over the cliff that falls straight away to 2000 feet of nothing.

It is a rush like none other to be sitting on what feels like the edge of the world. Unfortunately for us a a big cloud of fog hung around the edge of the dome for the day so we couldn't see very far in the Valley direction, but the thrill of the summit was still unbelievable.

We all were happy to celebrate Marv's 55th this way. Marv also loved the hike and called it at least as hard as Everest Base Camp, second only to Kilimanjaro.

The hike down was quite painful as our joints had to absorb all the downhill. We all made it to the bottom in one piece in slightly under 10 hours with plenty of daylight and water to spare.

Awesome, awesome hike. I can't wait until the next time.


Anonymous Cheri VB said...

Randy, your mom sent out an e-mail saying we should check out your blog for some memories... I'm laughing remembering you and Joel's conversation about your thoughts from that last stretch - each of you had seriously pondered what you'd do if the person in front of you slipped :) ... anyway, it's beautiful, even more so than I remembered!! Glad it was fun!

9:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home