Archive: July, 2013
After a short, early hike, we ditched our packs at the base of Half Dome. I grabbed my camera and a nalgene, and we began our ascent. Once again my father and I fell behind my brother and my friends. As we clibmed the switchbacks my father told me about the first time he summitted the rock slab. He said people did the 20 mile roundtrip hike (starting from the valley, ascending nearly 5,000 ft.) in flip flops and with no water. I thought it was absurd and I had not even gotten to the hard part yet. With the amount of injury and heat stroke that caused, it was easy to see why the National Parks Service makes one apply for a permit to summit nowadays. As we approached the treeline, the beautiful granite quarter sphere came into view. My energy was high; I was excited and ready for the infamous cables. When we had gotten closer, above the treeline, I realized the challenge of the hike. My uncle and father had told me about the cables, but they failed to mention the treacherous switchbacks of the subdome. As we clibmed and scurried up the disappearing act that is the subdome trail, many breaks were necessary. My lungs were frantically searching for oxygen after every other switchback, I could feel the sun bursting the capilleries under my skin, and with each step the fire in my legs burned a degree hotter, but none of it seemed to matter. I was almost there, at the top, and nothing was going to stop me, plus, no matter how challenging it was, the hike was definitely more enjoyable (and rewarding) than anything my previous summer had presented.
As I peered at the summit from the top of the subdome the only thing I could think about was how stupid someone had to be to attempt a summit in flip flops. It was so steep that it was nearly vertical at points. My father said that some people scurry it, which I think is awesome, but I would be taking the cables up my first time up. Our intended route began by selecting a pair of gardening gloves left in a pile before the cables to protect your skin (if you plan on doing the hike, I highly advise a tetanus shot). My gloved hands gripped the wire cables, one of my boots found a wooden tread and we began the last leg of our ascent. One wooden tread at a time, I pulled myself up. At each rest, I would catch my breath and look back onto the Sierra Nevadas, a beautifully serene scene of mountaintops still covered with snow despite the sun exposure then I would look down to see how far I had come.
As the domes steepness petered out, the cables disappated, and I knew I had done it. I was standing nearly 5,000 ft. above the valley floor, and nearly 9,000 ft. above sea level, and I felt amazing. I did it, I made it to the top of Half Dome, I beat cancer and I continue to live an extraordinary life without a chamber or two. The feeling of such great accomplishment could not be quelled within me, but standing on the massive rock does put how miniscule we are into perspective. This was only brought to my attention after I had asked a woman to take a picture of my father and I, which she graciously did. When I got the camera back, we were merely specks in the photo. I was a little peeved then, (Why did I buy a camera with 30x optical zoom to get a photo my phone could have taken?), but I understand it in the context of my life now. Compared to the rock I stood on that day, the valley I peered upon, and the magnificent mountain range I saw off in the distance, my problems and accoplishments are so tiny in the grand scheme of things. If the earth and the universe take both of them in stride, I should strive to do the same.
As we continued our drive the ominous clouds up ahead made it very apparent that we were going to get some precipitation. A quick stop at the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station confirmed the forecast but we had an itinerary to stick to, plus my uncle had my father under the impression that we only had to hike half a mile before we could pitch our tents. We trudged into the woods at the first crack of thunder. Paul, Jeff and Cola took the lead while my father stayed behind with me. On our ascent to Cathedral Lakes my father taught me to pace my steps out similarity to how the climbers on Everest do. Sherpas tell the climbers to have two second gaps in between steps so that they do not break a sweat and consequently freeze to death (two seconds was a bit much for our hike, and I had no fear of freezing to death, but I have applied my new knowledge to my pace ever since then). Soon enough, a cold rain began to fall on us and my father realized that we had traveled way farther than a half a mile and we were still not at the lakes. The heavier the drops fell, the more we thought we had missed our trail junction, and we were began to wonder if our fellow party members had done the same. We eventually caught up with them after they stopped to cover their gear from the rain (a wet sleeping bag makes for a miserable camping trip).
Fortunately the rain had slowed to a drizzle as we forged onward. When we finally came upon the lakes, the rain had come to a nearly complete halt. We pitched our tents, ate our dinner and filtered some water. The lakes were named for the peak that towers behind them, and the storm had left two beautiful rainbows directly to the right of the jagged peak. As an aspiring amateur photographer I grabbed my camera and snapped some photos. I think my favorite photos of the trip were taken that night. I could have taken photo after photo if my battery did not have to last another two days. As the rotation of the earth slowly dropped the sun behind the mountains in the distance, magnificent colors came into play. The shades of yellow and orange in the clouds reflected off the still water with the shadows of the Sierra Nevadas sandwiched in between. The bright citric colors faded into light pink, and then there was only darkness. If I had stayed up or awoken in the night, I would have seen some amazing stars at that elevation, but once my head hit the pillow I was comatose until my father woke me up the next morning.
To my surprise, my friends could in fact wake up the first time they were asked too (probably because it was my father that asked them to get up, it had never worked for me). The previous day we had hiked entirely through woods, but our second day had some meadows dispersed in the miles. We saw mountain peaks in the distance, pikas harvesting supplies for their nests, and yellow bellied marmots scurrying around feeding in the woods. We were exposed to the mosquito more than any other creature native to the park. They were everywhere, but it was the season. As the snow melts and runs down the mountaintop, it pools in anywhere it can. The more stagnant water, the more mosquitos there are. In one particular section of the hike (a part I have deemed as mosquito meadow) we stopped to filter water. As my father and I caught up to the others, Jeff and Cola were sitting on a rock filtering water while Paul was dancing around them, smacking himself and the air. He was constantly moving and telling us how miserable it was. When I stopped to hand Jeff my bottles, I snapped a picture of my leg and later counted seventeen mosquitos on one leg (but I had pants on so it was not so bad). They were vicious, and even though my pants shielded my legs, and the deet created a forcefield on my skin, they could and would get me through my shirt.