Day 67: Half Dome!

Day 67
June 24
Half-dome to Yosemite valley
about 10.5 miles

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I got up at 4:20, ate a quick breakfast, and packed up camp. By the time I started walking, it was already light out. I turned onto the side trail leading to Half Dome and started the climb. Once in a forested area, I heard an unexpected sound and stood still. A bear was digging through fallen branches at the base of a tree! It did not detect my presence as I stood on the trail watching it. It was completely consumed in its foraging. Then, I noticed a small cub next to the mother! I knew I would have to keep my distance. The cub saw me looking at it and would stand up on its hind limbs and stare at me for a moment and then return to helping its mother dig. It was so cute! I had not yet seen a bear on the PCT and was so glad I made this side trip into Yosemite. Eventually, the mother noticed me and casually sauntered off with no concern at all. A few minutes later, I saw a deer.
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The morning was quiet. I saw no other hikers on my way to the base of Half Dome. I did see a tent set up at the base of the rock. I found a tree to stash my bear canister and a few extra items that I did not need to carry and then started my way up the rock. A large group of people were on the way down and encouraged me along (which I always find amusing). Ahead, I could make out the ladder of cables for the first time.
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Grey clouds filled the sky and a few men at the bottom of the cables stood there wondering if they should climb it or not. I immediately went to search for the pile of gloves that Billy Goat had told me about. At first I couldn’t find them and thought I would have to wear my thin ones, but close to the cables, I found the pile and picked out a good pair.
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I was ready to start up! One of the men said, “You’re going to climb that in a skirt?!”.
“Yup!”. (Why not?). I looked up and saw a man sitting down about half way up.
“Why is that guy resting?”.
I took ahold of the cables and planted my feet into the rock. A guy in jeans asked me how it was once I had climbed a bit. He was worried about the dampness of the day making the rock too slippery. I told him that if you hold on tight enough, it’s no problem. The rock quickly became more steep and my grip tightened. I wondered what I was doing, having lost all of my arm strength over the last 2 months. If I tired enough to lose my grip, I would fall to my death. As I pulled myself up into higher atmosphere, I felt more and more exhilarated. This was the best feeling I had had on my entire journey so far! I knew I would like to try rock climbing at some point. I gained on the man who had been resting. He looked to be tying rope to the cables and hauling himself up that way.
As I got closer to the top and saw him sitting down again, he asked me how old I was. “You’re not going to beat me,” he responded and started up once again. We reached the end of the cables and he found a rock to sit on. It was cold up there! The man in jeans behind me reached the top and the older guy began reciting a long Mark Twain quote. My mind could not stay focused on his words. I told him I was going to head up to the top.
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Once there, I asked the guy in jeans if he would take a picture of me. The older guy immediately said, “Take a picture of me!” (with my camera). He wanted several pictures of himself up there and insisted that I send them to him.
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After seeing the guy in jeans stand over a ledge, the older guy asked me if I wanted my picture taken over there. I handed him my camera and then realized as I walked away that I was putting an incredible amount of trust in this man’s hands. If he dropped my camera, I would lose every picture from my journey so far!
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We each took some time to explore the area on our own.
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Rain threatened and the air grew colder, so I decided it was time to make my way down. The older man was already a good ways down. While the ascent was one of the most exhilarating times of my life, the descent was one of the most terrifying! How did masses of people get up and down those cables meant for one person?
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I was so glad that I had them to myself and that no one watched how I got down! I tried turning around and going backwards, but that was far more terrifying then being able to see where I was going! I squatted down, gripped the thick steel cables with all of my strength and slid to the next wooden slat ahead of me. I thought I was going to pull an arm muscle! Rain drops began to fall, making the rock even more slippery.
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I managed to get down safely and headed back down to my gear, which I hoped wasn’t getting soaked. The older man had found a young lady to talk to, who was wondering whether or not to attempt the climb. He told her it wasn’t worth the risk of permanently injuring herself. Before I could gather my things, he wanted to make sure that he had my contact info before I got too far ahead. He was so worried about not getting the pictures, but had nothing to write down my e-mail address with! I had to continually assure him that I wouldn’t walk away without giving it to him. I packed up my stuff as the rain fell harder. I realized that if I had taken the Cloud’s Rest trail, adding seven miles to the distance I would have had to hike, that I would not have been able to climb Half Dome. It would have been raining and much too dangerous to climb. I was one of only a few people who made it to the top before the rain fell that day. I was reminded that everything was happening as it should. There is no need to try to control. Instead, I have to keep learning to trust.
Before long, I had caught back up to the man and we spent the next mile or so verbally repeating my e-mail address over and over again. Inevitably, he would get something wrong. Once we came to the intersection of the JMT and the Half Dome trail, we found a family of three, who happened to have a pen and piece of paper on them. He wrote down my e-mail, but still wanted to keep walking with me. I had slowed down my pace for him to keep up, but he still said I was walking twice as fast as he would have normally. “Hey Wendy,” he would call from behind.
“It would be really nice to hear from you along your journey. Maybe you could send some pictures of some of the most beautiful things you see to my sister’s e-mail and then she could print them out for me! And maybe you could include some of yourself, occasionally. Then, I could go on your journey with you.” I explained that I didn’t even have time to do that for my friends, but that I would try. I thought it was sweet that he was so interested in my trip. We continued to slowly walk down the mountain until he reached the point at which he had stashed his camping chair in the woods. He wanted to know if he could give me a hug before we parted. He said he was happy to have met me and I was reminded by him that we all just want to have a friend and be connected to each other. It’s so simple and so meaningful.

I continued on my way and found a ranger waiting at the next intersection, checking permits. The weather was too unpleasant for them to be stationed at the top. The rain continued to come down as people happily made their way up the Half Dome trail. I wondered why they were trying to climb it on a rainy day. I knew most of them would not make it up the cables in such conditions. I found a large tree to sit under while I ate a snack and then made my way farther toward the Valley. I was running out of energy and had to stop often. More and more people populated the area as I got closer to the bottom. One person told me that my backpack was heavily slanted and asked me if I needed help. “No, thank you. I am all right!”.
“Are you sure?”.
Another couple asked me where I was coming from with such a big pack. I told them that I had started from Tuolemne Meadows yesterday and had climbed Half Dome this morning. “You did all that in one day?” they asked incredulously.
Most people took no notice of me at all, however. National Parks feel as anonymous as being in a big city.
I reached another intersection and tried to figure out which way to go. A man recognized me. “You’re the girl who climbed Half Dome in a skirt!”. He wanted to know how far back his friends were. I made my way out, walking by waterfalls which didn’t seem as pretty as I thought they would be in all of the rain and clouds. I was cold and exhausted.
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Finally, I reached the road and found the bus stop. Once the bus arrived, I found a seat and held my backpack in my lap. I wasn’t sure where I was going to get off. All of the stops at which they were selling food were massively overcrowded and I couldn’t stomach the thought of standing in the rain, waiting in long lines surrounded by crowds of people. I ended up getting off at the lodge and decided to see if they had any rooms available. I needed to dry out and get warm. They did have a very overpriced room, but it wouldn’t be ready until 5:00. I paid for it and then went over to the cafeteria to wait in line. Again, I had to ask what dairy-free options I had, which eliminated most everything that looked appealing to me. After I finished eating, I returned to the lobby and waited several hours for my room to become available. I was surprised to see JT and Laptop inquiring about buses back to Tuolemne Meadows! When they saw that I was staying, they wondered if they should to, but there were no more rooms left at that point.
I was finally able to get a warm shower. Afterwards, I headed over to the restaurant for dinner. Again, I had to wait nearly an hour for a table to open up. I ended up eating more than a basket of bread as I waited for my dairy-free pasta, and by the time my dinner arrived, I could not eat much of it. I felt a little lonely eating at a fancy place all by myself. I had a single chocolate truffle, which the cook could not confirm was dairy-free, but after eating the butter with my bread, I did not care.
I returned to my room to wash a few things and update people back home and then finally went to bed. The one bus back to Tuolemne Meadows would arrive at 8am.