Editor's Note: The following is pulled from my journal that I kept while I was camping out West “Ardent and courageous trekkers can continue on from the top of Nevada Fall, off Mist Trail, to the top of Half Dome. Some hikers attempt this entire 10-12 hour, 16 ¾ mi round-trip trek from Happy Isles in one day; if you are planning to do this, remember that the 4,800-foot elevation gain and the 8,842-foot altitude will cause shortness of breath. The last pitch up the back of Half Dome is very steep-the only way to climb this sheer rock face is to pull yourself up using the steel cable handrails. Those who brave the ascent will be rewarded with an unbeatable view of Yosemite Valley below and the high country beyond” –Fodor’s guide book
The previous day, I met a real nice fellow who was with a park ranger (I think he was a climber). He recommend that I start the trail real early and to pack plenty of food and water. He suggested, “Granola bars, mixed nuts are what I like to eat. I also like grazing and snacking all day – munch on things as you’re hiking. Also pack a nice lunch to eat once you reach the summit—it’s a nice reward. Remember, food is energy!” He also advised that when I got to the cables (the last part of the ascent) to use leg power, “Everyone tries to hoist themselves with their upper body strength, if you do that, you’ll wear yourself out!” He also said that I couldn’t park near the trailhead. I’d have to park in Curry Village and walk a little less than a mile to Happy Isles.
3 am wake up. I left camp around 3:20 and arrived in the valley around 4:15. Once I parked my car, I finalized putting my daypack together and was ready (as much as I could be) to start the journey to Half Dome. I knew this was going to be both a mental and physical challenge, but something in me really wanted to do to IT. I’m guessing that I wanted to prove it to myself—if I could do this…I can do anything!
Headlamp on, I took a few steps away and realized, “maybe I should bring my flashlight too.” It was dark out, and my flashlight provided me with better visibility. I knew by bringing my flashlight along it was added weight but I felt better having it with me.
I walked along the roadside and approached Happy Isles. I saw a few other people with packs and headlamps too (good I’m not the only crazy person doing this). There was a public restroom there and I knew it’d be the last one I saw all day—so I decided to use it one last time. I started the trail at 4:40 am. I thought I’d be nervous hiking alone in the dark, but there was something soothing about it. It was quiet. Everything was still. A few times I turned off my flashlight and headlamp and just looked up at the stars; I could barely make out the dark towering stone mountains/cliffs that surrounded me. I hiked alone for a good bit and enjoyed the solitude. I knew there were people in front and behind me, I guess that was comforting as well.
After awhile, the trail splits - one way you can follow the John Muir Trail, and the other is the Mist Trail. The climber I talked to the previous day said it’s better to go up the Mist Trail and down John Muir. “The Mist Trail is challenging and has a quick elevation gain but it’s a good bit shorter than John Muir….AND it’s easier on the legs coming down JM,” he said. Hiking the Mist Trail was difficult. I was still in complete darkness and it was a never-ending staircase to the top of the falls. (WHY DIDN’T I WORK OUT ON THE STAIR-MASTER BEFORE THIS HIKE????) Some of the stairs were pretty steep, but luckily, they weren’t wet and slippery (hints the name ‘Mist’ Trail). I was already breathing heavily and not even close to being ½ way—the elevation gain was already getting to me (asthma was no help either). So amazing that you could hear this rushing waterfall near you…but you couldn’t see it (luckily my flashlight is powerful and I was able to see parts of it). I hooked up with an older couple from Sacramento and hiked with them till we reached the top of Vernal Falls. Once we arrived there we took a 10-minute break and I ate the rest of my breakfast (blueberry power bar – yummy). Dawn had approached and no longer did I need any light source.
After our break, I continued on with the Sacramento couple. They were great people. Just above Vernal falls was Silver Apron Bridge. It looked like a nice swimming hole. I was told that people like to slide down the rock and into the cold pool. The hike flattened out for a short bit then once again there were MORE switch back stairs.
The stairs were starting to wear me. Back and forth, back and forth…keep climbing….keep climbing. Muscles were starting to ache. The sun had risen but hadn’t gotten over the rock mountains. The view of Nevada Falls was distracting me from my physical discomfort; it was beautiful! On this stretch, I had some German people ahead of me and met a younger couple from Sacramento. We all cracked jokes and moaned with every stair step – but we all kept going.
Once I reached the top of Nevada Falls, the older Sacramento couple went on without me. The trail still had elevation gain but nothing like the stairs on Mist Trail. Nevada Falls is roughly ½ way… I’ve got this.
I walked along Merced River and it was a sandy flat trail. Even though the trail was mostly flat, I didn’t enjoy walking on sand (takes more energy). All along the river I saw more and more hikers.
I reached Little Yosemite Valley (a camp that some people split up the hike and camp out there and finish the rest of the ascent the next day), and once again I was in the woods surrounded by big pine trees. The trail was mostly switchbacks. The sun was now out and I was glad to be under the trees. “Surely I’m getting close,” I thought to myself. How I was OH SO WRONG!
I hadn’t seen the older Sacramento couple in awhile and was beginning to feel like a snail. I saw a trail sign ahead and was eager to see how much further I had to travel. 2 MILES?? UGH!! I thought surely I had been 3. (Damn elevation!)
I continued on and began to see more hikers who I hadn’t seen/met. Some people said, “Keep going” or “One step at a time.” Any words of encouragement were helpful. I made the mistake and asked someone coming down, “Am I close?” He giggled and said no. (Not gonna ask that again.)
Coming out of the woods I take my first step onto rock—I’m on rock -- I must be getting closer. A short distance passed and saw the older Sacramento couple sitting on a rock eating snacks. They gave me a cheer. I was breathing so hard and all I could do was give them the fist pump—just to let them know I was still chugging along.
I had arrived at quarter dome (half dome is right around the corner) and MORE SWITCHBACK STARIS!!! These were truly terrible. Not as steep as Mist BUT the elevation was so intense -- yes, already SO intense. My legs were killing me. I over heard a woman say that quarter dome was harder to climb than the cables. (Come on Krista, you can do this…one stair step at a time.) My pack felt like it weighed 50 pounds. WHY DID I BRING MY CAMERA GEAR AND TRIPOD????? (Truthfully, I wanted to take that damn tripod and throw it over the mountain!)
I reached the top of quarter dome huffing and puffing. Now where are these cables?? I climbed over a hill and all of the sudden, there they were. OH HOLY SH*T! I’ve seen pictures of these cables and I have to say first hand that they don’t look nearly as steep in photos. The people close to the top almost looked like ants! I took off my pack and ate a little snack in hopes to give me some fuel to get up this rock! While taking my break, I witnessed two people get a ¼ of the way up and decided to turn around. The woman claimed she didn’t have the arm strength and her fear of heights kicked in. The man said he was worried about the clouds in the air (rangers advised to not climb the rock if there are any dark clouds around…lighting can be very dangerous – no worries the clouds weren’t that dark) and said the rock was too slick. Not enough arm strength…too slick? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think this really spooked me.
There was a pile of gloves at the bottom of the cables left from previous climbers. (I was told not to purchase gloves…that there would be plenty there.) I picked out some leather worker man’s gloves. They were too big for my hands, but they seemed hearty. I put on my pack and decided to do this.
I waited to go behind a man that I had seen quite a bit on the trail. He was wearing a harness. Actually, I saw a lot of people wearing harnesses. Never in my reading/picture seeing did I come across to bring a harness! I WANT A HARNESS!
I started my climb on the cables. About every 5 feet there is a little wooden plank (generally were people rest). The first three were okay. I kept thinking about what that climber told me, use leg power not your upper body. WHAT LEG POWER?? I just hiked 8 miles up a giant mountain—I’m just about out of leg power!! I tried to stay one plank behind the man in front of me (nobody at the time was behind me). I made the classic mistake of looking over my shoulder to look down—THAT was a bad choice.
Got up a few more planks. I made it about 1/3 the way, and heard something fall off my pack. I could hear it tumbling down the rock till it hit the bottom. The man in front of me said, “What was that?” “Ummmmmm…..I don’t know, but I think it was my flashlight. I’m too scared to turn around and look,” I said in a shaken voice. I froze. The man in front of me now was 3 planks ahead, and I couldn’t move (felt like a cat caught up in a tree). Thoughts began to race through my head. What if that flashlight was me? One slip of the foot and I’m done. Fear and panic overcame me like a wild fire. What do I do?? Why am I here?? I don’t think I’ve ever had a true panic attack, but I think I had one this day. I couldn’t catch my breath (and it wasn’t my asthma).
I could turn around and know that I never got to the top of half dome (man I’ve worked SO hard). Or I can dig to the deepest depths and keep going. I had a choice to make.
Before I left on my trip I was given the advice to “listen to that voice in your head” and “trust your instinct”. I think because I was in panic mode I couldn’t hear ‘the voice’. All I could hear was my heavy breathing and seeing the man in front of me getting further and further away. No one was there to help me, or offer words of encouragement. For the first time on this journey I felt truly alone.
I knew I had to calm myself, so I took deep breaths and focused on my shoes. Cliché I know, but some power came over me and I began to climb to the next plank. I don’t think I ever “decided” to continue…it just happened. Another one down…rest…..keep going. I didn’t have the leg stamina to get up and had to use my arms. ½ up and all my muscles were spent. 4 people were coming down and were cheering me along. It’s amazing what the power of words can do. I still had ½ to go, but they told me the last ¼ was easy. (Come on, Krista). Slowly, I did one plank at a time…rested…then moved on to the next. In my head I knew each step was getting closer; I began to feel stronger. I reached the last ¼; I was breathing hard but kept going. Before I knew it, I reached the end of the cables and walked up a hill to see the other hikers.
I MADE IT!!! I made it to the top of Half Dome! Tears of joy streamed down my face, and I was grinning as if it were Christmas Day! I ate lunch (two small turkey and cheese sandwiches) and rested. Shortly after, I began taking pictures. I couldn’t even come close to that beautiful 360° view—they simply don’t do it justice. While up there, I started talking with a trio of guys and decided that I would descend with them. Yep….something you forget once you get to the top….you gotta come down! Luckily, I befriended these guys just in time. Mike stayed one plank ahead of me and talked to me every step down. It was equally scary coming back down, but when you have a buddy it definitely helps. When we got to the bottom I knew I could make the rest of the way back. Just hiked 8 miles up, now time to hike 8 down.
I hiked the first 4 miles with the guys (Mike, Drew, and Matt) and then from Nevada falls they had to book it down to meet a friend coming in from San Fran. I was alone yet again, but it was ok--all down hill from there. I took John Muir down and saw another nice angle of Nevada Falls. I had a little over 4 miles to go to the bottom of the valley, simple, right? My feet felt like bricks (just get to the end, Krista). 2 miles left and I saw the younger Sacramento couple and did most of the last hike with them. It was nice to have a distraction.
The last ½ mile is up and down and by this point; I have this surge of energy. I finished the hike just before 4:40 pm – exactly 12 hours.
After a nice long hot shower, I treated myself to a pizza and beer – true glory!!!