Skip to content

Half Dome

Once the idea was hatched, Roger, whom I have known since kindergarten at Commodore Stockton Elementary School in Chinatown, and I began making plans.  Probably the best thing we did to prepare was to attend a lecture at REI.  The speaker was Rick Deutsch, the author of Yosemite’s Half Dome: Everything you need to know to successfully hike Yosemite’s most famous landmark.  We learned how much time we needed to allow ourselves in order to complete the hike in one day.  It meant arriving on the trail at the crack of dawn in order to complete the hike before darkness descended.  The hike is rated as “extremely strenuous.”  The numbers speak volumes:  15.5 miles round-trip; 10-12 hours in duration; 4737-foot altitude gain.  Roger and I were ready for the challenge.  Hiking Half Dome was on our “bucket list.”

Following Deutsch’s recommendations, Roger and I began preparations 5 months in advance.  The first part was easy; we put in our reservation for accommodations at Curry Village.  The second part, the conditioning, was not so easy.  In retrospect, there was no such thing as being overly conditioned.  Roger and I did several practice hikes together over the months; we did walks of varying distances and difficulty in the city and on hiking trails.  Individually, we worked out at the gym.  By the time we arrived at Yosemite, we were feeling pretty prepared and confident.  The third part of the preparation was what to bring.  We needed to be sure we packed all the necessities and not carry too much weight.  Staying hydrated was key.  We could not carry all the water we would need for the duration of the hike; so we had to prepare for where to find and how to purify water along the way.  We settled for the newest product on the market, the SteriPEN which employs a hand held, battery powered ultraviolet light that kills 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.  You can purify a 32 oz-container of water in 90 seconds.  We added energy snacks.  The one clothing item we spent the most money on was good quality hiking boots and socks.  Shorts, shirt, hat completed our outfit.  Hiking poles and a fanny pack were highly recommended, so we included them as well.   

By the time we checked into Curry Village, we were joined by another kindergarten buddy who had flown in from Chicago.  Wendell came to give us moral support; he chose not to do the hike.  He and his family and Roger’s wife, Pam, stayed behind to enjoy the sights of the valley floor.  My wife, Sharon, had decided by then to hike with us as far as possible, not planning to go all the way to the summit.  As prepared as we felt we were, we came to discover how unprepared we were for the unexpected.

On the morning of the hike, Roger left his cabin and met Sharon and me at our tent cabin, at 5:30 am.  Besides wanting to complete the hike before dark, we left early in order to arrive at the cables no later than 11:00 am to avoid the crowds.  It was dark at that hour of the morning; and there was a chill in the air.  We were excited and ready for the challenge ahead of us.  From Curry Village, we walked a couple hundred yards to the Happy Isles area where the hike begins at the start of the famous John Muir Trail.  Even at that hour, there were lots of hikers.  It was reassuring in that we didn’t have to worry about getting lost with so many fellow hikers.  We all shared the same determination to get to the cables no later than 11:00 am, 7.1 miles away.  We started to climb almost immediately as we took the recommended Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls.  30 minutes into the hike, we came to Vernal Fall Bridge where it would be our last chance to use a real, flushing, porcelain toilet with running water.  By the time we arrived at Little Yosemite Valley, having hiked 4.8 miles, and climbed 2000 feet, we had fallen behind schedule.  Unexpectedly, the altitude was taking a toll on Roger.  As I marched on ahead, the distance between Roger and me started to grow.  Sharon stayed in-between the two of us.  Soon, we lost contact with each other.  By the time I arrived at the cables, there was a crowd.  It was noon.  From the base to the top is a 425-foot vertical rise.  I was excited; my heart was pumping and I couldn’t wait to start climbing the cables.  I found it exhilarating.  I reached the apex of the rock, altitude of 8,842 feet, with surprising ease.  I found a signal on my cell phone, so I placed a call to Pam to let her know that I was waiting for Roger to join me at the top.  I ran around taking pictures.  I checked the cables to look for Roger and Sharon.

An hour later, I started to worry.  No sign of Roger or Sharon.  And I was worried about not getting back to Curry Village before dark.  It was a relief finally to spot Roger at the base of the cables.  I shouted, “Roger, are you planning to climb up?”  I heard, “Yes!”  Between the crowds and his pace, Roger made it to the top about an hour later.  We took some quick photos, a short rest, left a message with Pam that we were starting our descent.  Roger said he last saw Sharon at the area where you have a view of Half Dome and Sub Dome.  It is a large flat area where hikers who decide not to make the final climb rest and turn back.  We did not meet up with Sharon until after we had descended and hiked just passed that area.  By then Roger and I were among the last 6 hikers down from the top.  Sharon had doubled back from down the trail.  She frantically asked hikers whether they had seen 2 Chinese guys.  Finally, one told her that yes, and one of them wore a sweat band (that was me).  Realizing that she had not missed us on our way down, she doubled back and met up with us, with great relief!  From that point on, darkness descended.  By the time we arrived at Little Yosemite Valley, it was totally dark.  And we had another 4.8 miles to go.  With one head-lamp among the 3 of us, we finally made it back to the Happy Isles area at around 11:00 pm.  Our hike took us 17 and 1/2 hours.

Roger summed up this memorable experience well:  “When I reached the base of the cables, I realized that I would never have another chance in my life time to accomplish this feat.  I’ve come this far, and as tired and exhausted as I am, I’m going to finish it”!  I love that spirit!

Pam and Wendell rushed to Happy Isles as soon as we reached them on our cell phones.  Pam had not received any of the previous calls I placed on the top of Half Dome.  To this day, we still hear stories of what she went through waiting to hear from us, not knowing whether we were all right.  Pam and Sharon decided not to accompany Roger and me when we rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Plans for future adventures include West Point and Cooperstown, NY.  Roger and I explored the possibility of going to Burning Man.  Even though he decided not to go after watching some YouTube clips, I am giving it some thought.  With my son, Jason’s encouragement, I think I want to experience Burning Man at least once in my lifetime.

5 thoughts on “Half Dome”

  1. hey cal (aka klay in our HORSE group), great recollection. As for Burning Man, go for it. I will be there in spirit. My speed now is Churning Man. lol

    1. Roger (aka pistol in our HORSE group), I intend to keep doing as much with you as possible to the end. We will never empty our bucket list; and that is the point, you and I intend to live our lives to the fullest in our remaining years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *