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Hiking Half Dome

Posted Nov 18 2009 10:02pm

Here is a post from one of our readers, Sonnie of Temecula. Although her objective was not completely achieved she was able to experience something that the majority of Americans will never be able to do due to a lack of living a healthy and fitness directed lifestyle. In the process she also learned something about herself. Thanks for the contribution Sonnie.

Hiking Half Dome:

My second oldest son just left for the Coast Guard this week. Prior to leaving he wanted us all to hike Half Dome in Yosemite. We made the trip over the Fourth of July weekend, a trip that I will never forget!

We set up camp on the Valley Floor. Talking with many people that work within Yosemite, it was suggested we beat the crowd by hiking seven miles to an area we could pitch a tent at, spend the night, and then hike to the top of the Dome and back to the Valley Floor the following day. Sounded great! We got a Wilderness Permit and a bear canister and took off at 12:20 PM Tuesday afternoon.

We packed our backpacks and headed out. As soon as we hit the trail I was worried - it was straight up hill and my pack was 25-30 lbs. I plugged along, trying to keep up with my 18 year old son and his friend, but it was amazing how fast they could walk and how slow we were. I kept telling myself I was "pacing" myself and they would run out of energy - ha! It took us until 7:00 PM to reach the area we were allowed to setup camp.

After we collected firewood, filtering water from the stream to fill our water bottles and ate, we decided to go to bed - we wanted to get up around 6:00 AM to climb to the top of the Dome. I carefully packed the Bear Canister, putting all trash and the following day's food in the canister. I immediately realized I had a problem - I had over estimated the amount of food we would be storing that night. My husband has a "scent proof" fanny pack, so I decided to pack the next days P & J sandwiches, protein bars and all of the other "smelly" things in there (sunscreen, lotion, etc.) My husband then hung the pack in a tree and placed the bear canister 100 yards away from camp.

At 11:30 PM our first visitor(s) came into camp....all 300 lbs of him! The pack was pulled out of the tree and the sound of the bear stomping up and down on the bear canister was heard. At 12:30 AM I woke to the sound of "sniff, snort, sniff". I bumped my husband and we rolled over to the site of this same (?) 300 lb bear in front of our tent (we had only the netting closed off on the tent) so we had a full view! I didn't want to breath, I was so freaked out to have a bear within 5' of our faces. It left, thank goodness, and I finally fell back asleep....until I woke up again at 2:30 AM, by the sound (and sight) of a bear trying to push down one of the trees. That was it, I decided I could not sit at camp feeling like I was a sitting duck, so we got up and decided to hike to Half Dome.
Off to Half Dome we went, in the dark and without any food. It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, but after about a half hour I realized how tired and hungry (okay, I know it was only 3:30 AM) I was. There was a bigger problem - this part of the hike was by far the worse! My son had to keep encouraging me, "come on Mom, I know you can do this". At one point he took my hand and pulled me, making sure I would stay motivated. I thanked him repeatedly as I needed this support because I just wanted to give up! Then we hit the granite stairs I had heard about.

When we started climbing the stairs it was still dark, I had no idea what I was climbing- just pushing myself to climb one after the other. It was now about4:30 AM and a red glow was just noticeable in the distance - it was the sun beginning to rise. My son wanted to watch the sunrise while at the very top. I told him to go ahead. My husband and I continued to climb the stairs, still in the dark. Again I felt like giving up, but I had come so far. I began climbing the stairs using my hands too - luckily we were the only ones making our way up these last few hundred feet, nobody could see this poor woman crawling up the stairs through tears, determined to finish this trip.

When my husband realized I was crying he made me stop and sit down. I sat there and sobbed (and sobbed and sobbed) because I felt like such a failure. He told me I had done something that so many still had not and it wasn't worth risking my life to continue this hike. I cried a little more and tried to get my husband to let me finish, but again, he told me I had done a wonderful job and should be very proud. I then remembered a post by Helen regarding a bike trip she attempted up Palomar Mountain. I thought about the amazing changes she has made (seeing her before and after pictures) and how much this story now meant to me. I felt better knowing that I just experienced the same thing as she did and I would be back again.

My son and his friend made it to the top (we could hear them scream from where we sat when they reached the top). When they came down we began the climb down the granite stairs. After packing up the tents we hiked down the mountain. It was so painful going down that mountain. It was like climbing stairs going up and now it was like climbing those same stairs coming down - it seemed like it would never end. Luckily we ran into a group of guys that had been camping not too far from us, after telling them our story they gave us some almonds, fruit roll-ups and a protein bar. It was so good to eat! After 19 miles and 24 hours later we were back to the Valley Floor.

We drove home and went to bed. When I got up the next day I could not walk. My calves were so tight - they were hard to the touch, you could not push on my calf and indent it at all. I soaked in the jacuzzi, stretched and had my husband massage my calves - oh did that hurt! It took four days before the pain was gone - both physically and mentally. I have decided that I do want to attempt this again (minus camping in the woods -having bears that close to me was enough!). However, I am frightened to do it again, I do not want to fail twice. I am not positive that it will be next year that I make the climb, but I will do it again - I have to, for me.
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