Saturday, July 22, 2006


Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 7

Three-thirty am. We woke to the deep darkness of a moonless, early morning. The stars were thick, dense, bright, and beautiful. The campground was quietly sleeping around us, as we crept out to the trail.

After the previous night's bear incident, we were all a little jumpy. Any noise, any twig snap, any strange crunching sound and flashlights flicked through the woods, landing briefly in the holes of blackness, only find them empty. With only one muffled cry of "eyes", the hike proceeded without animal incident.

Sunrise Over Cloud's Rest
The goal was to make the top of the mountain by sunrise. Given that we really only had about an hour after we left camp to make the nearly four mile hike, we didn't quite achieve this goal. Enjoying the sunrise on the side of the mountain, was still worth while. The way the rays of light descend over the range certainly reminded me that this amazing universe of random creation has some fantastic structures.

We arrived at the last quarter of the trail at about six in the morning. The surprising thing was that we were not the first group there. A group of hikers had woke left from the valley floor at midnight. They had hiked eight miles before most people in the valley had eaten breakfast. That, and they still had to hike back down to the bottom.

That last quarter of the trail is the hardest part. Of that group of four hikers, only one had the courage to take the top of the mountain. You see, it involves hiking up over eight hundred feet of elevation, with a very steep grade, using a pair of steel cables as hand-holds.

We sat for a few minutes and stared at those cables.

Half Dome cables
Originally uploaded by RobFargo.
We had come a long way for this, though. The climb had been the goal of the trip, the intended highlight, the true challenge of the week. There was no going back without conquering those cables.

At the bottom of the cables sits a pile of leather gloves for climbers to use. While climbing Half-Dome is a challenge, it still draws an amazing volume of traffic. That's the other main reason that we left so early. We didn't want to be dealing with traffic on those cables.

I grabbed a pair of gloves, grabbed the cables and started climbing. I had no desire to be stuck, frozen due to heights or the feeling of being exposed on the side of what was almost a cliff face. It turned out that I had less a fear of those things, and more a fear of tiring out. Climbing with the cables was nearly all arms. So I just kept going, with few pauses or breaks. I would climb from rest point to rest point[1], pause for a moment, tell myself I was doing good, and head for the next one. One by one, all the way to the top, in under twenty minutes.

This left me at the top, alone, waiting for the rest of my crew. I waited a good ten minutes at the top, wondering, listening for their arrival. I later learned that they had worked incredible hard to make that top. Rob followed up the rear, acting as a drill sergeant to get Jen and Liza to the top.

Halfdome, Conquered
On this particular climb, Liza and Jen are my heroes. Both of them were really in no condition to climb that mountain. Jen, with her bum knee, and Liza, with a back that had gone south of cheese, were in a lot of pain. Yet, climb they did and they reached the top.

We stayed up on the top for a about a half hour. Not long, given the difficult of getting to the top, but I, for one, was more nervous about the way down. I was right, in part, as the climb down took quite a bit longer then the way up. It's a lot more difficult finding footing when climbing down backwards (but there's no choice in the matter, there's really no way to go down forwards). It was more tiring as well, given that one is constantly lowering oneself to the then next foothold, solely with arm strength. I was very happy to reach the bottom.

We were buoyant, happy, cheerful, and practically floating down the mountain back to camp. It was only eight in the morning, and we were already passing throngs of hikers make their way to the top. People were surprised to see us already heading back. Knowing what we knew about the climb we all spent our hike back down picking out those who could and couldn't make it to the top[2].

We were back to camp by nine in the morning. We still had the hike to the valley floor ahead of us, but at that point we were still bubbling with the thrill of our accomplishment. Nothing beats the feeling of conquering a challenge.

[1] These were two-by-fours laid between the cable poles.

[2] I know, we're bastards. But I really felt like we had earned it.


knobboy said...

Hey mon your b/w shot of the half dome is very, very well done. When I was into b/w stuff, I was a huge fan of the ZoneSystem, so I've seen plenty of AA's work.

And this one of yours? Compares a lot better than you give yourself credit for.

Anonymous said...

Your photo of the sunrise is pretty amazing. It captures the occassion, the essence of it so well--it takes me back which few photographs have the ability to do. --Gnarly Foot