07 July 2012

Yosemite: Half Dome

Yosemite National Park

This is a multi-day trip. If you haven't read it, you might want to start at the beginning.

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

Ah, morning. Time to attack Half Dome for the rest of us who haven't already done it the same day as Clouds Rest. I got up plenty early to beat the heat and find out a little bit about a local bear in the area. This bear, it seems, likes packs. In the night, one of our group awoke to this bear chewing away on his son's backpack. He shooed off the bear, which the bear obligingly did while carrying the pack, empty of everything but a pair of dirty socks. He gave chase since that is sort of a needed piece of equipment, ending up plunging through the nearby meadow with its sounds of water flowing in stocking feet generating a very dirty pair of socks in the process. The bear did drop the pack after a couple short chases and it was retrieved, muddy but still quite serviceable.

While we were listening to this tale, another member camped a fair way up the hill came down to say he had a problem. In the night, someone had come and taken off with his backpack. This was going to make the last few miles down into the valley with the rest of his stuff, not to mention the difficulty in buying needed gas without cash, credit, or identity that were all tucked away in the pack. He set off on a search of the area to locate it, but a neighbor found it in their camp, so the search was nice and short. The pack was torn, but could be made to work for the downhill journey.

One more decided not to head up Half Dome and instead head down and out that day. She had just had knee surgery and had been up the dome many times before, so didn't see the need to stress her knee on the subdome portion of the route. Also, the fishing was lousy in that stream. There were all sorts of 5-6 inch fish who were too small to bite the hook and one 8 inch fish who wasn't having any of it. One of the remaining wasn't expected to make it to the top and her husband would probably stick by her, but the rest headed out to the dome after a bit of breakfast.

Half Dome and the remaining moon
A look at Half Dome and the subdome that serves as a shoulder under the remaining moon.

We quickly made it to the spur trail, even stopping to remember sunscreen on the way. From there, we started to climb back up the few hundred feet we'd dropped and a few hundred more.

a mule deer out foraging in the morning
One mule deer that was only mildly annoyed by the nearby humans as it walked a short distance off from the trail.

momma wild chicken and one of her chicks
This mother grouse and her four or so chicks weren't worries about the humans at all as they wandered about on the trail.

Snow Creek Trail switchbacking scarily
The Snow Creek Trail cutting its way down the far side of the valley.

Half Dome Trail
Our trail continues on in a mix of granite and dirt, still not yet to the subdome.

Reaching the subdome, there was no one to check our passes yet. There were already people coming down, some of them even day hikers. There were a few more resting by the side as they psyched themselves up to go on. There even seemed to be a camper, although a sign soon after would imply he shouldn't have been on the dome above 7600 feet and it is 7800 at the checkpoint at the bottom of the subdome. We started up the twisting and uneven granite stairway at the bottom of the subdome. Soon on the way, my fellow travelers spotted a head sticking up out of a hole in the rocks holding up the side of the trail. It tasted the air with its forked tongue, then pulled back its rather wide jawed head. Dark brown diamonds were visible on its back as it slithered along the outside of the rocks, and then just a glimpse of the end of a rattle as it quietly retreated from the hikers. The warning went out down the trail that here was a rattlesnake, although it was already unneeded.

people coming up the subdome
People climbing up the subdome. The rattlesnake was by the large tree on the left. You have been warned!

The subdome trail eventually gets less steep, which is where it quits having steps and becomes a granite slope to find your own route up. I chose a route switchbacking along at a nice grade. For those in our group that went toward the dome today but didn't make it, the route chosen was turning around because they would have preferred a few steps on something that steep. With one last drop, we arrived at the cables and a pile of gloves. I had none, so selected a pair of knit things with rubber palms marked "Berkeley" and tried them out on the cable. These showed no signs of the rubber pealing off while another brand that were advertised as only used once so far seemed to mostly be losing their palms. My new gloves stuck to it with little grip needed, so I started up the cable.

gloves and a few other things
The glove pile that has gathered since the previous Sunday (today is Saturday), technically littering. There are a few other things in it, cameras and radios and waterfalls that presumably took the plunge down between the cables.

The cables were one long climb, but all of the scary was still back on that one section of Clouds Rest the day before. The rock between them has been worn smooth. The posts that hold them up are about every 10 feet and most of them have a wood board across them, which allows easy resting even if your shoes aren't gripping at the current slope. Occasional large stone steps made a few segments extra difficult. There was no hurry to get up them at this hour, everyone below was happy for the rest as well. Looking up, I could count the rungs until the slope changed to something less. A shorter segment, and it reduced again. finally there were cables, but the slope was less than even at the top of the subdome.

top of the cables
The end of the cable line on Half Dome with Clouds Rest in the background.

The top has two domes, a shorter one strait along from the cables and the peak to the north. Of course, I went to the north for the peak. A bit of lunch and watercolor sketching and picture taking (even taking a movie of much of the view), I made a fruitless search for the USGS markers. I simply could not find any.

marmot on the diving board
A marmot sits on the diving board enjoying the view of the valley.

a look down
Don't look down! An attempt to capture the more than 3000 foot drop.

the diving board
A bit of rock sticking out, so very popular for the "see where I am!" pictures. I refrained.

Tenaya Canyon and Clouds Rest and others
A look down Tenaya Canyon with Clouds Rest to the right and various domes along its edge including the quarter domes.

one last tree that is more of a bush
The one last tree remaining on the top of Half Dome. For certain values of tree.

After a while, I explored a little of the lower dome. From here, the views down the valley aren't too bad.

elaborate rock stacking
People like to stack high cairns on the top, and others like to knock them down as this one was soon a scattered pile again thanks to the efforts of a guy with a monopod.

tiny white flowers on very thin stems
A little more of the life trying to hang on at the top of Half Dome.

more domes in the valley wall
A few more domes in the side of the valley wall.

Heading back down the cables, there were a lot more people coming up now. A far greater number of them were wearing harnesses, as well. On the top, I'd seen one person who was wearing a rope tied to a cheap carabiner and her belt, a setup that only makes one feel safer without actually doing anything. On the way down, I saw all sorts of webbing harnesses, each attached to a couple carabiners so that even the posts holding the cable could be passed while remaining attached. Maybe half the people coming up then were harnessed. It was quite a production. Meanwhile, I just proceeded hand under hand down the cable trying to keep each arm doing the same amount of work so that neither got too tired. I returned my borrowed gloves, and a few minutes later the ranger came to take the whole pile away. That's what happens to litter.

a thin razor of rock sticking out and up
Rock with a razor edge that protrudes from the front of Half Dome as seen from the bottom of the cables.

One guy looked at all those people with their harnesses and decided to show off by going up the outside. Of course, that meant he had better grip on the rock while he climbed, so more of the climb could be leg instead of arm, and he still could rest on the wood beams that stick out a little or with an arm looped around the post. He did make a lot better time than the people fiddling with the climbing gear. The ranger made a comment that the folks with the harnesses might not actually be any safer considering the setup that they were harnessed to.

people still climbing and a few coming down
The afternoon crowd makes a dark stripe on the side of Half Dome as they fiddle with harnesses to stay "safe" or head up the outside to try to get there sometime today.

And so we proceeded down the subdome and the gentler trail below it. A moment here and there was spent at a good viewpoint. Getting to the spur junction, it was just half a mile about 150 feet back to camp as the afternoon heat really hit.

lower down viewpoint's view
The view of domes from lower down, taken in with a bit more lunch.

Back at camp, there was a bit of relaxation and hoping that pulling ourselves up a few hundred feet along cables wouldn't turn into extreme arm muscle pain later. (It didn't.)

the largest fish in the creek
One of a number of trout in Sunrise Creek. This one was the biggest I saw and lived under and undercut bank just upstream of the trail.

azaleas by Sunrise Creek
A few of the azaleas that were going by the side of the creek in their various states of life.

Continue reading: day 6

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 14 Jul 2012

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