Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tears and Triumph - Hiking Half Dome

Half Dome at 530am

What a whirlwind few days it has been. I am sitting here on my couch trying to do some pressure release therapy on myself. I never thought just crossing my legs would provide such relief. Let's just say that when I put my legs up on my mini table like I normally do, instead of my calf muscles nicely flattening out and being all comfy, it's like I am laying them on top of two apples. My calf muscles are so tight I walk like I have braces on both legs.

How did I get here? Well, I conquered physical feat #2 of 2011: hiking Half Dome.

I never fully doubted I could do it, but there were some fears. Would my feet hold up? Could I get over the heights (even though I've never had a full blown fear of heights)? Would my legs give out from the 7 or so miles of constant uphill? Would I freeze when I got to the cables? How about if I managed to get up but couldn't get myself to go down?

The stairs up the Mist Trail
These thoughts, plus many more, were constantly playing out in my head the whole way.

I definitely was not the fastest in the group. The constant barrage of stairs and uphill climbs definitely had me winded. I was thankful for breaks here and there to catch my breath and give my glutes a break.

But the views were breathtaking. The last time I hiked just a portion of this trail we were in a drought. The Mist Trail was hardly misty. This time it felt like I was walking through a really windy rainstorm. I likened it to a hurricane, but obviously have not been in one of those. A simple poncho really didn't help a bit.

But on to the tears and triumph. Let's just say the crying started before I even got to the cables and was really unexpected. I cry when frustrated, but not sure I thought I'd cry from fear. Maybe I was frustrated of my fear - who knows.

The route up the sub dome and dome
Before you get to the cables you have to climb what is called the sub-dome. You can see the sub-dome route to the right - it's the switchback portion that goes halfway up before you dip down to the start of the cables.

S-C-A-R-Y is an understatement. Not only is it just steps carved into a side of the mountain, but at times they weren't really wide and sometimes they disappeared all together so you were just hoping you didn't slide off the face of this rock. Enter: the tears.

After some deep breaths, prayer and some motivation from friends, I continued on.

The cable portion - those little specks are people!
Then I see the cables. Daunting. I sat at the top of the sub-dome for a good 20 minutes before a group all decided to go and I figured I should go with them or have to go up alone. The gloves I brought were not going to cut it (too slippery), so I found a pair in the pile at the bottom of the cables that were nice and wet inside from someone else's sweat - at this point I didn't care.

Going up? 
And up we went. I don't know what the exact incline on this was, but it had to be around the 70-degree range. It was STEEP. At that point I was thanking Chalene Johnson for working my arms, back and shoulders so much over the previous months. I didn't rely on my legs too much because I didn't want to slip.

I really don't know how long it took, but luckily the cables weren't too crowded. I would estimate after 20-25 minutes we were at the top. It felt good.

The views at the top were amazing - you really feel like you are at the top of the world. We went from about 4000ft elevation to about 8800ft elevation in about 6 hours. To look down and see where you started really was unbelievable.

Then it was time for picture taking and seeing who could get the closest to the edge and make me feel nauseous by doing so. I managed to get on my butt about 5ft from the edge and scoot just far enough out to get a toe over the edge, but others were sitting on the edge with their feet hanging over. No way for me.
That's me! Toe over the edge. 

I was even amazed that there was still snow at the top and little critters running around. Someone said one was a marmot and I think there was a squirrel too. I had to think, what the heck are they finding up here for food?

Going down!
We hung out a bit, rested our feet, ate some snacks and then headed down. I was dreading this a bit. By the time we hit the bottom of the cables my death grip had killed my wrists and my knees were starting to scream at me. Other than being tired and a little fearful, the whole way up hadn't been too remarkable in the body pain areas.

That was about to change.

The combination of exhaustion, downhill (no bueno for the knees) and the forming blisters on my feet really made it a tough hike home. Knowing I had 8 or so miles ahead of me killed the spirit just a bit. We had decided to take a different trail back to the bottom since it offered more switchbacks to hopefully help with the knees, but it didn't help much other than give me another mile of exercise.

And the last 4 miles took FOR. EV. ER.

We rocked Half Dome!
By the time we got back to the car, as hungry as I was, I could have sat on the asphalt behind the car with my shoes off for a very long time. It felt that good.

Overall, I am so proud of what me and my friends accomplished. I know a lot of people have done this hike before, but I also know a lot more people have not and never will. It's definitely not for the faint of heart and to be a part of the group who pushed themselves to do something that difficult feels awesome.

And to accomplish one of my 2011 goals times TWO feels doubly awesome.


  1. Tonja you did a great job writing this! It's so perfect! I am so proud of you and what you accomplished! That hike was NO JOKE and to make it all the way to the top!! WOW! Way to go!

  2. I am so proud of you! The hike down from anywhere is always the worst part! Did you do the John Muir trail down?


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