Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Half Dome Decoded (Father's day) June 21, 2009

Half Dome Decoded :

Hiked Half Dome on father’s day (June 21, 2009). Though the first time (June 6, 2009) was special, as it was my parent’s anniversary, and it was dedicated to them, this time was extra special, on father’s day, for Prem. This hike turned out to be more exciting than I thought. I knew that weather is going to be fantastic, and it was sunny, with cool breeze in 70s.

I asked Som, who was not regular in our hiking group, to hit the gym and do 60 minutes for last 10 days. He did. We started on Saturday morning around 10 AM, big thanks to Som, since he drove, I could enjoy all the scenery. This time we stayed in time share condos of Manoj E at Bass lake. Just for the record, they were fantastic for the price we paid. Three families with small kids could have easily stayed, it has fire place, full kitchen and 2.5 baths; heated swimming pool and hot tub.

June 20: We reached Bass Lake around 1:40, and just went into town, walked around and then went to beach (yes, lake had couple of artificial beaches). Maria’s and Mimi’s families joined us later. We ate dinner already, thanks to Swapna for very tasty fried lemon rice. She packed up so much that it lasted us three days, even after we all ate them twice a day. Som was complaining, that there was no way he could lose weight. Chris and Anand were cooking dinner, and boy they know their cooking; everything was sinful. I liked Shrimps, and on asking about the recipe, I was told, just grilled with a slab of butter and basil garlic powder. Now that explains why I weighed 3 pounds more after the hike; I felt corrupted. Just got my cholesterol checked today, it was 24 points up. Thanks Chris, Anand and Swapna, next time I will be careful !

June 21: Thanks to Promila, both Som and I had a woolen cap, she knitted whole night, while chatting with Mimie and Maria. When we woke up at 3 AM, she finished knitting and made us breakfast. We started from Bass lake at 4 AM, after reaching at Trail Head parking lot, Som was not feeling well. The coffee and sandwich, along with windy road for one hour and 30 minutes, did not sit well with him. He had to go the rest room. When I told him that restroom is 10 minutes from here, he was incredulous. I could see he has some doubts about the hike. Just at that time, another car stopped near us, and there is young Brazilian woman came out and asked us if we are going to hike the Half Dome, and if she could accompany us. And in no time, all of the Som’s doubts disappeared. By the time we reached the restrooms, which were on the way to hike, he was comfortable; and was saying walking helped him. But we all know what really motivated him.

We took the Mist Trail, and were on top of Nevada falls in 1 hour and 40 minutes, took a break of 30 minutes there. We met the Brazilian woman there. After another two mile hike, we met Tom, from San Mateo, who chatted with us. He wrote a book on hiking in Santa Cruz mountains, which was apparently in 8th edition. He showed us his pictures, when he hiked Half Dome, first time in 1969; he was 19 year old. It was astounding to see that The Cables looked exactly the same. With all the technology advances in last 40 years, one would think that they would put an escalator up there ! He was backpacking and carrying just 15 pounds, which was 4 pounds less then what I was carrying.

Finally, we were at steps, took a break of 20 minutes, and this time I felt like the mouse in the maze who gets to his food faster second time. As per recommendation of my office colleague, James, I bought the latex coated gloves from Home Depot. They had a really good grip, and we were up in 20 minutes, and total time it took this time to go up was 5 hours and 20 minutes. This time it was much easier, no pains or stiffness or cramps at all. It is just amazing how much part mind plays over matter, if one is relaxed, know what is expected, the task get easier and easier. I felt like I could hike another couple of miles from there easily.

We spent over an hour up there and met Veru, the lone shy hiker, from southern part of India. It was his first time too. He wanted to do Mt Whitney and was preparing very methodically for that. We exchanged some information, like his favorite heroine, when he was 15, was Urmila; and he sometimes thinks about her, mostly in shower; he is 27 now but as we all know that childhood memories last forever.

Coming down, again this time, couple of women, got scared, and could not look downwards. It took much longer. After coming down the cable, Som’s backpack was bitten into by squirrels, they cut the zipper, so it was no longer working; and got two of his power bars and a sandwich. He was mildly upset and looking for a shoulder to cry on. Now he was chatting with everybody, showing up his backpack, men were laughing, and women were naturally sympathetic.

We climbed down at a fast pace. And met Nandu, my office colleague, coming down. He reminds me of a humming bird, thin and tiny and always full of energy. He was doing the hike after 10 years. Just before we reached Nevada falls, we were shushed by a couple of hikers, who showed us a rattle snake. In another 5 minutes of walking, Som stopped me, pointed a bear, less than 50 yards away. My perception of bear was from the zoo, that they are big and lazy, and move slowly. This bear was really big, probably over 10 feet but very quick and nimble on feet. We saw two cubs around. She saw us and charged towards us. At that time there was nobody else on the trail. There was no way we could have outrun her. We moved a few steps back. I think the bear did not want to move much away from the cubs, so she stopped. By now, other hikers had joined us, nobody knew any alternative path, and the bear and the cubs were just playing on the trail. Nobody wanted to come in direct sight of the bear.

Finally, we remembered, as Prem told me in his Jr Ranger training, if you are confronted by a bear, raise your hands and make loud noises. It did work, and bear, along with cubs, finally relented. Som tried to whistle, but could not. I thought his hands were shaking; first mauled by squirrel, then seeing a rattle snake and finally being chased by bear; it was only natural. But as per him, it was due to salt from the sweat.

After reaching Nevada falls, another woman started chatting with him, as if she knew him. “Good to see you again”. He kept playing along. “Did you complete the hike, I just went up 300 yards on cable and then came back; however, photos shot by me are better than my boy friend’s. He did go all the way up.” After few minutes of listening, he did not know what else to say, Som blurted, “Happy Father’s day”. And she said, “Thank You”.

When we were at bottom of Vernal Falls, a South Indian woman asked Som, “How far is it?” Som replied, “How far is what?”. She was confused, and asked incredulously, “Did you go all the way to Nevada falls ?” And when Som replied, politely, “No not Nevada falls, Half Dome.” She exclaimed, “Ayyoooorammma !”

We took a bath at Curry Village, and had a beer. Promila and Prem joined us and told me about their exciting day. Unlike last time, I did not have any pains. I think having good hiking boots, extra pair of socks, hiking poles with rubber grip at bottom, stretching your muscles periodically, good company and support from your family are key to a successful Half Dome hike. While I was hiking, the super mom was able to get Prem into a street play. This was an impromptu play and it was pleasant to listen to what Prem did in it.

June 22, 2009 - Morning we started for Mariposa Grove, to see the giant redwoods. These are the biggest living creatures in the world. Some of them over 3000 year old. This is the first thing that came under Government protection. Back when, there was no concept of National Park, Abraham Lincoln, signed up a law, that Mariposa grove is not to be touched or used for any commercial purposes. I think, everybody could sense, that this grove is sacred and needs to be protected some way. Gaylan Clark, in 1850s, was diagnosed with Tuberculoses, and was given 6 months to live. He came to Mariposa grove, and lived here for another 40 years. When ranger was telling us this story, an old man asked, I heard that later he married to a 27 year old woman, was that correct? Ranger did not know if it was true, but some said, yes that was true, and that the ageless nature of redwoods rubbed on the people who lived around it. Well, for all the good reasons to remember and visit Mariposa grove, this is the one that stuck in people imaginations.

Well, the day was not over yet. We reached back Milpitas at 5 PM. And were ready to go to Father’s day recognition dinner organized by Milpitas Post and Kiwanis club, at Omega restaurant. We walked to the restaurant, and I have to read what Prem wrote for me (as dictated by Prem to his mommy Promila). It was published in Milpitas Post.

“Why is my dad is the best dad in Milpitas? Because he talks nicely and plays ‘Goal-Block-Goal’ with me and he does his work nicely. He watches cricket and he plays Cribbage on computer (I just played once on computer to teach him the rules). My dad also plays Cribbage with me too. I was teaching dad soccer. He is playing soccer well (not true). He hikes with me. He hikes on big huge mountains. He does rock climbing down the mountain (not true). We go to Snoopy town (Santa Rosa) and Snoopy Museum (Charles M Schultz Museum) with my dad. He cooks with my mom and eat fish sandwiches a lot for breakfast. And my dad picks me up from school and he puts me in the school (sometimes). I love my dad. ”

Somebody once said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” This was one such weekend, where there were plenty of such moments, literally, while pulling up the cables on Half Dome, being chased by the bear, looking at the Giant Sequoia trees or reading what Prem wrote for his father !
For all pictures and videos related to this trip, please click on


  1. Wow!!! What a wonderful Fathers Day weekend!!! Thanks for the great weite-up :)

  2. Maneesh nice write up. Looks like this hike was more eventful than last one.

  3. Oh I missed the rattle snake and the bear family,

  4. Wow !! That was wonderful narration Manish !
    I cannot imagine a better Father's day !

  5. Good one Maneesh. A rare acheivement for sure