Monday, June 8, 2009

Half Dome Hike

Hiking Half Dome – Started on June 5, Friday in morning. Weather news was not good, there were chances of thunderstorm, rain and snow. It started raining Friday morning and everybody had some doubts.

One of the lines from my all time favorite book, ‘Alchemist’ by Paul Coelho
“when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

We saw snow on the way to Curry Village. Weather got wet and there was constant drizzle, but no heavy showers. Prem's shoes got wet very soon, and we bought him waterproof hiking boots. It worked really well for him, as he jumped into every puddle and was hyper without any sugar. Yosemite brought some real wildness in him. He was calm and excited at the same time. Of course, he slept very well both the nights. Sleeping bags helped as temperature went down to less than 30 degrees on Friday night.

June 6: I was too excited and woke up at 1:30, did some breathing exercise to calm myself, and then finally woke up at 5. Did my warm up exercises in the tent cabin, and was ready to hike with the group by 6. My backpack was ready a night before, however, I had to put food outside in bear-proof locker for the night. Weather was clear in the morning. We started the hike at 6:30. Nobody seemed worried about the weather any more.

First stop was top of Vernal falls, Manoj Nair was leading. He was in extremely good shape as he was hiking without much previous hiking history, no sticks and no hiking shoes. We waited for the group for few minutes, and then thought we can wait for them at top of Nevada falls. Reached Nevada falls in 1 hour and 40 minutes. I thought we kept up a good pace and almost covered half of the elevation. We waited for 40 minutes on Nevada falls, and then decided to go further. Long wait totally refreshed us and we felt that we just started the hike. We met with the rest of the group which went ahead of us as they spent most of their time on Vernal fall.
I thought we will be at base of the cables in another 2 hours. However, we were getting slower and slower with elevation gain and finally we came to the granite rock. I was under the impression that cables would come immediately, they did not. We have to climb endless uneven stairs carved into rock, somewhat narrow and dangerous, for a long time. I saw couple of women dragging on their bottoms coming down as there was no hand rail or any kind of support. This was an uncertain element, rock was somewhat wet and if one panicked, it makes it more difficult. I was not sure whether to use sticks or not, as there was no dirt, just hard rock. Waited for a sign, and let other climbers pass by to assess how are they doing. Some people did put the sticks back in their backpack and were using their hands for support to climb up. However, some people were using sticks. I calmed myself down, did some breathing exercise and decided to just follow the next person with sticks. It worked.

Heard Rajesh from behind, he was hobbling and broke away from the group behind. Now it is Rajesh, Manoj and I. Another 20 minutes, we were at the base of the cables, exhausted. It was getting extremely foggy, clouded and there was a drizzle. We could not wait for long, decided to dump our backpacks and just took a water bottle. The weight lifting gloves/grip did not appear to help much on cable. Cables were wet and cold. Climb at some places were extremely steep, couple of times I thought it was insane (why could not they carve the steps here like they did at the rock below !!!). Cable was crowded, and ascent was slow as people were coming down. Slow ascent proved to be a blessing, as we did not take proper rest before the ascent.

After reaching at top, legs were stiff and required a lot of stretching. However, we could not stop more than 15 minutes on top as it started snowing a little. Rajesh was cramping and his hands were numbed. We then saw Ajith, Jose, Manoj TN and Thomas. Took some pictures. Ajith was speechless, Jose was cramping, but Thomas was the only one dancing. We looked the watch, it was 12:30. It took us 6 hours climbing up. It was longer then my expectations of 4 hours.

I thought climbing down the cables and then uneven steps in rock would be more difficult, it was not. Checked my socks at bottom of steps, both the pair (inner and outer ones) were wet, changed both of them. Waited another 20 minutes for the rest of the group, but then decided to go down with Manoj and Rajesh. Came back the same way, Mist Trail, now all the rocks were wet and slippery, drizzle was steady. It made the descent slow. Finally it took 11 hours, one apple, one kashi bar, two liters of water/Gatorade, 300 ml of chocolate, milk, couple of sore muscles but no blisters and lot of support from the hiking group to complete the hike. I think for any other day, it could have been done in less than 10 hours. In hind sight, without the insanity factor of cables and uncertainty of steps, this hike may not have been so memorable.

Came down to find out that Promila saw a bear outside our tent cabin in the morning, just after I left. Our neighbor took pictures and showed it to me. As expected from a super Mom, it did not slow Promila down. She had her day planned with Prem, full of activities. Prem made it to Jr. Park Ranger and then Yosemite Little Cub; he had to earn those badges, one cannot simply buy them. I learned from the Jr. ranger that one has to raise their hands and shout if they encounter a bear to scare them away and that human food is bad for bears as it decays their teeth faster (with all that soda and chips), it is better to eat berries and grass.

Ate at Curry Pavilion buffet, excellent food; gained back all the weight and much more. Met the group outside, figured as there was no alcohol in the Pavilion they would not be coming in. Prem was not interested in adult chatting, so had to leave. Promila asked me later as who brought their wife with them and why I did not introduce her to this woman, and I replied nobody brought wife except me. She again persisted, did anybody bring their girl friend, and then it dawned on me, she might be confused by Ajith long locks in dark. We had a good laugh for quite some time.

I stretched a bit but my legs were getting little stiff in night. Put some Bengay, and it helped immediately. This is the first time in my life, I slept with pain reliever on one side and constant pain on other!

June 7: Had a great sleep, and ready to do couple of other hikes and explore the valley with Prem. Did Lower Yosemite Falls hike and Meadow loop with him which has breath taking view of Half Dome and North Dome. These were easy hikes, but spectacular sceneries, Yosemite was at its best, as it was sunny on Sunday and with two days of rains and snow, all the falls were on their full majestic flow. Ate lunch at Village grill, another really good place to eat. Watched Indian museum and saw Sprite of Yosemite film; excellent sound track.
Headed back home at 3:30, ate cherries and apricots at Oak Dale, reached home at 6:30.

Big thanks to Manoj E for his planning and organization skills in making this trip happen. Some hikers mentioned that this was the hardest thing they had done in their life. I still think parenting is the hardest thing. However, there were some parallels, just like parenting, there was some
uncertainty and you had to go with flow at times, you needed patience, it was a serious endeavor; however it was fun, felt quite fulfilling and exciting; and a memory to cherish forever.

Pictures at


  1. Good write up. Liked the desc of Ajith, his long hair turned eyes whereever he went :-)

  2. Thanks for the nice write up.

  3. great trip..........adventure keeps life's spirit alive.

  4. Wow.. Maneesh, I can not forget your spirit of DCE days.. but you are keeping it alive. Great inspiration team. - Jitu

  5. This is cool..Great write-up as always...cheers Deepak

  6. nice write up.....its always good to try new things in life and encourage other ppl...great job...all the best for further interesting trials