Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year 2010

2010 proved to be another memorable year for me. Personally, following things stands out, not in any particular order

1. Hiking Nevada Falls in Yosemite with Prem, while Promila and Liz did Half Dome hike.

2. Running – This year, after struggling for some time, was able to finish two Half Marathons. Now running has become a part of my life. I never felt so strong in my life before.

3. Hiking Mt Whitney

This year proved to be very good year for Prem. Nebulizer which used to be a constant feature in our family room is now hiding somewhere in closet. No asthma episode for him. I can watch him eat Pizza at Birthday parties without much concern. However, healthy diet and natural cures continue to control his triggers (runny nose) very well. And I am very thankful for that.

Looking back, in 2009, major highlight was hiking Half Dome. However, most of the group who hiked with me at that time moved on to do other things. As I enjoyed hiking very much, I was looking for company where people have similar interest and fitness level. I met Chetan and Prasad (and later Nitin) on one my solo hikes on Mission Peak. Promila’s ginger tea (yes, she still wakes up earlier than me to make it so that I can take it on my 6 AM hikes) proved to be ice breaker and one thing led to another, I ended up doing some major hikes with them.

Big thanks to Chetan for detailing out Mission Peak to Monument Peak (though we missed Monument peak) hike in January, Berry Creek Falls and Rose Peak hikes in April, Mt Tallac and Mt Whitney in August. I am looking forward for his lead to continue doing different hikes this year.
I was fortunate enough to do some other major hikes with my old buddy Paul, who got me started to hiking at the end of 2008. I remember hiking in Alum Rock Park with him, and after a month of hiking on weekends, we did Mission Peak and I remember very well that my legs were shaking after I reached the top for the first time. Just like Chetan, Paul has eye for the details and knows most of the hikes in Bay Area and around. He led me and Liz (my manager) on some beautiful hikes; Pinnacles National Monument in March, Quick Silver Almaden in April, Nisene Park in June and Sierra Azule in November. Again next year, we are planning for a few major hikes.

I was very happy that Liz and Promila hiked Half Dome. I was blogging throughout the year on most of my major hikes. Surprisingly, I received more than dozen of ‘Thank you’ for my blog on Half Dome hike, as it helped other people in planning, preparing and getting it done. Also, I received couple of comments hinting that sometimes blog is too long, and few comments asking for more details. Let me be clear, main purpose of this blog is to document my journey and share it with my friends and family members who are in India. Also, later when Prem grows up, at some time, if he is interested, he could look at it to have some idea as what are the things, growing up, we did together.

Courtesy Prem and Promila, I admit shamelessly, that I was father of the year.

New thing which I learnt this year was running. My struggles with running has been very well documented, and apparently this also helped few people in taking up running. Thanks to Dave to lead long runs on different trails, that I am still able to continue running. It really helps to have some company with similar fitness level again. Few days I might be down a bit, when Dave leads, and other times I might be leading. I find running more challenging, as I lose running fitness very quickly if I did not run for 3-4 days. It is good to have Norm and Vimal also on few of these runs, as it keeps everybody motivated. Promila has also started running somewhat regularly now.

With Prem doing well in last few years now, Promila was able to get a 6 month contract this year and enjoyed working in a startup and getting back into job market. She was her usual self, doing everything with lot of energy and passion. Before the start of her job, Promila took some home projects. She took off the wall paper in living room, textured the walls and then painted them, probably 4 to 8 different coats for each wall. She experimented quite a bit and was very pleased with her effort. It was indeed a big effort and a totally new area for her to take on. We got one of our bathroom remodeled and enjoying our Jacuzzi tub almost daily. The handyman who helped us with bathroom remodel, further aided us in recovering some of the walls Promila textured and painted. Promila is looking for a new job now, and I am somewhat anxious that she gets something quick, before she decides to take on another home project.

Promila and Prem started Taekwando and both now hold Green Belt. I was taken aback to find out that they can do 20 pushups and to see Promila’s bruised knuckles. Prem and Promila have made major leaps in learning swimming. I know that swimming is considered great cross training for running, so started going with them for recreational swim, one day a week, while their swimming classes are off till next summer.

As I write this blog, I am in Carlsbad, next to Legoland. Big thanks to Manoj E this year (just like end of last year) for making it possible to send us this last minute unbelievable deal. We are using hot tub and heated pool almost every day. Promila was thrilled to find Costco across the street, and I realized how truly she enjoyed cooking. As I write these words, Prem read my mind and said that this is the 5th day on vacation and we haven’t eaten outside as yet. The main reason for this is Promila has been cooking and eating very healthy food that she has lost the craving for comfort food, in fact, most of the time, it repulses her. It showed up in our yearly check up, both of our cholesterol level are over 30 points down, compare to last year.

We spent couple of days with Som-Swapna-Jahnvi during this trip. We managed to get out and go to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which took us to 8800 ft from desert floor. To our surprise, there was 2 ft of snow at top and a lot of areas to do snowboarding. Prem was missing throwing snow balls and playing in snow this year, however, this made it possible. It was amazing to enjoy beach one day and snow next day. In hindsight, I think this is a real good way to do snowboarding as you avoid all that uncertainty of road conditions and weather and still can play in snow and come back down the same day. We did go to SeaLife Aquarium and Museum of Making Music (shows most of the instruments from 1890, and how changes in technology wiped out certain things).
Though I lost everybody from 2009 hiking group, however, joined/formed three new groups, two hiking and one running. And everybody in these groups reached new heights this year, literally. However, main thing was that we challenged and enjoyed each other’s company and had fun. Looking back, I feel that this is a normal human tendency to remember the year by what good has happened and holding onto the things you love. Abraham Lincoln had summed it up in this quote

“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.” ~

Happy holidays and we wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2011, filled with laughter and joy.

with love (Prem)

Promila - Maneesh

Sunday, October 3, 2010

San Jose Half Marathon – October 3rd 2010

This was my second official race, ever. My last one was on July 25, 2010. Thomas convinced me to sign up for this Half Marathon when we went to pick up the bib for San Francisco Half Marathon. As expected this was another highly organized event. My preparation for this event was better than the earlier one. This is what worked for me. I had couple of over 10 milers run, during my training. I ran only three days a week; Tuesday (30-45 minutes), Thursday (30-40 minutes) and then long run on Sunday (8-13 miles). Long runs were run at 9 min/mile pace or slower. Besides that I was hiking on Saturday (Mission Peak mostly) for 2 hours.

2 months before when I ran Half Marathon, my timings were 1:50:58. However, I ran 2nd Half of San Francisco Half Marathon; which means there was an elevation drop of over 300 ft; so I was always skeptical about this performance. San Jose Marathon was flat and it was a loop, so I was looking forward to see how would I do here. I was feeling lot more stronger than before. I thought if I could do 1:50, I would take that.

When race started, as expected, I forgot all about my pace and started running at a pace which I thought was comfortable; when I looked at my GPS, I was doing 7 minutes/mile. I finished 5K in 22:51. Though Thomas was ahead of me just by few seconds at this time, I did not see him. I finished 10K in 47:48. Till I finished 8 miles, I was still doing sub 8 min/miles. After that I started losing gas, and started walking through water tables (which were at every two miles). I knew that my cruise speed is somewhere near 8:35; so I did not mind slowing down. However, after running a big portion of the race at sub 8, it seemed to me that I was crawling. I finished my race in 1:47:01, behind Thomas 1:41:47.

I am happy with my progress in last two months of training. If you are a runner, you can appreciate as how difficult it is to shave off minutes from your last performance. Last mile I tried to run faster, however, my legs sent a signal that they might cramp; so I just kept my cruising speed. Promila called me at finishing line, she took my photo. Promila and Prem were waiting for me for all those 2 hours. I did not know that she took photos at 4th mile and she was able to capture Thomas, me and Radhika. Promila’s friend, Malai, just finished after me at 1:51:49; followed by Rajesh at 2:05:20, then Lindsey (my running counsel at office) at 2:07; Sudhakar at 2:16:09, and then Radhika at 2:40:56. We waited for Meenal for a long time, called her, did not know what happened. I just came to know she finished too. In one of the running book, it was mentioned that runner who run the marathon in 5 hours or more, compare to one who finish under 3; exert twice the effort, since they were running much longer, on their feet much longer. I have utmost respect for the people who in spite of knowing how hard it would be, came to run and finished it. By that logic, I would think that Thomas is the laziest of the bunch, did not want to put too much effort.

What’s next à Like I mentioned in my earlier blogs, that running is much harder than it seems. Hiking comes easier to me and much more enjoyable. I did not like the pressure of bettering my timings in running. Just like hiking, I want to enjoy my run, and it is difficult to do that in such a race. May be ultra running at lower pace might suite me. I have been doing my long runs with Dave (ultra-runner) and Norm; once in two weeks. We go to Ed Levin Park and Alum Rock Park; and do trail running which is much more fun and since lot of hills are involved, you do not worry about timings and enjoy the run. So till I have big improvement on my time, I do not think I would be enrolling for another Half Marathon, anytime soon. However, before I participate in any ultra-run, I might think of a full Marathon; not sure.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mt Whitney - August 30, 2010

Mt Whitney Hike (over 6400 ft elevation gain and 22 miles, altitude of 14505 ft)

Promila's sandwiches on the way
I have been looking forward to this hike for a long time. I had heard so many stories about Mt Whitney since I have been hiking for last two years; most of them were quite discouraging and daunting which added to intrigue of the challenge. First time I heard it from a person who had been hiking for last 12 years, hiked Half Dome (at that time I had not even hiked Half Dome); who said that he could not complete it as he was exhausted and had a big headache. Another person, mentioned that he started vomiting at the start of switchbacks (there are 97 switchbacks which comes after half of the hike is completed). Almost everybody mentioned that altitude would gets you, i.e. hike starts from the altitude where Half Dome ends and then goes on for another 6100 feet. I knew this hike needed both mental and physical strength. Since it was going to be a long hike, you need to carry more water and weight, means around 20 lb of backpack lugging around for 12-18 hrs; not just legs needed to be strong, your core needs to be strong. Since I was hiking and running for most part of the year, I did not do anything special. I was looking forward to this challenge and was more curious to see how I reacted to altitude.

Big thanks to Chetan who had done this hike few years back; and like for so many hikes earlier, he organized this hike too. He booked for permits in February; knew that best time to do the hike was in late summer when we would not need ice axes or crampons. He booked the camp site, rental car; constantly told us that this was the hardest hike of all. He broke the hike in segments, what to eat, when to eat, and when to turn back if we were not feeling well. The youngest guy in our group of four was the most informed and leading the hike. Though when he applied for permit, he did not anticipate that his son, who was born just few days after he applied for permit, would hardly give him time to prepare for the hike.

Rainbow Falls
Devils Postpile

Day 1 – (Saturday - August 28) - A day before on Friday, we picked the rental car. We did a mock packing on that day to ensure that all of our stuff could fit in the trunk (4 sleeping bags, 4 backpacks, 1 car camping tent and 4 small suite cases; along with hiking sticks and hiking shoes). We had to keep two of the sleeping bags in backseat. It worked out fine, as they proved to be support to lean on and catch some sleep at 5 AM in the morning. Promila, as usual, got up at 3 AM, and prepared some 10 yummy vegetarian sandwiches with greens, sprouts, Morning Start patty and Humus. Prasad’s wife too packed some real good sandwiches, which lasted us for breakfast and later for dinner. I started to drive from Fremont, and asked Chetan if he had the GPS for directions. He told me that he did not need GPS. I never ventured out without GPS, I was one of those who constantly missed exits and were hopeless without GPS. Apparently, Chetan knew all the roads around California. He had traveled to Yosemite on average 5 times a year. When I missed an exit, he quickly reminded me – ‘Dude – you missed the exit’; and once we reached Yosemite Valley, he took over. He drove us to Mammoth Lakes to show us Devils Post-pile (National Monument) and then we hiked to Rainbow Falls (total of 5 miles hike). Idea was to start getting used to walking at higher elevation and look at some beautiful scenery. Devils Post-pile are hexagonal/octagonal/pentagonal shapes, a geological wonder,60 ft high columnar basalt, which were naturally created by volcanic activities 1000s of years ago.

From there we drove to Lone Pine city (all on route 395 S). We went to visitor center to pick our permits and then headed to Whitney Portal (13 miles on Whitney Portal Rd towards East) to camp there. Idea was to eat outside, so apart from sleeping bags, we did not have any other car camping things. After eating sandwiches, we slept at around 9 PM, and idea was to wake up early, do our breakfast and hang around Lone Pine Lake (10,000 ft) to get acclimatized to elevation.

Whitney Portal Camp ground
Lone Pine Lake at 10,000 ft
Day 2 - Whitney Portal has just one store, where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Store was famous for pancakes. I shared the pancake with Chetan, and we both could not finish even half of it. I couldn't eat sweet syrup with pancake and Chetan found it amusing to see I was eating them with mustard. We relaxed a bit after heavy breakfast, and then started the 3 mile hike for Lone Pine lake. We had the permit for Monday, however, Lone Pine lake was just outside the permit area. It was a beautiful lake, surrounded by granite mountains. We hung around for 3-4 hours there, tried to rest. We started chatting with couple of other people there. This is when one person mentioned that wind was very chilly at Trail Campsite and it was freezing. There was a chance of snow. He further tried to scare us by asking if we had snow boots for the hike. This changed the mood in our camp. Already, everybody was uncertain because of altitude and length of the hike; and with snow fall sounding imminent, Chetan started asking us as what we thought. Initially, we thought of starting the hike at 1 AM in the morning; however, as per the weather forecast by this stranger, it was to snow in night. I told him that if it started snowing in night, we could delay the hike to get out later. I was willing to get out as late as 8 AM to give it a shot. However, Chetan was not amused to see this adventurous spirit and was worried that trail could be too slippery, and told us that he felt responsible for us as a group leader, and more or less had the right to put off the whole thing. We kept quiet and then decided to go to city and talked to ranger and get correct weather forecast and their opinion in another hour. I wanted to calm my mind down, and listened to my all time favorite book – Alchemist for some inspiration. Needless to say that I had to go through only couple of pages before I had to stop –

"At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny.

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. "When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery and put some money aside. When he's an old man, he's going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.

"He should have decided to become a shepherd," the boy said.

"Well, he thought about that," the old man said. "But bakers are more important people than shepherds. Bakers have homes, while shepherds sleep out in the open. Parents would rather see their children marry bakers than shepherds."

Ranger confirmed that weather was going to be better than before and chance of snow was only 20%. She further confirmed that this is very local thing and not a weather phenomenon which was going to stay for next few days. I was relieved to find out that hike was on. We came back around 6 and tried to sleep. As expected, I was too excited, and could not get any sleep.

Whitney Portal -
start of the hike
Day 3 - We woke up at 12:30 AM, and were at Whitney Portal at 1:30 AM. After taking couple of snaps at portal, we started the hike at 1:36 AM. Chetan ordered me to be in front, followed by Nitin, himself and then Prasad. I asked Nitin to be in front, as I did not want to rush everybody and wanted to go with group’s pace. Chetan, Prasad and Nitin had liquid Ensure before start of the hike and Chetan’s idea was to have Ensure every hour of the hike. I turned my GPS on to see that we average around 30 minutes/mile for first 6 miles of hike. Soon Nitin and I were ahead and waited for Chetan and Prasad after first hour, for around 9 minutes. We were getting cold quickly during our wait. At 4th mile (as per GPS which we came to know later that it might have stopped), we had to wait for full 40 minutes. Lot of other hikers passed. Apparently something was not working. Prasad confirmed that Ensure did not really work for him. Chetan quickly realized that it was too cold to wait for that long, and asked us to go further without waiting. This was around 4 AM, Nitin and I moved quickly to catch up with hikers who passed us while we were waiting. We soon caught up with few of them. And then before Trail Camp (upper camp for backpackers), we came across a stream which was dividing two big mountains. We did not know whether to cross the stream or not. One couple from Poland, who we just passed, caught up with us; and the girl quickly decided to cross the stream. She pointed to us that there are small rocks, put together on the side, indicating that we had to go over the stream. It was too dark to see the trail, even though all of us were wearing head lamps. We followed them, and after an hour of hiking, climbing on rocks, we knew we were not on the trail. We kept looking back and did not see anybody. And then we saw the head lamps on couple of other hikers on the another mountain on the right.

Consultation Lake
Now we knew for sure that we were not on the trail and not on the correct mountain. Since we had climbed up quite a bit, the distance between the mountains had increased. We pottered around to find way to jump to the other mountain. The Polish guy was very adventurous, and started climbing the rock; however, his girl friend got scared and asked Nitin if he could phone for help. Nitin, despite knowing that he did not have the signal at the portal, tried, and told her that he could not. Polish guy, after finding that his girl friend might be following us instead of him, returned back; and tried a different approach. We all climbed back a bit; and he found another way to get down and then climb over to the other mountain where we were intermittently seeing the headlights. We just watched him, and then on realizing that he was successful this time, tried to follow him. Nitin was much more at ease using his hands while I was slow on this technical climb. Since we had hiking poles, sometimes, I had to keep both the poles in one hand; and climbed just using one hand and two feet. I had to ask Nitin to slow down so that I could follow his steps on this tricky terrain. This had started to freak me out. Finally we reached the base of the right mountain and had to climb around 300 feet at almost vertical wall (70-80 degree angle). This mountain has lot of loose rocks and thorny bushes; so we could not use our hands to grab on the bushes. Loose rocks though provided us the footing but there was a danger of it slipping down and becoming unstable. We swore and sweated our way. And almost just 10 feet away from top; Nitin feeling comfortable asked me to that it would be good to capture in camera on what we just did. I just wanted to get the hell out of that hole. He finally took a video after we climbed back on trail. Lesson learned was that if you had hiked for couple of minutes without being on trail, turn around and retrace your steps.

Guitar Lake visible at Trail Crest
My body was buzzing with adrenaline rush. I was not prepared for this, and looking forward to the infamous 97 switchbacks. Day was breaking up, it was around 6:20 AM, we saw the Consultation lake in the distance, it appeared as a very dark serene water body. Soon we crossed Trail Camp; and looking for switchbacks. I saw a hiker coming down, I asked him as where were the switchbacks. He told me that this was them. We knew that last water stream to get the water was at switchback #23. I was carrying 3.5 liters, and so was Nitin. I still had around 2 liters and decided not to fill the water. Nitin stopped to get the water but it was frozen. It was cold so I kept pushing up to be warm. Based on Mission Peak and Mt Tallac hike, I knew Nitin was just few minutes slower than me for every mile. Since sun was already up and trail was totally visible, I decided to do final push for the top. I was still curious to find out as how I react to altitude. So far, no headache no nausea. I was surviving on regular Gatorade and cliff bars.

USGS seal at top of
Mt Whitney along with my
buddy of 3 Half Dome Hikes
I crossed the all the switchbacks and now I was on Pacific Trail Crest (last 2.5 miles). GPS was showing altitude of 13500 feet. Though once you reached Trail Crest, you get to see on other side of Sierra Nevada mountain range (Guitar lake above), it proved to be very deceptive as it kept going up and down; I winced every time it went down, as I had to climb back. These 2.5 miles proved to be the longest miles. I saw few people here who were vomiting and just gasping for breath. I was glad that I was not impacted so far. And then I saw the Smithsonian Shelter at the top of the Mt Whitney, indicating that my climb was over. I ran to it in excitement. I checked my GPS, it took 8 hours and 12 minutes. I thought this climb could have been completed in 6 hours had we not lost our way.

Log book at top of Mt Whitney
Checkout some of the comments
On Top of Mt Whitney

Wind was blowing hard and howling. Smithsonian shelter was open to take refuge from this cold. I took some pictures with my shoe; and then pull out both US and Indian flags to take pictures with them. Getting Indian flag was hard. However, my true desire got materialized when I convinced one Desi shopkeeper to loan the flag to me for a week. I signed up the log on the top and went into shelter and shared stories with other hikers. I waited for Nitin; after around 40 minutes of break, I calculated that even if he was 5 min a mile slow, 30 minutes should be enough for him to catch up. May be altitude caught up to him. So I decided to return back, around 0.8 miles down and at 13,900 feet elevation, I saw Nitin sitting on the rock, keeping his face down, his backpack was few feet away from him. He was looking gloomy, and his long face reminded me of Devdas. I asked him as how was he doing. He confirmed that altitude slowed him down, and his heart rate was getting quite high so he had to take frequent breaks. He further mentioned that he was determined to make it. Though he was saying those words, I was not sure. I chatted with him, gave him more details and decided to get down. I went another 100 yards, and decided to turn around. I remembered Chetan’s words which did not amuse me at the time that he felt responsible for the group; now I was feeling the same. By the time I reached his backpack, he was pissing away some 100 feet from the trail. He took a long time. He was surprised to see me back, and politely said that I did not have to be with him. We hiked another 2 minutes, and he was winded again. I checked my watch, and thought that it might take too long with this pace. I offered to carry his backpack; again as a gentleman he refused and told me that it was too heavy for me to carry both. I checked, it was heavy, as he was still carrying unfinished Ensure and lot of water. I suggested to exchange the backpacks and see if it felt better. I had only 800 ml of water left at that time. He carried mine, and it was much lighter. He still had to stop every 5 minutes. Finally, we made it. And it was worth to see the real excitement and pleasure on this face. We took lot of pictures, he signed up the log, took some pictures in shelter. We met the polish couple inside. I was surprised to see that it took them so long too.

With Nitin
Going down was fast, however, Nitin felt winded and woozy whenever we had to do some climb on Trail Crest. He was cursing his low calories Gatorade and Ensure. Lesson learned was that never to try something new on major hike. After Trail Crest, he was strong for rest of the hike. On switchbacks, I had a burning sensation in my eyes, I had to use my goggles. And then I remembered to put sunscreen too. I knew I am a bit dehydrated. I remembered the signs of dehydration that if I stopped sweating and peeing that means I was dehydrated. Unlike Nitin who was flooding the trail, mine was a trickle. I kept sipping water. In hindsight, I think I should have drank more. We took many pictures now going down, and Nitin was feeling quite strong now. I asked him if we could stop at Lone Pine lake again, he was not in mood to do even a bit of climb back. I looked at the watch, and knew that we had to reach early as warm food at store was available till 7:15 PM. We reached at around 6:15 PM. Chetan and Prasad were anxiously waiting for us. We took few pictures at portal again. We spent over 16 hours on trail and I was surprised to see that I did not have any cramps or pains or stiffness in legs in this hike. We ate at store. Chetan, again graciously offered to drive all the way back (8 hours) on next day. Even couple of days later, I did not notice any pains or cramps; however, I noticed my lips were sun-burnt and lost all the sensations.

Going back, we had again a lot of fun in the car. Chetan was a total geek. I was impressed with his use of iPhone. He knew which gas stations had cheapest gas, pissing points on the road, and funniest of all was the discovery of right turns. He was anal in finding the Starbucks or pit stop where he did not have to take left turns. He had a huge collection of Hindi and English songs. And in his spare time, he enriches the content by tagging these songs with movie covers. Be it cars, computers, NAS, wireless, TV, Hetch Hetchy reservoir, he had all the details in his memory. I am sure if he writes his own blog, he would have a great following. He was quick witted too, and pulled everybody legs. When I pronounced bear as ‘beer’; he was quick to crack up. We were driving behind the truck carrying Alhambra water. Prasad mentioned that anything start with ‘Al’ means it name would be middle eastern; Chetan was quick to say, “How about ‘Alcoholic’?” Four days together, it was given that we would have some disagreements, however, we got past all that and in the end it was a very memorable trip.

After completing the hike
Would I do it again ? Absolutely. Mt Whitney is part of Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, so you get to see a lot of other mountains during the hike, along with lakes. Hike allows you to see both sides of the mountain range. Trail is very good and scenic. Altitude sickness did not hit me. I thought it may be due to my running. While talking to my Director, she mentioned that she got altitude sick at 12000 ft and she was much accomplished runner than I am now. I guess, I was just lucky. If some of you are interested, do let me know, we can plan for next year.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mount Tallac Hike (August 14, 2010)

Elevation:   Trailhead: 6,480'  Summit: 9,735'

Hiking time: about six hours round trip (10 miles) to summit

View from Top of Mt Tallac
(Cascade Lake, Emerald Bay
and Lake Tahoe in back)
We had postponed this hike few times, as the trail still had a lot of snow earlier. And one of the main reasons we wanted to do this hike before Mt Whitney was to get used to high altitude. As usual, we depended on Chetan’s vast and detailed knowledge about the hikes. However, for certain urgency, he had to pull out at last moment. He still did the legwork and provided us with excellent directions. After looking at directions, it was clear that the trailhead was easy to reach and trail itself was easy to follow.

I reached Nitin’s place in Fremont at 3:10 AM, and we started in the rental Nissan Cube (the car was really the box) at 3:20 AM. Nitin was driving; and mentioned that he had a relatively rough night and was feeling sleepy. Prasad was sitting next to Nitin, sleeping and I was with Nitin’s dad in the back. We talked for few minutes about the Half Dome hike which Nitin and Prasad had done few weeks back. Prasad did not do the cable part and mentioned that long drive before the hike tired him out and he was simply exhausted. So he decided not to drive at all this time. After 30 minutes of driving, we reached a place on 680 where it was windy, and car started swerving by itself. Nitin was yawning big time, and I had to take driving controls. Roads were empty and it was pleasant to drive. Route was very easy, that I did not have to look for map.
Just before Cathedral lake

After reaching Tahoe, we took a coffee break at Starbucks. When I opened up vegetarian sandwiches (on whole grain, with spring green, tomatoes and Humus) packed by Promila in the morning (I mean at around 3 AM); they were still warm. Noise of oomph from Nitin confirmed that he liked it very much. Nitin’s Dad also praised the sandwiches. We dropped Nitin’s dad at BlueGo main station. For $2.50, he can hop on and off and visit various points on South Lake Tahoe. It was really good to see that at his age he could venture out alone and enjoy himself.

The trailhead was easy to reach and trail was well marked. Whenever I go for a hike, I always try to gauge whether to bring Prem on this hike or not. I used to think about Promila before, not now; I think she is strong enough now to do almost every hike which I could do. Before going on this hike, I thought this would be perfect next step for Prem after Nevada fall hike as distance and elevation gain was slightly more. Besides this hike affords the beautiful view of Fallen Leaf lake, Cathedral Lake, Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay while hiking.

Fallen Leaf Lake on left goes parallel
to trail for first half mile
Lose rocks on trail. Nitin and Prasad
on right bottom side
First part of hike gradually goes up, along with Fallen Leaf lake on your left side, very pleasant. It remains gradual and pleasant hike till Cathedral lake (around 1.7 miles). After that it starts climbing up. Climb rate itself is not that bad; however, you are climbing on lose rocks. Soon I realized not to step on big rocks, as they are loose and turn; almost twisting my ankle. I slipped couple of times, however, hiking pole helped regaining the balance. Well, rest 2/3rd of the hike had similar rocks. It was challenging. Though Nitin was more balanced than me because his center of gravity was closer to ground (euphemism for shorty); he slipped couple of times on this lose rocky gravel. Though hiking pole saved his ass, literally, but it got bent during one of such ordeal. Prasad was able to keep up for first 3 miles, and then got slower towards end. Going up, since I was leading, I missed one turn, and came to just big loose rocks. I knew I took a wrong turn, and to go back to the trail, I just followed small gravel. That did the trick and soon I saw the other hikers.

As expected view from top was spectacular, and peak was getting crowded. We took pictures all around the cliff and came to know that Mt Tallac is not the highest peak in Lake Tahoe region; Freel Peak is the highest (10881 ft). It was good to know that there is another peak to hike which is in near vicinity. Nitin and I were hungry, I finished my sandwiches. Nitin was getting concerned about Prasad, so we called him up; he was on his way; showed up 45 minutes later.
View from top - 9975'
We picked Nitin’s dad; and then started hunting for a small brewery. Thanks to ubiquitous Smart phones, Nitin found Mt Tallac Brewery, within 0.2 miles; with an impressive Yelp rating of 4.5. We kept moving around in circles to find the brewery, but could not. Prasad was enthusiastically repeating (euphemism for yelling) the directions looking at the GPS on the Smart phone. Finally Nitin spotted a very small sign on a rundown building. We thought we were on the back of the building. He asked for the entrance from a guy who was standing at what appear to be back side of the building. There were two menacing dogs tied up with huge rope to the door. He answered back that yes this was the entrance.

It was hot and most of the doors and window of the building were open, it was obvious that it was not air-conditioned. We walked in and found out, it was the brewery, and there were couple of people eating burger and fries on a 6 feet long bar bench, and there was no other seating. Still perplexed, as what to do, we asked the owner if they serve beer and food. He told us that he was happy to let us taste the beer but could not share his food. Apparently, this was just a brewery and people, who were eating, were employees. He told us a nearby Thai Orchid place where we can get his beer on tap.

View from Top of Mt Tallac
By now, most of us dehydrated from the hike, out in a hot building for 10 minutes, sweating, especially Prasad, as he mentioned his feet were hurting and chilled beer from the tap might just take his mind off. While we were heading to get our fill, Prasad received a call from his wife. And he told her that they just finished the hike and now were going to a place for a bite to eat (not DRINK) before heading back. And we were all laughing soon. Well, it made total sense to drink a beer from Mt Tallac Brewing company, after hiking Mt Tallac. We deserved it. Well, we ordered beer and food. We toasted for many more hikes in future together. Ummmm…chilled cold beer ! Very Complex ! Interesting !; besides these comments, nobody venture to praise it more. We did not order a second round, it was apparent nobody liked it. Food was ok.

Cathedral Lake
It took us 7 hours to do the hike, however, I think it could have been finished in 5 hours, including 30 minutes at top. Though the elevation gain for the hike and distance was manageable, I found this hike hard; mainly because of lose rocks; coming down was slow and tricky. I think Prem has to wait 1 or 2 years before I get him up here.

Logistics - Directions   Trail Map

What’s next -- Mt Whitney in two weeks; that will be the toughest hike for me so far; both physically and mentally. 22 miles, 14505 ft elevation with the gain of 6100 ft; and terrain is lose rocks just like Mt Tallac. Mt Whitney is the highest peak in contiguous US. I will need all the good wishes to complete that hike in a day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My first Half Marathon (13.1 miles)– (July 25, 2010)

This run is dedicated to all the people in my circle who, like myself a year ago, have never considered running Marathon.

Finally my tryst with Running came to a tangible accomplishment with my first Half Marathon. Personally, this is very special to me; as it was not only my first Half Marathon, it was my first race ever, in my life. I never ran in school or college, never competed in any kind of distances before. Sure I played badminton, tennis, Cricket and Table Tennis at various stages of my life, however, running opened up my eyes to a whole new level of fitness.

When I started running back in March 2010, I found it extremely hard to run outside; and treadmill running was not much fun. After reading couple of books on running, I was blown away to know that even in distance running, there are many different levels – 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, 50K, 50 Miles, 100K, 100 miles and then 24 hours running. Anything over Marathon is considered Ultra Running. And most of the ultra runners are in it for fun (not most of Ultra races have much of the prize money or recognition or endorsements); there is no way to train for 100 mile run, i.e. you do not run 100 miles in training to prepare for the run; unlike Marathon running. So my current accomplishment, to run 13.1 miles, may seem just a warm up for an Ultra Runner.

When I was around 10 year old, my dad always used to ask me and my brother to come with him for morning walks and runs. We never did. For a long time, I used to think why people even bother to run; that we should save that energy and use it in sports etc. I did not know at the time, that if you keep the heart rate to consistently higher level for more than 20 minutes, your body’s metabolic rate increases for the whole day, meaning that you have more energy and you burn more calories for the next 8-10 hours. Though most of my exercise and running routine happens in evening, I find sometimes unable to sleep after a good evening workout. Preferably exercise should be done in morning so you can reap the benefits of high energy levels, however, some exercise in evening is better than none at all.

One of my earlier blogs described, as how I stumbled upon running. It was my love of books and see if that could result into some actionable accomplishment. In last 4 months I had read over 10 books on running. I trained myself, through trial and error, using these books and talking to few runners. These books and runners convinced me that Marathon is very doable.

After personalizing my training, I started logging more and more distance and tried to increase my pace. Soon in 6 weeks, I had started hurting badly in my shins. Though I could complete my run, I needed to warm up for 15 minutes, stretch for another 5 minutes. Needless to say it was becoming work, rather than fun. I bought expensive pair of shoes from a Running shop based on my gait analysis etc. I think it made matters worse. So I stopped training for whole of June; and started to focus on changing my running form. Any changes means, I got extremely slower than before; however I wanted it to be fun so such things could not be forced. One good thing came out from sharing my running fiascos in my blog, that I got couple of suggestions. Norm Ngim and Susan Byrne asked me to try Chi Running (IMO fancy name/technique for mid-foot strike or running on balls of your feet). Based on the books I have read, with totally conflicting advices, there are all kind of successful runners with different kind of foot strikes and idea is to run as lightly as possible. Norm mentioned about ‘Born to Run’ book, it was a revelation, almost written like a fiction; highly recommended. After reading this book, I threw my running shoes, and bought thinnest flat sole canvass shoes. Running in these shoe automatically changed my running form. All this experimentation was happening in beginning of July after Half Dome hike on Father’s day weekend. After couple of 5K runs in the canvas shoes, and changing my foot strike from Heel first to Mid-foot, I felt better. At that time, I was not even thinking of running in ‘The San Francisco Marathon’. Back in India, my niece, Smiti, asked me if I am still running or what. I realized, just like what I used to think an year back that Marathon run is unthinkable and mainly for crazies (could not understand why people would do it !), there were few people looking up to me to see if I could do it. And if I could do it, then it may open up their mind to consider it at some stage in their life.

So on July 12, when I was feeling a lot better with my small runs, without any pains, I kept running till 10 miles, as fast as I could. I finished the run in 1 hour and 27 minutes, which was less than 9 min/mile pace; never happened in any of my earlier run. It appeared that the new form was less painful and my timings had started to improve. So I decided to register for Half Marathon, kept reminding myself, that Run should be enjoyable first; I should be light on my feet and I should not worry about pace.

Thomas, from the hiking group, who did Half Dome with me last year; loves running. He did one Half and one Full Marathon last year. This year he registered for Full Marathon. We took Caltrain on July 24 to San Francisco to get our bib and attended the Marathon Expo, where there were lot of vendors and couple of lectures by renowned runners. Thanks to all the books I read, I could recognize almost all the names of the runners. Thomas told me that this event is one of the best organized event. It was not hard to understand why. As soon as you register, they ask about estimated completion time, based on that you run in different waves of runners. A wave number is assigned to you, this helps in avoiding slow runner blocking your path during the run (there were 24000 runners registered in this event). Fast runner would always be in first wave. Course is USA Track and Field certified and race is a prestigious Boston Marathon qualifying race. Besides they give you a electronic chip which you put up on your shoe lace, and it records your timings at different portion of the race. By the time I finished, my timings were already loaded on the website, including the splits. Free beer, Jamba Juice, smoothies, and over 10 different snacks were waiting for you at the finish line. It was hard to imagine if it could be further improved.

Thomas and I shared our trainings and stories during the train ride. His goal is to qualify for Boston. He was surprised to know that I run only 3 times a week; he was running every day. Before I read the Running books, I used to think all Marathoners must be spending an awful lot of time in training; and definitely I did not have that kind of time. How wrong was I? I spent much less time in training than earlier when I was just using Gym machines. For Half Marathon, I used less than 2.5 hours/week in training. There is no commute time. For full, I believe, I would not spend more than 4 hours/week in training.

When we reached the station, it was evident that we both were challenged to read the map and find the place in San Francisco. Thanks to Thomas who offered to drive on race day, and though we reached in time, it took some map reading again as the parking lot address, we got, was wrong. Since I was running second Half, my race started almost 2 hours after the Full. I thought I would be able to see him during the race and may be run with him. There was a free shuttle from the start of Full to start of second Half Marathon. I wished him best for his run; he did not prepare as much this year (new baby just 4 weeks ago); his goal was to finish the race in 4:30. Last year he finished under 4 hours. I could appreciate these numbers now and recognize how much skill, dedication and effort is needed to run at that pace.

When I reached 2nd Half Start area, it was cold and clouded. There was a long queue for portable potties. However, again very good planning/organization, there were over 30 of them. There were outdoor heaters to keep the runners warm before the race started. And since almost all runners were wearing sweats, there was a Sweats check-in available, and you could collect your sweats back at finish line. I reached there at 7 AM, still more than one hour before my wave starts (8:23 AM). I was shocked to see that there were already runners from Full, were appearing on the course. That means that they completed Half the distance in less than 1 hour 30 minutes.

I watched them for 30 minutes and most of us cheered them. These were mostly very fast runners, gliding effortlessly. Since it was cold, I did not try to stretch much. Some runners were jogging to warm up, however, I decided to keep my energy for the run. Mood was festive and I was looking forward for the run. Based on my runs, my goal was to finish the run, and second was to finish in 2 hours. There were pacers carrying flags. I stood next to 1 hr 50 minute pacer. I thought if I shoot for that, I would probably finish within 2 hours. Lindsey McCartney in my office, who helped me by putting together some stretches and running-muscles-strengthening exercises; told me not to race initially, just pace myself so that I could finish stronger. She was right, first time runners gets excited and start racing with faster runners and it gets difficult to finish later on. Same thing happened to me, I got a high by moving faster and passing most of the runners. I thought once I am out of breath from racing, I would just take a walk break. I did first 7 miles at sub 8 min/mile pace. Never before in training, I could complete 3 miles at 8 min pace. I think it was cold crisp air, breeze and racing environment that did it for me. There were only 3-4 small hills which I was able to glide through. I had a big wide smile on my face and was enjoying my run.

Just like most beginner runners, I would huff and puff during my training runs, as there was a huge scope of improvement in my aerobic capacity (VO2 max). Also, in training, I realized that I always runs faster when I was running into the air; as it aids my breathing. During my training, I never reached to a point, where my legs were the bottle neck and slowing me down; I would slow down due to my aerobic capacity. I was told that soon, breathing would not be the issue, and legs would be the issue. It was not very pleasant to find about that during my first race. With 4 miles to finish, I started slowing down. Breathing was no longer the issue, my legs were getting tired. I was not taking water breaks and soon my hands were getting numb. Lessons learned, take water/electrolyte breaks at every aid station. Volunteers and people on side walk were very generous. Though official water stations, were every 2 miles, some locals were giving free beers to runners, some were playing live music (it helped during those last 4 miles) and others were just cheering (just 3 miles to go; looking strong; great job).

I slowed down further in last two miles (9:20 min/mile). After finishing, I was pleasantly surprised to see my finish timing at 1 hour 50 minutes (well it was 1:50:58 but seconds part is generally not mentioned), with overall pace of 8:28 min/mile. It did not take me much time to find Thomas at finish line, he finished some time after me. As expected, like most of his Kerala Club friends, I found him at Heineken stand, blissfully chugging on his free beer. He seemed to be in extremely good condition; I thought that I would have to haul him back; it was great to see him finish strong, with so less training (may be that is the key – less training !) and in good time, just above 4 hours. After the race, we reached Thomas’ home, Promila wanted to celebrate with cake, however, we settled for fresh strawberries from Farmer’s market. Vinaya gave us the refreshing lemonade from the beautiful kitchen garden in the backyard.

Long Distance Running requires some dedication and would be boring and painful if you do not enjoy it. So it is not for everyone. It helps if you have company while training, though I did not see many runners on street or park during my training. It is hard to get company. Personally, I am realizing that gym machines, more or less do not work out well. From time commitment point of view, running outside requires much less time and give you much more fitness related benefits. I recently did my cholesterol check, and was shocked to find it to be 80 points less than last year; only thing changed in my routine was running. Though we were eating healthy even before, now Promila has been addicted up to just very healthy foods. Most of our diet has become vegetarian and with lots of fruits, in last 4 months. That means, eating outside has become less and less; and Farmer’s market has been a life line for us. I think I need to get my cholesterol checked again, just to be sure.

What’s next  Full Marathon is not a goal for me now, my aim is to get faster for shorter distances first, before achieving endurance for Full Marathon, so that I could run it in good time. I am looking forward to hike Mt Whitney in August end. And Thomas twisted my arm in getting me to sign up in San Jose Rock’ n Roll Half Marathon in October.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Woods are lovely, dark and deep....

Father’s day weekend at Yosemite – Hiking Nevada falls and Half Dome
June 19, 2010 (Saturday) – I was looking forward to this trip to Yosemite for many reasons. I had to cancel an earlier trip to hike Half-Dome on June 6, since cables were not put up because of the weather. Prem was excited about the trip, and was talking about hiking in Yosemite. He had hiked Mission Peak 4 times by now. So I was somewhat comfortable trying out Nevada Falls with him, using John Muir Trail; which has a gradual gradient instead of big steps one encounter on Mist Trail. Also Promila had been bitten by the hiking bug now.

18 months ago, I had to push her to go for hiking. She could hardly do couple of miles on Mission Peak, in spite of all the Yoga, Dance classes and Elliptical machine, her aerobic capacity was not there. And as I found out in running, it was slow gradual process to build muscles required for hiking and to increase aerobic capacity. A week before the Father’s day, she hiked everyday to Mission Peak, apart from her normal weekend hike, Taekwondo and swimming. I generally wake up around 5:30 AM, and do not find her at home. I tried to explain her that it could prove to be counterproductive as before any big hike, one has to taper off, give muscles some rest for few days. She did not listen. Even after coming back, she is continuing to do that. Any cheap houses in Mission Area, please let me know.

While driving towards Yosemite, this is the first time I noticed sudden change in landscape while moving from I-120 to I-140. Though I am quite point-A-to-point-B-schedule-driven person, this time, I decided to stop at every vista point; you never know what you are missing. We finally reached our Curry Village tent cabins around 6 PM. Liz reached around same time. Idea was that Promila and Liz would hike together; and I would hike next day or on the Saturday night. Most of the people who showed interest at one time or other to do this hike with me, either in night or day, backed out. Some of them did not feel prepared, some got cold feet and for some it did not have the same level of interest as I had. Promila was like a deer frozen in middle of the road by oncoming headlight of a 18 wheeler. She was fascinated by the hike and fearful too.

Though I had encouraged her initially, it was understood that it would be her decision, and she could turn around at any time. As expected, I could not sleep at all on Saturday night. Promila had an alarm set up for 4 AM, it rang, she put it off; and then I had to wake her up after 5 minutes. Both Liz and Promila got ready in 10 minutes (thanks to Liz, otherwise it generally takes longer !). I had the backpack ready for Promila, brought her the bars and fruits from the bear proof lockers, and put those in the backpack; prepared two liter of Gatorade water for her. Total she was carrying 3.5 liters. Showed her first-aid kit on first pocket, bars and fruits in second and water in 3rd. I did not think she was listening, just nodding her head. She was still dazed and unsure. When I lifted up the backpack, I was not certain either if she could do even Nevada Falls (9 miles) with this backpack. She had never taken this heavy backpack to her hikes.

I kept my doubts to myself, and let her go with Liz. It helped that Liz was super excited and looking forward for this hike; or at least that was what she was portraying to everybody. She had to fight some of her nightmares to do this hike. Few days ago, I told her about King’s chair and the cave on the Top of Half Dome, and how you could go to the edge by anchoring your ankles and peek down from the ledge (my standing photo on the ledge). She told us that she kept having this dream where she was anchored to her ankles and fell off the ledge; and screaming for help, flaying her hands. She wanted people to pull her off and did not care if she could get bruised in the process. It is just amazing what mind could do. I knew from my earlier Half Dome hikes, that the hike tests both mental and physical abilities. (Image on left - sitting on King's chair)

They went around 4:30 AM. And I did a small prayer for both of their safe return. Prem was awake too, sleeping with me. I could not sleep, and around 6:30, woke Prem up to feed him and get him ready for the Nevada Fall hike. We were talking about this hike in last the few days. I told him that we would not go to top of Half Dome, but may be Half of Half Dome. He was ready.

We started at 7:30 AM, and I was surprised that he was keeping good pace. As expected, he started talking about variety of topics from Pokémon, Bakugan and Wii Mario Bros characters. I was never a fan of Video games, however, I had changed my opinion little bit after reading ‘A Whole New Mind’. Of course, we still have to monitor what he is playing and for how long. I feel better that he is playing interactive strategy games and where games requires some physical motion, rather than passively watching TV. Well, at least that is my rationalization. He can easily beat me in most of the games. He learnt few tricks, and intuitively explored and applied the tricks to other games. I am sure that there are some lessons to be learnt for me here, from these games, as some of them teach patience and Prem doesn’t give up easily, even after being beaten badly initially.

I was amazed that he had so much information on these games to keep going for next 4 hours. We talked about other things as well. We have a ritual to read at least one chapter every day, before he goes to sleep. If book is small, like ‘What time is it Mr. Crocodile ?’ then we read it completely. We both liked this story. He mentioned, “Papa, we should write a story like this. May be we can write, ‘ What time is it Mr. Tiger ?’ and make money.” It was an interesting idea, and I did not want to explain plagiarism to him, so I told him, “Yes, it is very interesting idea, and we should write a story. And mommy, since she is good at drawing, could do illustration.” More I think about it, I feel that we should do it as a family; and give it a shot. Ummmm……alternative career which could be fun too ! May be it could be as successful as Harry Potter !! Keep on dreaming !!!

We took breaks and it helped to have his favorite Cliff bar (Thanks to Chetan who mentioned Trader’s Joe has Blueberry Crisp and Chocolate Chip Mint). Just looking at climber dude on Cliff bar, made Prem confident that he could now climb anything after eating it. And Lightening G (Gatorade) water also had the similar effect on him. After he had eaten, I never had to cajole him to go further, he would get up himself, and start walking and talking. For most of the photo opportunities, he did his Taekwondo poses. I was glad that Blue Dragon Academy was working out for him and Promila. I think it has a lot to do with his teacher; his teacher is passionate about teaching and his art; a rare combination.

We reached the top of Nevada falls, ate some nut mix, drank water, explored various vista points and took some snaps. It was bright beautiful day. I called Promila, she (along with Liz) started 3 hours before us; and she mentioned that she was on base of sub dome. I asked Prem, if he wanted to go further, he declined and said that he wanted to see the Yosemite museum now. So we turned back. I had to hold his hand coming down, as I did not want him to slip and fall. Though the JMT was not steep, but it was dry and somewhat slippery. We got a call from Promila, that she was feeling dizzy and want to turn around. She wanted me to confirm if it was ok. Over a period of a loooooooong time, I had started trusting Promila’s decision on critical things; so I did not push her. We kept going down, and then started waiting for Promila at bottom of Vernal Falls.

Prem was getting restless waiting for over an hour. We climbed few rocks around the bridge area; and he was practicing his Taekwondo moves to scare the squirrels. So when Promila came down; of course she looked tired, but there was a glow on her face and most of the ever-present baby fat on her face was gone. She looked happy and exhausted. I have to think a better way to lighten the backpack for her, it had taken some toll. May be fanny pack to carry water and only few things in backpack is the answer. When we reached the tent, I was relieved to see no blisters or dead nail on her feet. And after bath, she was ready to do sightseeing in the valley. (Image on right - Promila back from the Half Dome Hike at bottom of vernal Falls)

We went to museum in the bus. This is the best part about the Yosemite valley, that they have free electric shuttle buses, runs every 15 minutes to take you to various points in the valley. Promila was geared up and Prem earned another Jr. Park Ranger badge; this was the final badge in series of three which one could earn, answering some questions and doing some volunteer work in the Yosemite Valley. He took the oath and was proud of it.

We met Liz, though she was exhausted, hurting on her feet and one of her nail was bleeding; she was in great spirit. She mentioned that she called up her dad and family from the top of Half Dome. Yes, there was a reception at the top. She was ready to head back home now. I was real surprised to see both Promila and Liz, walking around; after such a strenuous hike. I remembered first time when I did it, all I wanted to do was to take a bath and crash; I lost two of my toe nails and cramping. They did much better than me. I was inspired to do better this time. To read Promila’s experience of Half Dome hike in her own words, visit

All in all, a very gratifying father’s day; very proud of what Prem, Promila and Liz achieved on the day.

Half Dome Hike (June 21, 2010 – Monday)
When we reached back our cabin on Sunday night, Promila pleaded that I tag along with somebody for the hike next day. I told her that I would leave around 5 AM instead of 4:30 AM, so hopefully there would be someone I could tag along; and there would be lot of light by then. We went to bed around 8:30 PM; it was still bright outside. Promila and Prem slept in no time, I could not sleep for another two hours. My backpack and clothes were ready. I was too excited and random thoughts were coming to me.

I was not sure if I could afford not to sleep for two continuous nights and complete a major hike. So I started counting backwards; did not help. Then I tried doing breathing exercises, that helped; along with small prayer to get me some sleep. I was able to sleep for couple of hours; and was half dreaming when alarm woke me up at 4:30 AM. Promila again cautioned me to find somebody. I was not sure if a lot of people would be hiking on Monday. I was so wrong.

This time I put my GPS watch on; and started it at 5:05 AM from Curry Village. It took full one mile to reach to trail head, after crossing the bridge over Merced river. I already saw two hikers by then, and saw around 10 more till I reached at bottom of Vernal fall. I saw two great looking girls ahead of me, and was wide-eyed to see that one of them took her jacket off without taking off her backpack; and then she kept her jacket hanging on the lower side of the shoulder strap. Eureka, I was wearing a warmer, T-Shirt and jacket, and knew that I did not have big enough backpack to put two of these items in it when I would be hot in later part of the hike. Now I knew as how to do it. Power of observation !!!

I talked to them, and came to know that this was their first time to Half Dome; though I wanted to chat more; but they were too slow. Not sure why Robert Frost poem suddenly flashed across my mind, “ Woods are lovely dark and deep….”. May be, to my mind, they were just distraction, like FB. I left them behind, and found another two hikers, in their 20s from Bay Area. They looked to be in extremely good shape, with camelbak. Came to know Taylor had done the Half Dome 4 times, and Dwight did it last year. Dwight worked in IT (no surprises here) and Taylor worked for Santa Clara University. Dwight was a rock climber too.

I was happy to keep pace with them; and soon on JMT, they were falling behind me. I was gloating inwardly to see that; and to acknowledge that so far I had passed over 20 hikers and nobody had gone past me. As per GPS, we came along 3 miles now. Then I heard a voice from behind, “On your right”. This 50 plus year old man was running in shorts and T-shirt, no water or food. When he got past me, we all three exclaimed; Dwight gasped, “Look at those calf muscles; they look like made of steel”. I had a sigh of relief that I was not the only one who was admiring those calves.

We reached Nevada falls, it took me still 1 hour 35 minutes. I thought I will just take a break of 5 minutes here and move. However, just opening the backpack, eating a pear; taking couple of photos; 15 minutes get past so quickly. I kept moving; and soon had to leave Dwight and Taylor behind. After a mile of walking along with river, it was just steeper hike for next 4 miles. Met a lot of people on this trail, as quite few of them started from backpackers camp. Took a break at 2 mile Half Dome sign. This time I was paying attention, and came to know that Cloud Rest was 4.3 miles from this 2 mile sign. I looked at my watch, and thought I could do both Half Dome and Cloud Rest today; and it would still be light before I reach at the bottom. Almost nobody was going to Cloud Rest; I wondered why.

I kept walking and then stopped at the bottom of sub dome. By the time, though it was still not 9 AM, it was very sunny and bright. I took off my warmer; and just put the T-shirt on, took my cap from backpack, put one of the hiking stick in backpack, and put rubber attachment at bottom of the stick which was outside. Rubber bottom gives good grip on the rock. There was almost no tree cover now, and just granite rock, and small uneven steps carved. After climbing some 40 steps, I remembered now why this hike was so hard. Breathless, however, I did not want to look up much to see how many steps were left. I tried looking up couple of times, it was dizzying. Taking out water from backpack on narrow ledge was not inviting either. However, I knew that this was not going to last. Soon I was on top of sub dome, and saw 4 backpacks stuffed under a rock.

I decided to put my back pack there. Took Bengay from backpack (just in case somebody cramps while on cables or on top), camera, and small water bottle; wore my jacket to put all this stuff in. I remembered Som was sun burnt last time, so I applied Neutrogena SPF 70 sun block heavily on my face and arms, wore my gloves and started going up the cables. Cables were almost empty, there were two hikers who were just staring at the cables, lying at the bottom of sub dome. I thought for a moment whether to wait for somebody to tag along, just in case I slipped. I dismissed the thought, nobody was going to leave the cables to catch me, it was better this way.

I started the cables, and felt that my gloves were not gripping as much. I knew that I was wearing recommended latex coated cotton gloves, and was wondering why there was not a good grip this time. May be because these were the same pair of gloves I used in last two Half Dome hikes, and then in painting project at home; rubber might have wore off. Or it could be because of my shoes not gripping which I (ab)used in last two years, included two Half Dome hikes and multiple over 10 miles hike. I remembered Chetan’s advice; as to change the shoes on first sign of tread wear, just like you would do your car tires. Well, cables was not the place to entertain such doubts. I noticed couple of planks missing, I was cursing myself on forgetting to bring my flexible REI hiking pants. Jeans were not that easy to stretch and to take big steps on. Earlier, on steps, when trying to pull my pants up to waist, I was shocked to find out that I was already on my last hole on belt, belt could not be tightened further. Well, at least I broke a few different kinds of PRs (Personal Records) during this hike; I was an hour faster climbing up since last year and 20 lb lighter.

On cables, body forgot all the fatigue or tiredness; it was alive and super alert. Must be adrenalin; and now I knew why most hikers preferred Half Dome over Cloud Rest, even though Cloud Rest was higher in elevation and longer hike than Half Dome. Elements of risk, rush and adrenalin make Half Dome hike unforgettable. It took less than 20 minutes to climb up. On top, there were around 20 people. Took some pictures; and started looking for the Cave and King’s chair. Soon I found it, and I was lucky to get a professional photographer to take my pictures on it. It was so bright that there was nothing visible on the LCD screen. Called Promila from top, reception was good. Called Liz later, but it was breaking up by then. Though it was hot, there was a huge snow patch on top of the dome.

I met Dwight while I was just about to start going down the cables. He was lying flat, at the end of the cables. I thought he was just sun bathing, as I saw a lot of other doing the same at different areas on top. I greeted him, and asked where was Taylor. He complained that he left him here, and he was cramping and could not move. I asked him if he needed Bengay, he quickly used it on his thighs and arms. He was surprised to find that it relieved his cramps immediately and he was sitting up. He told me that it was his first time up the cables. I thought to myself, that if he was claiming earlier that it was his second time to Half Dome; so could then Promila.

Going down the cables was easier, I realized that though hand grip was not that great, but shoes are gripping well going down. I thanked my shoes and apologized to them for doubting their performance. I thought about keeping them on a mantle as show piece. There was nobody behind me, however, there was back to back queue for people coming up. While talking to couple of people, I came to know that Thursday and now Monday had become quite busy, permits (which are required from this year onward, only on Friday to Sunday) pushed the rush to spill over on other days of the week.

I met the two girls, I saw at the start of the hike, climbing up on the cables now. After passing them, another girl asked me if she could buy the gloves from me since she was not feeling a good grip with the leather gloves. I told her that I would give her for free; and she could try it before discarding her other gloves; as I was not sure about the grip of these gloves either. I still had to go another 30 feet down, I just used my hands; when I was down, I saw my hands were coated with silvery metal polish. I talked to another hiker who mentioned that they treated the cables with some polish so that it remained weather proof. Umm…..that might be the cause of loss of the grip, as this was the first few days since the cables were up.

There was a lot of rush on steps too, and while going down, I saw a lot of people coming up. You get to see a lot of skin. I met a lawyer from Palo Alto; came down till Nevada falls with him. He mentioned that toughest hike (more of a climb) he had done was that of Mt Shasta. There was snow 12 months, and you had to take ice axe, crampons and full gear; one needed to be tied up in snow with at least another person to complete this 2-3 day hike/climb. I thought about using Mist trail going down, but then changed my mind, as my jeans were slipping down and not flexible enough to maneuver big steps. Came down quickly after Nevada falls. GPS showed total of 19 miles (17 on the trail and 2 miles to and fro from Curry Village to trail head).

When I called Promila at 2 PM, she was surprised to see me come back so early. I thought I could have added those 8.6 miles to do Cloud Rest hike; however, I probably would not be able to drive after that. Promila and Prem had 4 hours valley floor tour on that day, and were having lunch now. I waited for them, and then took bath; ate Pizza. Thought about having Blue Moon which was available on tap, but decided against it; as I did not want to link up hiking and drinking for Prem. He has been absorbing a lot these days. Relaxed and then watched an entertaining and informative ranger’s show; and finally headed back home.

I have permit for Half Dome night hike for July 25. Now question is ‘To run or not to run’ Half Marathon with Meenal on that day. Though I ran 3 times after May 30th, however my legs (below the knee), have been complaining. I did not have any injuries so far; but not feeling strong enough for the run; there was no spring in the legs. My director has done Half Dome and Half Marathons five times each. I would like to match that. Let’s see what next couple of weeks have in store (another book – ‘Born to run’ may change things). Time to dream; and experiment to make them happen!
Logistics Pictures

P.S. I have taken one month break from FB to focus on run/hike and things which are important to me. Please email me your comments, if any, or write on this blog. Umm.....Am I replacing one distraction with another :~)