When my alarm sounded, I was wide awake already. I was packed already, with Cytomax and Cliff Bars, 3 liter of water and some oranges. I packed an additional head lamp for Vimal. Promila was awake and started making her special sandwiches (whole grain bread, with Organic Humus, alpha-alpha sprouts, spinach, tomato, cucumber – neatly wrapped in surround wrap) for me. She knew that Chetan, Nitin, Prasad and Vimal were going with me, so she packed some for them too, in spite of my protesting. I like to keep my backpack small. I told myself to give away extra sandwiches to group before the hike.
Vimal came in time, and we went to pick up others. Everybody was ready, and we were quickly on our way. After couple of pit stops, we reached the Valley around 5:45 AM. We saw two other hikers in parking lot, getting ready too, while we were booting up, and putting all the extra food in bear-proof lockers. On finding out that they were planning to hike Half Dome, I told them that most of our group had done it before. It was their first time and they did not have gloves for gripping the cable. I told them that they might need them, and generally they might be available at the base of the cables. Now after giving my amateurish expert opinion, I asked them if they had extra permits, and viola we got 4 of them.
I did not need any more signs, it was almost that the Rock was calling me. I told myself, if my knee holds up well, then I would give it my best shot. Most of the trail for Half Dome and Clouds Rest are same, except last two miles before Half Dome, Clouds Rest trails swerve to right and goes another 4.2 miles. So technically, we are to do 4 miles and 2400 ft of elevation gain more. Challenge was that after Clouds Rest, would we be in good enough shape to take on the Half Dome Cables. This was a personal question, and one has to answer it for himself.
We took John Muir Trail, passed Nevada Falls, and then pushed further for 2 mile marker for Half Dome. All of us were doing great. We discussed if we should do Half Dome first, as cables take a lot from you, and then try Clouds Rest. Since most of us have done Half Dome before, except Vimal, we agreed to stick to the original plan to do Clouds Rest first, and then see if time permits. Since Vimal and I were somewhat interested in doing Half Dome, we pushed from that point. I knew Vimal was in great shape (we did two Half and one full Marathon together in last one year). After 3 miles, we were struggling, as both of our hearts were pounding. I have seen more than my share of documentaries on Mt Everest climb, and knew that body slows down at higher altitude and make more Red Blood Cell, to carry more oxygen; and that is why it is important to get acclimatize to altitude. Vimal had a slight headache, and sometimes I got winded. We took 1-3 minutes breaks, but kept pushing up. Trail seemed never ending. Finally we saw a board which indicated that the peak was 0.6 mile away, meaning we should be up there in 15 minutes, however, it was taking longer. I was not sure about Half Dome anymore, though knew enough from experience that once at the top, there was a good chance that we would feel better. That is exactly what happened, Vimal was squealing like a little boy in the candy store, and we felt refreshed after few minutes. Cool breeze was blowing and temperature was in 70s.
We went down a bit more and saw Nitin and Chetan, exchanged some notes about trail (it was nothing compared to Half Dome granite steps and cable). After a few minutes, we just started running, in order to make it to Half Dome. We have both ran up and down on trails in Alum Rock Park before. After Marathon my knee was hurting, and generally hurt would come back whenever I did a downhill run; I was hoping it would not. Even if it did, and I could not do Half Dome, at least I would have the satisfaction that I gave it a decent try. I was ready to be wiped out. We discussed, if at any point, one of us did not feel like doing it, we will turn back.
We covered 4.2 miles going down very fast, and started hiking up for Half Dome at 2:45 PM. There was nobody behind us, and people coming down from Half Dome were giving us a quizzical look. Soon, we met the ranger at base of sub-dome and who took our permits and told us that it would take around 1 hour and 15 minutes. We took a 5 minute break before starting on 566 granite steps cut into rock. Vimal was kicking my butt while climbing up, I had to rest for few seconds after every 30-40 steps. I lead briefly from the place where steps disappear into the rock and you have to do scampering on the rock. At the base of cable, we just stared at the cables. And I could not believe that I had done those 3 times already. I kicked myself for thinking that I was going to bring my son here soon. The cables on granite rocks were looking insane and scary. I had to tell myself that they look more scary than they actually were.
One gracious woman gave gloves to Vimal. We rested another 10 minutes, ate oranges, dropped our backpack at base and started up. Vimal wanted me to follow him on cables (just in case if he slips, I could catch him – ‘Fat chance’). My only advice was to rest few seconds on each plank before moving on. Of course, he ignored it. Adrenalin was pumping, and soon we were on top. We did not waste any time, as we wanted to give our best shot to get hot pizza and beer waiting for us in Curry Village. We took photos at King’s chair, the ledge, the infamous cave (where couple of people got electrocuted few year back from lightening) and the natural Amphitheater. There were just 3 more people on the dome at that time. It was good to have the Half Dome for just ourselves.
Vimal was unsure as how to get down, i.e., facing down or facing up. I always do facing down. I was ahead of him coming down, and he experimented various ways, and then did facing down, just focusing on me instead of looking down all the way. I was doing the same, just looking down to next plank. This time I did not slip as much as last time. New latex coated gloves were helping. After coming down from cables at 5 PM, Vimal told me that his arms were hurting a bit and hands were shaking. I told him that it was quite common for first timers; adrenaline wanes off after sometime, and the hard part is over.
I did not want to run down, we climbed down quickly. Vimal was the only bachelor in the group. I asked him that he now had to entertain me by talking about his bachelor life experiences. As with any Indian bachelor, he was now getting pressured to get married. He was to start looking for a girl, however, there was no progress as he did not allocate anytime for this important project or came up with any strategy. He was confused, scared and excited. He wanted some outdoorsy girl who could hike and do other activities. As luck would have it, we met a few girls, working in his company, Cisco, on trail. He was way too shy to talk to them. It looked hopeless. But entertaining enough for me to not think about the exertion from long hike. I was chatting with most people on trail, saw quite a lot of people from Bay Area.
It took us 3 hours to get down. We met Prasad in last mile of the hike. His calves were hurting. I gave him some Tylenol and Bengay, which instantly relieved some of his pain. Soon all of us were at Curry Village. It was crowded and took 45 minutes for Pizza to arrive. I chugged couple of beers (got mocked on my accent of ‘bear’) and we finished two large Pizza between 5 of us. Needless to say hot food and cold beer tasted much better after 14 hours of hiking. All other married men in the group, after having a beer, started freely advising Vimal. May be get married to Yosemite Ranger, or put just one condition that he would marry only on top of Half Dome (that would surely reduce the expense).