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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Half Dome

So I'm almost done with my lab work for Dr. Herbst, and I had a few days to stick around Monterey before going up to the San Lorenzo river for another two weeks of field surveys. I've never climbed in Yosemite before, and so Dave and I decide to go for an extended weekend.

We drove out thursday night when I finished working. Traffic isn't bad on weekday nights, even where they are rebuilding the washouts on highway 140 east of Mariposa. We climb out of the heat of the central valley with the windows open so we could smell the night and feel the warm wind on our skin... Dave is playing mandolin in the front seat while I drive and sing harmony to his songs as we wind along the Merced river canyon. We get into the valley past midnight and crash with Dave's ex. Josie and her group from the Naturalists at Large. They had a campsite in the valley for taking schoolgroups.

Josie is a fantastic trad climber. We share her rack and go cragging at churchbowl on Friday. I love how solid granite feels, and I am glad to get a chance to get used to it. We don't have a place to camp that night, but Dave knows everybody in the climbing community. We roll into Camp 4 and immediately run into his old friend Ton, who offers us both dinner and a place to sleep. We have a great evening trading stories and playing the blues around a neighboring campfire until the rangers come and ask us to quiet down. Ten o'clock quiet time. People go to bed early in the mountains.

The hardest thing about climbing half dome is not the climb itself. On the sloping west face, the climbing is relatively easy, but before you even start to climb you will have hiked 6 1/2 miles and gained 2000 feet just on the approach. And once you've conquered the rock, there are still almost ten miles to descend back to the valley floor.

We start early. 4:00 am we slip out of Camp 4, grab our waiting packs, and hit the trail. Stars give way to grey morning as we walk. Vernal falls is full from all the snowmelt this year, and it throws up so much spray onto the trail that it's like being in a storm. And it's eerie to have the whole place to ourselves. We leave the trail above Nevada falls and cut cross country through a shallow valley, around a marsh, and then up a long series of granite slabs to the base of our climb. Several parties had camped above the falls the night before, and are ahead of us when we get there. It's one of the more popular routes in the park. The Snake Dike is a vein of quartz knobs about two feet thick that runs almost 2000 feet up the west face of half dome, and offers nothing worse than a few five seven slab moves. Which is good, because I've never climbed so many pitches before, and certainly not with a pack. It's prety easy climbing. Dave leads, I follow, and we make steady progress. Eventually the grade lessens and we run out of anchors, so we unrope and scramble up and up seemingly endless slabs on our aching feet until finally a tall cairn, then another and we crest the dome, looking east across miles of rugged snow-capped granite. We take our time on top, and are hiking late into the night, down the cables, along the river, and down many wet stone steps by the falls. Yosemite always fills me with wonder.

Sunday morning Dave and I sleep. My feet are pulpy and painful and my body aches. Dave wants to go all the way to the east side for hotsprings, and I don't want to drive that far. We compromise and go to Tuolumne for afternoon of reading and jumping in the river before heading back through central valley heat to Monterey.