Surviving the Half Dome
I missed my blog-iversary! My first post, published on Sept 17 of last year, was about my favourite cinnamon baked good. Working part-time often left me with 1-2 days per week where I could work on my hobbies and blog with ease. But after my last post in April (has it really been seven months?!), life picked up quick. I remember before starting this blog, the most common advice given to me was to be consistent, "make sure you post regularly", and I thought, eh NBD. And then, life became so full...of wonderful, fun-filled, once-in-a-lifetime events and memories...but so very full. In a snapshot: MC-ing my friends' gorgeous and heart-melting wedding in Banff, my birthday, California roadtrip adventure with two of my favourite travel buddies, back to work for two full-time weeks before hiking the West Coast Trail (a bucket list item!) with my husband and two of my closest friends, then relaxing, surfing, and kayaking in Tofino with a larger group of friends, spending time with family in Coquitlam and Chilliwack...and coming home to an unexpected, early possession date for our new house in less than four weeks. Which meant packing up and cleaning the old house, signing papers and papers and papers, and setting everything up for the new house all while working overtime each week and having a husband who had to work out of town Monday to Friday, and going to two weddings, hosting a bridal shower, and having so many birthdays...all in four measly weeks! And even though I love being busy and often pack my schedule full of events from morning to night naturally, this was beyond what Hannah-on-steroids would've scheduled. It was so much fun but by the end of all that, it was nice to have an evening to recharge by relaxing and indulging: watching Friends on Netflix while eating ice cream. It was a good thing I realized I was burnt out after we had moved in and the busiest weekend of this year was over!
Now, to get back into things. My first near death experience happened while hiking the most intense day hike I've ever done with Erika and Niresha. I'm not the best at accurately articulating all the wildly different vegetation and terrain we hiked through or our unexpected experience...so, thankfully Erika was more than willing to share her journal entries from that day! Meet Erika, one of the previously mentioned favourite people to travel with. She's easygoing, fun to be around, and open to try anything! She also has a talented, creative mind; in her free time, she became a certified Make-Up Artist and loves to dance and choreograph (she created and taught my bridal party a group dance to perform at my wedding)!
Enjoy Erika's journal entry and our photos from this challenging, beautiful, eventful (to say the least) hike....
Surviving the Half Dome
Recently, my friends and I did one of the most difficult and dangerous hikes in the world. Previous to the trip, I knew nothing about Yosemite’s Half Dome, but my friend Niresha gleefully taught me that it boasts an 11/10 difficulty rating. The hike via the Mist trail is a 14.2 mile round trip, with a 4,800 ft elevation gain above the valley floor. The trail increases in difficulty from the meandering John Muir trail, to the switchbacks on the Mist trail, and then gruelling stairs up the Sub Dome, leading to the Half Dome cables.
Ascending up to the base of the cables is the most difficult part, whereas climbing the Half Dome is the most dangerous part. The 400 ft face of the Half Dome has steel cables bolted into the granite to assist climbers scaling the 46-degree incline. The granite becomes treacherously slippery when wet; there have been more than 20 deaths on the Half Dome itself and 60 on the trail leading up to it.
The Hike Up
That morning, we left at 3 am to arrive at the parking lot at 5. We were all in good shape, but agreed to only attempt the cables if it was safe. I was apprehensive at the idea of hiking an exhausting trail and then climbing cables on such a difficult mountain was intimidating.
The hike gave spectacular views of waterfalls, river valleys, and mystical fog weaved through trees. Along the way, we passed hikers descending, and they told us they could not do the cables because the mist made the rock too wet. Feeling disheartened, we decided to continue to at least touch the cables before heading back down.
However, once we reached the crown of the Sub Dome, and the Half Dome came into view, my heart skipped at the sight of people dotted along the cables. If others were attempting the cables, we could too! Apparently the sun had dried up the rock enough so that only the peak was slippery.
Our next concern was whether we should do it without a harness. Many people looking much more equipped were using harnesses, and my friend Hannah is afraid of heights. I knew if I went for it, Niresha would too, and after a bit of cajoling, Hannah agreed to try as far as she felt comfortable and then return back down to wait for us at the base of the cables.
At the top, there wasn’t much of a view because the fog had rolled back in. Descending the cables was definitely scarier than going up since there was no way to avoid looking down. Once we were all at the base of the cables, we rejoiced at our accomplishment!
As we began our descent, none of us were quite sure where the Sub Dome stairs were located because the fog was so thick, only allowing visibility a few meters away. We headed in their general direction, thinking we’d eventually hit them. All of us found it steep, so we started crab walking down, thinking it made sense—the fog made the granite slippery.
We shimmied on our butts down steep slopes, but soon realized the stairs were nowhere to be found. Now, it was drizzling, making the rocks extremely slippery, and going back up seemed too dangerous. We figured the stairs were somewhere to the right, so we kept trying to move further and further in that direction. Little did we know we had already overshot the stairs, and were approaching a cliff!
It was somewhat comforting to see evidence of humans littered everywhere: water bottles, wrappers, hiking sticks, gloves… I later realized they were things people dropped off the side of the mountain and got caught in the bushes, which we were clinging on to for dear life.
There was a steep section that I somehow got across by shifting sideways on my belly while clinging to tufts of grass, but my friends couldn’t get across, so I was the only one able to continue searching. However, every time I thought I saw the stairs, it was a dead end.
At one point, we could hear voices. Full conversations that sounded like they were coming from the right, also drawing us that direction. We would shout out, “Hello?” “Is Anyone There?” “Help!” to no avail. We tried calling altogether at once, but they just kept on talking, oblivious to our calls. The rain was coming down stronger and the fog thicker than ever. We were all underdressed, with only a waterproof jacket over a couple layers and leggings.
After going as far as I could in every direction, I started to panic and made my way back to my friends. I found poor Niresha shaking uncontrollably from the cold, and it occurred to me that we could die from hypothermia before anyone found us.
A Voice of Hope
Although we continued to call out, we started to lose hope, when suddenly a man’s voice responded! A flood of hope came back, and I scrambled towards his voice. He told us to hang tight while he looked for help. After 10 minutes he came back, saying, “Girls, you’re going to have to come up to me. No one can help you. The fog is too thick and it’s too steep for us to go down. Just follow my voice.”
The hard reality made my stomach clench, but the sound of his voice raised my spirits as I called out to him and heard a response each time. I searched for about half an hour, but he still sounded distant, when finally his voice sounded so much closer! There was a clear ridge with footholds, and as I climbed, his voice was getting closer and closer. His voice gave me so much hope even though I couldn’t see further than a few feet ahead through the fog.
At the top of that ridge, the mountain became a steep smooth slab, and the man who I’d later know as Chris, told me I needed to get to another ridge on the left. I could see it, but getting there looked impossible. The rock was slick with no visible ridges and seemed to fall into nothingness. If one of us slipped, we were done.
Somehow, we all made it to the top and a group of hikers were there to greet and comfort us. All of them were astounded by how we could have made it down there. We found ourselves back at the base of the cables, where 2 hours previous we had been so elated to finish the Half Dome.
Afterwards, Hannah and Niresha told me they thought we were going to die, but even though I knew we could get seriously injured, that never passed my mind. I thought there was still some possible route I could explore, and probably would have kept taking riskier moves until one of us became injured.
That day I learned that I don’t give up. I would have kept searching for those stairs until I was physically incapable. Perhaps it was foolhardy of me to not fully accept the direness of our situation. The Yosemite Mountains are both beautiful and formidable, and despite the trauma of being stranded, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Thanks for letting me share your journal entry, Erika! I still remember getting back to our AirBnb and not knowing how to process what had just happened. The normalcy of the things we were doing, taking a hot shower, eating an apple while watching TV, all seemed strange after what had just happened. Lesson learned: don't think you're invincible because no one is. More travel stories to come!