Monday, August 10, 2009

17 + 4,000 / 12 = 1 hell of a day

The decision to hike Half Dome started back in April 2009. A group email went around with hubby's friends that did the hike two years ago. At first I was very skeptical because I remember how sore hubby was two years ago and seeing his pictures...I didn't know if I wanted to do it. I finally decided I could and should go for it after our 10 mile hike at Mount Rainier outside Seattle. The hikes are very different, but after a 10 mile hike, I built up enough confidence that I should at least try it. I'm in the best shape of my life right now. I'm still working to get in better shape, but if I should try was the time.

I was nervous at first about starting the hike at midnight! I thought, crap, full day of work, no sleep and hike up a freaking mountain. Ok. Step 1: take that day off work. Step 2: sleep as late as I can that day and take a nap in the afternoon. Step 3: be as prepared as possible. Ok. I can do that. The temperature swings for that night and the following day was a low of 40 and a high of 85. Ok, well that's not so bad. Besides, I like the cool air. This is totally manageable and will be absolutely lovely under the full moon. 

After a four hour drive, we entered the park. We immediately got the most magnificent views of the famous mountain: El Capitan! The bright moonlight shinning upon the enormous granite face was truly awesome! We pulled over to the side of the road to soak in the sights before continuing on to the parking lot. What a surprise when we pulled into the parking lot to see hundreds of people also doing this hike at night!!!! We immediately no longer felt so special, but we knew we were in good company with others that wanted to make it to the summit for sunrise. 

We met up with the rest of the group quite easily and the organizer gave a little welcome and made sure each car group had a walki-talkie. Hubby managed to get one and that made me feel really good because I knew it would take me longer than most. And off we went at 12:13am! We all stayed together for the first 1/2 mile that went from the parking lot to the bathrooms. Hubby held my hand for a bit here and made me feel really great. He even made sure to get a picture of me smiling (although slightly blury) before I stopped smiling! 

All smiles at the beginning!

Everyone made sure all water containers were full and then we set off. I was instantly last. I was amazed at how fast the group darted up the stairs around the falls on the Mist Trail. I thought for sure I wouldn't be dead last already, but maybe in a small group that wanted to go slower - nope. I was last. Tony stayed with me, but was still ahead. Rounding the huge stairs looping around Vernal Falls, the moon cast a beautiful glow on the falls...basically just enough to make my stomach do flips. Unfortunately, the flips in my stomach didn't go away for some time. 

After climbing for some, the layers started to peel off. I was sweating like crazy and down to my tank top. As we ascended, we matched pace with another couple from the Sacramento area. They were nice and we made small talk for a while. She said, "It gets easier - I promise. You'll hit about a mile of flats." That was very encouraging, but we soon fell behind them. It started to get later and later and also colder and colder. I had all my layers on and was still freezing. After the flats, I just had to take a rest. I didn't want to rest for too long because the longer you rest, the colder you get. 

One stop in particular, it was late and I started to get scared. I was hungry and cold and tired and it had been just the two of us for some time now. Hubby was talking to me and said I wasn't making any sense. My sentences were not complete thoughts and he was really trying to narrow down exactly what I was thinking, "Are you hungry? Are you cold? Do you still feel nauseated?" I said, "I don't know. I just want to curl up and die!" and I started to cry a bit. Hubby got down in front of me and took my hands. That's when he realized that my body temperature just got way too low. My hands were freezing cold and the tips of my fingers were numb. I was shivering like crazy, so he took off his North Face soft shell and gave it to me. He took my windbreaker and said, "Oh yeah that's going to make you feel so much better really soon. Now here, eat this" and he handed me a Cliff Bar. I took a few bites while I put on his gloves and secured my warmest hat on my head. I started to feel better almost instantly. Then I was asked if I wanted to turn back to the car. I took a deep breath and said I wanted to continue up. I may not make it all the way, but I want to get as high as I can and see the sunrise. 

So we kept going up and we could see signs of the sky getting lighter. We were still in the trees, but it was great motivation to keep going knowing it would get warmer and knowing how hard I've already worked I did not want to turn back. 

Sunrise at 6:08 am

Hubby holding me tight!

So I made it to the top of this part before you descend a bit before the switchback granite stairs. Hubby and I watched the most beautiful sunrise coming up over the mountains and casting pink hues over neighboring mountains. As soon as the sun broke over the very tip of Half Dome, we could hear all the people at the top cheering!!!! It was an amazing feeling to hear the joy of those that made it. Hubby stayed with me for a big and we pulled out the food we packed. I made a comfortable resting spot there (others stopped at that point as well). Hubby made sure I had all my layers on and zipped up tight and then he took off to trek all the way up the ropes to meet the rest of the group at the top. He also left me with the walkie-talkie so I had a way to communicate. 

We could hear the "ants" on top of Half Dome cheer at the first sign of sun!

I made it!

Amazing sun rays shinning on the mountains!

Hubby ready to make the trek up the cables.

I had a great meal of cheddar cheese and summer sausage where I didn't even bother cutting the sausage, but just bit into the roll! I felt more energy coming on. I was "alone" there for almost three hours by the time hubby and about 5 others made it back to me. I had some food all prepared for Hubby because I knew he needed to eat to get his energy. He had the greatest chuckle when he saw I just too huge bites out of the summer sausage! It was about 9am when the 7 of us started our descent back to the car. 

By no means, not a flattering picture, but who cares when you climbed about 4,000 feet!

It started to warm up nicely and the layers started to come off. Along the flats, I did a quick pit stop off at the bathrooms there and changed from my long, black pants into my pink running skirt. I was comfortable and all smiles on the flats. 

Enjoying the 1 mile of flats!

It was really nice to make our way down in a group of people. Hubby and I had the chance to talk with others and be more social than on our way up. I got to actually see the beauty of the Nevada and Vernal Falls. 

Vernal Falls

A friend let me borrow her hiking poles. I at first didn't know if I would need them, but I can't even stress how helpful they were at most points to have around. They helped pull me up on the really steep stairs going up and helped stabilize me on the treacherous downhills when my legs were just totally giving out on me. I think I would have been in much worse shape without them. I remember thinking after we finished the stairs at Vernal Falls - WooHoo we're almost there! Until I read the sign that said, "2.5 miles to the Valley floor"...and knowing those 2.5 miles would take us like probably 3 more hours!!!! 

Then we made a wrong turn. :( We started ascending and noticed that we made a left when we should have made a right and we were on the John Muir Trail...not where we wanted to be. Two people went back down, verified we were going the wrong way and radioed to Hubby to turn back. It was probably a 30 minute detour, so not terrible, but also not what you want to hear when you're exhausted to the point when you just want to be finished. The last 1/2 mile hubby even carried my pack on his chest! Every time we stopped, my legs were just wobbling. It was kinda funny! 

We finally made it down all the way and through the massive crowds with children and to the car by 3:30pm. Ok, so that's leave at 12:13am, make it to the top by 6:30am, rest until 9am where we started making our way down (so - 2.5 hours then) and all the way to the car by 3:30... is 12+ hours of moving time. WOW. And that's like 15 hours of moving time for those that went all the way. I mean, they had their breaks too and rested at the top, but all I have to say is that's an incredibly difficult hike. I don't ever remember staying up ALL night and into the next day, so even with nap at the top, it was a VERY LONG experience. 

The best feeling was back at the car when I took my shoes off and put on my flip flops! I was all smiles again. I got to wash my hands and face and felt like a new person. We found the organizers campsite and cooked some food and made some coffee. We decided we would not camp that night, but actually drive back home. Hubby said he was good to drive and we all really wanted to make it back to our own showers and beds! So I snuggled up with a pillow in the back seat and fell asleep as soon as we left the park. We did manage to get one amazing shot on our way out of the park with half dome in the background..."We were there!"

At some point about 1.5 hours into the drive home, I immediately felt ill again...woke up and asked Hubby to pull off the road because I was going to be sick. He did a great job getting off and I managed to gather myself enough to not be sick. I switched seats and got back in the front and we found a gas station within the next little bit where we pulled off to get more water and rest for a bit. I had the chance to go to the bathroom and then I threw up. I felt better already. I slowly drank some Gatorade, took a dramamine and then told Hubby he could start driving again as long as he took the road with extreme caution until this nausea subsided. It didn't take long before I felt better and we got to wittness another amazing sunset. Two sunsets & one sunrise all without getting actual "sleep". That's pretty freaking hardcore. :) 

We made it back home by 10pm and decided to leave everything in the car except the one small bag with clean clothes. We both showered up and watched about 2 seconds of TV before we fell asleep and made our way to the bedroom where I crawled out of bed around 9am. We had a fantastically lazy Sunday, even though it was HOT outside...and 86 degrees inside our place, we didn't do a thing. We spent some time in the afternoon cleaning the car of stuff and putting everything away, but I did not do laundry, we did not clean the house, but we did grill up some dinner in the backyard and watched some TV. It was a fantastic weekend and I have a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment even though I did not make it all the way to the summit. 

We were there!

It is amazing what you learn about yourself and for your spouse at that matter, when faced in an epic journey like Half Dome. I learned I can't wait (well, I can for a few more years) to have children with Hubby. He is the most caring and protective man and I know he will never leave my side and always be there for me when I need him most. It was more than I ever thought I could accomplish. What's next? :) 

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