Sunday, 21 October 2012

Half Dome

16.2 miles. 
4800 feet / 1500 metres of ascent. 
Just over 9 hours total. 

Wow.  I'm only in Yosemite for three days and I have been checking the forecast since about August.  As it typically my luck it looks like Monday and Tuesday will be a bit ropey so decided to go for it and do my 'big climb' on the first day.  Half Dome totally dominates the surroundings so it was always going to be at the top of the list. 

I got up at the ungodly hour of 6.45, shoved down a dubious buffet breakfast and hit the road - a mile trek to the official start of the walk.  I'll not try to do a blow-by-blow account of the trip but suffice to say it was pretty punishing.  The 'official' time is for around 12 hours so was pleased to get it done in around three-quarters of that, but I'm certainly paying for it now - am self-medicating with beer for the sore knees and feet.  

I did the Yorkshire Three Peaks this summer just gone and that was longer in a linear sense (26 miles) and about the same in terms of ascent (1600 metres) - the difference here was the heat (it was at least 25C at some points I'm sure) and the total relentless nature of it - there was no respite from the climbs and the shorter distance made it very punishing.  

Hopefully a series of photos will give some sense of the day - with some commentary under each one.  

Starting off so early most of the valley walls are in shade - which was nice from a temperature point-of-view and also because you could watch the sun move slowly across the face of the rock and reveal the colours and shading that was hidden in the darkness.  This is a shot of the challenge from quite early on in the day - I kept pinching myself and saying, "am I really going to climb that?". 

Lots of the walk was through wooded areas which was cool - some huge trees that obviously had been around for many decades - even when they're scarred with fire otherwise struggling.  There were also lots of wildlife in evidence - particularly squirrels and a curious bird that looked like a blackbird or a jay but sparkling sections of blue. 

This is one of the views from the highest point that I got to.  A photograph really doesn't do it justice - as far as the eye could see was mountains, valleys, trees, granite and sky.  The sky!  

I didn't fancy the final 400m up the final summit, especially as the ropes were officially 'down' so it would have been a hand-over-hand job to get up there on quite slippery granite.  There was a group of proper climbers there and they said that the view wasn't any better on top compared with the 'saddle' - so that reassured me!  I was very happy to be satisfied with what I'd done!

Yosemite (or at least, Curry Village where I'm staying) is a curious place.  When I got here on Saturday afternoon my heart sank a bit - it was all very Butlins: an ice rink, cinema, terrible food etc.  But then I went into a very well stocked mountaineering shop and got authentically surly service (that's always the way in those kind of specialist shops).  But overall my impression was of a very busy and noisy place with lots of unruly kids running about everywhere.  And I was totally convinced that there was a bear snuffling around behind my canvas tent cabin at various points in the night but this morning I realised it was the enormous biker guy snoring...  

I set off so early this morning that I didn't get a sense of what everyone else was up to, but coming back in this evening passing the car-park on the way to my cabin there were about 15 cars left in a carpark at least ten times that size which was full 12 hours before...  So I think it'll be quieter at least for the next couple of days!  Having a bit of a think about what to do for the next two days - weather looks a bit iffy so might do some smaller stuff with shelter built in...

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