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Old 10-12-2006, 09:17 PM   #1
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Name: Gary


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Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir

View from the top of Half Dome: Tenaya Canyon and the High Sierras on Saturday, October 7, 2006:

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I apologize up front for the fact that there is nothing motorcycle related in this post. However, it is apparent that many here at have a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature in general and the grandeur and majesty of Yosemite and California's Sierra Nevada Mountains in particular. I have spent many, many hours on enjoying the numerous posts of rides throughout this wonderful mountain range. I am especially inspired and delighted by the beautiful and sublime images captured by Tim/Pashnit, Donna/Demenshea, Will/Orson and of course, Chandi. In this post I offer you many of the same scenes, but from a slightly different perspective. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy my little sans moto travelogue.

The hike to the top of Half Dome from the Valley floor is approximately seventeen miles long, gains 4,800 feet to a peak elevation of 8,842', and takes about ten to twelve hours to complete. The booklet given to visitors at the park entrance lists a variety of hikes, this being the only one rated "Extremely Strenuous".

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While driving through Yosemite Valley to the trailhead at oh-dark-thirty, I witnessed the full moon descending to the west over a misty meadow.

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A terribly poor substitute for my morning cup of Peet's.

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Our group of five headed out at 5:25 am, the path illuminated solely by headlamps as the full moon had set beyond the western rim of the valley. In darkness, we shuffled along the trail, over bridges, and then up the "Mist Trail" which is basically a gigantic granite staircase climbing alongside Vernal Falls. In the dim light, it felt as though I was scaling the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The gray light of dawn began to emerge in the eastern sky as we approached the top of Nevada Falls. The five of us work at a Cessna Citation maintenance hangar in Sacramento. L to R: My crew chief Bob, Bob's son and my fellow wrench Dave, avionics Jerry, and inspector Ted. (Citations are Cessna's version of a Learjet).

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Dawn over the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley.

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Our elevation is now somewhere around 6,000', the sunrise is near at hand, and it's a little chilly. But the beauty of the forest fills me with warmth and I am so appreciative and grateful to be here, experiencing this moment.

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This webcam shot portrays the iconic image of the northwest face Half Dome, looking east from Yosemite Valley. (

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Here is a less common view; it's the southeast 'backside' of Half Dome, basking in the warm morning sunshine.

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The trail wends its way through a forest of among other trees, mighty ponderosa pines and fragrant incense cedars, eventually leading up to a ridge which affords the hiker a peak down into Tenaya Canyon. Exfoliation is a specific type of weathering of the granitic rock found throughout the Sierras. From Wikipedia:

"Hard rock such as granite forms plutons (a rising blob of lighter rock (similar in form to those seen in a lava lamp, but far larger) several kilometers below the surface as magma slowly cools and crystallizes. The granite is under great pressure due to overlying rock. Then, granite is rapidly uplifted to the surface during a mountain-building event. During the mountain building process, the overlying rock is stripped away by erosion as the granite is uplifted. With the overlying rock removed, the pressure on the granite is reduced. The granite expands and fractures. These fractures, called sheet joints, develop parallel to the exposed surface. The granite subsequently erodes in concentric layers (similar to the way an onion peels) forming rounded masses called exfoliation domes. Many such domes are found in the Sierra Nevada range in California, which includes the most famous exfoliation dome in the United States, Half Dome."

Oh yeah, one other fact: exfoliating rock can be strikingly beautiful.

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The high peak on the right is Clouds Rest; it rises above Half Dome to 9,926'.

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And then there were three; Jerry had been fighting a nasty cold the previous week, was tapped out, and couldn't continue up the hill. Ted, who had summitted Half Dome and many other more difficult peaks had nothing to prove and stayed behind with Jerry. So Bob, Dave, and I continued onward and upward, slowly but surely moving towards the top.

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Another shot of Clouds Rest in morning shadow. From the peak to the canyon floor, the north slope is almost all solid granite rock as evidenced by the lack of vegetation.

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Here's Bob at the bottom of the cables, we're almost there! A pair of steel cables run about 900' over the steepest section of the northeast shoulder. They are suspended by metal poles placed in holes drilled into the rock; the poles are not secured to the rock and can be pulled out, as the astonished hiker in front of me discovered unexpectedly. Across the base of the metal poles are two by four wood studs, spaced about ten feet apart. It's kinda like climbing a giant ladder. Kinda.

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Here are some weathering pits in the granite near the base of the cables. They are filled with the meltwater from the previous day's hail and afternoon thundershowers.

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Another shot of the cables with the overhanging rock at the top of the sheer northwest face.

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"We made it to the top! " Bob tells his wife via mobile phone at 11 am, five and a half hours after leaving the parking lot. Others on top have their phones whipped out as well. Technology is so cool.

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Dave hanging ten.

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View to the east.

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Looking south east, Little Yosemite Valley is in the foreground with cabin shaped Mount Clark to the right of center, followed by Gray Peak, and then Red Peak.

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Looking south over the top of Half Dome.

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Here is the classic view of Yosemite Valley, from the west end looking east. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful vistas in the entire world. (not my photo)

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And here is Yosemite Valley from the top of Half Dome; kinda disappointing to me, actually. The guy in red is pointing towards Glacier Point and the 'prow' of El Capitan can be seen in the center of the photo.

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But Tenaya Canyon is awesome.

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Chow time.

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Macro shot of weathered rock.

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A cairn keeping a watchful eye on the tourists.

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A really imaginative cairn.

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Aviva and her really imaginative cairn. We helped out with her creation as the cantilevered rocks had to be held in place until the 'headstones' were set in place.

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Bob and Dave on the Devil's Divingboard

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It's a long, long, lloooooonngg way down.

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What goes up must come down.

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We started down at noon, which coincided perfectly with the rush hour traffic ascending the cables. Great.

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Ants marching.

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Clouds Rest and Tenaya Canyon in the afternoon sun. The clouds looked ominous to the east but only fair weather cumulus floated by in our vicinity.

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I originally thought this was a stunted giant sequoia but Bob informed me that it is an incense cedar. The trunk is around seven or eight feet in diameter at the base. Tall, strong, lithe, smells great and loves the outdoors; we're meeting for drinks next Friday...

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Another shot of the backside of Half Dome. It's tough to see in this reduced image, but the cables and hikers are visible against the sky on the steepest slope in the center of the photo.

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Coming down or going up the trail, this is a natural resting point, just above Nevada Falls. In the autumn, the placid waters of the Merced River beckon.

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But chilly water and slippery rock dictate that prudence must be exercised to avoid cascading down the falls.

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Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap.

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Mobile road apple factories.

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The choices down from the top of Nevada Falls back to the trailhead are either seriously steep on the John Muir Trail or ridiculously steep on the Mist Trail. Toes get smashed into the front of your boots and knees, hips, and back get jarred mercilessly with every step down. Not fun at all. But it's part of the package and well worth the exertion. If it were any easier, it just wouldn't be as satisfying. The discomfort of sore legs fades quickly but to have been here is unforgettable:

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It has been suggested that we "Take only photos, Leave only footprints." And that is precisely what I did.

See ya,

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Old 10-12-2006, 11:06 PM   #2
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Awesome photos. Fantastic report. I hiked up there once many years ago. by the end of the journey, my shins were in pain. After a good nights rest, I was fine. Next hiking adventure has to be Mt Whitney.
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Old 10-13-2006, 05:25 AM   #3
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

What a great report and some really amazing photos. Thank you, as I've yet to go to Yosemite.
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Old 10-13-2006, 05:52 AM   #4
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Sigh... I love Yosemite. One of the most beautiful places on this planet. Your photos are amazing. Following you from trailhead all the way up to the top. Fascinating. That 'ladder' deal? Umm, no thanks!

Glad you made it safe and sound and now have memories to last a lifetime. Or at least the photos in case the memory goes...

Thanks for sharing!!
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Old 10-13-2006, 06:28 AM   #5
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

I used to harbor a dream of climbing Half Dome. CHF has pretty much eliminated that. So I live through photos and stories such as yours. Awesome stuff! Thanks!

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Old 10-13-2006, 06:41 AM   #6
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Totally incredible report. The photos are just stunning. This is a side of Yosemite I have never seen before, the cables are wild, I've never seen photos of them before. What a beautiful place Yosemite is. Next time I am there, I must take time for one of these hikes. Thanks for an outstanding report!
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Old 10-13-2006, 07:20 PM   #7
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Beautiful pix!
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Old 10-13-2006, 07:25 PM   #8
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Incredible. Thanx for sharing the journey!
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Old 10-14-2006, 10:02 AM   #9
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Thanks for sharing, great write up and pictures. Those cables are killer. I have seen grown men and women frozen in place after climbing part way up. Some are even sobbing. People have no idea how steep the cables are and the "fall" exposure on either side. One slip and goodbye. When I climb up those things I can only stare at the ground in front of my face. Hell my hands are sweating thinking about it.
My avatar is a shot from directly under the "devils divingboard" you can crawl in a space below it and sit down.
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Old 10-17-2006, 04:55 PM   #10
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Re: Yosemite's Half Dome: Journey to the Top

Thanks to all for the kind words... but my head has swelled to three times its normal size and now my Shoei won't fit!!!

Originally Posted by BlackST
Those cables are killer. I have seen grown men and women frozen in place after climbing part way up. Some are even sobbing.

Originally Posted by BlackST
My avatar is a shot from directly under the "devils divingboard" you can crawl in a space below it and sit down.
Cool avatar, I always thought you were hanging from a parachute. I had thought of a shot like yours, but it didn't hit me until I was back at the trailhead. My next time up, I'll be sure to check out the "cave".

See ya,

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