Thursday - Arrival
Everyone met at my house about 11:30am for final packing. We loaded everything, then crammed in as much wood as we could for our campfires, then Ben realized he forgot his hiking boots (!) so we went back to his house, then on the way. We stopped in Tracy around 1pm for gas, lunch & a trip to Target since Ben didn't have a tarp for under his tent. We were going slowly since Jen & John were pulling their trailer up the steep hills, so we got to the big entrance sign about 5pm, then our campsite around 6ish. We started a fire even though it was almost too warm to enjoy it, oriented ourselves around the campground, set up camp, had a tasty dinner of grilled onion & fresh tomato salad, grilled sweet potato salad, sausages & stick bread, with s'mores for dessert, then went to bed early for hiking in the morning.
Ben, Britta, Jen & John at the Yosemite entrance sign
Friday - Halfdome
Friday morning we got up with alarms at 7am, even though I had woken up at 6am & rolled over again, and were all ready leaving the campsite by 8am. Jen & John were going to join us for the beginning of the hike & see how far they could get, since it goes to the Vernal Falls footbridge then to the Mist Trail, so we all looked up in awe at how high up Halfdome really was from the valley floor & found our way to the trailhead. It was already getting warm, and I had sweat dripping in my eyes making my contacts cloudy on the first inclines. The last time I did that section of trail was in February 2005 and I had no problem then! John's knee was bothering him too much, so he & Jen turned around just about the crest of the hill to the footbridge, and Ben & I kept going.
We checked out the trail map where it split and saw the John Muir Trail looked longer but did not go past the waterfalls, so we took the Mist Trail as planned. I was wearing my backpack full of frozen water bottles, trail mix, apple slices & a couple protein bars, and to limit the sweat in my eyes issue, I tied my teal bandana as a headband, christened "Fresh Princess of Bel Air" for the gangsta style. Since the Mist Trail is a billion stone steps, my thighs were killing me, I was already overheating and there was NO Mist on the Mist Trail...ripped off! In 1993 it was early September and I distinctly remember some overspray reaching the steps, plus more shade! Ben was leaving me in the dust since he had his walking sticks and he's been working out like a good boy. We were early enough the light was so bright our photos of Vernal Falls aren't the best because of glare & lens flare, but at least we saw them! At the top I needed a break, and Ben geeked out trying to moblog from his iPhone since he had signal. Of course the 10:30am photo we took didn't post until after 2:30pm...heh...
Even more steps led the way past Nevada Falls, which is honestly another ripoff since you only see the waterfall for half the hike, so the last half when you (well me at least) are suffering the most, you can't see anything but infinite steps and trees. I couldn't even see Ben anymore in all the switchbacks he was so far ahead, so I just took microbreaks when I needed to and made it up still in decent time considering how I felt. There were skinny twenty-something girls who were going slower than I was so I didn't feel quite so bad, but I was roasting, and I had already drained my first 17oz of water which wasn't a good sign.
At the top of Nevada Falls we had already made it 2000 ft up from the valley floor in about 3.5 miles in 3 hours, and thankfully the next couple miles of hike was fairly flat for awhile so I felt much better I could keep going, especially after the nice 15-minute break to completely catch my breath while munching the delicious apple slices and a protein bar. The sign was 4.5 miles to Halfdome at Nevada Falls, and we had made it to the 2 miles left marker when we met Ranger Brenton who nicely agreed to take a photo of us as he wished us good luck.
Unfortunately the last ~1000 ft were the worst for me. We had already traded packs and I was borrowing Ben's walking stick so we could each use one, but I was still struggling, taking more & more breaks to keep moving. I was getting worried when I would barely sip my water but feel nauseated, but at least I was still sweating so I wasn't totally dehydrated. I also think the altitude wasn't helping me since full breaths were difficult and would slightly burn at the deepest point inside my chest, and I could feel my pulse pounding inside my head. Ben kept asking if we should think about turning around, but I was still hoping we could get to the base of the cables, take a good rest, then maybe I would be refreshed enough to try the summit. As we kept going up & up through the trees, with me apologizing every time I caught up to Ben waiting for me as he had gone on ahead, I started thinking it would be dangerous for me to try the cables even after resting. Hikers on their descent had been passing us for about an hour, so I stopped one to ask if there was at least somewhere with a nice view where I could choose to give up. He said "but you're so close!" Heh...but he did say about a half-mile up was the ridge where we could finally see the valley again, and it was gorgeous. I told Ben let's aim for there for a break, then see what we can do next. He forged ahead out of view again as I struggled on with breaks every 50 yards or less, until I saw Ben coming back down the hill. He said the good news was the ridge was only 400 ft further, but the bad news was that it was a steep climb even to reach the cables. I had already decided I should give up at the ridge, but I could stay there waiting for Ben to reach the top. It was only a little after 2pm when we reached the ridge, which was within our plan of reaching the summit before 3pm before our hard-stop turnaround point. He didn't want to proceed without me, so we took our timer photo as far as we got, then I found a good rock to lay down while he took photos. At 3pm after taking my own photos, I was refreshed enough to descend, but there was no way I thought I could ascend any further, so we headed down.
Ah, going down was SO much easier! I could keep up a pretty good clip with my original backpack, and Ben's knees still are touchy enough he was using both walking sticks again, looking like one of those Lego spider robots since he got such a good rhythm going. ;) We had already made it almost back to the 2 mile marker in less than an hour when we saw Ranger Brenton on his way up, who asked if we made it to the top. Embarrassed I said no, I was the weak link, but he pointed behind us at the looming dark thunderclouds rolling in, saying he was on his way up to discourage people from even attempting the cables, since lightning risk is a serious concern, plus any rain makes the rock too slick to be safe even with the cables for support. So, perhaps my weakness was a blessing in disguise this trip. We told him we did get to the ridge where we could see the valley, so I still felt rewarded for my hard work that day seeing a view you cannot see except hiking or helicopter. I asked Ranger Brenton if he had an idea of the elevation of that ridge so we'd at least know how high we got? He estimated we probably only had 800 ft left to the summit, so probably we reached 8000 ft, which was 4000 ft up from the valley floor where we started. Ben doesn't agree and thinks we were at 7600 ft up, but based on the published stats that the final steep climb is only 900 ft from the summit, I'm willing to split the difference that we made it to 7800 ft...still nothing to sneeze at to climb 3800 ft & back down in 11 hours!
We took the John Muir Trail down from Nevada Falls, so now we know we can see Nevada Falls fine from that trail, but not Vernal Falls. We got a few welcome drops of rain on our descent, but no thunder or lightning. That route was much easier on our legs, especially Ben's knees, but still towards the last 1000 ft down, my legs were starting to turn to jelly. When we finally made it back to the trailhead, we still had almost a mile to get back to our campsite, and we both wished we were just "home" already! It was 7:15pm when we strolled in, and thankful John was already started the campfire for our dinner. I was still so overheated from the hike, the whole descent I had been saying how I was planning on going into the river fully-clothed to cool off. Jen lent me her water shoes, then off I went. It was icy snowmelt water, but oh it felt so good! It was shallow so I just
sat on the riverbed and used my washcloth to scrub off the grime of the day. I went to the bathrooms to change into fresh clothes, and I could actually appreciate the campfire that night!
Ben & Britta at the back side of Halfdome, about 7800 ft, 3800 ft above Yosemite Valley floor
Saturday - Mariposa Grove
We all agreed to have a nice leisurely morning, but were all awake by 8am anyway - hah! I wanted to make my dad's traditional camping breakfast burritos, with my own twist of the hash browns being made from the leftover sweet potato salad. Since campfires were only allowed in the evening, we used the trailer gas stove for breakfast cooking. I cooked the bacon, then scrambled eggs in some of the bacon grease (haven't had that in a LONG time!), then fried the sweet potato salad in the same pan. The pan was still hot with the heat off to soften the flour tortillas, so it was build your own with some peach salsa, and they were definitely tasty. We made some sandwiches for lunch & brought more beloved apple slices, then headed out in Ben's car for Mariposa Grove about 11:30am.
I had never been to Mariposa Grove, so I had no idea we could hike so much there. We paid our 50-cents for the flyer, and Ben chose a route for us, hoping that John's knees could take it. Ben & I had to go slowly ourselves since our calves were still sore from Friday! It was still super-hot, but thankfully a lot of the trails were in shade. We saw the Grizzly Giant, a more than 3000 year-old giant sequoia, including one branch that is 7 feet in diameter, past the tunnel tree, then finally reaching the Grove Museum almost at the top of the hill where there was a nice cold water fountain and we took our lunch break with a beautiful shady meadow view. We were all tired, but we made it up another 0.3 miles to the Fallen Tunnel Tree, the one that Teddy Roosevelt rode through on a horse-drawn carriage, then went back down by way of the Clothespin Tree and the Faithful Couple. More exertion than I expected, but I'm really glad all four of us could enjoy the day and see so much!
We got back to camp around 5pm, so had plenty of time for a leisurely dinner, played my first RPG card game Munchkin Fu, roasted bananas for dessert (even those on strict diets!), burned all our wood, then after John went to sleep, Jen & I wanted to see if we could see any of the Perseiad meteor showers against the full moon, so Ben brought his fancy camera out to the bridge, where the view was stunning & spectacular in the full moon. Too bad my camera couldn't capture the moment, but I will remember it forever.
Ben, Britta, Jen & John around the campfire at North Pines in Yosemite Valley
On the long & stiff-calved drive home on Sunday, I had time to think and came up with this list...
Hiking lessons learned that I didn't foresee in my optimism
Bring more water.
We got up Ben Nevis (4400ft) with only 2 large bottles, so I thought 3 would be okay for Halfdome (4800ft). Nope! We made ours last, but Ben donated about half of one of his bottles to me, and we filled up on the way up & down at the one safe drinking fountain at the bottom of the Mist Trail. There is giardia in all the water in the Sierras so not safe to drink unless you have the proper filter.
Strenuous hiking in 95F+ is much different than 65F.
A big "duh" but since I thought I was fairly used to such heat from growing up in the California Central Valley, I didn't think that would affect me so much. I've been hiking in the heat at Rancho San Antonio this year and been okay but those are shorter hikes.
I overheat very easily - not good for exertion in high heat.
As a little girl I always got heat rash at the drop of a hat. I still overheat to purple from push-mowing my lawn in the sun on a hot day and it's very hard for me to cool down afterwards. On this hike when I was struggling so badly going up, I was still sweating instead of going clammy, but was getting nauseated with each tiny sip of water. That was worrying me along with the slight burning in my chest from breathing, so I kept trying to forgive myself for taking so many breaks so often. Taking a 15 minute break was enough to completely catch my breath & continue, which we only did a couple times, but shorter than that was only enough to force myself to keep going up on willpower alone.
Altitude was probably making a difference.
I didn't realize until towards the top of Nevada Falls when each full breath was burning deep inside my chest that the thinner air at higher altitude might be giving me trouble. We were starting this hike at 4000ft and going up 4800ft to reach the top, where Ben Nevis (4400ft) & Beinn Alligin (3000+ft) both started at sea level.
Next time try the longer but more gradual John Muir Trail, not the Mist Trail.
I insisted on the Mist Trail since the other way we wouldn't go past the two waterfalls on the way up, but this time I felt gypped by the Mist Trail, especially because of how it tired me out so early on! In 1993 I swear I remember more shade and some actual mist blowing onto us. Not so this time, and just millions & millions of thigh-killing steps. We had great views of Vernal Falls, which you cannot see from any other trail, but in the morning light it was only glaring for photos anyway. You can see Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail, and you only see it for the first half of the Mist Trail continuation then go around the edge out of view, so that's just being a glutton for punishment. I say do the Mist Trail by itself when there is more water, not on the way up to Halfdome.
I'm fine now except my calves are still a little sore. Getting up from sitting was still a lot of effort until Tuesday! My thighs haven't had any issues since my rest at the top ridge since it was down most of the way. My knees & hips were starting to get annoyed by about 3/4ths of the descent, but they were fine by the time we got to camp. With my overheating issues, I'm not sure even if I get into better shape if I should try the Halfdome hike in 90F+ weather again. The problem is that the cables only go up at the summit from late May through October, and you must get a campsite 5 months in advance, so it's always a gamble for weather. I hope to try again someday!
The full Yosemite photo gallery is here if you'd like to see. Ben took a lot of photos too so we have separate albums inside the main album. :)
Next trip: Alaska, one week from Friday!