Climbing Half Dome: A Regular Man’s Oddessy

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight.

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight.

A few years ago I went out to try and climb the iconic monolith that overlooks Yosemite Valley … Half Dome. This monument to the beauty of nature and constant reminder of how small we are, adorns California drivers licenses, tourist t-shirts, and family vacation photos around the world.

Now what I’m talking about is not the 16 mile (round trip) hike that thousands of vacationers attempt each year. My undertaking was more akin to a mortal man’s attempt of a seemingly herculean task – a multi-day climb up the granite, vertical, northwest face of Half Dome. Something that only a small group of masochistic adventurers attempt each year. (or for those demigods of the climbing world who can climb it in just a few hours – climb multiple times a year) One needs a fair amount of experience before even attempting such a labour, suffice it to say, I worked towards this for quite a few years.

half dome route
half dome route

My partner for this Homeric journey was Eric; a climbing buddy of mine from San Diego who himself had been climbing for quite some time and had this on his to-do list. We actually attempted this very climb back in May 2010 and came down due to a still fresh back injury of Eric’s that flared up. In retrospect, it was probably the Fates looking out for us as there was still snow adorning the summit of Half Dome which would have made summiting and coming down quite dangerous.

Enough of the preamble and on to our epic.

We met in Fresno outside of what some might call a ‘trading post’ for adventurers; aka REI. We got our gear together in my Jeep and promptly rode off towards the climbing mecca of Yosemite Valley. A couple hours later we were on the Valley floor and our climbing banter was in full force and our excitement was palpable.

“I’m stoked to finally get this done!”
“We should definitely make it to 11 on the first day”
“Big Sandy is gonna be awesome!”

If you had dropped into our conversation then and didn’t know what we were talking about, you would probably think we were just babbling idiots speaking Greek…but we didn’t care. We were about to climb Half Dome!

We parked my Jeep as close to the trailhead as allowed, got our last provisions together, sorted gear one last time, and settled in to try and catch a few hours of sleep before our early start.

Day One

Where we had parked is where everyone who hikes Half Dome has to park, and many folks get a VERY early start to try and summit by sunrise. What this meant for us was that we caught about every headlight from every car pulling into the parking lot at midnight, 1am, 2am, etc. These Half Dome pilgrims were excited about their journey as much as we were about ours, and their anxious chatter wasn’t exactly conducive to sleep; therefore, we decided to just get up and go at about 3am. So off we went.

start
start

The hike was pretty intense as there are fixed lines that need to be climbed and you ascend about 3,000 feet from the Valley floor to the base of the climb. It also took us a while to find the trail in the dark, and we had to manage by waiting till it started getting light out and eventually made it to the base of the climb at about 9:30am.

We took a breather and without giving ourselves a chance to look back, we took off.

It took us a while to get into a groove, but we got into a slow rhythm and made it to the top of pitch 6 by about 6pm. (that’s about 600 feet) We weren’t moving as fast as we would have liked, but we had worked this into our flexible schedule, so we decided to take it easy since we were traveling heavy with water, food, and more climbing gear than we’d have on a normal climb. We settled in for the evening and enjoyed a sunset view worthy of two adventurers who were at peace in their element. We were happy with what had transpired thus far and blissfully unaware of the events and labours to come.

Day Two

The next day we started early as we hoped to reach pitch 17, more affectionately known as Big Sandy Ledge. This is a popular place for climbers to stop and sleep for the night as it provides ample room for multiple people…but we had 1,100 feet to climb to get there. So we ate, packed up, took care of some business, and started climbing again.

The previous evening we had noticed some fellow climbers gathering at the base and thought/hoped that these were guys who would try to climb it ‘In a Day’. Climbing Half Dome ‘In a Day’ is popular with stronger climbers as this is a great way to check this route of the personal tick list, and doing it this way cuts out a lot of logistics and hassle. You just have to be really strong, relatively fast, and yell “Hercules, Hercules!” all the way. (ok, that last part isn’t necessary)

As fate would have it, there were two teams that came flying up behind us on seemingly winged shoes. One team American and one Austrian. They were both climbing it in a day (the americans trying for a blazing 5 hours), so we sat by and let them pass us. Now in my past Yosemite climbs, whenever I let other seemingly faster parties pass me it has always turned out to be a bad call and I’ve ended up waiting to climb for an extra 3-5 hours for my generosities. However, this time it was actually a good call and we only got held back about an hour and the two parties disappeared above us before too long (they even took our picture). Eric and I got back into our groove and before too long we were atop Pitch 11 and getting ready to climb some chimneys.

Eric dispatched a quick aid pitch once he figured out the start and I was jumaring (climbing term for using mechanical ascenders to climb a rope) up behind him before too long. Then came my turn to climb over 200 feet of chimney climbing. While these pitches were labeled 5.7-5.9 (relatively easy in climbing terms), they did not feel ‘relatively easy’. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep moving and with an occasional curse word, I managed to use almost our whole 70 meter rope to link all the chimney climbing. While I’m guessing that Eric was glad that I climbed it and not him, I know he didn’t like jumaring up the chimneys as that can be quite the feat with a pack on your back. (In the picture he’s just glad to be done)

(side note: these chimney parts of the climb no longer exist. they fell off in a rock fall a couple years ago)

At this point the sun was beginning to set and we still had 150-200 feet to climb to Big Sandy. So Eric took off to make the most of the sunlight.

Once it gets dark, climbing (especially Big Wall climbing) slows waaaaaay down. You have to look for where you’re going multiple times before you go there and you have to be extra careful because any fall can turn into a quick cluster at night. As we were about to find out.

Just before we were supposed to start the pitch to Big Sandy – we got off route. Our topo (climber’s map) even showed the off route, but we were in the dark. We couldn’t tell if we were at the right spot. Eric climbed for about an hour or so and as he got higher he realized that we had to be off route. So he down climbed and we took stock of our situation. It was past midnight, and we both hadn’t eaten since our lunch about 8 hours earlier. We had already started to run out of water (I had actually cramped to the point of my muscles freezing a few times during my last pitch), only had about a quart of water left, and had a whole day of climbing and hiking ahead of us. As we had only slept for a couple hours the past two nights, we decided to eat and try to bivy atop pitch 16; just one pitch away from our days goal. Bummer.

Little did we know that if we had read one of our route descriptions that we had in our pack, we only needed to descend just a bit and head to our right to find our route up to Big Sandy. But we were a little out of it and hadn’t thought of that. So we tried to settle in to sleep on our barely park bench sized rock ledge.

Let me just say that I was essentially sitting in a narrow granite trough that I couldn’t even sit up straight in. No laying down for me. Eric was able to contort his body to lay on his side if he dangled his feet off the ledge. Sort of.

As the moon slowly crept over the Valley from behind Half dome I got colder and colder, and more and more miserable. I wasn’t sleeping at all. Eric tried to pretend that he was, but he couldn’t even fool himself. I’m not sure how long we sat there as I fell into a semi-hallucinatory state of mind/sleeplessness. Eventually I realized I had to move and warm up, so I woke Eric out of his ‘sleep’ and told him that we needed to climb. He promptly agreed and we slowly got ready.

Day Three

Finally ready, we explored down and to the right and instantly saw where we needed to go. Eric made his way over and I set off at a snails pace on the pitch to our previous day’s goal. We had a full moon that night and it was intensely bright, so once I started climbing I actually enjoyed the climbing.

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight. I crawled upward, cramping occasionally, but making my way; and before too long I was standing on Big Sandy! The moon had left and daylight was upon us, so that meant it was about 5:30am. Happy to be atop pitch 17 and to see some sunlight, Eric raced up to Big Sandy to enjoy the copious amount of room that it affords.

We relaxed for about an hour and a half, ate some breakfast, and took a 20 minute nap. At this point, our want to get off the rock overpowered our desire to sleep, so we pressed onward. Only 500 more feet!

(above is a zoomed in look at what is known as the Diving Board at the summit of Half Dome)

As Eric was leading the infamous Zig-Zags he suddenly exclaimed “Oh no!” and I saw a whole carabiner of our small climbing nuts falling. They fell in slow motion as we both couldn’t reach them and the realization that this climb was about to get significantly harder flashed through our heads. But all of a sudden…thunk! The carabiner of nuts had landed on the last ledge of Big Sandy!! I breathed a huge sigh of relief and told Eric that I could get them up to him. Disaster averted. Eric finished his pitch and I crawled up our rope to him. One more pitch to Thank God Ledge. (i’ll explain)

We were the tortoise and the day’s light was the hare as we plodded along in our dehydrated, zombie-like state. I finally reached Thank God Ledge and gave a loud hoot as everyone who physically prepares for this climb knows they must also mentally prepare for Thank God Ledge. And it was Eric’s lead.

As you can see from the picture, Thank God Ledge is a 2 foot wide ledge that narrows to about 8 inches, dares you to try and walk across, and constantly reminds you that you are now 2000 feet off the ground as you inch across.

Eric psyched himself up to lead this brain tingling pitch and with some “you got this dude!” and “this is your last hard pitch!” from me, he started.

Eric took his time crossing, but he did it well and made it to his last hurdle on this climb. A Yosemite 5.8 chimney. He had to work on this last section for a while as it can’t be aided and he actually took off his leader pack and climbing rack to make the move…and he made it! With Herculean effort, he grunted his way to the anchors and gave a huge sigh of relief.

At the same time I saw a little black rectangle fly out from the chimney and go skydiving down below.

“Rock!” (a courtesy all climbers yell when something falls)

I knew what it was right away…Eric’s camera…not a rock. He had kept it strapped to him during the chimney climb and the rock had scraped it right off and spit it out in spite of his success. Lucky (sort of) for Eric, the only pictures he lost were pictures of me.

Wanting to wrap up this climb, I hurried across the ledge as fast as I could and made my way to Eric. I took right off on the last pitch or so of climbing with a quick bolt ladder and couple surprisingly tricky tension traverse moves and we were scrambling to the top at 6pm! Yes, it had taken us about 10 hours to do 5 or so pitches. We were exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, super tired…and really, really happy.

There was a group of guys up top that gave us some water and chatted with us for a while as they tried to comprehend what we had just done. (as did we) We made some quick phone calls to our loved ones to let them know we were safe and then booked it off the top of Half Dome to try and make the most of the daylight that was left

Just like Hercules wasn’t done until he completed his 12th labour, we had our 12th trial still ahead of us. We had to hike 8+ miles down to the Valley floor and back to the car. Eric took the pack with all our gear in it because he has that ‘old man strength’ from years of mountaineering and we booked it down. We stopped for water half way down to replenish our screaming muscles and finally finished at 2:30am at the Jeep. Our personal Odyssey was complete. We made it out of Yosemite Valley that night to our respective resting spots and promptly passed out.

(the moon rising on our hike)

As I look back on it, a few years removed now, most of the misery has faded. Climbers often say “I’ll never do this again”…but time tends to be very forgiving and eventually we look back fondly and laugh about stories like this. The world will always need those mortal men reaching for the seemingly impossible.

Maybe that means there’s something wrong with us…and I’m ok with that.

Major Clean Up in Joshua Tree

“I kept seeing this negativity in the news,” said Kingston. “I got sick of it and said let’s do something about it. I have a following (on social media), why not use it to put it out there and see who shows up?”


With just a few posts on Instagram, he had fifty people commited to help out. He brought in his friend Jordan Kepler to help with the planning.


At first Kingston was nervous about coordinating this type of event. “I’m just a photographer who wanted to use their following for good.”


He focused his initial efforts by reaching out to organizations who work within Joshua Tree National Park. He was told that there was no additional help needed at the time of the shut down; local volunteer groups were already handling the disposal of trash at campgrounds…

via OverlandBound.com

See what I mean? If you saw yesterday’s post, now today’s…this community is about more than just camping and driving your rig off grid. 😊

I only hope that one day I can help effect the same kind of change.

Change Your Life – Adventure is Necessary

I love the Overland Bound community – even though I don’t get out nearly as much as I want to.

This video, by the founder of Overland Bound, is a great reminder that it’s important to make the effort to get out there and disconnect…in order to re-connect.

Links of the Week (09/09/2019)

One link promises months of great content to follow, one will make you smile, one may change your career outlook. Not a bad week I’d say.

When I told people I was planning to write a post about society, and the way people are acting, and the way the media is acting, and the way the government is acting, and the way everyone else is acting, people kept saying the same thing to me.

Don’t do it. Don’t touch it. Write about something else. Anything else. It’s just not worth it.

​Spoiler alert…this is going to be worth it.

The Story of Us

It was one of those weekends when everything went right. The weather was perfect—sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and just cool enough to make the approach tolerable in a t-shirt, without sweating. The two climbers started to hike in with what they felt were very light backpacks, each wondering if they had, in fact, brought everything they needed.

​If you’ve ever done any camping, backpacking, or climbing I beg you to read this. It will have you smiling from ear to ear.

If you haven’t, read it anyways…it’s great.

The Greatest Alpine Climbing Trip Of All Time – semi-rad.com

Something stupid you can stick with will probably outperform something smart that you’ll burn out on.

If you view “do what you love” as a guide to a happier life, it sounds like empty fortune cookie advice. If you view it as the thing providing the endurance necessary to put the quantifiable odds of success in your favor, you realize it should be the most important part of any strategy.

​Lightbulb moment here…

You Better Love This

Social media is meant to help you connect with others and part from the stressors of the outside world — but these platforms are also designed to keep you scrolling, and over time, all of that positivity-driven content can leave you feeling the effects of what psychologists are now calling “toxic positivity.”

I’ll be totally honest, this is partly why I stay away from facebook sometimes. I have to remind myself that social media is not what normal life really is. It’s a highlight reel that never ends.

Social media can be inspiration for sure…but you have to be aware. ​

“Toxic Positivity” Could Be the Reason You Get Sad After Looking at Social Media

Song for the Weekend ((9/05/2019)

Imagine Dragons need no introduction. However, if you ever wondered how they got their name:

The moniker “Imagine Dragons‘ is actually an anagram made from the letters of different words. The band have made it a point of keeping the original words secret. “We just thought it would be cool to keep something to ourselves, because you’re always exposing yourself as an artist.”

As of this post…this video has 1.2 billion views…holy $#&%!

Thunder

Just a young gun with a quick fuse
I was uptight, wanna let loose
I was dreaming of bigger things
And wanna leave my old life behind
Not a yes-sir, not a follower
Fit the box, fit the mold
Have a seat in the foyer, take a number
I was lightning before the thunder

Thunder, thunder
Thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder, thunder
Thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder

Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder
Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder
Thunder, thunder
Thunder

Kids were laughing in my classes
While I was scheming for the masses
Who do you think you are?
Dreaming ’bout being a big star
They say you’re basic, they say you’re easy
You’re always riding in the back seat
Now I’m smiling from the stage while
You were clapping in the nosebleeds

Thunder
Thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder, thunder
Thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder

Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder
Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder
Thunder

Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder, thunder

Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder, thunder
Thunder, feel the thunder
Lightning then the thunder, thunder
Thunder, feel the thunder
(Never give up, never give up)
Lightning then the thunder, thunder
(Never give up on your dreams)
Thunder, feel the thunder
(Never give up, never give up)
Lightning then the thunder, thunder
(Never give up on your dreams)

Thunder, thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder
Thunder, thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder
Thunder, thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder
Thunder, thunder, thun-, thunder
Thun-thun-thunder, thunder

10 Things to Do in Shanghai

Do you really need 10 reasons to go to such an amazing place?

Shanghai welcomes travelers with a stimulating pulse, sky-high buildings, rich cultural experiences, and food that will have you dreaming about it for months.

via national geographic.com

Also, the Chinese Moon Festival begins on September 13th. I would love to be able to see this one day.

10 Things to Do in Shanghai

What is More Important – Design or Speed?

or does it all come down to a Bill Gates quote?

The past few days I’ve been looking into getting my site to be quicker. This quest was sparked by something that Ben Brooks wrote a few years ago and I’ve always remembered. In his post he goes through his brief take on web design and what makes a site readable, comparing and contrasting some popular sites. Go read it…he breaks down some website design standards that you didn’t realize were there…good stuff if you’re looking to make your own site better.

During my own quest, I came across this free website speed test over at Pingdom.com – and this site’s results were less than optimal…or at least much slower than I was hoping. Pingdom has a great tool to see how long your site will take to load, what all is loading in what order, and how big your site is when loaded. Initially, mine was over 6MB and took 5 or 6 seconds to load. I thought this was odd since I didn’t have any crazy graphics, but upon further digging I saw that all the pictures I had with my blog posts were drastically increasing the size of my home page. (the blog page at the time) In the past I had other things that were slowing down my site load times – some custom CSS as well as Bigfoot.js that I spent some considerable time figuring out so I could have those handy pop-up footnotes. (my past sites had them…not going to bother with them here right now)

I am not a programmer by any stretch of the imagination, and I used to host my sites on Squarespace for the WSYIWYG simplicity (what you see is what you get). With that, there wasn’t a lot that I could do other than poke around and see if any specific templates were faster, change my site to text only, or move to another web host. This time around (this is my third website) I decided to switch where my website is hosted and I landed on WordPress.

I may be an edge case as I like to tinker, and have messed with this site’s template here and there. I enjoy that. But it got me wondering, what is more important to someone browsing the web looking for a place to settle in and read for a bit? Aesthetics or Speed?

Most folks who read my past websites did so by subscribing to the free RSS feed, so those folks were looking for content and page load times aren’t as important. Completely fine, that’s what I do too. While I would love to have numerous readers visiting my website every day, week, or month…I’m not a full time writer and doubt that will happen any time soon. However, internet speeds have really picked up over the past few years and website design sites like Squarespace and WordPress are REALLY good at giving you plug and play templates that get you both a fast and good looking site. So RSS is not as “necessary” as in years past when you didn’t want to jump online to slog through links to get to your favorite blog.

Additionally, with 5G coming to the U.S., I think we’re entering an era of being able to have both aesthetics AND speed in the palm of our hand.

BUT…

I do find it apropos that it was Bill Gates who is credited with the saying:

Content is king

In the end, we must keep reminding ourselves that it doesn’t matter if a blog page is fast or beautiful to look at…if there is no content, none of it matters.

Bill would probably tell us to stop sweating the design and google speed-tests – and to just get to writing, vlogging, creating.