Climbing Half Dome in Yosemite Valley
3000 miles of driving a 35 foot RV, hundreds of nights dreaming, hundreds of painful days of training in a sport we discovered in our mid-twenties, daily pushes to conquer our unrelenting fear, all leading to the this one mountain that has captured the attention and inspired anyone who has ever come in contact with it. It certainly captured our attention. From the moment we saw it and discovered climbing as a hobby we knew that we had to climb that mountain. Now the time has come, the time to show up and send it no matter what. Don’t Half Ass Half Dome.
Arriving in Yosemite Valley is a magical experience in itself. I had personally never looked forward to and planned a visit to a place in the world, the way I did for this one. The suspense and build up that led to our arrival was surreal. I had just driven across the entire country and yet no place had taken my breath away like Yosemite. It comes across as a magical land. It’s hard to fathom that this landscape from geological standpoint even exist. I suddenly have the urge to be a geologist just so I can know more about Yosemite. But now isn’t the time to get swept up in a new passion. You are here for a reason Hartley. Half Dome.
Matty and I walk past Yosemite Falls, over a bridge, and there it is in the distance in all its glory. You can’t miss it. A 2000 foot half moon shaped granite rock that has fallen from heaven has appeared and is right in front me. We spend the rest of the day viewing it from several different angles and looking points, ending with a sunset at Glacier Point. The most inspiring view of Half Dome. Two days until the climb. Matt is arriving tonight and boy do we have a lot of prepping to do tomorrow. This isn’t the climb to half-ass. Matty and I cook pasta in the van at Glacier Point, have a Pacifico (because there was no PBR) or two while discussing how amazing Yosemite is before we decide to call it a night.
We wake up the next day, while being fully aware that one of the biggest days of our life is less than 24 hours away. We have breakfast and meet with Matt. We read about Snake Dyke on mountain project as well as the Yosemite Climbing Routes book to obtain as much information as possible about the approach to the climb. We already knew that in round trip without including the climb itself, it’s a 15 mile hike. So for safe measure, we head to the climbing store to receive extra information from a Yosemite employee who most likely climbs but undoubtedly hikes. He gives us even more detailed information on how to hike to the base of the climb. However, it still seems a bit convoluted and we are aware that there is a good chance of us getting lost someway, somehow.
We begin the hike and naturally Matty wants to bring his legendary mountain goat of a dog Mugs even though you are not allowed to bring dogs on the hike. Two miles in Matty has got to turn back because wouldn't you know, dogs are not allowed on the hike, so Matt and I are forced to forge on and do the adequate research for the climb without Matty. About 5 miles in, we are starting to realize that this hike is not a walk in the park. My legs are burning a bit but I don’t want to even acknowledge it. One foot in front of the other, we will make it. 7 miles in Matt and I take a wrong turn. Classic. Now it’s going to be a 17 mile hike the day before we do the biggest climb of our life. Needless to say, we make to the base of Half Dome and to get to the route itself, there is still another 900 ft of intense scrambling. My legs are feeling it as I tell Matt that we have done enough research. If we get lost from this point tomorrow morning, then we are officially the 3 Stooges. So we decide to hike the 8 miles back to basecamp.
By the time we get back my legs are shot. That was officially one of the top 5 hardest hikes I have ever completed. I decide that it is essential that I stretch, foam role, and give myself a massage for the next 3 hours before getting our gear ready, going to sleep and waking up at 3:30 am for the big day. I will not lie…a part of me wanted to bail or reschedule the climb to Wednesday as I was genuinely worried about how tight my legs and back would be. However, we had planned this day and literally advertised it for months, so bailing was not an option. One foot in front of the other, we will make it. Time to go to sleep for a few hours, but I may just be too excited to sleep.
The alarm goes off. I was too excited to go to sleep. I’d say we each got 3 hours of sleep. Literal garbage night of sleep but the thrill of the moment had us all feeling like we had plenty of energy. Matty makes coffee, while I stretch a bit more. Matt has arrived and we are eating our bagels, drinking coffee and finalizing our gear. All is packed, however as I double check everything and am generally the last person to be ready for all events, Matty and Matt begin hiking without me and leave me the rope to carry. Those pricks. Now it’s 4am, still pitch dark out and I begin the hike with the intention of catching up to them. First turn out of the parking lot…boom wrong turn. Now I am in the woods and am fully convinced I heard something. Is that a bear? Oh great, I left the bear spray my mom gave me 9 months ago for this exact occasion. Luckily there was no bear; I made it out of the woods and caught up to them a half-mile down the road. 6 miles to go.
My legs feel surprisingly decent. The sun slowly begins to rise and we can turn off our headlamps as we can now begin to see Half Dome in the distance. There she is in all her glory. We continue to do most of the hike with a quiet determination and understanding that we have an extremely long day ahead of us.
We arrive at the base of Half Dome and haven’t been lost once, so our day before research seemed to be worth it. However, we have the 900 ft scramble to the base of the climb itself to go and a scramble it was. It never ceases to amaze me that when you think about climbing, you think of that being the adventurous and dangerous part of the day. But the adventure and danger always begins well before the climb itself. We scramble up the steep granite and across where we eventually see some people at the base of the climb. Those sly son of a guns. They must camped closer to Half Dome because there is no way anyone woke up before us.
As a party of three, the party of two ahead of us did not particularly slow us down. Matt and I took turns leading pitches because Matty knew how much this climb meant to us. Matty also did a great job of helping us capture moments on the wall. A true MVP. The climb itself was very calf heavy and slabby. It was not the hardest climb we had done and therefore we cruised very confidently through most of it. However, it was rated R, as in there was often little to zero opportunities to place gear on a pitch. So sometimes we wouldn’t place gear for over 100 ft, meaning if we fell we would’ve fallen 200 ft down a rock face. That was a mental feeling I had never experienced. But there was no time to think about that. Time to climb, one move at a time.
Reaching the top was one of the most rewarding unforgettable experiences of my life. A dream realized. A goal accomplished. An unforgettable memory made. A fear conquered. A part of Yosemite history. And accomplishing all of this with two people that will always be family to me. We drank it in at the summit, relaxing and enjoying the most beautiful view of all time. People approached us realizing we didn't come up the same way they did and were inspired by our feat. It always an incredible feeling to know that the mere act of doing something scary and difficult is something that can be inspiring to others. Inspiring others to take a chance on themselves... that is ultimately more rewarding than the climb itself.
Although, we finished the climb, it was time for the 9-mile hike back to base camp for some beers. All downhill. Anyone who has done a long downhill hike knows that that actually might be the most painful part of a hike when it comes to the knees and joints. One foot in front of the other, we will make it. All in all, we did 32 miles of hiking and 2000 ft of climbing in 32 hours. I literally felt like Moses wondering the desert for 40 years by the end of it. But I also felt the way Moses did when he freed his people. Thank you Yosemite and Half Dome for the most memorable day of my life. Thank you Matt and Matty for being my brothers in arms.
On to the next peak...
Written by Hartley Erickson, Founder at DHAA
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