Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fruit of labor

The first ripe tomato...

...with promise of lot more to come:
I don't know how much of it was imagination. But I sure thought that the tiny ripe tomato packed quite a punch and tasted absolutely delicious :-)!

Each time someone totally unexpected asks me how my tomatoes are doing, I realize all over again as to just how many people I have told about my "gardening" and my tomato plant. Almost as bad as a grandmother telling about her grand-kids to one and all without being asked :-).

In spite of all the interest shown in the status of the plant as well as in tasting future tomato fruits, no one has yet shown any interest in my suggestion of supplying tomatoes in return for being invited to meals consisting of tomato-based dishes. I wonder why :-P! However, many people did suggest that I could make that meal and invite them over. Tsk, tsk, no respect for the gardener!

And yup, the joy of seeing my plants every morning and evening has not yet begin to pall :-).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Waiting for Harry Potter

"So, are you up for hiking on Saturday, two weeks from now?" my friend C asked me two weeks ago.

"Let me see." I said, glancing at the calendar. "Oh, I can't make it. That day is July 21. I have a meeting with HP. I can't do anything else that day."

"Who the heck is HP?", C exclaimed.

"Duh - Harry Potter!!!" said I.

C complained, "So Harry Potter is more important to you than your friend? Hmph X-(!"

Puzzled that someone should even have the doubt, I replied, "Of course! Harry Potter is more important than *anyone* else!"

Yes, I have been planning for tomorrow for a long time. I have carefully avoided scheduling any other activity for the day. The only tasks on tomorrow's agenda are:
  • get up in the morning
  • wait for my book to be delivered from Amazon
  • start reading it
  • continue reading till I turn the last page of the book.

I was telling another friend, V about it. He asked me why I was not buying the book from the store. I said I wanted to have the luxury of sitting in my pajamas, drinking tea when the book arrived.

V grinned wickedly and said, "Going by your past experience, when tomorrow evening comes around, you will be in stinky pajamas with a cold cup of tea, still awaiting the arrival of the book. After all, it has happened before."

My heart sank as my mind raced back to 2005. I had pre-ordered book HP book number 6 from Amazon. The great day of the book release, Saturday, July 16, 2005, dawned bright and clear. And turned into an even brighter and clearer noon. And then started fading into an inky dusk. But of my book, there was no sign. On Sunday morning, I finally convinced myself that it was not going to show up "on time".

What had happened was this. My former roomie shares my first name. When she had moved out of our apartment a couple of months earlier, she had made a change of address request at the USPS office. After that, the USPS folks, in their infinite wisdom, started forwarding quite a few of my mails to her new address (is it such an unusual thing for two people to share the same first name?). My poor HP book-6 had also apparently joined the ranks of the mis-delivered mail. And since my roomie was not home that day, the book went back to the post office and then to the warehouse and then to Sacramento and then.... oh, lets not focus on that sordid tale.

The net result was, a month after book-6's release, I finally got a replacement copy from Amazon. But long before that, I borrowed V's copy of the book and read it from cover to cover.

For a hard-core HP fan like me, each of the few days between the date of book-6's release and the date I actually got to reading it felt like I was stepping through land mines. It was impossible to log onto the Net without bumping into 20 million HP-related links, possibly with spoilers. It was difficult to talk to ppl without warning them beforehand to stay off the HP topic. Not to mention, my almost unbearable curiosity. Phew!

I don't want a repeat performance of 2005. I want my HP book-7 tomorrow, safe and sound. And by this time tomorrow, I want to have finished reading it :-). Amen to that!

p.s. Is book-7 really the last HP book? Sniff!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sound of music

This time when I went to India, my dad asked me to pick out any cassette tape I wanted from the tape collection we have at home. He told me that I was the only one in our immediate family circle who still owned any kind of tape player. Everyone else had long since moved on to CD and MP3 players and dad was trying to free up space by giving away our (once upon a time) big cassette collection.

Before you conclude that I belong to the Stone Age, let me explain. One of the cassette players I own is at home and is a part of the CD/radio/tape boom-box I bought in 2002. The other one is in my car. However, I usually use neither of them - preferring alternate music players at home and the radio in the car.

Until now. In India, taking up on dad's offer, I picked out a few of the branded usual suspects (old gems, nice movies etc). But mostly, the cassettes I chose were ones which were customized song compilations lovingly done by my sister and me during our school days and early days of undergrad.

Recently, I have been listening to these cassettes. Some of the songs are long forgotten ones which were extremely popular back them (I am a bachelor, anyone?). Some are songs which I love even now (O sanam - wow!).

Irrespective of their current favor level, each song reminds me of the time my sis and I watched various music channels and carefully noted down the names and movies of songs which seemed interesting. Then we would locate friends/relatives/acquaintances who had tapes of these songs. Finally, using our dual cassette deck, we would record the songs. When the mood struck us, we would even make colorful labels for the cassettes (an idea directly borrowed from dad). Voila - our own customized compilation was ready!

These cassettes would then find good use both at home and whenever we went on any journey by car (the ensuing arguments between us and our parents on the choice between new and old songs to play is a different topic :-D).

For the past two weeks I have been using my cassette player as my primary source of music at home as well as in the car. It is kind of strange to not be able to easily skip songs at will. However, it is rather nice to go back in time and brush away the cobwebs from my memory :-).

Amazing how something which was super common just a couple of years back is now so firmly entrenched in the realms of nostalgia!

p.s. Of course, I still make custom CDs and iPod playlists. But I no longer put in the kind of effort which went into making those cassettes!


Speaking of music, on Saturday, I went to the 2007 edition of the Indian Ocean concert. As in the previous year, the concert was wonderful. It went on for more than three hours but I still thought it was too short. The performance was mesmerizing, the audience response was fantastic and the general mood in the hall was upbeat. Midway through the concert it struck me as to how lucky the band members are. They are able to bring so much happiness and joy to so many people every time they perform :-). That must be an awesome feeling!

p.s. I know I have used way too many gushing adjectives in the previous paragraph. But I really think they deserve all of it. Here is the concert calendar for Indian Ocean. If you are able to, you should certainly try to catch a performance.


All ye Harry Potter fans: If you haven't already done so, go watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the theatre. I think that is the best movie so far in the series :-).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What goes up must come down.

Yup, the Half Dome story does not end with how we got to the top. We had to get back to terra firma, right? So, read on.

[If you want to know how we wound up perched on the top of Half Dome in the first place, read [1], [2] and [3]]

At the top, we all congratulated each other and posed for victorious pictures. The top of HD had a pretty big surface area - much larger than a football field.

V, E and C explored a bit - S and me mostly admired the view from one spot as it let us be least mobile :-D. As I enjoyed the spectacular view of the valley, thoughts of the climb back down constantly interrupted my thoughts!

We could not spend too much time at the top. We were among the last few people to have climbed up Half Dome that day. Unless we hurried, we were running the risk of darkness descending upon us during our return back to the trailhead.

So, soon, we all set off to descend down the cables. Given how terrified I am of heights, for the return trip down the cables, I decided to choose a configuration in which I would feel safe. C and V would lead the way showing me how to climb down. S would follow them. I would follow S and finally, E would bring up the rear.

For the first few steps I was okay. Then we reached the steep section of the descent. As I looked down, a wave of dizziness swept over me and I tried to fight back panic. It did not help that this story kept flashing into my mind. Climbing down sidewards was recommended. Even then, the section was so steep that there was no question of climbing down - I had to slide from one plank to the next. And sliding isn't a very easy thing to do when you risk dropping some 390 ft to the ground in case you mis-slid.

I managed to climb/slide down some more planks with E encouraging me (btw, E slid, sitting down the entire way - he was having fun!!!). Then, while sliding down to a plank, I lost my footing a bit and slid down mostly on my behind, hanging on to the cable for dear life with both hands.

At that point I froze, utterly panicked. With the cables as narrow as they are, I was holding up all traffic behind me with my slow pace. But I couldn't have cared less. As long no one asked me to move, I could spend the rest of my life on that plank as far as I was concerned!

Then, someone behind me asked if it was okay with me if they passed me. Sure - just don't ask me to move! Then a guy climbed down past me. I don't know what prompted me to do so but as he climbed down onto the plank below mine, I meekly called out to him "Please, can you just stand on that plank and watch while I climb down to it? I will feel better if someone is watching me."

The hiker looked up at me and said, "I noticed that you are very scared. I was wondering why no one of your party was keeping step with you". I pointed out to S in front of me and E behind me. The hiker (henceforth referred to as God - as far as I am concerned, he saved my life) said, "Let me do one thing - I will put my leg between the planks. You can lean your foot against my leg and use it as a support. Remember, my leg isn't going anywhere."

Now, instead of sliding five feet to the next plank, I had to only slide two and a half feet, upto his leg and then slide down the other two and a half feet. I thought God would continue descending after I came down that one plank.

Instead, God cheerfully told me that he would do this all the way to the base of Half Dome! He said he was happy to be of use. God's technique made climbing down so much less difficult. Like a trusting child, I obediently followed his instructions. He kept up a constant stream of cheerful conversation and encouragement and I finally stopped focussing on how far away the ground was! E was right behind me, shouting out encouragement too. We made slow but steady progress.

Finally, at long last, I stepped off the last plank and I was back on terra firma! And immediately, a whole bunch of people who had been watching the descent applauded - hehehehe. Hikers are one nice and helpful bunch!

God gave me a big hug and I posed with him for a picture - not that I would forget his kindness or help ever. Waving good-bye to God, the five of us set off on our return trip. We did not have any time to rest - it was already 6.00p. So we all set off immediately for the return journey.

Remember the no-step portion of the Steps I talked about here? Well, I did not even notice it during the descent - after that descend down Half Dome, this was child's play! After getting down the Steps, due to an urgent need to use the restroom, the guys practically ran all the way upto Little Yosemite camp (the nearest place with "facilities"). S and me couldn't keep up with that pace (as S put it, "I am constantly moving my legs and I still am behind, what else can I do") and were lagging behind by about 15 minutes.

At Little Yosemite campsite, we re-synchronized with the guys and all of us headed to Nevada Falls together. Once at Nevada Falls, we had to make the call about whether to take the Mist trail or the John Muir trail. The Mist trail was shorter by 1.2 miles but we would have to tackle the trecherous, steep and slippery steps near Vernal falls. It was already 8pm and our chances of being caught in the dark just near those steps were very high.

We decided on the Mist trail and set off immediately. My only aim at that point was to get to the base of Vernal Falls before it turned dark. I had nightmarish visions of me slipping and falling off the steps in the dark and this fear gave me a rush of adrenaline. Apparently, it was motivating others too. We literally ran down all the way from Nevada Falls. V in the lead, S behind him, then me, then C and then E.

At any other time, I would have threaded my way carefully over the rough rocks and slopes on that trail. But that evening, like Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin, we bounded over the steps not even pausing for breath. And we were right in doing so. Just as we reached the base of the Vernal falls, the last traces of daylight faded away, plunging the Valley into darkness.

I had been responsible for making the list of required items for the hike. I added "flashlight" almost as an after thought (why on earth would we still be hiking in the dark?) on that list. S had bought a new hike-worthy headlamp specially for the trip. E had brought along a powerful flashlight too. Those two lights (along with my, as V put it, useless flashlight) saved the day or rather the night. We hiked the remaining one mile back to the trail-head, the lights picking out the way. The valley was silent and after sometime, we could see the moon shining on the Merced river. It was calm, quiet and beautiful.

My knees which had been complaining (but which had been ignored) during the latter half of our fast descent started acting up and we took two short breaks to relieve the cramps. Finally, we reached the trail-head. From the trail-head, we still had a not insignificant walk back to the car. C and V offered to bring the car closer while we waited.

E, S and me had to walk some more distance till the pick up point. As we waited for them, E first sat on the dark ground. After a while, my sore legs got precedence over any fear of snakes and I squatted beside him. S bravely continued standing.

Then the car arrived and we stumbled into it. It was 9.45pm. We drove back to the townhouse and were received with cheers from the rest of the folks. I had a shower and saw the white soap turn into a dirty brown! There wasn't too much talking while we ate dinner. Soon afterwards, we retired to bed.

We had gone the miles we had to go before we could sleep!

Stuff which did not fit in elsewhere:

1. If you are wondering how I still remember every single minute detail: well, so would you, if you had told the same story to different people in excruciating detail about half a dozen times (besides telling the abridged version several more times) :-D.

2. I don't know how much my training helped me in the actual hiking. But it did help in quick recovery. Though on Sunday noon, the day after the hike, V, S and me did something akin to the March of the Penguins as we walked from the car to the restaurant we had gone to for lunch, by Monday noon, I had completely recovered - yaaay!

3. My descent back down the cables marks one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I still break into sweat when I think back to how I stood on the planks. Needless to say, climbing up (or down) heights is not for me and unless they start helicopter service to the top (or God decides to go when I go :-P) I am not going back to the top of Half Dome.

4. Only after seeing my wonderful performance while descending to the base of Half Dome did V, E, C and S realize exactly how scared I had been though I had mentioned it quite a few times on the top. Either I joke too much or cry wolf too many times :-(!

5. Since we were among the last hikers to have climbed HD that day, many of the people we crossed on our way back had been at the top of HD around the same time as us. And guess what, quite a few of them remembered me and told me "Good job!", "We are so glad you came back down safe" etc. - ah, fame (hahahaha) comes in so many ways!!!

6. Yup, I am finally done with my narration. Till now you really did not believe that description for a one-day hike could span four posts, did you :-P?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Going to Half Dome - 3

Continued from parts 1 and 2. If you are still reading this, you really rock dear reader :-D!

When we stepped over the Steps, onto the base of Half Dome (HD), we were stunned. For, this is what we saw:

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The line for climbing up to the top of Half Dome seemed to extend longer than the line to view Lord Venkatachalapathy at Tirupathi! Even fun rides at Disneyland have shorter queues. To think we had read that not too many people hike all the way to Half Dome - hmph x-(!

Resolving ourselves to our fate of a long wait before we got to the cables (which would take us to the top of Half Dome), we plonked ourselves at the tail-end of the queue. Initially, we had planned on having lunch on the top of Half Dome. That was an impossibility now, unless we were ready to starve for the next hour at least.

As I forced myself to eat at least half of my sandwich, I had the chance to have a closer look at the (in)famous cables. From where we sat, it seemed like two parallel ropes tacked onto a vertical wall. The people on it looked like tiny ants.

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How on earth were we going to climb it?

But at that point, I was so exhausted that I really did not have the energy to think about an effort which would happen in the future (irrespective of how near that future was). Instead, I lay down on the shelterless, sun-baked ground. Pulling my cap over my face, I almost fell asleep, oblivious to the sun and the heat! However, as the queue inched forward, I had to change my position at regular intervals which prevented me from completely sleeping. For the first time in my life I could understand how the people snoozing on the hot pavements in Chennai could do it!

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Finally, an hour and forty five minutes after we had reached the HD base, we were at the cables. The cables are two parallel steel cables attached to the side of Half Dome. They are about three feet apart. On the ground between the cables, every five feet or so is punctuated by a narrow (and rather wobbly) wooden plank. The way you climb the last 400 feet of Half Dome is: pull yourself from one plank to the next using the cables.

We all wore gloves to protect our hands (some of us had brought our own, the others picked out gloves from the discarded glove-pile lying at the base of HD). At the last minute, in a flash of inspiration, all of us other than E decided to leave our backpacks at the base and pick it up later (smart move). And finally, we were off!

The first few steps we managed to scale without too much difficulty as the gradient was not too bad. As we climbed higher, the gradient became steeper and the slope began to tell on my hands. I had to literally pull myself up from one plank to the next. Soon, I was hanging on purely by the strength of my hands for the portion of the climb between the planks.

I had a quick look downwards - the slope fell away sharply and the ground seemed so far away. I immediately began to have serious doubts about whether I would be able to climb back down (the cables were shared by both the ascending and the descending hikers and some of the descending folks had looks of abject terror on their faces) . I called out to S, who was slightly ahead of me - "Should I just go back down?". S encouragingly said that having come thus far, we should just get done with it.

We climbed and climbed and climbed. It seemed like the planks would never end. Just as I thought my hands would finally give way, we climbed over the last plank and onto flat land. I collapsed onto a rock, unable to think of anything other than my climb back down - how was I going to do it?

And then, all of a sudden, it struck me. Half Dome! I was on top of Half Dome! YES :-D!!!

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To be continued ...

Sunday, July 08, 2007


"Oh yes, there is apparently an awesome shoe sale going on at DSW - check it out if you were thinking of buying shoes", I helpfully told my male friend K yesterday.

K thought a bit and said, "Hmm, I need shoes, maybe I will go."

I conversationally added, "Actually I was thinking of going today to check the sale out. But I don't have the mood to buy shoes right now - so maybe I will go tomorrow."

K looked flabbergasted and asked, "Mood to buy shoes? What do you mean you don't have the mood to buy shoes today?"

I stared back at K, wondering which part of "I don't have the mood to buy shoes" was difficult to comprehend.

K continued, "You just need to know the size and the color you want and you are all set to buy!"

Hahahaha - that's where perception of shoe-shopping differs between males and females. My usual definition of shoe-shopping is this:
  • Go to the shoe-store with plenty of time to spare.
  • Walk up and down the aisles checking out the shoes on display.
  • Try on any shoe which catches my fancy, irrespective of price or utility or color.
  • Try on even weird looking shoes just to see just how weird they can look.
  • In between all these steps, *if* I like a pair and it is priced right, add it to my shopping bag for future billing.
  • Repeat the above process till I run out of aisles or I get bored, whichever comes first.
You need to have a proper mood for doing this, no? How boring to simply go to a shoe store, armed with a size and a color, and coming out in five minutes!

I think (or at least hope) I am not alone. My female friend C was the one who called me on Friday evening, sounding like Christmas had arrived early. "Arch, you wont believe this - DSW has designer shoes at upto 80% off. Yippee!" She continued talking with some more breathlessly excited statements. And finally said, "Check them out. I would like to talk to you longer but I need to continue shopping.Tata!"

Today I went to DSW. C had not been kidding. The sale was really, really, really good. All the women folk inside the store looked like they had attained nirvana and were inside heaven. The men folk looked like they would rather have been at any other place on earth at that point than at the shoe store.

Oh well :-D!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Going to Half Dome - 2

I am too tired and sleepy today to write this post. But my mommy says that I will forget the story if I don't put it down soon. And when mommy says something, you pull up your socks and listen to her. So, here goes part 2. Part 1 of the story is here.

We set off with great enthusiasm from Happy Isles. Though apparently not too many people hike all the way up to Half Dome (a statement which we later found was grossly untrue), quite a few people hike up to the top Vernal Falls which is about a 2.5 mile round-trip hike from Happy Isles. Hence one could expect a lot of company upto the top of Vernal Falls. So far from being able to enjoy a tranquil communion with nature, we felt like we were taking part in a major procession as we plodded along with scores of fellow-hikers

About five minutes into the hike, my breakfast of half a bagel disappeared into some corner of my stomach, never to be heard from again and my stomach started begging for food. After ten more minutes of treading up the gently upward sloping hike, S and me were already ready to take our first break. Uh-huh - we had not even gone a mile! V, E and C plodded onwards further- apparently there was a scenic spot up ahead where we could take a proper break. We all congregated there and first flurry of photographs were taken.

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Much to the amazement of C, E and S (how can you already be hungry?), V and me polished off our first energy bars at this place. Then we continued on our way. V has already been to the top of Half Dome twice and this was his third trip (yeah, I do have some crazy friends :-)). So we had someone with whom we could check our progress. This advantage was somewhat nullified by the fact that V also has a poor memory :-(.

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Shortly thereafter, we reached the point where we had to decide between taking the Mist trail or taking the John Muir trail to the top of Nevada Falls. The Mist trail is shorter and more scenic. The caveat: it is much steeper and the elevation gain is more rapid. The JMT would be longer, dustier and less scenic - but it would be easier. During our pre-hike planning, we had decided on taking the Mist Trail for the onward trip and the JMT on the return journey as we had read that the Mist Trail is even harder on tired knees on the way back.

As we continued along the Mist trail, we got a stunning view of the Vernal Falls:

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This somewhat helped us forget the fact that we were climbing up steep, roughly hewn stone steps. We climbed and climbed with plenty of frequent but short breaks (that is the best way to do it. Long breaks just serve to break the momentum without offering significant relief). Though the steep steps seemed to be never-ending, S and I found them easier to climb than the steep slopes (the guys did not agree). As we neared the top of the falls, a light spray of water from the Falls kept us company (hence the name Mist trail). Finally we reached the top of the falls. We had gained quite some height in a short time! The picture shows the steep climb we made:

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We took lots of pictures, happy in the knowledge that we had reached our first significant landmark. By then, we had also settled into our hiking "rhythm". From that point, it was on to the Nevada Falls. This journey consisted of a mostly upward trail too. All five of us were maintaining more or less the same pace (and same energy levels :-)). V said we were doing good time in spite of our gatorade/energy bar breaks.

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Finally we reached the top of Nevada Falls. There was quite a big congregation of people at that point as it marks the convergence of the Mist and the JMT trails. After a short sunscreen-application break and waiting for horses heading to the JMT trail to pass through, we continued on the dusty road near the Little Yosemite Valley campsite. This was really flat and walking on it felt very good after all the climbing we had done till that point. Once we reached the end of that road, it would be a relentlessly upward sloping trail of various inclines all the way till Half Dome.

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By this time C, who has knee problems, was beginning to feel some cramps in his knees. We took frequent breaks so C could rest before continuing. On the way, we bumped into two friends A and B who were making their way back down after summitting about 2 hours earlier. In an exemplary act of encouragement, A gleefully told us, "Oh, there are really huge lines to climb up the cables. You guys are at least 2 hours away from the base of Half Dome. I don't think you will have enough time to be able to climb to the top today." Gee thanks X-(!

Waving good bye to them, we proceeded further. Noticing S's and my worried faces, E cheerfully said, "Oh don't worry. Those are guys - they are just trying to impress you girls by saying such things." Though the reasoning did not make any sense, we laughed and just decided to carry on as best as we could!

As we hiked further, we could get the first glimpses of our destination: Half Dome in all its glory!

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We must be near - yaaay :-D! However, we plodded on for what seemed like eternity and still Half Dome did not seem to be getting any closer. All those miles we had hiked and the hot afternoon sun was beginning to catch up with us. I wearily asked S, "Tell me again, why are we doing this?". S stared at me and then frostily replied, "Because you convinced me to do so?" Er...heh, heh, right!

Finally, at long last, we stood at the base of the Steps, the final piece of trail to tackle before we got to the base of Half Dome itself. The Steps are rough, what may loosely be termed as steps, hewn into the mountain side. After nearly 8 tiring miles of hiking, we had to drag ourselves from one steep step to another. When I say steep, I am talking about being able to see the top of these steps almost directly above you. After climbing about seemingly two zillion steps, we had almost scaled them. At this point, we ran out of steps and there was just a smooth, steep bit of rock to clamber over - a misstep on which would leave you tumbling down the hill like Jack in the nursery rhyme.

What!?! I stared accusingly at V, "You did not tell me I had to climb rocks!" V nonchalantly replied, "Would you not have made the trip had I told you that?". Hmph! I at least wanted to have had the choice!

Putting my faith in God, I carefully climbed (oh well, as carefully as my tired legs could climb) the rock, trying hard to not think about how on earth I would manage while going back down and focussing entirely on the rock face without looking down. I safely reached a stable spot and looked down. As I saw the steep drop back to the bottom of the Steps, a wave of dizziness swept over me - bother my fear of heights and falling down!

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From that point to the base of Half Dome was a relatively easy hike. As we reached the base of Half Dome, around 2pm, about six hours from the time we started our hike, we got the biggest shock of the day!

To be continued ...