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.
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 :-(.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 ...