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:
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.
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!
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!!!