We continued on our way towards Half Dome via the Mist Trail as we had the previous day, and found ourselves moving at a good pace, passing many other hikers as we went. Soon we found ourselves making our way along the climber’s trail towards the south face of Half Dome. Around 7:40AM we stopped on a large boulder to check the location of the start of the Snake Dike, and also check to see if we had cell phone service in order to try to get in touch with Gretchen and Jax. We were excited to see they were on their way and shouldn’t be too far behind. They had parked in the wrong lot this morning, and after we never showed up, started to hike. They passed the lot we were supposed to be meeting in and saw our car.
After a few back and forth texts, they made their way to our location, and as a group we started to navigate our way through slabs (with the occasional sections of bushwacking) towards the start of the climb on the southwest face. Unfortunately, we looked at the start of the climb, decided it wasn’t the right spot, and after unsuccessful searching, we backtracked and decided it WAS the start.
After a quick snack at the base, we geared up to begin the 8 pitches of climbing that would take us to the summit of Half Dome. The first 2-3 pitches were the most difficult, with the later wandering far out to the right before making its way back to end above the previous belay. Despite the climb being runout, Dave found it to be a fantastic lead. Gretchen and Jax did an awesome job sharing leads and testing their mental fortitude. Jax had an intense lead with a mystery non-existent bolt and planned slide down the slab. Gretchen got angry at a run out slab that had no gear to place until she was practically at the belay… so at that point said “screw it” and went straight to the belay. Alex and Dave did a short section of simul-climbing on the dike in order to get Dave to a set of anchors. He called down to Alex, “can you give me another 12 feet, because if not I need to down climb…. a lot.” She happily obliged! All in all everyone had some adventure laced fun on the climb.
We waited on at the start of pitch 8 for Gretchen and Jax, before making our way to the endless leg burning slabs for the summit. The four of us made our way, taking many breaks as we went. Fortunately, Dave handled this well, even though he probably could have run up it in one go.
After finally seeing the summit, at about 4:00PM, we took pictures, had a snack, and chatted with another guy who had come up the cables, before making our descent down the cables route. By this time of the day, most people who come up the cables route hike have come and gone, so we saw very few other people. We found the section of cables to be steeper, slicker, and more intense than we were expecting for something so commonly done by non-climbing folk.
Tired, thirsty and hungry, we made our way down the cables to the trail. We had 9 miles of hiking before we would be back at the trailhead. We stopped after a few miles for some water, as we had depleted our supply. Dave had given the last few ounces to young man who looked tired and thirsty just after the cables, with many miles of hiking to go. Dave asked him when he last had water… it had been a few hours. He needed it more than we did, and we had the ability to get more water once we reached the river… he however, did not. The intense sun and wind on the climb made plenty of water a must. We found that many hikers we passed were unprepared for the long day, with not enough to eat or drink, and struggled because of it. We actually ran into the young man’s father and brother near the trailhead, and let them know he was on his way, but was moving slowly. His brother grabbed some water and made his way up the trail to meet him.
We finally made it back to the car around 8:30PM, and had celebratory beverages. Hungrily, and stumbily we made our way to Degnan’s Pizza Loft with eyes that now seemed overly sensitive to the light after the intense sun and wind of the day. Sadly, after waiting at the counter for 10 minutes we found out that they were closed. We were told that Curry Pizza was open for another 20 minutes, so the four of us made a mad dash, running to our cars to get some much needed food. We enjoyed gorging on pizzas before parting way for the night. We drove sleepily back to our camping area, glad to be laying down and sleeping… particularly after a half asleep Alex stopped complaining about the dead (they were not dead) trees in camp.
Next, we headed to Glacier Point to see the views of The Valley from high above, before continuing out the Wawona Entrance to the park to find a place to sleep for the night. Tomorrow, we headed to Fresno to get new brakes on the car. Thoughts of Fresno are always a bit bitter to us. On our first trip out West, after an epic climbing/backpacking outing with the infamous Doug, all we wanted was a big juicy cheeseburger and fries. Fresno let us down… it seemed sketchy and we could not find anywhere open to eat but a place that proved to have nothing but chillie and cheese… chillie cheese fries, chillie cheese burgers, chillie cheese dogs, chillie cheese french fries in a wrap. After a few bites, none of us could stomach it… and we drove away hungry. Needless to say, we were not looking forward to returning to Fresno.
The shaded, pine covered trail quickly turned to a rough as we head up to the base of El Cap via the Zodiac Talus field. In the scorching sun, with overly heavy packs, this approach was heinous. Dave, though not happy, kept it together, while Alex was visibly unhappy as she struggled to keep from toppling over as she stepped from boulder to boulder. The approach was taking far longer that it should have and the route was in full sun. When we reached the base of the supposed climb, we realized why. The climb we just walked to was NOT the climb we meant to do today, it was Pacific Ocean, the climb we planned for Monday. Alex had been questioning Dave when they started the approach about where they were going since this did not seem to be what she remembered from the previous evening’s planning session. Regardless, they had something to climb, just not on the day they intended.
Once geared up, Dave began aiding the first pitch (C1 or 11C). Climbing in Yosemite for the first time and aid climbing somewhere he NEEDED to use aid gear was a bit nerve-racking for the belayer and the initial exposure of being on El Cap for the climber. Alex breathed a sigh of relief when she finally heard, “OFF BELAY, ALEX!”
When Dave returned to the ground, the pair retreated to the shade of a tree for a snack, water, and to make Father’s Day phone calls. Cell service has been patchy at best while in the park, but up on the cliffs the service seemed best. While Alex was on the phone, she heard Dave very calmly say “Alex, there is a snake, we should move.” Alex very quickly realized it was a rattle snake and moving was a good idea. Alex got off the phone, telling her mom “I’ll call you right back… nothing’s wrongs…. There’s just a snake….. ummm… it’s a rattlesnake… so, yeah, it is poisonous…. Call you right back!” The snake slithered among our gear for awhile before finally making its retreat.
Alex called her parents back, explaining the situation, and probably giving her mom one more thing to worry about all summer. As the talked, she heard Dave say “Uhh… Alex…” She knew from his tone that something was wrong, but she needed to stay calm. OH CRAP! Rattlesnake right next to the rock she was sitting on. She quickly scurried away while trying not to startle her mom on the other end of the phone. This snake was persistent! He once again slithered amongst our gear near the start of the route… the route which Alex still needed to ascend and clean. Finally, our “friend” slithered far enough away that Alex could begin ascending while Dave kept an eye on his location.
Ironically, by the time Alex rappelled and Dave ascended, the sun make a quick retreat and left the wall in shade. Dave cleaned not only their remaining pieces of gear, but also freed a blue offset nut left by a previous party. That plus the hook he found on the ground while Alex was ascending made today a +2 day for gear!
The pair loaded there packs and started their way down the “worst approach ever with heavy packs.” You can guess who made that quote…. Apparently it was an overall rough day!
We drove into the park entrance, and drove you what seemed like forever. Though the roads were beautiful, we were full of eagerness and anticipation to see The Valley. We have been dreaming of seeing (and climbing) those granite walls for so long. The road began to drop in elevation. We are getting close! OOOH!!! There’s Half Dome! A quick sneak peak appeared around a bend in the road. We were giddy like children on Christmas morning.
We drove through the Valley getting quick glances of El Cap through the trees as we strained our neck to see the tops of the walls surrounding us. Eventually we found a place to park in the busy Valley floor. We made a stop at the Visitor Center and Wilderness Center to buy some maps.
We made our way to the base of the wall, and touched it of course! Then not satisfied that we had not found the base of The Nose we scampered off to find it. After a little searching we found the spot that looked right…. And we later confirmed with our guidebook that we had the right spot. We took some pictures before heading back to the car to find our camping area for the night.
We had our morning lattes with breakfast while finishing up packing. After saying our goodbyes to AJ and Liz, we began to continue our westward drive. Saying goodbye is always sad… but we would be seeing them again in two months on our way back home. Our plan was to drive to Vedauwoo, Wyoming, spend the night in the camping area, wake up, do a quick climb, get an oil change for the car in Laramie (have to keep her running well!), then continue on towards Yosemite.
Thursday, while Dave had his last day of training for the school year, Alex finished up errands and packing. We officially hit the road at 2:30 PM, heading towards Madison, WI. A stop to sleep for a few hours provided us with the energy to finish out the 830 mile drive to AJ and Liz’s (Alex’s brother and sister-in-law) by 7:00 AM.
We missed our annual Wisconsin stop last year, since we flew to Alaska instead of driving cross country. We were getting to visit AJ and Liz’s new place for the first time. They are renting an awesome house with easy lake access and along a county bike route.
After napping and running errands, we patiently waited for AJ and Liz to get home from work. We happened to arrive in Madison at the tail end of “Bike Week.” Madison and its surrounding suburbs are SUPER bike friendly. We planned a short 11-mile jaunt around Lake Monona to the Bike Week Celebration that evening. Despite AJ breaking his bike chain and needing to repair it along the way, we made it to the celebration in time to enjoy free food, free beverages from New Belgium, and free bike tune-ups (which AJ now needed!).
Saturday was originally planned to be a 60-mile day of biking to “Breakfast on the Farm” and various microbreweries around Madison. The weather, however, altered our plans and instead we drove to Breakfast on the Farm at Kick a Boo Farms.
After breakfast, we headed to the REI garage sale, with no intentions of looking for anything in particular. As usually happens at these things, we walked out carrying things. The big item today was a bigger roof box… a deal we could not pass up! It’s only issue was it was missing one key… easy thing to fix!
The remainder of the day was spent making pizzas, playing games on the sun porch, drawing on the chalk board tables (Alex), and running (literally) to the local ice cream shop.
Sunday’s weather allowed us to get out for a 40-mile bike ride before Liz had to get back to teach a yoga class. We made a pit stop at a Brennan’s Market where we feasted on samples of an unbelievable variety of fruits, cheeses and dips. We left the store with some fruit to snack on immediately, plus filling AJ’s bike panniers with goodies for later. For the remainder of our ride, two large baguettes stuck out AJ’s panniers, much to our amusement and AJ’s chagrin.
After returning home, we all showered and feasted once again, before deciding that while Liz was at yoga we would make a 30-mile out and back trip to Capital Brewery… so much for those showers we took!
After all that biking, homemade burgers was the perfect ending to the night!