Updated: Jul 27, 2019
“Yosemite and the Hike to Half Dome”
By Brian K. Brecht and Rico Prate
There are adventures that require plenty of planning, and some that come by happenstance. This trip would amount to a bit of both.
Since last spring, when we wrote our story “Walker & Muir”, we set a loose goal to journey to the Yosemite Valley the following summer. This was more a goal for myself, as Tom has been to the valley numerous times and even hiked the weeklong backcountry trails. Having never been myself, and after our exposure to Walker and Muir in Martinez, it was a destination that played in my mind for months.
Slowly as spring turned to summer, the idea took shape and through a series of conversations, it was floated to the other inspirational GAC members, my old crew from Chicago. With busy schedules, it took time to align our plans, but finally we found a date in September. Unfortunately, by this time, our full team was not available. It would mean my partner in crime Tom D. as well as Tom C. from Milwaukee; both wouldn’t be available this trip. But with full support from them we set the date and tickets were purchased.
Rick, having the more flexible schedule, would journey out ahead of Rico and spend some time in Northern California with me. That lead to some day trips we’ll highlight in later articles. We ventured up to the old ghost town of Shasta and back down to Salinas to revisit Rocinante, and happily Tom D. was able to join us for the Shasta trip.
Lets set the stage. The Yosemite National Park covers almost 748,000 acres, spanning across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Yosemite Valley specifically, is only seven square miles of the total park but has some of the most iconic views of this amazing landscape. Towering redwoods, imposing granite mountains, and pastoral meadows all can be found within this wilderness.
The initial steps to preserve the park for future generations came under the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln in 1864. It wasn’t until 1890, with the help of naturalist John Muir and the editor of the Century Magazine Robert Johnson, who lobbied congress for the act that created the national park on October 1st. Eventually it would also lead to the creation of the National Park Service by Theodore Roosevelt.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
In other posts I’ve mentioned being “somewhat” uptight in my youth, with my tendencies to set rigorous schedules and itineraries for our trips. I joked with Rick when he had arrived that it’s taken me 25 years to break that habit. When Rick asked, “what’s the plan?” I simply replied, “I don’t have one”. The surprised look in his eyes was proof I had indeed altered that behavior.
It was true; I had set no plan, made no reservations. I had read numerous articles about how it’s impossible to get into the park without a reservation a year in advance. I was rolling the dice that going after the peak season would allow some latitude regarding our ability to find lodging. Even if we had to stay outside of the park, and drive in each day, we were all ok with making the attempt, for better or worse. That said this was a trip to learn, some adventures really do require some preplanning.
By mid-week, Rick and I had a couple excursions in, but it was Yosemite we were both chopping at the bit for. We considered our trip having begun only once we met Rico at the Oakland airport, his 10:00pm flight arriving right on time.
So this was our goal, and standing in baggage claim in Oakland, it was clear we three were all ready to get too it. Tom Dietz and I had been driving to get the GAC off the ground for the past nine months. This was the first time I had tried to mold my long time (and inspirational) friends into the idea Tom and I had created. As soon as Rico walked into baggage claim, any concern vanished. Rico said it best in his journal:
“Even though we only see each other a few times a year these days, because of our history – over 20 years of friendship – our shared experiences and adventures, and the strong, almost tenacious bond we share, every time I see them, it is almost as if I saw them just yesterday.”
And it was just that. While waiting for Rico’s bag it was short, light, brief conversation, with general pleasantries mixed in with the warm handshakes and hugs. We all knew, the real conversation, the real updates would happen as soon as we were on the road.
The goal for tonight was NOT to return home, but head straight west and make for Tracy. If we stayed the night there, we’d only be a couple hours from the park the next morning. So with a coke, some beef jerky, and plenty of attitude, we were off. Overnight in Tracy would be a blur as was breakfast the next morning. Again it was getting to the park that was the most important item.
It was during the drive when we started discussing our plans, or perhaps more accurately, Rick’s plan. As I mentioned Rick was the only one who did any real homework. He slowly outlined the concerns of hiking to Half Dome. Camping in the valley wasn’t really the concern, we’d roll with whatever we found, but as Rick outlined the severity of the hike, I started to think perhaps my “no plan” approach could have used a little more plan.
If you’re ever heading to Yosemite, and plan to hike Half Dome, here are a few important tips you should know. First Half Dome is a granite dome formation at the eastern end of the valley. It’s likely the most iconic image you’ve seen of the park as it rises almost 4800 feet above the valley floor.
Thousands of hikers hike the 8.5-mile trail to the top of the dome from the valley floor each year. This starts from the Mist Trail and runs approx. 2 miles to the Half Dome base in Little Yosemite Valley, all while gaining an elevation of approx. 2000 vertical feet. But not before climbing over 600 rough-cut stairs that have been hune from the very rock face. From Little Yosemite valley, you’ll ascend the rounded east face and ANOTHER 2000+ vertical feet using the cable path, to the summit. All of this is achievable but ONLY if you’ve purchased a permit to do so PRIOR to coming into the park.
THE (lack of) PLAN
Now, with no plan and clearly no permit, it was questionable whether we’d make it to the dome or not. Regardless, we’d take this adventure as it came and see what we could accomplish.
Here I turn again to Rico’s take on our day;
“After breakfast, we ride west on Route 120 and make a beeline toward Yosemite National Park. After a few miles of staid, four-lane blacktop, 120 quickly turns into a wonderful two-lane highway that nicely reflects the character and personality of Central California. Our scenery begins as rows upon rows of various fruit trees, dotted with numerous roadside fruit stands. As we gently ascend into the highlands that precede the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the fruit trees fade away, replaced by heartier looking, less pampered trees that have a scruffier appearance to them. The colors change from the greens and reds of the fruited plains, to shades of brown and tan. The road becomes 8-10 miles of excruciatingly twisted and angry paved mountain road, requiring every ounce of Brian’s mental focus to navigate its relentless nature successfully.”
We reached the town of Groveland looking for a last stop gas station to make sure we were filled but instead we find a Yosemite Visitor Information center where we were helped by a lovely park ranger named Katie.
Katie was young,